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The ship’s crew scramble to meet the incoming dragon, with several of the characters getting off shots as the beast swoops in. When the dragon’s lightning breath scorches the deck, Fulton and Stab are injured while Lester’s arcane cannon is destroyed. The goblin yells something that no-one understands, as the Inquisitive staff and crew engage the creature along with Kaeron. Most of the expedition members hide and Marreth begins taking pictures.
Although the dragon gets a few hits in on Kaeron and Fulton, it is unable to deal much damage as the combined attacks from the crew and team begin to add up. The dragon lands on the side of the ship, causing it to rock precipitously and throwing a few of the combatants to the deck, but none fall overboard. Lester’s reconstituted arcane cannon shoves the dragon off the railing and onto the elemental pylon where the defenders continue to attack it. Bloodied and battered, the creature flies off into the distance as Stab screams something at its retreating back.
The rest of the evening is mostly filled with revelry, as the crew celebrates the amazing victory over the dragon, despite the sadness of losing one of their own during the battle. Lilly is mildly angry at Lester for putting himself at risk, although the emotion is not sustained. Marreth has several good pictures of the fight that he is going to save for the various articles in the Inquisitive. Ysabel, Aricon and Olive are somewhat shaken by the experience, while Stab retells the story at least three times with progressively more outrageous and exaggerated details emerging.
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As the ship continues to plow through the rough waters of the Thunder Sea, the crew shouts in alarm as a sahuagin warrior climbs onto the bow and demands tribute on behalf of the Thunder Stars tribe. Fulton attempts to use the aftermath of the dragon attack to convince the fish creature to back off, while Captain Oribon reassures everyone that this is a typical part of the crossing and that paying a tribute is by far the better option. Fulton’s efforts do help the Captain negotiate a lower passage fee with the sahuagin, and its tribe leaves peacefully.
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The ship arrives at Stormreach, attracting a great amount of attention from the locals. Making their way through the crowds of workers, pickpockets and hawkers, the team decides to split up to finalize preparations for the jungle expedition. Fulton and Embers are accompanied by Aricon, Kaeron, Stab, Rations, and Olive to meet with Lady Garret to see if they can secure lodgings of a suitable quality for Fulton’s needs. Kent begins searching out possible suppliers for food and water during the trip, while Lester heads to the Tharashk enclave to locate and hire Varis as a guide.
Making their way through Stormreach’s chaotic streets, Embers trails behind Fulton’s entourage to watch for trouble, and is able to surprise a group of thugs who accost the team and demand payment of “arrival taxes”. The bandits fair poorly during the ensuing melee, with only one of them successfully fleeing after his comrades are rather unceremoniously cut down.
Lester arrives at the House enclave and quickly learns that Varis is something of a legend in Stormreach, eliciting a great deal of hero worship from other members of the House. He finds her drinking with her team and retelling a story about strangling a displacer beast with her bare hands during an expedition. Lester joins the group to inquire about hiring her, and makes a mediocre impression that results in her referring to him as “Pretty Boy”. She agrees to take on the guiding job, but clearly expects Lester to join them in drinking. Lester uses his magical tinkering to make it appear that one of Varis’ team farts loudly and emits a foul stench, making the poor human the butt of jokes for the rest of the evening and taking some of the heat off himself. Lester is successful in keeping up with Varis’ consumption of ale, impressing her and causing her to vow that she will “bed him” in the near future.
Kent is able to locate a reliable source of food and water storage equipment, eventually deciding to rely mostly on Kaeron’s ability to cast create food and water which is enough to provision 15 of the 18 mouths that will be part of the trip. He stockpiles a month’s supply of food and water for the entire expedition inside the team’s portable hole, to keep as a reserve if the combination of Kaeron’s magic and Vanis’ teams’ foraging ability proves insufficient. The half-elf also inquires about Lady Garret’s reputation, having heard some initial rumours about Stormreach residents being wary of the woman. He learns that she is somewhat feared and shunned due to rumours that a number of young people have disappeared following their involvement with her in the past. Kent decides against using her possible assistance in the expedition to attempt to get a better deal from the supplier.
Arriving at Lady Garret’s estate, Fulton and his team discover an immaculate garden surrounding a modest mansion apparently built with stones salvaged from the giant ruins surrounding Stormreach. The doorman settles them into the parlour while he inquires about the Lady’s availability, later asking if they would be able to wait and join her for dinner. Lady Garret is revealed to be a tiefling woman with orange-red skin and large deep blue horns. She graciously receives Fulton, already knowing that he is the nephew of the Brelish Prime Minister and proves to be a curious and friendly dinner companion. Throughout the dinner, she is mostly focused on Fulton and asking about his uncle, Khorvaire politics, the Inquisitive, and the expedition, but does not neglect her other guests. Stab is verbose in his retelling of various stories, including an almost unrecognizable version of the dragon attack two days previously. The goblin is also excited about the various local delicacies, including a particularly smelly fruit that turns out to taste quite good despite the foul odour.
The tiefling eagerly invites Fulton and all of the expedition members to stay the night in the mansion, also inviting them for evening entertainment that turns out to be dancing and music from local performers. She coaxes Fulton into dancing with her, and the bard proves to be more than a match for the young woman, dazzling the assembled guests with their combined skill. Garret also dances with all of the other expedition members with no reservations due to gender, species or size. Lester first dances with Lilly, but the gnome proves to be much less skilled than the half-orc, resulting in some awkward turns on the dance floor. The problem is worsened by Lester’s much better performance with Lady Garret, leading to some jealousy and anger on Lilly’s part.
When the group settles into their rooms for the night, a few of the team take extra precautions due to their suspicions of Lady Garret. Kent discovers a small doorway in the wall that only opens from the other side, and decides to block it with a makeshift device. Lester casts an alarm spell to wake him if there are any intruders. Embers settles into her sentry state out in the hallway to keep watch. Fulton takes full advantage of the luxurious accommodations and sleeps better than he has in days.
During the night, Lester is awakened by his alarm and is initially unable to see any intruders. A quick faerie fire spell highlights a small open door in the wall with a tiny tunnel that holds a hint of movement. He is able to get to the opening in time to see what appears to be the tail end of a black cat outlined in his faerie fire, retreating down the tiny passage. The half-orc wakes Lilly, who initially responds with “not tonight, I have a headache”, but is more alert when Lester explains that the room is not intended to look like a bordello for that purpose. Lester goes to find Embers to explain the event and while the warforged wakes Fulton, the half-orc enters Kent’s room.
In the half-elf’s room, Lester immediately notices that the tiny door is also present, but held shut by a makeshift cover. In Fulton’s room, Embers wakens the bard from a series of strange but not unpleasant dreams about dancing with Lady Garret while being absorbed and/or transformed into the tiefling. When Lester enters, he quickly finds the secret door slightly agar and connected to his own room via the tunnel through which the half-orc’s light spell is shining.
Left with little else to do, the team returns to sleep, more wary of the tiny doors, but no other events occur through the night.
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Most of the team awaken refreshed and comfortable despite the night’s activities. Attending breakfast, they find Stab, Marreth, and Aricon happily eating and conversing. Olive, Ysabel and Kaeron arrive late, looking very tired and haggard. The Inquisitive team quickly realizes that all three women look older, particularly Kaeron. Lester is alarmed, as he recalls arcane learning about creatures that might feed on life force and cause aging. While he shares this with the group and they agree to leave as soon as possible, Fulton speaks with Kaeron and learns that she had very similar dreams to his own, but has awoken feeling exhausted and drained.
When Lady Garret joins them for breakfast, she appears radiant and happy, announcing that she has decided that she must contribute to the expedition’s noble goals of saving Olivia’s friends and colleagues. She begs them to delay their departure so that she can gather appropriate gifts, returning about 20 minutes later to present the items to each member of the group.
The tiefling first presents Olivia with a small silver locket set with a multi-faceted obsidian, whispering gently, “To wish you only tremendous luck in finding your friends and colleagues in good health.”
She then turns back to her butler and hefts a metal shield emblazoned with the symbol of the Silver Flame, and presents it to Kaeron, “This was left behind by one of the faithful who had lost his way. I pray that you can once again bring it meaning and purpose.”
She approaches Lilly, who bristles slightly at the taller woman, although Garret seems to not notice. “This may not be crucial for the outcome of the expedition”, she murmurs, “but I think it will be beneficial in your line of work.” She presents the gnome with a small jeweled hair comb.
Turning to Marreth, she gathers up a bundle of deep purple velvet cloth, smiling gently as she presents it, “This should return to someone who would appreciate its origins and utility.”
The tiefling gentle places a fine gold chain over Ysabel’s head, gently settling the amber stone in place just below the young woman’s neck, “You have chosen a difficult route, and I hope this trinket will help to keep you safe.”
She then accepts a delicate green and gold-trimmed quiver from her servant, bowing deeply to Stab and she offers the container to the goblin, “I think you will find this more useful in storing and using your unique arsenal, but I do hope you will be more circumspect in obtaining them.” The goblin’s eyes light up and he immediately rushes to the corner of the room and begins throwing various pieces of silverware, gardening tools and other household items into the various sections. Fulton is fairly certain he spots Lady Garret’s silverware, items bearing the Margrave University crest, and his own family crest amongst the assorted items that are being stowed.
To Aricon, she also offers a gold chain, this time with a gold skull medallion inset with tiny rubies, “This was a gift from an old friend whose more recent history holds some painful memories. I hope that you can find better use for it, and help me leave behind a difficult time from my past.”
The tiefling then plucks a small mechanical object from the pile, presenting the small device in her open palm as she approaches Embers, “This was retrieved from an ancient ruin deep in the crystal desert. I believe only someone of your construction could make use of it, and I hope it serves you as well as it did its ancient master.” The device looks much like a thin mechanical donut with a light blue sapphire suspended at its centre. The sapphire begins to glow as it touches Ember’s carapace, tiny wires reaching out tentatively and seeming to search for a way to attach to the warforged body. Embers shifts the object slightly and the sapphire’s blue glow brightens as the wires snap into place.
She steps up the Lester and holds up a solid silver headband, placing it gently on the half-orc’s ample brow, “You have a knack for building and research, so I hope you will find this helpful.” She also leans in and whispers something to the artificer, causing a dark expression to descend across Lilly’s countenance.
The young tiefling then pulls a pair of slippers from the pile and approaches Kent, “I hope you are able to put these items to good use. I suspect they will be especially helpful inside the massive ruins you will need to explore.” She also leans in to whisper something to the half-elf before pulling back with a smile.
Lady Garret then lifts an ornately carved lute from her servant’s arms, plucking the instrument’s strings briefly before presenting it to Fulton, “This holds much happier memories, but it has been too long since someone of skill and grace has made her sing.” She leans over to plant a gentle kiss on the bard’s cheek, whispering something into his ear.
After handing out her gifts, Lady Garret steps back and smiles brightly to the assembled group.
“I apologize that I must hurry off to attend to some important business. Please enjoy our hospitality for as long as you desire. I wish you all the best of luck and success on your expedition and hope that you all return safely with your friends. I would be honored to host again at any time. It has been far too long since I have entertained such delightful and interesting guests. It was… invigorating.”
The tiefling again bows deeply, her gaze lingering on Fulton for an additional moment before she turns and hurries out of the parlor with her assistant.