Serpent Skull

Andy's Journal, 11th of Sarenith 4713

Rebellion!

When I entered the kitchen this morning for breakfast, I was surprised to find that Phi had left us. Leaving no word, she’d simply taken all her gear and, accompanied by Fi and the small flying lizard, had disappeared during the night. Though her survival skills and her magic were oftentimes useful on Smuggler’s Shiv – I don’t know that we’d have survived without her – I can’t say I’ll miss her surly demeanor and utter contempt for seemingly all humanoid races. The others seemed to share my ambivalence, eating in relative silence with little discussion of our erstwhile companion.

As we were finishing up our meal, a loud banging came from the front of the house and Jennie hurried to the door. I heard a deep male voice ask, “Is Andoran Flinn here?”

“Oh. Why, yes. As a matter of fact, he is.” came the answer, and a moment later Jennie re-entered the kitchen, pointing me out to a finely dressed young man who followed her into the room. The young man wore the crest of the Chelaxian House of Draga on his breast. On his left wrist perched a magnificent falcon.

“I am Brandon Draga, of the University of Egorian.” he announced haughtily. “I am to deliver this message to Andoran Flinn.” With that, he handed me a folded parchment that read,

Andoran Flinn,

I am pleased to hear that you’ve arrived at Eleder, even if it was not as soon as we had hoped. I’m told that you may have stumbled upon the lost city of Saventh-Yi. The university is very pleased to hear this and excitedly awaits your reports. This falcon can serve as a carrier to send monthly missives back and forth.

Headmaster Leroung

University of Egorian

I admit, I was more than a little dumbfounded at the speed at which this information had apparently reached the university and no less at the quickness with which they had located me in Sargava. A good reminder that secrets are difficult to keep in Cheliax. Even when one is not in Cheliax.

Draga’s voice brought me back to the business at hand when, seeing I had finished the letter, he declared with an audible sniff, “I will be leaving this wasteland now.” And, turning smartly on his heel, he strode quickly out of the bungalow and back into the city, pausing only to deposit the falcon on a small perch on the sideboard.

Just moments after Draga had gone, there was a second knock at the door and Gelik entered, followed by an outlandishly dressed stranger. Greeting us politely, Gelik gestured with his left arm, the steel pincer formerly at the end of it having been replaced by a black-gloved hand, adding, “This is Jade. She will be joining you on your journey.”

Jade stepped forward and greeted those of us around the table. She was a member of the race of Catfolk, jet black with bright green eyes and hair of the style favored by southern pirates. Her accouterments were also reminiscent of pirates: a bright red bandana covered her head and a large gold earring hung from one upright, pointed ear. Elvish-style leaf armor completed her exotic look. Gelik informed us that she was a cleric of Desna and a member of the Pathfinder Society. He then informed us that Amivar Glaur, the local leader of the Pathfinders, had requested a meeting with us where he would provide each of us with a Wayfinder, the magical compass used by every Pathfinder, and an ioun stone of our choosing. So, finishing breakfast, we gathered our gear and headed across the city toward the docks and the Pathfinders’ headquarters.

“All of the others – the Aspis, the Red Mantis, Captain Lewynn and her crew, and the Sargavan government – have all outfitted their own companies.” Gelik continued as we made our way through the throngs of merchants, beggars and other denizens of the capital. “They’ll all be heading for Kalabuto in the next few days. The leader of the Aspis caravan is a man named William Ravan.”

I started at the name. “William Ravan? Are you sure?” I asked Gelik. William Ravan was the bastard who took Kala! “Can you describe him?” I continued.

Gelik shrugged. “A fat man with black hair and beard. Why?”

That sounded like the William Ravan I knew and loathed. I didn’t answer Gelik. I was too busy remembering all the wrongs Ravan had perpetrated on sweet, beautiful Kala. I made up my mind to seek him out and have a little chat with him before leaving the city. But first we had to meet with Glaur.

As we approached the harbor, a column of black smoke could be seen rising above the rooftops of the city. The smell of burning wood increased and we began to hear shouts and screams. Locals passed us, running in all directions, shouts of “Fire!” and “The docks are burning!” ringing out from ahead.

Suddenly, the shouts of alarm turned to screams of terror and a mob rushed toward us from the warehouse district. Toshe’s arm flashed out like lightning, grabbing a dock worker by the elbow. “What is it?” she asked.

“Monsters! The Freemen have released a pack of monsters!” the terrified man screamed, tearing his arm free of her grip and bolting away down the cobbled street.

We looked at each other, and had just enough time to prepare ourselves before several creatures resembling Phi’s companion Fi turned the corner to the south. Just ahead of me, I saw Rarsk grow in bulk and muscle as up the narrow street raced a pack of small, bipedal lizards, each standing under two feet in height, but from snout to tip of the tail, longer than a man is tall. Tufts of brightly colored feathers grew from their heads and the ends of their tails.

I drew my pistol, stepped forward and fired at the foremost reptile. The shot grazed its long neck as it raced toward me, barely slowing it. When it was within several strides of me, it leaped, claws extended. I took several steps backward and it struck the ground just feet in front of me. The bullet had carved a deep groove just above the thing’s shoulder.

Simultaneously, a second raptor charged at Rarsk, a third at Toshe. Others surrounded three terrified Sargavans and began tearing them to pieces with talons and teeth. Rarsk reared up to strike, deep claw marks on his flanks, just as one of Toshe’s fire flasks exploded beneath him. Flames licked at two of the reptiles as the leopard’s fur began to smoke.

Behind me, I heard chanting and, unexpectedly, my confidence soared; a morale-boosting spell of some sort I guessed. The battle was certainly not going well enough to induce such a reaction naturally. Rarsk must have felt it, too, as his claws flashed, and the raptor in front of him fell dead with a loud screech, blood pouring from a large wound in its chest.

Realizing I had no time to reload, I stepped back a pace or two, holstered my pistol and uncoiled my whip. I looked up in time to see something silver flash by my head and bite into the neck of the small animal in front of me. A star knife sat there quivering for a moment, then flashed away in the direction it had come. Blood spurted from a small wound in the raptor’s neck. A moment later, the raptor was down; another victim of Rarsk’s claws.

With no target nearby, I stepped toward one of the beasts blackened by Toshe’s bomb, striking a glancing blow with my bladed whip. To my right, Toshe was completely surrounded by four of the small monsters. In desperation, she threw a flask at the nearest, catching herself in the blast, but downing one of her enemies. As the sound of that explosion faded, there came a deafening blast many times louder, seemingly from not far down the street. The lizard in front of Toshe dropped to the ground, blood leaking from its small ear holes. Another reeled away from a torn and bloodied beggar, stunned.

A bolt from Mwembe’s crossbow clattered on the cobbled street behind one of the lizard-things, but the monster’s luck didn’t last as it, too succumbed to the teeth and claws of the enraged leopard. I attempted to strike the remaining raptor, but barely scratched its thick hide. It seemed to take exception to that however, and its claw tore through my padded armor and into the skin along my rib cage. I recoiled in pain just as Mwembe ran by me and fired a bolt into the side of the creature. Taking advantage of the opening, I struck at it with my whip, the bladed tip cutting across its throat and finally killing it.

As the noise and confusion of the battle subsided, we checked on the three Sargavans but, seeing there was no saving them, we continued to the warehouse district at the docks. The city guard would presumably be along soon enough to clear the street.

From not far ahead, heavy smoke was rising high into the clear sky, and as we got nearer I could see that, of the four warehouses on fire, one bore the crest of the Aspis Consortium and another the seal of the Pathfinder society. I began running toward the burning structures.

As I neared the Aspis warehouse, a man’s deep voice rang out. “You!! Where’s Kala!? What have you done with her?”

I whirled to see a large, somewhat overweight, dark-haired man: William Ravan, now apparently the leader of the Aspis Consortium in Sargava. Caught off-guard, I sputtered, “Well, I could ask you the same thing. I left her with you!”

He lunged toward me then, but two Aspis workers grabbed him by the arms, while two others stepped between us, holding him back with outstretched arms. Another man emerged from the shadows of the warehouse, gesturing and murmuring an incantation. William’s eyes glazed over and he slumped a little as the five men pulled him back inside, out of the street.

When we reached the large doors of the Pathfinder warehouse, Gelik ran up to us, breathing hard.“The Freemen! They set the fires! And they’ve taken Jask!”

We all asked in unison, “Where?”

“To the Arcadia Whaling Factory. They called him a traitor. I fear they mean to kill him.”

“Well, shit.” Toshe muttered under her breath..

As we neared the Arcadian Whaling Factory complex, a man’s voice could be heard shouting over the sound of a large crowd, though we were as yet too far away to make out his words. Soon however, we rounded a corner and saw several dozen Sargavans gathered in the narrow street in front of a large, three-story warehouse building. Several small, thatched huts sat across from the windowless, fortress-like wall, while high stone walls extended from either end of the larger building. At the edge of the roof stood a large black man, apparently a leader of the separatist group known as the Freemen, screaming at the top of his lungs about “slaves” and how the Freemen treat “traitors”. To emphasize the latter point, he shoved forward a man in the uniform of the Sargavan military whom he had been cradling in one strong arm. Pressing a knife to the man’s throat, he screamed, “And we’ll start with this one!”

As he finished, he lifted the man’s head. It was Jask. But why was he in a Sargavan uniform?

Several of my companions pleaded with the man to spare Jask. “He is innocent!”

“He was a prisoner of the Sargavan government!”

The man was unmoved. “This is bigger than one man! Even if I believed he was innocent, I wouldn’t let him go. Not until all Sargavans are free!”

As he finished, he raised his fist into the air, then brought it crashing down against Jask’s jaw. The cleric slumped limply to the surface of the roof.

It was becoming clear we were not going to be able to reason with him, but the thick stone walls at the north and south ends of the building prevented easy entrance to the compound. So I began working my way northward through the crowd, looking for an entrance. As I did that, Mwembe and the others headed for the stone wall to the south of the main building.

Before my view was blocked by a small dwelling, I saw Rarsk leap to the top of the wall. Mwembe followed more slowly, almost losing her grip at one point. Then I turned the corner and saw a large courtyard surrounded by several large buildings. On the far side was a large winch; a thick rope led from the winch to the carcass of an enormous whale. The thing’s belly had been sliced open and blood and blubber flowed from the wound, covering the flagstones of the courtyard in a disgusting slippery slop. Gagging as a breeze from the harbor carried the stench of slaughter to my nostrils, I made my way further into the yard. From the southern end I heard shouting, the sound of bowstrings, and several small explosions. Suddenly, someone nearby yelled “Halt!”

It seemed to come from somewhere above me, but before I could locate the source, an arrow embedded itself in my shoulder. Gasping in pain, I backed away toward the street. At the far end of the enclosure, somewhere near the whale carcass, a man screamed in pain as he was mauled unmercifully by Rarsk.

Before I could reach the street, a door opened and a large man rushed out, swinging a wooden club. As the club descended, a burst of fire exploded around us, leaving the pair of us scorched and smoking, causing the club to miss my head by inches. I drew my pistol as the searing pain of a second arrow ran up my leg. I aimed and fired at the club wielder without halting my backward progress. He flinched at the fire, smoke and noise, then grabbed his arm as my bullet hit home.

Before the smoke cleared, two more arrows pierced my padded coat. Realizing I was in a very precarious position, I turned and ran headlong for the cover of the small houses along the street. Leaning against the stone wall of a rude dwelling, I pulled the arrows from my shoulder, legs and chest, pain coursing through me as each one came free. Then I fished in my pockets for the healing wand we’d recovered from Smuggler’s Shiv and reciting the activiation spell, touched its wooden tip to my chest. Immediately, warmth spread throughout my body and the bleeding slowed. I repeated the process twice more, then risked a glance around the corner of the house.

Hearing little in the way of battle, I reentered the courtyard. Six Freemen lay dead; most with the ghastly wounds caused by fang and claw. Some however, had also suffered burns and bullet wounds, as well as puncture wounds from Jade’s starknife. And at some point in the battle, the gargantuan whale carcass had caught fire, adding yet another component to the multi-layered stench choking the factory compound.

As I looked around, something landed at my feet with a splat. It appeared to be a burning hunk of whale blubber, about the size of my foot. Peering upward, I noticed a rebel on the second floor of the open-sided building to the east. His back was turned to me, and he seemed to be rummaging in large trough. At that moment, a door opened behind me and an angry voice boomed,“What’s all the ruckus?”

Over my shoulder, I said calmly, but loud enough to be heard across the yard, “It’s nothing. Just a little problem with the whale. We’re fine.”

“Gods-damned whale.” I heard him mutter as his footsteps faded into the interior of the building. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Toshe easing her way along the wall of the building. Slowly, she reached out and gently shut the door.

Meanwhile, up on the second floor of the open-sided building, the blubber-tosser turned and held a large, dripping piece of whale fat over a small flame, igniting it. Having seen his compatriot turn and re-enter the smaller building and Toshe close the door, he yelled in the door’s general direction, “Idiot!” Impassively, the door remained closed. Shaking his head in disgust, the rebel stepped to the edge of the floor and launched the stinking, burning mass downward in the toward Toshe. It missed the half-elf by several feet. He immediately turned for another chunk of whale fat.

Unfortunately for him, he never got to throw it. As he turned and lifted his arm, I fired my pistol. The bullet caught him in the upper shoulder, causing him to drop his makeshift weapon. Soon smoke started from the floor, which was soaked through with years of dripping fat.

As I began to reload, I spared a glance behind me, in time to see Toshe heading for the door to an even smaller building in the northwest corner of the compound. She pulled open the door, revealing a large, cylindrical machine emitting an earsplitting grinding sound. Softly calling, “Here stupid, stupid…” Toshe disappeared through the door, into the noise and darkness.

To the south, I caught the motion of an arrow speeding toward the building behind me, followed closely by Jade’s star knife. Quickly, the knife retraced its route, only to be thrown once more, this time toward the Freeman rummaging in a large box in the now flaming open-sided structure. However, I did not see whether or not it struck its intended target as my attention was drawn to a new actor in our drama. He came tentatively into the open square, looking around as if searching for someone.

“Who the hell are you?”, I asked gruffly.

“Uh, I have a package for Toshe.” he replied hesitantly.

I jerked my thumb over my shoulder to the still-open door, revealing the grinding machine. “She’s in there.”

“And, uh, there’s a whale on fire over there, and a leopard on the roof…?” Before I could respond, he reached in his belt pouch, pulling out a Pathfinder Society wayfinder. He held it up so I could see it clearly, as if to let me know he was on our side.

Suddenly, a small flask shattered against the newcomer’s back. As he turned to see the Freeman above grinning down at him, holding a second flask, I aimed my reloaded pistol at the separatist and fired. As the report of the firearm resounded off the buildings around us, the newcomer dropped his long knives with a ringing clatter on the stone floor of the courtyard. He turned back to me, wide-eyed. “Please! Sir! A little warning!?”

Ignoring him, I looked to my target, who had dropped his second flask as my bullet struck home. The flask burst, flames spreading across the floor and over the Freeman, who was now covered in whale oil from his earlier “weapons”. Screaming, he dropped to the floor, out of sight.

“Did someone say there was a package for me?” Toshe had exited the building with the cylindrical machine. I turned just as she slipped on the greasy flagstones and fell. Muttering to herself, she rose and sheepishly retraced her steps to the open door. As she went, Jade raced by in the same direction and, just like Toshe, lost her footing and crashed to the pavement. Shaking my head, I turned back to the newcomer to see him climbing a ladder near the corner of the open-sided building. He had almost reached the flaming second story. I had no idea what he was planning to do once he reached it, but there he was.

Seeing no danger from that direction, I shrugged and headed for the larger building behind me. There was a door on the ground floor, about twenty feet away. It was closed. As I reached it, I paused to listen. From inside the building I heard only more loud grinding sounds coming from what sounded like a rather small space. Before I could open it however, a flaming arrow struck the wall, just inches from the door and, not incidentally, my head. The dried wood of the wall began to smolder.

As I reached for the handle, I heard a thud somewhere behind me. Wondering if the newcomer had lost his balance and fallen from the ladder, I turned to see a body that looked suspiciously like that of Jask’s abductor lying in a heap in the courtyard. From the bloody gashes covering most of his body, I guessed that it wasn’t the fall that had killed him.

Turning my attention back to the door, I pulled the handle. It opened soundlessly. The room it revealed was filled almost completely by a large metal cylinder, the gears inside of which ground together ominously. Near one end of the cylinder stood a Freeman, smugly chuckling to himself as the grinding noises came faster and faster. Not liking his looks in the slightest, I dropped my pistol and unhooked the whip from my belt. In one motion I drew it back and then flicked it forward. The tip struck the man on the cheek, leaving a thin line of blood. He simply looked at me and laughed. A second arrow struck the wall to my right, increasing the flames climbing the wall alarmingly.

Then, with a deafening crash, the machine exploded, metal shards flying in all directions. Without conscious thought, I dove to the left – away from the door and the fire. But I wasn’t quite quick enough. I felt a burning pain along my side as a razor-sharp bit of steel cut through my padded jacket.

As the noise and smoke of the explosion died away, I stood up and looked around. All of the rebels were dead or fled; Mwembe and Rarsk stood at the edge of the roof of the open-sided building. Toshe and Jade were nowhere to be seen, while the newcomer was digging through a large box on the floor below the Zenj woman and her leopard.

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