Memstara

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First day with these goofballs
Campfire tale the First from Teacher Sam

Well, butter me up and toss me to the lesbians, it appears I’ve fallen in with the most bogus of crowds.
Booga ‘n me were taking a jolly little nap by the docks after a particularly neckering bout with Barry “The Berater”. Gosh, and I thought my cage name was cheesy (I came up with it when I was 18, gimme a break).
Big, dumb fucker; hit like a glacier and about as quickly. You ever punch a whale? Neither have I, but could guess at the details of that particular experience.
Anyway, after sleeping off the ache of meat shards in my knuckles, I found this funny little note tucked in Booga’s pack. Slivers of Barry’s half-orc blood chipped from my hands and fell like snowflakes as I opened it. Pretty boring stationery.
Said there’s a big job in store for me and four other miscreants. Kickass, I thought! Fightin’ and makin’ money with bookies at the cage is great ‘n all, but I’ve been waiting for a break like this for a while. Gotta get together enough coin to… well, that jerk can take care of himself, I reckon’.

The note gave the time and the place. The place was good ol’ Gily’s Harlequin Chalice. Been there plenty of times to go over jobs with Monsoon. Was nice to see cutie-pie Drina also, if only for a second. Went to the back room as always, and there we were, the freaks.
Human gal, about my height. I recognized her as a big-time mistress; considered working at her place when it opened, but I decided it just wasn’t my preferred kind of physical activity.
Halfling bloke wearing a hat that probably weighs more than him. I’d heard of a few of his works of art, though not the musical kinds. Bothered me, dunno why, just bothered me.
Elf guy, don’t know ‘im. Looks like he spends a lot of time outside. Well, sure so do I, but I mean really outside, like where there’s trees.
Gnomish chick, also don’t know her. Cute ferret, anyway. Wonder what the story is there.

Just as I’m getting bored, this gent – looks barely alive, held together by glue – wheels in some goofy-ass cart. I don’t remember if B. ever told me about beholders – if he did, I must have been pretty wee at the time – but this was the craziest fucking thing I’d ever seen: like a gigantic ol’ pouch of vitreous humour with thick, sinewy straps.
Spoke (spoke?) like one of the fatter high-rollers you’d see at the cage, the kind that take a single puff from a fresh cigar then put it out on a new silver plate held by a girl who never worked another day in her life. Sleazebag voice. Whips up some visual aid that, by this point, can’t be shocking in the least. The job? Bump off Viktor Blütfaust, the main man of Bloodtusk, Monsoon’s biggest competitor.
Now, a lot of the other urchin kids I skipped rocks with and rough ‘n tumbled with as a kid were half-orc, so I got no special animosity toward the kind, but a job is a job, and a high-paying job is an especially good job, and this was quite the high-paying job.
Creepy beholder or no, powerful target that would likely have us all torn in half given the chance or no, I was in. I’m not too proud to say I don’t ever need help, so I did my best to rally the aforementioned cohorts to be. Little guy in red is darn cautious (I’d be reminded of this many times later); the tall gal and elf kept quiet. The gnome and ferret were totally into it; I liked her already. There was a funny sharpness in her eyes, I remember thinking, that I didn’t quite get.
So the skinny was that Viktor would be at his new restaurant later that afternoon, mostly alone, deep into Bloodtusk turf. Get in, off the chunk-head, get out with some proof of conquest. We’d be contacted at that point. Sounds easy-peasy, right? Well!

I figure I got plenty of time for some quick lunch, so I head back into the bar to go out the front where Booga’s waiting. It’s a freaking zoo in there! Lorelei, the tall gal, and I push and shove (well, I push and shove anyway) our way toward the front, but there’s some nutty game going on involving booze, punching, and money, which happen to be three of my favorite things.
I can’t resist, you know, even if it means missing lunch. I weasel my way into the finals and face off with this tall glass of water to a game of Punch Drunk.
The first quaff drives into the back of my throat like a mythryl-plated dragonshard. Throws off my first shot at the guy, but I’m back on my toes by the time he swings, and I’m golden.
My next swig goes down smooth, and this dumbass is belching up fossils of his own nasty sample, so I wallop him with a haymaker. I can’t help but glance to see the crowd’s reaction, and the guy reacts faster than I thought, getting in an adorable little sucker punch. Stupid.
I almost eat the bottle of my next brew, sneaking a step in, and get it done with an elbow to his brow, dropping him like a sack of doorknobs.
I hammed it up some for the crowd; they deserved it, hooting like that. Gily gave me a little stink-eye for riling things up, but I knew she’d forgive me. I get my prize from Drina, the doll, and find Lorelei and Viktor, the elf guy. I wager there’s still time for lunch, but Lorelei wants to get a move on. Darn shame. I think Rosco and Melior were long gone by then.

Viktor and I get some awesome shawarma on the way into Bloodtusk territory and take it slow and sneaky. We get out front of the restaurant just in time, but the two little ones aren’t to be seen! Things are a little hazy around here (that rotgut stuff did not mix well with my spicy lunch), but I think I just got fed up waiting and barged right in. Maybe I killed the dude out front. I hope not but hey, some things can’t be helped.

Next thing I know it feels like the fucking planet tripped over itself and retched on the lot of us. I kid you not, Viktor Blütfaust was there for a second and then wasn’t, literally exploded. Shit got on my clothes, in my hair, I think I got some in my mouth. I’d barely pulled my socks up when two thugs hustle in. Beats me what their names were, if it matters. I think they were wearing nametags (restaurant, righ’?), so Lorelei probably knows: she sees freaking everything, the beaut’. I take a nasty blow to the chest from a big fuck-off hammer, but Melior and I make quick work of the two knucklenuts (strong and cute!), leaving just us crew of idiots, a huge sticky mess, and incoming baddies on either side. Oh, did I neglect to mention the swarms of peeved half-orcs just moments from our unfortunate location? Yeah, that.

We decide to cheese it, because to hell with that noise. Rosco and Melior, the adorable little twerps, apparently found some nifty secret passage in the kitchen. You gotta yank on this hook, but the two didn’t have the beefiness to work it. Allow me, I suggest, and I put my lunch to work. Melior grabs on (tough little honey!) and just gets the thing engaged. Some door opens up revealing a ladder upstairs. Home free, I thought! Well, Rosco has to stay behind to be a tough (i.e. sneaky) guy. The two ladies and I shimmy up a floor, though. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get some answers about what the hell happened? Hey, whatever happened to that elf guy?

Treasures! Melior finds some bonkers-crazy moonshine and guzzles it right freaking there, immediately getting fucked in half. Save that shit for later! There’s also a bunch of alchemist’s fire, which probably has approximately the same chemical properties. I wanted to take some home, but alas (you’ll see). Poor little Slinky the ferret got all wet finding us (and Rosco!) a window to escape through to the next building. Just for good measure, I guess, we used all of the alchemist’s fire to blow up the freaking restaurant. Honestly, we just wanted a little smoke and fire, not a full-blown inferno. Sad waste, but at least it looked cool.

Back outside, right then and there the Spell ‘n Say lists all our names! We had to get out fast and unseen. In a wild stroke of luck, none other than darling Drina shows up with group-rate tickets out of there! Now, while I’d have loved to ride in Drina’s carriage (!?), I just had to get back to Booga, so we went our separate ways again, agreeing to meet back at Gily’s. This is were things get embarrassing. That jerk Rosco needs a way back too, but all he can do is turn himself into a stack of bricks or a pile of tuna or whatever. Worse, the SnS described me as a dude, so I, and I shit you not, shoved a couple of waterskins under my shirt to make the ugliest rack you’d ever seen. So there I am, riding Booga back out of half-orc territory, my chest looking like a pillow case full of rocks, and a blasted little bard hiding as a bag of whatever-the-hell behind me. Just the worst.

Finally we make it to Gily’s and explain who we are. Yeah, big fucking laugh, har har. Lorelei is upstairs, and I can finally get rid of my mess (and remove the stuff in my shirt, hehe). Melior gets back and has some weird story about Drina, some dragonborn guy Jeph (I might not be spelling that correctly), and the Raven Queen. Just grand, you can’t make this shit up. We’re all pretty harried from things when Drina comes up stairs totally sloshed. We didn’t even notice the noise from downstairs, but the boys and girls from Monsoon were throwing us a big damn party! A party!! Everybody went totally ape-shit at Drina over the beholder, the dweebs, but the poor thing told her story. I trusted Drina and Gily, for sure, but I couldn’t quite tell with the rest of us weirdos. Whatever. We fucking partied our asses off. Rosco finally loosened up, sang some actually pretty kick-ass songs, eventually was swinging from a chandelier that I swear wasn’t there before. I carried Melior around for a while, which was awesome, and she danced around on the bar some (I should have joined her, it’s been a long time since I danced). I just made a lot of noise, did my eat-the-shotglass bar trick a couple of times, eventually passed out back with Booga. Hell of a day, hell of a day…

I don’t know,
but you are gone,
if I can really cure
any gap in wind, a slot
in a tornado. Somewhere,
fragments of you make
storms here, in my
sad, sad, head.
I will find
you.

— Sam, dated XXXX

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The Big Badaboom
Or how I got a new gold bracelet.

From Melior’s Personal Log:

The day started like any other, I woke to the sun’s beckoning and greeted her in meditation. I proceeded through my routine of stretches and began repetitions of inverted sit-ups. A figure, Monsoon by the colors but otherwise unidentifiable, approached and nodded, tilting their head sideways in attempt to meet my eyes. A folded sheet of paper was laid atop my folded cloak, and the figure receded. I unhooked my knees from the tree branch that is my exercise bar and flipped over to drop to the ground. The paper was as I figured – a job, or prelude to one. “Good. Been needing something to do, aside favoring the sea with my gaze all day and letting my head get all full up with thoughts. Ain’t nobody gonna pay me for those.” The paper’s instructions were to show up this morning, at Gillie’s place. Slinky finally woke up and lazily climbed from my pack to my shoulders as I trotted down the avenue and further into Monsoon territory.

Gillie’s place, better known as The Harlequin and Chalice, is a fine establishment. Drink for the thirsty, food for the hungry, beds for the weary; and discreet corners for Monsoon business. The ol’ battleaxe herself seemed busy when I entered, but tipped her head to the bar, indicating Drina’d take me. I held up the note between two fingers and Drina seemed to know exactly what’s what afore I said anything. A quick wave and she’s headed round back. I followed, chafed that I didn’t get at least one drink in first.

Apparently, this was not an exclusive offer. Several other low level Monsoon thugs such as myself were waiting to be…enlightened as to just what we were doing. The names rang familiar in my ears but the faces were not stirring up any recollection. I glanced round: Humans, two of ‘em. A proper lady by the dress and posture, and a scrappy-looking inked fella (fella? gal? not sure), an Elf with a quietness like he was used to hunting rather than being hunted, a loud Halfling with a louder red hat, and a’course lil ol me. We were none of us privvy to the ‘who or what’ and ‘how much’ in all this – necessaries for a job as I recall.

A scritchin’ noise at the back door caught someone’s ear and when we opened it, a deathly blank-eyed human pulled a cart inside. He wasn’t zombified or nothin’, just… blank. Out of the cart poked a tentacle, then the bulging eye/body of what I’ve only heard in tales must be a “Beholder”. ’Bout now I was wondering if ol’ Gillie and Drina were playing us foolish…

The eyeball-gent proceeded to offer an obscene amount of coin for an assassination. Normal day, I’d nod and be on my way to off the poor slob and collect in time for happy hour. And most any other name in the world would’ve gotten the same, but this daft oculus-on-wheels said the name “Viktor” followed by “Blutfaust.” Now, alone I’da just laughed and went back to the bar. But a group of Monsoon talent, varied skillsets, we might have a chance. And it is against my personal beliefs to turn down 1000gp unless the reason is well and truly profound. Blinky even gave us the where and when of good ol Mr. Blutfaust’s agenda for the day, how considerate.

The lot of us was each mullin’ it over. It did involve moving deep into Bloodtusk territory, infiltrating the restaurant where the green-skins run their organization, and murdering one of the most dangerous men on Tok. The eye, (called “The Maestro”) and his human-packmule left. Assured us we wouldn’t need to find him, he’d find us. Red-Hat was rather suspicious to the idea, like he might not be on board, which I found troubling. The Skirt and the Elf were a little tentative, Scrappy was all-in. I threw my vote in to the affirmative. Hells, this panned out, I’d get to kill the half-orc king of Tok, AND get paid for it. Offing Tuskers is practically reward in itself, but self-satisfaction don’t pay my bar tab… Finally the rest come around and we started the nitty-gritty of planning.

Best we figured, a clump of non-tusks moving headlong into the Gang’s territory would raise some protruded brows, so we split up to keep profiles low. Us wee folk decided to scout ahead, the rest’d make their own way after a bit. The Madame turned out to be a cleric of a trickster-goddess, lucky enough. She offered to bless one of us in our imminent stealth. Squeezebox was a bit rude, while my charming self won the Lady’s favor. In the end, though, it did make more sense for him to have the superior cover, he’s got the tools for breaking and entering. We slipped out the back door and made our way toward enemy lines.

I let Roscoe lead on ahead, and I lost him several times to the shadows, tricky bastard. Me, ‘course I got singled out. Guess my disgust was written on my face such that even cover of shadow couldn’t hide it. Some Tusker grunt got in my way, asking what my business was. I try the tourist routine, he don’t buy. I can’t believe I managed to say the words and not gag on them, but I said I was looking for authentic half-orc cuisine. He seemed to hold on to his distrust and asked for a bribe, poorly. I gave him a few coins – Monk, not much monetary wealth. I shrugged and he pointed me toward the street ahead with several food carts and… the target restaurant. His beady yellow eyes followed me as I faked my interest in the food vendors. I made it to the side of the restaurant, and caught Roscoe peeking out of the building’s rear. I caused some commotion across the street with a Minor Illusion and ducked into the door Roscoe held propped.

We took stock of the place, some storage, meat locker, pass through to the dining room… pretty much what you’d expect. No stairs we could see, though there was a visible second story from outside. The meat locker had in it a mechanism of some sort, connected to one of the chains, but we couldn’t get it to do a thing. Not long afore it’s go-time and the crew assembled, waiting. Sam came thru the front, after a very brief thud – must’ve killed the doorman. Nice.

The mark came in, sat his fancy-suited ass down. Roscoe put him under with some kind of sleep spell and tied him up. No sooner do we all come out to take a look-see than a deafening boom rocked the joint and we’re damp head-to-toe. I got hit by something came flying outta nowhere. It dropped and I saw it to be a huge gold ring. Took a sec for me to iron out the reality of it: Viktor Blutfaust was a smear, just… nothing but red goo and a shredded suit. The hardware what hit me in the face – bastard’s nose-ring. I grinned and slipped it around my wrist, gore and all. Well, job complete, yes? Great! Oh, ‘cept every Tusk for blocks was pounding ground to get here and see just what went BOOM in HQ.

The couple regular guards busted through just then. In no time, I sent ‘em reeling, Sammy knocked ‘em out. Got beautiful form, if I do say so myself. I could get used to someone like that at my back, time to time. Roscoe, man of many illusions, whipped up a fake pile of powder kegs and a sign daring anyone lookin’ to poke at it. He slipped under the kitchen counter while her Ladyship, Tatts, and me hightailed into the meat locker and shut the door behind us. Viktor, (our Elvenkin, not the pile of orc-meat) must’ve taken the back door immediately. Didn’t even see him leave.

I pointed out the mechanized chain and Sam jumped right on, tuggin’. I lent my meager weight and a trap door slid open. Madame Lorelei gave the passage a quick once-over, and we went on up to floor the second. Sharp as a knife as well as a right classy lady, that one. Quick and dirty room-by-room checks, I found a sixer of some orc-still spirits and gulped one down. Say what you will about the green-skin bastards, (and I do) but they know how to make a drink with some kick. Went blind for a short spell, wasn’t quite my usual balanced graceful self for a while longer. Kept the rest of those babies for a rainy day. I think Lady Lorelei and Sam found some explosives, but I wasn’t payin’ much mind.

A locked door and none of us with the proper tools. I woke up Slink and he scurried under the door, looking for keys. Moment later, saw him at another window. Soaked through and smelling pretty as a flower. About then, Roscoe got our attention at the side, on the roof of the next building. We all decided to torch the place and scram under cover of smoke – illusory and real.

Miss Lorelei was incognito and lost in the crowd with expert skill. Sam went to go find that big ol’ lovey camel friend of his. Guess Roscoe tagged with them, wish I had. I ran a bit, and crossed paths with Drina of all people. Driving a cart with return glassware, by the look. She offered a lift and I took it. Slinky went right up and made himself a nest in Drina’s hair. Loves tieflings, always has. It’s a temperature thing, mostly. Meantime, I must have nodded off…

The cart jolted to a stop in front of some temple in the neutral zone. A Dragonborn in robes was talking to Drina, and it looked like this place was Raven Queen Cult holdings. Now, I ain’t the religious sort, really. The Goddess of Death claims us all, some time or other, but I preferred to keep on breathing for now. I drew a dart from my belt. Musta still been a little sleepy, or drunk, cause I elbowed a crate of glassware off the cart. The Raven Cultist hurriedly waved Drina inside and closed the doors behind. Drina halted her horse, and I called Slink away from her. Dart pulled, I demanded to know what in the Abyss was going on. I can land a dart right in your eye socket at fifty paces, drunk or not, and she knew it. She was terrified, I never seen such a pitiful display of ‘No, ya got it all wrong’ and sputtering ’I’m sorrys’. I always thought Drina was alright for a Hornhead, could mix up a great cocktail too. But I’ll be damned if I’m getting sold out by one again.

She was all fear and praise, wrapped up with worry. Apparently, while I slept off that orcish throat-varnish, the Spell-n-Says were broadcasting the particulars of me and mine to the whole area about the Blutfaust incident. Drina’s googley-eyed lizard boyfriend gave me some robes to wear so I could get to Gillie’s without a big bloody target on my chest. After some eye-to-eye scrutinizing of Drina, I took the robes and hoofed it back.

I made it without incident to the Chalice and let myself in, cowl drawn. The rest were already there and gathered upstairs, Gillie said, so I joined them to sort out the “what now”. (Well, everyone except our Viktor, who disappeared after the big badaboom.) I briefed the group about my “adventure” with Drina and this D’Jefththphbt guy. Damned Dragonborn names, and I thought Gnomish names were complicated. And don’t you know it, not a one of us had the foggiest idea about what happened, why we’d be set up, or what this ‘Maestro’ could be scheming on.

The bar got to be quite loud as the hour grew later. Drina appeared, proper hammer-smashed by the smell, and let us know our adoring crowd was waiting. That most of Monsoon was there celebrating our victory. All said and done, regardless of what comes, we had been witness to a crippling blow to our rivals. Hells, as far as anyone knew, we were the ones who did it. My lips curled into a smile and I spun the blood-crusted gold ring around my wrist. This’ll be good.

We came down, people cheered. I raised my fist (yeah, the arm with the nose-ring round it) and shouted “Viktor Blutfaust is no more!” That got ‘em off their stools.

Drinks, music, singing, laughing, dancing, girls, boys, me riding on Sam’s shoulders, Roscoe in a chandelier what didn’t exist before… I ended up face-planting into a pretty Human girl’s chest and falling asleep there. Good time to be Monsoon that night.

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The "Eye" and the Mark
A Memior: By Madame Lorelei Valentine

Today started out like any other, waking early in my luxury suite, Stretching lazily, thinking about the warm bath that soon would be my own personal oasis. Then the thought of breakfast crept into my mind and with that thought, I ended up jumping up out of bed, tangled still within it’s sheets and making it as far as my waste basket to heave, until there was nothing left except me begging for mercy and trembling on shaky knees.
Standing up as I now hurry to my tub, hot water or cold, I needed to be clean once again. I am not sure how long I can keep this a secret if this is how it’s going to be I thought worriedly to myself. Tomas doesn’t know yet… and neither does Daddy…“Daddy…..,” I whispered aloud with a heartbreaking sigh following. "I’m sorry… ", then shaking those thoughts away as I scrubbed myself, needing to feel clean, needing to be strong… stronger than I’ve ever needed to be ever before. For now, I needed to find my strength, find my courage and figure out how to make things better.
While brushing my hair and pinning it up in the usual fashion, I notice a note slipped under my door. Upon reading it’s contents, I was immediately resolute, I would go find out about this job. I could learn to take care of myself again, be able to say that I can pull my own weight and then I would know what to do about… everything else. Without thinking, I rub my belly in a lovingly way and catch myself in the act, gasp and take out my fan and fan my face as if that motion alone would keep me from betraying my own secret, even if only to myself.
So, there was to be a small group of Monsoon representatives to “review” a possible “Business Opportunity”. It was to be held at The Harlequin and Chalice.
It sounded legitimate as far as I could tell. I settled into a quiet spot and waited for the contact to describe the opportunity. What in the seven hells is that eyeball thing? It couldn’t be… it just couldn’t be a beholder. Beholders were tales that you told the children to keep them from roaming too far into the woods alone. But, guessing from how his human servant was “obeying” him, it must be true. Take care of Viktor Blutfaust was a priority, not just for this mission but …for other reasons…
I met another human lady?. She seemed to be quite capable, if not a bit more boisterous than I am used to. I would watch her a bit more before making any further comment about her (or his) person.
Then there was a suspicious looking gnome female. Not that I was suspicious of her, she seemed suspicious of everything else. Perhaps just caution, caution is a good thing. I will watch her too, just in case. She called herself Melior and had a small woodland friend with her, a ferret. Although a cute animal it seems smarter than an average wild critter.
There was an Elf ranger who I believe is named Victor, but he kept quiet for the most part. I am not sure how to interpret him yet. I have known Elves from many places, and one thing is for sure, you don’t want to confuse them for one another, some are quite nice and trustworthy, while others are more shifty and will back-stab even their closest companions for the right amount of gold.
And to round out the group, there was a halfing among us. He was a little pushy at first and i wanted to let him know that a Lady doesn’t need a leader.. Even when I so do need a leader, no one can just tell me who is to do what and when. But, one day, I might let this would be leader lead. He just needs to prove his worth first. I didn’t know Roscoe from Jack when he waled in.
Deciding that I should never leave a Monsoon establishment by way of backdoor unless it was a dire emergency. This was not a dire emergency, so through the main dining room I went, right behind Sam. I remember sighing as I recognized the game that was ensuing around the tavern.. I knew better than to attempt this bit of fun, but Sam was all about it, knocking down more than just the drinks, she won some gold in the venture, which was smart. I felt better knowing this about her, for some reason. It brought a smile to my lips for the first time today to see her (or him, I am never quite certain) gleefully punching the tavern patron next to her.
Some sneaking through the city, to the restaurant owned and operated by Mr. Viktor Blutfaust. But by the time I arrived, it seems the action was already getting started. I attempted to distract the single guard outside but failed miserably. However, once inside, an explosion took me by surprise. Mr. Blutfaust exploded right in front of our eyes. It wasn’t something I did, I could only guess by the looks on Melior’s and Roscoe’s faces that this also wasn’t their doing either.
A fight broke out and Victor of our group decided to high tail it out of there so fast, I don’t think anyone realized he was gone until afterward. I didn’t want to engage in the physical fighting… well, a Lady should only use force as a last resort anyways, but my… condition kept me from giving in and throwing down with the rest of the group. The others all proved to be capable fighters and we ended up sneaking upstairs via a secret passage way that Melior and Sam opened together.
Upstairs we found an empty bedroom, a cache of weapons of various types including some explosives. Melior seemed to find some kind of tonic that rendered her blind for awhile and a very nice bathroom, which under different circumstances, I would have loved to bathe in.
During our escape out the upstairs window, we decided to burn this restaurant down. My heart raced, not really knowing where Tomas was, hoping if he were near, he would escape this too, so as I threw one of my explosives, I said a quick prayer to Tymora, the goddess of Luck, to protect him. then ran to escape myself.
After seeing us so quickly reported to the authorities, I knew one thing, we had been set up. Maybe this was a lesson that I should have had a gut feeling about early on, but Never trust a Beholder seems like a sensible thing to take away from all of this.
Getting back to Gilley’s place was a bit more dangerous than I would have liked, too much attention was drawn on me, which under the circumstances, was not exactly what I had hoped for. Gilley rushed me inside and I waited what seemed like an eternity for the rest of our party to arrive.
Once reassembled, all except for Victor, I might add, everyone had a bit more information to tell, but the one thing that stood out in my mind was Drina’s boyfriend Geph. Geph was associated with the Raven Queen. I had heard of them being a cleric has allowed me to meet with other people of different faiths and learn of other cultures and teachings. But the Raven Queen was one of the more obscure factions. And because of that obscurity, it brought with it a bit of mystery and dread. I would need to do a bit of research about this cult to further my understanding of their teachings.
At least we all made it back safely enough, except for Victor. And Daddy was informed of what had transpired too. I was glad he had arrived, for I was counting on the gold to keep me in my nice suite a little longer, at least until I sorted out the mess in my head concerning a growing… issue.

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Behind the Barding: "A Heart Shaped Squeezebox," The Emotional Journey of Roscoe Tosscobble
Episode 7

We now return to VH-D20’s Behind the Barding: “A Heart Shaped Squeezebox,” The Emotional Journey of Roscoe Tosscobble.

After months of aimless wandering, Roscoe had found himself in Tok, enjoying steady work with The Monsoon for a few years. Pay was solid and the job was rewarding, but soon enough change was in the wind, and a storm was a brewing, with a whirlwind of trouble as all hail was breaking loose… tsunamis.

I wasn’t really considering branching out and working with a group. I mean I had a good thing going all my my lonesome, I’ve been a solo act for years, ever since losing Bosco, and I just… I… look, I’m sorry can you turn those off, I need a minute… I said turn those off!

Change would come in the form of a would-be super group and the one gig that would change all their lives. Roscoe and four others met that night in the back room of the Harlequin & Chalice to see the organizer. It would be a meeting they would never forget.

I’m already feeling uneasy about this, hanging around with a bunch of strangers, so when this Beholder comes in, calls himself Maestro. Now, I’m fixing to leave, things are just getting to weird. But then he explains the job, simple enough. To simple really, and I’m a cautious type, but the pay was extraordinary, and saying no to a betentacled abberational shoggoth from beyond the mortal planes didn’t strike me as a good business decision long term.

Roscoe and his new group act were commissioned for a limited engagement at Der Schnitzelhaus for a private performance for Mister Viktor Blutfaust, a local civic leader and business owner. It would promise to be the show of a lifetime, and the group knew they had to knock ’em dead.

Are… are you doing the innocuous euphamism thing? No, we were hired to kill the guy. Like I say, simple job just, what are you trying to lighten this up or something? I killed people for money, friend, there’s really no glossing that over for your audience, you can’t… actually, who are you doing this for again? I’m not sure that there’s any kind of broadcast medium I’m aware of on this plane, which makes this feel like a kind of poorly-worked-out conceit you don’t know if you’ll be carrying on week-to-week if… look, nevermind.
So what happened was me and Melior headed up to the place to stake out the venue for… I mean the site of the, see now you got me doing it. So we head up to the restaurant, she gets stopped by a few Bloodfist toughs, talks her way out of it no trouble. Apparently everyone else was in the middle of some drinking game thing or other, I come to find this out later, good to know we’re all taking the whole ‘murder a gang leader’ thing seriously, you know. But whatever, these guys were new to this, my job as the ‘old hand’ to show them how it’s done. Mel and I stake the place out, find a hiding spot, when the other three show up and make themselves inconspicuous on the street as the mark shows up."

And when they were finished, the audience erupted. This would be the explosive performance that would get them all kinds of attention in this part of town.

…um, okay, so ew, but yeah, that’s exactly what happened. I put the guy to sleep, we’re tying him up, and then the damn guy exploded. Like, literally, burst like a meatloaf pinata. Knocks us all unconscious. Time we wake up there’s a few of these bloodfist thugs on us, we fight our way through a few, but one calls his buddies up on us. Gotta think fast, so I tell the others to head upstairs through this secret passage in the meat locker. They all run up while I hide in a corner and pull a little trick I like to call the Splodey Barrel Flim-Flam, scares this rush of Bloodtusk thugs out of the restaurant and I make my way out with them. I get to an adjacent rooftop, we work out a plan to make believe the fake explosive I set up in the kitchen went off, torching the building with some of the high-quality liquers available there and leaving little evidence that anyone was there. Or so we thought…

The hot new group act was burning through the town, fame following in their footsteps. The news travelled fast and soon their names and faces were on the minds of all of Tok. It was such a quickly popular performance they had to sneak their way through town to avoid being mobbed by throngs of fans and hangers-on, and it would all culminate in a reunion performance back at the Harlequin & Chalice later that day. And though the atmosphere was jubilant, tensions were high.

Somehow, our names and faces all got leaked to the press, mine too even though nobody had seen me make my way through town, I had the blessing of the trickster from Madame Valentine that day and was, I mean not too toot my own horn, but an exceptionally sneaky bastard that day. So we split up to head back to the H&C, me riding back on Samantha’s camel. By this point none of us had seen Razz, figure he ran off when the guy exploded, none of us could find him. For all we knew he could have been the one who tipped us off to the press.

So we get back, barely escaping with our lives, and I’ll be honest, I’m paranoid as hell. I’m interrogating the bartender, this tiefling girl Drina who was there too, trying to get any information about this Maestro… thing, and getting nowhere. No money, and we’ve been clearly set up, and it’s all going to hell. Promised myself I wouldn’t get into a hole like this, you know? Kept trying to be careful, and here I was. We didn’t know anything, at least not yet, except that we couldn’t trust practically anyone but each other, and barely at that. But anyway, the show had to go on, party in the bar held in our honor for killing the head of the Bloodtusks, and we weren’t dead yet, so yeah, whoever held our fate in their hands, apparently they were better disposed to have us alive than dead. I had been in worse places.

And by the end of the evening, another command performance had the crowd cheering their names, singing along to the tunes of the concertina. Everything seemed on top of the world for the newly formed supergroup, but what would come next for them? We find out, when Behind the Barding continues.

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The First Strike of the Panther

Excerpt from the best-selling book “Dramatic Heroes: Stylized Accounts of Your Favorite Adventurers”

It was winter, and little nine-year-old Samantha Greer felt chill knives and silence, wrapped in a generous hood and cloak. Sam believed in the insulation and, more importantly, the vague empathy. No fabric gift, however, could totally counter the usual weather. A quick dirge came out as a whimper, swallowed by the atmosphere:
= I can’t dance. Hungry…
Ice had formed around the border of Sam’s hairline. The time of day was irrelevant against the grey foreground. Sam trudged on, mindlessly following a mysterious, winding path perhaps newly imagined by some trickster god. A malevolent muse. Whatever the most efficient path to cover the city was, Sam’s intuition came close.

Sam’s drifting brought encounters with some churches and wealthier establishments. Either out of detail or desperation, Sam would occasionally rap upon embellished doors.
The receiver of one aristocratic home gave Sam special pause:
- Look, kid, if I help you in particular, then I should do the same for all kids like you, right? I can’t afford that, so no. Shove off.
Emphatically reverberating the slam of the heavy, laden door, Sam looked down and considered. The heating activity from talking, regardless of the existence of listeners, was welcomed:
= There’s not that many of us… Quierris, Seaice, Shaice, Otiian, Marthyra, Fhairies, Hortumal, Magstina, Grakas, Coraga, Corthana, Adokul, Ricdak, Zinnacaryn, Gursaadi, Panster, Elendithas…
The list stopped with a choke at the name of an almost-friend whom Sam found frozen a few days ago: his meaningful, blue eyes were staring at one wall of the stone corner he thought of as home for those last few hours. At the time, Sam pried away the dead child’s unfinished fistful of precious bread, shut his eyes, disturbing the light frost built upon his inert face, and walked away from a corpse. Sam was then the living champion of rock-skipping, but there was no fanfare, just the quiet indifference of the ambient bleakness.
After sobbing over the acquaintance’s death, for the first time, at the ornate door, Sam turned away, uttering a juvenile curse. The intent and power was clear.

Whatever it meant to Sam, lumbering continued, the morning star eventually proclaiming the official onset of callous darkness. Every step crumbled some novel paragon of Sam’s resilience. At some horrible, dark hour, a tantalizing scent caught attention. For the destitute, the smell of food is a strange sensation: it is both familiarly attractive and also bizarrely new. Sam’s limbs found new power to propel the small starving system toward the source of the alluring sensation.

This miserable scene would be burned into Sam’s memory for all of time. A human child, younger than Sam, male, was picking at a full cooked chicken, probably discarded by a rich local family for petty reasons. To Sam and the new opponent, this trash was worth life itself. The epitomic environment solidified storms and liquified architecture with deplorance and apology; poignance became a tangible and infesting thing for that incredible, idiotic instant. Death hung in the air, stealing away any understanding of peace.

Sam was hungry; Sam was powerful; Sam was desperate. In a defining, swift motion, Sam marched toward the meager human boy, obeying an angry, apt passage. The boy stood and cowered, emaciated and sick. Sam did not care in the slightest. Sam was stronger. Sam snatched at the poor boy’s collar and wrenched his piddly weight in cruel directions. Sam’s expression was blank and fierce, seemingly possessed by the very concept of war. When the feeble competitor was pointed away, Sam lashed out with a tightened, talented fist.

The rival child landed in snow, terrified beyond all comprehension. He was afraid of the sudden murky presence, the new horror story. A ray of crimson connected the boy and Sam, gruesome blood from his mouth. He staggered to his tiny feet and scampered away, now truly fearful of old tall tales. Sam stalled, but instinct kicked in and the ragged victor descended upon the stolen feast. Within minutes it was nearly gone, and finally, once rationale could enter again, two teeth were found embedded in Sam’s weaponized hand.

There is a special kind of frantic emotion in animals that is rarely seen or noted in sapients. It is truly a spectacle, though, when it happens. Sam fully understood the particular feeling after that successful gorging: the bony lumps had worked their way along tendons all the way to the middle of the hand during the furious youngster’s meal. But they were real now, noticed, partially understood as alien. Sam panicked.

The word “desperation” does not totally serve here. Young Sam worked at the ugly opisthenar arena for hours, stabbing with rocks, gnawing with ironic jaws, sobbing the entire time. After agonising, bloody hours, the bits of bone gave way and fell to crimson pedestals in the snow. Sam’s cloak was soaked in blood and sweat and tears when the clumsy operation was done. Exhausted, Sam collapsed upon the plate holding the remains of the latest conquest.

Sam awoke to the typical din of the hours and also to a new kind of pain: spears and lightning strikes, originating from the knuckles that once housed a random kid’s skull bits. Without concept, Sam just slept in that sad corner with a trashed plate of grease, hoping to wait out the damage. After several more hours, the pain was completely debilitating: an inferno wound its way all throughout the vagabond’s structure. The inflicted child occasionally gathered the strength to lick the plate for treasured sustenance, but Sam could not muster the will to move. This dumb, conquered corner of urbanism was really Sam’s, forever.

Sleep filled the days. Sam ate snow for hydration and licked at whatever surface even suggested the possibility of nourishment. By day four, Sam was in complete delirium, still hunched in the captured corner. The infection in Sam’s hand had taken over with a disgusting green crust, and Sam’s eyes and face had a necrotic coloration. Any movement was torture; any speech was torment. Passersby sneered and looked away from Sam’s incoherent moaning; some threw trash or scraps toward the diseased thing on its multi-colored smear in the snow.

As dusk approached, Sam met a strange new feeling: the wet searing passed into the background, allowing an odd, meek relief to appear. Sam went quiet and sat up straight against the wall, eyes wide and forward. Colors in Sam’s vision became vibrant, shapes crackled at their edges, and sweet light was everywhere. Sam’s thoughts were dominated by looping madness, led by pleasant, grotesque guides. Something essential was ready to burst through Sam’s forehead and float away, finished with what it came here to do. No more heard Sam in cosmic language. The world began to disintegrate at the periphery but was suddenly blocked where Sam saw the familiar dark mountain of a figure. As close as it felt, the end did not come that day for Samantha Greer.

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The Lost and Found of Tok
Or how I was blinded by the light.

From Melior’s Personal Log:

I woke up blind.

And no, not just raging hangover, “Oh Gods, my head!” kind of blind. I couldn’t see. Something smooth and cold was clamped tight as death’s grip in one of my hands. A bottle. Drinking. I’d been doing a lot of that last night, celebratin’ our great success at the Chalice… I lifted my head slowly and through bleary half-focused eyes I saw an empty in my clutches and a human girl in the knot of blankets beside me on the bed. I regained some semblance of normal vision and came aware of a Raven Queen insignia on this broad’s cloak. Great.

I tried careful as can be to gather what’s mine from what ain’t and make my exit. The bedded gal stirred and I fell into my old rasping “Missy Halfmoon” voice, hunching over and making claims I thought this was the coat check, and apologizin’ something fierce. Seemed she was none the wiser, so I sneakfully moved further. But I don’t get too far. Next thing ya know, I tripped over a bottle and she’s bolt up, asking where I’m off to. Gotta tell her somethin’… “Oh hey babe, I’m totally coming back up. Just gotta go and check in downstairs.” She seemed accepting and flopped back down, asleep before she hit mattress, I reckon.

Plenty of activity already, or plenty still ambulatory from the night previous… hard to say. Judgin’ by the state of the place, the latter may be what’s what. Miss Lorelei was talking to our Lady of the Drink, so I whistled for Mr. Slinksalot and pushed out into the alley afore I heard anything about any supposed ill-advised words or deeds I may or may not have committed.

Pancakes. That’s what needs to happen when one finds his or herself in this state. Roscoe was tossin’ his guts onto the cobble outside, but was of a mind to agree on pancakes. Sam, Lorelei, we’re all headed across the way to Danny’s with a resolve to sate our breakfast-starch deficits. Orders placed, we got on to the more interesting part of piecing together the evening. The Madame had a fair feeling her daddy’s the one got those blasted Spell-n-Says to stop pointing their magic flip-card fingers our way.

Just as we’d all of us crammed forkfuls into our faces, some jittery mid-age gnomish fella strolled on in and made a pastime of throwing glances our way. Now, I don’t know the chap, but he’s presented like a tradesman of some sort. Guess he felt our collective visualized inspections, ‘cause he decided to approach. No funny stuff, not threatening-like, but right up in our sightlines. Introduced himself as a journalist. Named Nibben Inkwell, I think. (Being honest, I wasn’t listening all too close. Didn’t know him and didn’t care to, this point.)

Sammy’s good for a spot of entertainment or sport any time of day or night, and told the guy we’d talk for 1gp each. That got ‘im near foaming at the mouth with questions. Tossed coins haphazard on the tabletop and started in with the queries. “What is our super vigilante killer group called? Why’d we do it? How?” So on and such like… I zoned out a bit. Miss Madame and Roscoe took an iced-over front, not sure we should engage with the press. We did say we don’t have a statement as of yet. Almost felt sorry for the guy, pen all aquiver and gettin’ nowhere with us.

Slinky started munching off my plate since I was neglectin’. Mr. Inkwell spouted off some local developments what proved interesting and I plain forgot there was maple-soaked heaven afront of me. The Business Council found a full on functioning gold mine under what’s left of the Tusker’s burnt up husk of a HQ/snitsell-house. Tourism board snapped that right up as shinin’ opportunity number one. We all mulled this over and I suppose we bored the journalist to death. Made ourselves ambulatory again and gathered up the check, but come to find it already paid up for us. A note’s waitin’ alongside, and we’re instructed to go to the H&C, now. The wax seal is familiar to us, at least in legend if not actual likeness – a fancified number 7. Our waitress was shaking in her apron as she handed it over. Got a look in her eye like she wants us to be on our way.

As we were just about to steppin’, Miss L asked if we are loyal to Monsoon. Each of us answers to the affirmative, in varying degrees of earnestness. No sooner did we drop boots into Gillie’s than she waved us upstairs. Not a word or sip of drink offered. Shrugging and tramping up the wood steps, we made our way up and found the hall to be extra long. Elongatified to a weird and unnatural stretch. At the far end, a door with a ‘laborate number 7, what ain’t ever there afore in all my reckoning, drunk or sober. Our Lady got to investigatin’ magic-wise. Said the number was wrong, something off about it. There’s not a doorknob on the blasted door, so I stood confounded as to the ingress and soon my interest in this whole thing dwindled like the last cinder of an abandoned fire. But not our sharp Madame, no sirree. After a bit of magicking, she pulled that note out from her pocket and fit that waxen seal right into the same seven what was on the door and a falsified panel slid away into the wall.

A thin mist seeped out of the walls, or the ceiling, or somewise we can’t stop it. Soon, darkness cradled me off to sleep better’n a tankard of mead and a pretty girl’s bosom…

I awakened in the traditional manner: on a cold stone floor with a pounding headache and my dearest gettin’ his whiskers all up my nose. Coaxed my lids aflutter and saw all of us was boxed up in a stone room, ten feet to a side. Not a window or door was apparent. The only feature to the place were some metal funnel things in the corners and in the walls. Good ol’ proactive Sam got to talking in one and we was treated to a booming “SILENCE!” shaking our very bones. The voice continued, tellin’ us we done well, and asking us to keep up with serving by clearing out some greenies what are holding up business at the gold digging site.

Roscoe’s big ol’ yap opened and a gushin’ of talk came out. How we got hired by that big eyeball on a cart, and how Blutfaust exploded afore we got to doing diddly shit to him. Rossie accused the disembodied voices of gettin’ played. The funnel-gang fell silent a tick, then told us we gotta keep up the front, for the good of Monsoon. A bit more hemming and hawwing and we reached agreement, accepted the mine clean-up job. Then, like dawn on the docks, a mist poured in and we all dropped into repose again.

It ain’t much past midday, so we came to the accord of heading out straight away. A military-like surplus store became a short pit stop and Roscoe stocked himself with all manner of paranoid-hitman paraphernalia. Meantime, I fed Sam’s tower of love and fur a sugar cube and Slink seemed to be curious of such a larger critter. Bet that camel and ferret will be best of friends afore too long…

We arrived at our destination without further interruption and it looks deserted. The entrance to the mine, now obvious amidst the rubble, yawned afore us like a monster’s gullet. Lady Lorelei made her dagger glow and we tried to get a better vantage into the mine shaft. While we was all preoccupied, crew of renegade tuskers ran up, think’ they got us cornered. Miss seemed to search among them for someone in particular, but don’t find who she sought. She asked after a “Tomas” and the green-skins said they don’t know. They assert that we lot should “prepare to die”. Ha.

We scuffled, I threw some darts, made some thrusts and punches. Ros worked some minstrel magic and sat stealthy-like behind a partial wall. Miss Lori ran up and just touched a guy: I swear, just a single gloved fingertip, and the tusker fell dead. Sammy fired off some crossbow bolts. The damn tusks beat on us some, I dropped a guy wailing on Sam. Not long afore we got 6 of ‘em down and one’s left. Some talk, some tying of his hands and feet. Blah blah and so forth. Sammy and me decided to poke around the mine a little and Lorelei and Roscoe stay topside to talk to this lonely fool and look out for others closing in on us.

We find torches what had been discarded and light ‘em up. Slink’s curled around my neck with eyes shining as we enter the mine. Not too much to see, really. Tunnel starts out straight and true, leaning down into inky black. A mine cart on tracks stands alone. We continue down, not seein’ any rights or lefts in the path. Down, down some more, thin bands of gleaming yellow struck my eye and I pocketed a chunk of gold-ribboned stone. We found where the down-slope evened out, and it was awe-strikin’. The size of it. A cavern like an elder dragon could have a romp. And on the far side, multitudes of other tunnels fanned out. This gorram mine’s gotta lace the entire island with underground passageways. No wonder the damnable green-skins got such a hold. Sammy-cat and meself decide that, whilst we’d love a gander at these cris-crossin’ of tunnels, we best check back with the Miss and Bard topside. So up and up we went.

Some kinda sorcery the likeness I never seen was manifest once the waning day met our eyes again. The tusker’s leather was making efforts to eject from its host, but got all bunched on the binds what held the wearer’s wrists. Lori-lass and Roscoe was fightin’ against it, by the look. A’course, Sam and me can’t neither of us say “nay” to a tussle with the unknown, so we jump in. Soon enough, the rogue leather is put down, but the “un”fortunate tusker wearing it is dead. Like, DEAD-dead. Miss Lorelei cut away some scrap of the leather vest with a kinda marking on it, musta been important. Just as we’re departing, a guard decided this was a fine time to come into our business. We talk a bit, negotiate. (Well, less me and more the talkers of our fine lil family of outlaws) Finally we’re all of us able to get on our way.

Apparently, a meetin’ of the Council and public is convening this eve, to discuss and vote on how to deal with the green-skin menace. Every one of us seems amenable to attendance, so that is where the lot of us head. Ros makes a beeline for the central seating area, with the stuffed shirts and old money of Tok. Madame L goes along as well. Fitting for her, though. Me, I’m fine just with watching the tuskers publicly shamed and/or deported and found a spot where’s I can see off to the fringes. Sam ended up nearby where I stood, which was just fine and dandy by me. Folks of all types file in, and not too long a time goes by than I found Roscoe and Lori back to us in the outer ring. Turned out, that inner ring requires a special ticket or pass or somesuch. Roscoe’s intent on infiltrating and got a stub offa some official-type. With that I forge a fake second for our lovely Madame and wish them good luck. Little time passed afore the both of them found seats with the rich and powerful.

Boring opening formalities ground on and on. Eventually the topic of whether or not to uproot and remove the pestilence of the tuskers came up. I popped a bottle of that throat-varnish I found a day previous, and proceeded to get besotted. Handed one off to my Sam-sam who began the same. All sudden-like, a big brute of a green-skin with a full entorage storms front and center. Dumps a bucketload of gore in the middle of the floor and glares at us all, darin’ anyone to object. Mr. Viktor Blutfaust Says he’s tired of this oppression and that he and his are leavin’ Tok. My lil gnomish heart pounds and I yelled some choice obscenities, chucked a half-full bottle their way. The crowd gets to following my shinin’ example and bottles get tossed about. Riot-level vocalization swells.

A terrible booming thunder and quaking of the very earth below us stunned us all silent as the dead. None other than sweet pretty Miss Lorelei, fire in her eyes, steps up and calms us all, beggin’ this tusk to stay. Tomas. I wonder at just who he is to her to spark such a reaction. A glance between them, or maybe I just imagined it, and he and the other tuskers tromp off and into the night. People were going nuts, everyone is everywhere at once it seemed. The press descend like vultures. Miss Lori ran off toward that Tomas I reckon. I’m still belligerent, a’course, and suddenly Sam was in my face, askin’ what my problem was. I scowled and spat out somethin’ like how the green-skins are trouble and how in all my years of travel not a one has done me anything but harm. Sam got defensive (which, if you’ve met Sam, you’d know can be a mite imtimidating) Said half-orcs were people same as anyone, and how they were friends growin’ up here on Tok. I grumbled that I was going to the bar and smashed my last bottles of that orc-spirit drink I been carrying.

Fullness of night consumed the Isle by the time I made it to the Chalice. Sat on the corner stool and ordered some Gnomish fluff of a drink. Not my usual, but Drina knew not to press me about it, bless her. A few rounds in, the others appeared. Sam took the stool adjacent. We got to talking a little and I admitted I had been royally screwed over by humans, tieflings, and others over the years, but there were always good souls who balanced things out. Never had a good interaction with half-orcs though. Never. I like Sam, and Madame Lorelei, and if they both feel tuskers are worth a damn, maybe I just got dealt the unluckiest hand in life as far as interactin’ with ‘em. With a graceful nod and smile, Miss Lori halved her loaf of bread and left me part. Went over to the fireside, givin’ me space. Sam and I drank together a spell longer. Slinky inevitably left my neck to nest in Drina’s auburn locks.

Such was the night until a squirrely gent in goggles and a big coat made himself known across the bar. Fella was covered head to foot with various gadgetry and fumbled with one such device even as we encircled him. After introductions, Roscoe engaged the poor sap. He asserted to be Kevward, a monster tracker or hunter or somesuch nonsense. Sam egged on Ros, who wound up this sucker. Talkin’ of finding bigfoots or banthas or boogeymans. I dunno. All in all, it was hilarious.

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Seabound were we
Or how I got caught in the riptide

From Melior’s Personal Log:

Sea spray and outstretched skies. Gulls screaming and the steady moan of the drivewheels. I ain’t felt this alive an’ free in decades! Four days we’re cradled in the gorgeous metal hold of a Snazzclank class ship, keel ringing like the battlecry of a goddess. Snazzclanks are Gnomish in design and manufacture, but are one of few such vessels made to accommodate a mixed crew. Still, our loftier mates seemed a bit scrunched. Mr. Bhalasar for certain, precipice of a man he is. Seems too polite and longsufferin’ to let a complaint slip, though.

Iffin’ my compatriots had a grumble about the ol’ girl’s dimensions, I wasn’t attuned to hearing any of it. This crew’s multi-racial, sure, but enough are Gnomes. Enough to do things the way they ought to be. The steadfast sway of “Ehnsooleymoe” got me all nostalgic and afore you could say “Ol’ Leenakveau”, I was singing my heart out with the deckhands. Played more than my fair share of Kvar Tempesto below deck, too. Forgot how much harder it is against other Gnomes. Half of us had our pets with us: running cards, giving signals of who’s bluffing, knockin’ shit over. Tricky bastards! Slink and I loved every bleeding second of it.

I spent a lotta the daytime up in the stacks and rigging, tight-rope walking and soaking in the view. Let my hair down and felt the wind toss it about some. Mr. Slinksalot skittered up to the top of the main mast, made friendly with someone’s tuft-eared squirrel and spent a good deal of time on top of the world up there. Can’t say I blame him. Meantime, I took notice of the navigator and his optics – Stormsea, my Ma and Pa’s mark of trade. I gave ‘im an approving nod and a gleaming smile, but didn’t say nothin’ to pin my own self to the name, a’course. Navs tend to get my knees all jellified, and this one was a fine specimen indeed. Tall by Gnome measure, with a wild scruff of coal-dark hair and green eyes what looked a little angry. May’ve spent some “down time” in his bunk, ya know what I mean. Not necessarily the marrying type or nothin’, but a delightful tumble.

The hours flew by. I have my doubts that I slept more’n a couple winks here and there. Watched the sun peek its first rays over the endless horizon, curled under a woolen blanket with Kristof (the Nav). Felt the swell and pitch of the waves carrying us, moving with a living pulse what just lacks on land. Got rightly besotted at an indecent hour and placed bets for who could hop the most paddles on the drivewheels without going overboard. (Note: ‘twas not I. A wirey kid from the boiler room whooped us all.) Dried my clothes on the steampipes and sprawled out in my skivvies on the deck. Selfishly grabbed what sun I could while we had nothing pressin’. Danced on tabletop to the rhythm of spoons and wail of tin whistle. Almost slipped outta my professional decorum and gave these guys my real name at one point. No good could come from that… Fuck’s sake, Melior. Keep it together.

Went through that entire damn barrel of wine with these gearheads, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even when we spotted the Isle of Axespray upcoming, I could barely believe we’d come so far in what felt like a blink. After planting feet on Tok, I had not thought to return to a seagoing life so soon. And I never believed it could keep such a tight clutch on my heart.

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Four Days at Sea
Or sweet dreams are made of these...

The vessel we were set upon was certainly not built to accommodate someone of my size, I noted immediately. But, it wasn’t that it was too small, it just wasn’t plenty big. Never having been out to sea before, I had looked forward to it. Having heard many tales from others throughout the years of adventures at sea., I had an image of what life out on the open sea might be like. I soon learned that real life sea adventure really meant trying to keep one’s meals from coming back on them.

Thankfully, the only reprieve from the sickness came when I remembered the small vial that Gillie had given me just before we departed the “Harlequin and Chalice” for the last time. It was during those moments of relief that I could really understand the draw of the sea. It’s breezes were like no other, the sights of the open sea’s expanse was breathtaking and terrifying at the same time. One could imagine how easily it could be to get lost out here and just sail on through eternity.

Sleep was welcomed too, because during my restful sleep, I had many dreams of a life that I certainly wasn’t living. Usually, not openly romantic, my dreams were. Many times, I would fall into a sweet dream of my Tomas. Seeing us together, raising our child and making many happy memories together. It was upon waking and feeling the boat’s rock and sway that reality would come crashing down onto my shoulders once again.

Being out here away from the city of Tok, it was easy to pretend that things were different. It helped to ease my troubled heart to think and day dream of the family life that I wanted. Feeling now that somehow, some way, things will work out, I would allow my thoughts to be as whimsical as they wished to be. I once even caught myself wanting to sway and hum a light tune while I watched the others on board. Most were busy doing this task and that. But their busy buzzing about made it easier somehow, for my imagination to pretend that things were better than they were.

Whatever the outcome, I was not in my own reality during this trip. When we hit solid ground I would force my mind back to practical matters, I rationalized. And there were going to be many realities yet to face that I had no idea of while in this dream of my own creation.

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In One Day, the World Grew So Large
Midnight thoughts by Samantha Greer

My eyes flutter open from an already-forgotten fantasy, dropping the imaginary scene in lieu of the softly swinging glow of a hanging lantern. This illuminated oscillation was all the evidence I needed to know for sure where I was and what was real.
= Hell’s bells, it’s true. It wasn’t a dream, and I’m at sea. Bhalasar really did come back.
Booga chortled mid-snore next to me on the floor, as if to say “oh course, you silly thing.”
Opposite Booga was the unused bed in my room, demoted to the role of a mushy table, elevating my few belongings.
My sleepy gaze meanders back toward the pendulous light. So much has happened so quickly these last days it’s dizzying.

Melior, Lorelei, and even Rosco! The three goofs all agreed to accompany me an’ Bhalasar on our big trek to the main continent. I guess they must have their deeper reasons, for sure, but sheesh it’s almost like there’s some bizarre overseers pushing us around, contriving reasons to keep the Cloak and Hammer cohesive. Nah… that’s all bollocks. Besides, I’ll grant I haven’t got the best track record on whole “working with others” thing, but I dunno, somethin’s different this time.

Anyway, we got on this boat Bhalasar picked out. A Gnomish ship, typed as a Snazzclank, called the Bronza Falko. A name like a dancer and the personality of a card player, a little garish and a lot smarmy. Ain’t gonna win any beauty contests, but damn if it weren’t charming. Never been on a boat before and certainly never at sea, so I was just giddy. I guess I had been since B showed up during dinner the other day. Embarrassing, a touch. I can still feel those looks the two gals gave me. All’s forgiven in time, though, I suppose, rolling over on the floor, dreading how I must’ve looked.

I was a kid at the carnival. Bounced from crewperson to crewperson, asking ‘em all what they’re doing, how things work. Some were plenty amicable, while others told me to buzz off. Tch… usually that results in the jerk’s face being shoved through the floor, but I just let it all slide. What the hell is wrong with me!

My stomach lurches with an echo, reminding me of one nasty difficulty. Yup, never before been on a boat, so lordy did I get sick. Barely a hour away from dock, I spent a few minutes making modern art over the side when B, fountain of knowledge and tricks he is, makes a suggestion
- Get as close to the center of the vessel as you can, Sam. There will be less movement there.
Good advice, that was. Booga followed me back to my room, which was appropriately placed enough. After close to an hour, my gastromachinations calmed, I wander back out to the deck.

That’s when I found a whole new little world of ropes and riggings above me. My fancy was tickled and my strength was back, so away I went to get my blood moving up on high. Near the top, I saw Melior chatting up a Gnomish fellow with a big fancy eyepiece. We traded waves of our hands and she gave me a gesture toward her new friend that clearly spoke “hey, check out what I found, wink wink!” I left ’em alone and dangled in the salted air for a bit, soaking up the new environment. My universe was suddenly much larger.

Dusk approached as I traversed back down the web of fibrous structure. The crew seemed to have settled into a phase of as-needed maintenance: conversations and games between small numbers of various folk littered the surface of our big ride. Lorelei appeared to be humoring some travelers, and Rosco made himself comfortable by some interested in tales and tunes. Bhalasar sat alone by the ship’s edge, pointed eastward. Longing for his land and responsibilities, I suppose. I felt sad for him, thinking
= You won’t get rid of me so easily now, you old bloke. I’m with ya for good.
My stare must have impacted him, because he turned to face me, throwing back a tiny nod. He had his head covered again as usual, but I knew he was looking right back, like he was challenging me to stop exploring and sit by him. That could wait. A noisy yelp behind me distracted me and B took the moment to look back over the ocean. I noticed an animated dice game of sorts with money involved, three gnomes and a human teenager sitting on the floor tossing six-sided numerical tools against a wall. Now here we go, I thought, sitting down with them and anteing up in a smooth motion. Nervous but open, they accepted my sporting foray and we melted away a few hours until the dinner ring sounded.

The Cloak ‘n Hammer all sat together, along with B. We talked about nothin’ important or memorable, just let our manners and types bounce off each other. Funny, we all barely know each other, only a few days still, but look at us, going on this big ol’ adventure like we all owe it. I guess that’s somethin’, and I’m pretty okay with the idea. Bring on the next day!

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