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14,734 posts. Alias of Mowque.


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"Helpful to us?" The leaner elf says with surprise and then glances at Feaehhao. 'You haven't told him, then?"A pause and then he mutters, 'Smart."

The larger elf seems less pleased and says, "Not, not smart. In fact, this idea is so illogical, I'm going to suggest you don't even present it unless you wish to earn a formal reprimand. Give it up Sergeant, and withdraw. Now." The armored elf actually takes a step forward, looming like an old tree over Feaehhao , but she doesn't back down.

Instead she gave a curious gesture, tapping two wrists together, in front of her. An elven salute, Johan surmised. This done, she assumed a parade ground rest and said, loudly, "Due to a lack of clear command structure and the imminent risk of enemy action, I propose we place this human in temporary charge of this garrison."

A long, brittle silence greets this only broken by the rising chorus of bird song. Temporary command? The bloodrager had thought the elves were desperate to be raiding the cells for soldiers, but to look to him for leadership? What was going on?

"It's not entirely without merit,"[b] Miocvus says, the lean elf looking pensive for the first time. [b]'It would certainly solve the problem."

"Nonsense." Krehess snaps. 'Proposal denied." He adds flatly, waving a hand toward Johan dismissively.

"You don't have the authoirty to say that.' His comrade states mildly, 'Which is the whole problem. if not this human, who then? Will you accept orders from me?"

Krehess doesn't even turn, merely laughs, "From a Welcomer? Never."

'And I sure as all the Hells am not taking orders from a Imvrildarai. So where does that leave us?" Micvus says, anger finally seeping into his cultured voice. "Sit here and bicker about squabbles until they come?"

More silence, but then Krehess whirls, "A random human in charge, can you hear yourself? I knew your sect was soft, but not brain damaged. Watch."

The imposing elf turns on Johan, face still shrouded by his wasp helm. 'You, human." he gestures toward Johan, "Hit me."

"You are wearing a mail coat, Krehess," Micovus says , 'Hardly a fair test, not to mention you have nearly a foot on him."

Krehess shrugs, adopting a very lazy fighting stance, obviously more out of practice then any real concern. "Our opponents might be wearing army and how knows how tall the are. How can we expect anyone to follow someone who can't even fight."

He waves his hands at Johan, 'Go ahead, hit me!"

Feaehhao Shamruldlieh took in his words without much change of expression, her slightly lined mouth remained immobile. Not without emotion. In fact, Johan had the sensation the First Sergeant was a turmoil of stress and feelings right now, doing her best to cover them up under a thin veneer of military professionalism. Honestly, between that and being an elf, it was a sign of the seriousness of the situation that Johan could see anything at all.

The elf drummed her fingers one last time, her head tilting slightly in thought. When she spoke, it was clearly more to herself then her (slightly) confused prisoner.

"Served against demons....experienced...speaks even for Alseta's sake....Could this..." Then she shook her head. "No, this is impossible. They would never..."

Outside, the loud voices crested again. The words were still indistinct but they sounded even angrier and derisive, reminding Johan of the worst arguments among the Crusaders.

This seemed to stir something in Feaehhao because she stood up straight, set her back and said, "We must try, at least." Jonah was not sure if she was speaking to him, to herself or to some elven god. In any case she added, "Follow me, Johan, Sergeant in the Mendevian Army," Then, a ghost of a smile flickered across her aged face and the elf looked much younger for a moment.

"We are about to do something very foolish."

She turned, opened the door and led Johan outside.

It was quite a different world, once the bloodrager left the dark cold stone room. He found himself on a narrow stone parapet, blinking in the growing light of a distant dawn. The air was slightly warmer out here, but he could still see his breath forming soft white clouds. Above him, the sky was a milky grey hemisphere, shading toward a faint blue. Even as Feaehhao forged ahead, Johan paused for a moment and did his best to gather in his surroundings, a reaction born of long training. There was a great deal to see.

To the east the land was a rolling forest of bare trees, leaves busy being shed. The bright colors he had noticed on his trip south were mostly gone now, replaced with a dull brown. The sun, a distant band of pink light, was just cresting the horizon, flaring to life.

The forest curved north, roughly the way he had come. The landscape looked like a flat featureless forest but the human knew better. Concealed under that brown canopy were streams and hills, open meadows and rocky defiles. Johan knew them quite well, having clambered over them for a week or so. he also guessed there were elf villages in there somewhere, but had seen none of them.

To the west, the Five King's Mountains loomed like the teeth of some sleeping beast. The mountains were dark grey in the dim light, the sunlight only catching the highest peaks of glimmering snow. Here and there, Johan caught glimpse of tumbling masses of forests, rubble filled slopes and endless deep canyons. A tangled landscape he was happy to avoid, and so far, had done so.

To the south, the land was black and hidden, shrouds of dark mist lingered there. Johan could see few tails here, more just vague impressions. Stands of clustered trees, low depressions, sheets of standing water. Some sort of swamp, perhaps? Whatever it was, it was vast and reached past the edge of his sight.

Finally his sight-seeing must have taken too long because Sergeant Feaehhao said, "I said, follow me."

The elf led the human to where two other elves were standing, facing each other and ignoring the brightening landscape around them. Both seem younger then Feaehhao and armed for war, but there the similarities between the two end. One of the elves is shorter and rapier-thin, with lean , cleverface. Mocking green eyes dance above a rather long nose and gaunt features. A short sword rests at his belt and a bow on his back, over a shining mail coat.

The other elf is taller and heaver-built, wide shoulders rippling with muscles visible even under a heavy chain mail surcoat. A warhammer is leaning against the stone wall near him, the head a heavy silver spike, worn with use. Alone among the elves Johan has seen so far, this one is wearing heavy boots, laced tightly. Most of his face is covered with a close fitting helm, carved into the shape of a biting wasp's head, but the bloodrager catches sight of bright golden eyes.

Both turn toward Feaehhao and Johan, green and gold in turn. For a moment they seem totally confused, like a parent finding a frog in a child's pocket. Then the slimmer elf smiles broadly, using one hand to push back some of his long hair.

" this what I think..." He offers, voice high pitched and urbane.

"What are you talking about, Miocvus?" The taller elf breaks in, voice deep but rich, not the harsh burr Johan half expected given his size. "What do you think? No tricks, we agreed."

'Indeed, Krehess." The first elf says, a bit of exasperation in his voice, 'No tricks. I have no idea what Sergeant Shamruldlieh is doing."

"A solution." Johan's guide said simply, taking a step tot he side so both elves can view Johan plainly. The lean elf merely looks amused but the taller elf leans forward, mail catching the light.

"I don't....No. You can't be serious!" He finally says, gold eyes widening in discovery and, obvious, disgust. "A human? A human prisoner? This is absurd."

Beware an old woman in a young woman's profession

"The language is a good start, although you speak it like a cart driver." Feaehhao said, obviously still in thought. Absently she drummed the wooden limb of her longbow, the sound oddly loud on the small stone landing. It reminded Jonah, somehow, of the drums Kellids still sometimes played.

"So you have fought in the Worldwound then? Good." The elf says finally, nodding like someone hearing an unexpected bit of good news. "Have you lead others? Given commands in the heat of battle and had them accepted? Been more then a mere solider? I have never fought in the plains to the north, I do not know how the Mendevian Army, " She says this with obvious disdain, "Operates. "

As he considers his answer, Jonah hears a new sound. Voices, from behind the inquisitive sergeant, through the heavy wooden door. presumably from...outside? Loud voices, arguing. Most of it is indistinct and indistinguishable, words lost in distance and barriers but Jonah's quick ears catch at least two different voices.

One, louder says, "Well, I won't! It's unthinkable, not to mention stupid."

"Well, then what do you propose, eh? Splitting in two?"

'Don't be absurd. All you have to do.." The voice trails off, losing itself in the bird song outside.

Feaehhao Shamruldlieh winces at the voices but says nothing else.

Awenasa takes along look at her two friends. She does not doubt their bravery (she had seen Thak ignore a burning building and Perey had faced down an armed lizardfolk on his own) but they didn't quite have the raw power she might have liked. What she would give for a raider like Matoska?

With He-With-Fire-Inside at her side, they wouldn't even need to bother with plans. They would just go and take these children by brute force. Alas, it was not meant to be so simple.

Thak is still looking over the drink tray when he speaks, "Krahnu was the sheriff so she also allowed this children slavery to go on. I doubt she cares very much either way, Awenasa. The main issue, I see is that the more we involve her the more risk we run brining Altava into it. And remember, that will upset the whole crazy bargain we are caught up in."

Perey taps his fingers on the table thinking, "A night time attack risks the children more, Awenasa. In the confusion, in the dark...chaos might break out. If we did it during the day, if we can get to the diggings, we'd meet them only a few at a time. Not that I really want to climb through a bunch of dark caves...."

Thak spoke up again, "Krahnu said this Ely sold items for miners and travelers? We are travelers, I could go and visit his shop, and see what I can learn? It would not raise alarm, in fact this town might expect us to visit." The redfish skinned man smiled, glancing at Awenasa, "I am experienced shopper who will not scare anyone off."

"If we wait until tomorrow, I can help with some spells," Perey says, "Thak has been teaching me some magic, I can help us share languages as well. That way we can talk to the children. Also, I might be able to help us find our way underground too."

This is the last time I shall control your character. Enjoy!

At least they hadn’t imprisoned him underground, which Jonah took as an encouraging sign. He hadn’t been sure through most of the long dark night but the cell had seemed to dry and airy to be a real dungeon and now the tiny sliver of faint gray heralding the coming dawn outside confirmed it. The dawn of a holy day.

At least Jonah thought it was a holy day. Admittedly it was hard to keep track of dates while chasing a demon through the Fierani Forest, but the bloodrager was fairly certain this was Ascendance Day, a religious day of some significance to the followers of Iomedae. Usually it was marked with a public festival including mass songs, story-telling and riddling, not to mention the very popular mock jousts. Jonah wondered if the elves of this place had any idea, or if they would care. Well, so far no one had asked him and the man didn’t expect a sudden outbreak of festivities anytime soon.

Still, they had not treated him too badly, considering he was apparently an outlaw trespasser. The cell was dry at least, if sparse to the point of painfully spartan. A straw mat to sleep on, a small wooden bench and a chamber pot made up all of the furniture. Still, it was clean and fair smelling, with fresh straw and a clean pot. Jonah was sure the fortress, castle or whatever this was, had far less savory holding areas. So clearly despite this dislike for trespassers they didn’t consider him a true danger. Indeed, they hadn’t even bound his hands or feet. Compliment or disdain, the man wasn’t sure. Elves could be hard to read.

Joan had not seen much last night, when the small patrol had arrived after sundown. It had been a long march since his capture and even when his captors mentioned a cell, all the bloodrager had heard was ‘bed’. Still, the place had seemed large and well fortified, with stone walls silhouetted against the velvety autumn sky. More elven soldiers had been bustling around, purposefully moving this way and that, not giving Jonah or the rest of the patrol a second glance. A hive of busy activity, even after sundown. Then some empty stone corridors and this cell.

Not exactly a grand tour, but they hadn’t blindfolded him. Another hopeful sign. They had kept his weapons and gear, of course, but left him all his clothes not to mention his boots. This was no small favor, the weather had been unseasonably cold lately, with chill wind coming out of the Five Kings Mountains. Indeed, just two days ago, before his capture, Jonah had woken to see a glittering frost around his campsite. It had vanished with the true rising of the sun, but it presaged an apparently quickly approaching winter for southern Kyonin.

His reverie was broken as the heavy iron-bound door of the cell creaked open. A figure, not bothering with a lantern or torch, stepped in, moving with the innate grace of an elf. Jonah’s dark adjusted eyes could make out some details however, and he quickly recognized a slim dark-skinned elf who had been on the patrol that captured him. No names had been given, but he had seemed fair and just enough.

”Come with me.” The elf said in Common. Jonah had mentioned he spoke Elven but this had been either ignored or overlooked, and so far, all orders had been given in Taldane. ’Hurry.” A very un-elf like urgency filled the voice, quite opposed to the unruffled professionalism Jhan had so far encountered.

What was going on?

The bloodrager was quickly ushered out of the cell and confronted with two more black figures in a stone-clad hallway, again unlit by any light. Jonah almost stumbled when a quick hand by one of the new figures steadied him. More elves, clearly. To his surprise they had bows on their backs and swords at their belts. Geared for war. Here? Inside the castle?

”Follow.” The elf behind him said shortly, and soon Jonah was doing his best to keep up with the two heavily armed elves. They quickly passed through several corridors, across a cold dim hall and past several rooms.

The hallways were dark and cold, but not empty. Here and there, an elf passed by quickly, many of them nearly running. Jonah only caught quick glances at pale, startled faces. No one said anything, but there was a strange, unsettling feeling in the air, just as real as any smell. Confusion, doubt….fear. Jonah had no idea what was going on, but clearly nothing good.

The cold air seemed to seep into his bones as they walked, boots loud on the bare stone floors.

FInally they crossed under an elegant carved arch and began climbing a tightly wound stone staircase, climbing steeply upward. Here and there, as they climbed, narrow arrowslit windows let in at least a modicum of gray light, so at least Jonah didn’t have to worry about tripping. Twice other elves passed them going down, moving with reckless speed, ignoring Jonah and his captors. Again, the bloodrager was struck by the frenzied attitude, quite different from the business-like activity of the previous night. It reminded Jonah of an anthill after a child poked it with a stick.

Finally they reached the top of the stairs, where a small stone landing led to a closed door. Standing near the door was another elf, one Jonah did not recognize. She seemed older, with slight wrinkles crossing her face, a rarity among elves Jonah had met. How long did it take for an elf to wrinkle? Bright blue eyes gleamed in the dimness, catching the light from the slowly brightening dawn outside. She too was armed for battle, complete with weapons and a large horn at her belt. Short cropped brown hair was just visible under a leaf-engraved helm. At her neck, barely visible behind the folds of her shirt, was a small holy symbol that Jonah did not recognize, two faces in profile, facing away from each other.

Her face was pensive as Jonah was led directly in front of her, and she examined him closely, searching for…something. Without a word she waved a hand and the three elves that had led him here trooped back down the stairs, leaving him alone with the weary-looking elven woman. Outside, Jonah could hear the daily chorus of morning birds, musical notes drifting in through the narrow arrow slits, welcoming the coming dawn. It even felt slightly warmer up here, the stones not longer hugged by the cold earth.

She studied him again for a few moments before breaking the silence, speaking in a formal, elegant Elven, "I am Feaehhao Shamruldlieh, First Sergeant of the Southwestern Garrison Command, member of the Chestnut Set." None of this meant much to Jonah.

"The patrol says you can speak our language? And that you are a soldier? One with experience?” Her rich, cultured voice sounded very tired and edged with anxiety. A note of quiet desperation lingered behind her words. "What is your name, they did not mention to me."

Where was this going? Was this some part of the legal process? Jonah doubted it. It seemed too...rushed, too informal. Not Elven at all. Something strange was afoot.

For OOC discussion

At her words, Quye looks her way, details fuzzy at such a distance. She swears she sees a ghost of a smile on the rangy, bearded face. The lean man shrugs, waves her in and then, insolently, turns back to his conversation. The fuzzy ape never even glances her way, instead reaching behind the counter with a long arm, to grab a glass bottle. Even as Sorala stands in the entry-way of the cave, the two pirates start pouring a few glasses.

"I think this one."Eitleán remarks, clearly amused, "He knows you need him more then he needs you. Probably makes a good angler."

Then the rimeblade says the obvious, "It has to be a trap, I assume?"

Netuckelist looks a little put out when Awenasa says he wouldn't make a good raider, but she doesn't really care. It isn't her job to confirm this gnomes delusions, whatever they may be.

At her idea at finding a natural cave the little gnome shrugs but looks slightly apprehensive, which she can't blame them for. Awenasa knows, from long experience, caves can be very dangerous places. Quite apart from the mundane dangers of being trapped or lost, they were often the home of viscous creatures of all types, even more so in such a hostile surface environment. A cool protected cave made a desirable home for most desert animals.

Still, she needed Krahnu's information, and this was the start of the chain that led to it. Besides, if she was being honest, freeing children from such a fate would be a good deed. Maybe her ancestors would approve and help guide some luck her way? Assuming they had power in such a strange land.

At her final question, The gnome rubs his bearded chin for a moment. "There is a small garden at the edge of town, which I own. There are a few sheds and such for the tools and seeds. My man, with a cart, will hide there until you drop them off. " Netuckelist gives her the directions to the spot, which, to his credit, is a fairly easy approach that avoids any main roads.

At this the gnome gets up off his chair and takes a step toward Awenasa. He holds out a tiny pale hand to her and says, "I think this is the custom in your homeland? To shake on the agreement of a deal?"

However that goes

"My first customers won't be here for another hour or so. Consider this room yours until then, if you need to plan or anything of that nature. I will make sure you are not disturbed or overheard. Please, enjoy the drinks if you wish. On the house."

And with that he fades out of a side door, leaving Awenasa alone with her friends.

"Dull," Eitleán remarks, the link strengthened in her mind after she draws it. "It's making a dancer wear muddy boots. Can't I at least by a sharp cutlass?"

At least the way toward the Mermaid's Bucket was impossible to miss, assuming a blind beggar can be trusted. As long as she kept the sea to her right and headed north, she would hit the northern point....right?

The White Squire picks up her pace to a fast walk, more fitting a busy Whitethrone merchant street then the half-empty waterfront. Around her even the poor and dirty trappings of civilization start fading away. Trees cluster along the path, creating walls of vibrant greenery between the increasingly isolated buildings. Most look ruined or abandoned anyway, long before the Irrisen invaders showed up. Young saplings reach up from crumbling stairs, drifts of dried leaves cover caved in roofs and vines reach down over empty windows. Sorala spots more wildlife here, with lizards and snakes skittering everywhere, and a whole host of birds. Once she even surprises a small sounder of feral pigs, which take off at a run, vanishing into the thickening undergrowth.

Even the seaside grows more wild as it becomes just a muddy beach, dotted with coral and rocks. The few jetties and quays are small, haphazard affairs sinking into the water. Barnacles and oysters encrust everything, and tide pools shimmer in the bright tropical sun.

For all that though, her path actually becomes clearer. It is apparent that despite the decaying nature of the structures around her, people travel this way frequently. The muddy trail might not be well kept, and Sorala has to skip over quite a few puddles large enough to host small ecosystems, but it is clear of plants and growth. It heads northward with resolute speed.

The path winds around the base of a huge tree whose exposed buttresses like roots taller then she is, and then...she sees it.

Dead ahead, with the path leading right to it, is the mouth of a large cave. The cave is directly on the coast, facing the glittering sea. To her surprise, Sorala notes the ocean flows right into the cave, although there is land around the entrance.

Sorala approaches cautiously, alive to the danger of a trap. She sees and hears no one, just an empty rocky beach around the base of the cave. Plenty signs of people however. Abandoned trash abounds everywhere, in various states of decay. Used fire rings dot the area, some fresh, some old, along with piles of driftwood for fuel. Place must get crowded at times.

She reaches the mouth of the cave and peers inside. It takes her eyes a moment to adjust after the dazzling sunlight outside, but details slowly come into view.

It is a large, enclosed space inside, a rough circle. It is perhaps sixty feet across, with a low rocky ceiling. Much of the space is taken up by a wide pool of seawater, still as a millpond. It is connected to the sea outside, but blocked by a heavy metal grate. Sorala guesses it can be raised or lowered somehow, but is currently locked in place.

Crude wooden benches and seats ring the watery pool, jostled and randomly scattered about. At the far end of the cave she can see a few small wooden buildings, little shacks or stalls of some kind. There, leaning against a wooden counter is Quye and he is not alone. At his side is the huge furry ape creature, also casually leaning. They seemed to be quietly talking to each other, heads together.

There is no one else around, as far as Sorala can see.

Sorala, disguised, follows Quye at a distance. A rather far distance actually, with how empty the waterfront is (at least compared to the thriving busy districts farther down the beach). Still, the rangy Free Captain doesn't even glance back as he strides away, the ugly dog at his heels. It might not win any beauty contests, but it does seem to be well trained.

She watches long enough to see the man step onto the gangplank of the Champion Troll, which was even uglier up close. Yet, Sorala's trained eye notes the ship is in good repair, in the ways that matter. The sails are neat and trim (if stained) and her quickwork is free of kelp or seaweed. Sorala pauses just enough to watch the crew busy at work, but then is startled, totally thrown as a figure apporachs Quye on deck.

Was that...Master Halporhini?

No, of course not. The gambler in the Witchmarket had been an ape in the shape of a man. This...was just an ape. A massive powerful creature too, whose rounded head rises above even Quye's above average height. Powerful muscles roll under glossy black fur as it knuckles across the deck. Some other pet?

No, it seems to be talking to Quye. A crew member? No time to find out now, she had to keep moving to not raise the alarm.

It took longer then she hoped to find information. Unlike the streets farther down the coast, here people clustered in unwelcome groups, looking out of doorways with cold eyes. Clearly this area was not for the outsider, for the casual tourist. Irrisen influence seemed nearly non existent here, and Sorala figured she knew why. Too poor to have anything to steal.

The buildings were more like shacks, made of cast off ship's timbers, some still bearing the sun-bleached traces of tar and oakum. The streets were muddy sand, fouled with waste and garbage. The few taverns were either closed or so foul, Sorala had to steer clear or retch up her lunch. There were no shops, no counting houses, not even a visible market.

Finally, she found an old blind beggar on a street corner. Battered and missing a leg, event his woman was surly and unhelpful. But at least she said something.

Apparently the coast didn't go much farther north, the sand terminating in a set of rocky cliffs and caves that formed the northern point of the island. Then the beach hooked back, creating the outside of the crescent shaped island, the beach on the other side of the steep rainforest clad hills that played as a backdrop to Crescent Harbor.

One of those caves, quite close tot he last straggling shack, was named the Mermaid's Bucket. The beggar was vague but it was clearly a social gathering place of some kind. A theater? Tavern/ Social hall? Something like that, but at least it was a known public place.

Still, a sea cave near the ocean? Not a bad place for a hasty ambush. But also a fair place for a private meeting on neutral ground. It wasn't far which was good, Sorala had burned nearly half her time tracking down someone who would talk.

Where was Norintha when she needed her?

Quye, still walking away suddenly stops at Sorala's words although the Squire isn't sure at what exact phrase. The mention of a pirate lord? The promise of revenge? Just sheer irritation at Sorala's insistence?

The Greenblooder pauses for a long moment, his rangy frame outlined against the dirty sand of the makeshift bay. Sorala spots his finger tapping against his leg in thought. Suddenly, without warning the man spins around and faces her.

Shouting, to be heard clearly, "One hour, the Mermaid's Bucket. Come alone."

With that he stomps off, only pausing once to whistle. The troll-like dog stops circling the mast and takes off, following its master down the empty waterfront toward the yellow ship.

"Get him out?" Netuckelist said, then shrugged. "The same way you get anything of value in the world, I bought him. Granted, it was phrased somewhat differently but in essence the boy was giving Ely trouble and I said I needed a servant. For a generous 'donation' he proved willing to hand him over. It's a trick I can only use rarely however, without the man growing wise." A bit wistful, "Wouldn't do to being known as a generous, easy mark."

'As for how to rescue them, I'm not sure. Do I look like a wasteland raider?" The little dapper gnome, sitting in his oversized chair looked as far from the many hard-bitten raiders Awenasa knew (and loved). Yet, for all that, here he was putting such plans into motion. Surely the man knew blood might be spilled in such an operation, and not just those of the other side.

"At night they would all be together, but probably more guards. During the day they would be in the diggings, but more spread out. I doubt Ely's guards work very hard in the heat." Aweansa remembered the punishing inferno of the previous day, which taxed even her rugged constitution.

When she asks for other information the gnome does offer, "I know the tunnels go much deeper and farther then people think. The tunnels the child dig in, I mean. The ones near the canals are just scrapes made to find fossils, but many connects to older, natural caves. Other then that, not sure I know anything useful. But then again, I've never planned a raid before."

Quye watches Sorala sail away through the air until she reaches the derelict ship. Below her the lumpy dog follows her.....well, doggedly. It races along the splintery gangway with surprising nimbleness, and is soon milling around the base of the mast, baying loud enough to nearly drown out Sorala's words.

From the shore, the Free Captain has not moved, merely followed the Irriseni with his eyes. Still, he replies, "Friends? Does that word mean something else in your land? Friends do you sneak up disguised or invade other cities." A bit rich coming from a pirate. "Or kill their crew. No, we are not friends. " He looks to add more and raises a hand toward the blue, clear sky.

Then, pauses, shrugs and says, "I am leaving." Without delay he actively turns his back on Sorala and starts heading up the walkway, presumably toward his ship.

"They are orphans, one way or another." Netuckelist says, watching Awenasa's face closely. "Those without parents. Ones who died, or left, or are unknown. A few are even from the desert tribes, dropped off here for some reason. No one is sure. But most are locals, who wind up there with no better place to be."

"No one else has been there, but I doubt it matters. The tunnels are cramped, mostly fit for children. There are a few older shafts from previous owners, who used adults for the work, but they tend to just be the main connectors. A few are airshafts but they are either very small or covered with heavy grates. To prevent escapes." Last word is said cold enough to chill her bones. And Awneasa can only imagine what such an 'escape' might look like. Where would a mere child go? Faced with the hellish surface desert during the day, with no food or water or survival skills. Even she, with all of those in abundance, had gone the crossing arduous. No, the Shoanti guesses such escapes were rare indeed, no matter how bad the beatings or hopeless the future.

The hound looks very surprised when it's prey suddenly lifts off into the air like a bird. It growls and snaps at her, but Sorala is long gone. Circling below, it bays loudly, like a dog who treed a cat.

Quye meanwhile merely looks disappointed, lookung up at the floating woman.

"Ah, so you admit it!" The sailor says, pointing a finger at her. "Disgusing yer-self, sneaking up on me! Didn't think I'd be so smart, now did ye!" he says, a smirk running across his face. "Thought I'd just be another stupid sailor, to rob and kill? Well, Captain Quye won't be so easily taken. You'll have to fight me!"

He draws a heavy cutlass from his belt, and raises it toward Sorala in angry salute. "Well, let's get on with it. Come down here and fight me! " Yet, despite facing a flying armed foe....the pirate didn't see as scared he should, more confident then Sorala expected. Some trick up his sleeve?

Trigger warning, child abuse mentioned below

Netuckelist nods at her question but does not reply right away. The little figure seems to be thinking a moment, weighing a choice. Finally he nods, and sets down his empty drink.

"Boy!" he suddenly shouts, loud enough to make Perey jump slightly. In only a moment, obviously waiting, the young boy appears. Awenasa gives them a longer look this time, seeing slightly reddish tinged skin, brown hair and dark blue eyes. They seem spry and helpful enough, nearly running over to the table.

The gnome glances from the boy to Awenasa. "This is Aigo." the boy's head bobs in agreement. "He was recently....a guest at Ely's establishment." At this name the boy's face clouds over with confusion and fear. Yes, fear. Even Awenasa , who has lived a hard and demanding life among people with little time to coddle finds the child's quick change concerning. What would darken a boy's heart so?

"Perhaps he can answer some of your questions." Netuckelist says, grim now. "Boy, how many children did you used to live with?"

Aigo seems displeased by this topic but says, sullenly, "Lots." he thinks for a bit and looks down at this hands, and Awenasa sees him using his fingers. This doesn't shock her, she's run into plenty of Shoanti and lowlanders who have trouble with numbers.

"Twenty four." Aigo says finally, nodding.

"And where did you live?" The gnome prods.

"In some rooms....near the mine." The boy says slowly, reluctantly. "Sometimes we'd go up to the Big House but not much." He shudders a bit at this. "The rest of the time, we were in the mine..." Then, clearly unable to stop himself, tears start to form. "You...are you sending me back? I won't go, I won't!" he suddenly shouts, surprising even himself.

For the first time Awenasa sees real emotion on Netuckelist's face, pity. A deep well of pity that seems quite out of place on the genial criminal's pointed face.

" won't go back. I promised you that Aigo, and I meant it. Now, tell us. How many men did Ely have watch you?"

The boy's tears remain, gleaming in the light from the windows. His voice is husky and a bit ragged, "Just two. Big men....and Mother Aleve in the rooms. Watch us at night. They had other men who worked there though, on the big farms or mining rocks..."

Then Netuckelist leaned in, "And what did these men do to you?" The boy looks surprised but resigned. Without a word he turned and pulled up the back of his shirt.

The child's back was a horrifying criss-cross of old welts and scars. Not from a whip, Awenasa judged, but a cane perhaps? Laid on hard enough to break the skin...many times.

"Stop it!" Perey shouts, and Awenasa sees tears in her friends eyes. "That's enough!"

Netuckelist looks at the man and nods, "Perhaps." Aigo, for his part merely shrugs and says, "It doesn't hurt any more."

"Run along, boy." The gnome says quietly. Aigo dashes off, vanishing once again.

Silence fills the room.

The two haggling figures freeze at Sorala's approach, clearly surprised at this sudden 'sailor' appearing shouting advice. Quye recovers first, raising his voice in anger, "Who the fu-" Then he pauses and cocks his head, like one of the clever ravens back home. His eyes narrow, face clouding.

"That voice." Then his face clears, suffused with anger and surprise. "That woman! At the tavern." Without delay he raises two fingers to his lips and lets out a shrill whistle. At his side the scabrous dog comes to attention, a low growl building in the massive, sloped chest.

The dwarf, obviously totally at sea, staggers backward away from Quye and the dog, staggering directly into the dirty water of the harbor, heedless of the splashes.

Quye grins and shouts something in a horrible, roaring language she doesn't know. Instantly the dog lets loose a ragged bark and bounds forward, clawed feet digging into the sand for traction. Mouth agape to show rows of shining teeth, it charges directly at Sorala!

You are up, the dog is about 30 feet away, charging. it'll reach you next round. It sure seems intent to do harm.

The sidewalk had long ago turned to muddy sand, with bits of seashell, grit and litter mixed in. Even as she walked, careful to step over waterlogged bits of wood, torn nets and broken pots she saw tiny crabs skitter into hideholes, no bigger then her fingernail. Seagulls perched on driftwood branches or old boxes, taking to flight at her approach. A jet black cat startled her once, the shape exploding from some sort of discard fish trap, before streaking across the street to vanish among the houses.

And it was not just animal life. She saw other people to, dark eyed inhabitants from the buildings. Some were busy enough, sewing clothes or mending nets in the bright tropical sun. Others though had a more...unsavory look. Lurking in darkened doorways, or lounging on shaded porches. Bottles in hand, or dice nearby. A slovenly, idle cast that would have, quite literally, got them killed in Irrisen. No one says anything to Sorala or even really makes eye contact but she is being noted and watched. People here expect trouble.

Ahead she finally spots her destination. It is indeed, a large ugly green ship, with three masts. It was a wide-bellied ship, swelling considerably outward at amidships, with a wide stern. Sorala's experience told her it would not be fast, but it would carry a heavy cargo with few hands. It looked in fair condition but it needed a new coat of paint and the sails looked to be fraying. Still, no battle damage she could see.

To her sudden surprise though, she spots Quye, much closer at hand. The rangy man is down at the waterside, talking with a portly dwarf in front of another, much dilapidated ship. At his side, snuffling in the dirty beach is No, surely not...and yet.

It was a bulbous shaped version of a dog, with scaly, pus-stained skin. A long snout glittered with teeth and strong paws dug into the sand, throwing small clods everywhere. Heavy shoulders rolled with muscles, gleaming slightly as with sweat...or slime. It had no tail. neither Quye or his companion pay it any mind, even as it snuffles ever louder through the muck.

Quye is talking so loud, she can hear the conversation clearly.

"Three thousand?" Quye says scathingly, waving his hand at the broken down hulk, which was clearly resting on the muddy sand. "She's a wreck! Worse then a wreck, she's grounded. Even Jezutau would probably laugh at you. You should be paying me to take her off your hands."

The dwarf says something, his voice too low for Sorala to hear.

Quye laughs, "Oh, I am sure. A fine ship. But when? When Yamasa flooded?" A barking laugh. "I'll give you one and a half, because I like dwarves."

More muttering from the shorter ship owner.

"I assume it comes with no crew?" Quye said, looking at the ship again, eyeing it carefully. "No matter, I have the hands for her..."

If Sorala stays any longer, she is likely to be seen. Even now the weird dog-thing is glancing up at her, sniffing the air.

At her question Tadul answers, "Oh, I suppose you would not know. He's from Greenblood, that's all. It's a city north of here, up on the mainland. Nearly in the Sodden Lands, by the Eye. " Sorala doesn't know what this means but it doesn't seem very relevant.

Kazim adds in, "Green Blood on a Black Rock. It is a famous animal fighting pit, on a tiny island in that harbor. People pit monsters against each other and bet on the winners. It's a big trade now, with lots of money in it. Quye used to be in monster trade, far as I know."

Tadul nodded, "Probably upset someone with a grudge and sailed down here to enlighten us with his presence." The heavy set grunted and spat at this, shaking her head. "Friendly sort that he is."

Kazim merely smiles and bows at her words, but his eyes show more then a glint of promise. Siboniso looks distracted and remains silent.

Sorala heads toward the berthing spot for Quye's ship, which is a fair distance. Which means, yet again, a long walk.

The dockside is a busy hive of activity, much of it reaching out into the water. Ships being repaired, re-floated and re-filled with cargo. More then once the White Squire paused to simply watch the work. Great winches pulling on heavy chains, attached to hulls sunk into the mud of the bay, dragging them to the surface like giant fish, slowly breaching. Other ships are merely being broken up for raw salvage, usable items being saved with the rest cut and used for scrap.

Cargos are being loaded and unloaded, the buzz of commerce finally coming back. Sorala wonders how much is based on deals like hers or simply wishful thinking. At least the people bringing items to shore have a market. Merchants fairly mob anything coming to land, if they manage to beat the Irrisen soldiers to the goods. To her surprise, Sorala notes that sometimes her countryman are paying, instead of just taking.

Curious. New orders? Or just common sense to not kill the golden goose? Or maybe the sailors had proven harder to simply rob then most Irriseni cared to deal with? Either way, intriguing.

Her route takes her past the Harborhorn, the long pier jutting out into the bay with the fort at the far end. The pier is too long to see details, but it looks busy out there, people bustling about. One of the Jadwiga's servants setting up shop in the obviously good location?

Sorala also spots many Chelish about. Many are working on their vessels, trying to refloat the sunken hulks or repair them in-situ. Their red jackets look like drops of blood among the blue waters of the harbor. Others are walking the waterfront like her, buying and selling. The Squire notes they never travel in groups smaller then five and all are heavily armed.

Finally she reaches the general area Kazim and Tadul directed her too. It looks like a more rundown area, the buildings here more in disrepair, covered with moss and vines. Also less battle damage, probably because of less things to loot. The dockside here is a muddy beach with a few poles driven into the water, covered with a few brittle boards. No stonework here, no fancy stairs or step. Simple, rugged and dirty.

Reminds her of Quye, actually.

"Everything is worth what's purchaser will pay for it." Netuckelist says easily. "In town, a glass of water can me a matter of small politeness. A mere courtesy. During a drought, it becomes priceless."

"As for Ely...he does better the harder and longer they work. I do not know where you are from, but surely men able to resist such temptations are rare in any place? Go, take a look around and judge for yourself."

When Awenasa asks about the details the gnome shrugs, "Good question, but one I can take care of. As part of my little operation here, I have a few people who travel often. One such can be arranged, to take the children with them to another town, another place. A proper orphanage, where they will be cared for instead of worked like animals. The town won't mind if the children suddenly vanish, most might even give a sigh of relief to have such a problem magically fix itself. Altava won't be tracking you down for this one...unless you get caught in the act. Red-handed kidnapping a bunch of children....well, that might not go so well."

The gnome's voice hardens slightly, "But that is my price for waiving the Sheriff's debt. You free the children and I'll write it all off, instantly without complaint. It will be my problem to get them away."

"Don't promise what you can't hold." Tadul comments, wiping a bloody hand on her dirty clothes, adding a new stain to the mix. "Quye might try to gut you whatever you say. He left unhappy."

Kazim shakes his head and says, seriously, "Quye is a hothead, but not stupid. Watch yourself, Ygritte. He is a Greenblooder, and everyone knows they are crazy men, but canny. His ship is the Champion Troll, a heavy three-masted flute." He glances at Tadul, "Is it still that ugly green color, that reminds me of algae?" At her nod, the brown-skinned man gives Sorala the location and berth number. After this, he adds, "Meeting you has been most...interesting, Ygritte Guiding Star. Your personality is most...intriguing. An open invitation to the El-Shadun stands." He gives an almost courtly bow. "If it helps, I have an excellent chef, native to my rather distant homeland. You have simply not lived until you have dined on his meshkak and date."

Tadul rolls her eyes and gives Sorala an oddly knowing, female glance.

Meanwhile in her head Eitleán comments, still casual, "I'm not sure. It was the quiet woman." An image of Shao flashed across her mind, like a flicker in a pond.

Sorala looked but the Tian woman was already gone, crossing the floor below, deep in conversation with her female second in command.

"Oh, and this might be important," Eitleán added, less amused and distant now. "One of them was lying, when they made that oath. I'm not sure which, but the blood oath has strange powers. One of those sailors does not intend to uphold their end of the bargain.' A pause, "That is probably not that great a surprise, though.'

Ok, off to sneak around Quye's ship?

As she picks up Eitleán to clean it, she can hear the rimeblade's voice in her head.

'I can feel the blood, you know.' The tone is measured, the usual slightly bored tone of a friend sharing something they think might be interesting. 'Feel the warmth on is different for each too. Man, halfling and others. A different....texture, I think is the right word?'

The Free Captains start to break up, presumably heading to inform their crews of the new arrangement. Tadul, in particular is clearly annoyed by a delay of 'next day or two' but doesn't say anything out loud. Sorala gets the berthing places of all the ships. Again the size of this city surprises her, and Crescent Harbor is just one area. In Irrisen people built close together, literally huddled for warmth. Clearly no such needs constrained these tropical dwellers.

At her question there are a few glances among the sailors.

"Captain Quye." Kazim finally says, again taking the leader as spokesman. He probably only gets away with this since Cinderbeam is already climbing down the stairs from the balcony, the halfling forced to go carefully due to the overly large steps.

"Pay him a visit?" Kazim says, his bright eyes glinting in the dim light of the tavern. "A social call perhaps? Taking him on a long walk off a short pier?" Seeing Sorala's face the sailor adds, "My answer may depend on what your plans are. We are, after all, in the same brotherhood of the sea."

'Even if he isn't the best sibling." Tadul says, unable to resist sticking her oar in.

Kazima and Tadul look at the bloody blade with more then a little distaste, glancing Eitleán's from gleaming edge to Sorala's face, as if to see if she is serious. Vraxakor actually says, "You want our blood? Like some kuru ritual? " The so far genial halfling looks oddly worried at this. He narrows his eyes at Sorala, "Are you from the Cannibal Islands?"

At this Kazim finally bursts out, "Damn your eyes, Vraxakor. It's symbolic, not magic. Just like spitting on a shake. For Besmara's sake,d o it or get out of the way!"

The halfling sniffs at this, inspects the blade again, mutters, "Unsanitary" and then runs palm along the razor-edge. Soon the halfling's captains blood is dripping freely, mingling with Sorala's. In short order new letters form although Sorala doesn't recognize them. Seeing her confusion the little sailor says, "The halfling alphabet, invented by,"

"Move!" Tadul says, her turn to be exasperated by the halfling. "We all need to apparently bleed ourselves like stuck pigs, and I don't want to be here all day." Soo both she and Kazim have both signed, bloody letter staining the table. Vrazakor shows off his wound like a battle injury, blood flicking everywhere as he keeps gesticulating. Tadul ignores it, the red seeping onto his dirty clothes while Kazim pulls out a rather dainty looking cloth and binds it.

Shao and Siboniso looks less then enthused. "Chelish-like." The lean black man says, earring glinting. "I don't like it." But then, without saying anything else, draws the blade across his skin, and signs his name.

Last is Shao, the Tian woman looking at the blade, the blood and the others. Clearly the female captain isn't happy about signing in such a...potent fashion. Probably not out of a desire to lie or cheat but simply a preference to not be pinned down. Sorala can respect that but this is no time for softness. Eitleán shimmers on the table, a tiny haze of fog around it.

"The old blood is bold blood, the wide world round." Shao mutters, repeating some old rhyme of lore. Then, with a final shrugs, "Very well."

There, Sorala had done it. Signed contract with the Free Captains.

So now what?

Netuckelist taps his chin, obviously thinking fast. He glances around, as if to make sure they are alone (which, of course they are). A final drum of his nervous, quick little fingers on the arm of the over-sized chair, a brief moment of silence and then,

"What do you know about fossils?" This time Awenasa's blank stare is clear enough that the Shoanti need not even answer. The gnome shrugs, "Look at that thing in your hand."

Carefully (Awenasa would not more look away from a possible threat like Netuckelist then she would pluck out her own eye), she looks at the rough rock in her palm, which she can just been about to absently slide into a pocket. It was a rocky shell, like she thought but it doesn't seem to be carved or sculpted. There are no tool marks and the detail is very intricate yet...natural. It doesn't have the abstracted symmetry that artwork usually has, but instead seems 'right' to Awenasa's mind. It just looks like someone had turned a sea shell into a rock with magic.

Maybe that was what it was? Some sort of wizard's currency?

Thak speaks, "They are old things turned to rock. Things left in the ground so long they have become the stones around them. Some are quite beautiful. I've seen whole trees, stuck in stone."

The gnome nods but adds with the obvious relish of the one-upper, "Whole forests. They make good currency. Rare, generally portable and the desert tribes think they are holy. Out here in the sticks, they are good as gold, even better."

Netuckelist narrows his eyes, "The best source comes from the diggings around the old Canal. Did you see them yet? Caves and tunnels, dug right into the ground there." Awenasa had in fact seen them, wondering what the odd holes had been. Well, one mystery solved.

Again the gnome hesitates for a moment, eyes slightly distant. Then, his voice soft, "They use children to mine them." At this Perey leans forward, losing his usual boredom with such discussions.

"Children? Why?" Awenasa's friend asks.

The gnome shrugs, "They are small, easy to bully and don't need paid. Most of all, the town looks the other way because such fossils are one of the few reasons anyone even still lives in this place. Outside traders, the tribes, everyone wants them. They can produce a tidy profit for everyone...if you just ignore the children."

"A man named Ely Piggrich runs the mines and 'owns' the children', This time the disgust becomes clear, despite the gnomes attempt to hide it. "Formally, they are his adopted kid just doing general labor, like on all the farms and such near by. But in reality...." The gnome shakes his head, and there is a shadow in his eyes, some old dark past flitting through.

Then, he glances up, "I want you to free them."

Netuckelist raises an eyebrow at Awenasa's attempt to scare off the drunks, but doesn't seem upset. Thak cringes slightly, apparently still not used to Awenasa's ability to unleash her fury at will, while Perey takes it in stride (like a proper Shoanti should).

At her roar, the second drunk's eyes fly open, clearly not so far gone he doesn't sense danger. The color drains from his face and he tugs at his comrade's shirt sleeve. 'Uh, she looks serious Dru, maybe...".

Dru, apparently, is less moved by Awenasa's attempt to avoid fighting. The big man blinks and looks somewhat owlishly at Awenasa. His voice is still slurred when he says, "Gnome, your dancing girls are a bit...large for my taste. Have any one smaller?" Then he grunts and shrugs, ignoring his friends attempt to dissuade him.

"But I guess she'll do." He gives Awenasa a leer, "Maybe a bear like you will be a change of pace." The big man digs in a pocket and casually tosses a lump of something at Netuckelist. Out of long habit, Awenasa snatches it first, half expecting a weapon. Instead he finds herself holding a very strange rock, somehow carved or formed in the shape of a shell.

Dru chuckles, "You do your own accounting? Good, come on then, let's go somewhere private.." He takes a few steps and outstretches a hand for Awenasa's shoulder.

Just as she is about to tear that arm off, she hears Perey whisper something. Without a sound, a slimy puddle forms around the dirty miner's approaching feet, reminding Awenasa of the drippings off cooking meat.

Caught off guard, the man roars and starts to slip....

Reflex, Drunk: 1d20 + 3 - 1 ⇒ (3) + 3 - 1 = 5

And falls spectacularity hard onto the floor, chin first. To his cried, the is kneeling in a moment, roaring curses in confusion. For a moment Awneasa thinks the man still might attack her, even covered in slimy grease and prone. Is even a lowlander that stupid?

But, with his friends help, the drunk man realizes the inanity of such action. He finally stands up (grabbing a wall for support) and stalks out, muttering angrily as he passes the porch guards.

'Sorry, boss." One of them says to Netuckelist in apology, "Yous aid not to cause trouble if we can avoid it.."

The gnome dismisses this with a flick of his small fingers, and soon Anweasa's group is alone with the tavern owner.

The gnome looks intrigued and says, "Well, you didn't break any bones, but on the other hand all my furniture is in place. So that is fair." He turns to Perey, "I assume the unsightly puddle is not a permanent addition to my decor?" So the gnome saw Perey's spell? He was observant.

Perey shakes his head and Netuckelist goes on, speaking to Awenasa again, "Just as a friendly warning, Dru has way of holding onto grudges. I'd keep your eyes open, he'll be looking to even the score with you now. Probably with a pack of friends at his back." The gnome shrugs, clearly feeling this is not his problem.

"But now, back to business. About this debt...I have an idea. How do you feel about children?"

Awenasa stares hard at the gnome, doing her best to see past the casual, genial face and see their real intent. To her surprise she does. It becomes obvious to her that the gnome doesn't care much at all what Altava wants or would do, but does think the law is real. The little gambler is merely using it as a weapon, or perhaps more accurately a shroud to hide his real purpose.

Even more apparent, Netuckelist doesn't even care if she knows this. Indeed, he seems a little smug and notices her noticing. Wheels within wheels.

"I'm not dancing." The gnome says, 'I would love to take your money. Indeed, in this circumstance I could probably skin you. Gold is gold, as you said. Although it isn't worth quite as much know that they found this big mines in Arl a few years back. Jewels would be better, fossils best of course." Awenasa has no idea what a fossil is and doesn't much care.

"But we don't want to go breaking the law, now do we?" The gnome says easily, setting his now empty mug on the card table with a tiny click. He stares back at Awenasa, apparently not daunted by her growing anger. "Now, take it easy Awenasa of the Shoanti. We wouldn't want to do anything rash would we?" The little gnome coughs and says, "I hate to suggest it, but I don't think beating the debt out of me is going to work."

Then he shrugs, little beard flipping with the practiced motion, "Besides, I think we can come to an arrangement, anyway. Here is what-"

He is cut off by a clamor from the door. Awenasa turns (careful to not let Netuckelist out of her field of view) and sees two big men at the door, dressed like common laborers. Heavy boots, grimy hands and massive shoulders. They are nearly as big as she is. Behind him the porch guards gesture helplessly, looking a bit abashed but not exactly scared.

It was a look Awenasa marked as 'lowlanders afraid to make trouble without orders'.

"We are here to drink!" One of the men says, voice slurred drunkenly.

'And eat!" the other roars in agreement, even drunker.

'And rut the women!" The first bellows, loud enough to rattle the rafters.

Netuckelist, for the first time, looks angry. Very angry actually, eyes blazing. He opens his mouth to say something, a hand twitching but then stops. A tight smile crosses his face as he says to Awenasa, quietly. "Break a few bones and I'll take ten percent off the debt."

"Bring out the dancing girls, gnome!" The first man yells and takes a slightly unsteady step forward toward the table.

Netuckelist pulls a face here, a melodramatic expression of concern and despair.

"Ah, we hit a crack in the road." The little gnome says, once again sipping at his sweet mug, the bubbly froth having receded below the rim by now.

"Well, two actually." The gambler says, "The first is a small matter of trust. If you do not know how much is owed...well, I could make up any number. I would never do so of course, but this lack of knowledge seems dangerous on your part."

A sip of drink and the gnome goes on, "The second issue seems to me the bigger one. Paying back a debt for another, especially without their consent is against the law." he waves a small hand, "I know, I know. An outrageous trespass on our freedoms, tyranny, and so on, but it is the law. Something about illegal sources of money. Ironically, it is our illustrious sheriff who promoted it."

'So, as you can see, it is simply not possible for you to pay off this debt, at least not without involving the valued and esteemed lawkeeper. Which, I feel, is not something you want?"

Netuckelist nodded genially and says, "Ah, of course. I should have suggested. I do have some sparkling juice here somewhere..." The gnome grabs a simple brown, earthenware jug off the cart and places it in front of Awenasa, along with a pewter cup. A faint scent of grapes wafts up from it, sweet.

Thak then interjects, "I'd actually like some of the wine, if I may." The gnome smiles, "Of course!"

Perey has remained quiet but, in the quiet as he pours Thaks drink says, "What about the music?" Netuckelist looks confused so Awenasa's friend goes on, "As he walked up, I heard music playing but it was...wrong. It was...dead."

The gnome then nods and looks knowingly, "Ah yes, although I wouldn't call it dead. You heard my player piano, I was tuning it up for the day." Seeing this meant nothing to Perey shrugged and said, "Maybe I can show you, if this meeting goes well."

When Awenasa mentions they come from Golarion, the gnome raises two bushy, dyed eyebrows. "Well, well. When you said you came a long way, you were not kidding. Interesting. Whoever you are must be in earnest." The gnome sipped his sickly sweet drink. "Remind me to never try to run from you. Apparently the stars themselves are not far enough."

As the Shoanti bluntly explains her purpose here the gnome's eyes glitter with....greed? No, with the same wariness she feels.

"Gold is gold indeed." Netuckelist says, leaning back slightly in his oversized chair. "Although not as valuable in all places, the same way. Do you happen to know the size of the debt you are discussing? And, almost importantly, does our illustrious Sheriff know about this? Forgive me for prying, but frankly she doesn't seem the type to have an outlander warrior do her business." The gnome's fingers tap the side of his cup, obviously thinking fast even as his mouth runs on.

"Do you have the proposed payment...on your person? For immediate use?"

Netuckelist takes in her name with obvious ease, clearly used to exotic names and faces. His quick eyes take in Perey and Thak but return to Awenasa, apparently marking her as the leader and person to deal with.

"A quest to save your people." The gnome says, repeating the words slowly with a bit of relish. "A bit...archaic but well said. How far have you traveled anyway? I don't recognize the Tamiir-Quah."

A chance to reply is interrupted as the boy returns. Awenasa had expected a tray perhaps, with a few mugs of beer, or maybe a bottle of the wine the lowlanders enjoyed (although the Shoanti had no idea what Arsis people drank). She is surprised when, instead, the young lad is pushing an entire rattling cart taller then he is. A full dozen bottle clink on the top and more sound from inside the closed hutch.

"Ah, even better." Netuckelist says approvingly, eyeing the cart. "Cook has his head on straight this morning. Excellent, a full choice." The boy reaches for a pitcher and glasses but the little gnome shakes his head, brightly colored beard dangling.

"No, no. We'll pour. You be off!" he mocks cuffs the boy around the head.

Awenasa Perception: 1d20 + 14 ⇒ (3) + 14 = 17

But Awenasa's trained eyes spot that instead of clouting the lad, the gnome actually slides a small coin into a pocket. The boy rushes off quickly.

"So, what'll it be, Awenasa of the Tamiir-Quah and friends? I have Arlish beer and wine here, ten years aged if you like. Maro whiskey, both red and blue. Maybe something from father afield? I have some Castrovel mead here, I think." The little gnome rummages around, glasses and bottles tinkling musically. Awenasa even notes a bucket full of ice chunks, presumably for cooling the drinks.

"I even have some local cider, if that is more your taste. Quite passable actually, if chilled."

Feel free to decline or accept

Netuckelist settles on a mug of a thick brown liquid that smells very sweet to Awenasa's nose. The gnome sits back in his chair and, eyes suddenly very bright says, "So, you wish to pay a debt? Well, that is what they are for, I suppose. Whose do you have in mind, exactly? And how do you intend to pay?"

The little gnome's eyes lit up at Awenasa's word.

"Business?" he said, the same way a priest may intone the name of a sleeping God. Or maybe more like how a child talks of a distant but much desired holiday.

"Business with strangers in a strange land." Netuckelist said, nimble fingers toying with his bright green beard. Despite barely coming up to Awenasa's waist, the gambler doesn't look scared of the towering Shoanti. Only...pensive. Coolly measuring below a veneer of excitable bubbling.

'But of course, of course!" He finally says, waving a hand. The gnome turns and makes a gentle shooing motion to the men and women still at the table. With various looks of curiosity they left through a back door (of which Awenasa quickly noted there were four of, one seeming to lead upstairs).

Netuckelist sized Awenasa a bit more and then said sharply but not unkindly, "Boy!" From another door a young boy of only five or six appeared, dressed in a dazzling outfit that seemed to be every color stitched together. The gnome's castoffs?

The boy stood silently as the gnome issued orders, "Get back to the kitchen. Drinks for four, and make them strong. Food?" he asked eyes sweeping over Awenasa and her group, then shrugged, "Just make it fast." he snapped his fingers and the boy took off like a rabbit.

The gnome waved them to the now empty table, and took a seat. His hear barely peeped over the edge of the table, yet his voice carried strongly. "So, I'm guessing from your perfect accent, you are using magic?" His bright eyes seemed sharp as knives.

What he said was true enough. Thak had cast his language spell on the way over, mentioning it would last for a few hours. "If that becomes a problem," Netuckelist went on, "I have quite an ear for languages, I speak several."

Voice still easy, "So, do you all have names? Or titles perhaps? Or do you like the mysterious stranger thing?"

A watery sun sends sunbeams through the open windows, sending tiny spirals of steam rising from wood and shingle. Somehow, the storm only made the air even more humid, fi that was possible. Sorala can feel her hair becoming a soaking sodden mess. Maybe she should shave it.....

Kazim looks at his comrades but clearly makes up h is own mind. The tanned man shrugs easily, "I think we'd be fools to turn it down. I, at least accept-"

He is cut off by Vraxakor Cinderbeam, who cuts in deftly, "In the name of the Acetabularii, I accept. Let it be known we were the first to join in common cause with the newest occupants of Port Peril." A small hand suddenly juts out toward Sorala, fast enough that well-honed fighting instincts flare to brief life.

Behind him Kazim rolls his eyes and says, formally, "I, Kazim el-Ishak speaking for the El-Shadun accepts this deal." He glances toward Tadul. The heavy-set woman (who had not touched rum or soup) gives Sorala a long, hard stare but finally says, shortly, "Agreed. Let's see how it fares."

Siboniso looks as sour as ever, not event he delightful peppery sancocho having lifted his usual dour mood. Still, there is a light in his eyes. "I will not stand alone, and the deal sounds fair. I'll agree until you break it, Ygritte."

Last is Shao, face totally unreadable. "And if we do not accept? How many others are you making this deal towards?"

The man looks at her darkly and then, to her surprise breaks into a wide grin showing many browned teeth. "Well, that is the magic word, isn't it? Go on in." He waves his hand vaguely to the open door and, duty apparently done, sits back down to a dice game.

"Impressive security." Thak mutters but Awenasa isn't complaining.

Awenasa passes through the door, somewhat curious what she will find. What could be in this crazy house that would let Altava throw away her pride and money?

She finds herself in a large, slightly dim common room. At first the Shoanti is surprised at the opulence on sudden display. The floor is carpeted from wall to wall, and chandelier hang from the ceiling. The walls are painted rather more tastefully then the outside, paneled with wood boards. Tables and chairs fill most of the space, with a small counter and cabinet wedged in a far corner. But after a few moments, Awenasa sees more.

The carpet is threadbare and worn straight through in a few places. The lighting fixtures are dusty and adorned with cobwebs above, and the painted walls are peeling. The tables and chairs are generally fine but mismatched and more then a bit battered. Even the haphazardly placed counter looks worn from use, and needs to be sanded.

At a table are a few humans, sitting and chatting, joined by a single gnome. Dressed in a flamboyantly suit of plum, Awenasa's eyes start watering again. It clashes painfully with a bright blue beard and green hair, but perfectly matches rich purple eyes.

When Awenasa steps in, the gnome turns instantly.

"Ah!" The little figure says, quickly hopping off his (human sized) chair. "And who might be visiting so early in the morning? Travelers? Fresh from the road, looking for diversion perhaps? Something wet to wash away the dust? Or maybe something to eat, a room to rest tired feet? Or maybe even searching for a companion to wile away the hours?" The gnome grins, "All of this and more is available at Netuckelist's Gnamma!"

The gnome says all of this with an easy practiced patter and smiles, but Awenasa can detect some wary watchfulness there, of a wild animal finding a new creature in its pasture. What was Awenasa? Prey? Predator?

Awenasa is unsurprised to find her friend is already listening to the music, head cocked, eyes slightly closed. Yet, unlike his usual look of wonder and enjoyment at any melody, there is a slight frown on his features. It reminded Awenasa of someone who bites into an apple only to find it sour.

"Something is not right about it." Perey says finally, shaking his head. "Not dangerous, nothing magical. Just..." he trails off, looking displeased.

Thak blinks a bit at the colors but says nothing.

They both follow her up the wooden steps into the shaded porch. Awenasa's eyes adjust quickly, and she picks out a full half dozen 'guards' although they don't impress her. Oh, most of them are big and strong enough, at least by lowlander standards but they all have a lazy indolent look, a softness of mind, if not body. Most are busy playing cards are outright sleeping but one, a tall man whose exposed skin is covered in bright blue tattoos, seems a bit more awake.

He looks at Awenasa, and slowly stands up. "Looking for trouble?" he says bluntly, obviously wondering who she was and what she wanted. In a small town like this, maybe strangers were unusual. "Cause this is the wrong place for it."


Altava raises yet another eyebrow at this remark about promises but finally shrugs, and turns back to her papers. The woman does say, as Awenasa heads for the door.

"I mean it, don't make me regret turning you loose."

And with that warning in her ears, Awenasa and her friends step back out into open world of sky and dirt, instead of the catacomb like Headquarters.

It is early morning now, and not nearly as hot. Indeed the air is almost cool on her skin, even if dry as a bone. The sky overhead is a hazy, dusty blue as if someone had poured a bucket of sand over a painting. A few darker clouds roil there but Awenasa has a feeling it would never rain here.

The streets are full of people today, as opposed to the strangely empty village of yesterday. Awenasa realizes the people must avoid the punishing late-day sun, and she approves of this common sense. too many lowlanders try to simply ignore the weather, as if they are above the world and it's rhythms. At last these people are not entirely without sense.

Most are wearing layers of clothing, although Awenasa is unsure if that is to keep our the dust or the heat. Heads are bundled in turbans or headdresses, covering the face entirely. Long trailing cloaks and burnooses seem in style, many in bright colors. Yet the clothing all looks worn and faded, none of it new. There is a....used quality to every persons he sees, as if they are washed out by the wan, dusty sun itself.

Awenasa passes homes, little shops, and the small services she can come to recognize as part of towns. Cobblers and bakers, candlestick makers. A blacksmith is working hot iron, the rhythmic ringing of his hammer echoing loudly in the morning air. Scents of humanity hang about, of bread and sweat, of perfume and sawdust.

Awenasa feels many eyes on her, even if she can't see them. No one confronts them, or even speaks to them, but conversation fades when she passes, lips still. Heads turn toward her, and even a few fingers raised but nothing aggressive, nothing that challenges her.

With Netuckelist in mind, she wanders down the street closest to the canal, finding this is the main business street of Arsis. The farther she goes though the hustle and bustle fade away though, with more and more empty silent buildings. Below her, in the canal, she spots more and more little caves cut into the side walls, piles of dirt shoveled here and there.

Then, she hears music ahead. Looking up Awenasa spots a large ramshackle looking buildings, half leaning over the canal, held up by a bewildering and unsafe looking series of supports and wooden beams. Rooms jut out at odd angles, and covered porches sprout from unexpected corners. It has many windows, although most are shuddered and closed. Brightly colored flags hang every where, merging with a crazy patchwork color scheme that has ever shade from baby blue to hot pink. Stripes and dots, streaks and stenciled shapes. Frankly, it makes Awenasa's eye burn.

The music drifts out of an large open front door, set in the back of a large covered porch. In that shade Awenasa's hunter's eye spot several shadowy shapes. Men, at rest, but not at ease. Guards? Bully boys at least, that remind her of the thugs of Riddleport.

Altava raises an eyebrow at Awenasa's first question, cocking it over her sharp purple irises. "Really? You'll have to tell me the trick. I've been bugging her about Eivind for years, and barely got anything. I would have sworn it was a well as dry as the outer wastes. Interesting."

At her second question, she leans back in her chair, thinking. "Supplies, eh? I assume you are headed out into rough country. The three of you?" A pause as the Sherriff thinks. "Arsis isn't what it once was. Story goes, you could have had your pick back in the good old days. Visitors from all over, even by canal. Shops of all kinds. Or so they say. Ah well." The slim woman shrugs, the gun at her belt clinking lightly on a buckle.

"You got two choices, I think. Starn's is the main shopkeep in town, the grocer. Gets deliveries from out of town and all. Nails, glass, clothes. That sort of thing. Not much food, he sources that locally. People tend to get that themselves." She waves a hand, "The others is probably Ely Piggrich's place. Not strictly a store, but he runs the local mines, and I know he sells to the few prospectors around. Travel supplies, might be more up your alley."

She gives Awenasa a hard look, "Ely is a tough one, no doubt. He pinches every coin that comes his way. He'll be fair but hard. I don't want to hear any complaints about you in town. You have an issue, just nod nicely and bring it to me. No shouting, no threats, and certainly no fighting."

The young woman's voice sounds stern, "Understand? I will not have you upsetting my town, either on purpose or on accident."

Awenasa does not sleep very well, but this doesn't surprise her. Being virtually entombed in a building of cold metal, pitch black and silent as a grave. Perey and Thak's breathing sounds loud in her ears, unbroken by the faintest other noise. Even her heartbeat seems to thunder, shaking the walls.

Still, it passes without incident. Except, perhaps, for nightmares.

The next morning, they find themslves lead out to the main Headquarters room, finding Altava there at a table. She seems to be grumbling over stacks of paper, which Awenasa finds an odd way to spend the morning. They are informed Khoretz, her ratfolk deputy, went out for breakfast.

"So," Altava says, looking up at Awenasa, "What did you you and the old lady get up to last night? Did she tell you what you needed to know?" The young woman sounds casual, leaning back in her chair in stuided unconcern, but Awenasa can sense tension there, doubt.

"Staying in town long? I can recommend a place for you to buy supplies, if you like. "

Perey consider Awenasa's words about money but still seems troubled. "What if they don't want gold?"

For a second, Awenasa is taken aback at the mere idea. If there was one thing she knew about lowlanders, it was their obession with gold and money. Indeed, she was fairly sure they secertly worshipped the stuff. Even the Wanderers, who she admired and respected, had been constantly preoccupied with gaining more. Surely these people would not be any different?

"It is true," Thak said, inspecting a bare, matress-less bed with obvious dissapointed longing. "There are islands I have seen, where exchange is done with shells and metal is unknown. Besides, Awenasa, your own people rarely use money, correct?"

This is, of course, true. While Shoanti understood moneya nd collected it (her own bag was proof of that) it was mostly to deal with outsiders. In a quah, the idea of buying services was ludcious, of course. What, was one going to purchase wisdom from an elder? A quah worked together seamlessly. As for between groups, money was also rarely valud enough. Usually it was barter, skins for bones or meat for ore, or exchanged favors. Perhaps one quah would allow another acess to some prime hunting land for a season, or give up a valuable fishing pool.

Could these strange people be the same? Surely not. This Netuckelist struck her as the most abse form of lowlander.

But what if he wanted shells?

Thak nods at her final question, "I will have it ready, two castings. So I can renew it during the day if you need it."
Anything else or should I mvoe us on to morning?

Funny you mention that last bit..

To her annoyance, by the time Awenasa has taken her leave of Krahnu Duhn, found her way back to the cavernous main hall and rejoined her companions, Altava's speech has reverted to incomprensible gibberish. Thak's magic must have worn off. No surprise and Awenasa supposes she is lucky it didn't happen mid-conversation with the ex-Sherriff.

With a great deal of hand waving and gesturing, the purple-eyed woman leads them to a small room, presumably for their own. It is sparsely furnished, with a single chair, and a few empty bed frames, and no windows. It was like being in some intricate cave systems. Thak frowns at the lack of mattresses but Altava merely smiles ruefully and leaves them alone.

Alone, Awenasa shares some of what she and Krahnu Duhn discussed I'll leave it vague. Both of them look concerned and Perey, speaking in Shoanti says, "This could be dangerous Awenasa. Not because of this Netuckelist." Like Awenasa, he seems to assume she can handle any lowlander. "Because it might cause trouble in town. What if you break the ...rules?"

He looks to Thak, uncertain of the correct word.

"Laws." Thak adds, in Common.

"Right, laws." Perey nods also in Common, before switching back to Awenasa's native tongue, "What if you break the law and all hands turn against us?"

The old ex-sheriff shifts in her expansive chair, making the wood and cloth groan. "So you agree? You will accept the deal?" Then, seeing Awenasa's face among the smoke, nods to herself, "Yes, I see you will. You would do anything to find Eivind, I think. Perhaps I am selling myself too cheaply..." The big woman laughs then, a broken attempt that ends in extended coughing.

When it subsides, Krahnu Duhn waves a huge hand, "You and your friends can stay here, of course. We have plenty of room and it isn't that unusual, for a night. Besides Altava did shoot you, least we can do. If you need to stay longer, we can find you a room in town, I'm sure."

All good? I can wrap up this day and get Awenasa some sleep. Going to inform Perey and Thak of this new thing or keep it to yourself?

Krahnu Duhn reveals a bit of impatience, just a subtle shift of the shoulders, the lowest audible growl in her throat. "Few enjoy getting shot by a gun. And I cannot promise she won't. Like I said, she is young and foolish. It may be best to do this all in a way that isn't obviously traced back to you? Or not, I don't care." But here she leans forward, creaking like an old tree in a forest, smoke swirling.

"You will not harm Altava." The old woman intones, in voice like iron. "Or not only will you not hear what you wish, you will make an enemy of Krahnu Duhn." For a moment this hangs in the air, mixing with the layers and clouds of pungent tobacco. Then it passes and the crippled woman sits back, sighing.

"But I doubt that will be a problem. As for how much she owes...I'm not sure. As you may have guessed, it is not as if I and Netickelist talk frequently. I am relying on rumor and gossip, along with some guesswork. I will say this though, the little runt probably has it written down. A great passion for lists and paperwork, or so it is said."

The sancocho is aggressive, burning her mouth and throat with unseen fire. Yet, for all that, it tastes good, despite the obvious pain. Was this what the Overtyrant spoke of, this mixing of pleasure and pain?

"Humans are very strange." Eitleán remarks in her mind. True enough.

Sorala does her best to read the assembled piratesFree Captains but it is difficult in the shadowy upper story of the Deadlight. Outside the pouring rain seems to subside, as quickly as it started, the sky clearing. Was all weather so caprious in this place? In Irrisen things changed slowly (if at all). A blizzard might last days, or even a week. Things changed fast in this tropical land.

Kazim el-Ishak speaks first, as is apparently usual. "A generous deal. Perhaps too generous, one might say? Almost too good, after such a savage invasion. Still, as the saying goes, it is an ill wind indeed that blows no good for anyone."

Vraxakor Cinderbeam waves this aside, the halfling helping himself to a very healthy cup of the rum. He drinks it, careful to avoid wetting his goatee. After finishing he says grandly,"I think it is an impressive gesture. A pathway to future cooperation!"

"Indeed," Kaim says drily, raising and eyebrow and offering Sorala small shrug, almost an apology.

Tadul ignored this byplay and focused heavily on Sorala, face intense. "Before we get into the details, Kazim is right. Its too good to be true. I noticed you failed to mention your cut. What is your percentage? Don't make it too high, you'll be getting it out of every load. "

"And cuts for other House Morgannan representatives?" Shao interjects, "I assume there will be others? Bookeepers, clerks, inspectors? What is the expected take for these?"

Kazim who is holding a cup of rum under his nose, enjoying the scent says , "Bonefist took one and a half percent direct, and usually another ten got lost among the various...layers of that pearl." Tadul frowned at this, clearly unhappy that Kazim was giving Sorala anything to work with.

The disabled woman bows her head at Awenasa's first question, her eyes kindled with fire when she lifts it. "yes, I will tell you all I know. It has been many years but not all is forgotten. You may learn much that is useful for you...and perhaps some you wish you had not heard."

"As for money.." Krahnu Duhn seems surprised at this but her face changes slightly, "Yes, outlander. The usual things. Coins, jewels. Here in Arsis, we are poor of course. Many things are by favor or barter. Netuckelist may accept that, I am not sure. We have never met in person." The old woman coughs on her own smoke, yet eagerly takes another long drag, leaving Awenasa to sit in smoky silence for a moment.

"As for where to find them...Follow the canal. All the way to the edge of town. Times are hard and Netuckelist barely clings on, so I hear. Another reason they are so keen to drive up the debts from the Sheriff. They are not very popular either."

At the last question the hulking woman's eyes light up again and a ghost of a smile flickers across her rough face, vanishing like a goat in the mountains.

"You are a clever one. Good." She nods, the whole chair creaking at the action, "You put your finger on the sore spot. Another reason, besides the obvious," She raises a mutilated stump for an leg, "That I cannot do it myself. Altava is young and foolish. Likely she will take it badly if someone interferes with her affairs. But what do you care, outlander? You will be leaving on your quest."

Krahnu Duhn buys time with another puff of aromatic smoke but through the screen, Awenasa can see she has surprise (or confused) the older woman with her question. In a different language she mutters something obviously not meant for Awensas's ears but, still apparently in the grip of Thak's magic, can understand the whisper anyway.

"How backward are these people..."

In a normal voice and language the chair-bound woman goes on, "Money. Altava owes a great deal of money to a merchant in town, although they make most of their money off such gambling debts. Netuckelist Ebbluack, a gnome." Seeing Awenasa's face still confused the woman adds more, in a slow voice like one talking to a child.

"Altava pays to play games at this place. She earns money if she wins, loses money if she loses. She rarely wins. Sometimes she bets more money they she has, hoping to win it back. Ebbluack allows this, placing her in his debt, to be recalled at his time. While distasteful, it is legal. Altava owes him so much, it is starting to impact her ability to work."

"I want you to get rid of this debt, I don't really care how. " Her dark eyes suggest that she really doesn't care, even if this gambling merchant ends up face down in a ditch somewhere.

At Sorala's remark Tadul Fatru leans toward Kazim and says in a stage whisper, "Well, if she negotiates like that, this should be easy." No one says anything else while Vraxakor vaults the stairs, two at a time.

Upon reaching the top he nods grandly, "Excellent, excellent. The seat of power!"

As the other Captains climb up to the balcony (and their crew head down), Sorala shouts down to the barkeep. She notes it is the same woman who served her last time, the one who had instantly recognized her as an outsider (but had not said anything). The woman glances at the coins, and then the Free Captains who merely shrug.

"'Ke, then." Comes the reply and they shout orders into a back room, presumably the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Sorala's invitees file in across the balcony. Like a battlefield commander surveying the foe, Sorala gauges her enemies. Vraxakor remains standing, smiling genially, a king to a well-loved bunch of courtiers. Kazim, elegantly takes a seat at a table, smoothly upright. Siboniso leans against the railing, back to a wall, sharp eyes fixed on Sorala. Tadul Fatru heavily sits in another chair near Kazim, leaning on her elbows, somewhat aggressively. Last but not least, Shao remains standing, arms folded across her chest, face unreadable.

The silence grows until, finally, Kazim glances at his fellows and, apparently seeing something there, ventures ahead (even as Vraxakor opens his mouth).

"Before we begin, " The tanned man says easily, voice slightly strained, "I am afraid we must touch on the matter of jurisdiction. I could not help but notice in your earlier declarations a certain...terminological distance placed between you and the recent occupiers of our fair city. You speak of 'The invaders' and 'the invaders will fail'. Do you not count yourself among them? If not, this I am unsure of your authority, or ability to deliver what we require."A quick smile, "No offence intended of course."

Tadul waves a fat fingered hand, like someone shooing flies, "Forget all that. The problem is everything takes too long. You talk about days to arrange things. Too long! I am due in Pex tomorrow and while I can't make it, I need to leave on the tide. Tonight. Contracts are wasting."

Even at she lays out this fiery declaration, a young lad climbs the stairs bearing a heavy wooden tray. A few steaming bowls of sancocho, a bottle of brown liquid and several pewter cups. It is laid on the table in front of Kazim, the coins grabbed and the lad runs off silently.

Kazim grabs the bottle, peers down at it and smiles, "Ah, Bag Island rum. Look, Raffles' own mark! Excellent." Instantly he starts pouring, and the scent of spicy liquor fills the air.

Siboniso grunts in agreement, "If she wanted to kill us, she'd have brought troops, like she says. Ned!" he shouts to a sailor near the door. "Are there a bunch of troops out there?"

The sailor pokes his head outside and then returns it, soaking wet even in that quick movement. "No, sir!"

Siboniso nods, "Then there we go. If she can kill all four of us on her own, it doesn't matter a damn what we do."

Kazim inclines his head, "Morose if well reasoned, like always Siboniso. I am in general agreement with you although, since the charming Ygritte offers it, we should keep our crews close at hand. Beside, the fewer who have to stand out in the rain, the better." Dark olive colored eyes shift to the Tian woman at his side. "What say you?"

Shao shrugs, "We are not made of sugar, to melt in a bit of rain." Outside the bit of rain doubles in force, hammering the roof of the tavern so hard Sorala can barely hear what the red-robed woman says next. "I am also in agreement."

Lastly the fat woman eyes Sorala and says, voice still wrinkled with anger. "My name is Tadul Fatru, of the Bouncing Headsman, and I've been sailing these waters before you were born." She doesn't look quite old enough to make this claim, but what does Sorala know? "I too am in agreement although I hope she curbs her tongue, if she really wants to deal. But numbers make a bargain, not likes."

"Well said," Kazim says smoothly, rising to his feet with some grace. "Then let's call back our crews." Even as they start the orders though a new voice breaks in. A halfling, short even by the standards of his kind, hops up on a chair. His face is quick and narrow, sporting a rather refined goatee and long mustache of dark hair. Blue eyes flare under wiry eyebrows. Sorala notes he was one of those Captains who plunged for cover.

In a piping voice he says, "What is this! Vraxakor Cinderbeam of the Acetabularii' will not be ignored or left behind!" A tiny fist is raised into the air. "I will go as well, even into the breash as always! Back away, men! Clear the way ahead!" This order rings out proudly but no one moves. Ignoring this, Vraxakor jumps down and starts for the stairs leading to the balcony.

Kazim tilts a head and glances up at Sorala, apparently curious what she will make of this petite interruption.

Sorala's dramatic reveal and words is greatly aided by the fact that, just as she makes her declaration the dark sky lets loose a torrent. The White Squire knew rain of course, although in her homeland it was usually mixed with ice and snow to create a killing slush. Here though, it was as if someone had taken a bucket the size of Port Peril and tipped it, a great windless sluicing roar. Cataracts streamed off the Deadlight's roof, gouts of white water. Oddly, over the rising rain , Sorala thought she heard something out of place. A throaty, feminine laugh.

"Interesting" Eitlean says in her mind, voice musing and surprised.

But Sorala has no time to contemplate the weather or rimeblades because her words have sparked quite a reaction. Indeed, so strong of responses the White Squire might have smiled, if she had not donned the mask of command. Instead she merely watched on high, to see how these band of pirates might react.

It was quite the display. Some rose to their feet, drawing weapons ranging from axes to dirks. Others sat, open-mouthed, caught by sheer surprise. Chairs were flung back, clattering on the floor, tables tipped, plates scattered. Two Captains dove under tables, scrambling for cover. Behind her, the crews on the balcony reacted similarly in confusion, some drawing weapons, others stumbling backward at her sudden appearance. From below Quye threw a half-filled wine bottle, seemingly more out of reflex then anything else, the glass shattering harmlessly two feet below Sorala. Bad aim or a last minute try to avoid a fight?

Out of the confusion Quye spoke first, pointing a finger toward her, ”I know her! A liar, she said she was Ulfen last time! Now she is one of them. I knew it! You dirty landlubber!” he flailed a bit, and Sorala got the feeling that if she was down there, among them, it would have come to blows then and there. But as it was she was up here, and the raving man was down there. After this roar, silence fell over the tavern, filled only broken by the drenching outside.

Then exotic man in the burnoose laughed, a sharp clear sound that cut through the tension. he, at least, had remained seated and his weapon sheathed (a long, curving sword at his belt). "Quye, please, be serious. What are you going to do, attack her? You just said yourself, she is apparently with management.”

”No, not again!” Quye growls, ”No more talk, Kazim.” he wheels on the collected Captains, many of them standing, still holding weapons. ”All of you, think you are so clever. But you'll hang yourselves. I'm leaving and mark my words, you'll wish you left with me. Just remember, the Lords are still out there, and talk spreads. I'm a Free Captain and I remember it."

With that the man stalks out toward the door, kicking a chair out of the way so hard it splinters against a wall. Sorala notes a few others leave with him, faces set in anger. The rangy man is clearly not alone.

After the captain exits, slamming the door Kazim speaks up, voice floating toward Sorala, ”I must confess, Ygritte Guiding Star, you have style. While I admire the moniker you assigned me, my name is Kazim el-Ishak of the El-Shadun.” He pauses and then goes on, showing very even white teeth, ”You promise much, but request us to withdraw our crews. Thus our safety. This is a risk, surely you know that. What guarantees do you offer? Anything more then the point of a sword?”

Still seated Siboniso squints up and mutters, "What can she offer? It'll all just be words, even if good ones."

The Tian woman in the red robes looks pensive but says, her voice slightly more accented now, "If you wish to deal with us, why should you make these terms? Meet with us in normal fashion, on our ships. We would have our crews, but you would have your troops. Why now, in this place, in such a...dramatic fashion?”

"Fortune favors the bold, Shao." Kazim says softly, face fixed on Sorala, still smiling.

The fat female captain merely glowers at Sorala, apparently unwilling to even answer to such a insulting 'title'. Hard to blame her, really.

Sorala flickers from view and soars into the increasingly cloudy sky. Indeed, it is the first time the White Squire has seen clouds in this otherwise bright, tropical landscape. Dark ones too....

She slips inside, doing her best to find an out of the way corner to eavesdrop on the upper balcony. It ringed the lower floor, little more then a elevated platform, separated from the drop but a rickety railing. Up here the tables were crowded too but they seemed to be the regular sailors and crew, keeping themselves occupied while the Captain's talked below.

From her vantage, Sorala looked down and spotted two familiar faces. Unsurprisingly they were from her last visit here and debate with Fleta. Siboniso, the small dark man with the bone earring and Quye the large rangy man who had threatened her (that insult had not been forgotten). The rest were unknown to her, a very diverse crowd. No sign of Fleta. Men, women, half-elves and half-orcs, and even a knot of rusty looking dwarves. Most are dressed in simple sailors garb (if nicer made) but a few dress more flambountely, with robes or large hats. More then a few sport glittering displays of jewelry, gold and gems glinting in the dim lighting.

The discussion seems to have heated up, and they aren't very good at taking turns.

Siboniso currently has the floor, "Well, I told you all this would happen. They would sit on us, like a gull on an egg."

"As usual, Siboniso." A dwarf says, "A bright as night in a coalmine.. It's only been a few days. What did you expect, engraved invitations? It'll take time for them to sort things out, get things working properly again. Surely they want an working port, and the trade?"

A large man with skin blacker then tar says, "Awfully understanding! You'd make a good peasant, rock cracker. So we are all just going to sit around and wait for them? We are the Free Captains, have we forgotten?"

Some sheers at this, and Quye nods violently, "I say we fight our way out! They can't stop all of us."

"Can't they?" A Tian woman says, robes of dark red shimmering. "They conquered the whole city! Killing Bonefist wasn't easy work, I'll tell you that. There is power with them. They might well be able to sink all of us, even put together."

"There are other ways," Siboniso says, sourly, "Like what Fleta was talking about..."

Some agreement, some derision. Quye waves his over-sized hands, "What? Sit down and draw up agreements with 'em? Why isn't she here then? T share this bright plan?"

"I heard she is meeting with some of them now, some of the invaders."

"No, I hear' twas Chelish she was meet' with."A half-orc says, voice deep as an organ.

This is met with audible distaste. Clearly the Chelish are far worse then Sorala's countrymen. This goes on for a bit, confusion and argument but finally another voice breaks in.

This one is from a rather handsome human man, skin bronzed from the sun. He wears an exotic looking burnoose but his accent is lighter then many of the others. "But one of you mentioned before, about passes?"

A fat female captain nodded and said, "Aye, that Romanovich fellow. Was giving out passes for trade, in exchange for pledges. And money, of course. Least, that's what I heard."

"A pledge?" Quye laughs loudly, "What's a pledge once we have wind in our sails and our backs to the land?"

The handsome man shakes his head, "Nothing...except the promise of good pay. Right? If we take the pledge, they'll let us sell here, I warrant."

The woman agrees and says, a trace of eagerness in her voice, "I hear they are paying half again the going rate for food, and other things." Whispers at this, calculations of price. Profit and loss, even more then wind and tide, is a Free Captain's business.

Siboniso nodded darkly, "And why not? They need the food, where else they going to get it? And for money, what's that to them?" He snaps his fingers, "They'll just loot it from the city! get what they want at no cost!"

Ok, time's up. What's your plan?

Altava meets Awenasa's eyes without fear and then cocks a head, "I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about what she might do to you." But the younger woman says nothing else and lets Awenasa head down the hall in peace.

Krahnu Duhn still facing away when she replies, the wheels making a strange grinding noise on the smooth floor. "Maybe you are....but maybe it will not prove so good."

The large woman then falls silent. Awenasa follows the wheeled chair down a short hallway, dotted with rooms. Many look dark and cold, obviously long disused. Whatever Headquarters had been built for, most of it stood empty now. Coming from a people usually on the move, it all seemed a giant waste to Awenasa. Such a giant, echoing chamber....couldn't something better be done with it? Storing food perhaps?

The Shobhad-neh woman pauses at yet another steel door, reaching up a massive hand (big enough to palm Awenasa's head) toward the handle. She opens it, rolling inside with a bit of difficulty. Awenasa follows behind.

The Shoanti finds herself in a spartan, simple room with that same not-tile floor, steel walls and ceiling. Here at least the roof is of normal height, inside of the vast arcing cavern of the main chambers behind. The furniture is simple, if overly large to accommodate Krahnu Duhn's size. A large bed takes up most of the space, along with a padded and very well worn chair. A single shelf of worn books is nailed to the wall, above a few large stacked chests.

It is not entirely without art however. On one wall hangs a large woven rug, intricate in design. Cloth, reeds, and animals skins are all somehow woven together to create what seems a colorful starburst, radiating out in waves of bright colors.

Krahnu Duhn rolls over to the worn chair and, with obvious effort, levers herself out of the wheeled chair and into it. The chair creaks from the strain, but settles in silently. The former sheriff faces Awenasa quietly, eyes searching Awenasa's face. It is not a kindly face now, but it looks old and drawn, tired with years of waiting....

"I know some of what you wish to know, Awenasa. As I said, an oath binds me and it is not for me to set it aside, no matter the cause. To lay your word aside when it is hard....that is when you must most cling to your honor. I was young and it was foolish, but it is still my bond. Unwise or no. Still, I will not break it. " Seeing Awenasa's face, the woman holds up a large hand, "But, not all is sworn. There is some I may tell you....if I wished."

The woman pauses then and says, "Hand me that box." She gestures toward a small wooden box on the bed. Awenasa hands it over, feeling something clatter around inside.

Krahnu Duhn opens it smoothly, pulling forth a pipe and a soft bag of blackish leaves. The Shoanti rarely smoked (except for some rituals or special events) but Awenasa knew was smoking was. Many of the lowlanders (and nearly all the Wanderers) had seemingly enjoyed the practice. With practiced skill, the huge woman has stuffed the pipe and set the leaves alight.

A spicy scent fills the air, making Awenasa's eyes tingle unpleasantly, as if wildfire smoke was drifting into the room. Still, the other woman sighed happily, taking long drags of the fragrant fumes. Finally she spoke again, "I will tell you what I can...if you help me, Shoanti."

"Altava is a worthy Sheriff....but she has some bad habits." The larger woman frowned. 'Gambling, you know this? She owes much to a merchant in town. Too much. Still, while she has flaws, she holds to her own oath and post. Altava would never abuse her powers as Sheriff...." A low rumble of mixed approval and annoyance, and the smoke swirls.

"I want you to get rid of this debt. I do not care how. In exchange, I will tell you what I can of Eivind...and his companions."

"Well, a good idea rarely sits around for long." Eitleán remarked unhelpfully, before being placed in his scabbard. "Maybe less time eating breakfast....."

Weapon sheathed, Sorala did her best to sneak into the tavern and find a nice shadowy corner to listen in. It shouldn't be hard considering how crowded it was, and how intent the conversation was. All she had to do was step through the door into the cooler shadow-

Suddenly she found a huge, gnarled green-skinned hand on her shoulder, clamped as tight as a vise. Turning slightly she notes the hand is attached to a huge muscular arm, which in turn connects to a towering six foot plus half-orc, wearing salt stained and hastily tanned sealhide. A reek of stale beer and body odor wafts off of them. The cragged brow, the heavy jaw and beady eyes look even more intimidating in the half-light of the tavern. A heavy boarding axe is at their hip. Two chipped tusk-like teeth gleam like ivory.

"The Deadlight be closed." They rasp harshly, accent so heavy Sorala can barely understand it. "Free Cap'ns and crew, only. Who you be? I don't rec' ye." The eyes narrow in suspicion.

Beyond them, Sorala catches a glimpse of a cluster of tables, pushed together in a untidy group. Around them are, presumably, some Free Captains. The debate seems to continue but Sorala is a bit distracted to listen in.

The bustling breakfast scene stops dead when Sorala mentions paying for something. As if a blast of Irrisen blizzard suddenly blew through the open door, every last one of the former slaves freezes solid, unmoving. Silence reigns, only broken by the crackling of the roaring bakery fires. Then, as one, the halflings shake their heads, small faces stern.

Gently, her money (and a stack of rolls) is pressed into her hands...and Sorala is politely escorted out into the street. Clearly her money is no good here.

"Meals have never seemed overly interesting to me." Eitleán remarks. "You are too busy eating to really say anything interesting." A pause and then, "Although some of the fruit was of an interesting color. Everything seems more...vibrant here. It reminds me of the Witchmarket."

When Sorala asks about his thoughts the sword grows pensive. "Yes....but no. Give me some more time. And by that, I mean stay alive. "

One thing about Port Peril, the cramped, crabbed streets made for good shopping. Everything was stacked on top of each other, crammed together. Even better trades seemed to stick together, creating streets of blacksmiths or cobblers or coopers. This intrinsic 'order', plus the directions of the halflings means she finds the stores quite easily.

Sadly, more then a few are dark and closed. Sorala hopes it is just because of fear and doubt, then death in the invasion. Two however, are burned out rubble, black piles of burnt sticks. The air of charred leather and cloth hangs in the air.

Still, she manages to find one open store with reasonable prices (although things seem dear, as the new occupation ahs messed up supply chains, even just between different parts of the city, let alone imports).

After a bit of hunting, she finds one pair of ladies evening gloves (a nice blue that sets off her eyes) and a pair of dueling gloves with only a small bloodstain. They go for 5 silver coins each.

Shopping done (for now), Sorala , still disguised, finds the Dellman's Deadlight without too much trouble. Approaching, Sorala notes it seems awfully crowded for a morning. Did people in Port Peril work? Still, the door is open.

Sorala perception: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (4) + 8 = 12

By some instinct Sorala pauses by the door as voices drift out of the darkened interior.

"I heard Borala took off last night, set off on the midnight tide."

"Warrington and Gennarha too."

"No, I heard Warrington is working for them." General disorder at this, voices running together in agreement or argument. This goes on for a bit until another (very deep) voice asks, annoyed.

"Well, has anyone heard? Are they letting us sail again? I heard some over in Marina, they are getting passes." More grumbles at this, chairs squeaking, tankards clanking.

Please make a Stealth check if you wish to eavesdrop more, or you can just go in. Or leave, I suppose. It seems pretty full inside

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