Crustis of the Sea People

I will never forget that fateful day during the monsoon season. It was the kind of day that looms large in a man’s memory. The sort of day that makes one realize that Erenth is a much larger place and home to many more creatures than most can imagine.

In those days, I had not yet gotten back to my feet after the death of my first liege lord. I was still spending time in a small backwater outside of the metropolis of Shu called Hokia province. I had attached myself as a man of arms to a lesser noble of a minor house. The baroness of the province held court by renting out a local tavern by day and hearing the concerns of her peasants and freeholders alike.

Rumors said that Fung Lee Mai Nan was among the wealthiest of the petty nobility in Shu, but if that was so, her accommodations in those days didn't show it. The hangers on of her court often said behind her back that her ladyship was able to squeeze a wonjen coin between her muscled thighs and turn it into three hunjen. I never knew if that was a statement about the general impenetrability of her treasury or of her womanhood.

They said also that it was she and her companions which slew the Krakentoa, I don’t hide the fact that was a defining reason why I sought her out. I will admit I saw little in those days from her which suggested she had the ability to pull such a feat off. The Mai I knew was a bureaucrat and administrator, perhaps her greatest skill was in surrounding herself with able company.

Regardless, when I attached myself to her court, I did not expect what I would find. It was Spartan, at best. What accoutrement and dignity it did afford was brought in with servants at dawn and boxed to be taken out by noon. I recall that the room often smelled of spilt wine and shed blood from the previous night. More than once, I spied a sleeping drunk in a darkened corner when discussions were had about matters of state. Then there is the matter of those which tried repeatedly to kill her – but that is another tale. Perhaps such rawness was the attraction for me.

Perhaps she was the attraction for me. Sealed thighs or not, she was a noble woman. A first generation member of the gentry, such as myself, would have done very well to marry up. I might have put a seed or two in her and my children could have known a good life. Noble woman or not, however, the truth be told she was little more than a Daizu Wanga with a finer title. Her mismatched jewelry, her strange manner of dress, her odd assortment of weapons and armor from across all the known Lands – these things conspired to make her look like a barbarian plunderer more than a civilized Nan.

As a Jae Shi with no living lord, I frequented many such places as Hokia. I went to find what work I could and to press myself into service, one lord after another, one cause after another. I still have little patience for the backstabbing and whispers of most nobility, so however savage her court, I felt more at home there than in many more lavish accommodations. Alas, I have a tale to tell, and I will return to it.

The monsoon season was hard upon us and on that particular day the rain seemed to come sideways for hours. Most her subjects took shelter from the wind and wet. Only the most stubborn of Hokia sought the judgement of their Nan. So that fateful morning, her docket was light and most of us were bored.

Suddenly, the door burst open and in came the largest man I have ever seen. Man? Some called him a giant, whether that be his race, or not, there is no doubt that he stood 25' if he stood a hand. I know not what sort of behemoth he was – I leave that to the learned men. I will say that I had not seen his like and I was already well-traveled in all three cities. This man or giant, came in like a wet rag. His hair was bedraggled and filled with seaweed. He himself smelled of salt and fish. He stooped to enter and uncurled himself as he stepped through the door. We saw him dressed in only a gauzelike loin cloth and sporting earrings made from shells. He was girt with a slender blade (still huge by our standards). In his right hand he held a trident that could not have been borne by three men. Its cruel points gleamed sharp and shiny.In his left hand was a great bag, a net actually, doubled back on itself as if to hold a great haul. I could not see what it held, turtles maybe, for it was irregularly woven with sea vines and thick sheaves of rushes. It was green and bulging – that’s all I could determine.

When he came in, the Nan’s court went silent and still. I recall a knight of Westrun who kept Mai’s company in those days. He was the only one who dared move. I saw him cross to the window and peer out into the morning rain, perhaps to assure himself that no more of this visitor’s ilk would be entering. The rest of her court, myself included, was in awe.

There, in the flickering light of the fire, we watched him. Her bodyguards unmoving, but with blades drawn. It’s perhaps inconceivable to imagine that they did not attack at once, but had you seen this specimen yourself, you might have recognized the futility of it. For a moment, all we could hear was the dripping water as it fell off his massive muscled frame and poured from the bottom of the bag he carried.

The visitor carefully lay his trident on the floor and almost ceremoniously stepped over it. He ungirt his sword and handed it to the speechless door ward, then still having to bow his head even in the high ceiling of the public house; he stepped forward, bag still in hand. The Nan’s bodyguard’s surged forward then, and I felt my hand on my own sword. I considered that we held no chance against him – even when he was unarmed.

When he spoke, his voice carried a quality not unlike the crashing surf from which he obviously sprang. His first words were in a tongue I did not know. None answered him, and when next he spoke it was in the trade dialect of Sushao.

“I have come from the Reef People to seek audience with the queen of the Land People,” he explained. His tone was tight as if there was anger in his chest and his eyes were bright and shining.

The Nan stood up and motioned for her retinue to stand down. “I am ruler of this province,” she said to her visitor.

“Then I come bringing this gift and a matter of diplomacy,” he said. “I am Crustis and I come bearing word of my King.”

The Nan nodded.

He continued, “You and all your people may bow before my King and escape death by becoming his thralls, or you may resist and feel the true wrath of the Lord of the Deep.”

I looked at the noble lady and expected her to flash anger, but she chose a more reasoned approach.

“To what do I owe the honor of this offer?” the Nan asked, choosing her words slowly.

“My lord has judged you a murderous people and a thief of children. He would be pleased to see to your destruction, but if you humble yourself and beg forgiveness, he will only assign to you a lifetime of misery and servitude.”

With that, the giant guest heaved his parcel onto the floor where it fell with a liquid thump and slid forward to the center of the hall. We could see that it left a trail of bright blood behind it, as if it were a giant sponge passing over the wooden boards. When it came to a stop, the net opened and its contents spilled out across the floor. There must have been two score human heads exposed, tongues lolling, eyes wide in fear, and fixed in death. They rolled haphazardly toward the Nan’s feet.

My sword found its way into my hand, at last. I still recognized we had no chance against one such as this, but I meant to go down swinging, not running.

The Nan still didn’t move, she studied the faces of the heads that spilled from the bag. It seemed she recognized some of them. When she spoke it was with surprising calm, “We are not murderers nor thieves as you describe. You have us confused.”

The giant’s eyes narrowed in fury.

“I took these heads from your people by the water. Do you think I took them lightly? A fortnight ago, your ship of war, cast a net into the deep and snatched from the hand of my queen, her only son, our prince, and dragged him off.”

“We have not,” the Nan assured. “I have no ships of war to speak of.”

The giant roared then, as if the denials of the Nan were too much for him to hear. He leapt forward and crossed the space between him and her ladyship with astonishing speed. Even those with swords drawn could not strike before the massive visitor had one meaty hand around her throat. He swung her around like a rag doll, tightening his grip and attempting to pummel all comers with his free hand.

The Westrun knight flew to attack at once, striking blow after blow and by some divine power avoiding all damage to himself. The Nan had strange folk in her court in those days. A Westrun priest was also on hand, chanting his strange imprecations in the name of his god. An elf was there too, along with a warrior who looked more beast than man. The three joined the fray, along with the rest of the room. The Westrun knight drew attack after attack and somehow avoided being hit. Though we struck furiously, I could see the light going out of the Nan’s eyes. It might have been certain death, but just when we thought all was lost, the giant finally succumbed to our assault and falling unconscious, released his prey.

When she could regain her feet, and her wind, Mai stayed the hand of all her retinue and ordered her gargantuan attacker bound. When his massive frame was well-secured and trussed like a pig on the floor of the tavern, she ordered his wounds tended to. The room was cleared of all non-essential persons and only the stoutest of us remained. Unbelievably, her ladyship meant to question this Crustis when he had his wits about him.

Finally, all was done and the Nan bent down to stare at him. “We are not murderers and thieves of children,” she repeated her assurances.

Crustis glared and strained against his bonds, “I have a witness.”

“Go on,” she prompted.

“The queen – the swiftest of her guards gave chase and saw them come ashore here – in this very land. The men aboard those ships then hoisted their net and held aloft my prince as a great prize. When they tired of their sport, they sent him dashing to the ground. There, they treated his body to more cruelties before putting it on a wagon like a piece of meat. Were it not for the fatigue of he that followed your ship of war, many would have died that day. Instead, he returned to my lord and made full report of it. So I am come with war in one hand, and enslavement in the other. Do you deny it?”

“I do deny it,” the Nan answered. “Though it might be that I am ignorant of the facts. I will find out the truth of the matter and be back to deal with you.”

Crustis ceased his writhing. “What manner of devilry is this? You seek to beguile me from my wrath? What sort of trickery do murderers and thieves of children employ? Cut me free from these ropes, return me to my weapons, and I will either have my revenge or accept my death. Mercy from the likes of you is a curse to me.”

“No,” said the Nan. “I will determine the truth of your claims.”

Silence again returned to the court. The gargantuan man of the sea finally ceased his struggle and something like remorse crossed his face.

“No matter,” Crustis said softly, “I have failed my king, betrayed his offering of peace with my anger, and spilled blood under his banner of parley and been defeated. Do with me as you will. I have no will left to live.”

The Westrun knight spoke and said, "I find no evil in him."

Then, to the surprise of all of us watching, the Nan and her trusted companions, untied the giant visitor. They charged him by his solemn word to remain there while she went to the fishing village and determined what she could. I personally remained behind to make inquiries of this creature and to find out all I could about his people.

It was many hours before the Nan returned. When she did, she was filled with sadness. I can scarcely believe what happened next, but that is a tale for another sitting.

The South Terror

An excerpt from the Tale of Five Terrors
as told by Will of Jaehn.

After traveling 22 days the party comes to the point at which the southern servant to Bazier says the party should make contact with the terror in 6 hours time.

Bazier the hunter from the southern orders one of his servants to set up his tent and orders another servant to scout the vicinity, Brumbar takes to the air on his flying carpet to do likewise. After some moments brummbar noticed that Zimzair was crouched low on the crest of a hill and appeared to be trying not to be seen by what was on the other side. Flying overhead brummbar saw the source of Zimzairs agitation. A slaughtered Merchant Caravan, not an uncommon sight in the lands of the Daizu. The party is alerted and soon the scene is surveyed. Daizu Arrow shafts are found in abundance in the corpses of the Barracin Merchants. It is gleaned at the merchants were carrying spices ,exotic foodstuffs along with a very, very large elephant peculiar to southern. Snow, after much cajoling from the party relents and Casts detect magic and finds a magical parchment that shows true North.

Zimzair the tracker says that the Daizu left an hour before the discovery of the scene and headed north. The party follows the Daizu tracks for some hours till their trail ends at the sight of their violent demise. Some 60 to 70 Daizu corpses along with the carcass of the elephant are found ,their wounds bear the signature of the terror. It's Trail leads to an odd formation of very large rocks jutting from the planes into a cave entrance.

Snow the elf Warrior immediately and unhesitantly volunteers to scout the rock formation. Spying from Atop The Rock formation he sees with his dark vision that 30 from the entrance into the rock formation lies a pit and a passage leading off, the terror cannot be seen. The party confers on its next course of action.

None of the options are palatable then Bazier the hunter offers that he has a large quantity of blacks sand that would cause a powerful explosion causing a cave-in and maybe killing the terror. Brumbar wants to be sure. he takes the black sand and his suddenly awfully pale Squire Justice on his flying carpet and down into the pit. knowing that the carpet makes no sound he figures that surprise will give them the edge that they need. Justice carrying the blacksand bomb in one hand and a torch in the other silently descends down the pit with Brumbar. Then suddenly with a voice it might as well have been 10,000 trumpets Bazier the Hunter ,Head peering over the pit says :you're very brave for going down there! I would not do this, may the 10,000 gods bless your endeavor. Brumbar shoots him a look and puts his finger to his lips , Bazier replies "oh !sorry! "

At the bottom of the pit Brumbar peers down the passageway. A smile comes to his face as he thinks of his uncle Reynard. The passageway from the pit leads into a maze but the terror is a hulking creature and is quite cramped in the passage and it's blood and carapace likes skin leave a trail easy enough to follow.

The party Waits somewhat near the cave entrance. They have been waiting an hour when in an exasperated tone Snow remarks I can't believe those idiots went in there.I would have went in but I twisted my ankle or something when I climbed those rocks. From behind Bazier asks: Snow this terror is it 10 to 14 feet tall with large claws, black glossy skin, very large nasty-looking horns and more than likely a razor-sharp tale which whips back and forth? Snow rubs his head. Its behind us ,right ? Oh yes. Very much so. It looks pissed. Snow turns to give the terror a look. No I'm pretty sure they always look that way. Its coming this way. Shall we fight it here? Says Baziier as he draws his scimitar. Snow gives an incredulous look and yells, everybody run into the pit!

It's a 30-foot tumble to the bottom of the pit Hannah the silent and Jim the page both sprain their ankles in the fall. Snow grabs Hannah the silent while Zimzeir and Bazier grab gym the page and make their way into the maze and soon after they hear the crash of the terror into the pit as it makes its way also into the maze.

for some time the party makes its way through the maze until their way is blocked as the terror rounds an unseen corner running away is not possible with the disabled party members father Brendan and sister Hannah begin their prayers as Snow and Bazier draw their weapons .
It would seem that the terror would be at a disadvantage in the passageway, it is not, Bazier the hunter from Southeren, his fine chainmail is rent and he knows he will die soon.Snow's many sword Strokes cut deep time after time they cut deep but the creature still lives. Then the creature gives an enraged Screech and snows Elvish ears here over the din brummbar swearing an oath from behind the creature. a few more seconds and it's over.

Standing over the creatures remains Bazier remarks, this ,this was my last hunt. There are two more protested brummbar. Many innocents will die ! we need your help ! Bazier takes a deep breath and replies , I misspoke this was not my last hunt. I am with you. From out of the darkness came a voice that said I also am with you.

Stepping into the torchlight was Lada. A being not from our world.Within a few hours we were made to know that bob was now the least of our problems.

The Skeleton Way

After reuniting with the caravan and curing the hobbled pony, the party sent the caravan on alone while they investigated a massive footprint of a humanoid which they estimated to have been over one hundred feet tall. The trail of said humanoid, while very old, went into the sparse forest and perhaps accounted some strange features they saw from the air.

Getting a Clue

With Rensen, the pregnant concubine safely returned to Chidak the Daizu chieftain, the party set out once again for the City/State of  Chiro. Along the way, Snow's new armor became a matter of some intrigue. As an expensive and well-crafted suit of leather it conferred excellent protection, it was also noticed by every thieving heart. Most of which also tried to make it their own -- even when the attempt was clearly ill-fated.

The Way of the Sword

Having resolved issues in Laster Shores, the party was made aware of a kidnapping of a visiting dignitary and gave chase. The dignitary was none other than Rensen, the concubine of a wealthy and ruthless Daizu Chieftain. The Chieftain, Chidak of the Red Dawn Tribe, had a reputation as a remorseless and indefatigable enemy. The local priest, Father Hutan, thought it best for Laster Shores if the ire of such a one did not get kindled against the town, which he would surely hold responsible.

Kiss Kiss Stab Stab

After being feasted and celebrated in Merrydale, the party set out for destinations East. They bid their grateful hosts goodbye at the Old Coast Road and fell in with a passing caravan.

Two men-at-arms responsible for guarding the caravan were grateful for the company of knights. The itinerant half-orc priest traveling with them made fast acquaintance with the Paladin Brumbar and the half-orc knight Deathstroke.

Briefly: From the Library of Samantha Rose

Dear Diary,

I have not trusted a man since I was 13 and the old herbalist tried to have his way with me. Instead, I have dedicated myself to the arcane arts and to Drawmij my master. I have attempted to master the old knowledge -- to bend matter, energy and time to my will. So it is strange indeed that these last few days I have felt powerless over something as insignificant as my heart.

Briefly: From the Journal of Sheikh Fadal

My sleep has been interrupted of late with dreams of my missing girls. My have they grown! Chafika would have been 12, I think. Nada only 10 when they were taken from me. In these dreams they are grown women now.

The Red and the White

Brumbar arrived in Merrydale and made contact with Marjon the Druid who was horrified to find that the artifact had been removed from where it was hidden. He advised the Paladin to return it at once to its secret garden. There it was generally safe from scrying eyes. An item as powerful as it was sure to attract unwanted attention.

Lord Zerai the Collector

Possession of the Halfling artifact weighed heavily upon him, so Brumbar decided to leave Gelder and the domains of men in order to return it to the Halfling Realm of Merrydale from whence it came. The rest of the party was to remain behind in Gelder for his quick return, with the exception of Apollo, who had a matter of vengeance to see to in Bolden. Unfortunately for Apollo, the boat leaving Gelder was not due to depart for another four days.

The Boat of Boblo

By spending six weeks in Gelder, the party enjoyed some celebrity for bringing peace between the Halfings and Humans. In the Princeling’s Rest, they happened upon the last remnant of the lifkavir resistance group – four Halfling “warriors” who were barely out of their teens. The remaining lifkavir were speaking conspiratorially when their confidence was won by Forgo, the party’s recently recruited halfling thief.

Flight of the White Scourge and All that Glitters is not Gelder

Most of the party remained in Gelder enjoying the recently won peace of the town and the fame that came with it. while Solomon backtracked to Ald Calta to train with the Black Order of the Dawn and Brumbar used his magic carpet to deliver Thalwyn to the baroness of Shu.

Halfling Holiday

After a few days of funeral and burial, Reverend Sir Brendan spent five weeks training with the Chaplain of the Black Order of the Dawn -- a prefect of no low station. The rest of the party recuperated and finally bid adieu to Sir Rojer and his Blackguards (a group of 12 newly minted knights who pledged themselves to that knight’s service).

Backstory: Solomon

In my time, I’ve met men and women of extraordinary talent. I always sit quietly, patiently listening to their tales. As they stand and beat their chest victoriously, they tell of their most worthy adversary -- those they each know as the devil. They gather at tables by the dozen, in their pubs and halls, slapping each other on the back and sloshing their drinks as they measure and size one another.

The Bone War of Ald Calta

After a week’s convalescence in Shamsel, the party re-encountered Rojer, formerly of the bridge. He was in the town streets recruiting. He was also in possession of the sword, helm and armor of Faltus. When they inquired as to the health of their former employer, Rojer admitted that he had slain the man for being a thief, and taken his goods.

The City of Ruin

While on the way to the ruined city, the party learned the story of Ald Calta. The ancient place had three types of inhabitants over its long and legendary existence. First, were the so-called Dragon Princes of old, who abandoned the citadel when their world came to an end. Second, were the barbarian men who came to settle there and make a civilization of their own. Third came the undead who rose from the ashes of the previous two. It was against this third group that the party was forced contend.

The Knight of the Crossing

Across the Dagger Sea, the party arrived in the Provinces, but not before the half-breed Deathstroke managed to offend the captain and crew. On the voyage across the sailors first filled his ears with tales of shipwrecks and treasures beneath the waves. Consumed by the lust for this fantastical booty, he begged and cajoled the captain to set anchor so that he might ply the depths. Instead, he was dragged behind the ship for miles and roundly mocked. Once back aboard, he offended and threatened many to the point that they bound and gagged him and left him with his companions on a stretch of sandy shore without even benefit of a port.

The Province of Haller and Hallerhall

By the pronouncement of the King of Bolden, Sir Brumbar, was elevated to the status of a noble and appointed the Baron of Haller and given the keys to Hallerhall itself. In the court of the king, this pronouncement was met with no little stirring among the assembled nobles. Here and there snorts of laughter could be heard along with the clearing of throats.

A Favor for Thomas

In the uneasy calm following the Guild War, the city watch was arresting those who carried weapons in the streets. Brumbar and Snow took shelter and succor from Fr. Thomas. For her part, the rescued Lady Geldorf refused to return to the castle under which she was imprisoned. Instead, she also took shelter while contemplating what courses of action were open to her -- a disgraced woman of good breeding.

A Tale of Two Guilds

Upon arriving in Bolden, Brumbar checked in with the church while Snow sought what information he could from more seedy sources. Information about Thalwyn was hard to come by, however. All Brumbar learned about was the local scandal of the Prince seeking a second marriage to a part-elven mistress. While, Snow learned that the men of Bolden do not part with information easily. He was forced to take work as a hired sword -- the better to learn the city and its environs.

The Hand and the Knife

While in the City of Bolden, Snow’s incessant snooping revealed that The Bakers were no ordinary street gang, but the name given to a particular branch of the so-called Thieves Guild, an entity which he was not aware existed.

Briefly: A Letter from Jym to his Betrothed

Dearest Emi,

I know your anger will be burning bright when you take this letter to Father Henstre and have it read. I hope that when the terrible heat of it has died, though, you will find a way to turn it to the warmth of lasting love.

An Uncommon Wedding

Armed with the salve of the Magister Sylvanus and certain knowledge of where to begin looking for Thalwyn, the party sets out North and East for Bolden. On the way they stop over in Heltorun. The city is all abuzz with news that a local nobleman's son will wed a common serf.

The Search for the Magic Lyre

After meeting Magister Sylvanus in the Mistwood, Sir Brumbar, and Snow worked out a deal to obtain a rare item in exchange for the wizards knowledge. While Father Brendan remained behind in the Mistwood to learn what he can of Elven body art.

Old Things Ought Not Be Disturbed

Rejoined in Peakshadow, Brumbar and Snow made fast re-acquaintance with Father Brendan. Their common cause was to find Erenth's only honest thief -- Thalwyn the Lawful. As their quarry is also a wizard, the three agreed to journey into the Mistwood to seek out the elven warlock rumored to reside within. It was hoped that he would be able to point them in the right direction.

Ashore At Last

Excerpted from the diary of Jack Presser, Captain of all the Ocean's Deep.

We have put ashore expecting to find habitation and civilization and found neither. This land is full of goblins! There is one building distant. It appears to have a strange red hue which is most visible when the sun is behind us. We make for it tomorrow.