The story opened aboard Talia’s Vengeance, with the Onyx Mongrels debating the best way forward through the ever-spreading web of half-truths coming into view around them. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that staying under Magister Ducet’s thumb for the long term was a bad idea, but some disagreement remained on the particulars of when and how to part company with him. They settled for staying the course under Ducet’s command for the time being. Preparing to finally bed down after far too long on their feet, the party headed below deck, they heard a gurgled scream from the hold. A crewman was staggering up the ladder, clutching his throat tightly in an attempt to slow the spurting blood. The party steeled themselves, fearing the worst. Ducet’s vampire thrall was down there in her grave soil chest.
Tarsus swept quickly into the lower hold with Sindar right behind him. The rest of the party stayed on the main deck. Finn attended to the mortally wounded sailor to save him, while the others watched the passageway, intent on keeping whatever was happening in the hold from spilling into the rest of the ship. In the hold, Tarsus found the thrall’s chest locked up tight- whatever this was, it probably wasn’t her. Only glances of movement could be seen as something dodged it’s way from shadow to shadow down the length of the hold. At the far end, the hatch popped open and several blurs escaped into the light above. The party still on the main deck saw immediately what they were facing as two rosaga scouts popped out of the far hatch and charged down the passage. At an unseen command, Reece bounded forward and cut them off at midship, trapping them in the narrow corridor as Tarsus and Sindar came up from behind them. The battle proceeded at a furious pace, but only Reece was dealt a serious blow from a poisoned weapon and he retreated to safety at Teegan’s command. A third rosaga popped into view- one of the female spellcasters. She hurled a vial at on of her compatriots, but otherwise barely managed to get a spell off before being cut down by Sindar.
The vial’s purpose was revealed as the rosaga hit by it began to bulge in odd places and swell to several times its normal size. With the other two dead, the party poured everything it had into the ogre-sized rat and brought it low before it could wreck the ship. Once dead, it’s corpse began to putrefy quickly so the crew brought it to the weather deck along with the other bodies. Catching their breath, the part and the crew briefed the captain on what just happened below as others made a thorough search of the ship. The Vengeance had apparently come a bit too close to the sewers to pick up the party, and a few stowaways had slipped aboard to cause trouble for the people that had accidentally invaded their home. As the searched ran its course, the body of the enlarged rosaga continued to mutate and break down, becoming a mass of disorganized flesh that spoke of an alchemist somewhere that needed to scrap her formula and start over. Without warning, the quivering mass rolled over onto the body next to it, a huge maw opening where there should be none and swallowing the body in one gulp. Before any of the stunned crew could react, it swallowed the body of the second rosaga whole. Then the party members still above deck saw that the back edge of the thing wasn’t moving as it slid forward to consume the bodies- the thing was actually growing to consume them. As the damnable alarm bell sounded again, the rest of the party assembled on deck alongside the crew to fight whatever the hell this thing was.
With the Mongrels on deck to lead the effort, the crew was careful to not give the thing any sailors to feed on. It hit hard, dealing severe damage with every swing of its club-like lumpy limbs covered in gnashing teeth. Nevertheless, the defenders persisted and eventually overcame the thing- or at least subdued it. How do you tell if something like that is truly dead? Not taking any more chances, the remains of the beast were quickly shoveled over the side as the Vengeance cruised to its destination. At long last, the group made it to their various sleeping quarters for some well-deserved rest and recovery.
After waking later, Tarsus found himself hearing faint whispers on the wind, but unable to locate a source. Seeking refuge in a quiet area of the ship, he was able to focus enough to work the magic of his cloak as it tried to help him link with the leader of another cell of the Operatives’ Guild. Vivian Torro, the leader of the Bloodborne, had been trying to contact the Onyx Mongrels for a while. There was not as much time as they thought they would have, and at least one of their contracts was under immediate threat. She needed the Mongrels to get closer as quickly as they could, so she could teleport herself and Fari Sivoi aboard their ship and out of range of assassins. After exchanging a few more cryptic comments, the connection was broken. Talia’s Vengeance was soon making best speed toward the coast to get within the specified range. After many hours, Tarsus contacted Vivian again when Emile Harker informed the party they were now within the specified range. A moment later, Vivian and Fari Sivoi burst into existence on the deck amid a cloud of ashy smoke. Fari was bleeding badly from an abdominal stab wound, and Finn acted instantly, adding another saved life to his tally. Although she stabilized and her wounds closed, Sivoi was still deathly ill from an obvious poison coursing through her.
Sindar took a quick blood sample and went to work, determining in a few minutes that the poison was an especially deadly variety called Widow’s Kiss. It would not only eventually kill the victim, but would enable a period of will domination first, being crafted of tiny spiderlings that could infest the host’s nervous system. Worse, the poison should be impossible to create in modern times, being dependent on the eggs of a race of monstrous creatures long ago driven extinct. Yet here it was, slowly killing their charge. Unsure of how to proceed, the party decided to call home for any help that could be offered.
Consulting Ducet through Lana (his thrall on board their ship), the party received precious little help in relieving the poison. Ducet’s only available solution was to render her undead, and therefore immune to its effects. Unwilling to make such a decision for her, the party elected to expend resources to stave off the ravages of the poison until they could find a proper antidote. Then the conversation turned to Oxyr. The party learned a bit more about Ducet’s logic in sending them to rescue members of the Asad from assassination rather than going directly after Oxyr. He considered this wave of attacks just an opening move in a much deeper game. If assassinations against Riyaqan representatives known to favor the Empire succeeded, commoners would see the Empire as likely to retaliate. Then the Children could strike at the true conservative Riyaqan members of the Asad and easily frame the Empire for those attacks. At that point, cities all across Riyaqa would be tinderboxes of unrest against the Empire, the slightest nudge could ignite a full scale insurgent war. If this assassination plan could be interrupted in its infancy, then the setback may cause the Children to miss a step and buy additional time to hunt Oxyr, rendering the time lost to save these lives essentially neutral. Now, that plan seemed at risk of failure from a simple poisoned blade. Ducet promised to see what other help he could summon and get back in touch.
The Vengeance turned back out to sea to get further from the coastline and navy patrol lanes. Word would be travelling through the fleet even now that the Vengeance had defied its fleet commander while under flag of war- they were fugitives as far as the navy was concerned.
Just after dawn the next day, the wind turned, forcing the Vengeance to tack for several hours to maintain its course. Soon after, they spotted the sail of another ship- an imperial cutter. Since the Vengeance was a bit larger than the cutter, with taller sails, it was a safe bet the cutter had already spotted the ship’s unique sail plan on the horizon. Sure enough, it turned to intercept and the Vengeance quarterdeck watch began pounding the low drums that announced the coming battle. Although the Vengeance was normally a bit faster than even a fleet cutter, the other ship was in better position to take advantage of the wind and would easily close the gap to take at least one gun pass at them. It was a foregone conclusion to Arndt that Mueller would be seeking his head, and had doubtless ordered the Vengeance captured. As much as it pained him to do so, there was no way forward but to fight their way out again imperial sailors. Giving up would place Sivoi in too much danger, and Arndt had little doubt that Ducet’s orders were more important than anything the navy might have in mind.
Taking command from the officer on watch, Arndt asked the Mongrels to assist his ballista crews. Vengeance carried eight ballistae, but only enough crew to load and fire half of them at a time. With their help, ballistae could be manned on both sides and the Vengeance might gain an advantage if he could force the other ship into a turning fight. Thinking tactically, the party split up on different mounts to ensure each weapon still had a proficient sailor as part of its two-person crew. Sindar made rounds to quickly pass out true strike elixirs and Finn said some words of prayer for everyone on deck as the ships closed. Arndt’s maneuvering brought the Vengeance across the cutter’s path just as the ship came in range of the Long Arm ballistae, and the crew downed their true strike extracts and fired the first volley into the cutter’s lateral rigging. Arndt took a quick circle to bring the other side’s mounts to bear before the cutter could turn its own guns to face, and another salvo of ballista bolts soared across the gap. The cutter made the Vengeance pay dealer for that opening attack as the guns got their chance and obliterated two of the ballista mounts and their crews. As the remaining mounts were reloaded, Arndt struggled to keep the Vengeance out of the cutter’s gun arc. Thinking quickly, Finn drew his rod of reach and stepped to the railing. With a clear view of the other ship’s deck, he used the rod to cast a hold person spell on the other ship’s helmsman, locking the cutter into a tight turn that the Vengeance used to quickly re-establish position and fire. The bolts tore into the cutter’s rigging stays. The sails lost their tension and fluttered harmlessly in the wind as the cutter slowed.
The crew of the Vengeance knew what was coming as soon as Arndt turned toward the cutter’s port quarter, abandoning the ballistae and unsheathing swords as they produced boarding grapnels from the deck lockers. The crew of the cutter was arming themselves, as well. Moments later, the ships crunched together as the Vengeance scraped along the cutter’s side and grapnels were thrown over to make way for the hooked runner planks. Sailors poured over the planks onto the cutter as the boarding action began.
As Emi claimed first blood with her musket, the captain of the cutter produced a similar weapon and fired at Emi, hitting her hard with the shot. The rest of the party moved to impede the cutter’s crew and went to work. The battle came at high cost for both sides, but was thankfully short. Emi and the cutter’s captain exchanged fire for several seconds before the rest of the party was able to help put the captain down. When that happened, the cutter’s remaining crewmen surrendered. Arndt had his men at work immediately restoring the cutter’s rigging and moving supplies between the ships. He had a plan, it seemed. He assigned Blue to be captain of the cutter, and sent a skeleton crew aboard with him. Arndt kept several of his best men and took the cutter’s entire crew aboard the Vengeance. After moving their things to the cutter, Arndt bid the Mongrels fairwell and told them to take the smaller ship and continue their hunt. He would use the cutter’s doctor to care for Sivoi and continue with Ducet’s rescue mission. Only the cutter’s cook remained aboard as the ships parted ways and the Mongrels sailed for the gulf’s western coast.
Many hours later, Tarsus attempted to use his newfound cloak ability to contact someone from the Jade Ravens, who should be in the process of locating Oxyr’s camp. After a while he succeeded in raising their leader. She informed him that the camp was not a camp, but a small tent city of thousands of refugees from surrounding areas, with several hundred cultists moving freely among them. The rumor was that the Empire had been bombarding their villages for some time, and the Children had offered them haven here, far out of range of Empire guns. And somewhere in there, Oxyr had her partner in a prison cell, knowing that a rescue attempt was coming.
The story closed as the cutter continued sailing toward the coast, delivering the Mongrels into a situation far more complex than they first thought. But then again, that didn’t seem to make today special.
Two and a half days remain until the Asad votes on whether to accept imperial presence in Riyaqa.