Casdegere, you’re not sure where your uncle went, just that he did not return. Since then, each day has been a blur of guilt and alcohol. Much of your time passes in a drunken stupor. You find enough work to keep you in drink, protecting the swamp boats from poachers as they travel between the Karkalin River and Kith’takharos. Now a new morning dawns and you stumble out the door of an unfamiliar shack. A stranger steps forward and grabs your shoulder to prevent you from pitching into the Big Water. “Take it easy, Wolf Man. If you can sober up, I’ve something a little more interesting than guarding swamp boats.”
Casdegere Constantine (In slurred speech): Well, who might you be and where am I?
Casdegere Constantine looks around confused.
Messenger shakes his head. “Maybe we made a mistake. We thought your skills were going to waste guarding boats.”
Casdegere Constantine: Well who is We…exactly?
Casdegere Constantine holds his head due to a very terrible headache.
Messenger bows. “I am employed by the Transit Guild. My boss is putting together an expedition and we have need of a quality fighting man. We pay in gold. We pay better than anyone in town. Are you interested?”
Casdegere Constantine: Well gold is gold in my book. My sword is yours sir.
Messenger holds out his hand, extending a short wooden rod to Casdegere. “Take this. Show it to the guards of our compound at noon and they will let you in.”
Casdegere Constantine looks down at the rod and grabs it quickly before staggering off in search of a cold bath to clear his head.
Bianca, this morning a messenger delivered a letter from Uncle Meryl. He invited you to lunch at his office, begging forgiveness that you should be required to venture forth beneath the noon sun. However, important reasons would be revealed once you arrived. He also offered to send a man with an umbrella as an escort. Your sigh resembles a raspy growl due to damaged vocal cords. Uncle Meryl is about the only one in Kith’takharos who would care about such a detail. But then, he is a man who misses few details. The messenger shifts his feet and silently awaits your response, perhaps uncomfortable in your presence.
Mistress Bianca (rasps): I will see my Uncle.
Messenger: Do you wish an escort, Miss Bianca?
Mistress Bianca: Your Umbrella is welcomed.
Messenger bows deeply. “Then I shall return before the midday meal.”
Mistress Bianca: That is good. I await.
Rikard, the days flew by as you fled upriver and into the swamps. But once you reached Kith’takharos, everything slowed down. Few people seem to be in any sort of hurry. No one cares what you may or may not have done. You have enough money for a few days at an inn, maybe more than a few days. Indeed, last night’s room seemed absurdly cheap and more luxurious than you would have thought possible in a swamp. Now, in the coolness of the common room of the Sheltering Frond, a waitress places a platter of eggs and meat before you. What kind of eggs and meat? Perhaps better not to ask and spoil that delicious aroma. Then a man pulls up a chairs and sits down across from you. “If you’ve got an appetite for more than leech and dragon eggs, I have an offer for you.”
Rikard Castleberry: Erm, that was leech? Yes of course I’m always looking for more, what kind of work do you have?
Messenger: You seem a strapping lad, courageous and not afraid of a little work. The Transit Guild is putting together an expedition. We have a meeting at noon to work out the details. Will you be there?
Rikard Castleberry: Hm, the transit guild you say? Sounds good to me. I’ll be there!
Messenger extends a short wooden rod to you. There are peculiar designs on the surface. “Take this and show it to the guards. They’ll let you in.”
Rikard Castleberry takes the rod and settles back down in his chair to finish his plate of eels and dragon eggs.
Rikard Castleberry: Hmm, eel isn’t that bad at all!
The messenger leaves. Later, as you rise to leave the Sheltering Frond, a patron spits, and the gob lands near your feet. “Sorry,” he says, “looks like I missed my aim.”
Rikard Castleberry: Oh? And pray tell, where what were you aiming at?
Surly Man: Oh, I was thinkin’ of the sort of scum who’d consort with that den of thieves.
The other patrons have stopped eating and intently watch the exchange.
Rikard Castleberry: Well, since I don’t know you, I’m gonna let that slide, this time. I don’t know about thieves one way or the other, but I suggest you save your spit for swallowing your food, unless you can’t help but drool like someone that got hit in the mouth one too many times?
Surly Man glares at you. “You’re lucky I’m a peaceable man, son.”
Surly Man starts eating his food.
Rikard Castleberry: Ah yes, “peaceable”. If that’s what you wish to call it. Well, enjoy your gruel and eel leftovers, “good sir.”
Rikard Castleberry walks out the door.
Bart, it’s time to visit Kith’takharos once more and pick up those few supplies you can’t make on your own. You grumble a little, because those things cost far too many skins and furs and whatever else you scavenge from the swamp. Since they are shipped in from hundreds of miles downriver, you suppose it makes sense. You pole your small boat to the Kith’takharos docks and tie it up. The cat stays in the boat, as it would cause quite a ruckus in the village. A man waits for you on the dock. For a moment you think it might be Dorian Orsova about to pester you again. God above, you know the damn laws! But no, a different man you do not recognize. “I hear you’re a swamp guide. Are you available for hire?”
Bart looks above the man at the clouds for a second before answering “Yes, Gentle Sir.”
Messenger: Excellent. My employer is putting together an expedition. I can’t tell you the details here, but if you’d come to the Transit Guild compound at noon for a meeting, everything will be explained.
Bart: Thank you.
Messenger hands you a short wooden rod. “Show this to the gate guards so they’ll know where you’re there. Then they’ll let you in.”
Bart takes the rod
Messenger looks hard at the cat in the boat. “You can bring your pet if you’d like.”
Bart: She would come even without my permission.
Messenger: Really? I’ll let the guards know they should expect two.
Bart: Thank you, though she might be offended that the guards would see her.
Around midday each of you heads for the Transit Guild House. As you pass through the western gate of the Transit Guild compound, guards intercept you and guide you to the Guild House. The thick stone walls act as shade and insulation, keeping the interior cool compared to the outdoors. Sounds are muted; exotic rugs cover the stone floors. You are led to a large conference room with a polished wooden table and plush chairs.
A jaunty looking man wearing a neck-scarf sits at the table. “Welcome. Would you like some refreshments? Water? Wine? Big Water Stout? Perhaps some dried spicy fish?”
Casdegere Constantine takes a gander at the decor and who else is moving into the room.
Rikard Castleberry: Do you have any eel?
Casdegere Constantine: A stout would be refreshing sir.
Rikard Castleberry: I’ve grown a taste for it lately.
Bart: “Some fish would be nice.”
Mistress Bianca bows “It is nice to see you again Mister Dunestal.”
Meryl Dunestal turns and walks to Mistress Bianca, takes her hand and kisses it lightly. “Thank you for coming.”
Meryl Dunestal nods at the man in the door who takes all the requests for food and drink.
Mistress Bianca: The coolness of your compound is always refreshing as is your kindness.
Casdegere Constantine: Men are always kind when they want something…milady.
Meryl Dunestal: Moves to sit at the head of the table. “I understand you have been working at some very tough assignments lately, Casdegere, is it?”
Casdegere Constantine bows slightly to the masked woman, Then turns to Meryl.
Mistress Bianca bows toward Casdegere before sitting next to Meryl.
The requested refreshments arrive and are set before those who ordered them.
Rikard Castleberry nods to everyone as he eyes the food and drink coming in.
Casdegere Constantine: Nothing that can not be negotiated by a well placed tip o tha spear.
Casdegere Constantine moves toward the table but does not sit, awaiting the woman.
Meryl Dunestal nods thoughtfully and says, “Good, you have learned some discretion since your arrival, Casdegere.”
Casdegere Constantine sits after she does.
Meryl Dunestal: Please everyone sit. I have a dilemma and I am hoping you four can provide a solution.
Bart takes a seat across from Bianca with a concerned look on his face.
Meryl Dunestal reaches into his vest and pulls out a tiny leather pouch. Which he then tosses in front of Casdegere.
Rikard Castleberry sits down and glances around at everyone, keeping an eye on the door.
Casdegere Constantine: Before you begin sir, I wish to know the names of those that I share a drink with…if you don’t mind.
Bart drops a fish under the table.
Mistress Bianca: Though her mask completely hides her face she still peers toward Bart judging whether his look is driven by her or Meryl.
Meryl Dunestal “Please forgive my haste. Mistress Bianca is like family to me, I think she’ll agree.” He smiles towards Mistress Bianca.
Casdegere Constantine covers the pouch with his right hand and slowly slides it off the table.
Bart drops his gaze towards his food.
Meryl Dunestal: “You are of course Casdegere, a man who has recently suffered great loss. My condolences and understand that your loss is why you are here.”
Casdegere Constantine: A furrow comes over his brow at Meryl’s mention.
Meryl Dunestal turns towards Bart, “Bart has earned a reputation as a careful man, one who has learned what it takes to survive, if not thrive hereabouts. Your skills are key to this assignment I will offer.”
Meryl Dunestal: “Finally, and certainly not least is Rikard Castleberry. Recently arrived to Kith’takharos and still trying to forget his past, no?”
Bart seems surprised at the praise.
Mistress Bianca (rasps): Greetings to you all.
Rikard Castleberry: Let’s just say I’d be quite happy not to be back where I came from.
Casdegere Constantine (eagerly): Forgive my forwardness sir but have you learned something of my uncle? If so, I wish to know of it.
Rikard Castleberry (groggy and slurring): Hi.
Meryl Dunestal: Please show the others what I have given you, Casdegere, so that we may discuss the reason you are all here.
Casdegere opens the pouch and looks inside for a few seconds.
Casdegere Constantine reluctantly sets a ring with a wolfs head upon the table for all to see.
Rikard Castleberry: What’s that?
Casdegere Constantine (annoyingly): It is an heirloom of my family, handed down to my uncle from my grandfather.
Meryl Dunestal: “This is Casdegere’s Uncle’s ring,” Meryl pauses a moment before continuing on, “His uncle, Samsolon, recently accepted a mission to find Almus.
Meryl Dunestal: Almus Rendarig was a close personal friend of mine. Samsolon and two others were hired to find him. In some respects their mission was a complete success. They found his corpse and returned with the knowledge I sought.
Meryl Dunestal: However….
Mistress Bianca: Was that the f’lunin plant incident you told me about Uncle?
Meryl Dunestal: There were some complications I could not have foreseen. First of all, Samsolon did not return and one of the other two left town.
Meryl Dunestal: No, I don’t believe I spoke of this to you yet Bianca.
Mistress Bianca: Ahh forgive me.
Casdegere Constantine: So it was you who sent him…why did you not tell me?
Casdegere Constantine seems to be getting angry.
Meryl Dunestal: The last remaining member is sot with alcohol and makes no sense. What I have gathered is that there was an old structure or temple of some sort. There they found Almus but were attacked by something. Something that the man refuses to describe as more than “Blood sucking monster”.
Casdegere Constantine rubs his chin in thought.
Meryl Dunestal turns to Casdegere, “Am I to play wet nurse with every employee I have ever hired?”
Rikard Castleberry: So this Almus got killed by something that sucked his blood out?
Meryl Dunestal: I’d think you’d be appreciative to have some idea of what has transpired? In fact, I intend to ask you to go with the others and find out what happened there and what dangers we must be made aware of.
Mistress Bianca rasps “Hmm, blood sucking; that is something I have yet to be accused of doing. Heh strange that…”
Casdegere Constantine: Where is this last member, drunk or not there has to be more then this.
Casdegere Constantine: And you are not telling use everything.
Bart shrugs at Bianca because he has been accused.
Meryl Dunestal: It is unclear what happened to Almus. They did not bring his body back. The last survivor, Swinvil, will not speak of it for any amount of alcohol. Though if you can persuade him to speak that would be wonderful. You may find him at the Salted Eel. I think you might know the way?
Rikard Castleberry chuckles to himself.
Rikard Castleberry: God I love eel.
Casdegere Constantine stands abruptly.
Meryl Dunestal: Ask your questions Casdegere, I am open and will speak of all I know regarding this matter.
Casdegere Constantine: My uncle would not be sent on just some rescue mission, he knows alot more then you can imagine.
Meryl Dunestal: I hired your Uncle because of his skills. I wanted to give Almus the best chance for survival.
Casdegere Constantine: And if three found trouble, three who are experienced, you would send us four?
Casdegere Constantine looks idly at the others.
Meryl Dunestal: The real question that begs an answer I can’t draw from Swinvil. Why does he have your Uncle’s ring? If things broke down so severely it makes no sense to me.
Casdegere Constantine: Well whatever truth still lies in that mans throat, I will have it.
Meryl Dunestal: I am asking you four to go over there and find out what happened. Perhaps your uncle lives? Either way, I am willing to pay gold for the mission.
Bart: I shall go.
Meryl Dunestal looks at Bart and smiles.
Casdegere Constantine looks down at the ring thoughtfully.
Mistress Bianca: I trust you uncle, and I will do this for free as you have already given me so much.
Mistress Bianca taps her mask.
Meryl Dunestal: Nonsense. I am risking your life for these answers. Should you survive I will see your gold counted from my hand personally.
Rikard Castleberry digs into his eel and noisily eats it.
Mistress Bianca (coughs out a laugh): That is what I like about you uncle.
Rikard Castleberry (chewing): Sure I’m down for some investigation if it’s worth some gold in my pocket.
Meryl Dunestal nods and smiles at Rikard’s answer.
Casdegere Constantine: Where about do you believe would be a place to start looking?
Bart starts paying special attention.
Mistress Bianca to Casdegere, ” I imagine The Salted Eel.”
Meryl Dunestal: I would suggest hiring a boat, grabbing some supplies, and heading out along the shore of the Big Water until you come to this structure. That much is known. It is on the Big Water south of Stonefall Point.
Casdegere Constantine: Embarrassed to ask our expenses?
Meryl Dunestal: I daresay stealth will be very important on this mission. And it starts here. I encourage silence about your mission. Be circumspect in all you do. For all we know there could be outsiders watching your every move.
Rikard Castleberry (half embarrassed to ask): Our expenses?
Rikard Castleberry: Outsiders? Who would be acting against us?
Meryl Dunestal: I have your uncle’s share remaining unpaid. I will give it to you to fund your mission. Upon return I will have more prepared. Fair enough?
Mistress Bianca: The Order Uncle?
Casdegere Constantine: Whenever you venture into the swamps, there are many who take notice.
Meryl Dunestal (smiles): You are a bright student Bianca, very bright indeed.
Mistress Bianca: I learned from the best mind in town.
Meryl Dunestal: I doubt it would cause too much commotion if you were asked to come with Bart out into the swamp. I am sure you can come up with your own story though. No need to rely upon mine.
Casdegere Constantine: And the pay?
Meryl Dunestal: Rikard there are many who come and go from this village. Who is to say what any of them find important?
Mistress Bianca: Fortunately people tend to leave me alone. Unfortunately anyone seen with me immediately draws attention.
Rikard Castleberry: I don’t mind attention.
Meryl gives you 60 pieces of gold as Samsolon’s share.
Mistress Bianca turns to Rikard, “You’ll see.”
Bart: It will be hard to be stealthy in so large a boat. Perhaps we should leave word that we are heading elsewhere?
Casdegere Constantine takes 15 gold from the stack.
Rikard Castleberry: How much will it cost to hire a boat?
Meryl Dunestal stands up.
Mistress Bianca: Hmmm I do not know that answer Rikard.
Mistress Bianca stands as well.
Meryl Dunestal: I will leave you to your plans. Stay as long as you like. I have other matters to attend to. I won’t expect to see you again until after you triumphantly return. Do be careful, I have high hopes for each of you in the future.
Rikard Castleberry: Perhaps we could time our departure to be at the same time as another ships leaving.
Mistress Bianca offers her hand upraised to Meryl.
Casdegere Constantine stands when Bianca stands.
Meryl Dunestal takes her hand and lightly presses his lips to hers.
Mistress Bianca: I believe I know someone though that can accommodate us with a boat.
Mistress Bianca: So until we are successful uncle will see you again.
Meryl Dunestal takes his leave.
Casdegere Constantine watches as Meryl leaves.
Casdegere Constantine holds the ring tightly in his hand.
Rikard Castleberry: Well then.
Mistress Bianca: A man named Batu rents out the boats. He still thinks I caused his dog to fall into the swamp and drown though.
Rikard Castleberry: Did you?
Mistress Bianca: No…
Mistress Bianca: But fear twists truths.
Mistress Bianca: You’ll see.
Casdegere Constantine looks at Bart carefully.
Casdegere Constantine: And where did you come from…Bart is it?
Bart: Mostly from where we are going.
Casdegere Constantine: So you can lead us there?
Bart: I should be able to get us close.
Casdegere Constantine looks over at Rikard.
Mistress Bianca: The Last Stop is a place where you can get provisions and I can lead you the Vladimir Batu afterward.
Bart: Though it would be nice to have better directions then “follow the coast.”
Casdegere Constantine: And you…Rikard, I’ve seen you before.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh?
Casdegere Constantine: In town, as well as the Mistress.
Rikard Castleberry: I do get around.
Mistress Bianca: I have lived here all my life unfortunately.
Casdegere Constantine: But I am curious mistress, of the mask you wear.
Mistress Bianca: It protects me.
Rikard Castleberry: Masks are good for things like not getting hit by rocks, arrows, sand, that sort of thing.
Casdegere Constantine: A shield may protect someone if used properly…your mask, is something else altogether.
Rikard Castleberry turns to Bart.
Mistress Bianca changes the subject, “Last stop, ask for Alma. Can you pick me up the same supplies you get? food, bedroll, waterskin rope, et cetera.
Rikard Castleberry: So how far is it about to Stonefall Point?
Casdegere Constantine: With 60 gold between us, it wont be much.
Mistress Bianca hands Casdegere her 15 gold.
Casdegere Constantine takes it with a nod.
Bart: About 15 miles.
Casdegere Constantine idly jingles it in his hand as he turns toward the other two.
Mistress Bianca: I will meet you at the dock in an hour.
Rikard Castleberry: All I need to pick up is more water and I will be fine. I’ll handle my own coin, thank you
Casdegere Constantine: “Then one hour it is,” and departs briskly.
Rikard Castleberry stands up and nods to Bart and Bianca.
Mistress Bianca adjusts her cloak to recover up a few strands of stray white hairs that escaped and heads out the door.
Rikard Castleberry: Well I’ll see you two in an hour.
Rikard Castleberry notes the hair falling out and files it away to think about later.
Bart takes the extra fish with him when he leaves.
Rikard Castleberry leaves and heads out to purchase last minute supplies.
Rikard walks up the paved road that runs through the center of town. Finally he arrives at the Last Stop, a structure with unusual stone foundations. A dwarf greets you as you enter. “Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?”
Casdegere Constantine heads toward the Last Stop as well.
Rikard Castleberry: Just looking to top off my supplies, some more water, rations, that sort of thing.
Alma: I have some filet knives just in from Port Lissup.
Rikard Castleberry: And a bedroll.
Alma: Ah, so you are a man of action, not a stay-at-home. Very good! I can get you all you need. How many days rations?
Rikard Castleberry: I suppose a weeks worth would suffice, tell me more about these filet knives, good quality?
Alma: The best quality! I had a boy clean the rust off them just this morning.
Alma: This humidity plays hell with metal.
Casdegere Constantine enters the store and sets down his shield and spear near the door.
Rikard Castleberry: And how much for a knife?
Alma speaks to Rikard. “I can put together a nice package for 4 gold, and I’ll throw in the filet knife.”
Rikard Castleberry: Sounds like a deal to me, does that come with a sheath for the knife? Id hate to have it accidentally cut through something
Alma glances over at Casdegere. “Oh my, you are a fearsome warrior!”
Alma: A sheath? Why not, on this fine day.
Casdegere Constantine: All I’m interested in Alma is some rations, a canteen and some bedrolls.
Rikard Castleberry hands 4 gold to Alma.
Alma: Metal or leather canteen?
Casdegere Constantine: Leather.
Alma: Then you are in luck! I have a nice red leather canteen with matching gloves!
Casdegere Constantine: Just the canteen, thank you, and rations.
Alma: With rations, bedroll, and, say, a week’s rations, I can get you everything for 6 gold.
Casdegere Constantine: I’ll need enough for two weeks.
Alma: A man needs gloves in the swamp. Never know what foul thing you might have to touch.
Casdegere Constantine: No thank you, but how about that flint and steel and a couple torches.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh wait, I’ll take that matching canteen and gloves!
Casdegere Constantine: Points behind the counter.
Alma: Well, the first time you pick up a leech by accident, you’ll wish you had these gloves. Oh well, this other man knows quality.
Rikard Castleberry: Grins.
Alma says to Casdegere, “Seven gold for the lot, and a filet knife with a sheath.”
Casdegere Constantine: I don’t need a filet knife.
Alma: Then seven gold, sir. Will you need these things delivered?
Casdegere Constantine: Perhaps 50 foot of rope as well.
Alma: Oh, rope. Then 8 gold.
Casdegere Constantine: No, I’ll take them now.
Alma: Ah, well, then here you are.
Casdegere Constantine hands him 8 gold.
Alma looks at Rikard, “You really want the gloves?”
Rikard Castleberry: Red looks good on me.
Rikard Castleberry: Of course!
Alma: I like you. You will be very successful. One gold for you.
Rikard Castleberry: Hands Alma another gold.
In about an hour, you find Bianca at some docks near the market. She is speaking with a short man wearing loose trousers and a flamboyant red shirt.
Mistress Bianca: I have told you for the last time! I did not kill you dog!
Vladimar Batu: He was a good swimmer! Why do you think he could not get to shore!
Casdegere Constantine: Because dogs with short legs, can’t swim.
Rikard Castleberry walks up to the scene.
Bart walks up.
Casdegere Constantine drops his pack and gives the man a stern look.
Rikard Castleberry: Oh nice shirt, that’s a good color, it matches my gloves!
Mistress Bianca (angrily): Fine, I killed the mangy mutt, it was all me, not the fact that it was 19 years old, had one eye and only half its fur!
Vladimar Batu smiles broadly. “At least two of us have taste, eh? Well, what can I do for you? Boats I have. A dog, no”
Mistress Bianca: IT was 3 years ago man!
Casdegere Constantine: We need a boat good sir.
Rikard Castleberry: How fortunate, I need a boat!
Vladimar Batu: Just the four of you?
Mistress Bianca tosses 10 gold coins at the man.
Bart starts looking at the boats.
Mistress Bianca: HERE! by another and let it go!
Vladimar Batu: Wooden or metal shod poles?
Vladimar Batu: Ten gold covers the rental for one week. But I need another ten for deposit, which you will get back when you return.
Casdegere Constantine steps forward and hands him 10 gold.
Vladimar Batu: Excellent. Let us just walk over here, and I will show you the fine craft that will take you wherever you want to go. Oh, each day over one week is another gold.
Vladimar Batu: Four poles are included.
Bart looks for a name on the boat.
Vladimar Batu: Will you be leaving immediately or in the morning?
Casdegere Constantine: Now if you don’t mind.
On the back of the boat is a faded name in red paint: “Once Sunk, Twice Spry.”
Mistress Bianca: Hmm ominous.
Bart: Do you have one with a better name?
Vladimar Batu: I had to develop a sense of humor after my dog died.
Casdegere Constantine: Wonders if he shouldn’t ask for a deposit for his deposit.
Vladimar Batu: How about “Jewel of the Swamp.”
Bart: I do prefer that one.
Mistress Bianca: Now let’s go.
Vladimar Batu: Or “The Raging Bloodsucker.”
Vladimar takes you to another boat that looks exactly like the first but with a different name.
Casdegere Constantine gets in like he knows what he’s doing, because he does.
Bart: Thank you.
Rikard Castleberry: I like this one!
Rikard Castleberry: It reminds me of something I saw once though.
Casdegere Constantine: Get in.
Vladimar Batu: Good luck, and I mean that, because I want my boat back!
Mistress Bianca awkwardly sits in the boat.
Rikard Castleberry: How about, “Get in, please.”
Casdegere Constantine stows his gear near the bow/center and picks up a pole.
Bart takes one of the poles and after attaching his bundle to the front starts to push off.