After a week of rest the heroes were itchy to get on with their new adventure. Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras had offered them a paying job to investigate what was going on with the Order of the Black Arrows, a group of rangers that patrolled the eastern most borders of Magnimar’s influence. After some haggling a price was named, and a decision was made to take one of the many ferry’s that worked up and down the Yondabakari River. It was expected to be a trip of about seven days to reach Turtleback Ferry.
An old friend, Shalelu Andosana, had agreed to accompany the party for the trip to the east. She had heard the same stories about the Kreeg’s that the party had, but this was a new area for her as well, so there wasn’t much for her to add beyond that.
Grobaras had even arranged for the ferry ride for the party. He specified that Austus Trane was an old buddy of his and was now one of the best river captains the area had to offer. As the party stood near the river docks the party could see Trane’s boat, The Skul, a flat bottomed boat that had several pallets worth of crates and barrels already stored on it. Trane was obviously the captain of the Skul as he walked around the boat and yelled orders at the crews who were loading the boat and then making sure the crates and barrels were arrayed in such a way as to keep the boat well-balanced and secure.
As the party approached the busy captain he gave them a curious look and a bit of a sneer as he contemptuously asked, “Are you Grobaras’s Heroes? Get the hell off my dock. Once we get this thing loaded you can come over here. Now go on, git!” Trane then turned his back to the party and continued to yell at the work crews as they made their final deliveries.
Perhaps that was good advice. There were several other boats lashed to the docks and there were many workers that were moving around all over the place, along with several wagons and teams of mules or horses transporting goods both to and from the boats tied up there. After not much longer the gruff captain finally looked at the party and waved them forward.
“Yeah, ol’ Grobaras sent me one o’ his flunkies to tell me he needed a favor.” Trane followed this statement up by spitting into the river. “I understand you’re new in town, but you need to get one thing straight. That Grobaras is a lying thieving snake. I wouldn’t trust that (insert your own colorful expletives here) as far as I could throw him. You crew look decent enough though. At least you don’t smell like that fat tub o’ goo,” followed by another expectoration into the river.
“Mind your feet now. Watch where you’re going, and stay out of the way. Find a hole and stay out of the way. We're just about ready to shove off."
As the party saw the layout of the boat they could see the crates and barrels had all been carefully arranged and lashed down firmly. There were several places for individuals to stretch out, but the first impression was that while the boat ride might be a relatively calm way to travel, it really didn’t look all that comfortable. A team of oxen stood off to the side along with their tender as ropes and leather straps were connected tightly to the Skul. One of the passing crewmen said they would be towed for the first two days or so, but after that it would be “pole and paddle.”
As promised the Skul soon pushed off from the dock Trane and his four person crew never seemed to stop moving as they double checked the rigging, untied the boat from the pier, ensured the oxen were pulling the boat smoothly while all the while ensuring the boat itself was floating smoothly in the river's deep channel. Trane stood near the front of the boat and barked orders, but as the crew pulled away from Magnimar the noise and chaos seemed to settle down and the calm precision of the well-practiced effort of the boats crew took forefront.
Eventually Trane called on one of the crew to come forward to keep forward watch and he moved to the back of the boat and called the party around him. In his gruff manner he told the heroes what to expect. "It's a seven day trip. These oxen will pull us most of the first two days, but they'll need to stop every three hours or so for a rest and to drink and eat. It's not the most efficient way, but it gets us through the fastest part of the river." Trane then turned and looked to the sky and added "The weather is turning quick. The inland rains always come in the fall, but they’ve started early this year, and heavier than usual too. If the river rises too much we'll never make it upstream."
"Now here's what I need from you. Stay out of the way, my crew can handle just about anything. If we need ya' ta' pitch in somewhere we'll holler, but mostly travelers just get in the way. You look like you can handle yourselves in a fight though, not that we'll have much need for that. When we do put in I'll ask each of you take turns with the watch, but there ain't nothin' gonna happen."
Reynard was able to apply his time to continuing to buff some of the party’s armor, but for the mast part it was a long slow ride. The flat farm land around Magnimar finally gave way to an area of woods and swamps, and in the middle of the afternoon of the second day the oxen path came to an end as serious of small bluffs arose upriver. The oxen tender and crew worked noiselessly, untying the tow ropes and then heading moving off on their own, "pushing and paddling" to keep the boat moving upstream. A set of small sails was also strung in the hope of catching whatever breeze there might be, but after that small round of excitement the trip returned to its normal quiet.
As the party made camp on the second night a stranger approached from the wood line and exclaimed that the boat and its crew were on private property and they would either need to remove themselves immediately or he would have to impound the boat. Trane argued that he had been using this particular spot for twenty years and no one had ever claimed ownership of this particular patch of land. The gentleman than offered that in lieu of him taking the boat he would be forced to tax the captain and his crew – perhaps 1000 GP would be sufficient.
As to enforce his demands several other brigands stepped out from the wood line to join the brigand leader, and one of the boat crew exclaimed there were two more brigands with bows on the other side of the river. At this point the party stepped forward to engage while Trane and his crew ran back to the boat to protect their goods. The two main brigands hoped to draw the attention of the main fighters while the others could flank and then backstab, but most of their attacks were ineffectual and the party soon whittled the brigands down. Once the leader went down the remainder started for the wood line but only one could escape. Shalelu’s arrows took out one of the bowmen across the river, and when the remaining bowman saw his partners fleeing he too hightailed it out of there.
The party started to follow the one who had escaped but the sound of horses hooves pounding away told them she has made her escape. The remainder of the brigands' horses were claimed by the party, and Trane agreed – for a price – to allow them on board the Skul. The party also claimed the +1 Chain Shirt, +1 Spiked Chain, a masterwork composite longbow, and a +1 Cloak of Resistance, and Kheo grabbed the leaders’ set of thieves tools and disguise kit. Trane and his crew claimed the remaining gear – several sets of leather armor, rapiers, composite longbows, and saps – for themselves. Despite having to listen to Trane grumble for the rest of the night about how the poor state of thievery these days the rest of the night passed uneventfully.
As the third day passed the Skul continued upstream and past the town of Wartle. Gone was the relatively flat farmland and now there were more bluffs and wooded areas that crowded right up to the banks in some places, and to the south was the Mushfens, a large swampy area.
In the middle of the afternoon the relative quiet broken when one of the boat crew shrieked and disappeared over the side of the boat. Selinor was closest so he looked over the side of the boat and saw a pair of googly-looking eyes that peered back at him from the river. The frog-like creature shot his long tongue at Selinor and barely missed.
The battle turned once Stike cut down his two attackers and was then able to start helping out the rest of the party. The now-flying Reynard was able to use his spells effectively (DM note: Not using a fire-related spell on a wooden boat would also count as effective). The last of the Boggards soon jumped back into the water and from the side the missing crew man could be heard gasping for air and Reynard was able to get him back on board. Trane emerged again and in his usual colorful way insisted the crew get the Skul underway again. When questioned Trane stated that he had never ever seen a Boggard in all of his trips up and down this river, and this was indeed curious.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, the Skul continued upriver and past Whistledown and eventually Ilsurian was passed as well. As the boat moved further east the rain continued and if anything became more steady and constant, which made for a damp group of heroes. As the morning of the seventh day arrived the Skul moved onto Claybottom Lake and Trane told the party they would reach Turtleback Ferry by mid-afternoon.
As the boat approached the town Trane became a bit more effusive – the arrival of the Skul would be a big deal in Turtleback Ferry. The Skul would likely be the final arrival from Magnimar before the foul weather really turned foul. Trane explained Turtleback Ferry was a little town, consisting of 400+ farmers, hunters, fishers, trappers, traders, and merchants that never traveled farther south than Ilsurian. Trane also told the party about the gambling barge named The Paradise – it drew in people from all over the area and had proven to have been quite a boon for the area. He fully expected there would be a real party in Turtleback Ferry tonight.
Trane further explained that Turtleback Ferry had remained independent in many ways, for its remote location well ensured that official visits from Magnimar would be few and far between. Turtleback Ferry's current mayor was an aged cleric of Erastil named Maelin Shreed, who managed the village church as both a safe haven for travelers and a hospital where he tended the village's sick. Turtleback Ferry also boasted a trading post (the Turtleback General Store), an inn (the Turtle's Parlor), a tavern (Bottoms Up), and a smith (Irontooth's Metal Goods).
Trane waved the party over and told them that Mayor Shreed would be here shortly and he would be able to answer their questions from there. Between the swearing and the spitting it was sometimes hard to tell, but Trane offered his thanks for the party’s efforts during the trip. He hadn’t been in the habit of acquiring guards for these trips for a long time now, but going forward he might have to. As a token of his thanks he said he wouldn’t charge the party for delivering the horses that they had acquired from the brigands, although it was likely to his advantage to deliver the horses at no cost rather than remunerate the party for their service as guards.
From the area of the town several people could be seen scurrying towards the docks. The townspeople of Turtleback Ferry were excited to see the arrival of the Skul, but the party got the impression they were actually happier to see them. A skinny gentleman fought his way to the front and identified himself and Maelin Shreed and said that rather than stand in the rain they should all adjourn to the Bottoms Up and get the news from Magnimar. The party asked about their horses that were being unloaded from the Skul, but Shreed quickly barked a few orders and reassured the party the horses would be stabled properly.
Once inside the inn a round of drinks was ordered and Shreed began to fill the party in. The early arrival of the winter rains had dampened the towns' spirits a little, but mostly the townspeople were concerned because of the lack of news from Fort Rannick. Shreed and several of the villagers verified that there had been no contact from the Black Arrows for several weeks now. Normally one or two of the rangers would visit Turtleback Ferry every few days for supplies, news, or entertainment, but since the rains began in earnest several weeks ago no one has heard from the rangers at all.
Furthermore, the wilds nearby (particularly Kreegwood) had grown more dangerous. Wild animals like bears, firepelt cougars, and boars had become increasingly common along the edges of these woodlands, and several of Turtleback's hunters and trappers believe these predators are being forced from the depths of the woodlands by the increased activity of local monsters like ogres, trolls, and worse. Earlier in the week, a patrol headed north to try to make contact with Fort Rannick, but it never returned. The number of hunters and trappers who had gone missing had increased as well.
Shreed said that in a village of only a little more than 400 every loss was felt keenly - none more so than the tragic sinking of the pleasure barge The Paradise and the loss of nearly two dozen lives. That only half of those who were on board at the time were locals did little to ease the sting of the controversial barge's loss. While other villagers agreed as to the pain of the loss of their friends and neighbors, opinions on The Paradise varied wildly.
When The Paradise was operating opinions on the so called "pleasure barge" were split in Turtleback Ferry between those who secretly enjoyed the fact that a gambling den and better tavern had come to town and those who viewed The Paradise as a threat to business or morality. The barge's owner and proprietor, a beautiful red-haired woman named Lucrecia, aroused a similar debate between those who were enthralled by her charms and those who were threatened by them.
In an ironic twist, the tragedy of the Paradise's sinking has unified opinions - the people of Turtleback Ferry now recall Lucrecia with fondness and sadness alike, realizing perhaps too late that the additional income The Paradise brought to the village was quite nice. The tragedy didn't happen long ago so it was still in everyone's thoughts, with several of the townsfolk still in mourning for lost loved ones. The barge itself sank near midnight while it was drifting idly out on Claybottom Lake. There were no survivors - in fact, had a hunter returning home late not spotted the barge's lights out on the lake winking out one by one as it slipped into the water, no one would have noticed the loss until the next morning.
Shreed said in the days following the tragedy investigations into the event took place. Local attempts to dive down to the wreck to recover bodies failed due to a combination of the depth and the particularly vicious fish that have converged on the area. During the same week a half-hearted inquest by a lone official from Ilsurian turned up no additional clues as to why the barge sank. When the locals were asked about this inquest they bitterly implied the investigator was more interested in simply going through the motions of the inquest so he could get back home.
When questioned further half of the people of Turtleback Ferry believed a lake monster (either Black Magga or the legendary giant gar known as Pinkeye) sank The Paradise, while the other half suspected that the barge was sunk by the combined weight of the sins of those on board (a not-so-subtle way of saying "they sank because Erastil punished them").
But despite the driving rains, strange disappearances, and the loss of The Paradise, what had really set the people of Turtleback Ferry on edge was the unsettling silence from Fort Rannick. The Black Arrows did an excellent job at keeping the roads and forest edges relatively safe for hunters and travelers, but for the past several weeks there had been no sign of the rangers in the hinterlands or in town. Normally an official delegation of rangers from Fort Rannick would visit Turtleback Ferry on every Fireday - in addition to their individual off-duty visits so when two weeks passed without any sign of them messengers were sent to the fort to investigate, but none had returned. Fearing the worst, Mayor Shreed had sent word to Magnimar to ask for aid in the investigation and he was elated that Magnimar has responded to his request by sending the heroes to investigate further.
It had been late afternoon when the party arrived in Turtleback Ferry and the locals were eager for news from the outside. The heroes did their best to trade what information they could for news about the Rangers and Fort Rannick, but it soon became their wasn’t much more information to be gathered. Accurate information anyway – over the course of the evening the party also heard the following rumors:
· Black Magga, the monster of the Storval Deep, doesn't stay in that lake. Underwater tunnels connect it to Claybottom Lake, and she comes down here to eat fishermen now and then! I 'm sure that's what happened to The Paradise - Black Magga came down and gobbled up all those filthy sinners!
· It's been weeks since we've had a visit from the Black Arrows. I'll be the first to admit they're not a friendly lot, but they do a good job keeping the ogres and critters in the woods and hills under control. Hope nothing has happened to them!
· The ogres up on the Hook are the cause of all the rain. They done recruited a dragon or something to fly around in the clouds and stir up the storms!
· So I noticed my uncle had a weird star-shaped tattoo on his shoulder the other day. I asked him about it, and he just got all angry and tol' me to mind my own. Thing is, though ... that ain't the first time I seen that kinda tattoo. Lotsa folks got 'em here. They hide 'em good enough, but you keep an eye out, you'll see one on an ankle or arm or back here and there, sure enough. I don't got one, though, I tell you! Tattoos is sinful business!
· No one believes me, but that leader of the Black Arrows - Bayden's his name, I think he's got something going on over across the lake. I seen him comin' and goin' from Whitewillow, and so's my friends. I'm pretty sure he's up to no good. Nothing friendly lives in swamps, after all!
DM Note: For as well written as this adventure is there was no detail concerning the boat or the trip up-river. That got my curiosity as to exactly how boats would travel upstream in this time frame, so I did a little Google research and concocted a workable theory and story. That also gave the characters an opportunity to gain a few extra XP along the way and to start off this next leg of the adventure at Level 7.
For tonight's efforts each party member earned 4,970 XP, giving them (30,030 + 4,970) 35,000 XP earned so far, with 51,000 XP required to reach Level 8.