- the companions are invited to a feast, Romica is to be recognized as a son of Highhelm
- many dignitaries are in attendance, including a Hellknight contingent
- Baelim the Black challenges the Hellknight champion, Romica participates in his stead
- the Hellknight champion, Madrian Vox, makes short work of the battered dwarf
- Grin updates the group at intermission – they must leave at once, Borogrim will attempt to extend the feast as long as possible to cover their exit
- the companions sail for Everstand accompanied by Grin’s son
- the waterways prove dangerous to navigate, various challenges are faced on the journey
The companions are well rested by the time the dirigible returns. As they ascend towards the city once more, the pilot presents them with an invitation from Borogrim himself – Romica is to be honoured at a banquet feast this very day. With little time to spare, Grin meets them upon landing to escort them to Stonehall, the palace of High King Borogrim.
As they traverse the streets of the Inner City, Grim provides some background on the present political situation. Besides recognizing the companions service, the High King hopes the celebration will temper rising tensions in the region. Emissaries from all the major factions have been invited. Grin has heard rumblings that suggest the companions may be in danger, although he is unsure why. Romica is to be formally recognized as a son of Highhelm post-intermission, providing Grin some time to do so digging. He recommends that the companions keep a low profile until the intermission at which time he will provide an update.
Waiting in the wings, the companions watch the introduction of the various nobles and ambassadors from foreign lands. In attendance at the feast are emissaries from the human kingdom of Everstand, the Chieftan of the Shoanti, and the ambassador of the Elven Alliance. Several dignitaries from the Hellknights are also introduced, including Lektor Sevarious, Captain of Citadel Vraid, his centaur daughter Madrian Vox, and Retrievo Publari, Head Priest of the Impervious. Although not surprising given the Hellknights trade relations with the dwarven capital, the companions were unaware that they had made the trip from Augustana.
Before the Hellknights are seated, they are verbally accosted by a squat dwarf dressed in black leathers. Whispers from members of the court confirm his identify as head jailor Baelim the Black. The grim looking dwarf steps forward to address the crowd, “Why do we host these so called dignitaries? The Hellknights boast of their martial prowess and yet fail to lift a sword except against the most weak and vulnerable of the Inner Sea. If you wish to share a table, you’re going to have to earn your seat. Who amongst you would dare test your mettle with Baelim the Black.” Although they have not attended a dwarven feast before, it is obvious from the tension that decorum has been breached.
The reproach draws a slight sneer from the Captain of Citadel Vraid who waves his daughter forward. The centaur does not appear intent on a friendly skirmish, “Father, forgive this misguided soul. He clearly has no understanding that we raised from birth with weapon in hand to champion the ideals of the Hellknights. I do not wish to soil his reputation any further.” Baelim unsheathes his weapon at the slight.
With a nod from Romica, Lando attempts to intervene, “Dear friends, we are gathered here today to join in celebration with our dwarven brethren. If entertainment is to be provided, I would humbly request that Romica, a dwarven champion in his own right, be allowed to participate on behalf of our good hosts. If amenable to all, I would suggest a friendly duel for all to behold. The first to draw blood will be crowned honorary champion of the feast.” Although Baelim does not wish to back down, High King Borogrim, looking somewhat relieved, quickly agrees to the proposal.
Intent to please the hosts, Romica takes centre stage. Before he has time to set himself, the centaur charges. Her expertise with the lance quickly apparent, she scores a vicious hit on Romica, dropping him to a knee. Madrian looks to her father, who swipes a finger across his throat. She reluctantly turns to face the battered dwarf again. Dropping her lance and pulling out an exquisite sword, she engages the battered dwarf in melee. Romica attempts to circumvent her advances with pure ferocity but fails. A well-placed lunge finds purchase between his armour, bringing him to a knee again. Madrian positions herself behind the dwarf for one last strike.
Lando quickly enters the informal ring, cup in hand, to toast the centaur. “Well done lass. I can truly say I have not witnessed such a feat of skill in this great hall before. Your dedication to the sword is a wonder to behold. On behalf of my colleague Romica and all gathered here, I would like to toast you and your father for the exceptional entertainment this evening.” A great cheer erupts across the hall. Unsure of what to do, Madrian accepts the offered chalice and knocks glasses with the gnome before returning to the Hellknight contingent. The companions carry a near-unconscious Romica from the hall in search of medical attention.
As the companions leave, High King Borogrim advises that a short intermission will commence after which food will be served and the feast will begin. Grin rejoins the group as Romica is attended to. His contacts advise that the Hellknights have come to Highhelm for the sole purpose of dealing with the companions – they are presently mobilizing in the harbour. The High King recognizes Romica as a son of Highhelm, granting Freeport the support of 100 dwarven knights. That said, with the Hellknights in attendance, he would prefer not to formally recognize him at the feast as it will be perceived as an invitation for war with Cheliax. As recompense, Borogrim plans to host an epic feast that will last well into the next day in hopes of keeping the Hellknights occupied for as long as possible, and therefore provide time to escape their grasp.
The companions acquiesce and return to the docks where their ships have been fully resupplied. As they plan to head north to Everstand, Grin offers the services of his son, Wes Bestern, a young ranger in training with intimate knowledge of the waterways in the region. To get to Lake Encarthan, which borders the kingdom of Lastwall where Everstand resides, they must travel through contested lands. The companions believe it a good idea to have a local guide and agree to take Wes on.
Before they set sail, Captain Karl of the Kraken’s Spite requests a word. He has heard stories from the crew of the Bloody Vengeance relating to their brethren in the Belkzen lands. Rumours of orcs mistreated in Everstand, imprisoned and tortured, experimented on and worse. He would like to confirm that the companion’s remain dedicated to their anti-slaving mission. The group provides assurances that their objectives have not changed. Beyond the disruption of slaving operations in the region, the companions wish to return the altar they carry to Everstand with the credit and monetary reward to be shared with the crew of the Kraken’s Spite. Appeased, Karl returns to his ship.
Wishing to put some distance between them and the Hellknights, the companions set sail at once for the small mill town of Haven, the last friendly bastion on the trip north before contested waters. As they sail, Wes provides an update on the region. Historically, the area has been controlled by the Urataqui people, a clan of indigenous humans that reside in small communities; however, they have been pushed south by the Wickawack, a unified tribe of ocrs, ogres, and goblin offspring. The Urataqui, known as a hardy people, have been shaken by several brutal attacks on isolated border outposts. The assaults were rumoured to be orchestrated by a powerful wendigo shaman and were preceded by a strange horn that caused the locals to fall into such a maddened state that they attacked each other. No bodies were recovered leading many to believe that the Wickawack consumed them. Lastly, Wes warns that crossing Lake Encarthan will likely prove challenging this time of year due to dangerous weather patterns.
The companions enjoy an uneventful journey to the Urataqui hamlet of Haven, where they resupply. Wes advises that, from this point forward, there are two potential routes that lead north – a western route that follows a winding, slower course or an eastern leg that is more direct but challenging to navigate. Given their head start, the companions believe caution is best and chose the western route.
Not long thereafter, the group is faced with its first challenge – a long flight of rapids leads to a gruesome metal gate that appears to be forged from spare ship parts. The gate is constructed like a large mouth, with jaws that can shift both left and right as well as clamp down. A second gate can be seen on the opposite side of a still lake adjacent to a stone tower. The companions are able to successfully pilot the rapids and manage to slow the ships before encountering the gate. The companions row to shore to investigate the mechanism in person. They ascertain that the structure can be magically triggered from a distance, say from the nearby tower. Romica puts his engineering knowledge to good use to disrupt the closing mechanism such that the ships are able to pass unharmed. Once through, the jaws are allowed to close and the mechanism destroyed, thereby hampering the Hellknights ability to follow. The companions return to the safety of their ships to traverse the lake and assault the tower. The resident guardian is overcome and the second gate passed with ease.
Continuing west, the river leads to a large body of water with three massive stones piercing the surface. Wes notes that the stones are sacred to the Urataqui people. They have been recently defaced and now depict rituals of human sacrifice. The companions move forward with caution.
The windy river suddenly straightens out into a long, straight and narrow section. About half way through this segment, a trap is triggered resulting in a large amount of ice and debris tumbling into the river. The Kraken’s Spite manages to speed up sufficiently to make it through the danger zone unscathed, although the Bloody Vengeance is not as lucky and is damaged by the falling wreckage.
Rounding a bend, the river narrows again to a choke-point where a massive stone lays horizontally across the gap. Wes points to one side of the river where rollers can be seen onshore. The companions investigate and, with a feat of strength, manage to move the large rock just enough to allow the two ships to navigate the tight gap. The rock is returned to its original setting for the Hellknights to deal with.
With little time to waste, the companions return to their ships to continue the journey toward Lake Encarthen.