Where have all the children gone?

Ulmo’s Beard limps on through the Southern seas, charting a course by the stars and relying on Ulmo’s grace and favour to find a secure port. Some days later, a small atoll is spotted, the start of a chain of low lying islands. Captain Reiss orders the crew to set a course to follow this bread crumb trail of islands in the hope of finding a safe port to effect repairs.

The atolls slip past until the look out spots a small fishing village on an island in the latest atoll and Ulmo’s Beard’s journey is halted as the Captain send the First Mate, Azruzagar, and a shore party to inquire about the local area. Azruzagar orders the First Watch, which includes Fulton and Aerandir, to man the skiff ashore. He invites Denig and Dagaard to join the party reasoning that their sense of danger is more finely tuned than that of the sailors and it never hurts to have a dwarf with a big sword.

On the island itself they find that misfortune and calamity have struck the poor fishing village. They have been brutally attacked and their children have been taken by disfigured pirates out of myth and legend. Black Reivers who would feast on the flesh of the islanders and took the children to sacrifice to their dark god. Denig, looking at the disfigured limbs and faces of the victims, takes pity and heals those he can help. The heroes discover during this time that an Imam at a Mosque in a nearby port, Khalij Aldhahab, may know more as he is known for caring for lost and orphaned children. Information gathered, and poor fisherfolk aided the Ulmo’s Beard set sail for Khalij Aldhahab, a port a days sailing to the north and where legend says the Black Reivers once occupied.

By the grace of Manwe, the ship slips through the azure waters arriving at Khalij Aldhahab as the sun begins to set. The atoll island is occupied mostly by a walled town with a coral breakwater forming a harbour that will provide some shelter from the ocean swell. Around the walls a shanty town of stalls and refreshment establishments swell the number of those who live on the island. The sounds of a call to prayer ring out across the water as Ulmo’s Beard rests at anchor and the crew prepare to rest before starting repairs in the morning. However, the call to prayer also appears to signal a call to activity and the sounds of the shanty market continues well into the dark hours.

The next day, work crews are assigned. Fulton and Aerandir are to go with the First mate to purchase rope and chandlery to repair rigging and replenish ropes lost in the storm. Denig and Dagaard decide to go ashore to talk to the local Imam. Vanwa asks Aerandir if he will take her to buy some clothes more fitting than one of his spare shirts. Aerandir gets permission to do so providing the ships supplies are collected. Likewise, Denig and Dagaard realising that they will need either Fulton or Aerandir to act as translators decide to lend a hand to get the job done quicker.

On the shore, the party is immediately surround by a crowd of hawkers and pedlars. A coin merchant offers them decent rates of exchange, showing his wares and immediately apologising for giving them a coin not of the realm. Looking at it Aerandir is struck that some of the motifs on the coin faces are similar to something he has seen recently but he is unable to recall exactly what. The journey through the market allows him to pick up something more fitting for Vanwa and she asks him also about the coin they had just seen. She thinks it would make a nice piece of jewellery. In response, and perhaps misunderstanding, Aerandir purchases a few coins for her.

Vanwa returns to the ship with Azruzagar to change and because going to a place of worship and talking to a priest is not of any real interest to her. The rest of the party having asked a few locals make their way to the mosque of Eimlaq Latif.

The mosque has seen better days. Money for its upkeep has clearly not been available. Within the clean and empty confines the party meet a giant of a man, Eimlaq, whose open smile soon has the adventurers sat down and enjoying a simple meal with some orphans who Eimlaq cares for. The imam shares his worries. He cares for the lost and orphan children within the town but some have gone missing and he fears to let the rest of his charges roam far from his gaze.

The Old Mosque

Eimlaq has not been idle in trying to find his missing charges but has met a dead end in his enquiries. Perhaps it is that his face is well known in the port. He has been attacked once with a poison dart which suggest that there are forces at work in the area who do not welcome his questions. The brave heroes volunteer to be his eyes and ears as he outlines the extent of his investigations. They are provided with three lines of inquiry to follow, shadowy cloaked figures sighted around the port; Hasa the stone merchant; Tajir Tawabul the spice merchant and Hulq the barber. The latter is a well known storyteller with many a tale of the days before the unifications of the Juzur Almuhit.

Following Eimlaq’s advice the group first go for a hair cut. They argue over who should sit in the chair. Dagaard will not let the dwarfish barber near his beard. Denig is more concerned with revealing his stone-skinned nature. Aerandir pointedly remarks that his long dark locks are not for cutting and so it is Fulton who hops into the chair for a trim and a shave. They all listen to the tale of Dhuki and the pirates; a tale that echoes some of the reports from the Island of Lost Children.

Having heard the tale there are discussions about which line of inquiry to follow next. They decide on the spice merchant and seek out his stall only to find it abandoned. Enquiring around they end up chatting with a Sijada a carpet seller who tells them that Tajir is a terrible merchant and is currently drowning is sorrows in a a sorry excuse for a hana (tavern) called Alsamak Al’akhdar.

The hana sits on stilts towards the less developed part of the shanty town outside the walls of the port. The heroes clamber up a ladder into a bar where the only light is provided by gaps in the haphazard planking. A one-eyed barman glares at the foreigners who have tumbled into his bar. The only customer is a small, thin man, a head crowned with a few strands of greasy black hair, slumped on a table and a cup of spirits in his hands. The interlopers appease the owner by buying large quantities of the local spirit, rough as it is and set about trying to get information from the inebriated Tajir.

It turns out that Tajir has kidnapped a child but only in extreme need and the act haunts him; hence the drinking. The time is getting late and the party decide to sober Tajir up with kindness taking him to the Alsuwf Aldhahabiu which has previously been recommended by Eimlaq. Denig and Dagaard stay with the spice merchant and Aerandir and Fulton return to the Ulmo’s Beard for the night. It is only in the morning that Denig and Dagaard realise the mistake of not keeping one of the translators with them but manage to hold out with gesture and coin until the two sailors return.

A more coherent Tajir provides little more detail than already gathered and so the party plan to return to Sijada to question him. However, they are unsure of the best approach reasoning that asking directly will be unlikely to elicit a confession. They briefly consider offering their services as a ship for hire but Fulton points out that Sijada is not the sort of merchant who would contract such services. The idea of posing as child traffickers sits uncomfortably with most of the party and so they opt to follow him at the end of the day.

While they wait for the day to end the investigators decide to question Hasa the stone merchant, who according to Eimlaq, took delivery of a large quantity of black tiles but never sold them. Hasa is rather evasive and tells the adventurers that he sold them to some woman. Pressed he tells them he does not know where she lives but gives them a description of her and that he may have seen her in the Alqurad al’azraq, a hana near the Sahat Al’asad.

So it is that as the sun sets and the shadows deepen in the alleyways the adventurers arrive at the Alqurad al’azraq. Inside are a number of patrons including the woman described by Hasa. What luck they think! Not so Denig who prays for wisdom over the alignment of not only the woman but also the other patrons and discovers that the room is full of those with evil in their heart. The party make a rapid exit into the alley outside the hana.

Exiting the alley, Denig is hit by a dart delivered by a silent weapon. Quickly, he spots the would be assassin and sets off in pursuit down an alley opposite. However, the rear is attacked by the patrons inside and Dagaard is forced to defend the retreat of Aerandir and Fulton. Now the party is split. Fulton and Aerandir find themselves ambushed as they exit onto the street. Dagaard is forced to hold the door fending off two attackers and a priestess whose curses call down stunning bolts of divine power on the dwarf. Fortunately, the dwarf’s pragmatic outlook shrugs off most of this religious mumbo jumbo.

Market Ambush by Darren Tan

In the street, Fulton soon falls to an attacker and Aerandir’s whip proves to be an ineffective weapon. Meanwhile, down the dark alley Denig is ambushed by two foes and only through divine intervention of a wall of wood at his back is he able he buy time to dispatch the opponent in front. The battle does not go well. Doughty Dagaard still holds the door alone his back unprotected. Aerandir is forced to retreat tumbling away from two opponents and leaving Fulton’s body unprotected. Denig extricating himself from his opponent manages to join Aerandir in the street and again is granted a wall of wood to hold the attackers at bay while he heals Aerandir and himself.

Lightning doesn’t strike twice. Does it?

After another night spent on the ledge, Denig, Dagaard and Fulton set out for the ship dragging Roc chick on an improvised sledge lashed together by Aerandir, who remains on the ledge with Vanwa. On the way through the valley the party come across Chad who had been abandoned in the chase up the mountain to rescue Fulton. He was hungry and chilled from being alone for two days in ruins but fed on spare cooked Roc he was soon well enough to return to the ship.

The return of the foraging party, even with food, is not greeted in the best manner. Captain Reiss, reprimands Fulton as a senior crew member for his lackadaisical approach to communication and ship discipline. The loss of one of the “guests” of the ship and the absence of one of the crew; along with the two day absence, are not something that the Captain takes well. However, Fulton’s charm works wonders and with a promise of some treasure to contribute to the ship’s running costs, the food and water from Shadim and the news that they have also rescued an elven princess the Captain becomes more amenable.

It is agreed that Dagaard and Denig will return to the ledge to escort the princess back to safety and Fulton will lead a party to Shadim’s cave to arrange the delivery of water and grain.

Shadim is most pleased to here of the dispatching of the Roc and has noticed the lack of the giant bird in the sky over his flocks over the last two days. Willingly, he agrees to supply Ulmo’s Beard with water, grain and a little goat’s milk to supplement their provisions and the Captain and Fulton return with the giant and supplies only to discover that the other party has not returned. The Captain is furious with the failure to follow instructions and that Aerandir as crew should not be following his orders. Consequently, he dispatches Fulton, who argues for travelling in the morning, to ensure that all are back on the ship before midday on the next day.

Fulton, ears ringing with the Captain’s orders, makes his way back to ledge. Meanwhile, Denig, Dagaard, Aerandir along with Vanwa at his side, re-enter the underground complex with the plan to investigate the stairs up. However, before they do so, the party look again in the library paying careful attention to the book cases. As a result, they are rewarded with entry into a secret room with three chests, a box on a pedestal, another pedestal with a golden ring surmounted with a fire gem and a staff.

Denig cautiously investigates the room for traps and once assured that it is safe picks up the staff. Examining it he determines that it grants the user increased prowess in battle and will magical summon an animal once per day. Having always wanted a staff the shaman healer claims it. He then turns his attention to one of the chest which he discovers is locked. Thwarted, he asks if either Dagaard or Aerandir can unpick locks. Fortunately, Dagaard has some skill with locks, thanks to his trade as a jewel smith and familiarity with fine tools. Unfortunately, Dagaard tires of trying to work out the lock after 10 mins declaring that Fulton would be better at this sort of thing.

The chests abandoned, Denig along with Dagaard turns their attention to the pedestal on which sits a purple cushion holding a gold ring with a Fire red jewel while Aerandir keeps watch with Vanwa outside. With all due caution and attention to traps, Denig picks up the ring from it’s resting place. Lightning arcs out and strikes the stoneman. His skin bubbles alarmingly and he drops the ring as he staggers back. Hurriedly, Dagaard makes an exit and refuses to re-enter on the grounds that lightning and chainmail are not a good combination. Aerandir at the door looks at his missing finger in with regret. After a few moments healing, Denig tries again using an arrow with similar results. He decides that if lightning strikes twice he needs another approach but in the meantime the wooden box on the plinth might be more interesting.

After careful examination, Denig is convinced that moving the box on the plinth will open up a hidden door on the far side of the room. However, his eagerness to open the doorway is tempered by his previous experiences and he chooses to push the box using his newly acquired staff. A crackle of magical energy causes his forearm to break and drops the staff in agony. It is while he is healing that Dagaard remarks that they may have found a good way of clearing the room of traps with the apparently indestructible stoneman. Aerandir suggests moving the box by hitting it with an arrow shot from his bow, a feat he achieves with ease. The box falls to the floor and breaks open to reveal three rune paper parchments. A recovered Denig swoops in and scoops up the prize. He attempts to decipher the first but in doing so triggers the spell, thankfully with no ill effects.

The shaman decides to leave the remain two for later. He then suggest that they leave the room and the chests for when Fulton returns and they explore the stairs. Following the stairs up the party find themselves in the ruins of the Valley of Diamonds. “Oh look a short cut,” remarks Aerandir. “Bloody slow one,” retorts Dagaard.

As the explorers take a rest in the sunshine, Fulton has started to descend back underground. Only being a sailor he is not equipped for underground exploration and without Dagaard’s lantern, he is forced to improvise with a glowing log. Consequently, his passage down is long and slow and is lengthened even further by the need to explore every turning in the hope of locating his companions. So it is that as if ascends they descend from above to make another attempt on the chests. The first proves tricky even for Fulton, but with time it is opened; the other follow far more quickly. Two chests contain more coins than the adventurers could ever carry. Unfortunately, these are all low denomination coins. However, the third chest provides a better haul with a few gold and silver coins stashed among the bronze. The treasure is shared out with a portion reserved for the Captain and, at Aerandir’s suggestion, some of the copper coins for the rest of the crew.

Satisfied with their haul, and forewarned by Cloch of the peril of attempting to take the ring, along with Aerandir’s cautionary tale of magic rings on fingers, the adventurers return to the ship. Vanwa is given the Captain’s quarters as a courtesy. Where upon the crewmen, take to their duties and with a wave to the shore-bound Shadim and Dagaard clinging to the mast down below, The Ulmo’s Beard sets sail once more.

Rewards and Reputation

The party have gained a reputation with the crew for being daring adventurers but Captain Reiss considers Denig and Dagaard to be disruptive to the smooth working of his crew. They have earned the gratitude of Vanwa for releasing her. Aerandir has become a focus of her attention.

The Spectral Warrior’s Two handed sword
+10 OB Quarterstaff of Summoning animals
8 GP
An ancient coin minted thousands of years ago. The coin’s features are nearly worn smooth such is its age.
Silver dagger, bowl and tripod from the cursed altar.
A number of healing herbs.
A number of books including one book of open essence spells in Haradric.
Several Rune papers two of which have unknown spells and two of Lesser Umaiar and one of Control Umaiar.

This way a dark madness lies.

Aerandir acts as translator for Vanwa as the party question her on what she knows of this place. However, she is as ignorant as they are. She tells them she has never been beyond the magical circle and knows no more of the sorcerer who dwelt here than that he desired her for a wife. During the exchanges, Fulton, entirely understandably, casts amorous glances at the beautiful elf princess and later entreats Aerandir to teach him elvish so that he can also converse with Vanwa. Reluctantly, Aerandir agrees that on the ship he will teach Fulton some elvish (but neglects to tell him which tongue it will be).

With little more to be gained from questioning Vanwa, the adventurers press on with further explorations, Denig taking a cautious lead in searching for traps after the loss of Pick. A store room of reagents is discovered behind the last door off the entrance room. Although Denig shows some interest in the shelves he decides to leave and closer inspection to a later time.

From the storeroom, a corridor leads past the one where Pick met his demise. Denig successfully disarms a trap he discovers but this turns out to be a ruse and a second more cunning trap springs a small poisoned blade at the back of his unprotected calf. Luckily, his stone skin protects him from harm.

The corridor ends abruptly at a stone wall. The party reason that a dead end would not be protected so heavily with traps and set to searching for a secret entrance and are rewarded quickly with entry to a large room. The ceiling and floor and marked with black scorches and there is a sulphurous tang in the air. Spending over an hour to ensure that the room really is safe, Denig finally lets the party into explore its contents.

Abandoned in one corner is a chainmail shirt with links fused by heat and some tallow like substance congealed inside. Denig is immediately drawn to trying to determine what has happened. Meanwhile, Aerandir searches one of the two work benches and finds a secret compartment with a transparent gem that is shot with glimmers of gold. This immediately becomes the focus of the adventurer’s attention. Denig and Fulton spend some time sizing up its magical properties before Fulton eventually puts it in his pack for the group. There is also a big sack stuffed with a range of dirty and scorched clothes and rigid leather breast plate. The latter is assigned to Fulton as future armour.

Magical lab – Visual novel Background by Gianop

On the other workbench, they discover a small wooden box with an ancient coin and a stone beaker. Praying for divine insight into the nature of the objects discovered, Denig becomes aware of evil curses on both the breastplate and the transparent gem. However, it is too late for Fulton who loses his connection to the Song of Arda and his magical abilities.

Having explored as far as they can from the entrance hall, the party return to hall of portraits that was left unexplored on the previous day. With great care, they enter. The portraits, all of dark skinned men win sable hood robes each holding a curved silver knife with a drop of blood at its tip, appear to watch the slow search for traps. Down a corridor a locked door briefly prevents further progress before yielding to Fulton’s skills.

The room beyond is lined with statues of robed men in various scholarly and worshipful poses. Denig cautiously inches past each one before the rest of the party enter. Aerandir at the rear, hovers protectively next to Vanwa whilst covering the party with his bow.

An ebony-black door, similar to the one into the room, bars entry to the room beyond. Fulton’s lock picking skills are tested to full and are found wanting. A faint puff of air from the key hole leaves the sailor writhing on the floor in agony from poison. With alacrity, Denig calls on Cloch for aid, taking on his stone body the agony of Fulton and being granted healing for his sacrifice.

With a little more care and time, Fulton releases the lock and the door beyond opens out into a room of black marble. A dais with an altar toped by silver utensils sits within a circle of silver arcane symbols. Those near the room are assailed by voices that swell and fade. Denig and Dagaard are sorely pressed by the voices calling for a blood sacrifice and hover near the door torn between entering and a more rational caution. From the entrance to the statue room Aerandir continues to guard Vanwa and watch over the party with bow drawn.

Fulton alone enters the room and carefully explores the surrounding. Finding nothing suspicious he mounts the dais and examines the altar pieces. A silver tripod stands over a copper bowl: beside it are a small silver knife tipped in dried black blood and a silver bowl containing congealed blood. The silver items Fulton recovers and returns to those waiting in the room beyond. It is then that Denig decides to inspect the altar more closely and enters the room. The voices swell to a crescendo and drawing sword he rushes to obey the compulsion for a blood sacrifice on the only target he can see the half-elven Aerandir. At the sight of the onrushing Dunlending (sword drawn), Aerandir shuts the door and draws Vanwa back to safety. Fortunately, Cloch intervenes and the compulsion his withdrawn as the stone god’s grace flows back into Denig.

Closing the door on the unholy sanctuary, the party vow never to return and turn instead to the remaining unopened doors. The first, off the menagerie room, is quickly picked by Fulton and reveals a corridor and stairs leading upwards. The adventurers leave exploration for a later time. Instead they turn their attention to the doors in the room with the balance lock. It is clear that the doors are secured against entry by their failure with the unusual lock mechanism. After some discussion, they decide, much to Dagaard’s regret at not using Denig, to use a stone statue as a battering ram and eventually break down one of the two doors.

Beyond the door is a small office with a desk and a few writing implements but nothing more of interest. However, leading off from this and connecting back to the other door is a small library magically lit with small motes of light that bob and swirl as the heroes enter. They spend some time looking for a secret entrance behind a curtain before exploring the library shelves where they net a number of tomes from spell books to legends.

Another day has nearly passed and the party decide to retire to the ledge again for the night. There is some discussion about the next course of action. They all want to explore the final passageway but Aerandir points out that the party have been away for two days on a small island and the Captain may fear that they are lost. At this point, they have forgotten about the injured crewman (Chad) waiting by the ruins in the Valley of Diamonds. Denig thinks that they need to transport the Roc chick to the ship to avoid spoilage if it is to feed the crew. He is also keen to see Shadim to inform him that the Roc is dead and wishes to set off immediately. Fulton suggests that he stays with Vanwa on the ledge until the rest have seen the captain; as he thinks an attractive scantily clad elf might be too much of a distraction for the crew. That is until Aerandir points out that he is the only one who can communicate with her and it should be him that stays.

A fire lit Denig, Dagaard and Fulton begin to drag the large, heavy, unbutchered chick to the mountain path down to the valley. It soon becomes clear that they will not complete the journey even with dwarven night vision or supernatural aid before the night is out and so return to Aerandir and Vanwa.