24. Up the river, into the storm
23rd of Lamashtan – Toilday – 32nd day in South-Western Varisia
Kaijitsu manor, Magnimar
I had not seen ranger Shalelu Andosana since she spent the evening with us at Sandpoint almost a month ago. The month felt like an eternity. But I was glad to see her. She strolled in confidently as ever, in her long elven strides, her golden hair billowing. Seeing the magical bow in her back made me cringe slightly and I felt suddenly very unarmed. Mine was still being imbued with magical powers back at the Mage Tower. But I went to greet her with Alfred, and it turned out, to no surprise, that the two Sandpointians had known each other for a long time. I left them to chat and exchange news with Harsk while I went out to continue the training of my animal companion.
Later that day Shalelu appeared outside to watch me train Dûath. She complimented me on my choice of animal and petted the panther without a hint of fear – she knew well to trust him as he already strongly mirrored my own emotions and actions. He was quickly becoming that what his name implied – my shadow. I continued with the panther, and here and there told Shahelu about our mission to the East. She was quite informed about the rangers, the Black Arrows, who operated from Fort Rannick, and about their constant strife with the local giants. According to her, for years the giants had been a nuisance, albeit a dangerous nuisance, but not a real threat to Turtleback Ferry and Fort Rannick. The fort had stood and the rangers had kept the giants at bay. That was why the lack of communication was such a mystery. Were they under siege? Had they been overrun? If yes, what had the giants done differently to surprise the rangers – or was there a third party involved, the sibling of Xanesha?
Later that evening Alfred returned from the Shore with his cheeks red from booze and a beaming, happy smile – but his merriness was not due to alcohol, nor cards or harlots – no, he came in resplendent in his brand new heavy mithral armor. We were having supper at the main hall table, to where he paced before pulling out my freshly enchanted mithral armor and adamantine gladius from his backpack and handing them out to me. “Fresh from the Tower”, he guffawed and winked. I was not pleased. “What the Fall are they doing handing over my gear to other people – they should’ve given them to me and me only”, I seethed and grabbed them from the sellsword. Alfred merely shrugged. “They knew I was with you, so they let me take them. Lighten up, half-elf, I saved you from a stroll to the Shore.” I just shook my head in irritation and retreated to my room upstairs to examine my first magical armor and sword.
I donned the magical mithral armor and watched in awe as almost imperceptibly the dark purple shade within the otherwise unnaturally black armor seemed to coalesce and scatter randomly like clouds in the sky. The armor itself felt stronger, more robust, but at the same time, seemed to fit me even better, like it was adapting to my body and allowing me more maneuverability. I chuckled contentedly and lifted the gladius next. It had been master-work quality already, and forged from unbreakable, nigh-indestructible metal – I would never need to sharpen its blade. But as I scrutinized it closely, I noted a slight but constant ripple of air surrounding it, akin to an inferior mirage seen in deserts or other hot places. But the metal of the gladius was cold to the touch. “I will put you to the test soon enough – I hope you do more than optical tricks”, I whispered to my improved sword and put it into its scabbard.
The next day we met briefly with the commander of the Iomedean paladins in the city, Vincent Valentine. We handed over the documents we had seized from Xanesha, and the stern soldier brought good news from the Pathfinder Society. In short, we had been exonerated from all charges. The journal of the late Justice Ironbriar had been translated and it decisively brought to light the web of lies and deceit Ironbriar had weaved around him and the Brotherhood of Seven. The documents from Xanesha were just a spicing on top of the feast of uncovered secrets and truths. To us this meant we were finally free to leave Magnimar if we so desired.
Our ever-present escort Alice of course pushed for immediate departure to Turtleback Ferry, but I made it abundantly clear to her that I would not be leaving without my longbow that was due the next day. She just rolled her eyes at my remark which made me snarl in irritation. She was truly eager to die, this mage school washout.
On the 25th, I walked to the Mage Tower to retrieve my longbow. The wizards were ready and I was presented with the weapon.
“You asked us to imbue the wrath of fire within the weapon, and we did as you asked”, a colourfully clothed, grey-haired wizard of the Tower told me as he held the bow gently, almost reverently on his palms, close to his chest. “Unlike the simpler spells of battle wrought into your adamantine sword, this weapon endured more.” The wizard looked at me closely and considered his next words carefully. “Normally, evocation draws upon magic to create something out of nothing, but we felt something in this bow. A remorse, an underlying desire for vengeance so great it had carved an essence for the weapon. It does not have a soul of course – an echo of strong emotions rather if you may – but we felt the essence respond when we immersed it in the evocative powers of flaming.” He extended his hands, my longbow resting on his palms. I took the weapon, grabbing it by the handhold. Immediately I noted how my hand warmed and the longbow glowed with faint red where I touched it. It was like my hand was burning the weapon, but I knew it was the other way around. The wizard’s eyes were large as he watched what happened with great anticipation. “Every magical weapon is unique, every one of them functions differently”, he started, not letting his gaze off the bow. “Yes.. yes.. It responds to your thoughts, your emotions.. your soul..”
I didn’t know what to say. I turned the bow around in my other hand, seeing no other visible marks in Savah Bevaniky’s beautifully master-wrought weapon. Still the wood glowed red where it joined my hand. The hue of the red was all too familiar to me. An echo of my emotions.. It responds to my thoughts..
“Can I try it?” I whispered. The wizard nodded and pointed left towards an alcove in the hall where two human-sized wooden figures stood like statues. I drew an arrow, nocked it and carefully pulled back the string. There was still the faint glow, but nothing else happened. I aimed at the second figure’s head and let the arrow spring. I was quick enough to see the arrow hit its mark before a magical fireball exploded around it. The small fireball died quickly but I could see arrow still sticking out of the head. The head itself had caught fire and was burning.
Harsk had told me to name my longbow. But I didn’t have to. The weapon had named itself. It was the Carmine Avenger.
With our affairs in order and majority of our gold spent, we decided to leave Magnimar. The Lord Mayor’s aide Eiko Carrol arranged a river boat for our trip to Turtleback Ferry. We left on the 26th from the docks opposite Kyver’s Islet – the little island filled with industry where we had attacked the Brotherhood of Seven and killed Justice Ironbriar. Yondabakari river streamed down to the Varisian Gulf around Kyver’s Islet. According to Carrol, by Yondabakari we could reach Turtleback Ferry in a week.
I was pissed off. I had many times suggested and tried to reason for an overland trip. While slower, it would have allowed us the chance to visit the small towns on the way, and for me to scout for any signs of my brother. Possibly my reluctance to reveal the true reasons why I wanted to travel overland hindered my cause. All I had was our previous boat trip experience – that had been a violent and potentially lethal endeavor. In the end, everybody else wanted to travel along the river, so I relented. But it didn’t mean I was happy about it – not at all.
Shalelu wanted to join us. She had a personal agenda and desire to see what was going on at Fort Rannick – she knew some of the rangers there. No-one had any reasons to deny her, so we kind of shrugged our collective shoulders and she hopped on the boat. We didn’t even question her why she really wanted to go there. Even I didn’t, which, in hindsight, was not normal.
The boat itself was a strange piece of machinery. First, it had no sails but something the crew called an engine that powered a propeller at the back of the boat that thrust the boat forward. The engine made a faint chugging noise, like a large continuously snoring beast. Harsk in particular was keen to hear more about the machine, but the captain, a halfling called Noel Wetwitt, was unable to share any details. I realized he knew nothing about it. “I press the pedal and the boat goes forward, that’s all there’s to it. We’ve had the boat in our family for generations”, was all he could manage. Curious, I thought.
Noel crewed the boat with his brother, a slow, dull halfling called Noah. I think he had fallen on his head as a baby, or something similar, and it had left him half-witted. Noah served as the second-in-command, and as the chef. I tried to meet his gaze but his eyes squinted, so I had to give up.
The boat was quite small and narrow. 75 feet from bow to stern and 25 feet wide, it was designed for transporting goods up and down rivers. It had one tiny cabin at the stern, but that was reserved for the Wetwitt brothers. At the bow there was a small space covered at the sides by a heavy leather curtain and above by a sturdy canopy, and one could walk and lie down on the canopy as well. If you wanted shelter from rain, the only place you’d have was under the canopy. Otherwise the passengers were left to their own devices. Wonderful, I mused when I jumped aboard, thinkin I was the last to embark. I was wrong. Just as Noel was starting up the ‘engine’ of the boat, a young couple, farmers by their looks, ran to the pier and shouted at us to wait. They made it at the last second.
I threw my backpack at the top of the canopy and climbed up after it. Dûath followed me with a gracious bound. The boat – I didn’t catch its name – left the docks and accelerated smoothly. We sat down to watch our surroundings as we ventured deeper into Varisia. The riverbank south and south-west of us was swampy, covered in thick, low growth. Shalelu joined us at the canopy and nodded towards the swamplands. “That’s Musfens, thousands upon thousands of square miles of almost uncharted swamp”, she explained before sitting and crossing her legs. “Have you been there?” She asked me. I smiled absentmindedly. “No I haven’t, though it looks like a challenging environment.” The elven ranger snorted. “You could say that. It is a great hunting ground, filled with strange animals, goblin tribes – and if the rumours are true, a lot of lost treasures waiting to be found.” I turned my head over to her. She was scratching my panther behind his ears. “Then we absolutely have to go there for a hunt after this mess is done and dealt with”, I suggested playfully with a laugh. She winked and nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”
The others were sitting below us at the main deck. Noel was at the stern, steering the vessel in a small cage so low only a halfling fitted in comfortably. The cage was an oddity, but its purpose was clear – to protect the captain from attacks while he controlled the rudder. I hoped the cage would prove redundant during our voyage. The dwarven cleric was exchanging words with our captain. I overheard Noel telling him the trip would take around six days, depending how long we spent ‘at home’, wherever that was.
Beyond Shalelu I kept my distance to the others, as I was still bitterly disappointed with our means of traveling. I was being juvenile I had to admit, but then again the others were enjoying their own company. Alfred was mainly drinking beer with Harsk from the dwarf’s magical bottomless tankard. The couple sat silently at the other side of the boat, drowsing. I didn’t know what Alice was doing and I wasn’t interested to know either. So the first day went past with me chatting with Shahelu and training my panther however I could in the limited space we had on the canopy.
The sun set and the first day of the voyage was coming to an end. As the light of the sun dissappeared behind the swamplands, the temperature fell rapidly. The halfwit, Noah, came up to steer the boat as Noel retreated within the captains’ quarters. The couple were first to seek shelter from the weather under the protection of the canopy, and Alice followed them. The sky had become cloudy during the day but there was no sign of rain, so I decided to stay put and sleep under the sky. Alfred and Harsk set up nothing less but Harsk’s tent in the middle of the deck which I found hilarious. I fought back a laugh when they realized only Harsk could fit in so the sellsword had to set his bedroll on the deck. Shalelu remained with me on the canopy.
Darkness fell and we succumbed to sleep one by one. I remained awake. The Mushfens continued its slow but steady roll past us and I caught glimpses of forms and eyes of wild animals hidden in the undergrowth and bushes. Finally even I was beginning to lose the fight against fatigue. Then a horrible, pained wail echoed from the north. A deer in plight, I recognized immediately. I twisted my head around to see but the cry had come from deep within the forest. Then I heard another familiar voice from the same direction. It was unnatural and undead. The first voice, a growl, was joined by others. The hair on my back rose. A pack of ghouls.
“What’s that”, Shahelu whispered, her voice drowsy, having stirred from her slumber. I kept staring towards the forest. “A group of ghouls are killing a deer”, I whispered, looking for movement. Shalelu turned on her bedroll to watch as well. “Ghouls? Undead? How did they get up there?” I had a flash of recall and I came up with a logical explanation. As the deer cried anew and died, I told her about Aldern and the short-lived undead uprising at Sandpoint Farmlands and Whisperwoods. Our strange boat kept chugging forward with Noah at the helm and voices of slaughter fell behind us.
The sun had barely risen when we woke up to a strange sawing like sound. No-one was working on wood however, but my animal companion was making a peculiar call, informing other predators to keep out of his way. The throaty call reminded me of someone sawing a plank. The others were nagging about the early wake-up of course, but I had to admire his brazen attitude. I’m here, he was making a statement, have fear and steer clear.
The halflings prepared us some breakfast. With little really to do, I continued training the panther, and between sessions, I read the Syrpent’s Tane, the half-factual, half-fictional tome on ancient monsters. The problem of course was that I didn’t know which half was which. Shahelu, lounging and relaxing beside us, spotted the book and whistled. “That’s a really old and expensive looking tome you have there.” I raised my eyes from its pages and shrugged. “Where did you get it”, she continued with a question. “I found it during our time in Magnimar”, I answered neutrally, intentionally leaving out the bit where I snatched it from a dead leader of a sadistic cult in a sawmill covered in human blood and body parts. That just didn’t have the right ring to it. “I’ve read it for my own pleasure during pastimes”, I added and offered her to have a look. She took it and reverently opened it before randomly opening a page. “It’s a book on ancient monsters. It even has a chapter on something called the Sandpoint Devil”, I explained. Shalelu snorted. “I’ve seen the Devil, twice.” My eyebrows twitched. “Really? So it is real?” I asked, a hint of incredulity in my tone. She noted it and turned serious. “Yes it is.” I remembered the nightly trek back from Thistletop to Sandpoint, after we had slain Nualia and her retinue. I remembered the spine chilling, unnatural call we had heard from somewhere in Tickwood – like a dying horse screaming. I told her about it and she nodded, still grave. “You were lucky you didn’t face it. I’d rather face a hundred goblins in a fight than the Devil.” I didn’t mention that we had that night faced off and killed a band of people that had subdued a force of one hundred goblins..
Shalelu told me more about the Musfens. I learned that of the area the river was actually the most dangerous to travellers – one should be careful not to fall lest be torn apart by fearsome water-dwelling creatures. Mushfens had its share of goblin tribes, and large beasts resembling frogs. The swamps were also infested by giants and trolls, and there even were signs of dire tigers stalking the area.
While we were talking the farmer man approached Alfred, Harsk and Alice. I didn’t hear exactly what they were talking but I overheard the farmer mentioning how his wife was a decent potion maker. He was offering her services right there and then. A farmer who could cook healing potions with little to no equipment in a tiny boat? I wasn’t buying it, but Alice, for the love of gods, literally did. It seemed that her years with Garnet Alexandros had not made her careful of swindlers. She paid for two potions of cure moderate wounds, and the farmer took her gold before retreating back to the shelter of the canopy and the leather covers where his wife waited. True to his word, after some hours the farmer man returned with two potions full of liquid and handed them over to the pale-faced magus. Days later, when the farmer couple was dozens if hundreds of miles away, they did turn out to be just brackish water.
The third day on the boat began like the second. It had drizzled infrequently for the past three days, but on the third day fog had developed above the waterline.
In the afternoon, we got company. Through the mist we heard faint sound of laughter and a shining, blue will-o-wisp emerged. The elven ranger was first to spot it and she became immediately disturbed. I knew why. Will-o-wisps spelled doom and death everywhere they went. The creature floated through the air and landed gracefully only ten feet from me, Dûath and Shahelu on the top of the bow. Shalelu started to keenly scan the shoreline to our north where the magical creature had come from. I saw nothing at the riverbank through the fog but I heard something. A splash. Something big had dived into the water only sixty feet away from us.
Noel, our captain, ordered his brother to retreat behind locked doors into their cabin while he himself pulled the cage door closed. “What’s going on”, Alfred asked, quitting a card game with Harsk and the farmer man as they spotted the will-o-wisp. I pulled the Carmine Avenger from my back. “Eyes open, we might get company”, I instructed them and nocked an arrow. Shalelu had done the same and was aiming towards the sound. “Should we be worried?” Alfred added the question. Shahelu didn’t look away from the fog. “You should.”
The words had barely left her lips when I spotted two fins above the water only fifty feet from us. They were approaching us quickly. Beside me Dûath was growling with anticipation of violence. I shouted a warning, and Shalelu corrected her aim and let loose two arrows in quick succession. The first missed and disappeared underwater, but the other hit, puncturing the flesh of whatever was coming at us at the base of the fin. I now had a clear target. “Trolls!” Shalelu cried, pulling new arrows from her quiver. The others sprang to the starboard side of the boat to see what was happening.
I shot the Carmine Avenger in anger for the first time. The bow beneath my grip flared with the colour of deep red and I let loose the arrow. It found its mark and blossomed a split-second fireball on the troll’s back. The fireball blew off a chunk of flesh size of a child’s head. The beast stirred, lifted its head from the water and bellowed in pain and rage. I had hurt it bad. Before I could hit it anew, it submerged completely.
The silence lasted for maybe five seconds. Then something big hit the bow of the boat, and the vessel lurched to the side. I couldn’t see it from my position but I knew the troll was hanging from the side of the boat, trying to get up and onto the deck. Under me, beneath the canopy, the farmer woman cried in fear. Alfred was closest and reacted first. With bold strides he swooped under the canopy. I heard his axe cut flesh and bone with a whack. Despite all, the troll was just laughing with a deviant, low grumble. He was taunting the sellsword to hit harder.
Shahelu was standing at the edge of the canopy and rained down arrows at the insolent monster. She almost fell on the water as the second troll, the one I had already wounded, emerged from the water and slammed itself amidships, shaking the boat violently as it did. It was massive, easily over ten feet tall and wore no armor or clothing worth mentioning. It’s skin had a sickly blue-green pallor. The troll had an ugly, leering face and sharp, long fangs protruded from its jaw. The little boat lurched again as it tried to get on the deck with sheer momentum, but failed, getting only half its body up. Brownish river water flew to the deck instead. It roared in anger and swept with its long, muscled hand, aiming its claws at Alice who was on its way. The pale-faced magus, now drenched in water, stepped back at the final second and slashed down with her curved scimitar in retaliation, hitting the troll in the shoulder and sinking the blade deep into its body. But the hairy, wet beast was relentless and did not let go. But the other did. With a splash it vanished beneath the surface. “We need to burn them! They regenerate in the water!” Shalelu was yelling instructions to us and turning her killing attention to the second troll. One of her arrows struck it at its bulging back but the ugly bastard clung to the side of the boat.
A crossbow bolt glanced off the troll’s hand and I heard Harsk curse his weapon. “This is a true weapon of a follower!” He roared after throwing his crossbow into his tent and unsheathing his magical longsword. He didn’t have time to use it though. I stepped next to Shalelu before shouting a taunt at the beast: “Hey, here’s some fire for you!” With cold precision, I shot two arrows in one go, and hit its exposed throat. Powered by vengeful fire magic, I almost blew his head clean off its shoulders. My second shot was an afterthought, and it scorched the torso of the troll. The corpse twitched and remained there, hanging on the side of the chugging boat.
The other troll thought it was being smart. A fountain of water exploded upwards at the port side and the first troll, the one that had taunted Alfred, half-jumped, half-climbed unopposed onto the deck. Now completely healed of all previous wounds, it roared a challenge and prepared to rip us to shreds. While turning to face the threat, I saw weird colours dance around Alice’s free hand and suddenly the world beyond myself, Shahelu, Alfred, Harsk and Alice herself seemed to slow down a little. Everybody else, even the water and the boat, seemed to move as in a dream. Harsk immediately understood what Alice had done and charged the troll. The beast was moving slower, but it was still fast enough to counter the little cleric with a punch. The fist did not connect but it ruined Harsk’s attack.
But it did leave the way open for Alfred. The sellsword guffawed as he leaped across the deck, easily ducking the troll’s feeble attempts to hurt him and put his battleaxe to use. Gibbets of troll meat flew all around in a wanton bloodshed as Alfred hacked the creature down. The troll was already on its knees, almost dead, but for emphasis, he slammed his shield against its face. “C’mon half-elf, finish it with your fancy arrows”, he taunted me, mocking my bow. I put an arrow between the troll’s eyes and burned the head to cinders.
“Well that was easy”, Harsk commented when the world around caught up with us and the glowing will-o-wisp began to feed on the dead trolls, laughing like a sinister child all the while.
“Home. Home. That’s my home”, Noah the halfwit mumbled and pointed when we finally reached our first stop in the evening of 28th. Through the mist, we emerged next to a peculiar town above water. Wartle – comprised of a multitude of wooden huts and cottages of different size – literally stood on stilts, fifteen to thirty feet high. Boardwalks connected the buildings and I could spot lanterns and small people going their ways from one to another. Smoke billowed from chimneys, and the place felt eerily peaceful, almost if we’ve arrived to a place the world had forgotten about. I had never seen anything like it. They had actually built a town over the swampy river in the middle of nowhere, I thought, unbelieving. I could see the town extended over ground as well, but majority of it was above the Yondabakari, like madman’s docks.
Harsk was intrigued. As the boat decelerated, he went to the captain, Noel. “That is Wartle?” He asked. The halfling grinned a wide smile. “Yes, that’s my hometown, lad!” The cleric stroke his long beard, nodding slowly at the same time, before asking another question. “Is there anything to see, temples perhaps?” The halfling just guffawed and shook his head as he steered the rudder and controlled the pedals. “No, no temples. But we have excellent home-brewed wine and the food is the world’s finest. And I forget! We have a world-famous troubadour, my sister’s husband!” Hearing that, I rolled my eyes. Were they all blood-related in this gods-forsaken swamp town?
We came to a stop beneath one particularly large (by Wartle’s standards, anyway) hut. Noah and Noel tied the boat onto two stilts with thick ropes while an elevator, a wooden box really, large enough to carry a person, was lowered to our level. The farmer couple was acting nervous and was in a hurry, so they crammed themselves into the box and were hoisted up to the hut first. The sellsword followed, then I.
The elevator creaked and groaned as it struggled to lift me up and into the hut through a hole in the floor, but eventually I found myself in a dark, damp hall, surrounded by dozens of happy-looking halflings. The place was full of them and I felt uneasy, like an animal cornered, even though their body language was nothing but threatening. Many of them came to shook my hand, which I reluctantly offered. Halfling girls giggled at me, probably finding my height, easily three feet more than the average halfling, amusing. The crowd really erupted when Noah and Noel stepped out of the elevator last. The brothers hugged each and every one of their kin and with their arrival, a feast of sorts began.
I asked Noel for the local armory or any place where I could buy arrows for myself but got a laugh as response. According to our captain, they didn’t sell arrows for my size of longbows anywhere in Wartle. Godsdammit. Ultimately I didn’t even get out of the hall, which I came to understand was their main tavern, called Lean-to, thanks to the slight inclination of the floor. The place was packed when we got there, but as the evening progressed into night, it seemed that the number of halflings doubled. Local music played, the people danced, cheered and sung, and food and drinks were served in plentiful. Noel had told everyone about our heroics at the river – how we had easily taken care of the scrag trolls. He mentioned how I had burned them both to char, so for the rest of the evening I was constantly buggered by adulating halflings of all ages. Somebody was playing the lute and was turning Noel’s story into a merry song. To loosen my nerves, I tried a few different wines, all of the local brew. The first was awful, and I coughed and spat the first mouthful to the floor in disgust. Behind me a halfling man wailed, and immediately the one with the lute started a song about how the bold bowman hated poor old Vraxim’s wine. The second was fine however, so I hoarded a bottle to complement my supper, found the least noisy corner in the tavern and tried to hide myself beneath my hood and cloak of elvenkind. Not the easiest task, I have to admit, even with the magical cloak of stealth.
Shalelu was first of us to call it a day and unrolled her bedroll in our corner, apparently willing to try to catch some sleep in the commotion. The others of our group took seats close-by and I overheard them talking with a fisherman and a trapper, asking for any news and rumours. The first mentioned fears that the heavy rains that had come suddenly and lasted unnaturally long were ruining next year’s crops in the East near Turtleback Ferry and the border between Magnimar’s and Korvosa’s areas of influence. The trapper whispered about how things were getting bad in Sanos, a vast forest north-east of Wartle that extended all the way to Fort Rannick and Turtleback Ferry. It seemed that the gnomes there had suddenly become very unhappy. Unhappy gnomes, are you fucking kidding me, I thought to myself as I listened and poured myself another glass of the local wine.
Finally, the number of halflings started to decrease. Some people left, while others simply passed out on the floors and stools. Alfred and Harsk were in their cups, again, and were joking and laughing with the halflings. The sellsword was cursing that there were no women around, human women that is, he corrected after gaining the angry attention of some local halfling maids. Harsk was asking if there were any bearded women and drew laughs from the audience. I couldn’t see either Noah or Noel, nor Alice for that matter, so I spread my bedroll onto the floor next to Shalelu and went to sleep.
I probably got thirty minutes of shut-eye when Noel came to kick me in my boots. Apparently the party was over and the journey was to continue.
On the 30th, we stopped by Whistledown, an unremarkable tiny village at the shores of Lake Syrantula where Yondabakari River started, and on the morning of the 31st, we reached Ilsurian, another unremarkable village at the mouth of Skull River. Locals there warned us not to travel north, which we naturally disregarded, and from there we continued up the Skull River. In the evening of next day we docked at Pendaka, a fishing town at the souther tip of Lake Claybottom. Noel and Noah left us there, claiming the lake to be cursed but promising that the locals would have means to transport us safely to our destination.
At the docks, we watched over the lake towards Turtleback Ferry, and in the horizon, we could see the enormous, black stormfront. It was unmoving, hammering the lands north of us with lighting and showering it with endless, heavy rain. It was unnatural, and it reminded me of the dark cloud spiral Xanesha had summoned to distract us in the tower, if only in a massively larger scale. In my mind, I heard the death cries of Faroth and Ilori. As I gazed far into the darkness, I wondered what evils this storm hid and how many heads I would reap as I exacted vengeance for my animal companion and the carmine lady.