Friday, 22 February 2013

An Adventure in Aes

Welcome back! In my last post, we had looked into my work developing Kalgar's motivations, and
Dallas Kasaboski
added a lot of flavourful content. This time, we'll recount the session which followed. In this session, we journeyed back to Aes, Kalgar's homeland, to discover why some of the Doomguard's agents had not reported in some time.
Referring to the world map of Cyfandir, we realized our options for traveling to Aes were limited. Our DM had done a lot of work developing the map and history of Aes complementing and adding to what I developed for Kalgar.
We started in Chalybs, the small country to the central south of the world, and we wanted to get to Aes, on the western coast. The first problem was that the southern edge of Aes was not really an entrance; in fact, there is a chain of islands known as Ilache Dos (or the Southern Wall) well charted by Aes's navy meant to stop any ships from sailing through. No one goes through the Dragon's Waste and lives to tell about it, and we couldn't go through Adamantina as it is a very militant country which dislikes visitors. So, the only route available to us was to go north, around Adamantina, through Albus, along Canitia, finally arriving in northern Aes.

Now, the scale of the map is quite large, and the DM told us that even with horses, it would take something like a couple of months to make the journey. While we felt a little odd rushing through these countries without getting to know them, the DM explained that his work on them had only been preliminary. Plus, we couldn't linger long for two reasons: the threat of Aes was not one to leave idle for too long, and as we were moving through Albus, we learned that Adamantina had begun invading. Due to their careful strategy, they had not advanced very far yet, but like a glacier, their movement was slow but indomitable. As the people of Albus retreated east, we made our way north. Kalgar wished there was something more he could do. He didn't care too much for the people themselves, but Adamantina's strength had to be tested, and Kalgar knew the consequences of an army acting without resistance. 

Making an internal promise to push himself until he may face the larger threats of the world, Kalgar made his way to Aes with the others. As we passed through Canitia, Tong began to grow visibly excited. This was his homeland and he knew the way quite well. At one point, he started to lead us north even though Alvyn and Kalgar knew the path lead to the west.

Deciding to go along with him, Tong lead us to what looked like any other part of the forest, where he stopped, staring off into the distance. When we asked him what he was staring at, he made a couple of awkward movements and grabbed some fruit from a nearby tree. With brown needles on a hard exterior, Tong showed us that the interior was a sharp green lemon flavour. (Basically a coconut). Questioning him a little further, he told us to look far into the forest. When we did so, we were able to see a large, mushroom shaped structure, built so closely into the forest that if Tong had not pointed it out, we would not have seen it.

He explained that this was his temple, where he had studied for quite some time. According to Tong, the monks had a long tradition of living in northern Canitia, studying the ways of mental discipline and specializing in unarmed combat. Apparently, the people of Canitia could choose to serve a term in the monastery should they so choose, however the rich rarely took advantage of this as the monastic way of life is quite a humble one.

At long last, we finally made it to Aes. Kalgar had been somewhat quiet on this trip. Normally pretty gruff on the outside, but vocal with his comrades, Kalgar had been quieter than normal, but upon getting to Aes, even just the border of it, he became a lot more animated. Anyone else might not have noticed, but Tong and Alvyn had seen Kalgar each and every day and they realized that his scowl was not so pronounced and his step was a little more upbeat. Alvyn took out a few things from his bag and put on a disguise, making himself look like an older, bespectacled halfling. Turning to us, he said his name was Johaan Braun. Tong seemed to be confused by this, Kalgar just grunted.

The city of Portam Myvillion is the only thing resembling a city in Aes. Featuring the North Gate, the main entrance to Aes, it was the most culturally diverse part of the country. In order to live in Aes, one must serve a 15 year long naval tour and since not everyone would be comfortable with this or with the strict naval law, Aes is mostly composed of humans and dragonborn. But, in the northern city, it wouldn't be surprising to see many different races living, working, and trading together.

Smelling the salt water for the first time in too long, Kalgar took in the sights. He quickly grabbed a couple of deep-fried fish, served on a stick, and offered one to his comrades. Alvyn and Tong both tried it, Alvyn thinking it was alright, and Tong thanking Ioun that he had the wisdom to bring his Canitian fruit along as it made the taste a lot better.

Making our way to the docks, we tried to find a ship by which to make passage to Suturi. That was the last known location of the Doomguard agent we were looking for and the best place to start. Taking a good look at what the docks had to offer, Kalgar spotted many fishing ships, some traders, and finally, something different. With the smooth lines of a military ship, the Red Sky was an Aes scouting ship which had obviously been modified to serve fishermen.

Making our way over, we saw the crew hustling back and forth, loading and unloading cargo and supplies. Overseeing the work was the First Mate, a female tiefling. Alvyn began talking for us, asking if there was a way we could book passage as we had some business to conduct on the island. The tiefling introduced herself as Sirtha, and said that we could come along for a price as long as we stayed out of the way. Kalgar asked if there was anything we could do to help, and if it would help the cost of passage. Ignoring Alvyn and Tong, she said if we helped them bring in anything on this fishing trip, our fare would be covered. We would also have to be satisfied with not going straight to the island but rather through the Opal Strait. They were hoping to bring in one of the famed Opal Carp, fish with hard, colourful scales valued greatly by jewelers. Saying that this was fine, we made our way onboard.

Kalgar and Alvyn made their way over to the Captain. Mostly ignoring Alvyn, she introduced herself as Captain Wyrren. From her proud stance, her hearty handshake, and the way she ran her ship, it was obvious that she still incorporated a military lifestyle each and everyday. Kalgar had heard tale of Captain Wyrren, whose unusual and foolhardy method of catching fish was wildly told across Aes. Apparently, she would lead her ship to her prey and before they had harpooned it, she would dive off, knives in hand, and attack/draw the fish in. Complimenting her boldness, and the efficiency with which she ran her ship, Kalgar and Wyrren got off to a friendly start.

While Kalgar talked with the Captain, Tong made his way over to the crewmen where he asked for the nearest meditation niche. With the crew mostly ignoring him, or raising an eyebrow, Tong finally made his way to the bow of the ship, deciding that this would do. Before we had even cast off, Tong became incredibly sick. Throwing up over the side of the ship, Kalgar rolled his eyes and thought about how long this trip might be.

As the days progressed, Kalgar felt more alive than he had in some time. He was back on a ship! This was the world he knew. Captain Wyrren ran a tight ship, and her crew functioned very efficiently. Kalgar quickly made himself useful; hauling rope, rowing, doing anything he could. Alvyn noticed this enthusiasm and thought a lot about it over the next couple of days. He thought about how long it took to travel anywhere in Cyfandir and how comfortable Kalgar was on a ship.

Taking a closer look at the Red Sky, Alvyn began thinking about how ships made traveling much faster, but that they were limited to the sea. Musing on that, he also did his best to look after Tong who, by the third day, was pale and shaking. Finally, Alvyn couldn't take any more of it and he went to Kalgar to ask his advice.

Kalgar hadn't even noticed Tong's affliction. Kalgar is not overly perceptive and had been distracted by life at sea. Thinking about it, he realized he didn't know a lot of cures for seasickness. It wasn't that common among his people. Still, he recalled that the young dragonborn, brought to serve when they were very young, sometimes required some extra help. Making his way to the Galley, he grabbed some ginger, some lemon, and a block of wood. Making a tea and offering it to Tong, he put the block in Tong's mouth and told him to concentrate on the block of wood, the solid taste of it. This seemed to help Tong, and he felt noticeably better.

Just then they entered the Opal Strait, and the walls of the cliffs on either side were quite close. Tong explained that this strait was made when the great fist of Shan-Tao cracked down upon the earth in the early days. Alvyn, knowing a little more about history than Tong did, knew that this was ridiculous and that in fact, the strait was created when a meteor crashed down, splitting the cliffside. Talking with Kalgar and the Captain a little more, he also learned about Crater Bay, a large open part of water to the west, caused by a meteor of precious metal crashing into the sea some time ago. There is an entire fleet of ships who mine the previous metal from the bottom of the bay.

Entering a wider part of the strait, a crewman in the crow's nest, who Kalgar had noticed some time ago was a miniature goliath, called out that there was a carp ahead, a big one! Grabbing her knives, Captain Wirren tied a rope around her waist and told the First Mate to bring the ship to bear on the carp. Alvyn, who had said earlier that he knew a thing or two about marine life, told her to make sure she stabbed the fish just behind the gills, as that "Vos ze sleeping spot". Raising an eyebrow, she leapt off and began swimming toward the carp.

Before she had swam 10 feet away from the ship, the goliath called out that a ship was approaching, an Aes military ship! Military ships had the right of passage over anything else, and the strait was not wide enough for us both to pass. We would have to get out of its way or it would crash through us, knowing that only our ship ran any danger of being destroyed. Kalgar quickly turned to the First Mate and asked what we should do?

[Kalgar] "Should we pull her in?"
[Sirtha] "No, she'll just cut the line, she wants that fish!"
[Alvyn] "We need to do something, what do you suggest?"
[Sirtha] "There's still time. We need to get that fish, and the Captain, back on board, and move the ship into that tiny enclosure ahead."

And with that, she began issuing orders. Sailors came out with harpoons, and oarsmen turned the ship about. Tong was still not feeling very well and watched from the bow. Kalgar grabbed some rope from his bag and called out for a harpoon. Owing to his obvious familiarity with ships, and his rapport with the Captain, Kalgar had earned quite a lot of respect from the crew. Without hesitation, a harpoon was in Kalgar's hand and the rope was tied.

The military ship was closing in, and we could hear them shouting for us to get out of the way. The Captain had caught up with the carp, and stabbed it through its gill. Wrestling with it, we could see it was quite large. Kalgar took aim and tossed the harpoon. Not accounting for the water's refraction, he missed. Tong urged him to pull it in and try again, while Alvyn yelled to the Captain, reminding her of "ze sleeping spot". Just then, he pulled his hands into his robes, and at that moment, the fish slowed down, and then stopped. The Captain found she didn't have to struggle anymore. Alvyn, having spent years training in the ways of stealth, was able to hide the fact that he had just cast Sleep on the carp. Standing with one leg on the bow of the ship, and with time running out, Kalgar closed one eye and threw the harpoon one more time. Owing to his years of practice, Kalgar skewered the fish right through the gills, surprising the Captain. While the crew pulled the Captain's rope in, Kalgar pulled in his own and they were able to quickly get the Captain and the fish aboard before moving the ship out of the way. Shaking their heads, the officers on the military ship just squeaked by the Red Sky.

 After all that excitement, the last day of the trip was rather boring. Wyrren and her shipmates took what they needed of the carp, and thanks to their help, Kalgar, Alvyn, and Tong did not have to pay for the travel. Tong was feeling a lot better, and was glad to be getting back to land soon. Captain Wyrren and Kalgar talked a bit more, Wyrren asking if Kalgar had ever been to the western islands. Saying he hadn't, Wyrren said that there were tales of giant fish there which she would love to get a chance to catch. Saying he was a good man to have aboard, she offered her hand and said he was welcome back anytime. And that if they wished to travel back, the Red Sky would be leaving port the next morning.

Alvyn led the way to a tavern, the Salty Dragon, where Doomguard agents were supposed to meet if ever this way. The tavern left a lot to be desired, with dirty tables, an un-swept floor, and rather unfriendly looking patrons, this did not look like an inviting place. No sooner had we stepped in did Alvyn notice the Doomguard agent, and the agent noticed Alvyn, loudly. Calling him by name, not Johann, but Alvyn, the agent kept drawing attention to us. Making our way over, Alvyn acted as if he didn't know the agent and kept trying to use codephrases on him. Ignoring that and chatting away as if no one was listening, Tong noticed a shady looking dragonborn was watching them from a far corner. As he pointed it out to Kalgar, Alvyn, using his knowledge of Arcana, realized the agent's mind was being controlled. Kalgar realized that the dragonborn must have been part of the Angrimich Shivi, the Aesian military police. Kalgar had been on guard for them since entering Aes as one of their main tasks was to hunt down and execute military deserters. As soon as Kalgar looked his way, a beer stein flew over Kalgar's head, hitting a dwarf on the other side of the table, and the dragonborn ran for the door.

All of a sudden, the rest of the patrons rose to their feet, obviously looking for a fight. Kalgar had explained to the guys earlier that a bar fight was not rare, and other than property damage, was usually endorsed as a good old-fashioned way to settle disputes and let off some steam. Unfortunately, this was the wrong time for a fight, and Alvyn warned them that they had to catch up to the dragonborn before he reported their presence to the town guard.

Alvyn spun around, cast Sleep on the agent, knocking him out cold, instantly. Kalgar, looking for options, pointed out the doors, at the end of the bar. Alvyn urged Kalgar to get the agent out, saying he and Tong could take care of themselves. With a wizard-enhanced jump, Kalgar jumped over half of the brawlers making his way to the exit. Looking for options, Tong came up with the idea of busting a hole in the wall of the tavern. Because we apparently cannot visit a town without destroying a building and because Tong spent every morning busting logs using his mental and physical practices, he focused his energy and struck at the wall. After a few failed attempts, he finally cleared a hole in the wall, and he and Alvyn made their way out. (For a concise, DM perspective, see his post here.)

Spotting the dragonborn down the street, we knew that he didn't have far to go before he reached the nearest military base. Between us and him was an entire street full of traders, children, and sailors. Using our skills to their best advantage, Alvyn ducked and weaved around horses, wagons, and people, Tong ran along the walls as the fleet-footed monk that he is, and Kalgar intimidated the crowd to make room.

Tackling him, and dragging him off to a nearby alley, we found out that he was indeed part of the Angrimich Shivi, and that he had been holding the agent, waiting for another member of the Doomguard to show up. The agent, mildly delirious with the mental hold wearing off only slightly, remembered the dragonborn was present when he was being tortured. The agent couldn't remember how much he told them and now that the dragonborn had seen our faces, we knew our options were limited and that we were in danger. Tong suggested we kill him, get it over with. (Tong's motivations, which will be made clear in later sessions, were not concerned with random people. He had seen death, he had caused death, and so this one random dragonborn threatening him was more of a problem if left alive.)

Kalgar wasn't too happy. He agreed that they were in great danger from this dragonborn, but it was not in him to kill an unarmed, tied up foe. Even in the military, combat took place between parties of equal strength. There was no honour in this, and surely Kord, Kalgar's god, would look down on this. Alvyn suggested that we had no idea how powerful this dragonborn was, and we did catch him, so maybe we did beat him, and maybe getting rid of him wouldn't be so dishonourable.

In the end, Kalgar decided that he would have nothing to do with it. He felt bad, but he was in a tough place and the dragonborn knew the dangers associated with his role in life. Alvyn ended up doing the deed, staging it to look like a bar-brawl gone wrong.

Making our way back to the docks, we knew the Red Sky was not set to leave until tomorrow; her crew had already started drinking. Not feeling safe in any of the taverns, Alvyn, Tong, Kalgar, along with the other Doomguard agent decided to camp out in an alley behind a warehouse which faced the water.

There was little sleep that night. Alvyn and the Doomguard agent talked quietly and tried to determine what happened, how exposed the Doomguard was in Aes. Alvyn also felt deep remorse for killing the dragonborn. Something Tong and Kalgar had noticed after a while of traveling with Alvyn was that he marked everyone he killed with the sign of the Doomguard. Earlier on our travels, Kalgar had noticed that Alvyn bore terrible scars under his clothes. Not pressing him about it, it was obvious that Alvyn had been the victim of a horrible tragedy earlier in his life. Alvyn explained that he marked all that he killed so he may seek them out and so that they may seek justice in the afterlife. But, he could not mark the dragonborn because it would obviously lead anyone looking into it back to the Doomguard.

Kalgar took the first watch and sat by the water. His mind and heart were weighing him down. Not too long ago, he lived and worked on the waters of Aes, feeling confident, safe, and happy with his lot in life. He knew what to do, and he had no regrets. Since then, he has deserted everything he once held true, betraying his people, and himself, and now that he was back in Aes, he didn't feel quite at home. Some sailors had described a similar feeling before; after serving their 15 year tour, some sailors returned to their home village to find that they didn't belong. To be home and realize it was no longer their home, most drifted back to the military, calling it the haunted return.

Aes was no longer a safe place for Kalgar. A country built on strength and honour had begun using its strength to act dishonourably. They began pushing past their own boundaries and attacking defenseless villages, all in the name of conquest. Kalgar grew up worshiping Kord and Melora, gods who shunned needless destruction. However, the Aes military, in their development of superweapons, had begun doing foul deeds in their gods' names.

Not all Aes was bad. Kalgar could feel the spirit of his people, and knew that deep down, they were still the same. Adventurous, bold, and daring to push themselves, the people of Aes might not go down the strait of shameful severity if only they weren't led there. Recalling his better days at sea, Kalgar began to sing, quietly, and as he sang, he remembered all that it was to be a dragonborn, and the vows he made to Kord. Strength must be checked. Weakness, is its own punishment. He knew what he had to do. He would travel the world, learning all that he could, pushing himself to be better through combat. Kord's lessons, and Kord's presence, were more clear to him now, and he knew that he must stand in the way of opposing strength, to give honour to the challenge, and to himself. One day, he would return to Aes, and he would combat the evil that had placed itself at the head of Aes's military.

With a lighter heart, Kalgar finally went to sleep. The trip back to the north gate and out of Aes was rather uneventful, and as they made their way back into Canitia, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar, longed for adventures, and braced themselves for the road ahead.

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