After the havoc of fighting the Matriarch’s possessed son, a thankfully peaceful night passed. The next morning the adventurers met with the Matriarch at her keep, but clearly filled with grief and regret, she only spoke briefly to the party before returning to her private chambers. She had neutralized the threat of the Mandressa by imprisoning her son Darkon within an amber of stasis, and though Darkon was technically alive, the Matriarch mourned for her son and his lost life.
As a reward for stopping the Mandressa without killing Darkon, Captain Willamis informed the party that the Matriarch offered that the marsh elves would take the party by boat to the end of the marsh. More materially, she provided 600 GP and magical gloves, fingerless and woven from wondrous marsh reeds, a pair for each adventurer. Slipping them on his hands, Baffin wiggled his fingers and delightedly found his hand and finger agility dramatically improved. Useful perhaps for blazing through viciously fast tunes on his lute … or the next time curiousity gets the better of him and his hands.
Two days journey by boat, including a night’s stop on a marsh island, ended at a dock near dusk of the second day. Back on land, after two more days of uneventful travel, the party reached a road headed south onto a peninsula, and following the road, the adventurers soon smelled the tang of the sea. Cresting a hill, they could see below at the tip of the peninsula a walled city of light and, in the center of the city, a large tower made of blue and yellow stone. The party had finally reached Seaquen and the Lyceum.
As the party approached the city, they noticed scorch marks and other signs of damage on the tower of the Lyceum, and near the front gate, they found the outer buildings were smashed, burned, and abandoned. After being escorted inside by ten soliders, including Captain Merris, the adventurers discussed with the captain their business with the Lyceum and the case of Ragesian military plans and their run-in with Ragesian forces within Dassen. The captain, in turn, related that the Ragesians had recently somehow gained entrance into Seaquen, attacked the city, and stolen the city’s gold and some items from the Lyceum. The party quickly returned the recovered wagon of stolen gold to a slightly stunned Captain Merris. The captain, grateful and now judging the party to be allies, told them to seek Master Renn who was managing the day-to-day Lyceum activities, including its repair.
At the Lyceum, the adventurers found a harried young man in a library strewn with documents and scrolls as numerous people entered and left to get orders from the man. Introducing himself as Master Renn, he asked what the party wanted, but upon seeing Krystin, he demanded that she leave the room immediately. “Obviously a man of keen intelligence,” thought Baffin. Torrent took the hurt girl into her care as they both left. Good riddance. Who needed that spoiled, all-powerful brat?
“Who the fuck are you?!” snarled the young half-elf. Baffin stood in front of an old man sitting on a three-legged, wooden stool, but the two were eye-to-eye. The old man seemed amused by the question. Another human man, who had just removed the blind-fold and rope bonds from Baffin, was less friendly and barked, “Watch yourself youngin!” But the old man gently raised a hand and waved at the other to calm down.
Outwardly, Baffin was putting up a brave front, but inwardly, the skinny kid was scared. First, it had been a long time since someone got the drop on him and, even worse, tied him up like a bundle of sticks and carried him off. Also, these guys were not the usual pathetic wretches, petty criminals, and penniless rabble he had encountered during his life on the streets. On the streets of Ptolus, at least the ones where Baffin eked out his life, the denizens did not chat with you or preserve you for later conversations. No, you took, you stabbed, you ran, and then if you had any breath once you reached a place to trade in your loot, only then did you talk.
“You’re pretty tough for your stature, young man,” the old man mildly announced to Baffin as he looked the half-elf in the eye. “You’ve also got a talent for … how shall we say it? Negotiating a situation to your advantage.”
“Do you recall this?” he continued as he opened his other hand and held up a small locket of gold. It was a small locket, not worth terribly much, and barely the size of a grown man’s thumbnail.
Uh-oh, thought Baffin with chagrined recognition, as he said, “I’ve got bad eyesight. Bring it closer so I can see it.”
The old man laughed and nodded at the other man, who then pushed Baffin a step forward. The laugh made Baffin nervous, and now the old man was smiling as he slowly brought the locket forward to within an inch of Baffin’s face. A cross-eyed Baffin started to feel overwhelmed but gamely offered, “I’ve never seen it before.”
Now both men laughed at the lie, and Baffin started to flush with embarrassment.
“Come, stop with your lies,” the old man chuckled as he withdrew the locket. “I’m not mad at you, and I’m not going to hurt you. You had this item on you, along with some other interesting things, including a sizeable bag of gold for a street urchin.” At the mention of his bag of gold, Baffin slouched his head and made a sour face.
“Be calm. You might be able to earn your gold back, but surely this locket did not fall into your pocket accidentally.”
At ‘earn your gold back’, Baffin perked up and looked at the man again. What was going on? As a street orphan, and a half-elf on top of that, Baffin had learned to trust no one, except himself. Bully, humilate, and steal was how street children related to each other. Adults were worse.
Suspicious, Baffin quietly asked, “What do you mean?”
“Tell me the truth about the locket.”
Baffin stared at the old man to try to read what he really meant. No hint. The boy turned his head and peered up at the man behind him. The man looked down at Baffin with outward annoyance, and Baffin, sensing the man was also amused by the situation, finally asked in a cocky voice, “Well, what do you think? Should I accept the old man’s offer?” The man rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“Fine,” Baffin said evenly as he turned back to the old man. “Yes, I know that locket, and the fool I keep stealing it from. He pays quite well each time he gets it back. Now what do I have to do to get my gold back?”
Without a word, the old man turned to reach behind him, and when he turned back to face Baffin, he held a small bag in one hand.
“Here,” said the old man as he pushed the bag of coins into Baffin’s waiting hands. Astonished, the boy immediately dropped the familiar bag, scattering gold coins around his feet. Dropping onto all fours, Baffin quickly started picking up his gold, while the old man continued talking.
“You have a rough life on the streets of Ptolus. No home, no family … a few punks you work with, but no real friends. Yes, we’ve checked around about you. You’re tough, you’ve survived as a street orphan for this long. You’re smart, too. Duped one of my men for weeks now with your locket stealing scam.”
“I’m Hayman Knapp, Guildmaster of the Longfingers Guild. Would you care to work for me and my Guild, and would you like a home here?”
Baffin smiled fondly at the memory of meeting Hayman and joining the thieves’ guild of Ptolus. Hayman was an old-fashioned, “honorable” thief, and the Longfingers instilled his philosophy into their members. They also policed their own, which fortuitously for Baffin meant catching the young half-elf taking advantage of a slow-witted member of the Guild. Baffin marveled again at the remarkable transformation in his life. Alone, hungry, and homeless, then suddenly the kindness of Hayman, apprenticeship with true friends and comrades, and meals and a bed at the Guild.
Master Renn’s voice brought Baffin back to the conversation. “Meet with the Council this evening, and they will determine the proper course of action for this magical case you bring. In the meantime, take this marked silver piece to the cafeteria. It will provide you entry and whatever dinner may be available.” Yes, obviously a man of keen intelligence.
As the adveturers headed to dinner, Torrent and Krystin rejoined them. While eating a second and third helping of the adequate Lyceum fare, Baffin mused, “Clearly, our agreement with Krystin to help her and her poor father through the Fire Forest has been met. She caused us a lot of heartache, especially Moog, and I don’t see any reason for her to stay with us. It was a shame that the poor man passed away, but the girl is now safe here in Seaquen, though pity the unsuspecting citizens. Better, the Lyceum would be a logical home for her to apprentice and gain better control of her power. She’s dangerous to us, and we’re not proper guardians for a child anyway. She could be Leska’s child for all I know.”
With dinner finished and settling nicely into the bard’s stomach, it was time to meet with the Council. The Council consisted of fifteen mages who were human, elves, half-elves, and even a few half-orcs. The head of the Council, Master Ken, had a stern demeanor, and though he was abrupt, he did run an orderly meeting while allowing everyone to have their say. He also had perfect hair. In the end, the Council agreed to send Master Howenrack, a drow wizard specializing in magical locks, to rendezvouz with the party later at The Glass Window inn.
At the inn, the party obtained rooms, and about forty-five minutes later, Master Renn came to their rooms with Master Howenrack. The drow set to work on the case, muttering incantations as he held the case in his lap. Sweat broke out on the wizard’s brow as he concentrated. Then suddenly, the case flipped open, and his tensed muscles relaxed.
Inside, the group found maps and papers that definitely looked like Ragesian military plans. Master Howenrack agreed to take the plans to the Council and magically send them to the Shahalesti Empire, as per the party’s agreement with Shialis. The wizard also mockingly noted that the case had a smaller magical compartment, but that he would not attempt to open it. Instead, he watched as Vennman, Nameless, and Baffin unsuccessfully tried to gain entry into the compartment. After Vennman and Baffin were knocked unconscious, the drow laughed and departed.
Oddly, Master Renn stayed behind and exuded a nervous energy, and after some conversation with the party, Renn admitted that he needed the party’s help. It was he that secretly let the Ragesians into Seaquen, because they had abducted his wife and threatened to kill her. Now, he thought the party could help him free his wife. He knew where the Ragesians were holding her, and he could lead the party there.
After a short discussion about Renn’s ethics and the possibility of being led into a trap, the adventurers were swayed, particularly by the opportunity to kill more Ragesians. Baffin fleetingly wondered about sampling the inn’s dinner menu, but was happy to go on a rescue mission with everyone else. So the party immediately set out for the Ragesian camp with Renn as their guide.
Several miles outside the city, the group reached a bridge, and on the other side, they could see the fire of a camp. As the party attempted to sneak across the bridge, Baffin took the lead and gained the other side … and miraculously slipped behind a few hidden Ragesians without notice. A trap! Hidden by a magical glamour, a half dozen or so Ragesian archers had their bows aimed at the rest of the party still trying to cross the bridge.
All hell broke loose after Baffin unleashed a magical blast of energy that scattered most of the Ragesians, and Nameless, Moog, Vennman, and Snow charged into the fray. More Ragesians joined the battle, and Moog, Nameless, and Snow took the brunt of their attacks. At first, Vennman got knocked around pretty good, too, but soon, the wizard and then the bard were on the fringe of the battle casting magical attacks from range. Meanwhile, Moog and Nameless held the center of the battle, while Snow skirmished from flank to flank.
Seeing that Nameless and especially Moog were getting hammered by the Ragesian commander, Baffin provided magical healing to them … and none to Snow, who had made it clear she did not want the bard’s help. Despite the internal squabble, the party finished off the Ragesians and looted their corpses and their camp. In the process, the adventurers freed Renn’s wife, and the couple was happily re-united.
Nameless, however, was far from happy. Angrily, he snapped at both Snow and Baffin to apologize to each other and stop the feud within the pack. Neither seemed inclined to give in. Every fiber of his being and every experience of his gnoll life made the situation incomprehensible. Packmates help packmates in need. Packmates trust each other. Packmates rely on each other. This behavior was not a healthy pack. What was the pack now?!
Lacking resolution on the conflict, the party trekked back to the city, and on the way, they decided to warn the Council of the Ragesians they found and fought just outside the city. Some undetected enemies could mean more were hidden around Seaquen.