Previously, the heroes set sail from Kingsport to Eastray in an attempt to retrieve the rare ghost orchid in order to dispel the wards which had been placed on the khazra head to prevent the curse on queen Isabella from being lifted. They took on a young boy who had been found floating on a raft and prevented some of the passengers and crew from throwing the child overboard for being an ill omen. They arrived in Eastray and said goodbye to captain Lorne and his crew.
First Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waning.)
Having arrived in the coastal town of Eastray, the heroes made their way to the Hungry Hag, the only tavern in the muddy town which had beds for them. Along the way, they quickly got the measure of Eastray; simple folk who mostly lived off of the trade along the delta; fishing, shrimping, sugarcane and the hides from the large lizards which could be found in the marshy hinterlands.
The inn was a two story building with old, rotting thatch on the roof. The smell of spicy stew wafted towards the heroes as they opened the door and stepped inside. The inside of the inn was painted white in order to maximise the little light which came in through the small, shuttered windows. Decorative patterns of plants had been painted on the walls to cheer the place up. A red brick hearth had a big fire roaring and most people were sitting around the hearth to stay warm and to dry their wet clothes. An enormous crocolisk of almost twenty foot in length hang high along the rafters of the roof, its skin dried and preserved, with its open maw giving a terrifying view of the razorsharp teeth that lined the inside.
Half a dozen locals had gathered and were already drinking and soon Michel had arranged for stew and strong drink, both designed to put fire in your belly. The stew was full of fish and shrimp and lathered with capsicum, while the drink of choice was rum, due to the sugarcane plantations in the area.
For a couple of silver, the heroes got a few rooms and many of them decided to catch up on the sleep they had lost in all the commotion around the young boy. Luca, not as tired as the others, decided to go sight seeing while Michel and Randall were going to make arrangements to travel upriver to a settlement called Rivermeet, situated at the conflux of the Lea tributary coming from the north, and the Ivel river from the south-east. It would be from there that the travel would become a challenge.
The first place Luca went to was the notice board he had spotted when the heroes headed from the harbour to the Hungry Hag. He found a notice about a place that specialised in fortune telling which he decided to seek out. He read a notice that suggested that the Red Custodians of the Monastic Order of St. Catherine had recently arrived in Eastray and were looking for people to help raise a new church on the outskirts of town. He also read that, just like elsewhere, the Cult of the Dark Queen were responsible for several random murders and that everyone was urged to be aware of people with wicked, jewelled daggers. Luca decided to take that notice in order to show it to James so that he could be more careful in showing the daggers he carried. There were another handful of other notices that Luca paid little attention to.
Luca quickly found the Maison de Fortune, the place where he could get his fortune read. It was a large, well-maintained home but he found that Master Beaudelaire, the fortune teller, was not at home. The young woman who came to the door claimed that the old master was probably somewhere in his cups, which reminded Luca of a man he had noticed drinking by himself in the Hungry Hag with a deck of cards in front of him. He decided he’d continue to wander the town for a bit longer before returning to the inn.
During his trip around town he purchased some wooden shoes, which, while excellent to traverse the mud in, were hard to adjust to. It would take him a while before he’d get used to wearing them. Luca noticed the same graffiti that he had noticed in Kingsport, of a caricature of the lord steward fucking a ravenheaded person while holding a wolfheaded person on a leash. It seemed the same discontent that had struck Kingsport had also found its way to Eastray. During his walk he listened to the conversations of the locals in an attempt to study the particular accent of the region.
Luca learned that a curious and mysterious woman had been seen walking around town. She was said to be of exceptional beauty, with long, red, curly hair and an alabaster skin, wearing a rich green dress. Rumours were that she was beguiling and that surely she was a witch. Another rumour he picked up was that a knight had been seen walking around town wearing a shield on his back depicting the banner of house Downwarren. Luca didn’t quite understand what the significance of that was, but it was clear that it made a deep impression on the locals.
When Luca returned to the Hungry Hag he found the old, well-dressed man with the deck of cards still siting and drinking at a table by himself. He introduced himself to the old man, who appeared to have been afflicted by a strong case of cataracts to both eyes and was nearly blind. The man appeared to be quite tipsy, but was willing to tell Luca’s fortune. He introduced himself as Bertrand Beaudelaire and he had a calm but nasal voice. He asked Luca some questions about where he was from and how old he was and what Luca’s aim for the reading would be. Luca wanted to know his long term fortune as well as the short term success for his companions.
Master Beaudelaire then asked Luca to draw three cards from the deck which he had been shuffling with great dexterity. Luca drew three cards. The first one was The Eye and the Hand, a card which depicted an eye being held aloft above a stormy sea by two hands. The man concluded that Luca was a seeker of knowledge in the face of tumultuousness. The second card that Luca drew was The Moon and the Mirror, depicting the Silvermoon in high sanction above a placid lake. The image reminded Luca of the way in which the Silvermoon had reflected off the waters of Lake Llygad. Master Beaudelaire concluded that instead of knowledge, Luca actually sought enlightenment. The last card, The Jewel and the Thief, depicted a man reaching out for a large ruby. Master Beaudelaire asked Luca if he had made a deal in return for knowledge, which was something Luca confirmed. He concluded that Luca was very ambitious and was willing to make dangerous deals in order to be successful. He concluded that he could not divine anything about Luca’s long-term success, but he believed that in the short term Luca and his companions would be successful.
The old man refused payment for the reading and in return Luca arranged to pay for the man’s rum for the rest of his stay. Luca agreed this with a young boy who was working behind the bar. He noticed that the boy had a severely mangled left hand which he could hardly use. It seemed as if he had many of the bones in his hand broken which never healed properly.
When James woke up from his rest and joined Luca, the two decided to spend some time trying to find the szygani encampment which supposedly lay on the outskirts of the south of Eastray. Luca filled James in on the things he had seen and heard in and around Eastray and the two made their way. They found the camp after a slippery and soggy jaunt across town. The szygani seemed to be weary of the two until James drew the attention of a confident and cocky szygani swordsman who wore a rapier at his side. The swordsman introduced himself as Bailuk and asked how he could help the heroes.
When the conversation was over, James had learned that Eastmarsh was the home of the Acadians, a distinct group of people who hardly considered themselves Lyrians. They were weary, insular, xenophobic and superstitious people, not unlike the szygani. The szygani considered themselves travellers, and “people of the path”, the Acadians considered themselves the travellers of the delta. Szygani travelled by vardos, the colourful horse-drawn wagons they lived out of, while the Acadians lived on houseboats. James had also learned that Rivermeet was a trading hub where the hinterland and the coastland connected in trade. Acadian families would come to Rivermeet to trade items from the swamp for items being brought into Eastray from other parts of Lyria.
Returning to the Hungry Hag, James and Luca found that Emrys had struck up a conversation with a familiar face; Oliver, one of the two merchants that the heroes had saved from duplicitous mercenaries just outside of the Inn at the Crossroads. He explained that his brother-in-law, Trent, was still in Kingsport, taking care of the business, while he had just come in from Càrceres with a large shipment of salt, which he had traded here for sugar and rum, which he was intending to bring back to Kingsport the following day. Luca asked if he had any interesting passengers on the ship ride into Eastray, and Oliver explained that he travelled with a strange Mazurian woman of great beauty. The ship had picked her up on a short stop in Dunagore.
It would be Oliver and Trent’s last trade before winter. While he explained that his company was considering investing in iron in order to capitalise on the shorting market with trouble brewing along the northern border with the Daerlan empire as well as the orc invasion throughout the Elder Foothills and the Plains of Strife, James audibly yawned in disinterest. The young man cut his conversation short before departing for his room to turn in for the night.
James briefly spoke to Leonie in order to gather more information on Rivermeet and whether or not he might be able to count on someone to arrange for things when he arrived. Leonie said that she was quite well connected in Eastray, but that she had few reliable connections in the hinterlands of Eastmarsh. While she had been living in Eastray for the better part of her life, she was not native, having come up from Fulham, and as such there were quite a few weary Acadians who still saw her as an outsider. She gave James the name of a man named Marcel, who might be able to help.
Just as Luca and James decided they might want to turn in for the night, the door to the Hungry Hag opened and a woman of surprising beauty walked through the door. The stories they had heard about this mysterious woman all day were confirmed; long, red, curly hair, a heart-shaped face, large green eyes and fine features, clothed in an expensive, green velvet dress with brown leather boots which seemed to have remained mostly clean from the muck of the Eastray streets.
With her entrance came a chill across the remaining patrons at the inn. James and Luca eventually struck up a conversation with her. She claimed to be a noble woman by the name of Lady Azsharastrasza from Mazuria who had travelled to Eastray in search of her “mate”, Laurencjusz, or Lorek for short. Lady “Asha” as she preferred to be called, had been at court in Dom Ludova, the capital of Mazuria, when a charismatic cult leader named Dominik had taken advantage of her “mate” and convinced him to join the cult, which was dedicated to the worship of the Dark Queen. Lady Asha eventually followed a trail of the cult to Dunagore, where she found a member of the cult and managed to find information on where the cult was hiding out, an ancient temple deep in the hinterland of Eastmarsh.
She showed an improvised map and a strange stone statue, which resembled that strange statue that the Sheridans had retrieved from the catacombs underneath their estate; a round, conical statue narrow at the bottom and wider at the top with the engraving of an eye at the top. Lady Asha was lead to believe it would act as a key of some sort to the ancient temple the cult was using as a hideout.
James and Luca tried to work out whether or not they could realistically help Lady Asha out without potentially losing too much time but ended up concluding that this wouldn’t be possible. They also couldn’t convince the strange lady to join them with a promise of tending to her quest on the way back from Blackbough. The ended up saying good night as the heroes prepared to depart early in the morning. As they fell asleep they had a suspicion that it would not be the last time they met Lady Azsharastrasza.
Second Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is low sanction.)
The following morning the heroes woke up and had a quick breakfast. Michel LeBlanc, the Acadian guide had arranged for travel to Rivermeet on a barge. The weather had remained unchanged, with a continued drizzle and gusts of wind. The Ivel river was broad and muddy and had countless arms of different sizes which all flowed towards Eastray. The further upriver they travelled, the more marshy the area became, with reed and cypress groves lining the river to the point where it become unclear where land stopped and river started. They also saw the large amount of crocolisks and snakes that inhabited the waters and started to wonder what it would be like deeper into the hinterland.
They reached Rivermeet late afternoon. It sat on the conflux of the Lea tributary and the Ivel river and it was a small settlement mostly intended to allow for different Acadian families to come together for trade. Michel spent most of his time trying to arrange for transport further upriver. Due to an absence of inns or other lodgings, the night was spent in the tents that Randall had arranged. Two people to a tent, four tents each, set up around a soggy campfire on top of sheets of treated canvas which kept the ground water from seeping into the tents.
Third Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)
The following morning Michel was still unable to secure river transport and the conversation lead towards alternatives. James was keen on either paying or stealing a boat, but Michel advised against it, as it would probably meant upsetting the Acadians. Having angry Acadians after them while they were on their soil was probably not advisable. Isalien reckoned that it would be either one day by boat upriver, and another day on foot to Blackbough, or three days on foot, give or take half a day. Eventually, the group decided that setting off from Rivermeet would probably be best and that securing a boat upriver was probably going to take more time than they would gain.
As predicted, the terrain started to change rapidly, with parts of the travel requiring them to wade through waist deep waters. There were several challenges along the way. The first was a large village of aggressive lizardfolk who barred the way. They were primitive, carrying clubs spiked with bone and shields created from large turtle shells, but their numbers were just too great. James successfully plotted a course through the lizardfolk territory by wading through murky waters and sneaking past. It was risky, but it meant avoiding a detour which would have added another half a day of travel to the journey.
Fourth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)
The following day the heroes came upon a large Acadian family living on a house boat. They were initially suspicious of the heroes, but Michel, with the help of the heroes, managed to convince them to allow them passage across a marshy lake on their boat. This managed to shave off half a day of travel which was a welcome bit of good luck.
Later that day day, a grove of ancient cypress trees, hung with Carcarian moss. It would be dangerous to travel across the grove since it would force the heroes to wade through murky waters for several hours. The heroes decided to trust Isalien’s keen senses and decided to take the risk rather than add another day of travel to their journey in order to avoid the grove. Luck was on the side of the heroes and they managed to avoid any risky situations with the dangerous wildlife.
Fifth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon is waning. Darkmoon is waxing.)
Getting closer to the area of Blackbough, the sky turned overcast and a fog settled over the land. Visibility was reduced to about twenty feet or so and travel slowed down. Soon, an eerie glow was seen darting ahead of the heroes through the mist. The source of the glow was unknown, but it seemed to be guiding the heroes through the mist. Calling upon Luca’s knowledge of strange phenomena the heroes decided to trust the light ahead of them in order to keep up the pace and not lose the gains they had made over the last few days.
After a while the eerie notion started to creep up on the heroes. The hairs on the back of their necks started to raise up as they had the feeling that they were being watched. It was at that moment that something horrifying materialised from the fog.