Spring of 389 AR (Age of Rebirth)
The rune-cursed refugees from Fort Scylia are lost amid the vast Earthsea where the small coastal galley was never meant to venture. By the second day the mast and sail is repaired, but no one aboard is skilled at sailing or navigation. On the fifth day a storm blows up, capsizing the vessel which fortunately continues to float. The foundering ship is soon blown up on the rocks of an unknown shore. A narrow strip of white sand beach is backed by dense jungle. In the far distance a watchtower rises from the jungle along the coast.
After salvaging gear and equipment scattered along the shore, the adventurers head north toward the watchtower, passing a few small fishing villages carved out of the jungle. From the inhabitants Leelo and Mesmer learn that the settlement to the north is Nininsnal, a frontier city on the southern fringe of the Sheaim empire. Lodermulch trades a few bronze spears for local salted-fish, bread and fresh water. Three coastal cogs are anchored offshore. Ulfmar identifies Calabim, Illian and Svartalfar flags.
Guards atop the watchtower stare down in wonder at the approaching gaggle of ship-wreck survivors. There is no toll at this gate. Nothing lies south of the city except a few fishing villages and the vast jungle wilderness. This is Nininsnal, population ~4000, originally a far-flung colony established by monks from the Elohim Empire 45 years ago. In the year 368 the colony was conquered by the Sheaim after a short war with the Elohim, but retains some aspects of Elohim culture such as language, architecture and religion. It is truly a rough and tumble frontier town with all types of visitors from far lands coming to seek their fortune in the ivory or fishing trade and other more adventurous enterprises. Even stranger creatures are known to frequent the muddy streets, shadowy alleys, shabby inns and ale-houses, including devil-spawn, cambions, githyanki and in the last few years, fiendish visitors from the newly-established infernal empire far to the east.
Nininsnal hosts many establishments catering to hunters, adventurers and prospectors exploring the jungles to east and south. The sigil-heroes sell or trade much of the salvaged equipment and weapons in exchange for new gear, food and lodging. Steel weapons and armor are rare and expensive, most often made from strangely-lustrous iron imported from Infernal lands. Keelo uses a detect magic spell to determine that the green pearl and contents of the two bottles are magical. Tasting proves the potions to be healing and heroism respectively. Leelo notices the pearl is now dull, more like a typical if unusually-pigmented pearl, where it was positively glowing during the escape from Scylia. The antique silver sword is mundane, though still quite valuable. Leelo mentions she might be open to a trade with Mesmer, but the wizard bides his time.
A day of wandering around Nininsnal provides more details about the situation. This frontier city is far from the Sheaim administrative capitol in Galveholm, where the Grand Arch-Mage Tebryn Arbandi rules with a mostly-even hand, interspersed with bouts of terror when Os-Gabella goes on a binge. Slavery is a pillar of the Sheaim economy. Most live in miserable conditions, though skilled gnomes captured during the brushfire-war with the Luchuirp often gain privileged positions as high-caste engineers, tinkers and mechanics. But they are still slaves. The empire is represented only by a governing Marquess and garrison of archers, slaves and animated skeleton warriors shepherded by necromancers and lesser acolytes of the Veil. The Marquess and her retainers mostly keep to the fortified compound at the center of town. She seldom interferes in local affairs other than taxes and major projects. At present these include a nearly-completed log palisade enclosing the town and the beginnings of a breakwater and jetty to protect a future harbor.
Tensions between the local population and the Sheaim Marquess are high since the Ashen Veil is unpopular here. Krag discovers that a majority of the citizens still practice worship of The Order as preached by the original Elohim monks decades ago. Nantosuelta, the Goddess of Faith and War, is still popular. There are no major temples to any of the gods or religions, only small shrines and private worship.
The Warlock Finch arrived ten days prior disguised as a Sheaim merchant prince from the far north, with attendant carriage, driver and footman retained to look the part (at 10 silvers per day). The factitious merchant is covertly approached on the fifth day by the agent of an unspecified ‘local merchant lord’ looking to sell a special item, a magical fruit said to be capable of bringing the dead back to life. The asking price is a staggering 10,000 gold! A fully crewed sailing ship could be had for such a fantastic sum. The agent, known only as ‘Todos’, dodges questions about the source of the fruits, but Finch manages to extract the following:
- Four different fruits are received yearly from a confidential source, each in a different season and with a different power (spring=life;summer=healing;fall=sleep;winter=death)
- Todos purchases the fruits from a bandit captain operating along the roads between Nininsnal and Kuldevind to the north.
- Todos is nervous and in a hurry to unload his mysterious merchandise…he’s picked a settlement on the ass-end of nowhere, far from the established centers of trade where sums like 10,000 gold are bandied about like so much pocket change.
A few days after Finch meets with ‘Todos’, he discovers a group of adventurers sojourning at a dockside inn of poor quality, the Drunken Mermaid:
- A warrior from northeastern Sheaim: Talgen Hucrele.
- A young wizard, the sister of Talgen: Sharwyn Hucrele.
- A knight, likely an itinerant Bannor paladin, who arrived with Finch aboard the Tar Velas out of Cahir Abbey 10 days ago: Sir Pelor of Braford (very likely a pseudonym).
- A silent half-elf ranger from the northern marches of Elohim: Karakas (likely a pseudonym, a place or a family name).
This group is planning to head north up the ‘Low Road’ toward Kuldevind to investigate reports of bandits, goblins, and a huge sinkhole that recently opened to reveal a buried ruin. The low road is no longer maintained or patrolled since completion of the better-engineered ‘High Road’ several years ago. Finch attempts to insinuate himself into the group, thinking to tag along and see if he can locate the bandit chief and source of Todos’ magical fruit. Finch fails to truly gain their confidence, or perhaps they don’t want to split treasure five ways. In any case, the group departs silently in the dead of night, leaving Finch twiddling his thumbs at the Drunken Mermaid.
Todos and Yandroon
On the third day of their sojourn at Nininsnal, the six original rune-heroes spot Finch getting out of his carriage along the main street in front of an expensive private wine-shop: a striking young man with piercing eyes of electric blue, dressed in the rich purple and gold costume of a Sheaim merchant-prince. A glowing blue run hovers above his head. Finch is about to meet with ‘Todos’ for a second and probably final time if he can’t produce a wagon-load of gold. Finch and the rune-heroes stare transfixed at one another across the main street. The Warlock thinks fast and uses the gift of his unnameable mentor to message Leelo, “Quickly, into this wine-shop as my guests”. Thinking to gain advantage from these newcomers, Finch relays the essential situation to Leelo, who whispers it to her companions.
Four brawny guards, two men and two half-orcs, wearing expensive iron chainmail with bronze axes and short swords are sitting in the antechamber to the shop, obviously retained by Todos. The guards were not present at their first meeting. The main party takes seats in the posh common room of the private wine-bar while Finch proceeds into an adjacent private room where he finds Todos already waiting. Leelo and Ulfmar can see the pair through a window between the rooms, though only Ulfmar is close enough to catch the gist of their conversation.
During their conversation, Todos commits a few blunders that reveal he is not an agent, but likely the principle in this matter. He’s in more of a hurry than ever. ‘Todos’ admits to selling three of the magical fruits since the summer of 388, all obtained from the Bandit Chief Sizymondo ‘the Great’. He’s been unsuccessful at learning Sizymondo’s source thus far. Finch is not able to divine who Todos in turn sells the fruits to (at a huge margin). With a flourish the false merchant prince presents a forged promissory note against a major bank from the far northeast of the Sheaim empire. To distract Todos from inspecting the note too closely, Ulfmar begins belting out a sea shanty from the common room. In annoyance, Todos quickly accepts Finch’s forgery. The two men agree to meet and finalize their transaction at the guild-hall in the keep of the Marquess eight days hence, allowing time for the note to be validated.
Later Finch asks around town about Todos. He soon determines that Todos fits the description of the notable merchant lord Yandroon Kuldevind (of the same name as the city to the northeast) who has been frequenting Nininsnal of late. Why would such a wealthy and connected merchant lord be slumming it in a frontier city where he is most unlikely to find a buyer for such fantastic magic?
Back in the common room Leelo notices a small inconspicuous man in a gray cloak utilizing subtle signs to warn other rogues in the wine-shop that he is a high ranking member of the local assassins guild, the ‘Black Stars’. An undisclosed number of additional operatives are in the area. Leelo later acquaints herself with ‘Draven’ and learns something of the guild, currently a small operation with no fixed premises, mostly engaged in protection and espionage for both Sheaim and foreign merchants. From one of Draven’s operatives Lodermulch discovers contacts in the local thieves guild where he might be able to replace thieves tools lost in Scylia. However, money to pay for such luxuries is a problem at this point.
Leelo and Lodermulch shadow Yandroon to the somewhat-comfortable inn Finch knows him to frequent. After Yandroon retires to the second floor, Leelo scales the alley-side wall. She falls and sprains an ankle, but Krag is there to heal her. A night-watch consisting of 20 armored skeletons and six living guardsmen troops past, but they fail to notice Krag and Leelo. On the second try she reaches the open window of an empty chamber being aired out. The elf picks the reverse lock on the interior door. Finch uses his telepathic speech to communicate the coming and going of customers and servants. Leelo is unable to locate the correct chamber until Lodermulch discovers the name ‘Todos’ scrawled next to a number in the innkeeper’s key drawer. Finch relays this information and Leelo is soon inside Yandroon’s chamber. The merchant-lord is not present. In fact the chamber is entirely unused. The heavy window shutter is wide open to the city street below. The only evidence of occupancy is crumpled paper in a somewhat-soiled chamber pot.
The papers record various accounts and personal notes from which Leelo confirm Yandroon’s identity and his reason for coming to this far settlement. It appears Yandroon has grown fearful regarding the purchaser of the first three fruits, who he has come to suspect is “the Queen of Storms.” Finch is able to recall that this is a common sobriquet for the immortal Queen Os-Gabella, arch-terror of the Sheaim Empire and many another. This goes far in explaining Yandroon’s festering fear and extravagant precautions. When one sups with the devil…
The seven rune-heroes spend a sleepless night at the inn. Mesmer conducts a ritual to summon his familiar, something he hasn’t bothered with until now. The crow sits outside the open window of Yandroon’s chamber all night, but the merchant never returns by means mundane or magical. Nor does he appear in Nininsnal over the following days. Either he’s away personally validating Mesmer’s note (which of course will be revealed as a forgery well before any meeting at the Marquess’ keep), or has truly flown the coop.