After another day of traveling they arrive at Fang. It is a busy market town, but there is a heavy presence of grey dwarves who have imposed their own heavy work ethic on the local populace.
(It was not covered, but one assumes the lady who was rescued was sent on her way with her goods at this point.)
As the group make their way into the town – having decided to spend the night in proper beds, rather than sleep on the wagon or the ground – they hear the pitiful cries of person asking for help. They look over and see a curious person – shortish, very hairy with a pointed face, like a weasel. Those who went to Khul the first time around think maybe it’s like the badger and rat people they met before, so they pull the wagon over to him, and Elo hops down to check on him.
He greets her enthusiastically, as everyone else has been passing him by none too kindly, and says that his master is missing, and he’s been trying to ask the travelers if someone might have seen him. She asks him who his master might be, and where and how long the man has been gone, and is surprised to hear him say that his master is Fai Lumindas. But the man won’t go into much detail here in the street, and he invites them into his emporium to explain. They park the wagon someplace safe (one assumes) and the whole company go into the emporium.
The man introduces himself as Jin Yong, and confirms he is a hengeyokai. He says that Master Lumindas left around three weeks ago, heading west to a great library on a personal quest, and that the below was his last message:
Dear apprentice, my search has been ill of late, I fear I have become someone’s quarry. I will write when I am able. In the meantime please continue your studies and keep the emporium as clean as you can.
He tells them that Fai left Toreguard long ago seeking information about the Darkemar empire, and that as his money ran out, he wound up there in Fang and decided to use his remaining cash to open the emporium to make some more money while he continued his search. Jin tells them that Fai took him as an apprentice, he thinks, because of the similarity in appearance to his old familiar, Mica. He says he’s not very accomplished as a wizard, and he’s been struggling a bit with keeping the place clean and tidy, but he’s doing the best he can. Elo tells him that Fai use to be a friend to her own mentor, and since they are also headed west, they will try and look for Fai and bring him back safely. Jin thanks her profusely.
Just at that point there is a hammering on the door. Jin panics, and says it’s probably the work inspectors, who are grey dwarves. Merri and the kobolds hurry to hide in the bedroom, while the others pretend to be shopping and Jin opens the door. The weasel-man has a brief conversation with the inspectors who ascertain that enough work is going on, no one is lollygagging, and they are satisfied with the the level of comerce happening and go away again.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and Felix and Jin get into a heavy and long discussion about Fai’s latest experiment regarding pseudo creatures called squiggly-diddles, that like mating with just about everything, and have a tenancy to make all the offspring of these matings into living beings. As such, even making a cup of tea is a challenge, as Elo finds out. While the arcane magic users chat happily she nips out and gets some suppliers, and attempts to make them afternoon tea. This involves finding the kitchen, persuading the larder not to eat the supplies, wrangling the kettle and the crockery (at which Orianna is very skilled) and finally catching chairs to sit on. Just as they are about to settle down to the well earned meal, there is a kerfuffle from outside.
They all hurry to the window to see a group of orcs being lead into the square outside, chained and bound. they are lead onto a small stage, and a grey dwarf speechifies about how these orcs were defeated in battle and are now to be sold on, as is the tradition of ownership by combat. None of the group like this, and Elo is champing at the bit, wanting to just go out there and throttle the dwarf, but knows it’s a bad idea, especially considering that in this part of the world, that’s the law. However, she says thinking out loud, the orcs are only bound and beaten – not broken. While she can’t free them, or buy them (at 200gp a head, she doesn’t have nearly enough cash), there is nothing to say she couldn’t accidentally leave a healing potion near them, so they can free themselves. At the very least, they will be able to go to akeron with honour.
She takes Felix, and a donation of very powerful healing potions from Jin, and they sneak out and pass the potions to the boss orc. He thanks her, and asks her name. When she gives it, he says he will remember her, and asks Gruumsh to bless her (at which she pulls a slight face). She accidently opens his magically binding manacles, and he casts a fireball at the head dwarf, under which cover she and Felix sneak back. There is a massive fight that slowly dies down as night settles in, and they finish their meal and retire to bed.
The next day, they make their farewells to Jin, promising to keep an eye out for Fai, and set off again. A few more days of travel bring them to the Daggerspine, a narrow pass that skirts around either side of a spike of rock. As the wagon rolls over the plateau before the spike of stone, the wheels crunch and squeak, and on looking down they see that what had been assumed to be rock, was in fact bleached and picked bones. As they roll on, there is a rumble in the distance, and across their path runs the skeleton of some monstrous beast. while they are distracted, there’s a whistle of something traveling at speed and a massive crossbow bolt lodges in the ground in front of them.
They’re not the undead, they’re living impaired.
Elo calls a halt, and they are approached by some guards who ask who they are, what their business is, and where their tithe is. They reply they are traders, coming to sell undergarments, and what tithe? The guard assumes they are new-comers and says that they can either leave something young, female and plump tied to a post, and indicates it, or they can climb the Daggerspine and plead their case to the Lord at the top. The guard says either way, they must make their choice by sun-down or the tithe will be taken twice-over with no choice about whom it is. They decide to plead their case to the Lord in the Spine given they have time.
The group leaves the wagon and the kobolds, and climbs the spine (first using some of the bone dust to whiten Merri’s beard – just in case) to meet with the Lord. Felix explained the situation and the Lord agrees that they can pass. Grateful they don’t have to abandon a pony, they carry on through, but before they leave, get to see exactly what makes the bones that litter the approach of the Spine – those that don’t pay the tithe are shot down by those huge crossbow bolts.
They travel on into the empire – a lush looking place with citrus orchards, and exoctic foods grown in glass houses – and as night draws on find themselves at a coaching inn called the Happy Gnome. It’s a busy place, but they are able to get rooms and board while Felix is entranced by a nubile young gnome who is their waitress. As they dine they keep their ears open and tidbits of information are gleaned through the chatter of the evening.
Darrius overhears something about a traveling mage having been captured and imprisoned by the empire (who they assume to be Fai), and shares this with the group. Merri overhears that something special has been found in the ‘basement’ of the stronghold, and with fear, recounts this back to the others, wondering if it might be the clay. Elo hears about the Dragon’s new apprentice – one Archon Vaul – who wears a mask of gold, has the Dragon’s ear, and is looking for apprentices of his own.