First Day, Third Ride, Summer Light, 1262, Summer Solstice
In the early morning of what was going to be the longest day of the year, James found himself in the back of a butcher’s shop on Fleet Street in the Southside ward of Kingsport. The Daymaster had learned that the youngest son of House Sheridan was recruiting people at The Careless Wanderer for an unknown task at their Northshire estate. He wanted James to make sure he was recruited. The Steady Hand had no eyes inside the estate, and wanted James to have a look around and report back to him.
Emma awoke from a cryptic vision showing her dark halls harbouring even darker creatures, as well as an image of a mask and a bright sword crossed behind it, and the image of a minstrel carrying a knapsack and a lute. She was at the Sacred Baths of Sedna in Kingsport, where she had been staying since her arrival in the city. She spoke of the vision with Dagmaer, the devotee who ran the baths.
Emma couldn’t be sure whether it was a warning or new direction that Lady Sedna was showing her, but she decided to find out. The last image she was show was familiar to her, it was the fresco that was painted above the door of The Careless Wanderer tavern in Quayhill, so she decided to head there.
There were not many places that Hamish was welcome for a drink anymore, but The Careless Wanderer was still available to them. Luca had grown tired of the despicable mage and was hoping that his weeks of catering to his ego would pay off sooner rather than later.
Upon entering the tavern Luca’s eye fell upon a man who surely had giants blood running through his veins. The man was sitting at a table, playing a game of Demon Dice, surrounded by people who were cheering the game on. He had rose blonde hair, an athletic body covered in a well-maintained leather armour, and sporting several scars and tattoos. At his side he carried a strange weapon.
The weapon looked like a baton with an angular scythe at the end of it. At the bottom of the handle there was a metal ring to which thin, finely crafted metal wire was attached. The end of the wire held a counter weight, which was hooked back onto the ring at the end of the handle.
Luca was fascinated by the giant man and he lost interest in Hamish, who had started arguing over the price of the drinks with the elven bartender. Apparently, the man had issued a challenge; anyone who was capable beating him at the game would be eligible for a job he needed done. Anyone who was able to beat him more than once would be paid double. The pay was twenty gold crowns.
Across from the giant man sat a northern woman, wearing a sleeveless leather jerkin showing off her muscled arms. If it wasn’t for the man sitting across from her, her physique and her distinct blue face paint would be drawing all the attention in the room.
They played once, and the outlander won. Unconcerned with gambling, she took her winnings and stepped away from the table, allowing others a shot at the game. The people around her cheered her on, and the young lord seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously, calling for everyone to fill their tankards once more from the open keg of ale that was standing next to him and congratulating the winner once again by raising their tankards in her honour.
Everyone had arrived at The Careless Wanderer and had understood what was happening. It was an unusual way of recruiting people, made to see what the recruits were made of. Were they resourceful in the face of defeat? Were they greedy in the face of victory, or were they only interested in the job?
James played a few hands while eagerly drinking the free ale that was offered to anyone who played or cheered the game on. The first few games he lost, eventually resorting to some minor manipulation of the dice to ensure his victory.
While Luca was still observing the game, trying to figure out an angle on how to win without it costing him too much coin, Hamish had grown tired of arguing with the bartender deciding to leave for a tavern across town in Northside. Luca could not tear himself away from the game for he had thought he found a simple way to assure victory, without costing him too much coin in defeat.
He sat down across from the giant lord wagered a penny. The lord, amused at Luca’s ploy, played a round, which he won. Luca continued, wagering only one copper penny. The lord understood the game now and after the first roll of the dice, reraised Luca by one gold crown each time, judging that to be the amount that Luca would be ill prepared to gamble away. He turned out to be right, winning every hand until Luca resorted to cursing the young lord’s luck and beating him.
In the meantime, Emma had been observing everything that was happening in the bar. She had talked to the elven bartender after she was done with the bickering scholar and introduced herself to as Lauryn.
She had also seen the young man she later learned was named James, had been carefully inspecting Lord Marcus’ sheathed sword when the lord had taken his tall frame to break water. The leather scabbard was etched and inlaid with platinum filigree and the handle had a braided metal handle a black stone set in the pommel. The cross-guards were twisted perfectly and also set with black precious stones.
Eventually, Emma had struck up a conversation with the dwarven brewmaster of the tavern whose name was Durham. She had ordered some seafood chowder and he had offered her a glass of Erveluce. Emma’s conversation with Durham eventually lead to lord Marcus and House Sheridan.
The Rise of House Sheridan
As it turned out, House Sheridan was one of the youngest of noble houses. In 1217 the Darkshore was terrorised by a pirate admiral by the name of Dapperfang. For months ships all along the Southernhay coast were being raided by the pirate fleet. One day the pirates had either sunk or incapacitated the royal armada who were at anchor behind the Lyrian Tooth, leaving their access to the Lyrian Gulf unopposed.
House Grey ordered their riverboats down the river Baugh and into the Lyrian Gulf at Wulferton, determined to sacrifice themselves to buy Kingsport more time to raise their defences. To everyone’s surprise they got reinforced by several dozen well-armed merchant vessels belonging to the Sheridan Trading Company, who, under the command of Benten the Purple, adviser and friend to Lord Marcus’ father, who revealed himself to be a powerful battle-mage.
Magical fire rained down on Dapperfang’s commanding vessel and as soon as the ship took on water and people started jumping overboard to escape the fire, the pirates turned their tail and head for open waters. Both House Grey, and the royal House Valois were grateful for the help that John Sheridan had provided. Both he and Benten the Purple were invited to sit on the podium at Steward Square during Dapperfang’s public execution.
In 1221, upon request of House Grey, John Sheridan was made Lord John Sheridan, of House Sheridan, first of his name, Baron of Lynnecombe and Darkhollow. Lynnecomb were the lands surrounding his estate north of Kingsport, and Darkhollow was a small bit of land in the Tiverton Glades. Benten the Purple was knighted for his valour during the Battle of Kingsport Bay and immediately swore fealty to House Sheridan.
Emma Changes the Stakes
When Emma asked Durham what the sigil of House Sheridan was he replied that it was a mask with a bright sword crossed behind it. She felt certain then that it was Lady Sedna’s will for her to join Lord Marcus’ expedition. She decided to change the stakes, and offered him a different kind of wager. She would either win the game of dice and she would be paid, or she would lose the game of dice and work for free. Lord Marcus seemed pleased with the suggestion. And promptly lost the game.
The Group was Complete
Lord Marcus seemed satisfied at those who had shown interest in working for him and had beaten him in the game of demon dice. He had made a choice of Astrid, James, Luca and Emma. He declared that it was time to eat. He had a table full of food prepared and began to eat. He told the recruits about the job.
His family’s estate in Lynnecombe, two leagues north of Kingsport, along the river Lyn, had their underground water supply interrupted. The dwarven engineers that the family used to maintain an underground aqueduct which lead from a small river to the east of the estate whom they had sent to investigate had not returned. The group of house guards they had sent in to investigate had also not returned. It was up to the adventurers to go in after them, find out what happened to the engineers and guards, and fix the water supply. They were to report to captain Hallis Mollen, head of the house guard, at the estate at noon.
The group of adventurers decided they would meet at The Careless Wanderer at the top of the seventh hour the following morning. Emma, having heard all that she needed to know decided to head back to the Sacred Baths. After she left, Lord Marcus decided it was time to settle the score with the bar, retrieve his horse and head back home. He would see the adventurers in the morning. Just as he stepped out, a young half-elf came into the tavern and Lord Marcus directed him to the remaining adventurers at the table. He introduced himself as Emrys.
The young half-elf turned out to be a frivolous and flamboyant man with an easy smile and lighthearted attitude. He had won a game of dice against the young lord earlier that day and had returned to The Careless Wanderer in the hopes of performing some songs to entertain the guests. He had struck a deal with Lauryn and bartered some lodgings in exchange for his performance.
James was eager to learn the capabilities of the people he would be going out on the road with, and learned that Astrid had been a sailor and that Emrys was a sorcerer. Luca was an arcanist of some sort, but was reluctant to define his abilities as that of a wizard.
Luca and Emrys had a brief exchange about the types of magic that Emrys was specialised in, and Emrys claimed that he was quite versed in illusionary magic. James asked him how that could come in handy in a dangerous situation, not unlike what they might encounter in the aqueduct below the Sheridan estate, but Emrys could not give a satisfying answer. He did, however, conjure up a minor illusion of a small man who danced across the table and claimed it took great creativity and ingenuity to come up with convincing illusions.
Eventually, after some discussion on the topic of religion, it became time for Emrys’ performance, which had a rough start. Eventually the crowd warmed up to the charismatic young half-elf and the performance was judged a success. He had earned a bed in the common room that night.
Sleep for Some, Less for Others
Astrid had taken a bed in the same common room as Emrys, but as opposed to him, she had to pay for hers. Luca had rented a single room in the inn as well, and decided to read until deep into the night.
James returned to Fleet Street and reported back to the Daymaster, who was in the midst of butchering a hog, deftly cutting it up in usable chunks, ready for sale. He seemed pleased at the news that James was recruited by the young lord Sheridan and reminded him to keep his eyes peeled. Especially for rare and valuable books. Returning to The Silver Cross, he briefly spoke to his mother about his upcoming journey, but she seemed too preoccupied to protest much.
Second Day, Third Ride, Summer Light, 1262
Rise and Shine
Emma was woken by Dagmaer and proceeded to cleanse herself in a morning bathing ritual. Dagmaer requested Emma to pray together, which they did. She donned her scale armour, grabbed her shield, tithed a gold crown and departed for The Careless Wanderer.
One of the local street urchins that hung around The Silver Cross, Dewey, found his way into James’ attic retreat and woke him as per their agreement. He quickly gathered what he needs and headed out.
A gentle knock on the door of Luca’s room by one of the tavern staff woke him up and he collected his things and went downstairs for breakfast. He found Astrid and Emrys both already awake and at a table eating a simple meal of porridge and milk served by Ramsey, the chef, while an elderly lady who appeared to be blind was busy tidying up the common room. She remarkably manoeuvred around the room without incident despite wearing a blindfold, which betrayed her intimate familiarity with the space.
After Emma and James arrived, both Emma and Astrid headed down to Quayhill to secure passage on a barge going upriver. The rest stayed behind to finish their meals. A boatsman named Aram was more than willing to provide passage to Lynnecombe-upon-Lyn for Astrid and the group, and was very pleased to welcome Emma aboard.
A Boatride Up the River
The barge was ready to start moving when the rest of the adventurers arrived. It was manned by Aram, his daughter and son, and carried two oxen and plenty of trade goods. Aram and his son used barge-poles to push the boat upstream while his daughter used a pole to keep the barge from bumping into other traffic on the river. Outside of the Water Gate the two oxen were offloaded and secured with ropes and they started pulling the barge further upstream while Aram’s son rode on one of their backs.
Aram and his daughter kept the barge on course while Astrid and Emma made themselves useful. James decided to take a moment to get some rest and enjoy his time on the river and Luca found some shade to read from a book. Emrys spent most of his time waving at people, strumming his lute and singing songs to entertain the others.
After two hours of travelling up the river, the barge arrived at Lynnecombe-upon-Lyn, a small settlement of a dozen houses surrounded by fields and orchards. James, once disembarked, went to ask one of the townsfolk for directions to the Sheridan estate and used the opportunity to buy a dozen fresh apples. The group started heading east down a well-trodden path and James shared his apples with the others. Everyone noticed Astrid’s voracious devouring of her apple and were once again reminded that she was from a land where fruits didn’t grow as abundantly as in Lyria.
Arrival at the Forest Estate
The adventurers reached a junction and head north. After about fifteen minutes they followed the path into a forest and immediately the temperature dropped to a more pleasant level. Not too long after they crossed a beautiful stone bridge which bridged a short, steep valley created by a brook which headed east, undoubtedly flowing into the river Lyn. Across the bridge they noticed an eight foot limestone wall, covered with well maintained stucco, topped with meticulously placed red clay shingles and cast-iron, barbed spikes.
A cast-iron gate offered entrance to a terrace overlooking the brook and bridge, with well-maintained flower beds surrounding a beautiful mausoleum. The adventurers followed the wall further north, until they came upon another cast-iron gate, this time the gate lead to a luxurious, multi-terraced courtyard. There were several people about, tending to flower beds, mending benches, tending to the stables or extracting honey from several beehives.
In the middle of the courtyard, awaiting the adventurers, stood the captain of the house guard, Hallis Mollen. She was dressed in chain mail, plate pauldrons and shin guards, wearing a helmet and a dark cape. In her right hand she held a halberd and at her side she wore the same odd side-arm as Lord Marcus carried. She offered the adventurers a moment to freshen up and escorted them up a lavish staircase towards the front of the mansion.
The mansion stood at least three stories tall, with two steepled towers flanking the front entrance. Balconies lined the third floor of the mansion and large parts of the walls were covered in rich, green ivy. Luca noticed a weathered carving on the keystone above the front doorway, depicting a mask, much like the one on the Sheridan sigil.
The adventurers were lead to a side building which acted as the quarters for the servants and guards. In front of it, stood the well, complete with mason patio and wall around it. A shadoof was installed in order to make it easier to hoist large buckets of water up from the cavernous well down below.
Captain Hallis departed to announce their arrival, while servants offered the adventurers fresh mead and a place to wash up. Emma decided to take the time to talk to some of the people on the grounds. In particular to one of the gardeners who had been tending to some of the flower beds. He could share that the water had still been used for drink, washing and irrigation, without any trouble.
An Audience with Lord Jonathan
When captain Hallis returned, she took them into the mansion. The entrance hall was lavish. Straight ahead was a large stairway which lead to a second floor landing. The landing was adorned with an impressive stained glass window, which depicted a fight between several figures, in which a blond man struck an old crone from behind with a sword. A gruesome depiction of violence which was unexpected.
To left of the entrance hall was a formal dining room with a high ceiling and a second floor balcony, and to the left was an informal sitting room, lined with bookshelves.
The captain went up the stairs and requested the adventurers to follow. At the second floor landing they turned right and up another flight of stairs to the third floor. The landing there had a many doors, only one of which was open. The captain walked through the open doors and into a study. At the far end of the study there was a large writing desk behind which stood two remarkably tall men. One was Lord Marcus, and the other was a slightly older man, clothed in noblemen’s attire, with an silk-embroidered, green doublet, knee-high black velvet pants, white stockings and black shoes. His hair was blonde and cropped short. His gaze was stern. He was introduced as Lord Jonathan.
Luca immediately noticed a small shrine behind and to the side of the desk, which was set in an alcove. Again he saw the symbol of the mask and would eventually remark aloud, and in elven, whether House Sheridan followed an elven god, an idea immediately rebuked by Lord Jonathan.
Emma was attracted to a large painting, hanging directly to the left of the entrance, on the far opposite end of the writing desk. It had a gold-coloured, decorated frame, the corners of which were once again decorated with the symbol of the mask. The painting itself depicted a similar image as on the stained glass window, except this time the image was much more detailed. In it, she saw the same conflict, but this time, the crone appeared to be more monstrous. She had moved through an open door, and a sandy-haired man was dropping down from the top of the door, with a bright blade in his hand. On the bottom there was some script etched into the frame reading “Hag’s Bane”.
The windows of the study looked out over a balcony. The door to the balcony was open and the warm air gently blew inside. On the balcony, sitting with his back towards the door, was man sitting in a wheelchair, at least as tall as Lord Jonathan and Lord Marcus. Next to him stood an equally tall man with grey hair and a beard, dressed in a deep purple robe.
Behind the writing desk, above the fireplace, there hung a bastard sword in a scabbard.
Lord Jonathan quickly and succinctly outlined the task for which they were recruited. A team of three dwarven engineers had been sent down into the aqueduct to investigate and repair a blockage in the water supply. Later, three house guards were sent in after them to discover why they had not returned. When these guards also failed to return, Lord Marcus was sent to Kingsport to recruit some resourceful adventurers. It was up to them to go into the aqueduct, discover what happened to the engineers and guards, discover and possibly fix what was blocking the water, and defeat any threats if they could and otherwise report back their findings.
Some questions were answered regarding the aqueduct, the river that it connects to, any if anything strange had been noticed besides the blocked water supply. All information that Lord Jonathan could share, he did. Captain Hallis was instructed to provide the adventurers with any supplies that could be provided.
Lord Marcus was noticed by Emma and Luca to whisper into Lord Jonathan’s ear; “this is the Masker I told you about,” while gesturing towards James, something James failed to notice himself.
A Descent Into the Dark
They departed the study and went back outside to the servant’s quarters. There, they were given access to the armoury and supplies, like lamp oil and lanterns, were shared. While they were getting equipped some of the adventurers started speculating about House Sheridan and some of the unusual things they had witness while in the mansion. Luca noticed that Ser Benten the Purple was looking down at them from the balcony adjacent to the study. They found it prudent to keep their speculations to themselves until they were alone.
The well-entrance was used to enter the aqueduct. Some stood in the bucket and were lowered down using the shadoof, while others used a knotted rope to climb down, with varying success. Luckily, the water in the well was still of a level that no injuries were incurred during the tumble, except maybe an injury to the ego.