The 10th day of Arodus, 4713 AR – night
The party wastes little time binding the hands and gagging the mouths of the three prisoners. Then Aakaif leads the group out the back of the tavern and into a dark, fetid alley. The air smells of piss, and leads promptly to a four way cross-alley. A slumbering drunkard is your only opponent here; the fellow looks up at you dazedly as you dash out the back of the place. Soon you have cut across two parallel running alleys, and emerge into the still-bustling Obari Market.
No one seems particularly concerned that you are leading a chain of three bound and gagged men off into captivity. After checking that no one is showing unusual interest in the group, Katrina leads the way towards the confluence of the Fish Market and a stretch of bustling stalls known as the Linen Casbah. While the others keep alert for trouble and keep themselves and the prisoners out of sight, she approaches a beggar who sits atop a rickety stool there, and hands over some coin.
“Information about recent events and rumors in town, and a private spot to stay for three days please, Hassal.”
The two share mutually pointless pleasantries with one another, and then gold changes hands (to the sum of 160-gp). Then Hassal hands over a key, and Katrina departs. You travel to the address that Hassal gives you, and enter. The place is a two-story building, stone, with a total of six rooms. Its original purpose is unclear, because it is now completely empty except for one room, which contains a bunk, a few blankets, a table and chairs, a lamp with a small supply of oil, a few candles, and a sagging wooden chest that contains perhaps a half dozen sets of local clothing, all of it travel-stained and well worn. A few items have old bloodstains on them. Otherwise the place is empty.
You sit the three captured smugglers down before getting down to business. Guards are posted on the lower level of the building (Aakaif, Raven and Igmar) while Kymrych, Katrina, Vinbar and Akorian see that the prisoners are properly secured. Then the questioning begins.
It turns out the fellow named Rani breaks almost immediately, and begs you to let him tell you anything you need to know. You ask your questions, and he has this to say: yes, a group of foreign women brought a single captive to the Viper’s Kiss, and hired the ship to take them south. They possessed Aspis Consortium trade disks, which the captain took in payment. The ship often takes on cargo in the name of the Consortium, and is paid very well.
The women kept to themselves during the trip, and did not mix with the crew. To be honest none of the three men remember much of anything about them. In the end the ship sailed for four days, and dropped the women and their prisoner on the Scorpion Coast, near a small, depressing little village known as Sollus. It should be easy for anyone with the right knowledge to find the place on a good map of the coast, you know – maps of the sort that Captain Gabby has in her day cabin.
Rani does not remember much of anything else. The news that agents hired by the Aspis Consortium have Omari does nothing to improve Katrina’s mood. Her preference is to depart for Sollus as soon as feasibly possible.
As for the prisoners, she is not one to kill those who have surrendered, but she will defer to the Night Swords regarding their disposition. As for returning the key to Hassal, she will leave the key in the safekeeping of an innkeeper she trusts, and then hires a messenger to deliver a sealed letter to Hassal with information apologizing for her absence and with information as to where and how to retrieve the key.
Once this has all been accomplished, it is nearing midnight. The prisoners are taken in hand, and the group returns to the Obari Market. There they make bulk purchases of salted beef, tried fruit, waterskins, desert attire in the manner of the native Yerbira nomads, and other bits and bobs necessary for survival in the deep deserts of this harsh and ancient land. Most of the market stalls are closing up for the night as you file back to you ship, and prepare to make sail for the southern Scorpion Coast.
Igmar, Raven and Katrina gather the other two prisoners, bind them, and then lead the entire group of five back into the city. Vinbar and Ashjorn come along to act as guards. This group heads on over to a nearby temple devoted to Sarenrae; Igmar knocks on the door, loudly, for it is the middle of the night. Soon a groggy acolyte arrives to see what all the fuss is about. Igmar explains that the five men are horrid sinners in dire need of patience, spiritual guidance, and hard manual labor to help cleanse the evils they have brought upon the world. The priests are only too happy to take the men off your hands, and then you return to the ship to find that Akorian has already rousted Captain Gabby from her bunk. She listens carefully to his orders, and rouses her crew as well.
Soon the sails are unfurled, and the ship made ready to get underway. Luckily for you El-Shelad possesses a wide and easily accessible port; it is not necessary to hire a pilot to see you safely out to sea, and thusly the ship is underway within a short period of time. By dawn’s first light you are well away from the city, and bound for southern seas. The sky is bright, clear and sunny, and the weather mild. You make good time as you sail ever southward, with the ashen coast of Osirion firm off your starboard quarter. Occasionally other ships can be seen in the distance; some pass north, others south. All carry rich cargos bound to or from the bustling markets of distant, exotic Katapesh.
You spend the following four days in any way you desire. Akorian in particular spends a great deal of time in his cabin, doing wizardly things. Whisper is never far from his side, as always. Katrina continues to read through Omari’s journal, seeking any new information that may be contained in its pages. One night, when the group gathers for dinner, you are told by Captain Gabby what is known of your current destination. It is thought that Sollus is a relatively new community, located as it is deep in the depths of the forsaken Salt Hills. The brainchild of either a brilliant or ponderously foolish Taldan merchant, Sollus was founded perhaps fifty years ago in an arid landscape that most people in Osirion consider to be cursed. Situated perhaps twenty miles north of the stoic monastery known as the Temple of An-Alak, Sollus is known to possess an extensive series of salt mines that provide the town with its sole source of income.
Eventually you arrive just off the coast of the location mentioned by your former prisoners. Gabby tells you the spot is known as the Virgin’s Reward; the reason for the name is lost to history, however. From the ship all you see if yet another featureless strip of desolate beach, bordered to the north by a rocky escarpment. Just beyond that escarpment towers a line of snow-capped mountain peaks – the so-called Shining Mountains. Legend holds that those peaks are home to many of terrible beasts, such as griffons, wyverns and rogue fire and air elementals.
The beach itself seems to be deserted. A party consisting of Ashjorn, Kymrych, Vinbar, Aakaif and Igmar is lowered into the ship’s jolly boat, and rowed ashore. The prow of the boat crunches into wet sand, and you scramble ashore one by one. Nothing moves in the rocks above, and all is silent and still, save for the rush of the wind and the steady pounding of the surf. The five explorers range a bit inland, and see nothing of interest. So the jolly boat is sent by to bring the balance of the party ashore, as well as the piles of supplies and equipment you have brought with you. Eventually all nine party members are ashore, and the equipment is divided up amongst you. Then you signal the ship to do as you’d previously instructed, and begin to head inland.
(NOTE: we need to decide what Captain Gabby will do while you are gone. It may well be that you have no need of a ship for the foreseeable future.)
The air is stifling and thick. Whenever the wind blows (which is constantly) a fine haze of dust hangs in the air, stinging your eyes, and make it difficult to both see and breathe. The sun hangs overhead, boiling all before it with a pitiless glare. Onward you stalk, taking a meandering trail that climbs up into the hills that border the ocean. Soon you surmount that row of hills, and leave the shoreline behind you. Before you stretches more hills – dry, desolate terrain, and all of it baked beneath a merciless sun. Sollus is perhaps two or three miles in from the beach, you know. So onward you walk, always keeping a wary eye on your surroundings.
(The current party marching order is as follows: (front) Aakaif (50 yards ahead) / Ashjorn & Kymrych / Katrina & Akorian & Whisper / Raven / Vinbar & Igmar (50 yards to the rear) – note that you can change this order as needed)
It is Aakaif who first spies the bodies on the trail ahead. He signals a halt, and the rest of you go to ground. Then the wiry Yerbira warrior eases forward with Vinbar, Igmar and Whisper close at his side. What they find is disturbing, to say the least: the corpses of what used to be three men litter the trail ahead. All have been dead for at least three days, and are swarming with bloat flies. The bodies are torn and ravaged, and appear to have been nibbled on by stray hyenas. All were clearly warriors, and still possess the various weapons and equipment they used in life.
There is also a third body, sprawled out a few yards distant from the others. It is punctured with many arrows, and is also putrid and rotting – you also cannot help but notice it has yet to be chewed on by the hyenas. Even the bloat flies seem to be disinterested in its mangled flesh. It is a horrid, disfigured sort of thing: a feral looking woman with tattered wings and taloned feet. Its wings are covered with dusty black feathers, and its teeth are razor honed and smeared with dried blood.
The others are soon brought forward to investigate. It only takes Kymrych and Akorian a heartbeat to recognize the creature as a harpy, a particularly dangerous beast that almost managed to slaughter the entire party during a harrowing expedition to Varisia. Akorian pauses a moment to pick up a long black feather from the ground, and eyes it critically.
“I hate harpies. Nasty creatures.”
“Yes, I do too.” Kymrych pauses a moment to peer at the surrounding rocks. “We should send someone on ahead to scout.”
“I’ll go,” Igmar says. Moments later he, Katrina and Aakaif have gathered, and move silently on ahead. Moments later they crest a short rise, and see a rocky mountain valley spread out below them.
The town of Sollus stands before you, perhaps 800 yards away. The buildings are of native brick, and there are few large structures, save for a central governmental building of some sort and a domed temple dedicated to Sarenrae. From the look of the town’s neat, tidy streets, nothing is amiss – until Aakaif spots the many dead bodies laying in the road. At first count there are dozens of them, although you are still too far away to be certain if they are human or not. At least some of the bodies have wings, however, suggesting that the creature you found on the road is not the only one to have attacked Sollus.
“Do you see anything moving down there?” Katrina whispers.
“No. It is a quiet as a tomb. I think—” Igmar pauses as sudden movement explodes in the town below. At first you think it is a large, predatory bird of some sort – you see a flurry of movement atop the largest building in town, and see a bird take flight…. Only to resolve itself into a more humanoid figure, winged, yes, but definitely not of natural origins.
“More harpies.” Aakaif nearly spits as he says the word.
One by one the creatures take to the sky, and begin to circle warily above the temple. Your best count suggests there are seven of them. They do not seek to land, however, and instead maintain their altitude for a moment. They then begin to sing. At this distance you cannot hear much, not really, but still the few tones you do pick up when the wind is just right are enough to tighten your belly into knots. Even as you watch, the door to the temple opens, and a man wanders out, stumbling blindly through the blowing sand and grit. The harpies shriek in joy, and three of them dive in with their talons extended. The man does not stand a chance, and is quickly torn to pieces. The three creatures then rejoin their fellows, and fly back to their roost atop the other building.
The bits and pieces of torn flesh lay where they have fallen. With this sight indelibly burned into your minds, you quickly make your way back to the others to report what you have seen.