PBeM report 9 – Long Winter Shadows ~ A Single Step

Please enjoy this ninth and final instalment of A Single Step, the first in a series of stories called Long Winter Shadows, detailing the early years of the wizard, Marlin Tyrell, and his quest to regain his lost birthright. This last instalment is entitled:

Luna Beach~

While you have often been drifting along, supported by the excess energies of the ley line, there are points where it descends so deeply below the surface that you must walk. As a result, you know one thing due to your survival training, which others in the group might not, but Juniour obviously does: there are signs of predators about… some more than big enough to stalk and kill an unwary man.

Player the first:

Marlin will stop with the group and pause to visibly catch his breath for a moment. He remains silent as the group of men “rally” around their “causes” and when the Dwarves look at him he will state in a rather matter-of-fact way, “You know, a few moments to get ready would not necessarily be out-of-place.” He looks at the elder Dwarf for a long moment, holding his eye before turning to the men. “Dwarves, my

friends, they sometimes forget that we Humans can’t just break into a dead run and sustain it for any amount of time… without a bit of rest.” I look to the sky to judge the current time and then ask the elder Dwarf, “Kelpies are nocturnal, right?

The GM:

“Isn`t that more of a guideline than a rule?” he replies. “Of course with the noise a group this size makes we could wake the dead… Why do you ask?”

Many have quit their bitching and are listening to the exchange with some concern~

Player the first:

Marlin nods at the dwarf’s words and then turns to men who have gathered.

“We have been following the river thus far and it has not been too bad, but men, the truth is, the river is like a shield with a razor’s edge. By that I mean, it protects us but we could get badly cut if we are not careful. Creatures of all manner of unpleasantness use it as a source of water and as a place to hunt. I do not like to be considered prey for any longer than I absolutely must. The dwarves and I intend to be in Luna Beach in three…” he pauses and glances at the younger impatient dwarf again. “…Or at most four days. I do not know for how much longer we will be able to follow the river or how long it will help shield us, but it can be a home to many unpleasant things, as I am sure you men are well aware. If any of you are familiar with this territory and know a faster way, then by all means speak up. Otherwise the dwarf’s offer still stands: accompany us to Luna Beach and pull your own weight and you will be rewarded. The weapons and whatnot that you have from the Kobold lair are yours to keep now and if you want to rest, walk away, or continue on this road with us, it is your decision to make, but you must make it now. We will freshen our drinking flasks and be on our way before an hour has passed. Any longer than that and we will likely find ourselves regretting it.” He turns back to the dwarves and says, “I do understand that haste is required where stealth is lacking, but I think we can afford that much time, if the scouts remain vigilant.”

The GM:

Assent is not swift, but the power of your words, the lengthening shadows of the day, the stillness of the wilderness, smarter members of the band of former captives, and a crushed and gnawed skeleton no one can identify all persuade people that it might be time to get a move on.

Three men seem to stand out from the rest as being the most capable. All three are thin and their simple clothing is so worn as to seem more like a collection of loosely affiliated rags, but they have the glint of intelligence in their eyes and that certain set to their jaw which shows determination.

One, Arrin, has been distinguishing himself somewhat with a bow, but is clearly struggling through a massive wall of fatigue and malnourishment.

The next, Del, is one of the most-experienced river men, and was hoping to become first mate next season. His garrulous ramblings, full of personal details and anecdotes are teaching you more than you ever wanted to know about the drunken goings on in mining towns, but also seem to have a calming effect on the men. You have to wonder if he might be playing the part of a fool just to distract those around him from their suffering. He does not try to take command of anyone, and doesn’t seem to have that sort of spark within him, but has a way of making time pass more easily.

The third, Gallun, has said almost nothing since leaving the Lair, but has volunteered more than his share of times for watch duty, showed actual skill with the sword he was given, and is responsible for saving at least 2 people from tangle vines. He is sociable enough – joining whatever group is doing something – but does his share of the work quietly and well.

Three full days have passed, and at best guess, at this pace, it will take three full days more. The dwarves take you aside as the darkness comes on, and the men set about collapsing into a heap they call ‘camp.’  The dwarves will head deeper into the woods and try to bring down a large game animal for the meal tonight. They ask you to organize cooking up most of the remaining vegetables and starting a stew. Instead of rationing, they intend to both have a feast, and lighten the loads that people are carrying.

The place chosen to rest tonight is some kind of regular stopping point, probably for Dominion Army Patrols. There is no food, but there are sealed barrels of water, and lots of dry firewood in a small mud building at the edge of the tree line. A sign on the door reads “Replace what you use” in several languages.

Not an hour passes before the dwarves return with a small doe slung on a stick over their shoulders between them. Riding behind them in formation is a small patrol of 5 soldiers wearing the colours of the Dominion Army.

“Count yer blessings, lads,” calls the elder dwarf. “We are rescued.”

A ragged cheer goes up from the men, as if the arrival of these soldiers somehow means that the remaining distance to Luna Beach has vanished and they are all safely at home in their beds. The doe quickly absorbs all attention and it is Gallun who cleans and dresses it, and recruits helpers to set up a spit and begin roasting it over a well-made fire.

The soldiers report that there was a sighting of a troll a day’s ride from here, and that they have ridden out to take care of it. Amused, the elder dwarf spins a tale of how he and his son and brother were trapped by that foul troll, but were rescued from certain death by a potent wizard. He singles you out with a jut of his chin.

“Never a more potent display of magic, have I seen in all my days,” He claims. “He blew the troll right out of his boots with his firebolts!  I think he deserves some kind of medal!”

The leader of the squad of soldiers smiles politely, and looks at you curiously, but does not immediately respond to the scarred and brutal-looking dwarf gazing up at him. He gazes at this large group of obvious refugees with something akin to surprise.

The men are doing their best to be industrious, fetching water and more wood, preparing a spit, dealing with the parts of the doe that Gallun determines have no earthly use, and clearing a wider space in the tall grasses of the river bank. A few of the less-sociable types agree to go off and collect wood to replace what was taken from the shelter, coaxed into it by Del.

The soldiers have been given leave to dismount and set up their own camp – or contribute more order the chaos of yours, but sit comfortably in their saddles, waiting for their commander to do so. Most are looking you and the others over with polite, but observant eyes.

After an evening’s discussion over the roasted doe and crisp vegetables gathered at great peril along the water’s edge, the squad leader agrees to accompany your band of stragglers to Luna Beach, and to ensure that there is no trouble encountered at the gate when you arrive with what could be easily construed as either a bandit army, or at least, a strain on the resources of the community.

In return for this boon, he requests a day to inspect the physical evidence of the tale (the cave of the troll sans live troll) and asks that you rest here, under the protection of three of his men while he does so. The men who overhear this request, certainly do not seem to mind a day lolling by the riverbank under the protection of ‘professional soldiers’ and a ‘powerful wizard.’

The dwarves seem fine with this, and the elder comments at great length about how he had always wanted to rescue a hapless human from a Kelpie. He seems to have a few hapless humans in mind.

If there is no objection from Marlin, they will agree to the plan.

Player the first:

Marlin will make no objections outright, but at the first opportunity he will take the dwarves aside and mention the tracks he has seen and the beasts of prey that may be about. He will also make a point of
mentioning that the guards must not relax their vigilance in the face of their “rescue”.

Also, as time allows, he would like to examine the fire-flail to see if he can figure out the secret of how to trigger it. He has given up any real notion of claiming it as it is useless to him, really, but he still does want to understand it.

The GM:

Croatia Dubrovnik doubles as Luna Beach

Luna Beach

The walled town of Luna Beach is not reputed to be much more than the Eastern-most port of call for the Dominion Navy, and a work-oriented, ship-building and fishing community whose primary industry is geared toward serving the freight forwarding needs of Pennington Mining. The highly valued white marble quarried by the Penningtons in the White Mountains to the West cannot be obtained anywhere else, and so merchants meet and greet customers on the narrow winding streets and wide, functional docks of Luna Beach from as far as the Western Empire – despite the relative humbleness of the town itself.

The town is primarily constructed of stone buildings, but a lack of coherent planning in the early life of the community lead to incredibly tight streets and squat architecture. Over time, this lead to the growth of sprawling farming, lumber, and textile communities outside the walls to the point where it is hard to tell where the town itself actually ends.

The approach to the town leads the group through kilometer after kilometer of farmland, then through a small cluster of buildings devoted to making sailcloth and rope. Few remark or even look up to note the passing of so large a group of strays, but even on the outskirts of town you, as a native of Timiro, notice a marked lack of non-human slaves among the working population. Weathered human faces are far, far in the majority unlike the communities you passed through on your way to the Eastern Territories, where manual labor seems to be primarily handled by non-human races.

From talk among the men as you all made your way here, there is a large outpost of Dominion Army troops stationed here, but the law is actually handled by Pennington Troops. The major force in town is of course the Navy, and their experienced commanders are respected by most of the seafaring community. The town is also reputed to have a large number of Warlocks in service to the Navy and the Pennington Merchant Fleet.

Your escort of soldiers, impressed with their inspection of the troll’s cave and relieved not to have had to do the killing themselves waved you all past the gate and assembled you all for one last time in the Pennington Quarry depot yard close to the docks. They have further agreed to escort the dwarves and you to a banking establishment the dwarves trust so that you may divide, convert, and perhaps invest the treasures you have gained thus far.

As the men line up, and the dwarves prepare to dispense the agreed-upon salary and surviving money to each of the men that contributed to the group’s safety and comfort, you notice that several of the men have already slipped away in the hustle and bustle of the narrow streets – there are only 36 men left. Of the original 40 or 41, one was lost to the river, but as far as you can tell no one else disappeared before your arrival in town. Of the missing men, only Gallun is well-known enough to you for you to remember his name and notice specifically that he is gone. If the others are who you think they are, they were lazy, ill-mannered types with nothing to offer.

The elder dwarf dispenses 50gp and a private word to each remaining man, before the clerk for the Quarry then leads them off to draw their remaining pay and arrange new berths on wagon trains and river boats. Immediately after that, he goes in with the Dominion Army officer to speak to the foreman about obtaining his payment for resolving the loss of the riverboats. The meeting is short, but successful.  He is paid his original band of 8’s wages, and the bounty on the troll. After the officer leaves, he discusses the Kobold lair, and the challenges within. A few hours later, after interviewing the survivors, the foreman agrees to pay a bounty for that as well, to be drawn at the bank.

Later, in a private counting room in the bank, a branch of the Pennington Exchequer, the elder dwarf states that the group has to decide what to do with the items of a magical nature that might be worth retaining. Certain items, such as the cloth of iron robes and the indestructible armour are really too small for any of the three of you to use and so are perhaps best sold. The flail, potions, and scrolls – however… these things need to be discussed. While dwarves do not practice magic, they covet its power when encased in material objects as much if not more than the next person.

“Make yer case fer what you wan’ and think ye deserve, mighty wizard~” he declares with a wink.

Player the first:

Marlin smiles a bit as he formulates his answer. He is sure, though, that neither dwarf, fails to see him glance covetously at the fire-flail.

“Well sirs,” he begins. “I hardly need to tell you that tales of ‘Marlin the Magnificent and the Flail of Fire’ lack but even a mediocre bard to spread my fame across this world. Also, I would be a liar if I did not confess that never have I felt as helpless as I did during our adventures in the Kobold lair when my mystical energies had been all but exhausted. I now know I will need a trusty weapon at my side beyond this,” he says as he pats the knife at his belt. “Hopefully not often will I feel such fear. That being said, however, I must look at the reality of the situation. Poetic considerations aside, my as-yet unnamed friend, your son has shown great prowess with a weapon on this nature and a rather unfortunate familiarity with this one in particular. I am sure that he will be able to put it to much better, if less storied, use than me.” He heaves a somewhat dramatic sigh, glances at it once again, and looks the elder dwarf squarely in the eyes. “I propose that your son take it and smite those that require smiting. Let us look to the rest of the magical devices. I am sure we can come to an understanding that will be mutually beneficial.”

The GM:

“Well spoken!” enthuses the elder dwarf, as his son nodded and took the potent magical weapon. A more fearsome duo, you have likely never met – each armed with a foul temperament, worse temper, and a magical bludgeoning weapon.

The elder dwarf slides the rolled scrolls gathered from the Hetman’s rooms and waves his hand over them in a “done” gesture, indicating they are yours to dispense with. The younger dwarf turns to their bags of gear and pulls out a long, thin, bundle – bound in twine and carefully wrapped in oiled skins.

“For you,” he says quietly, as he slowly reveals the long sword within… a true beauty of silvery death caught frozen in glittering steel. “Not Kobold – Dwarven. – from Acoroc, our family forges – long, long ago.”  He looks up from the deep polish of the steel which seems to gather and concentrate each flickering point of lantern light in the bank room to quietly and calmly look you in the face. “You have a swordsman’s build and finely skilled hands… It will serve you well.”

The elder dwarf then steps around the table and extends his hand in the human fashion, announcing as he does so, “Marlin Tyrell, you do vast credit to your teachers and your bravery contains both the rashness of youth and the firmness that comes of wisdom, making you a travelling companion to treasure for ye bring laughter and pride both. I am proud to have had ye with me – even if you are fully responsible personally for summoning forth the coming apocalypse with your wirld ending magicks, and I would be proud to say you were my friend.” At this he pauses a moment, hand extended, waiting for you to take it.

“My name is Genrik of Acoroc, and this is my son Genrir.”

Player the first:

Marlin is (almost) speechless, but he takes Genrik’s hand in his and shakes it enthusiastically.

“Dare I say, Genrik Acoroc that no other sons of Winterholme have travelled with such doughty companions. It has been an honour and a pleasure to make your acquaintance; and I would consider myself favoured by the gods themselves to be so named a friend of yours.”

Releasing the dwarf’s hand he steps back and bows respectfully. Facing the younger dwarf, he says, “Genrir, son of Genrik, I will take this blade and hope to do justice to those who so lovingly crafted it. If they were ancestors of yours then I have utter faith in its trustworthiness.”

He takes the blade and tests it for weight and balance, and smiles at the results.

“As we agreed, we shall meet again at the Kobold lair. I must travel to Wisdom as you know, to deliver this package, but I plan to return to that foul place immediately thereupon. Whatever business awaits me in Wisdom shall also wait upon the completion of this adventure. Yet, if I am not present at the time of our appointed meeting, please hold in your hearts the memory of me, for only death would make it so that I did not appear.”

The GM:

You, unsurprisingly, have never handled a finer blade, and you can tell from their looks as you inspect it, and their nods as you praise it, that few others have either.

As you are new to Luna Beach, Genrir, the younger dwarf, agrees to take you down to the docks to enquire about ships headed around the peninsula toward more northern ports in the Eastern Territories, and help you find a suitable inn.

Before that, Genrik vouches for your identity with the bank, so that you can deposit whatever amount of your share you desire, and obtain a letter of credit for a bank in Wisdom – just in case.

The docks are reached by a bewildering mess of alleys and narrow streets, which at this time of day are a cacophonous maze of market-goers, porters, labourers, small patrols of both Dominion and Pennington troops, and the odd group of sailors looking about them at the stern stone architecture livened up with the red and green banners common to the Eastern Territories, and the lines of bright white linens strung up to dry from the higher alley windows.

Once at the docks, you have the option of speaking to the harbour master about ships and ports of call, or simply walking down the docks and speaking to the officers in charge of each vessel. For those that can read, this is made even easier by large signs at each berth marked in several common languages with destinations and departure times.

Player the first:

Marlin will first ask Genrir if he recognizes any ships or shipping lines that are reputable, and if nothing else is forthcoming from him, will approach the Harbormaster first to check on larger ships heading in that direction. Since money for passage will no longer be an issue, he would rather travel aboard a larger ship where he can be left in peace to continue to peruse the spell book and try to divine its secrets and be less likely bothered by pirates or other such nuisances. If the Harbormaster is otherwise occupied then an inspection down the docks, pier by pier if necessary, should be a wonderful way to pass the afternoon. An inn with a hot bath and a warm meal would be a most welcome distraction, and an invitation to a cold pint or two is passed to Genrir. Marlin has decided that it is high time he gets more than a sentence a day out of the younger dwarf.

The GM:

As you query Genrir, the tremulous voice of an old man cuts across your conversation and the constant commotion of the hustle and bustle all about you, as the light touch of a spindly, gnarled hand, wrinkled with age and hard work, lights upon your forearm.

“It’s not a large ship you want for some quiet and avoiding the notice of pirates, young man! It’s a fast ship, you need – and mine’s the fastest!”

Forced together by the movements of the crowd over the cobblestone lanes in the narrow alleys leading to the docks, it would seem the speaker could not but help overhear your question about dependable shipping lines for larger ships. The speaker is clearly no captain, but is just as clearly a seaman. His weather-beaten face and simple clothes, combined with his rough, workman’s hands denote that easily enough. His white hair is long and thin, pulled back into a ponytail, tied with a length of cord. His loose shirt is an un-dyed beige colour, and his pants are a brilliant green. Even over the reek of humanity, cooking scents, and the unexpected perfume of flowers hanging overhead in flower pots, he smells of fish and soap.

As your attention is drawn to the old man you involuntarily slow, and Genrir moves ahead of you. As he does so, your eye catches the movement of a child’s dirty hand, deftly trying to slip into the dwarf’s pack unnoticed.

“We offer the best rates, the best food, and by Algor’s grace, the fastest speed of any ship in all the seas of the world!”

Player the first:

“A moment, sir!” Marlin says, not unkindly, as he shifts his attention to the little thief, one hand immediately going to his own purse on his belt. He waits a moment to see if the little rapscallion is deft enough to make the theft…

The GM:

Quick as an escaping eel, the hand slips under the flap of the pack, and comes out with a small pouch that you are fairly certain is one of those containing large, uncut diamonds.

Your dwarven alley seems not to have noticed the pilfering in progress, but does seem to have noticed that you are no longer by his side… instead a massive washer woman in dark blues and greens looms over him with equally large bundles of clothes in each hand.

The thief is tiny, human, and looks to be about 10 summers, but is perhaps older and suffering from malnourishment and harsh conditions. You suspect he is about to dart away, under cover of the crowd.

This might be the last clear view of him you will get.

Player the first:

As soon as Marlin sees the pouch in the thief’s hand, he begins muttering the necessary covering words, letting slip the proper words of power in what (he hopes) is the proper order. Having spent a great deal of time floating along a ley line has given him time to contemplate certain words of power and their phraseology… although he has not yet tried this spell, he is fairly certain he can now cast “Levitation”.

Assuming the spell works as intended, the little thief will suddenly find himself suspended a few feet off the ground, with Marlin approaching to take the pouch of gems from his hand.

The GM:

The spell, while rough around the edges, and not as efficient or elegant as it will become when it is refined in practice, works!

The thief, small, malnourished, ill-dressed, and dirty, with an expression many demons would be envious of, turns head over heels up off of the ground with a slightly surprising amount of force and speed until he is dangling over the heads of the mostly oblivious passersby… who are slowly noticing that something is… up.

Genrir, turns to look at you, then his eyes slowly look up to take in the airborne cutpurse, seeing his bag of gems in the dirty hand. No expression crosses his face, but as his eyes focus once more on you, he says, “Thanks.”

The sailor starts dancing a jig, clapping his hands, and laughing fit to be tied at the come-uppance he has just witnessed.

Player the first:

While a slightly more obvious ploy than he had hoped, the point is made.  Marlin plucks the bag of gems from the thief’s hands and returns them to Genrir’s pocket with a smile, all the while keeping a hand on his own pouch in case there is a double play in play.

Once the gems are secure, Marlin lifts the boy a bit higher and then announces turns to face the people who have taken notice of this afternoon’s proceedings and says, “This child is a thief. He will need a better ruse from now on. I suggest you all be well aware of him.”

He lowers the boy to eye level and says quietly to him alone, “Thievery will net you nothing but a hangman’s noose child, and your handler will simply find another to use in your stead. Do not be a stooge for those who would use you and discard you.”

Barring any further commentary, Marlin will let the boy go with that lesson and turn back to the old sailor.

“You mentioned passage on a swift ship?”

The GM:

Putting your hand to your belt, you feel something brush across your skin, and turning, think you see a flash of another small body dodging through the press of bodies. A quick glance at your pouch shows the drawstring has been cut, but the mouth of the pouch is still closed suggesting nothing has been taken.

“Aye Aye!  The swiftest of the fast! And good luck it will be to have 2 wizards a’ board!  Where will you be heading?”  He claps his hands again, and does another quick jig. “We are sailing the whole coast of the Eastern Territories until the very border of the Wolfen Empire!  Is that far enough a trip for you, fine sir?”

Over his shoulder, on the dull grey stone wall of a building, you see a notice board with wanted posters both old and new, and one large one with new tax information. A bored looking pair of soldiers is adding a new wanted poster. The face on it looks somewhat familiar.

Player the first:

Marlin smiles at the old man and nods, “Two wizards, you say? Indeed…” With Genrir at his side and his pouch held tightly to avoid it spilling open, Marlin steps up to the wanted posters to get a closer look.

The GM:

The rogues gallery is not terribly impressive, but most are drawn in a fine hand and capture a certain reality about each person…  then your eye catches the new poster clearly… Wanted for kidnapping, murder, and trafficking with dark powers to the detriment of the kingdom is a man who, although younger, and better-kept in the drawing, must either be Gallun, or his brother.

The simple script at the top of the poster says ‘Wanted Dead.’ His simple picture takes up the centre of the poster. At the bottom of the poster a reward of 25,000 gp is offered for incontrovertible proof of the demise of the summoner known as Alcome.

Player the first:

Marlin will turn to his dwarven companion and say softly, “Now, doesn’t he look familiar?”

Barring the unlikely possibility of a response from Genrir, Marlin will turn back to the old salt and ask, “And when does your ship sail, sir?”

The GM:

As the dwarf grunts and rubs his chin, the old salt responds with a gap-toothed smile and the information that the Winter Wind sails with the tide, three days hence, and that you can have a berth for a mere 200 gp if you agree to lend aid should the need to defend the ship arise.

Player the first:

Marlin smiles at the Old Salt and offers his hand.

“Done, you old sea dog! Where is the ship’s berth so that I can secure my room. I should hope, of course, that such a swift vessel, and with your steady assurances, such aid would be unnecessary.”

With that information given, he will turn to Genrir and ask him if he is willing to share in the hunt — for three days at least. When there is an opportunity to say so, he adds, “Gallun did not seem the sort, yet appearances are of course deceiving. Shall we find him, my fiery flail-wielding friend? ‘Twould be a profitable way to spend the time before my ship sets sail?”

______

Here ends the story ‘A Single Step’ in the Palladium Fantasy Campaign Long Winter Shadows. At its conclusion, the wizard known to himself as Marlin the Magnificent, and to others as Marlin Tyrell gained a new level of experience, rising from the first to the second level.

For the whole story, begin here.

The next story, ‘Promises,’ is underway now, and the first installment will be posted soon.

____

“The world, characters, likenesses, rules, titles, names, publications, trademarks and copyrights related to all Palladium Publications are owned and licensed exclusively by Palladium Books Inc.; all rights reserved, worldwide.”

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