- internal strife on The Dirty Swan results in the sails catching fire
- the companions board the vulnerable ship
- the monk officers are defeated, an onyx shard consumed by Sil’s child
- with the Impervious on the horizon, the companions make for port in Augustana
- they are met by Grin, plans are made to sail for Highhelm
- the onyx shard on the Dirty Swan is confirmed as the one that the Mage’s Guild was investigating
- the companions sail up the river to Highhelm
A cry from the crow’s nest draws the attention of the crew. The lookout points vigorously in the direction that the Dirty Swan had sailed. Purple bands of energy arc across the enemy ship and combat can be seen on the aft castle. The rigging and sails are aflame, bringing the vessel to a stand still as the crew attempts to control the fire. The Dirty Swan is a sitting duck.
Wishing to take advantage of the situation, the companions issue orders to attack the vulnerable ship and signal their intent to their allies. As they close the distance to the Dirty Swan, the companions observe the monk officers overcome and subdue their captain. Soon thereafter, the crew loads cargo onto several longboats, which are let down violently into the water. The small boats orient themselves toward the shore and begin to row. The Kraken’s Spite breaks off to pursue.
One of the rowboats suddenly explodes. Given its proximity to the Dirty Swan, it results in critical damage to the hull. Upon further examination, the companions discern that the cargo that was loaded on the rowboats are large powder kegs. The small boats, manned by slaves, are a feint, a diversionary tactic to buy the Dirty Swan time. On the horizon, a large dark ship appears. Given its size, the group assumes that it is the Impervious, a slaving ship operated by the Hellknights and affiliated with the Dirty Swan.
Wishing to free the slaves, but understanding that time is of the essence, the companions devise a plan on the fly. Anton volunteers to be loaded into a ballistae and fired toward the rowboats. Before he does so, the swashbuckler gives Sil’s child to Lando. Anton gives the thumbs up and is launched into the air. As he nears one of the vessels, he uses an ability to transition into gaseous form, allowing him to slow his rate of descent. He positions himself above one of the rowboats before returning to halfling form. Landing on-board with a flourish, Anton deactivates the powder keg before it detonates. The swashbuckler’s bravado earns him much respect among the slaves. The cheering proves short lived, however, as the last of the rowboat explodes before Anton is able to act.
By this time, the Bloody Vengeance and Cetaceal have reached their target. Their respective boarding parties are met with little resistance aboard the Dirty Swan. The slave crew is, for the most part, busy combating a fire that appears to be growing. This allows the companions direct access to the aft castle, where they are met by a group of monks. The officers have a purplish aura about them.
The monk officers are engaged in a vicious melee battle. With the assistance of the crew of the Cetaceal, the officers are brought to heel. As expected, the purple aura emanates from a dark onyx shard thrust through one of the officers. The battle ends with the shard being consumed by Sil’s child. As in prior experiences, the shard fuses with the child’s chest, bringing further definition to a growing pattern on his body. The boy’s growth continues, reaching a size where Lando has trouble carrying him.
With the Impervious bearing down, and the battle with the flames lost, the companions direct the slave crew onto the Bloody Vengeance and Cetaceal. The slaves cheers as they leave the ship in flames – it is not likely that the Dirty Swan will make it through the day. The Vengeance and Cetaceal link up with Anton and the Kraken’s Spite as they race toward the Andoran city of Augustana. The coastal city is well protected by multiple forts, making it a dangerous expedition for the Impervious should they wish to pursue the ships. Further, the port is well known for its shallow-waters, which would pose a significant challenge for the Impervious to pilot. As expected, the Impervious abandons its pursuit, instead anchoring outside of the range of the fort’s artillery.
The companions are met at the dock by Grin Glintmoss, brother of Dune. The dwarf appears somewhat dumbfounded. He relates that he saw the group load into a ship for hire earlier this very day, which he assumed was destined for travel up the river. The companions advise that they just arrived in Augustana, and wanting to direct the conversation away from potential time distortions, ask Grin to speak in private. Retiring to a local pub, the group is brought up to speed on what is required to obtain the dwarves’ backing. They will need to prove their worth through a tribute of valour, duty, and trust:
- Regarding valour, Grin confirms that the Blood Queen’s head will serve as an appropriate trophy.
- The tribute of duty will require an exceptional service to Highhelm. Grin advises that the dwarven capital has outgrown its natural borders and is considering expansion into the Depths of the mountain. The dwarves, a subterranean race, originally dug their way up from the Depths in a journey known as the Quest for Sky. After building their mountain-top hold, a stronghold known as Deep Scar Keep was constructed to block off the Depths. Since abandoned, the Keep is now home to other subterranean denizens. Clearing the Keep would likely qualify as sufficient service.
- Lastly, the tribute of trust will require gaining the acceptance of a friend of Highhelm, a tall order given the dwarves’ distrust of non-dwarven peoples. Grin suggests speaking with Balim Black, a jailor at the city prison, and a trusted source who can provide further guidance regarding an appropriate subject.
- As a small token of appreciation for their efforts, and in recognition of Romica’s return to his homeland, Grin provides the hairy dwarf with a High Forged Helm (+4 vs blinding, +2 vs deafening effects).
The conversation returns to logistics. Grin has the ability to contract vessels to transport the companions up the river to Highhelm. The cost conscious companions prefer to go with the Bloody Vengeance and Kraken’s Spite. Given reports that the Hellknights are in the process of sending search parties into town, the companions wish to set sail as soon as possible. Grin is happy to oblige and bids adieu so he can attend to preparations to leave later this afternoon.
With limited time to spend in Augustana, the companions next track down the local agent, Hezband, that Garvey had identified in his research. The operative is not difficult to locate and a meeting is arranged. As he had reported to Felwicks, the Mage’s Guild representative that had travelled to the region, rumours of the onyx shard were traced to a local noble who was later found dead near the docks. Through some great deductive work, the companions piece together that the shard must have transitioned to the captain in port, before Sil’s child consumed it on the Dirty Swan. The companions thank Hezband for the information.
Mystery solved, the companions return to the docks for a status report. Grin has arranged for supplies, which are in the process of being loaded. The Bloody Vengeance and Kraken’s Spite will be ready to leave port shortly. Given its Andoran affiliation, the Cetaceal will remain in Augustana to help protect the city from the Impervious. While the officers are gathered, the companions brief them on the events that occurred on the Cannibal Isles. Those present are elated to hear that the Blood Queen has been overthrown and the local inhabitants put back in charge. They will do what they can to aid in the rebuilding of the Isles. Regarding the Chieftain’s daughter, someone matching her description was reportedly taken to Castle Vraid, a Hellknight stronghold located on the coast somewhere north of Cheliax.
The ships well stocked again, the companions, with Grin in tow, bid the crew of the Cetaceal farewell as they set sail for the dwarven city of Highhelm. During the trip, the companions discuss how best to raise Sil’s child. Given his rapid development, coupled with the inherent dangers faced during the companion’s adventures, it is decided that oversight of the child’s education and upbringing should be entrusted to Thuron and J-Todd. The decision appears to make all parties happy, although Anton, who has become quite attached to the child, sheds a few tears.
The journey proves uneventful, and the companions enjoy several well earned days of rest and relaxation. The Five Kings Mountains, at first a distant landmark, grow larger everyday and soon the companions find themselves on land again. Their guide, Grin, leads the group up to the summit of the Emperor’s Peak and the home of the fortress-city of Highhelm.
To know Highhelm is to know the history of the dwarves. Once the crown jewel of the dwarven empire, the city has endured countless orcish invasions, one of which resulted in the collapse of the dwarven nation. The primary reason for the city’s good fortune is its near-impenetrable natural walls – the city is literally built on the top of a mountain. Legendary walls aside, the city has also benefited from exceptional leadership, most recently under the watchful eye of High King Borogrim the Hale. As such, Highhelm plays an important role in maintaining, and perhaps one day building on, the dwarven nation’s once great legacy.
Once inside Highhelm, the companions decide it best to focus on completing the tasks that Grin laid out as necessary to securing Borogrim’s backing. With that in mind, the group heads toward the Inner City and the cavern that leads to Deep Scar Keep.