Velvet & Steel

The Strumpet and Phoenix
Session Ten

28 Quintus 1668 (Terdi)

After gathering at Esmerelda's wine-house, the Heroes decide to converge on the Red Strumpet Inn to confront Aksen, an enemy of Fenneke and compatriot of Yngvild, and try to find out more information about the villain's plans.

The Red Strumpet is a seedy two-story affair marked by a swinging wooden sign depicting a tawdry woman in a red blouse with its named emblazoned across the top in Castillian. From inside they hear the sound of a guitar being played and raucous laughter. The three Heroes stride confidently into the inn as if they own the place. 

They are immediately hit with the smell of sour wine and ale, sweat, and cheap perfume. The foyer houses a small check-in desk beside a narrow staircase leading to the second floor. Behind the desk is a thin man with a pencil-thin mustache in too-big clothes lazily holding a glass of wine. Beyond the foyer is a common area where there are long tables set up for dining and drinking, a long bar, and small corner stage where a gaudily dressed man is playing flamenco guitar. Jennys, as well as male companions, are frequenting the room, which, by Fenneke's count, houses about 20 of Yngvild's sailors. And seated at one of the benches, holding court, is Aksen, his meaty hands around a pewter tankard, berating one of the lesser sailors about one point or another, as is his way. 

Fenneke strides forward, straight to her prey, watching the other sailors out of the corner of her eye. Rico follows, swaying slightly, appearing to be drunk. Aksen looks up and recognizes the Vesten battle-blacksmith and says as much. The two exchange barbs, with Fenneke declaring that "I am not a child and I am not afraid of you." Her intense presence and poise do seem to cow the big man a bit. She demands to know where Yngvild is and he indicates that she's meeting with "a patron." She brings up "the Señora" and he seems surprised that she knew about her. But, he still refuses to say where they are. Instead—he takes a swing at Fenneke!

Rico and Ysabel deal with the sailors while Fenneke concentrates on Aksen. The two engage in an epic bar-fight, with Fenneke soon taking the upper hand. She twists the big man's arm behind his back and manhandles him into the table, then picks him up  and slams him down. He fights back with vicious mule kicks and head butts.

Meanwhile, Rico has dealt handily with the sailors and notices that the innkeep is missing. While other patrons of the inn are hiding behind tables, trying not to be noticed or targeted in the brawl, the innkeep is just missing. Rico strides out in pursuit while Ysabel stays behind to keep an eye on things in the inn. 

Fenneke and Aksen continue to trade blows, each trying to be the last one standing in a brutal melee. 

Rico, meanwhile, spots the skinny man in an alleyway talking with two other men. Rico glides confidently forward, flashing his duelist's pin, effectively intimidating the men. They scatter, but Rico stops the skinny man. After a few moments of brow-beating, the man admits that he was trying to get work back to the Señora—for whom he works. As far as the innkeep knows, she is at the Double Phoenix, a secret bar where underworld dealings are done. He lets the man go and heads back to rejoin his friends.

Back at the Strumpet, Fenneke and Aksen are still fighting—but Fenneke clearly has the advantage. Nevertheless, her face is bloody from where the big man bit a chunk out of her cheek. Ysabel spots a piece of paper poking out of the man's waistcoat and manages to snag it. She reads it…in Castillian it says "two tails entertwined."

Finally, Fenneke slams the man's face against the table, forcing him to raise his hands in surrender. She demands to know where the Señora and Yngvild are. Breathless, Aksen says only "two phoenixes." 

By this time, Rico has returned and witnessed the end of the fight. Ysabel manages to get a contingent of city guards to come and "clean up" the bar, hopefully taking the sailors and Aksen away for at least a little while.

They find a local doctor to patch Fenneke up and the three head to Esmerelda's to consult each other on what was gained by the confrontation.

They know that the "Double Phoenix" is a hidden tavern, a place where underworld deals often are negotiated. It lies in the basement of another establishment, "The Flaming Bull." One has to ask for "the special", reciting the proper password, to get access to the Phoenix. They think that the "two tails entwined" may be the password, or at least a clue to the password. 

They decide to stake out this place tomorrow and see what they can find out. Rico can get inside and find gather some information while Fenneke and Ysabel work the docks to spread rumors about Yngvild and her patron.

As they leave Esmerelda's to retire to their respective abodes, a voice calls out to them from the shadows. "You have something of mine, Little Man."

They turn and see "Bloody Izzy," a pirate of nightmarish reputation. The moonlight seems to highlight her many arcane tattoos and her lustrous dark hair. Rico smiles and attempts to charm the woman, but it is clear she does not want to be charmed. She points a flintlock at him as he strides toward her, but Rico maintains his confident smile and continues to approach, flirting dangerously with the agitated pirate. Finally, he works his way close to her and pulls her close for a kiss. She returns the kiss passionately, but tells him to "stop smiling." She invites him to come to her ship—it is anchored southwest from the harbor. She then returns to the shadows. 

Rico changes course and pursues Izzy, deciding to spend the night with her on her ship, The Athame. Fenneke and Ysabel, bemused and amused, head to their own homes for the night. 

29 Quintus 1668 (Guerdi)

Ysabel and Fenneke hit the docks to start spreading word of Yngvild's and the Señora's many faults. According to the new word on the streets, Yngvild has been bragging about her "big job" with the Señora. There's now talk that Yngvild may turn on her patron when the money is right. In fact, according to these rumors, Yngvild is gathering her own information network to undercut the Señora and go on her own. 

Meanwhile, Rico is checking out the Flaming Bull. He goes inside and takes a seat in the quiet tavern. He asks for the special—"two tails entwined." The server nods and leads Rico down into a secret basement area where there is another, bigger, tavern. This one is much more occupied. Rico begins making the rounds, trying to gather as much information as he can. He hears that the Señora is displeased with Yngvild due to her apparent failure in Eisen. Yngvild, for her part, is returning to a place called Bjornoya ("bear island"). He also catches a glimpse of an old man examining a piece of parchment at a table alone. It looks familiar to him—it is a piece of his father's map.

He sidles up to the man and places a dagger into his ribs, directing him to hand over the map, as it does not belong to him. There is a tense moment when it appears as if Rico may be pushed into killing the man for the map—but the old man relents and turns over the map piece. Rico asks where he got. The man apparently bought it from a priest by the name of Velasco de Bazan for a 50 guilders. Rico pays the man the same amount and make his way quickly out of the speakeasy. 

The Heroes then reconvene at Esmerelda's to discuss their next move…

The Roost
Session Nine

14 Quintus 1668 (Terdi)—Explorer's Society Stronghold

It's late and Rico prepares to make his ride back to Starkbrunn. Fenneke and Ysabel will stay behind with the Master of the Chamber as Rico goes to fetch reinforcements for the stronghold.

Rico rides through the night, pushing his steed onward and swinging with his rapier as winged horrors assail him from above. Nevertheless, he makes it back to the gates of Starkbrunn, unscathed, by dawn. Always thinking of first things first, he manages to secure a bottle of wine. Properly fortified, he makes his way to the Black Eagle to find Cordula.

When he gets to the pub, he finds that it is closed, it being early in the morning. He raps on the barred door and the small peep hole opens. "I need to see Cordula," he says. "It's urgent."

The door opens and the old barkeep in the soldier's jacket stands there staring at him. "You look like shit," he growls, but lets the Castillian in and takes him the back room where Cordula awaits. 

Rico explains the situation to Cordula who tells him to rest there in the back room where there is a cot. She will gather reinforcements—it will take her most of the day to do so. They will prepare to return to the stronghold in the morning. Rico thanks her and curls up on the cot and goes to sleep.


Ysabel and Fenneke wait at the stronghold and discuss with the old man his ordeal at the hands of Yngvild. They discover that Yngvild discussed returning to a ship. She also mentioned having to answer to "The Señora." Could this be Yngvild's mysterious patron? 

Also, Fenneke notices a patch of red hair on Ysabel that she has apparently neglected to dye. Very curious…

As they wait for Rico's return, Fenneke and Ysabel work about the stronghold, tidying up, working the forge, etc. They ask the Master about the Horrors striking the stronghold and he says that they used to, but that when it was strong they had scared them away—but now that there are no forces here, they may come back. 

15 Quintus 1668 (Guerdi)

The Master of the Chamber offers to let Ysabel and Fenneke use the Chapel if they are so inclined, as it is a holy day. They both respectfully decline. 

Fenneke approaches Ysabel and tells her that she "missed a spot," pointing to her hair. Ysabel is speechless. "It's a lovely shade of red. I won't say anything. I don't know what you're running from or why you don't like red hair or if you're Vesten, Avalonian, or from Innismore. I'll keep your secret." She leaves Ysabel with her mouth agape.

Later that day, around sundown, Rico arrives with 20 hired soldiers from Starkbrunn. The two ladies catch Rico up on current events and he takes a cold bath in the nearby river. 

They discuss possible moles in the organization with the Master of the Chamber. The Master says that there is a limited pool of people that are aware of what is stored here in the stronghold—possibly only his superiors at the main Society chapterhouse in Lisso even know of the golem's existence. The thought that the conspiracy travels so high disturbs Rico, but he ponders the possibility of traveling to Lisso nevertheless. Finally the Heroes rest for the night and set out for San Cristóbal in the morning. 

28 Quintus 1668 (Terdi)

The Heroes finally arrive in San Cristóbal. They rode to the coast and, once again, took The Cordon Bleu to the capital.

Once they arrive, the three friends head to the home of the the Caballero Iñigo de Bonaval de Cristóbal. The Caballero welcomes the Heroes and bids them tell him of their adventure. As Rico tells the tale, pushing certain buttons to get reactions from the Caballero, testing the resolve of the gentleman to see if he is, indeed, their mole, Ysabel watches the gentle carefully to gage his reactions as well. Fenneke watches the surrounding guards and servants to see if they are on their guard and to judge their reactions to the tale. 

Rico tells the Caballero about Yngvild and mentions only her desire for the device behind "door number one"—not what was there. He manages not to offend the gentleman and solicits a genuinely surprised response from him. He is surprised, appalled, and concerned about what transpired at the stronghold. He clearly believes Rico and does not know what is actually behind "door number one." 

In trying to sort out who the mole may be, the Caballero proposes that there were only four others who knew the proper countersigns that could have passed them on to Yngvild:

  • Javier de Manuel de Rioja
  • Friar Francisco Pardo
  • Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe
  • The Señora Teresa Ramirez de Salazar de Cristóbal

After their conversation with the Caballero, the Heroes gather at their favorite wine-house, Esmerelda's, to plan.

Could The Señora Teresa Ramirez de Salazar de Cristóbal be "The Señora" mentioned by Yngvild? Could Yngvild been in the city that very night they were given this assignment? Fenneke did see some of her crew at the ball. And Rico met the Señora at the party. What are the relationships between each other? 

Fenneke decides to go along the docks and see if she can get some news of Yngvild. Rico accompanies her, flashing his duelist pin to buy her some coin in intimidation and local information. She learns that Yngvild's ship, The Blood Price (Blud Pris) has been seen far off the coast. The red-haired man, Aksen, has been seen on shore at the Red Strumpet Inn. The Athame has also been seen off the coast as well. 

While on the docks with Fenneke, Rico spots something interesting—a wanted poster with a very familiar face:

After helping out Fenneke, Rico heads to the Society chapterhouse to learn more about the sorcerous dagger Yngvild had. He calls in a few of his favors and learns that it was last seen in Charouse, the capital of Montaigne, but was probably stolen on a raid there about a month ago. He also asks about whether the Señora is seen here. He is informed that most of her dealings with the chapterhouse are handled through Javier de Rioja. 

Ysabel goes among the merchant folk for information on the Señora. She is a noblewoman of San Cristóbal, her family having lived her for several generations. She is known for her generosity and philanthropy. She is held in high regard. She is a widow, her husband having fallen during the War of the Cross.

The three meet back up at Esmerelda's to plan. After a brief discussion, they decide that the best course of action is to head to the Red Strumpet Inn and see what Aksen has to say…

The Stronghold
Session Eight

13 Quintus 1668 (Amardi)

Serenaded to tunes plucked on Rico's 5-stringed guitar, the Heroes leave the city of Starkbrunn, bearing north through the Dracheneisen Mountains toward the Explorer's Society secret stronghold. As they ride through the stark mountain passes, Fenneke watches warily for danger while Rico, still alert, continues to play his guitar, and Ysabel rests her hand drawn pistol across her saddle horn, ready for action should the need arise. 

In the afternoon, as the shadows lengthen across the trail, Rico spots…something…moving through the rocks alongside the trail, his nipples hardening on alert. The creature emerges from shadows—a snake-like moving shadow with the toothy maw of an eel—and strikes at the Castillian. Rico attacks with his rapier while Fenneke leaps into the fray with her axe. Ysabel fires her pistol and spurs her horse onward, moving to distract the creature while Rico finishes it off with flourish of his blade. The creature's corpse fades into the surrounding shadows. 

"The horrors of Eisen are indeed strange," Ysabel says.

As they continue down the trails, they notice some creatures flying high above them, perching on the distant summits. Two of these creatures break off and start flying toward the Heroes. As one flies over, Rico slashes at it, and then bashes the other one with his sword hilt as it flies by. The second claws at Ysobel, cutting through her expensive dress. Rico slashes again at the low-flying one, waiting for the other one to swing back around. He performs a feint, allowing Fenneke to leap onto the back of the winged horror and dig in with her axe. 

As the first one swings back around, Rico points at it with his sword and says, "Before you die, I want you to know the name of Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor." The creature attempts to bite him, but Rico performs a masterful riposte. He then poses, a move reminiscent of the "way of the flamingo," and ends with a lunge that severs the creature's spine, felling it. 

Fenneke, riding the back of the other creature, plunges her axe into it's back, leaps off of the creature, landing in perfect 3-point landing and swinging back, destroys the creature on the backswing. She rises, covered in ichor, but with a satisfied smile on her usually grim face. She then slices off leathery bits of hide from the creatures' wings to use as fabric. 

Eventually they come to the pass to the stronghold. Rico comes across the decaying corpse of one of the winged horrors and supposes that perhaps Yngvild had come this way previously and encountered the beast. 

The sun is setting as the Heroes make their way down the pass. Ysabel produces a spyglass and passes it to Rico. At the end of the pass he sees that a barricade and a gate has been erected. It is guarded by six mercenaries of the lowest sort. 

Rico strides forward confidently while the others follow. Between Rico's convincing manner and Fenneke's intimidating demeanor, they convince the mercenaries to disperse and abandon their post. The leader proves to be a bit harder to convince than his fellows—but can be bribed. With a bit of gold in his pouch, he, too, leaves without a fight. 

As this transpired, Ysabel was examining the wall and the gate. She finds the gate mechanism and opens the gate, allowing she and her fellow Heroes to pass through into the courtyard of the stronghold.

Looking ahead, there are two guard towers with 3 guards each perched on top overlooking the courtyard area. None of these guards seem to be giving the Heroes a second glance—the fact that they were "let" in by the gate guards without a fight probably has bought them some time and trust. Beyond the courtyard is a river running east to west.

Immediately to the west is a large set of double doors with the symbol of the Explorer's Society embossed upon it. Rico pushes open the doors and they enter a lit hallway. They move slowly to a "T" in the corridor—to the right is darkness, but to the left are more lights and doors. They head to the first door.

The door is locked with an unusual puzzle lock made up of folding and locking panels that must be placed in the proper combination to properly unlock the door. After a few moments, Rico figures it out and opens the door. 

The room appears to be a well-stocked bedroom. There is also a desk and a wardrobe. They all search the room for various useful objects. Rico finds a mapped layout of the stronghold. Ysabel finds a roster of stronghold personnel—including the name of the Master of the Chamber (Rudolfus Klein). Fenneke finds a manifest of relics and objects being held in the stronghold—with a notable exception of an object being held in the "chapel" of the stronghold only noted as "Item X."

As they are examining their finds, Fenneke and Ysabel hear footsteps coming down the hall. They shut the door and remain still as the booted feet move past. After a few moments, they move back by—a patrol. They return to what, according to the map, is the guard tower, accessible by a nearby hall. 

They leave the Master's chamber and head to what is marked as the Reliquary. 

As they pass the hall leading to the guard tower, they overhear their conversation. Apparently they grow impatient with staying here and the fact that the old man won't "break." They are of the opinion that he should be thrown in the river like the others. 

Rico starts heading up the stairs like he owns the place, with Fenneke following, her visage stern and intimidating. Ysabel poses as an attaché, putting on her best officious manner. Ysabel demands all of the guards' names while Rico demands to know where Yngvild is—he was to meet her here. The guards—clearly discombobulated, answer that she is in the Chapel, across the river. Ysabel warns the men that should keep the place clean and tidy. They then leave the guards with a grand flourish. 

The troupe head to the river and ford it, making their way to ancient sanctuary. They then turn and make their way to flooded chamber dominated by four carved pillars, the carvings of dragons crawling along the wet columns making an eerie sight. Eventually, they find their way to the outside of the chapel.

In the chapel, they see an old man tied to a chair. He's obviously been beaten and abused for some days. The woman Fenneke has identified as Yngvild is there, as well as 8 other mercenaries. Yngvild is demanding the solution to the puzzle lock on a nearby door and the old man, still defiant, tells her to go to hell. She backhands him. 

The three Heroes enter the room. "Turnaround," Ysabel tells Yngvild. "She wants to kill you."

Rico prepares to square off with the mercenaries while Yngvild turns around and sees Fenneke. "My dear, you keep turning up like a bad Guilder."

"Drit og dra," Fenneke tells her through gritted teeth as she closes the gap and attacks the smiling captain. She delivers two slashes, one across Yngvild's face.

Meanwhile, Ysabel moves and frees the Master of the Chamber from his bonds and moves him out of harm's way.

Yngvild slashes twice at Fenneke, slash for slash. 

Fenneke cuts twice—Yngvild cuts twice.

Rico finishes off the last of the mercenaries and blocks the exit, displaying his Explorer's Society symbol for the Master to see. 

Fenneke attacks Yngvild, and then Yngvild draws a silver dagger from her belt. She cuts a hole in the air—and, as if walking through a parted curtain, leaves this reality behind. The hole seals behind her. 

As the Heroes look on, wondering how this supposedly Vesten woman learned Montaigne sorcery, the Master of the Chamber sheds some light. He believes that she is using an item that has been stolen from the Society. It is a magical dagger linked to a sou (a Montaigne coin). It will allow her to be taken to the coin and the coin only. It is limited by the item.  He also offers to show them what she was after—"You've earned that much," he says.

Ysabel helps him to the door and he works the puzzle lock, unsealing the room. Looking inside with lanterns, they see a huge metal man, standing over 7' tall with 4 arms and no face. It has a dark gem in the forehead. It is made of bands of overlapping metal. Rico wonders if it is a Golem and the Master says that he is not far off—that is, in fact, their nickname for it. They speculate as to what Yngvild would want with such a thing. It could be a powerful weapon—what would she want with it?

The stronghold will need to have reinforcements. Rico offers to ride back to Starkbrunn to contact Cordula to get that moving. But first…

The Heroes head out into the courtyard. The remaining guards demand to know what is going on. Rico informs them that Yngvild has gone and that they are all that are left. They have two choices—the leave or play "the bleeding game." They opt to leave.

Rico bids farewell to his friends and begins his ride back to Starkbrunn, leaving Fenneke and Ysabel behind with the Master of the Chamber.

The Hunter's Quarter
Session Seven

12 Quintus 1668 (Veldi) — Starkbrunn

Our Heroes, after barely making it inside the gates of Starkbrunn after their harrowing ride through the fields outside the city, are faced with one of the Eisen soldiers on guard at the gate.

"Welcome to Starkbrunn," she says, with more than a little irony.

Rico smiles winningly and pulls a finger of one of the undead horrors off of his rapier and flings it away with disgust. 

The guard looks the three up and down. "You're not merchants. Are you monster-hunters?" 

The three admit that they are not merchants, but are noncommittal on the title of "monster-hunter." Ysabel asks for a suitable place to stay and the guard suggests that the closest inn is the Tavistock Inn—it is only a few blocks from the gates. 

As the group prepares to enter the city, the guard warns them. "Stay out of trouble while you're in the city." 

"Why?" Ysabel asks. 

"Just a friendly warning. Old wounds run deep here," she says. The group figures she is referring to the recent War of the Cross. Rico knows that Starkbrunn was occupied by Castille during the war and was returned to Eisen as a peace offering during the armistice. 

Before they ride off, Rico asks the guard what she is doing later. Suspiciously, the guard says that she'll be coming off of her shift in a couple of hours. "You'll know where to find me," Rico says with a wink as they continue through the inner gate and into the narrow streets of the city proper.

The Tavistock Inn is marked with a wooden sign painted with a green leaf pattern and the name emblazoned in the tongue of Eisen. It is a modest affair, homey and comfortable. The three travelers picket their horses outside and go into the inn.

They are met at a counter by a large man with a scruffy beard and clean apron. He greets them warmly in a slow, deep voice. "Wilkommen to the Tavistock. What can I do for you?" They arrange for rooms and a bath and a warm meal. The innkeep gives them information on a local livery in which to place their mounts, as well as information on a local doctor, "Herr Scherer," who can help them with the wounds they suffered on their ride. 

The three follow the innkeep's directions to a narrow two-story house where with a sign out front indicating that Doktor Scherer practices here. They knock on the door and are greeted by a friendly older gentleman, a bit scattered, but amiable, who is more than willing to help them out. Rico translates for them until they determine that they all speak Old Theán. Once their wounds are suitably treated, the three thank the man, pay him, and make their way back to the Tavistock to take advantage of the baths and meal they had previously procured.

In the common room, they are offered "spring beer" and mead to drink, much to Fenneke's delight. Ysabel chats with the innkeep and gets some information. If they are looking for someone, they might try the Jägerviertel or "the Hunter's Quarter", a district in the city that caters to many of the foreign-born monster-hunters that come into Starkbrunn looking for glory. He also advises that, unless they are looking for trouble, that they avoid Donatella Rossi—the seamstress. She is reputed to be a witch. He also says to be careful—there are many sorcerers in the city that are desperate and dangerous. 

Rico leaves the inn and goes to talk to the stableman at the livery. From him, the Castillian hears more about the Hunter's Quarter—and is advised to be careful there. It is a full of hard folk—monster-hunters tend to be a tough and touchy breed. Rico tells him not to worry, that their "favorite game is the blood game."

Fenneke quietly enjoys her mead and listens for gossip. She hears about a creature plaguing the outlying farms of the town of Stutzung, near the forest of Walder, at night. There is apparently a hunter in the Jägerviertel that is going after it. She hears more of this Donatella Rossi: It is an open secret that this Vodacce immigrant, who serves as the best seam­stress in Starkbrunn, is also a Fate Witch allied with the Junges Blut ("Youngbloods"). The seamstress is rumored to know the location of every hidden sorcerer in the city, but no one has been foolish enough to try to make her talk. She has survived three assassination attempts already. Each time, her would-be murderers were found mysteriously outside the city walls after dark, where they met a gruesome fate. Fenneke also hears of a "tall dark-skinned woman dressed like a Vesten" who was asking for the Hunter's Quarter about a week and a half ago. For Fenneke, this reminds her of Yngvild. 

After reconvening at their own table and comparing notes, the three decide to head out to the Hunter's Quarter on the following day and to see if they can find their contact. 

13 Quintus 1668 (Amordi)

The weather is cool the next morning as the three Heroes set out for Hunter's Quarter. The obvious foreigners notice wary looks from the locals as they come out to open up their shops and begin their work days—not hostile, but not exactly welcoming either. They find their way, noting the large hospital that dominates the district. Soon they find a pub that is open—Zum Schwarzen Adler ("The Black Eagle").  

The three walk inside, with Rico greeting everyone with hearty "Hallo!" A small group of grizzled monster-hunters look up briefly and then go back to their business. A man behind the bar, wearing the green jacket of the Eisen army open over a linen shirt on a prodigious beer gut asks them gruffly what their drinking. Fenneke asks if there is any mead or beer. "Eisen is the land of beer!" the man says enthusiastically before going back to eyeing the Castillians.

Ysabel asks "What do you drink?"

The man considers for a moment and nods. "The bock is good." 

"Then I'll have that."

A barmaid is making the rounds and brings them their drinks. The barman continues to eye them warily. Fenneke and Ysabel decide to circulate about the room, working the "merchant" angle to gather some information and, hopefully, find this "Cordula" they are looking for.

They learn that one of the monster-hunters in this very room is Hans-Dieter Grimm, and he is the one heading out to Stutzung to find the horror that has been plaguing the outlying farms there. He is a large man with a double-bladed axe and a flintlock pistol. He has a vicious scar on his otherwise youthful face. There have apparently been recent tensions between Eisen and other countries concerning war reparations and the care of refugees. L'Empereur of Montaigne would not even see the Eisen envoy sent to discuss aid for the country and Castille, though they have sent aid, has done so grudgingly. And the Vendel League—well, they of course, make money from both ends. The dark-skinned Vesten woman was seen here as well, asking questions. She left a week and half ago. Everyone stayed clear of her—she gave off an aura of unease. No one saw a red-headed man with a scar with her, though Fenneke asked about this. 

As the two women return to the table to share their information with Rico, the barmaid comes by and whispers, "You are looking for Cordula? I can help you. Come."

They three follow her out of the common room, down a hall, and into an office. There she tells them that she is, in fact, "Cordula". She eyes them with suspicion as Ysabel tells her the countersign "heiligtum." The three then explain that they are looking for information regarding the Explorer's Society's stronghold. The suspicion, it turns out, is because another person came through recently, looking for her, with the same countersign, looking for the same information. There is apparently a mole in the Society and "Cordula" doesn't know who to trust.

Rico shows her his Society medallion in hopes of earning her trust—but she says a mole would also have such a medallion. After a brief discussion of their impasse, "Cordula" finally relents, deciding to trust the three Heroes due to the fact that the first informant made her uneasy in the first place—it was the dark-skinned Vesten woman. She didn't get her name—names are seldom used in this business. 

"Cordula" tells them that the stronghold is a day's journey north into the Dracheneisen mountains along a narrow pass. She helps liaise with the Master of the Chamber to get information and goods to the stronghold from the city. She knows that the stronghold holds various treasures from the Society that they do not want getting out. 

The Heroes know that they want to get a move on to the stronghold—Yngvild already has a week and a half head start—but "Cordula" warns them that the pass itself is not safe—there are horrors between the city and the stronghold to be fought. Bearing that in mind, the troupe leave the pub and begin to make preparations to leave the city. 

The Howling Grounds
Session Six

26 Quartus 1668 (Voltadi)

After the events of the formal affair held at the estate of the Caballero Iñigo de Bonaval de Cristóbal, the group begin to make preparations to head to Eisen, to the city of Starkbrunn. They plan on taking a ship to the Castillian city of Tarago and then ride north into Starkbrunn. Rico uses his connections to borrow a horse, while Fenneke and Ysabel purchase theirs. 

Troops are moving in Castille—there are rumors that the Grandes are finally going to move against Altamira, with the recsue of its Grande by "El Vagabundo." This rumor pleases Rico, that his ruse seemed to take root and that Castille is making a move against that stronghold.

They manage to secure a ship, a Montaigne craft called The Cordon Bleu, captained by Clareé Charbonneau, a pretty older woman with a shrapnel scar on her cheek. She's an experienced captain with a crew from a variety of nations. The ship is made ready to leave as soon as the group is ready.

The three Heroes load up their belongings and their horses onto the ship and it puts out with the morning tide, sailing up the Frothing Bay, into the Doré Bay and toward Tarago. 

During the voyage, the Heroes eat well—the ship's cook, a Montaigne with a posh accent and hot temper by the name of Gerard Ramsey, knows his craft. 

5 Quintus 1668 (Veldi)

The ship arrives in Tarago during with the evening tide. As the ship is secured to the docks, the Heroes disembark and go looking for a lively inn with clean beds. Ysabel manages to get some information for them and they look for a place called "Los Amigos Viejos." Before heading to the inn, they secure some supplies at various shops around the city. 

Los Amigos Viejos is a very lively inn, with good Castillian music and wine with a variety of travelers resting in the well-lit common room. The Heroes secure their rooms and then take a table of their own in the tavern area. Ysabel decides to make the rounds, looking for gossip. Fenneke sits and observes folks with her keen eye. Rico decides to spread his own rumors about El Vagabundo.

Ysabel hears that the pirate, "Bloody Izzy," has been through Tarago recently—and was not in a good mood. She also hears that the road is clear, at least as far as the crossroad. There have been no troubles there of late. There was apparently a sighting of El Vagabundo here in Tarago. While conversing with a band of merchants, she manages to broker an interesting piece of art for her patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. 

Fenneke watches as a group of merchants seated in a corner of the room get in a heated discussion amongst themselves. She can't tell what the topic is, but they are definitely agitated. She also sees another group having a quieter discussion in which they periodically mouth the words "El Vagabundo" and mime wearing a mask. They point a various people in the common room, apparently speculating as to the probability of someone in the room being the famed vigilante. 

Rico, for his part, manages to confirm people's suspicions that El Vagabundo is, indeed, in Tarago and is looking for funds to secure his campaign of hope and freedom. He also casually mentions that he gets his catlike grace from his communion with ocelots. 

After talking with Fenneke, Ysabel gathers some information on the merchants in the corner of the room. They are led by a Castillian, but are made up of merchants of several nationalities. As she does this, after a brief argument at the table, one of the merchants rises and approaches the Heroes' table. 

The man seems nervous, but amiable. He is clearly intimidated by Fenneke—she does nothing to put him at his ease, presenting her usual implacable expression. She does mention her association with the Vendel League, which further serves to intimidate the man. It turns out that the merchants would like an escort by clearly capable travelers on their way to Barcino. The group agrees to accompany them as far as the crossroads, but no further—at that point, their journey takes them elsewhere. The merchant, who introduces himself as Anton Galas, agrees. Pleased with their arrangement, the merchant returns to his table. 

Soon thereafter, Fenneke notices three men dressed in manner of Eisen commoners approach the merchants' table. They are clearly led by the largest of the three, who has the size and manner of a farmer. He strides purposefully to the merchant's table and demands to see his son, Heinz. Anton tells the man that they have not seen his son since they left Soldano. This seems to anger the man and he shoves a finger into Anton's chest and accuses him of lying. He tells him that "this is not over" and takes his two companions and stomps out of the inn. 

Rico, Fenneke, and Ysabel approach the merchants and inquire as to what that altercation was about. Apparently this farmer, Friedrich Veringers, is angry because his son, Heinz, left home to take up a traveling apprenticeship with the merchants. Fenneke gets his assurance that this is true and that the merchants have had no more sinister dealings with Heinz—that Heinz traveled with them of his own free will. 

Other than that, the Heroes spend a fine evening of fellowship and wine in the common room of Los Amigos Viejos. 

8 Quintus 1668 (Guerdi)

As the troupe of merchants travel north up the road, surrounded by our Heroes, the journey pleasant under the late spring sun, the group of three Eisenmen from their previous encounter in the inn in Tarago step out onto the road to block the troupe. They have been joined by a fourth man, this one a Castillian. Another group of men emerge from the trees surrounding the small group—all armed with clubs and knives. 

"I want my son!" Veringers calls out.

Fenneke calls out that he's not here, that he needs to move on. The Castillian that has joined the Eisnemen indicates that if they don't produce Heinz, then there will be some trouble from his men. Fenneke returns that if that happens, she will have some fun. "What kind of fun?" the man asks. "The bleeding kind," Fenneke replies.

Rico strides forward and flashes his dueling pin and looks at the men surrounding the troupe significantly. "Do you wish me to seek satisfaction?"

The Castillian, taking in Fenneke's deadly threat and the dueling pin (with its promise of finessed violence against his men), calls out to the armed bandits surrounding the troupe. "Come. This is no longer worth the asking price." The men begin backing into the woods and the Castillian turns to go. Verigners angrily grabs the man's shoulder as he begins to walk away. The Castillian just stares at the farmer's hand significantly—Veringers removes it—and then the Castilian walks away, taking his bandits with him.

The Eisnemen, demoralized by the loss of their muscle, turn to go as well. Veringers calls out a promise that he will get his son back, but moves on. Soon, the road is clear.

Fenneke goes to Anton Galas and promises him that if she finds out something sinister has happened to Heinz, something to justify this obsession on the part of his father, that they will have problems. Anton once again assures her that Heinz left on his own and left their troupe in Soldano.

9 Quintus 1668 (Redi)

Around midday, the troupe arrives at the crossroads. There is a small shack sitting off of the roads, with a cracked wooden sign indicating that the shack is a general store. Anton Galas produces a sack of gold for each of them and gives them his thanks. The merchants begin heading west to Barcino. 

An old man emerges from the shack and begins hawking his wares in a cracked, high-pitched voice. Shrugging to each other, the Heroes decide to see what the old man has to offer. Inside the cramped shop, there are rows of various pickled vegetables and meats, old maps in a bent umbrella stand, and an assortment of dented and tarnished tchotchkes. 

As the old man, whose name is Alavar, burbles about how he gets so few visitors, Rico paws through the maps in the umbrella stand. Smiling, he sees a familiar sight—one of the map segments his father had gathered so long ago. He picks up the map piece and takes it to Alavar to purchase. He inquires about where the piece came from and Alavar thinks that it was left by a woman traveling through from Soldano.  Before leaving, Rico is drawn to a 5 string guitar and purchases it as well.

The others make token purchases of pickled food and soon the Heroes are on their way to Eisen and to Starkbrunn, with the quavering thanks of the old man ringing in their ears. 

10 Quintus 1668 (Voltadi)

It's a warm spring day when the Heroes cross the border from Castille into Eisen. They note a marked difference in the land—Eisen seems to be browner, less vital, than the lands of Castille.

12 Quintus 1668 (Veldi)

As the Heroes make their way to Starkbrunn, watching as the imposing summits of the Dracheneisen Mountains rise on the horizon, they note that they figure that they'll reach Starkbrunn by late afternoon. Sure enough, as the sun begins to sink below the horizon, they can actually see the outline of the city walls up ahead. The land around is a blasted ruin—a flat, stony plain leading up to the gates of the city. 

As they ride forward, they are forced to cling to their mounts as the ground opens up from beneath them and a band of fifteen desiccated corpses emerge from the practically exploding clods of earth. 

"Ride!" Rico cries and begins flailing his rapier about him to drive the monstrosities off. All of the group are seized with a preternatural fear as they spur their mounts onward toward the waiting gates of the city.  The corpses claw at the riders, bony claws cutting through their clothes and piercing their flesh as they try to outdistance the monsters. Rico looks back and sees the living corpses that he cut down slowly begin to rise again and rejoin their brothers. 

As the Heroes continue their panicked ride through the blasted plain, they start to hear gunshots ring out from the city walls. Soon, they see the once-dead corpses felled by the musket fire. They hear shouts of encouragement coming from the walls. Finally, they arrive at the gate, which is opened just enough to allow them access. They push their horses through and the huge wooden doors shut with a great BOOM behind them. 

An Eisen soldier wearing a green jacket and holding a smoking rifle approaches the Heroes with a rueful smile. She looks up at them and says in Old Theán, "Welcome to Starkbrunn."

A Formal Affair
Session Five

22 Quartus 1668 (Amordi)—San Cristóbal

Our Heroes have returned to their home port of San Cristóbal after rescuing the Grande of Altamira and his family from their "house arrest" by the evil Montaigne minister, the Marquise du Carré. They bid farewell to their new friend, Antoinette de Leon, who says that she will be going out to find her new place in the world, but assures that if they ever have need, to feel free to call on her for aid. 

Fenneke takes some time and studies under the tutelage of a Vesten skald, an ex-patriate by the name of Kurt Malmqvist. He is an odd man, funny and kind in his own way, and Fenneke takes to the training. In the meantime, the others, Rico and Ysabel, pursue their own business. But all three manage to find each other's company regularly as Esmerelda's, their favorite wine-house.

On this day, Ysabel's patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe, calls her into his study to speak with her. He tells her that he has a task for her. The Caballero Iñigo de Bonaval de Cristóbal will be throwing a ball in three days. He is celebrating the arrival of his friend, the Laird Taskill MacFarlane, from the Highland Marches. Her patron wishes to send her to the ball in his stead in order to establish trade contacts and other business. He also has a message for the Caballero that he wishes her deliver—a message for his ears only. She reassures him that she is up to the task and will, of course, perform this task for him. 

He gives her the message for the Caballero: Starkbrunn. Cordula. Heiligtum.

After, once again, reassuring her patron that she is up to the job, Roberto tells Ysabel that she can, of course, bring an entourage to the festivities. 

Ysabel takes this information to her friends at Esmerelda's. She does not have to work very hard to convince Rico and Fenneke to accompany her to the ball. In fact, they take to the streets to learn more about their host. 

The Caballero was instrumental in Castille's efforts during the War of the Cross—in fact, his influence and funding earned him his title. He is also a member of the Knights of Rose and Cross. It is also rumored that the Caballero managed to secure aid from the Separatists in Avalon during the war. 

Ysabel recalls the Laird Taskill MacFarlane from her days in Marcher high society. He is a known Separatist sympathizer. 

While Ysabel and Rico go shopping for new party clothes, Fenneke heads to the docks to see what she can discern. She learns that a Vodacce ship has docked with occupants en route to the home of the Caballero. One is a young woman with a poppy-shaped birthmark on her delicate neck. She also sights a Vesten ship, flying the colors of the Vendel League, arriving. On board is another of the Caballero's guests. Finally, Fenneke discovers that Bartolomé, the ship's master of the Athame, is apparently on the docks and frequenting a tavern called El Tiburón. There is no sign of the Athame, or of its captain, on the docks. 

Rico has also learned of more guests that will be attending the ball. There will be the Señora Teresa Ramirez de Salazar de Cristóbal, a widowed noblewoman and a longtime friend of the Caballero. They can also expect to see Gloriana de las Orquídeas, a well-known courtesan who works among the upper-crust of the city's society. 

After the party reconvenes and shares their information, they decide to go to El Tiburón to see what Bartolomé is up to. 

Rico strolls into the tavern in his usual confident way, with the two women following in his wake. He strides straight up to Bartolomé and greets him warmly. For his part, the ship's master does not seem pleased to see the three of them. In fact, he accuses them of being "bad luck." They coax some information out of the man, regardless. Fenneke focuses on the movements of her mortal enemy, Yngvild. According to Bartolomé, Yngvild had some sort of arrangement with "the Captain" (referring to the pirate, "Bloody Izzy"). Whatever it was, Bartolomé had never seen the Captain act so cautious around another person. Bartolomé also writes Yngvild off as "bad luck" and says that he was relieved whenever she disembarked from the Athame on to her own ship before they reached San Cristóbal. Rico secures the ship's master's assurance that he will pass a message on to his Captain, that he will meet with her anytime she chooses to discuss the property of hers that he now possesses—referring to the pirate's sword that Rico managed to secure during their last meeting on the Syrneth island. 

Concluding their business with the ship's master, the three leave El Tiburón and return to Esmerelda's.

25 Quartus 1668 (Redi)

The evening of the ball finds our three Heroes arriving at the estate of the Caballero Iñigo de Bonaval de Cristóbal, dressed in their finest and expecting a fine evening. Other guests are also arriving in the courtyard by carriage, some bearing the seals and sigils of various noble houses located in the city.  Footmen take the hands of Ysabel and Fenneke as they alight from their carriage. Armed guards, bearing red sashes, line the covered walk, down which the party is directed toward the ballroom. 

At the end of the covered walkway, they meet a steward, who takes Ysabel's invitation and makes a card with her name on it to hand to the next steward at the ballroom. They are then directed to the entrance of the ballroom proper, where Ysabel hands the steward her card.

"Ysabel de Sonseca de las Olas, and guests."

After the announcement, several of the small groups of courtiers that have gathered look up to note the new arrivals and then return to their conversations. The personal guards of many of the guests hover on the perimeter of the room—giving their charges space but noting the various comings and goings within the room. A receiving line has gathered and is making its way toward the front of the room where, on a raised dais, stands an older Castillian man with a magnificent mustache and a red sash with gold trim. He wears a fine military-style jacket on which several medals are pinned. He is speaking with a broad-shouldered handsome man in a clean, linen shirt and tartan sash—presumably the Laird MacFarlane.

The three make their way forward through the receiving line and introduce themselves to the Caballero. He kisses each of the ladies' hands and greets them all warmly, welcoming them to his home. Ysabel indicates that she would like to have a private word with him and he promises that they can after his duties as a host are complete.

With music filling the room, underlying the various conversations taking place, the three begin to circulate.

Fenneke and Ysabel strike up a conversation with Marit Haavik, a Vesten ship's captain and Master of Merchant's Guild. Haavik is a member of the Vendel League hoping to bolster various trade agreements made within San Cristóbal. Ysabel secures an agreement with her to meet with her patron and Fenneke enjoys the conversation with the fellow Vesten.

During the conversation, Fenneke recognizes one of the Captain's hired guards as a former member of Yngvild's crew. She approaches the guard and asks him how Yngvild is doing. The guard demurs, acting as if he doesn't know what she is talking about. Fenneke persists and finally elicits a terse response of the guard, who warns her harshly against pursuing this. She finally relents and returns to the crowd.

Fenneke also takes a dance with Umberto Palmio, a Vodacce gentleman and merchant here in Castille to bolster trade relations for his family and to escort the young woman, Franchetta Destine. Franchetta is a pretty young woman with a poppy-shaped birthmark on her neck. Fenneke gets the impression that Umberto is intimidated by the slight, young woman and wonders why. Umberto is also preoccupied with the fact that the Vaticine church used to be based in Vodacce, not Castille.

Ysabel spends a bit of time with young Franchetta and gets the impression that she is far more shrewd than most people would give her credit for. She also arranges for the young woman to be introduced to Gloriana de las Orquídeas, the courtesan. The two wander off from Ysabel, taking a turn about the room and speaking in low tones.

Rico, for his part, catches the eye of Señora Teresa Ramirez de Salazar de Cristóbal. The widowed noblewoman flashes him one of the secret handsigns of the Explorer's Society. The two leave the ballroom for a private conversation, in which she reveals that she recognized Rico based on her association with their mutual friend, Javier. She is hoping that Rico could look into a matter for the Society. The Caballero is apparently mounting some sort of expedition for the Knights of Rose and Cross into Eisen. If he could find out why, the Society would owe him a favor. He says that he would be glad to do it.

Ysabel is later approached by the Laird MacFarlane. She is inwardly distressed—hoping that he does not recognize her as a fellow Marcher. But, he merely kisses her hand, introduces himself, and moves on.

Later in the evening, Ysabel, with Rico at her side, meets with the Caballero out on the veranda. She passes on the strange message from her patron, a message which seems to please the Caballero. The three then rejoin the celebrations.

The three Heroes continue to enjoy the party and, finally, bid the Caballero farewell as they make their way back to their carriage. The Caballero whispers to Ysabel that he would like to meet with them on the morrow, about noon.

26 Quartus 1668 (Voltadi)

In the morning, Ysabel informs her patron of all she learned at the party and of the meeting she has scheduled with the Caballero. Her patron seems pleased at the development and with Ysabel's work.

Around noon, the three return to the home of the Caballero. They are escorted to a sitting room within the estate and are shortly joined by the man himself. He greets them all warmly and has refreshments brought. He gets to his point quickly. 

There is an Explorer's Society stronghold in Eisen that he has reason to believe is under threat of a break-in. He wishes to stop that from happening. He has heard of the exploits these three in regard to the Grande of Altamira, and has Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe's recommendation: he would like them to go to Eisen and help protect the stronghold. 

The three agree to do so, especially with Rico's ties to the Society. When they give their words, the Caballero reveals that the location is the city of Starkbrunn, their contact is called "Cordula," and the password to speak with the contact is "Heiligutm." The Heroes acknowledge the information and leave to make preparations for their trip to Eisen.

Liberté et Honneur (Part Two)
Session Four

22 Tertius 1668 (Soldi)

The party sets out on separate plans to prepare for their rescue of the Grande of Altamira and his family.

Rico sets out to buy a mask and other stealthy accoutrements for his dashing entrance as "El Vagabundo" in the course of the rescue. He buys the various pieces of his outfit at different shops. At several of the stops, the Castillian shopkeepers give him a wink and discount on his purchases. One even whispers to him, "The Bishop sends his regards."

Ysabel endeavors to secure passage on a ship with a discreet captain to get them out of Altamira once the rescue is complete. She goes down to the wharf area and makes some contacts, relying on her past experiences in similar endeavors—having to find a discreet captain to get her out of "hot spot" is not a new experience for her. She manages to find a broker by the name of Fernand de Lerma who introduces her Baltasara Arçeo, captain of "The Arms of Erzabet." For a negotiated price for her discretion, being essentially 'on call', and the need for speed, Captain Arçeo and Ysabel strike an accord.

Antoinette uses her prior knowledge of the manor, before she fell out of favor, to secure information on a path out of the manor and out of town to the docks. She is able to confirm the location of a secret entrance, a tunnel, gained from a grate on the side of the hill on which the manor sits, that leads to the ground floor of the manor. 

Fenneke works to observe a pattern in the movements of the Maréchal Laurent Pointu. She gives herself three days to observe and confirm the pattern. Over this time she establishes the following schedule:

  1. In the mornings, Pointu has meetings in the War Room at the manor house.
  2. For lunch, Pointu dines at a cafe by the name of "El Toro Rojo."
  3. In the afternoons, he tours the city observing drills from the various squads stationed about.
  4. For dinner, Pointu dines at a restaurant called "El Halcón Dorado."
  5. After dinner, the Maréchal enjoys the company of a prostitute by the name of Ginovisa de Camarma.

On the third day of observation, hoping to confirm the pattern, she anticipates Pointu's movements and settles into her own lunch at El Toro Rojo. When Pointu comes in with two of his aides, he notices the striking Vesten woman and walks over to her table to introduce himself. He is all gentlemanly politeness and proper decorum. He indicates that, as Maréchal, he has it on high authority that it is illegal in Altamira for such a striking woman to dine alone. He offers to rectify that situation. Fenneke accepts his invitation and the two adjourn to his table where he dismisses his aides. 

The two have a pleasant lunch—though Fenneke is inwardly tense throughout the meal. She gives her name as "Hilde." Pointu is very formal and polite. Fenneke very much gets the impression that this is his usual manner—he is doing what he is supposed to do. There is little warmth or actual charm in his manner.  And that he has seen what he wants and is using propriety as a weapon to attain it.

The Maréchal asks if she will be in the city long and Fenneke gives him a rather non-committal answer. He asks if he may call upon her again for lunch on the morrow. She smiles and says that she may be here—and she may not. He acknowledges the parry to his advance, but doesn't press the point. He bids her adieu and leaves the cafe. 

Fenneke discreetly follows the Maréchal and confirms that he sticks to his usual pattern.

25 Tertius 1668 (Terdi)

After her three days of observation, the party gathers once again in the basement of El Conquistador with the Bishop, Alejandro, to compare notes and plan their attack.

They decide to strike the following night, using the secret passage indicated by Antoinette. Fenneke offers to keep the Maréchal occupied, but that idea is nixed—they want her available to help fight their way out of the manor if necessary. The information provided by the Bishop, smuggled out of the manor by Gabriél, indicates that there are numerous six-man patrols both within and without the manor. 

The Bishop will get word to Gabriél through the servants that an escape is coming, so that the young man can get his family ready to move. Alejandro will also secure a cart for them to use to smuggle the family away from manor and through town to the docks to their waiting ship. Ysabel will notify Captain Alçeo to be ready to move tomorrow night.

The plan being set, they adjourn until the following night.

26 Tertius 1668 (Guerdi)

Fenneke (or rather, "Hilde") has lunch with the Maréchal so as to not alert him that something may be "up." She accepts his offer to accompany him on his observation of the drills. In doing so, Fenneke gets to observe first-hand the combat abilities of the soldiery in Altamira, giving her friends another advantatge due to her expertise.

That night, after sundown, the party gathers, with their cart, outside the grate indicated by Antoinette. Rico is dressed as "El Vagabundo" and will lead the way, followed by Antoinette, Ysabel, and Fenneke playing rear guard. Antoinette asks Ysabel to keep her sword nearby in case she feels the need to use it. 

As they make their way down the narrow, underground passage, they see that it opens up into a chamber in which a squad of soldiers is lackadaisically standing guard. Rico bounds forward, declaring himself to be "El Vagabundo," and dispatches the squad with a single well-placed lunge. The party moves on. 

Eventually, they find themselves before a panel that opens up into the main hallway on the ground floor of the manor house. Rico spots a squad of guards here and quickly dispatches them with little effort. 

They make their way into the family's wing of the manor and are met in the hall by a well-dressed young man holding a butter knife—Gabriél. He takes them to the family's quarters where they await with packed bags. Rico explains that they are here to rescue them in the name of El Vagabundo. The family quickly places themselves in the middle of the line, with Ysabel and Fenneke behind them, and they all start heading back to the secret passage. 

As they are about to emerge from the family wing into the hall, Rico spots a squad of guards surrounding the imposing figure of Maréchal Laurent Pointu. 

"I will take him," Antoinette says. "You go for the guards." She motions to Ysabel who comes forward with Antoinette's sword. There is a ring of steel as she draws the weapon and faces Pointu in a duelist's stance. "That gave me chills, I'm not gonna lie," Rico comments.

As Antoinette engages with the Maréchal, Fenneke bounds into action, running along a wall and into the fray to take on the guards, with a boost from Rico. "Say hello to my little friend!" he announces joyfully. As she lays into the guards, she gives the Maréchal a very "Hilde" smile and wink, which makes his eyes go wide in recognition. 

The guards are quickly dispatched, though not without Fenneke taking a wound to her side. Rico dotes on her, much to Fenneke's embarrassment, as Antoinette continues to face off against the Maréchal in a very one-sided duel. 

Ysabel starts funneling the Grande and his family through the secret passage, with Fenneke, holding her wound, following behind. Rico stays and watches as Antoinette brings Pointu to his knees. "You're not worth my blade, pig-dog," she hisses into his face. "Go lick the boots of your master, dog." She kicks him in the chest, knocking him to down as she makes her way out of the manor with Rico. 

Rico and Antoinette catch up to the cart and jump inside as it ambles its way away from Altamira Grande. They make their way through a maze of streets to docks and meet up with "The Arms of Erzabet" as its crew is making it ready for departure. As the Grande's family is getting on board, Montaigne soldiers are gathering at the dock. The ship quickly puts out and starts making its way out of the harbor. 

Musket shots are fired from the harbor towards the ship as it makes its getaway, but no one is injured. 

Antoinette thanks the party for helping her restore her honor and retain her sword. She owes them a debt. 

"The Arms of Erzabet" makes its way down the river toward the ocean and back to San Cristóbal. 

Liberté et Honneur (Part One)
Session Three

19 Tertius 1668 (Geurdi)

After their exploits in the Syrneth ruins to the West, our companions have been spending their time in San Cristóbal. They decide to spend their money on new horses while Fenneke purchases a new set of armor—done in a "valkyrie" style with green inlay. She also needs time to repair the Montaigne dueling sword they found in the ruins. Rico had already determined that the sword had belonged to a renowned duelist by the name of Antoinette de Leon, forged by the equally famous weaponsmith Marcel Dupré. They made plans to try to reunite the weapon with its owner in hopes of favor, connections, and other rewards. Besides, it was the honorable thing to do…

Relying on his knowledge and resources within the scholarly community, Rico begins trying to figure out where de Leon may be. Ysabel approaches the problem from another angle: she uses her connection in the community of merchants, a man by the name of Bernardo de Antonio de Calabaso. They also work together to get information from the Duelist Academy on the Valroux master. 

Between the two of them, they have discovered that de Leon was last seen in the city of Altamira, across the bay on the border of Castille, Montaigne, and Eisen. She served there as a soldier for Montaigne in the war between that country and Castille. During the course of her time there, she apparently publicly betrayed the Marquise Sidonie du Carré, the Montaigne administrator of the region. For this she was publicly shamed and now spends her time around the various alehouses of the city.  She frequently spends her time in the Chaton Fidèle (The Faithful Kitten).  

Also during this period in the Castillian capital, Rico puts out feelers at the docks for word of Bloody Izzy, hoping to hear information on the comings and goings of his new amorous obsession. So far, he finds no word of the pirate. He puts out the rumor that he his holding her sword for her…

Ysabel uses her resources to find information on the Ussuran duelist they encountered at the ruins. The man was most likely Vasiliy Prozorovsky, a disgraced Ussuran nobleman and duelist who set out to kill several of his fellow noblemen as soon as he got his duelist pin—he was convinced that they had been responsible for his family's misfortunes. When some of these rivals refused to meet him on the field of honor—he simply tried to kill them in cold blood. He failed and fled his homeland to escape imprisonment. 

After finishing with the sword, Fenneke goes around to various alehouses on the docks and gets into drinking contests with sailors in hopes of gaining information about this Yngvild woman and why Izzy is working for her. She discovers that Blood Izzy is an independent—she's not working for anyone. And that apparently this Yngvild is gathering artifacts—for what reason, no one seems to know. 

The four companions all meet up at Esmerelda's, their favorite wine-house, to compare notes, share glasses of wine, and play with El Gato, Rico's new feline friend. They decide to make plans to travel to Altamira, present the sword to Antoinette de Leon, and perhaps revive her spirit.

22 Tertius 1668 (Soldi)

For three days, the three companions (Tessa opts to stay behind in San Cristóbal), sail on The Persistent Lorraine, captained by Adele Dulac. Fenneke throws in with the crew and helps sail the ship along the way. 

Weighing anchor in Altamira, the Heroes immediately notice that the city has an unusual number of soldiers out and about. All of them in Montaigne colors. When they disembark from the ship, they are almost instantly approached by a half-dozen Montaigne soldiers led by a man with a weak chin and a haughty air about him—Lieutenant Peque. 

Peque questions them about their intentions here in Altamira, noting that Rico and Ysabel are Castillian and that Fenneke is…clearly not. Rico assures the man that they are here for the wine and atmosphere, nothing more—just traveling connoisseurs. Dubious, but with nothing else to say, Peque bids them adieu

The companions make their way to the Three Trees Inn. The innkeep there is extremely happy to see them. His common room is fairly sparse of customers—a few laborers and a handful of Montaigne soldiery. He has plenty of rooms to let. He tells them that since the occupation, most of his customers have been soldiers passing through on their way out of Castille and Eisen into Montaigne after the end of the war. 

After getting their rooms established, the companions head to the common room. The innkeep was able to provide directions to the Chaton Fidèle, so they begin discussing their next actions. The innkeep comes up and takes a chair to sit with them. He clearly has few opportunities to talk about the troubles of his city and is looking for a willing ear. 

The city is overseen by a tyrant—the Marquise Sidonie du Carré, the Montaigne administrator of the city. Based on Carré's wishes and orders, her advisors and officers carefully orchestrate every aspect of Altamira in the name of safety and security. She is upfront about her plans and intentions, to ensure and protect Montaigne interests in Castille. She cannot abide by those who defy her and orders her right-hand man, Maréchal Laurent Pointu, to execute any who dare. 

The aging Grande of Altamira, his daughters and sole remaining son, Gabriél, are prisoners in their own home. Marquise du Carré treats the family with polite indifference at best and petty cruelty at worst.

There have been rumors that El Vagabundo himself has tried to free the Grande and his family, but either the famous outlaw failed or it is only rumor. 

One ray of hope in these trying times is Bishop Pereida, whose cathedral was officially closed by the Montaigne administration early in the occupation. He has been working to help his downtrodden brethren and using his influence to try and get help from the other Castillian Grandes. He feels that it is just that he should be the one to stand up to the Marquise. But for now, he has listened to the advice of his priests and the merchants, who prefer the status quo to seeing Bishop Pereida executed by the Marquise. They would rather have an active leader than a martyr. 

This story piques the Heroes' attention—especially Rico's. He asks how he can contact this Bishop. In a conspiratory manner, the innkeep tells him to go to El Conquistador, an alehouse. He can be found there most times. Rico thanks him for the information. 

"I will keep my faith…that things will get better," the innkeep says.

"Give it a couple of days," Rico says with a smile. 

At Chaton Fidèle

The companions enter the alehouse and a hush falls over the room. The room mostly has Montaigne soldiers, in small groups, scattered about the room. A handful of Castillian laborers are here, but it is clearly a Montaigne hangout. In the back corner of the room, with her back to the wall, is a woman dressed in leathers, her hand on a pewter mug. Her face is down on the table, her hair spread out messily on the surface. She appears to be asleep—or unconscious. 

"Hola!" Rico calls out and saunters in. The other two follow. Rico orders the best of…whatever it is they serve here. The soldiers all stare at them as they make their way through the room. As they walk toward the unconscious woman, one of the soldiers calls out. "Leave the traitor alone. She can't be any use to you."

"I only wish to talk," Rico says, innocently. Fenneke glares at the soldier and takes up a watchful position of the room as Ysabel and Rico go to wake up the woman, whom they presume to be Antoinette de Leon. The soldiers continue to watch as Fenneke glares.

Rico gently wakes the woman who slowly raises her head. There is crust in her eyes and a bit of slobber on her chin. She wipes her face with the back of her hand and, bleary-eyed, looks at the smiling Castillians sitting before her. "Who the fuck are you?" she says in slurred Old Theán. 

"I am Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor. But you may call me Rico. And this lovely young woman is Ysabel de Sonseca de las Olas. And you, I believe, are Antoinette de Leon, are you not?"

The woman looks dubious and finally says, "I'm not going to duel you. If that's what you're here for…"

"No! No, that's not why we are here," Rico says, his hands raised and empty to placate the duelist. "No, we have something you need."

"And what would that be?"

At this point, Rico tells her the tale of how they found the sword in the wilds of an uncharted island to the west with Syrneth ruins. At the end of the tale, he presents the sword. "And, finally, we bring this back to you."

Antoinette looks hard at the sword being presented and then shakes her head. "No. I am not worthy of that sword anymore." 

"But you are! And even if you are not, then earn it back. We have plans for this city and you could join us," Rico says.

Antoinette looks so melancholy and despondent as she gazes upon the sword, it is heartbreaking. Finally she says, "You hold it for me until I am ready."

Rico nods and returns the sword to his belt. "Then you will join us? Come to El Conquistador in one hour."

Antoinette nods. 

The soldiers continue to watch the companions as they make their way outside.

At El Conquistador 

When the companions enter this alehouse, they are greeted by the slightly hostile and definitely wary stares of an exclusively Castillian clientele. Primarily laborer-types, but not a Montaigne soldier in sight. Toward the back is a older man holding court at a table with six others. 

Wading through a sea of tense stares, the companions make their way toward the back and ask to join the man holding court at his table. The man, who introduces himself as Alejandro, trades some banter about politics and change with Rico and finally welcomes the Heroes to the table. As soon as they are welcomed, the atmosphere changes from tense apprehension to a degree of normalcy.  

The door to the alehouse opens once again, revealing the silhouette of Antoinette de Leon. She strides purposefully toward the back of the room and nods once to the companions before taking a seat. Alejandro raises his eyebrow at this development, but carries on. 

The Heroes and Alejandro discuss the situation in Altamira, especially that of the Grande and his family. Alejandro indicates that he has some information on the situation gained from the inside—from Gabriél, the Grande's son, who smuggled the information out with servants. If the companions are serious about doing something about the situation—he will show them the information. They are, and he does. 

Alejandro takes them to the basement of El Conquistador, where it is apparent he has been living. There are also a great deal of religious relics and accoutrements in the room—probably taken from the cathedral when it was closed before they could be stolen by the Montaigne contingency. 

As Alejandro, whom the party assumes is the Bishop, though he never identifies himself as such, rummages through some papers looking for the information, Rico spots a familiar bit of map parchment rolled up in a rack next to the man's desk. It is from the cache that belonged to Rico's father—before the churchmen came and took it all. 

Rico questions Alejandro about the map excerpt. Alejandro says that it was delivered to him from a priest in Las Pasiegas. Rico informs him that the map does not belong to either that priest or Alejandro but to himself, as it was his fathers and was taken from him. But, instead of taking the map from him, he will do this thing in Altamira and when they are successful, he will take the map as a boon for his service. Alejandro ponders the matter briefly and acquiesces. 

All of the companions discuss what their next plans are. They all want to save the Grande and his family. But the fear is that the Marquise will take out the failure on her part on the Altamiran people, so perhaps disgracing her in the process will get her replaced. But then again, she is devil they know—what if the new administrator L'Empereur sends is worse?  And how best to neutralize the Maréchal? Kill him? Implicate him? Perhaps Castillian troops can finally come in once the Grande is safe?

They finally decide that Rico will find a mask and become "El Vagabundo"—striking fear into the hearts of these Montaigne dogs. Ysabel will locate a discrete ship on which to make their getaway. Fenneke will do reconnaissance and establish a pattern of behavior for the Maréchal. Antoinette will work on a path out of the Grande's manor and out of Altamira. 

The Ninth Eye of Nioth (Part Two)
Session Two

8 Secundus 1668 (Redi)

The party now stands before the entrance to the tower, knowing that there are pirates inside, staring at the corpse of this strange creature oozing its indigo blood into the stones of the mysterious city…

The tower is twenty stories tall and about fifty feet wide. Like the other structures in the city, it has no windows. A single triangular stone door would provide entrance, but the door is closed. An inscription runs up and down the sides of the narrow door. 

Rico translates the inscription from Syrneth: THE EYE OF NIOTH MUST REMAIN BLIND FOR THE SYRNE TO REMAIN FREE. With his knowledge of the Syrne, he reveals that one must trace a Syrneth symbol on the door to cause it to open. Which symbol, though, may be an exercise in trial and error. He starts trying out various symbols and notes that, upon touching the door, he experiences a temporary numbness. He identifies this as a common side effect of the Syrneth sealing mechanism. Finally, he hits upon the correct symbol and the stone barrier slowly and silently folds inwards and down. Rico says that the barrier should remain open until someone traces the symbol on its surface again. 

The interior of the tower is dark, but the air is fresh and free of dust. Behind the triangular door is a narrow, high tunnel, a dozen feet long. There is a purplish light shining throught the tunnel, as well as a deep, strong HUM that resonates throughout the tower. 

Rico lights a lantern that they brought with them from the Magaurite and the party enters the tunnel. 

When they reach the end of the tunnel, they gaze upon a large open space, extending up to the summit of the tower and down fifty feet below ground level. Glowing purple patterns of intricately curling lines cover the interior walls, providing dim illumination. The light also reveals stone blocks hanging suspended in the air throughout the open space. Each block is a cube roughly four feet across, and each appears to float without any means of support. All of the blocks have large Syrneth characters carved into their faces. A few are close enough to the entrance to reach with a hop or a long step.

Down below, a dense collection of ten-foot-tall stone spikes covers the floor of this interior space. The fresh corpses of what appear to be two of Bloody Izzy's pirates are impaled upon the spikes. 

Rico, studying the stone blocks, discovers that it's possible to assemble a coherent Syrneth sentence by reading the characters from a specific sequence of blocks, leading from the tower's entrance to its summit. The sentence assembled reads THE PATTERN OF FATE HAS NO MERCY FOR THE FRAILTY OF LIFE. Rico believes that stepping on these blocks, in sequence, will allow them to reach the summit safely. Fenneke asks what happens if they step on another block and he gazes down significantly at the pirates impaled on the surface below.

"What could go wrong?" Rico says as he draws his sword and takes the first step. The party begins to ascend the stones, following Rico's lead.

At the tower's summit is a twenty-foot wide stone platform, suspended in space under a pyramidal ceiling. Rico takes his final step from the suspended stones onto the platform. Glowing purple characters around the walls spell out the following Syrneth message: TO LOOK THROUGH THE EYE OF NIOTH IS TO ACCEPT THE FATE IT CHOOSES TO SEE.

Rico also sees a dozen sailors loosely surrounding a beautiful, dark haired woman in pirate garb who stands in the middle of the platform. Flanking the dark haired woman is a striking dark-skinned woman in Vesten clothing and an aristocratic male carrying a duelist's sword. The dark haired woman is carefully studying a smoky, purple orb suspended from the ceiling by a single golden thread that forms a web around the orb. The woman paces around the suspended orb, glaring at it and muttering to herself. 

Rico, smiling, comes forward and offers his assistance, his and that of his friends, who are starting to mount the platform behind him. The dark haired pirate, turns with a scowl and then grabs the suspended orb out of the air and starts running to the other side of the floating platform. The sailors start moving toward Rico while the Vesten and aristocrat hold their ground. The aristocrat draws his sword and the Vesten merely smirks at the proceedings. 

As Fenneke, Tessa, and Ysabel arrive, Rico runs past them and starts darting down the stones again. Then they notice the sailors coming toward them, weapons drawn. Fenneke sees the dark-skinned Vesten and fires begin to smolder behind her eyes. She clearly recognizes this woman. 

Meanwhile, Rico nimbly makes his way down the stones, arriving at the ground floor slightly before the fleeing pirate—whom he assumes is Bloody Izzy. She draws her sword and holds the orb in her off hand moveing to engage against the Castilian explorer. Rico deftly uses his flashing blade as a distraction and grabs the orb from her hand. Then he disarms the pirate captain of her blade. Her face a mask of fury, she goes to draw her pistol, but finds that Rico has also flicked this weapon into the pit below them. The whole time, he is complimenting the captain on her fierce beauty; the passionate Castilian is clearly smitten.

Izzy, for her part, demonstrates a fair amount of dexterity herself, spinning around the smiling explorer and bolting down the corridor and out the door of the tower. Rico gazes wistfully behind her, admiring her retreating form. 

Meanwhile, the rest of party faces off against the sailors coming toward. The aristocrat steps forward with his sword in hand and declares, with an Ussuran accent, that they should come forward and face him. His manner brooks no defiance.

Fenneke, her eyes locked on the Vesten woman, runs forward, and with a mighty leap, launches herself into the throng of sailors, uses one of their bucklers to launch herself again, and lands on her feet before her quarry. "I am Fenneke Hagansdatter. You killed my mother and my brother. Prepare to die."

In response to the Ussuran, Tessa flashes her best smile, attempting to subtly influence the aristocrat into standing down. Then she and Ysabel begin explaining to the oncoming sailors that they are no threat, that, in fact, the sailors should follow their Captain out of the tower as she now has what she wants; they should not waste their time in a fight with them. Finding their arguments convincing, the sailors begin to disperse, heading back down the blocks to the ground floor behind their Captain.

The Vesten woman, facing off with Fenneke and noting her gleaming axe, draws her blade, smiling all the while. Then, she seems to finally recognize the battle blacksmith as Fenneke attacks. The woman moves to avoid a killer blow, but does manage to take a decent cut to the face. She reaches up, her eyes locked on Fenneke, dabs a finger on the wound, and tastes a drop of her own blood. "Now is not your time, little girl," the woman says, smiling. 

Rico, down below, begins to be passed by a wave of sailors heading out of the exit. Sighing at the cruelness of fate, having met his perfect mate, but being unable to pursue her, he begins to ascend the tower once again. 

Tessa turns to the Ussuran and convinces him that the fight is over, that he should withdraw. The aristocrat nods in agreement and heads back across the platform to follow Bloody Izzy. Then she and Ysabel call to Fenneke that they are going to follow Rico and try to get the Eye from Izzy. Fenneke, torn, finally acquiesces. "We will finish this," she says to the Vesten woman and backs away to follow her companions. 

As the others begin descending from the platform, Rico passes them coming up. They tell him that everyone has left the platform so he follows them down again. They all meet at the ground floor. Rico produces the Eye, which is lightly vibrating in his hand and appears to be the source of the HUM that reverberated throughout the tower. He describes his encounter with Izzy and the exiting sailors. They decide to head back to the Magaurite and return to the mainland with their prize in tow.

Reporting back to the ship, Captain Pardieu informs them that they have had no trouble from the Athame and they can all see the man-of-war departing from the small harbor of the island. Satisfied, the party settles in for the long trip back to San Cristóbal. 

En Route to San Cristóbal

Rico spends much of his time studying the mysterious Syrneth artifact, making notes to present to his fellows in the Explorer's Society. In the course of his examination of the Eye, he sees an image start to form beneath its cloudy surface. He then experiences a vision that encompasses all of his senses. He knows, with a certainty, that eight months from now he will be gazing upon the smiling face of an impossibly beautiful Vodacce courtesan as he chokes on the poisoned wine that she has just poured him. Disturbed by the vision, he keeps this experience from his notes and from his companions.

Ysabel asks Fenneke about the Vesten woman she clearly had a history with. The battle blacksmith explains that the woman calls herself Yngvild and that she is responsible for the murder of her mother and her brother. 

In conversation during the trip, Ysabel learns more about Tessa, who is a relative of Veronica Seymour, presumed widow of Captain John James Seymour of the sunken and crewless Solemn Promise. 

5 Tertius 1668 (Guerdi)

The Magaurite arrives in port at San Cristóbal. Tessa and Ysabel pay a visit to Veronica Seymour. Veronica has been sick with worry at Tessa's being missing for two months. Tessa diplomatically explains what happened, why she left, and the probable fate of Captain Seymour. She produces the locket they found on one of the undead sailors (though she tactfully neglects to include that tidbit of information in the story). She also explains to Veronica that she will be continuing to travel with Ysabel and the others. Veronica agrees to let her ward go, and even seems to express a bit of relief at the fact that Tessa is no longer her responsibility. 

Later that day, Ysabel, Fenneke, Tessa, and Rico all meet with Ysabel's patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. Rico presents the Eye, his scholarly notes on the artifact, and the story of its acquisition. The rich merchant is suitably impressed at their endeavors, promising Rico much favor in the Society, and awarding the others a modicum of wealth for their troubles. 

Rico, examining the old Montaigne dueling sword recovered in the jungles of the island, realizes that the piece is one that belonged to a renowned duelist by the name of Antoinette de Leon. Fenneke can tell that it was forged by the equally renowned smith, Marcel Dupré.  She offers to repair the weapon in preparation of returning it to its rightful owner. The party agrees—as it is the honorable thing to do, and it could gain them much favor in the eyes of a renowned swordswoman. They decide to set up discovering the current whereabouts of the Montaigne duelist…

The Ninth Eye of Nioth (Part One)
Session One

6 Primus 1668 (Veldi)

In San Cristóbal, at a wine-house called "Esmerelda's," Ysabel de Sonseca de las Olas is meeting with Javier de Manuel de Rioja, a "friend" of her patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. She is to act as his proxy and protect his interests in a deal that Javier is setting up with a relic hunter he knows.

While in San Cristóbal, Ysabel has been keeping track of a Captain John James Seymour. He is the captain of the Solemn Promise and gave her passage to San Juan from Connickmoor so long ago, despite her shadowy past and obviously troubled background. She has been keeping tabs on the captain in hopes of repaying the kindness he showed her.

As they wait for the arrival of the relic hunter, Ysabel notices, sitting alone at another table, with an impressive cache of empty wine glasses before her, Captain Seymour's young ward. Though Ysabel knows of her due to her inquiries regarding the Captain, the small young woman has never met Ysabel.

Tessa, the young woman in question, sits alone, drinking wine, and ruminating on how she can ease the anxieties of Captain Seymour's wife, Veronica Seymour. Captain Seymour has been away for six months and Veronica fears for his safety. His absence has cast a pall over the household. Veronica is Tessa's mother's cousin, with whom she has been staying a short while.

Across the room, at another table, a large Vesten woman with an axe leaning close to hand against the table, reads a letter. Fenneke Hagasdatter has recieved some news from her father:

My Dearest Daughter,

I hope all is well with you, that you have found honor and fortune in your travels. 

I will get quickly to my point, Daughter, as you have always appreciated bluntness. 

I call upon you, my dearest, to avenge your mother and brother. To find this enemy of our family and deal slow, cold, justice.

There is some light to be shed on this attack: I have used my resources around Vendel to try and track down this whore-dog. A woman fitting her description was seen boarding a ship called the Solemn Promise. According to my sources, it was setting off to the west on an expedition for the Explorer’s Society.

Find Yngvild. Retrieve your family’s shield. Restore our honor.

I place my faith in you and in the All-Father.

—Hagan Skarsken

Fenneke grits her teeth in determination and at the mention of her enemy. At last, a clue to the bitch's whereabouts.

Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor strides confidently into the wine-house. He has received word with contacts in the Explorer's Society that Javier de Manuel de Rioja wishes to meet with him for a job. When he walks into the common room, he spots Javier across the room seated with a beautiful young woman. She is dressed well, but not ostentatiously. She seems to be taking in the room.

Rico swaggers forward and greets Javier warmly. He politely inquires of the name of the young woman at the table. Ysabel introduces herself politely, but with her full formal name. Rico, nonplussed, murmurs that if we are stand on ceremony, he is Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor—but his friends call him Rico.

Javier wants to get down to business, but Rico insists that they order wine first. Javier acquiesces. Once the wine is brought forward, Javier begins his tale.

Six months ago, Javier and Rico's mutual "friends" sent an expedition to a distant island in search of an ancient relic. That expedition has not returned, and their friends want Rico to sail forth in search of the mysterious island and the missing explorers.

Rico asks about the relic in question and Javier tells him that it is the Ninth Eye of Nioth. Rico has heard of this piece. It is Syrneth in origin and is reputed to lie on an island to the west of Théah. He relates this to Javier, who confirms that this is the relic in question.

Six months ago, scholars uncovered evidence that the Ninth Eye of Nioth might reside within a Syrneth city on one of the many islands west of Théah. Due to unsolved riddles of the navigation systems used by the Syrne, they could only determine the island’s approximate location. Their mutual friends immediately outfitted an expedition to find the island, the city, and the relic, and its explorers ventured westward on a ship called the Solemn Promise.

Two months ago, a Castillian trading vessel came across a small ship’s boat adrift in the Widow’s Sea. The boat’s only occupant was the corpse of a sailor who had been dead for several weeks. Her wounds suggested that she had been in heavy combat, and odd purple marks on her body seemed to be symptoms of some form of disease. The Castillian crew abandoned the boat, set it on fire with flaming arrows, and let it burn and sink with the body aboard. 

Before burning the boat, the Castillian captain had found a map clutched in the dead sailor’s hand. The captain was another mutual "friend", and upon inspecting the map, he found a evidence that the map belonged to these "friends." When he returned to port, he brought the map to these friends. There has been no further sign of the expedition since then, and it is feared that the explorers aboard the Solemn Promise may have met with a grim fate.

The map bears the initials “JJS”, which match the initials of John James Seymour, the captain of the Solemn Promise. Furthermore, the sailing directions on the map correspond to the area where the Solemn Promise had been searching.

Although it’s possible that pirates claimed the Solemn Promise, Javier will readily admit that Syrneth ruins are dangerous places. Syrneth structures are full of traps that remain effective despite the countless years that have passed since the Syrne vanished. Scholars have not established who these hazards were meant to deter, but the traps are certainly lethally effective against unwary human explorers.

Across the room, both Fenneke and Tessa hear the mention of the Solemn Promise. Fenneke immediately rises and approaches Rico's table. Tessa holds back to see how this plays out.

"Did I hear you mention the Solemn Promise?" Fenneke demands. "Are you looking for her?"

Rico and Javier hedge a bit, with Rico saying he doesn't know what she's talking about. Ysabel stays silent. Fenneke presses on.

"I'll help you. I don't need payment. If you're looking for her, I'll help."

Rico looks to Javier. Javier says that their "friends" are not adverse to Rico seeking out help. Rico shrugs and says "Very well."

By that time, Tessa has approached the table. "Are you looking for the Solemn Promise?"

Rico tells Javier that apparently his voice carries. Javier looks exasperated. "Apparently," he agrees, drily.

Tessa inquires as to the fate of the captain and crew of that ship. Rico says that they do not know, that they only have an idea of their last heading. "Are you going to look for them? I'd like to come."

"Is there room on the ship?" Rico asks Javier. Javier admits that there is.

Rico shrugs and acquiesces.

Javier motions toward Ysabel. "This woman represents one of our friends, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. She will be procuring the item on his behalf."

Rico asks Javier if she is one of their "friends." Javier says that she represents her patron, not their "friends."

Rico asks if there will be payment for this expedition, or favor. Javier says that there will be much favor to be gained, some for embarking on the expedition, and more for each of the following objectives completed:

  • Collect any information on any Syrneth ruins on the island.
  • Find and bring back the Ninth Eye of Nioth.
  • Determine what happened to the previous expedition and bring back any survivors. 

Javier's friends will also be willing to compensate any others that join Rico on this quest.

Rico asks if there is a ship being provided? Javier says yes, the Magaurite captained by Lucien Pardieu. It will leave whenever the party is ready.

Rico doesn't seem pleased to have a Montaigne as a captain, but says nothing more about it.

Introductions are made all around. Rico calls for more wine. Fenneke (who indicates that she can be called "Fen") asks about the availability ale or mead. Rico reminds her that they are in a wine-house and recommends a sweet wine. Grumbling, Fenneke accepts this.

At one point, Rico, flashes everyone a look at his medallion, an ornate compass rose. Fenneke and Ysabel recognize it as the symbol of the Explorer's Society.

Everyone agrees that leaving in the morning would be best. Javier makes a toast to their good fortune and "happy hunting."

7 Secundus 1668 (Guerdi)

The party has traveled for a month in the seas west of Théah and have now entered equatorial waters. The unrelenting heat, even this early in the year, makes everything an ordeal.

Over these few weeks, the party has gotten to know each other a bit better. Tessa is very friendly explores the ship, a schooner, often. Ysabel, graceful and slightly aloof, sometimes finds a place in private (with Tessa's help) to be alone. Rico and Fenneke are seasoned travelers and walk the ship and enjoy the company of the party and the crew.

On this night, most of the crew and the entire party are on deck, enjoying the cool night air and avoiding the stifling heat of the hammocks in the hold. A lookout calls out an alarm and points westward. There, in the moonlight, they all can see an unnatural purple fog boiling toward the ship at incredible speed.

Ysabel runs down to the hold to fetch her pistol and her dagger. The others watch as the fog rolls relentlessly onward. Ysabel rejoins them just as the fog is about to encompass the Magaurite.

Suddenly, a rotting galleon with tattered sails lurches forward out of the thick fog on a collision course with the Magaurite. A mob of walking skeletons is poised at the bow of the vessel, their bones and weapons flickering with purple flame. Several of them launch blazing purple arrows while the rest leap through the air and land nimbly on the Heroes’ ship.

Five arrows strike the ship, three on the main deck and two in the masts. The arrows burn with an intense purple flame.

Fenneke and Rico take up their weapons (an ornate axe for her and a rapier for him) and move forward to engage the skeletons. Ysabel moves to put out flaming arrows. Tessa nimbly moves between all of the combatants, looking for opportunities.

With a mighty swing of her axe, Fenneke takes out over half of a squad of skeletal warriors. Rico nimbly makes his attack, felling his entire squad in a dazzling display of swordsmanship. "Olé!" he cries, joyously.

Ysabel uses sailcloth and a barrel of water to douse the flames of a few of the arrows.

Tessa manages to catch glimpse of the corroded brass nameplate on the side of the mysterious galleon: The Lion of Arisent. As one of the skeletons fall to Fenneke's axe, a locket is dislodged and skitters across the deck. Tessa nimbly scoops it up and pockets it.

The skeletons attack, scratching Fenneke and leaving a nasty, purple wound on her skin.

Rico moves to take on another squad of skeletons, deftly taking them out in a line with a well-placed lunge. Fenneke, grim and determined, faces down her remaining foe, taking it down. Ysabel draws her pistol and takes aim at a water barrel across the deck. She fires and the barrel explodes, sending water all over the deck and dousing the remaining arrows. Tessa barrels into a squad of skeletons with reckless abandon, taking them all down, but sustaining a nasty, purple gash across her abdomen.   

They all spy, on the deck of the attacking ship, a monstrous, eight-foot-tall-figure with purple glowing eyes and tattered pirate's clothing the color of old blood. She is surrounded by two more squads of skeletons.

Suddenly, one of the squads of skeletons rise to fight again.

Rico springs into action, and in a series of dueling maneuvers, takes out the skeletons once more.  

Fenneke makes a powerful leap onto the deck of the other ship, landing amongst the skeletons and striking them with her axe as she lands. The two squads band together and strike out at Fenneke, dealing her a nasty gash across the chest. The mysterious captain casts her glowing eyes upon the Vesten and says, in an unholy and hollow voice, "Go back."

Ysabel rallies the crew to start throwing skeletons overboard. Tessa observes the crew chatter and learns that the ship, the Lion of Arisent, was captained by Catherine de Valois. It disappeared at sea some time ago. She was an honorable captain with a good crew.

Rico swings across, with a cry of delight and, in a dazzling display, swings over the skeletons and lands in a crouch before the captain, his sword at the ready.

Ysabel fires at the captain with her pistol. With two reports, the balls lodge themselves into the monstrous form of the captain and she turns her glowing eyes toward Ysabel.

Tessa dodges about, looking for an opportunity to help.

Fenneke handily takes down the remaining skeletons, impressively spinning about on the balls of her feet and swinging her axe in a mighty arc.

The captain looks down at Rico and says, "Fools…" as she takes the helm and spins it. The galleon lurches away from the Magaurite, threatening to take Fenneke and Rico with them.

"Ah, you are a sneaky captain," Rico says as he grabs a line to make his way back to the Montaigne ship. Ysabel and Tessa start throwing lines over to help their new friends escape the haunted ship. Fenneke deftly, in a display of supreme grace and talent, runs along the railing of the lurching ship, grabs a line, and swings across, landing on her feet on the deck of the Magaurite. Her northern features, demeanor, and shining axe give her the aspect of an avenging Valkyrie descending upon the deck.

Rico swings across in a wide arc, laughing as he goes, and lands nimbly on the deck as well, calling for wine.

The purple fog and the galleon roll away back to the west at breakneck speed.

The deck is cleared of skeletons as Captain Pardieu comes forward, thanking the party for their assistance. He assures them that a reward will be forthcoming when they return to the mainland. When asked abou the Lion of Arisent, he confirms what Tessa has already learned.

Fenneke and Tessa see the ship's surgeon, Dr. John MacNairy, to get their wounds cared for. Tessa pays him for the service on their behalf.  As the wounds begin to heal, the purple hue begins to fade.

Wine is brought out and the crew and the party celebrate their victory as the Magaurite continues to the west toward the island.

8 Secundus 1668 (Redi)

Around midday of the following day, Rico is playing lookout in the crow's nest. He calls out to the others, "Land ho!"

He has spotted an island who's contours match those of the island on his map. The island is ten miles long by five miles wide. As marked on the map, there is a beach on the south shore that would make an excellent landing point, while cliffs surround the rest of the island. The terrain is thick with trees, and slopes up to a hundred-foot high summit at the island’s center.

Near the south shore, a man-of-war is anchored. The ship flies no identifying flag, but large occult symbols cover the entire hull, carved deep into the wood. Fenneke recognizes this as the calling card of Captain Isadore de Valderrábano, whom fearful sailors refer to as "Bloody Izzy."

The pirate's ship, the Athame, sits at anchor near the beach. Rico spots movement on the deck, but also spies a boarding party on the beach surrounding something the can't make out.

Rico convinces Captain Pardieu to fly the flag of parley. As the Magaurite  approaches, Rico notes that the boarding party notices the schooner's approach and are boarding their ship's boats to return to the Athame. 

Rico then sees that the boarding party were examining: the corpse of a crushed pirate, its bones broken in many places. Strangely, there is no sign of blood on the body.

Soon, the man-of-war approaches the schooner, flying its own flag of parley. The big Castillian ship stops within shouting distance of the Montaigne ship. A male voice calls out from the deck. "Hola!"

"Hola!" Rico returns. "We would like to disembark on the island!"

"After my Captain finishes her business, you may." The, a Castillian, seems nervous about something—but it's not the Heroes.

"How long will she be? We are on a schedule," Rico says.

"A day, maybe two," the man says.

"Why not let a boarding party leave? Perhaps we can help your captain. A single small party is surely no threat," Rico says.

The man, whom the party has learned is named Bartolomé, is the Ship's Master for the Athame. Other men of their crew have been killed by some mysterious force in the jungle. He opines that if a boarding party from the Magaurite ventures in, they will not survive.

Rico insists that they could be helpful to his Captain. Tessa, with her friendly demanor and approach, seems to break down the man's apprehensions. "Very well, you may send a party."

"And we have your word that you will not attack?" Rico asks.

"Upon my honor, you have my word that we will not attack unless your captain gives us reason to do so."

The party loads up into the ship's boat and disembarks for the island.

Upon landing, they go to examine the corpse on the shore. Rico determines that the body has been exsanguinated and that there are no tracks around it but pirate boot prints. One set leads into the jungle toward the city marked on the map. Ysobel notes that there are no animal sounds coming from the jungle. The party elects to head into the overgrowth, following the tracks.  

The dense jungle and the heat make the climb to the center of the island slow and uncomfortable. Even the more well-traveled heroes note plants and insects that are unfamiliar to them.

When they reach the top of the slope, they find not a plateau, but a bowl-shaped depression, a mile wide and several hundred feet deep. Hiding within the bowl, nearly smothered by jungle growth, is a city of tall, narrow buildings the color of bleached bone. The buildings are no taller than the depth of the bowl, and so the city remains invisible to anyone elsewhere on the island.

The slope from the lip of the bowl to the floor of the city is steep and rough, sparsely populated by a few trees stubborn enough to cling to the incline. Rico can tell that the buildings are of Syrneth architectural design. He can also tell that the bowl is not of volcanic origin nor is it the result of natural erosion. In addition, water has not accumulated at the bottom, though the floor of the bowl is below sea level, and the soil does not seem porous enough to permit rapid drainage.  

On the south lip of the bowl, several ropes are tied to stout trees at the top and hang down the inner slope. This is recent work, and Isidore’s pirates seem to be the obvious cause. The party, starting with Rico, grab the ropes and start climbing down.

Once they find themselves in the city, they note that the stone of the buildings is seamless and nearly indestructible, and a heavy blow with a metal pick would leave only a scratch. Doorways are triangular, fifteen to twenty feet high, and five feet wide at the base. Most doorways are open, though a few others are sealed with stone doors. None of the buildings have windows.

Inscriptions and carved images are everywhere, providing a feast for scholars. Rico translates many of them for the group. The purpose of the inscriptions varies, from identification marks (THE VAULT OF FORGOTTEN INTENTIONS, THE TEMPLE OF THE UNWORTHY, THE TWELVE BLESSINGS HALL) to invocations and charms (MAY THOSE WHO WALK HERE DREAM OF WINGS) to historical documentation (REMEMBER THE YEAR OF STARFIRE WHEN ALL GREEN THINGS BURNED). In some cases, the carved images provide additional context for the inscriptions, though it takes a practiced eye to derive meaning from the odd symbolism and artistic viewpoint used by the Syrne.

The group splits up to explore the area while Rico translates inscriptions. Tessa finds that based on the tracks left by the pirates, it appears that the pirates marched directly to the tower containing the Eye, without any other exploration or looting.  Ysabel finds a tarnished but bejeweled Montaigne dueling sword as well as the corpse of one of Bloody Izzy’s pirates caught in the fork of a tree, twenty feet off the ground. Examination will show that something crushed the body and drained it of blood, only a few hours ago.

Ysabel ventures into one of the buildings. Lying in the moss-stained interior is a sailor from the first expedition sent by the Explorer’s Society. Her name is Karen Osborn, and she is dead— but still conscious. She expired from injuries she received from the undead sailors who guard the island. The island’s curse kept her spirit trapped in her body, and for the past three months, she has resisted the unearthly influence that compels her to defend the island against mortal invaders. She is too weak to move or to speak in a voice louder than a raspy whisper. Ysabel looks on in horror as Osborn explains that while most of the crew was ashore searching for the Eye of Nioth, a ship full of walking skeletons emerged from a purple fog and attacked the Solemn Promise. The undead sailors sank Captain Seymour’s ship, then went ashore and butchered the rest of the crew. Osborn knows that she is doomed, and begs for Ysabel to show her mercy, to release her spirit. Osborn motions toward the pistol at Ysabel's side.

The rest of the party is startled by the report of gunfire echoing through the city. They gather together at the base of the tower that Tessas has determined to be where the pirates went and should contain the Ninth Eye of Nioth. Ysabel explains what she found. Tessa shares her findings and Rico shares his:

Nioth was a warrior, scientist and traveler from far, far away. A Syrneth magician named Elkelin asked Nioth for help against a great Enemy of the Syrne. With trickery and bravery, Nioth triumphed over the Enemy.

As they are determining what to do next, Fenneke points up. Looking up into the overhanging foliage, everyone can see a large shadow in the branches uncurling itself slowly. The shadow reveals itself to be a bizzare creature. It resembles a squid, twenty feet long from the top of head to the tips of its tentacles. Its slimy hide shifts its color to match its surroundings, making it difficult to spot from a distance. It's gaping maw sports two protuding fangs.

Rico springs into action, and with his rapier, makes quick work of its tentacles, slicing and stabbing to disable them. Tessa stabs at the body of the beast with the Montaigne rapier Ysabel found. Ysabel, for her part, fires her pistol into the beast. Fenneke raises her shield to defend herself and the others from the beast and hacks at its body. The creature bites Fenneke .Then Rico and Fenneke team up, with the burly Vesten launching Rico up to the top of the beast with her shield. She follows by running up on one of the thick tentacles. Rico stabs into the beast and rides the cut down, spraying purple ichor everywhere.

The party now stands before the entrance to the tower, knowing that there are pirates inside, staring at the corpse of this strange creature oozing its indigo blood into the stones of the mysterious city…


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