That night, while Baffin shared watch with Ophelia, the bard discretely returned the two bars of gold he had earlier lifted from the wagon. None had seen him swipe the bars, none had seen him put them back. Treasure taken, boldly or cleverly, from a real foe or challenge leads to glorious tales of legend and song. Who sings about stealing gold already stolen from innocents to pay for a war against more innocents?
Downcast, Baffin approached the tree where Nameless rested.
“Nameless?” the bard whispered. “Are you awake?”
After an agonizing pause, the gnoll responded flatly, “Yep.”
“Look, I’m really sorry about wanting to return the Dassen gold and arguing with you earlier. You’ve got every right to feel like you’ve earned that gold. You did die to protect me, when I screwed up our escape.”
“Yeah,” Nameless sighed, “I’m not happy about it, but I’m not happy about arguing either. Let’s put it behind us.”
Nameless dropped the four gold bars to Baffin, who promptly caught the first one with his upturned face and fell flat on his back, knocked out cold.
“Uh, what are you guys doing?” Ophelia asked with some confusion, as she approached the conversation but now saw the unconscious bard.
“Is he okay?” she continued, as Nameless, amused by the irony of his greedy friend being sent to dreamland by a brick of gold, ambled down the tree to check on Baffin.
As Baffin came to his senses, Ophelia asked again, “Are you okay?”
“?Que?” replied Baffin in a daze.
“I’m outta here. You guys are too weird for me,” Ophelia burst out, as she spun on her heels and walked back toward the rest of the camp.
Baffin and Nameless looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
“Here, take these,” offered the bard. He handed Nameless two healing potions. “It’s all I’ve got, and it’s the least I can do to repay you.”
“I did die,” mused the gnoll.
“I promise you, I’ll repay your lost gold. I don’t know how, but I’ll do whatever I can.”
In the morning, Vennman shared his discovery of two alcoholic potions, a green one and a red-orange one, possessed by the Ragesian interrogator.
“Hmmm,” thought Baffin, “I wouldn’t trust any tools of the trade used by a tiefling who professionally tortured people.”
Too late, Moog was convinced to try the green one. After the first swig, the goliath lost awareness of his surroundings and began hallucinating. A second swig knocked him out completely, drool running from his mouth. Baffin quickly plucked the green vial from his senseless friend. Snow wisely withheld experimenting with the red-orange potion, which she had eagerly obtained for its alcohlic content.
The rest of the day was uneventful, save for Krystin waking Moog from his stupor, and the day turned to nightfall near a ridge in the mostly open plain.
During the first watch, Baffin talked quietly with Torrent about how to bridge the split between her and the party. The veteran of the Gate Pass resistance made her position clear: help take down Leska and her Inquisition. Baffin countered that his primary concern was for his comrades who were under a blood oath to serve Phaetos, while he and Torrent were free to interfere and hopefully save them. Torrent quickly offered the full aid of the resistance and Gate Pass once the threat of Leska was removed. Nodding his head, the bard agreed to focus on ending Leska’s reign … at least for now.
Later, during the third watch taken by Nameless and Snow, Baffin was dreaming of a feast and sighing in his sleep, “meat pies, meat pies, meat pies, meat pies …” when he awoke to the sensation of someone rummaging through his pack, which he loosely held in one arm. Warily, he cracked open his eyes and saw Snow fondling her way through his possessions. Fascinating … was she trying to be friendly? She hadn’t really taken an interest in the bard, other than giving him disapproving looks and passing judgment on him. Perhaps his charm had wormed its way past her tough exterior? Nah, probably not.
After a few moments of considering her clumsy attempts to pilfer something from his pack, Baffin calmly inquired, “Snow, what are you doing?” and gave the shifter a hard stare.
“Um, I was looking for a roll,” blurted Snow.
“No, you weren’t. We both know that. What were you really looking for, Miss Kettle?” Baffin wasn’t sure if the shifter knew the saying about pots and kettles, but the bard seethed with anger. He found it the height of hypocrisy for Snow to hold her harsh moral attitude about him touching her pack but then she breaks her moral stance for her benefit. Miss Kettle indeed.
“A roll. I’m hungry,” Snow said in a small voice as she continued her bad bluff.
“Fine. Here’s a roll,” Baffin replied. “And, Snow, don’t ever try to steal from me again.”
The night’s excitement included Ophelia touching Krystin’s bracelet, getting blasted backward, and setting off Vennman into thinking the party was under attack. The wizard’s piercing magical light and shouting woke everyone needlessly. In addition, while Snow was doing a poor job of stealing from Baffin and lying to him, Nameless disappeared into Krystin’s dream to meet Phaetos, who wanted an update about the efforts of the Six Traitors to release him from his tomb. Luckily, the gnoll reappeared after only a short absence.
The next day the party traveled a great many leagues before reaching the edge of a marsh. Torrent recommended stopping at its edge for the night and traversing its treacherous paths in the morning. With a full day, the party should be able to reach the elven city of Suthegeard at the heart of the marsh.
For obvious reasons, Baffin chose to share watch with Snow.
“Snow, what did you really want from my pack?” demanded the bard. “I know you were lying to me about the roll.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the shifter simply responded, “I wanted the green potion.”
“Well, why didn’t you ask me for it?” Baffin asked in bewilderment.
“Because I didn’t think you would give it to me.”
“I wanted to give it to Moog, because it seemed to … help him forget his pain and his lost family. But you were against him or anyone trying the potions.”
Hearing Snow’s sincerity and realizing that the potion could indeed lighten his friend’s mood, Baffin responded uncomfortably, “Okay. But only if you give me the other potion.”
“Deal,” Snow agreed, and they exchanged potions.
“Snow,” reiterated Baffin, “Don’t ever try to steal from me again.” His anger was quiet but deadly serious.
Baffin felt the burning sting of the other children laughing at him. He didn’t know what part of Ptolus he was in. Earlier that day, his grandfather, a stern eladrin that Baffin had seen maybe once or twice, had swept into the small, squalid apartment that Baffin and his mother currently called home. The father and daughter — Baffin’s grandfather and mother — argued, their usual graceful composure obliterated by anger, hatred, and grief. The father knocked his daughter to the floor and forcibly pulled his grandson, Baffin, away. Eladrin retainers barred Baffin’s mother, and the young half-elf was dragged screaming out of the apartment by his grandfather.
The boy was bound at the wrists and ankles, gagged, and blind-folded by more retainers, and then he felt himself lifted into a cart and covered by a rough blanket. As the horse-drawn cart meanderd its way slowly through the streets of Ptolus, Baffin cried and felt sick with terror. Hours later, the cart stopped, and the cool evening added to the boy’s shivering.
Baffin heard the driver dismount and then the soft breathing of the horse. Suddenly, the boy felt someone reach under the blanket and cut his bindings, nicking his arm with a sharp blade. Before Baffin could recover, his abductor galloped away.
Soon enough, street urchins slid out of the shadows to inspect their new victim, a scrawny half-elf sniveling in the back of an abandoned cart. Too late, Baffin noticed the dirty and sneering faces surrounding him, practically all of them orphans and definitely all of them human. With shouts of glee, they jerked the dumbfounded boy from the cart and dropped him to the ground, all the while pummeling him, ripping his clothes, and laughing. Starting with nothing but that mocking laughter, Baffin began learning the lessons of the cruel streets of Ptolus.
Baffin let the anger wash through him and drain away.
Following Torrent’s advice was a very wise choice by the party. Travel in the marsh the next day was slow and dangerous, especially with the gold-laden wagon on the narrow and winding marsh paths. Not until evening did the party reach Suthegard, the city of the marsh elves.
A waterway was the only way into the walled and dark city, and the gate sentries helped the party to enter on two ferries. Once inside, the adventurers encountered a funeral procession for a child and observed the ritual cremation of the city’s dead. After the ceremony, the party was greeted briefly by the city ruler, the Matriarch, and then escorted to lodgings at the Yellow Inn. By all appearances and behavior, the marsh elves proved to be hospitable, polite, and friendly hosts. A welcome change that nonetheless provoked suspicion in everyone’s minds.
After a wonderful evening of entertainment, including a singing contest and crocodile wrestling match both won by Moog, Nameless chose to sleep in the stable with the wagon of gold. Baffin also chose to sleep in the stable for that reason but also to avoid being pestered by Snow and Moog.
During the night, Baffin dreamed of a strange figure bearing a lantern and pointing to an ancient building within Suthegeard, and in the morning, the bard felt an unbearable urge to find the building. Baffin discussed the vision with his comrades, and they all agreed to see where it led, though Torrent and Baffin himself were reluctant to delay their mission to reach Seaquen. Krystin claimed the mystery was important and swayed Torrent to investigate.
After breakfast, the group of adventurers went on a boat tour of Suthegeard to locate the ancient building. In talking with their tour guide, a middle-aged marsh elf, they learned that the figure in Baffin’s dream was known as the Lantern Bearer, a myth from long ago who was cursed to walk the city because of some evil act. The guide dismissed it as just stories, though he admitted his grandmother believed she once saw the mythical figure.
Along the tour, the party stopped to visit a magic shop run by an elderly marsh elf, who happily sold the party healing potions and ritual components. He also helpfully examined the magical potions, staff, and cloak previously owned by the tiefling interrogator. The shopkeeper was rather amused when told people were drinking the green potion – he said it was normally used in a bath, though he could not be more specific about its purpose.
Returning to their tour, the party reached the northern part of the city, where the oldest buildings could be found. Sure enough, the party found the building in Baffin’s dream, and to their surprise, the body of a young boy buried in the backyard. The grave was at least 25 years old, and the body had three gold coins ritually placed over it and a dagger staked in its chest. Nameless, with Baffin’s blessing of course, palmed the gold coins while reburying the corpse.
Suddenly, Snow had a flash of recollection of her dream from the night before … the Lantern Bearer pointing at another building. The party readily agreed to continue investigating, which led them to the western part of Suthegeard and dilapidated buildings where the working class and construction elves lived. Behind an abandoned house matching Snow’s dream, the party confirmed their fears and found the grave mound of a young girl, buried more than 20 years with the same ritual placement of coins and dagger.
The bodies of two children ritually buried, in a city that cremated their dead, prompted the adventurers to inform and warn the Matriarch about the horrifying discoveries. They returned to their guide and asked to be taken to the keep to meet the Matriarch. When they reached their destination, the guards informed the party they would have to wait until the morning for an audience.
On the way back to their rooms at the Inn, Baffin stopped in a tavern to chat up the locals about any recent mysterious happenings. Though the citizens were clearly uncomfortable with the subject, the bard did manage to learn that the unfortunate child cremated on that first night the party entered the city had died from violence, that several children had unexpectedly died in the last few months, and that no strangers had recently taken up residence within the city.
That night Ophelia dreamed of a tower bathed in moonlight from a full moon shining directly overhead …