WHAT HAPPENED OFFSCREEN BEFORE WE STARTED
Gathering the Party
After 10 weeks in Baffram, Kitten the Deadly, Wayland the Hunter, and Skritt the goblin were rounded up by the town guard and put in a local gaol to be interrogated on behalf of the Pembriss Scholars for what they know about Timothy the Tulip.
Kumiko heard about Tulip from some dwarven smiths who sold him his cannon; upon finding he was ready to kill a dragon, she figured she’d get on his good side by rescuing his buddies, hoping they could lead her to him. She hired an archer, Sherwood King, to assist in the jailbreak and the resulting hijinks.
Mokthresher, a kiskov captain of the ship Foamlash (a really fast ship, a racing ship that wins competitions) raced out of Baffram with them. The elven captain Telleryia chased them in the Implacable. (Mokthresher has a grudge against Telleryia, and so was willing to help, just to outrun her.)
Mokthresher and Boomcrusher met up on the island. (Lots of bromance, they are buddies.) Boomcrusher explained to the group looking for Tulip that he went to Falatria. He explained that Vayu, Geshinara, and Tulip were scouting the port, as it was reputed to have a road up to the volcano of the Senchillian Elvenforge (now Grizelle’s Hoard) wiped out long ago.
While Mokthresher led Telleryia off on a wild chase, Boomcrusher set sail for Falatria with the adventurers, as well as Saffron Petal, Tulip’s war donkey and cannon. Once Mokthresher drops them off, he continues leading any pursuers on a merry chase.
One side of the island Falatria (named for the port) is a sheer cliff with the volcano on top, clear view of the sea. Geshinara heard a rumor of a legendary ancient back door; worth the delay to find it. Getting in unseen improve their chances, instead of sailing a ship towards a flying, fire breathing, impervious monster.
They noticed that sea birds follow them; maybe some others know where they are…
A message was left for a kiskov captain. Tulip and Vayu headed for the interior town of Courvon. The hike is several days. After some consideratino, the adventurers left Saffron Petal in a warehouse, with a crate with all the cannon gear, to be sent out a day and a half or so behind them. They gave Tulip a new alias, “Jacques.”
Rumors in the Area
They heard a variety of interesting rumors about the town of Courvon, which is at the end of the road from Falatria before going into the Black Mire (somewhere within is the secret Mountain Door.)
They heard that the commander of the watch has been stuck here, probably for an indiscretion. There is a fort out there called Kuln; there may be giants there after a war of extermination against dwarves. Somewhere in the mire, there are statues of long-forgotten gods, still channeling their needs. Tree moss is poisonous to the touch. The prostitutes of Courvon are a major power block in town. Gnomes in the hills around Kuln are necromatic assassins, not innocent tinkers. A dozen black dragons guard treasure and eggs in the mire.
The city has a garrison of soldiers to protect against giants. Dwarves still live at Kuln, they just sealed it off. A frog god in the Black Mire hates giants and will help put them down. Bury 10 gold in the mire or be cursed when you leave. Leaving the causeways is death. There are many walkways; some are magic, some rotting. Shokoro in the swamp don’t all get along; some may be helpful. The Oracle of Courvon has a second home in the Black Mire. “Skeewiss” is shokoro for “we don’t seek conflict!”
WE JOIN THE STORY ALREADY IN PROGRESS—THIS WAS ALL ONSCREEN
A monument says it is “The Swamp Arena.” They approached from the east, the road goes up to a ramp, then an old stone fortification. Guards were bored, waving them through. (Fortunately, no gate tax.) A single road in, a tower in the middle of town, advertisement of ladies on balconies to the left, walls painted red.
Asking around, Wayland found out the arena has tournaments once a month. Kitten asked around after Tulip, found out he was spending money and asking after the ghim (a kind of dwarf) in town, in the north settlement. King bought a fancy green silk outfit, then headed to the arena. Pickpockets start fleecing the party as they debated what to do and whether or not to scatter through the town since they had no party leader.
King headed for the arena, he was intercepted by four guards, they quoted city ordinance (possibly just made up) prohibiting carrying a strung bow in town. They arrested him and tossed him into a reinforced room/cell.
Everyone but King headed for the southern neighborhood with the red walls. The guards were relaxed and casual, as were the women. (A number of the prostitutes have chain belts.) Kitten asked around, looking for a tall man spending lots of money, maybe with a tulip helmet. Exchanged coin jogged some memory. “The Ferret’s Snout” is an inn where he had been staying. They went there, seeing a huge ferret skull hanging over the door.
Mostly guards and prostitutes there, and armwrestling in a back corner, where Vayu was watching Tulip earn money with the arm torquing. They welcomed each other, and shared introductions all around. They told Tulip Saffron Petal was back in Falatria, under Tulip’s alias as “Jacques.”
Tulip found out they were jailed because of him. Tulip told them about rescuing Ashook from the Gulldaw prison. Tulip cut them in on the dragon heist. Kumiko explained she’s hunting the dragon that killed her ninja clan—and it is Grizelle, the dragon they are hunting.
Rescuing Sherwood King
They noticed Sherwood King was missing, and Tulip figured they should look for him. He checked with Madame Elandia, leader of the Red Lanterns, who knows what’s going on in the town. Tulip took Kumiko and Kitten six blocks to consult.
Madame Elandia charged 20 gold to help, and Kumiko paid for it. Elandia suggested any misbehavior from a newcomer like King would result in going into the cages in the arena; check with Lysander, a guard. She estimated 5-25 gold to get their friend out of trouble. She wanted them to come back when they’re free. They returned to the group, and all headed to the arena.
They accosted a guard, noting Madame Elandia referred them to Lysander. They were escorted to a watch tower overlooking a 100 m across pit with a 10 m arena at the bottom. They talked to Lysander, and instead of filling out missing persons paperwork, they paid a fee for him to expedite the paperwork. “A man, wearing silk, not working with the Lanterns; should be easy to find.” The guards escorted King out with a bag on his head. King had been a well behaved prisoner, ignored by obnoxious guards.
Out of the bag, King was pleased to be reunited with the group and his gear.
Visiting the Ghim
To the south, prostitutes manage the crime. In the town core, the guards do it. In the north, crime is a problem. (The watch go in groups of 8.) Up a 2 story bluff, the buildings are sturdier and older.
Following directions, they got to a door with a symbol of a hammer on it. A ghim answered the door, and Tulip asked for Corvaglian, the reputed leader of the ghim. The grumpy doorman demanded to know their business, then let them sit in the “quarantine chamber” for ten minutes.
The leader, Corvaglian, had a multi-braided buckled beard, and he met with them in his study. Tulip asked after Grizelle’s Hoard, noting people referred him to Corvaglian, who asked for a reason to talk to them.
Eventually, he tells them they are looking for the Kuln gate, the back door, locked as only the ghim can lock it; mortals can’t batter through or dig around, they must have the key. Tulip offered him a share of dragon money, and that offended him; he likes things the way they are, with a sleeping dragon (that is not torching the local population.)
Corvaglian explained that humans are stupid, and this was next-level stupidity. Tulip mentioned some of his exploits, hoping to inspire confidence (and failing). Corvaglian tried to talk him out of going after the money. (He felt having them locked up is the right thing to do.) He grudgingly referred them to the Alabaster Oracle north of town, her investment in this would be different than his. He planned to decide what he wanted in return. (They admire the disassembled organ gun he was using as a wall hanging, and his fancy artistic firearms.) They were escorted out, and searched, then released.
They went to “The Landed Fish” with a 3 part wooden fish hanging over the door; they crash in the common room for the night.
The Alabaster Oracle
Early, in the foggy streets, they went past the ghim part of town and past the north wall, rented a boat for 10 gold, ferried across the river to a trim, square house with pale pillars in front, and a door standing open in the chill air.
They heard a gutteral sound, like mumbled chanting or running water underground. The building was open, with few signs of life and several open doors inside. Then, in the hallway, they heard swishing sound of robes; three hunched shokoro in deep cowls with hands together in their sleeves met them. “She is ready to see you.” They followed to the chamber at the end of the hall, seeing that half the building was one big room with a throne (carved like a tree, spreading across the back wall) and pale stone with veins, almost like flesh. They saw an amazing statute of an elvish woman seated on the throne, sculpted with exquisite superhuman detail. A shaft of light illuminated the center of the room. The shokoro closed the door behind them, leaving them alone with the statue.
Mosaics on the wall had been painted over. Tulip approached the light, waiting. “You’ve come a long way,” said the statue. She rose, still gorgeous. (Someone spent lifetimes animating this…) She said she has been waiting for them. She asked them to identify a guide, so she could tell them where they must go.
Vayu stepped into the light, she beckoned him closer. She took his elbow and wrist and pulled her hand down his forearm. He felt a sharp or hot or cold painless damage he didn’t know how to interpret. A diagram of the path was printed in his forearm, silvery. That was the walkway path, (like a subway map) to find the one who has what they seek. She saw them coming, but she does not know if they will arrive; she recommended they stay on the walkways.
“You seek the Frog God, for he is the only one who can open the Kuln Gate.” She seated herself, pulled her cowl down to cover her features, and became motionless. The doors opened, the hall was empty, they all left quickly. Doors drifted closed behind them, barring themselves.
Tulip told them they had a day to prepare (while the donkey and cannon arrive.) They returned to town.
Sherwood King’s Strange Desperation
King told Skritt that he would belong to him, if Skritt bought him silk pants. Skritt immediately agreed. King bought fancy pants, emerald green silk.
Frustrated by his lack of coins, King headed to find a town guard and challenge him to an archery contest. It’s warm-up for the tournament. A guard anted up for 10 gold or his clothes; he wouldn’t agree to more than 1 arena away, over King’s objection.
The guard out-shot him, and took all his fancy clothes; they’ll look great on his wife. Double or nothing? King anted up, agreeing to have sex with the guard’s daughter (including foreplay) if King didn’t win.(By now, guards gathered to watch, laughing at his nakedness; they said he’d be better off buggering a donkey than the guard’s daughter.)
King lost again. They clapped him in irons in case he tried to run once he saw the daughter, and they hung a rope around his neck and disarmed him. They sent a messenger ahead to the guard’s daughter, telling her to “file off her biscuits,” whatever that meant. King was allowed to keep his loincloth, but he was disdainful of it, and wanted to go naked.
A gentleman caller for “Pampliset” won fair and square… she charged in, shaking the earth with her waddle. He was taken into the barn. She had brackish hair, yellow eyes with vertical slits, and a greenish tinge to her skin. King and Pampliset had highly unpleasant coupling (for him, anyway).
Then he got a few moments to compose himself, and he was given a blanket and released on the street. King offered triple or nothing, and the guard laughingly declined, but gave him his weapons back. King kilted up and staggered back to the inn.
Others Amuse Themselves in Courvon
Kumiko picked pockets, and found some coin and some tightly-rolled recipes. Skritt enjoyed a lovely meal. Kitten bought a week of food for everyone in the group, about 60 servings for 1 silver each, 2 loads. Also, she bought an 8 man tent, 2 loads.
Wayland asked around after the Frog God; not many people know about it, it’s a ghim legend from way back, probably from inspired by all the shokoro (lizard man) tribes in the murk. The ghim closed a gate of some kind thousands of years ago; they were here before the elves came, and nobody knows why the elves came. They’re gone now. What’s the problem with giants? Well, they’re giants…
Vayu took Tulip with him to scout for collections of rocks, in case he needed to animate them later. There was a supply by the arena. Some broken houses in the north part of town (but Vayu didn’t want to annoy the ghim.)
Back at the inn, they smelled King before they saw him. He looked…proud. King bought clothes from the innkeeper, who collects clothes from people who die while staying here.
That afternoon, arena fighting! They went to watch, paying 5 silver a seat (it was free for locals). People who broke minor laws charged out first, fighting shokoro, who sometimes attacked with tail spins. Then an abomination from the mire was pitted against 4 volunteer town guards; it had 4 legs, like a centaur with no torso, and leg spikes—like a mutated shokoro thing. The guards knocked it down and won. Local champions strutted and fought. Lots of theater.
At sundown, they lit torches and had a music festival in the arena. Pushcarts and vendors surrounded the upper level of the arena. Then the adventurers went back to the inn and slept.
Into the Swamp
The next morning, Saffron Petal was delivered to Tulip, who was proud to take it with him into the swamp. Tulip introduced his high-quality donkey around. Kumiko began establishing a relationship, bribing the donkey with apples. It started following her hopefully.
They crossed the river again, finding the beginning of the boardwalk after 10 minutes of hiking; a pavilion, then a 2 m wide walkway, stone and wood, in fantastic condition for being so old. The walkway was misty. Vayu asked people to help gather stones, they gathered up enough rocks for him to animate a guard to help them adventure. Tulip got his cannon out and showed it off.
They followed the instructions on Vayu’s arm, traveling all day on foot on the walkways. The walkways didn’t look like they were made for travel, they were like patterns over the swamp. No benches, no campsites, etc. The walkways were elevated about 2 m over the swamp. Wayland’s survival training allowed him to set up the tent on the walkway, without nailing things anywhere, on the relatively narrow walkway. Vayu made a fire pit out of his stone guardian, planning to reconstruct it in the morning. They set guards.
The Recruiting Bandit
The next morning, they came to an intersection where they were greeted by a too-friendly man, Helvok, with backup in the marsh flanking the walkway. He suggested there were more riches back in Courvon than out in the Black Mire, he tried to recruit them for crime, offering them 10 gold a day for a week to investigate well-defended areas and plan to rob them. This evolved to threats, then the flexing and growling—
Helvok recognized Tulip, and said he should rule Courvon, or topple it for the bandits to rule, they could help as native guides. Tulip suggested the gods lead them, so the bandits opened fire. It devolved into a brutal fight. Tulip crushed the leader down at once, and the bandits fled into the marshes; the adventurers did not chase them (though Tulip bellowed at them to surrender). Looting bodies, they took the leader’s anti-leech powder, and Tuleo picked up a couple quivers of arrows.
The Frog God
As they set up camp for the second night, a hissing rose from the swamp all around. Two shokoro invited the group to come see “the master.” The party suggested they should be paid first, the shokoro said they only deal in blood and honor, not the weak crust of civilization (money). “Come with us…or die.” Vayu’s arm map said they were in about the right place. The adventurers followed the shokoro, to a ramp into the marsh.
Drums and torches started up in the mist around them in the gathering dusk. There were 20-30 gathered warrior hunter shokoro in the shifting light, in mass. It was difficult to see individuals.
About 500 m from the walkway, they found an island. They faced a statue, about 4 m cubically, of a frog with a pot belly, leaning back with blank staring eyes, draped with moss. The shokoro torches were doused, a green luminescence in the mist intensified, so it felt like they were not entirely on the island, but somehow else—this was old, predating the fey.
The frog “spoke” to them, telling them they had something it needed—freedom, mobility, and clever warm-blooded minds. It felt like they heard a voice resonating in the bones in their skulls. Tulip explained they were looking for the key to the back door; the frog noted “she” is beautiful (assuming they got the information from the Alabaster Oracle). They thought he was talking about the Oracle, and they noted certain similarities in the style if not the subject of the sculptor’s art for both.
The Frog God had the key, but could not easily return it, and so required something from them. There were three objects it lost in the Black Mire. Tulip agreed to seek them out. It showed them something like a hologram, of a massive black iron rose. Also, a basket—a flat bottom basket with a handle over the top and ends, maybe 5 m long. And finally the gift that goes with the basket; pure, otherworldly amber. Four chunks. If they bring these to the Frog God, it will give them the power to pass through the Kuln Gate.
Tulip asked how to find these things. The Frog God suggested if he knew where they were, he would not need them. When did he last see them? They were gifts given to another, he explained; come back when you have one or more. The presence faded, and the shokoro started lighting the torches again. There appeared to be about 40 shokoro out there at that point.
Questioning the Shokoro
The shokoro eyed the adventurers, half expecting they’d have to kill them. Tulip asked them where to start looking; who could we ask? Skritt wondered about the possible Alabaster Oracle house out in the Mire; the shokoro didn’t know where, they stay here. Their task is not to quest, their task is to protect.
Wayland asked the shokoro if they knew where the humans living in the swamp were, asking if any humans had raided them, suggesting the adventurers could sort them out. The shokoro said there was a port, two days walk, following the walkways, the opposite direction from the way they came. The group figured they’d go that way.
Vayu asked if any of them have had the task of questing. They hesitated, then explained the ghim “broke it.” Once there did not need to be questing, but the ghim trapped “them.” Other shokoro tell the speaker to shut up, and he swims off. Skritt asked them about the ghim.
A shaman type with an alligator helmet and bone staff stepped forward, noting that in the distant past, before “all was steady” there was a time when the outer dark came to this place. Several came and began to live in this place and spread, the ghim contained them and bound this place, so all the “knowings” are old, none are new. Time before time before time etc. it happened, but it is still there. These are their gods, and the shokoro worship them.
Vayu remembered when all the breathing of the world focused through the gods, then the gods created the Most High that plunged into the earth, and with all that energy, things came from outside, and the gods used the ghim to plug those holes. Maybe there are things here that were not banished and could not escape; the patterns of the walkways may make more sense. And there might be other gods out here…
The shokoro warned them not to “hunt the godlings” as Wayland carelessly suggested they might do. The shaman warned them, about Pluves, God of Rains, (all the shokoro hissed) and especially, “the Fruum.” They didn’t make any noise, but they dropped so nostrils and eyes were all the adventurers could see. “It is forbidden to speak further of it. You must go.”
The adventurers reluctantly returned to the walkway and camped at the edge of the shokoro territory.