Good Harbor on the Phrygian Sea

Day Six
This is Gonna Be A Big One

What’s more fun than a bazaar?!

The Group This Week

  • Amos Saltypants, The Cute One
  • Botto, The Smart One
  • Glennendan, The Quiet One
  • Morg, The Violent One/Burden Wrath, The Other Quiet One

The group started off their adventure seeing off Yamaraja, who is off on a secret mission, the context of which is unknown but will undoubtedly net him a suspiciously similar amount of experience to everyone else. From there, they attended a bazaar, in the hopes of netting a magical item or two to help them with whatever trouble they get into. And TROUBLE THERE WAS, as the group was immediately immersed (literally) in an act of terrorism – illegal magic, placed all over the square, in the form of crudely-drawn bombs that detonated, scaring the horses and sending the bazaar into a panic. Glennendan was the only one who kept his cool throughout, and he was able to steal an item from the fleeing cart – he opted to grab a mummified goblin hand.

The bombs didn’t really hurt people so much as humiliate them, spreading black ink all over the place. The same could not be said for Amos, who – in trying to cut down the assailant with a shortsword – critically wounded (and then saved!) a noblewoman who had been part of the crowd. The group chased after the perpetrator, in a gloriously short chase that ended with Glennendan putting an arrow through the guy’s heart. The villain, on death’s door, alluded to having far more sinister plans in mind, before the Royal Guard arrived, whisking the wounded sorcerer away.

Following this turn of events, the group returned home, to the bar, where they found a big unruly mob. The group had assembled because their children had gone missing – also, frustrated that the City Guard had done nothing to find them. This professional display of rabble-rousing was interrupted, however, by Burden Wrath, Commander of the City Guard. The group was hired to find the kids, and Burden insisted on joining them, unfriendly to the idea of vigilante justice in his town. His cooperation, however, came at a price – the families of the missing children demanded their return by sundown that night, or a riot would erupt as a result.

This adventure is not a commentary on Ferguson or Baltimore.

The group set out to investigate:

  • First, several parents of the kids were spoken to at the inn, showing the group on a map where they lived, and suggesting that their children were kidnapped.
  • Botto suggested searching the area where the group of children would meet up (a merge on the path to school), and went there, using his ability to talk to small animals to ask a rat about the kids. The rat turned up little of use, but established that the children had met up the previous morning and continued on to school. A little crumb of bread left by one of the kids confirmed this.
  • The group checked in at the local school, taking time to find out about the missing students. Amos and Glennendan got into a bit of a contest with the middle-aged, spinster teacher, and Amos seduced her, making out with her and making her faint. A productive trip.

The Missing Children:

  1. Charles “Pudgy” Doberman – A human child, the son of Olaf and Maddie, a pair of local bakers. Though he has few friends, he is fairly well-liked by the community.
  1. Finbin & Prucey Cobblefield – Halfling siblings. They aren’t really friends to the rest of the group of missing kids; Prucey is younger than the others, and afraid of the dark. Finbin has always been very protective of her.
  1. Sylph Sheffield – A half-elf boy; the only half-elf child in the town, as far as anybody knows. Quiet and reserved, he is considered very smart for his age, even if Pudgy is his only friend. His father may be mixed up with the wrong people. The group investigated their home, finding a loose floorboard in Sylph’s room, which contained a few lists, a pair of maps, and an old, musty tome, all written in Abyssal.
  1. Cadencia Whittickham – A human girl, she is the daughter of well-to-do nobles Reginald and Victoria Whittickham. She attends the ‘poor child’ school by choice, as she is incredibly forceful in her personality. The group investigated her room at Whittickham Manor, finding a list of supplies needed for camping and travel.
  1. Thurrig Mortarbeard The dwarf grandson of the armorer Amos saved from certain death – his entire family is convinced they’ve been cursed, with one death, one near-death, and now one abduction in the family.
  • The group spoke with a high-ranking nobleman whose daughter had also disappeared, though he hadn’t noticed. He recommended the father of one of the missing children – a man with a criminal past – as a suspect worth interrogating.
  • The group decided to do some old-fashioned police work, investigating the houses of Cadencia and Sylph (see above).
  • Following a lead, the group investigated the north wall of Good Harbor, where they found a small hole that children (or gnomes, but not a half-elf, as demonstrated by Amos) could fit through.

However, despite finding all these pieces, the group could not figure out where the kids have gone! The sun is high in the sky, and there is much work to be done before it falls on the horizon.

Happy Hunting!

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Day Five
Sorry, guys, subtitle couldn't make it, we're going without him.

When last we left our noble adventurers…

Wait, what? Okay, I’m pretty sure there were, like, seven of them the last I checked. Keep going? Got it.

All kidding aside, the campaign’s most lethal enemy thusfar has been our collective schedule. Having been thrust into the night, hacking and screaming at the zombie hordes, our group had found themselves at the doorway of a large building. As we resumed, our remaining party members (Amos, Glennindan, Killface, and Sweet Potato Yamaraja) found themselves onset by difficulty on all sides:

  • The zombies, who were certainly crippled by the loss of their biggest, life-leeching teammates, but nonetheless were after our juicy, juicy throats.
  • The halflings, who had captured several undead and led them to spinning a large wheel, constantly taunted by a hanging pile of adventurer meat. Also, they hired a fucking giant.
  • Some fuck-off beam of white light, which beamed down, teleporting Botto and Fenthur away. Who knows where they went, but they’re probably fine, guys. Certainly not getting blasted.

And so, spirited on by Yamaraja’s intense objection to the presence/exploitation of the undead, and by Amos’ player going, “ooh, there’s a lot of things to kill on this map”, the remaining party set off on their bloody, bloody work. Yamaraja and Killface guarded the door, holding off any would-be entrant (Yamaraja no-hit counter is at 5 days of adventuring and counting, guys). Amos chased a halfling around the barn, unable to land a killing blow. And Glennindan…

Guys, lets’ talk about Glennindan.

See, Glennindan had a distinction that nobody else in the group had (aside from a real, natural knack for cutting down halflings with axes) – he spoke Giant. And while Amos, ostensibly our group’s mouthpiece, was busy trying to chase down his first target, Glennindan and the giant had a nice chat, wherein it was discussed that the Giant was looking for more employment.

Once Amos had finally chased down his prey (just as the halfling was about to ring a bell to alert the town guard), he attempted to negotiate terms with the Giant. Oh, and Amos doesn’t speak Giant, so instead he opted to speak REALLY. LOUD. AND REALLY. SLOW. WITH LOTS. OF. HAND MOTIONS. Glennindan helped Amos come to terms with the giant, and it helped crush the remaining halflings.

Now with a giant hired for the paltry rate of 50 gold/week coming from Amos’ pockets (“Well, I’ll either die without protection, or die because I can’t afford to pay the giant, guys”), the gang set their next plot in motion – the group busted a hole through the back of the barn, with the plan of luring the zombies in through the door and then setting the whole thing on fire whilst they were inside. The plan worked perfectly; we all escaped without even a bit of damage, and the building burned down. Then, the building next to it burned down. Then, the buildings next to them, and before you knew it, the entire town was burning, cooking most townspeople and zombies along with it.

While the group stood on the edge of the massive inferno, a wizened old halfling in a large cloak spoke to them – he’d tried to convince them not to use the white stones. He didn’t offer much else, perhaps seeking to clear his own conscience in the face of the consequences for his failure.

When the smoke cleared, the remaining halflings, including the Master Brewer and the Mistress of Calendars, had rallied to figure out the next step. Though the halflings (especially the mayor) were willing to rebuild the town, Amos (and his +9 persuasion check) convinced the group that it would be better to work as indentured servants at the party’s inn. Only the mayor refused to leave; Yamaraja stayed behind to talk to her, discovering that a mysterious figure only known as “Shadow Hand” convinced them that using the white stones was a great idea. Yamaraja spared her, leaving her in the wreckage of her town, and the group returned to Decent Harbor.

We received payment for completing the mission (per our agreement), though rather than turn in the Master Brewer to Sten Proudfoot, we are holding onto him and his people to brew beer for us.

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Day Four
In which THANK GOD TYLER SHOWED UP

When last we left our noble adventuring party, half of them showed up late and a few couldn’t make it at all.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE PLAYERS.

With Rosemary (and her +7 stealth, foreshadowing) taking a nap at the inn, and Fenthur off being disturbing somewhere, the rest of the group was unceremoniously shoved out of the inn, locked up behind them. We were able to enjoy the idyllic night-time for about ten seconds, before were set upon by the shambling hordes.

FIGHT ONE: CENTER OF TOWN

We encountered six zombies, which we soon discovered were unable to dodge or defend, despite the metal armor they were all wearing. And by we, I mean most of us. Yamaraja spent almost the entirety of the first fight missing on saving throw attacks. It took far too long to bring down these six (they get hit easily, but boy could they take a punch). Indeed, there were many instances where we couldn’t muster their relatively low AC check, and it was at this point that Fenthur…

Side-note: While we’re all fighting for our lives, Fenthur is standing on the roof of the inn, in a fluttering cape and a top hat and he has a tail and oh god why could I never make a character this unsettling. The moon was high in the sky, but I assumed it moved itself to position behind Fenthur for maximum creep. The resulting tidal waves likely killed many people.

Fenthur had one attack in this fight. It was also the last attack in this fight. Afterwards, he joined the group, and Amos had the idea to burn the bodies so the zombies wouldn’t come back.

Afterwards, we agreed that a bit of caution was necessary. Emphasis on “a bit”. Botto and Yamaraja (CRIT!) stealthed forward to scout out the area, finding the brewery we are to burn down, as well as a warehouse where numerous zombies were gathering, clawing at the door and walls. From this point, we had several options.

Option A: See if we could sneak into the warehouse undetected. Nobody really supported this idea because Killface. That isn’t a fragment, that is the reason.

Option B: Go to the unprotected brewery first and blow it up while the zombies aren’t around. This idea was put forward by Yamaraja, in part in the hopes that the townsfolk would emerge at the destruction of their brewery, and the zombies and townsfolk would start defeating each other for us. This idea was chiefly opposed by Amos (see option C) and Killface (who feels that most of the townsfolk did nothing wrong and thus don’t deserve death, by zombie-mauling or otherwise.)

Option C: Ambush the zombies at the warehouse while they’re distracted, and then break into the place. The group went with this one.

At this point, the group split into two – Amos, Yamaraja, and Botto (the party’s stealthiest) would take a flanking position to pick off a few zombies – how hard could it be? Meanwhile, Killface, Fenthur, and Gallindan positioned themselves on the main road, set to swoop in while the zombies were distracted with the initial attack, with a hobbit reporter standing behind them to write down all that happened. What could possibly go wrong.

FIGHT TWO: THE WAREHOUSE

Plenty, as it turned out. Whilst Yamaraja (with the help of Guidance, how broken) and Amos were able to capably stealth into position, Botto accidentally knocked over an empty six-pack of bottles, alerting one zombie to his location and apparently earning a death oath from it. The zombie set upon the flanking group – Yamaraja and Amos both used their attacks (successfully) to deal a lot of damage to the attacking zombie, but it still stood.

Meanwhile, with the back party, Gallindan’s first turn was to shoot his longbow (which he’s better with) at the zombies. This was not part of Amos’ plan, who was expecting Gallindan to charge in immediately to wail on these guys. This left a path for the zombies to overwhelm the party open… until Killface stepped in.

As commented on at the table, this is the first time that Killface has genuinely gone all in on defense – with his armor and his shield, and a resulting AC of 19, the zombies were generally powerless against him. And the fact that almost every attack he rolled was a hit helped too.

Killface managed to hold off the mass of zombies, but at this point, the damage had been done – the group had been split in three. Figuring that the zombie that he’d fought with Amos and Botto must surely be near death, Yamaraja took off to help Killface, spending one of his spell slots to cast Protection from Good & Evil (10 minutes of concentration, undead have to attack at disadvantage) on himself. With this, the party had two true tanks, and all we had to do was regroup.

…except. The zombie that the ambush group had tried to finish quietly WOULD. NOT. GO. DOWN. With an AC of 14, and Amos and Botto rolling a string of 13s, the zombie wailed some on Botto, injuring him greatly. With those two still distracted by a single enemy, it was up to the four of us to attack the rest of the mob.

Surprisingly, the flow of time favored the group more than the zombies, however, as our luck turned. Killface, he of the Consistent Strike, felled one of the serious, not-fucking-around zombies by himself. Gallindan swung his twin hand-axes around like a hibachi chef, and absorbed hits with his ridiculous amount of health. Botto was able to use Shocking Grasp to move himself out of harm’s way, and Fenthur served to convince Amos that he NEEDS Eldritch Blast.

Time, however, will inevitably favor those who don’t need to worry about the mortal coil. Having slain the ‘dangerous’ zombies (there were four hidden amongst the horde), more and more scrub-zombies began to show up at the border. Amos, who needs to get to level 5 for validation of his entire character build, decided to make a dash for the warehouse.

Inside, he found a few halflings holding a heap of fresh meat on a stick, above a bunch of zombies turning a giant wheel, shackled. That fresh meat, by the way, was largely composed of severed human limbs, some of which still had armor from another adventuring party on it. …shiiiiiiiiit.

And that’s where we stopped. We now have to decide whether to stick it out with the zombies outside, or go inside and fight… something. Light the building on fire? Find out what that wheel does? How about the fate of the town – do we keep our original plan of destroying the brewery? Maybe we purge the whole town? Mm? Does that sound good? This narrator thinks so. Anyone up for a purge? Yeah?

P.S.: Saving throws are bullshit. In an entire day where saving throws kept happening (Botto’s Frostbite, Yamaraja’s Sacred Flame, and the zombies’ trying to sap away our Maximum Health), only one saving throw spell hit – one of Botto’s. Nik can’t fail at saving throws. Killface and Gallindan have a tough time with it, too. Boo, saving throws.

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Day Three
Group starts for Horn Hill; gets shit wrecked by orphans.

WHEN LAST WE LEFT OUR NOBLE TRAVELERS

They were getting ready to go burn down a brewery, murdering several people and leaving the rest unemployed. Hooray, politics!

A quick stop at the adventuring supply shop revealed that adventuring has become chic now that someone’s managed to do it without dying horribly and immediately. People are heading for the Sea of Sand in droves, meaning that our party, at level 2, has already solved the looming overpopulation problem! XP, please! Beyond that, we stocked up on supplies, with Rosemary finding a suit of studded leather armor in the Junior Miss section, and Killface being trusted with a high-velocity grappling-hook-launching apparatus. The place should have a sign out front reading, “Endangering Kids and Misusing Firearms Since 2015.”

But that’s not the only new toy the party got! The group of six was joined by another, Glennidan… Glindan… Danny Trejo, the Wood Elf Barbarian, who was stopped in the middle of an attempted murder-suicide by Amos and Yamaraja. With new party member in tow, the group started out for Horn Hill, only to be intercepted by what might have been a far more competent guild in the Sea Urchins, who have nothing to do with water and enjoy making light of their not having any parents. Though the party started out surrounded and injured, they soon got the better of the would-be assassins, proving once and for all that having seven people with virtually nothing in common and no prior experience will always beat six of the same guy, plus a wizard with a hat. Having left Good Harbor the way we like it (with a pile of bodies strewn all over one of the entrances), we made our way to Horn Hill – the orphan blood we were covered in likely scared off any potential predators.

When we reached Horn Hill, we had been expected – odd for a group of raiders, but we’d seen weirder today. For example, the fact that the brewery was being run by a swarm of undead? That was pretty fucking weird. Indeed, the town had been ravaged by the undead menace, but they were also benefiting from it – they were using the zombies as workers to produce the beer, and the hop plants were growing wildly with what is likely necromantic energy. The town wants us to cull the undead population to make them more manageable. And so the group waits at the local inn (the Salty Mermaid), for nightfall, and for things to get SO MUCH WEIRDER.

Do we raze the brewery, and thus the town, to help Senator Proudfoot?

Do we kill most of the undead to help the town thrive?

Or do we all agree that the world is better with this non-fair-trade brewery wiped off the map entirely?

…probably all of those.

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Day Two
Or, "Amos of Arabia"

And so it was that our group of intrepid heroes struck out upon the dreaded Sea of Sand, to try and find their fortune, or a shitload of tusks from animals that typically have fangs.

(I’ll just leave this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuxHLzwlDY4 )

Our fearless adventurers, possessing much in the way of talent and courage but incredibly little in terms of gold coins, gathered their things (following a quick visit to the wilderness supply shop, where Yamaraja was nearly shot by a crossbow) and took off to the southern wastes, opting to follow a cart trail so that they wouldn’t have to hike across endless sand dunes. It was not long, however, before the group discovered that this path led to a trap – the wagon that the group had been inadvertently tailing was still a pile of wreckage down a steep dune – indeed, once again the group was nearly the victim of the fiendish “trap-door-that-sends-you-falling-twenty-feet-into-relative-inconvenience” routine.

The wagon, and its driver, were set upon by the bandits who had designed the trap, and the group, with only the best intentions in mind, slid down the hill to engage them. The fight was decisive, the bandits finding themselves outgunned against a group of six hearty adventurers. Most of the bandit party was slaughtered, with one kept alive for interrogation.

Oh, and then everyone but Yamaraja had to make a Constitution check. Probably nothing.

Our noble heroes looked to scavenge the cargo that the wagon had been transporting – books, as it happened. Botto found a spellbook which helped his own studies along, while Yamaraja found a tome on the history of the Crimson Cloaks that the king himself had requested from this, the world’s first documented Book-mobile. Confronted with the fact that we had just stolen (again) from King Tung, the party debated what would happen to the cart’s driver. Amos was of the opinion that we couldn’t just go around murdering people – what unfortunate luck for him that he was the one who murdered the cart driver, throwing him to the unforgiving ground, where the dwarf bashed his head open on an ill-placed rock.

British_Pith_Helmet.jpg

Pictured above: Murderer, brigand and bard Amos Saltypants.

When the bandit came through, it was Amos to the rescue again – but no, not through relentless and vindictive bloodshed… this time! Instead, he used his wealth of charisma to convince the remaining bandit that Amos was the new leader of the bandit group. Having earned the bandit’s trust, we learned that the bandits regularly mugged people here and then buried the gold in a cave just over the crest of the dune.

Investigating the cave, we were attacked by several, flying Kobolds, which we proceeded to filet. Our efforts resulted in the discovery of over two hundred gold pieces – if adventuring doesn’t work out for us, the party may have a future career in grave-robbing. We also found a few more of the mysterious, white, life-extending stones, a mystery that is not likely to end any time soon. Having turned the cave upside down (and its denizens inside out), the group emerged from the cave for a well-earned Wellness Break, heading to the nearby “crick” at the bandit’s suggestion to get more water.

Also, most people had to make a constitution check. Not even worth mentioning.

While at the “crick”, we had an awkward meet-cute with a pair of two-headed wolves. And like most of our interactions, it ended in horrible bloodshed and Amos, face-down, slowly floating away down the “crick”. The group survived the fight (though it was close for a minute there), and Rosemary proved that she might be the only thing between us and certain death, as she skinned, butchered and grilled the wolves with little more than an adventurer’s pack and the stubborn determination of a 9-year-old girl.

We camped out at the crick, whereupon most of the group realized that these white stones might be killing them. Though the majority of the group wished to discard these stones, Amos held onto the collection for his own nefarious purposes. Including using his mule in the metaphorical sense of the word.

The next morning, we decided to press on and check out a place the locals had named, “The Death Chambre”. Despite several warnings to stay away, we delved deeper, discovering snakes that had been retro-fitted with massive tusks, and a very angry troll with a disposition against explorers. The entire group did their part to stop the troll:

-Killface lit himself on fire and refused to let go of the troll, granting us advantage for most of the fight.
-Botto wailed on the troll, including a Magic Missile that requires the rolling of ZERO DICE to hit.
-Yamaraja stood at mid-range, using a cantrip ad nauseum to make sure that the troll couldn’t heal. It wasn’t very effective.
-Rosemary spent her time firing her shortbow at the giant target, and getting the hang of whatever the fuck Sneak Attack is supposed to do.
-Amos tanked for the entirety of the fight, sponging what attacks the troll could muster by blocking them with his face.
-And Fenthur convinced the troll that, despite all logic, it should be very afraid of all of the above.

After a relatively quick fight, the group could NOT FIND ANY TROLL TUSKS, but did take all of its internal organs. This game is getting worrisome quickly.

Following the disproving of the Death Chambre, the group headed back to town to peddle their wares. To make a long story short (too late), the group accumulated several hundred gold. Also, Amos – perhaps feeling lucky that he didn’t die in the desert, put his considerable wages on the gambling tables against the owner of the inn – Amos won, winning the group half-control of the same inn he wants nothing to do with. The Fates are such bitches.

Also of note, the group finally met King Tung, who – surprise – should have died months ago. He’s using these white stones to extend his life, and MAAAAYBE was possessed by some otherworldly power as a result.

but hey, we got half the inn, guys.

NEXT TIME, ON PARTY OF SEVEN:

-We read a book.
-We try to burn down a brewery as a favor to a senator.
-Yamaraja tries to make cookies. ROLL FOR SETTING THE OVEN TIMER.

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Day One
The one where the group battles a magical floor and a mighty metal cage.

All members of the party are captured and thrown in a dungeon (presumably for stealing a shipment of gold, for the illegal use of magic in city limits, or for disturbing the peace at a lovely local eatery called The Dancing Dragon). After quick introductions they look for anything useful, pick the lock on their cell door and investigate some of the others. While walking the profoundly long distance of the corridor the group is mildly startled by a few guards escorting another shackled prisoner (Fenthur) to the cell they so briefly occupied. They charm the guards and are ushered like royalty into a line-up, asked to read a sentence, and then allowed to roam the dungeon at their leisure, so long as they eventually return to their cell.

In the antechamber to the interrogation room group chooses to investigate a set of doors. The doors lead to a long narrow magical chamber with a oddly treacherous floor. The majority of the party falls down a steep ramp into a metal cage while two members skillfully avoid the trap and remain upstairs solving riddles, entering their responses by stepping on certain stone tiles on the floor.
Some members of the group struggle to free themselves from the cage while others excel at it (but at times struggle to help their cohorts). Animated suits of armor attack the members of the party that remain upstairs. And the group flees, albeit after checking (or attempting to check) a few chests, through doors two floors down and in the back of the chamber, only to find themselves in the same room that they started in.

Their captors are mildly surprised to locate them back in the antechamber. They inform them that they have been given a full pardon and return all their adventuring gear and weapons.

On their way back to The Dancing Dragon to question Lydria street thugs attack the group in an attempt to capture or kill Yamaraja who has had a price of 50 gold pieces put on his head. The group mightily defeats the ruffians.

Lydria has little information for them but she sends them to talk to Marty the Mage, a wizard that lives in a dirt hovel near the fork in the road outside of town (the very same wizard that disappeared from the tavern during the brawl).

He is hostile towards the group for their lack of magical knowledge and ability. The group calls it a night and lives to investigate the mysteries of Good Harbor another day; a day when they may potentially fight tooth and nail to claw their way to second level.

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Prologue (part 2)

On the same morning…

A member of the city guard stands watch at the North Gate, ‘stands’ is generous… slouches really, with his curved back leaning against the stonework of the arch. His spear stands guard as well, leaning against the wall beside him; the two cast long early morning shadows in the dust. The guard takes a long slow drink from the rough clay flagon of ale in his hand and wipes the foam from his thick black stubble with the back of a leather-gloved hand. He offers some ale to the spear that stands beside him with a crooked smile.

“Eh? …No?…Well, suit yourself.” He replies with shrug and takes another drink.

A second figure in the arch lets out a judgemental sigh. The man sits atop a high stool at an angled writing desk. The stool and desk are sun-bleached and otherwise weathered from the elements, but the man is well-dressed in brown high-collared jacket and a loosely-woven cravat. He looks up wearily from his bookkeeping, shakes his head and returns to his figures.

An uncommonly tall slender women in a heavily-embroidered thick blue cloak approaches. Her hood is drawn up over her head so that the men can only see the bottom half of her face. The two men look up, simultaneously noticing her presence.

No one speaks. The sentry’s and the the customs agent’s eyes follow the woman as she passes through the gate unchallenged. She smiles at the man at his desk and half-curtseys, barely breaking her measured stride.

Once she has passed several yards into the distance towards the center of Great Harbor the customs agent blinks, clears his throat and narrates to himself as he scratches with a quill. “Time: Five and three quarters, of the Sun. Woman, presumably of noble birth. Nothing to declare.”

The guard speaks up, “Nothing?” the guard smiles to himself “…I don’t know about that. I think she may have been smuggling two great big sacks of flour under her blouse.”

The customs agent shoots a nasty glare at the guard and says “Oh, dry up, you twat.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Six and one half, of the Sun

The beautiful woman steps over the slumped body of member of the Kingsguard as she turns the bronze handle of a heavy, and finely-painted, wooden door. In the room King Tung sits at a writing desk covered with parchment maps and without looking up groans and sneers, “I clearly stated I was not to be disturbed.”

The woman withers where she stands, writhes in agony and morphs into a man of similar stature but hunched over an intricately carved staff which appeared from the ether. The stranger bangs his staff a single time upon the ground angrily. “Now is that any way to talk to an honored guest.”

The king looks up and the remaining color in his sickly pallid skin drains from his face. “You? I… I told you never to visit me here,” he says hastily in a hushed, fearful tone.

“And I agreed to that request,” the stranger says with venom in his voice without hesitation “…but I cannot honor the terms of our agreement, if you do not honor the very same terms as well. You see,” the stranger paused “there is the matter of a shipment of gold; it’s late. Or from what I gather, not coming at all.” The stranger says eerily with a hint of sarcasm.

“What? I…I don’t understand.”

“Yes… I see that you clearly do not…” continued the strange man a bit discouraged. “You do not understand the exceptional necessity of making these payments… you do not understand the severity with which failure to make said payments will be dealt… and, most of all, it seems you do not understand, or rather simply lack awareness of the fact, that your gold… my payment was stolen right from under your nose. Regretfully I must inform you that the shipment didn’t even make it out of your city,” the stranger sneered.

Some of the kings color returned to his face and he clenched his gaunt jaw slowly mulling over the disturbing news. “I’ll deal with these thieves,” he said though his teeth as he slammed a tightened fist on his writing desk spilling a morning glass of wine. “You’ll get your gold Byrne dun Ming.”

“See that I do, King Tung, or your days are numbered.” Byrne said and, having accomplished what he set out to do, he nodded his head, turned decisively and, scraping his staff on the stone floor, exited the king’s chambers.

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Prologue

Dirty faced and clad in rough, misshapen sackcloth shifts two children of about ten years sit atop the outcropping beside a fork in the road. They are about a mile outside of the wall that separates the outskirts of the town of Great Harbor from the outlying lands. A road stretches eastward through a mostly barren, but not entirely inhospitable, landscape characterized by hills of rocky sandy soil dotted with short scrub-brush pine trees. To the west lie two well-traveled roads to Great Harbor.

The children sit in the shade of the low trees, the beady early morning sun on the horizon. One amuses himself by scratching images in the dust at his feet with a sharpened stick. The other sits cross legged on a rock as though he sits on a throne, greedily picking his nose.

The wind hums slowly through the quietly creaking trees and carries a song sung in an unfamiliar tongue. The two simultaneously hear the odd song on the wind and look at each other excitedly. They scramble up the sloped embankment fumbling, each quickly selecting and scooping up a rock about the size of a fist as they go.

They see the stranger who is singing. He is uncommonly tall and hunches over an intricately carved wooden staff used like a crutch. He wears a heavy embroidered deep blue cloak. Under his hood the boys can easily see that the stranger has thick woven bandages wrapped around his head that cover his eyes. Men never travel the road to Great Harbor without horses, and usually they come in wagons loaded down with supplies and goods to sell or trade. The first youth drops his rock and his jaw at the sight of this odd-looking and mysterious character.

“You boy, the stranger said abruptly. “Which road is the more direct path to the Hall of Tung, Overlord and Master of Great Harbor?”
The first boy shuffled uncomfortably and seemingly surprised himself when he raised his pointed finger towards the north road.
“Thank you kindly,” the stranger said.
With that the odd man adjusted his robe and resumed his song but broke off suddenly.
“You know boy it isn’t kind to throw rocks at passing caravans,” the stranger said with disgust lingering on his lips.
“We weren’t,” protested the youth… “honest, we…”
“Don’t lie to me, by The Light I know what you two are up to and about and hmmpth,” the man stammered sternly. “It isn’t kind to lie to strangers either.”

The two youths stood in place as though they were carved wooden statues and stared struck dumb. The man paused a moment more, shrugged, and then continued to walk towards the town slowly scraping his staff on the ground, now once again singing his song. The second youth freed from the strangers spell frowned with hatred, gripped the rock he still held tighter, and threw it with a grunt at the stranger. The well-aimed rock sailed swiftly through the air towards the man’s head.

The stranger raised a single finger and stopped the rock in midair only a foot from his face. The rock floated and turned end over end in the air. The strangers twisting digit appeared to be keeping it in place.
The boys starred in solemn disbelieving.

A grin spread slowly across the strangers face. “I fear you have tried my patience,” the stranger said in a mocking tone. “Pity.”
He casually flicked his finger in the direction of the youth on the hill and the rock burst into blue flame and took flight towards the boy that had thrown it.

The rocks path curved upward before it slammed solidly into the boy’s head splashing gelatinous bits of seared grey matter onto the other boy’s face and hands.

The recently standing body, folded and crumpled to the earth. The remaining boy screamed a blood-curdling scream, turned, stumbled and scrambled into a run away from the scene.

The strangers grin twisted into a hearty laugh. His head rocked back, his whole body now shaking violently his cavernous toothy mouth emitting the blood-curdling laughter. He began his song again, now in a hearty and vigorous tone.

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