The Murder Hobos -Shore Leave

This is the second set of stories, based on characters from a weekly D&D game I play in/help run. In this adventure, we’re going to be doing some seafaring as well as dungeon crawls. The first day of the game will be June 27, 2020, schedules permitting. Over the next week, I hope to start this page off with some background stories about the characters. 

If you want to read the first set of stories, take a look at The Murder Hobos – The Green Frog!

Manak 

 A hand slapped the side of the wagon, jolting Manak awake. “We’re here,” the driver growled. “Get out.”

Carefully, he scooted toward the end of the cart. He’d broken a crate climbing in, and he’d depleted his coin stash paying for the damages. “Where’s here?”

“Saltmarsh,” the man replied.

“Where?”

“Look,” he stared at Manak, exasperated, “You handed me coin and asked me to take you as far from Baldur’s Gate as that would get you. No questions asked. This is it.” He stared at him.

Manak slid out of the back of the wagon, one massive hand gripping his pack. The unmistakable odor of salt water permeated the air. Ahead of him, in the dimming light of early evening, sat a small town. A single gate, manned by a bored looking sentry, stood a short walk away.

He turned around, “Don’t suppose–”

The driver was already in the seat, collecting the reins of his team, “Nope,” he said, not even looking at Manak. The wagon pulled away, leaving him standing in the middle of the muddy road.

Great. He had enough coin to wager on himself, if he could find a bar that allowed fighting. As long as the locals had deep pockets, and stupid sons, he would get by until he could make contact with the local Thieves Guild. Throwing his pack over his shoulder, he headed toward the guards.

“Evening, sirs,” His time in the military taught him some things, at least. “Where’s a fellow go in town to get a drink? Maybe find a fight or two? Purely for the challenge of the competition, you know.”

The two guards looked him up and down, “The Wicker Goat. Oldest bar in town. Straight down the road, first building on your right. Can’t miss it,” one volunteered.

“Ask for Lankus. He’s the owner. If there’s a fight to be found, he’ll know about it,” the other said as he sat back down.

“Much obliged,” Manak said. He handed one of them a silver coin. “In case you get thirsty.”

“What’s your name, sir? We’re required to let Eda know who’s come into Saltmarsh.”

“Name’s Bonecrusher,” he called out as he started to walk the sloping road that led into town.

Nessa 

She sniffed the air, pausing. That was strange. It didn’t smell right. It was salty, and sorta like fish. And not good fish like you’d get for dinner. This was raw, or rotten, or both.

It was also new, different.

Nessa adjusted the pack on her back, smiling at the birds that flew overhead. They were heading north, back toward the wood where she lived. That meant spring was here, and summer would be coming soon. All the plants would bloom and the air would smell sweeter.

Wandering aimlessly, she let her feet find the path through the trees. She hummed tunelessly as she walked.

The forest ended and the bright afternoon sun made her blink. Raising one hand to shield her eyes, her jaw dropped.

Beyond the town that sat below her was a vast body of water. The sunlight danced across the waves, making it shine like a thousand diamonds. Boats sat tethered to docks, bobbing up and down in rhythm.

“Miss?”

Nessa blinked, staring at the older man in uniform that stood not far from her. “Hello, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, miss. It’s my job to talk to anyone coming into Saltmarsh.”

“What’s Saltmarsh?” she asked.

He pointed at the town, “That’s the town’s name.”

“Oh.” She looked at the collection of buildings and boats. “It looks like a fun place. Is it?”

Smiling, he said, “It can be. What brings you here?”

“I was bored,” she said. “Is there anywhere that I can get a job? Or something to eat?”

“Lankus, down at The Wicker Goat. If he can’t hire you, he’ll know who can. First building on the right as you head down this road. You can’t miss it.”

Nessa bounced lightly with anticipation. New people to meet! “Thank you!” she said as she started to skip down the road.

“Miss!” He hollered at her.

Turning around, she looked at him, “Am I going the wrong way?”

“No,” he smiled at her, “It’s just that I need to tell the Council the name of any newcomers to Saltmarsh, that’s all. And you didn’t tell me your name.”

“I’m sorry! I don’t want you to get into trouble! It’s Nessandra Fiosrach. But my friends call me Nessa.”

“We’re not friends, though, Miss Fiosrach.”

“Not yet!” She waived at him and continued down the road to the inn. The people here were so friendly!

Varas

Nessa skipped down the road, an empty basket in hand. She’d found a job yesterday, running errands for Councilman Gellan. He was a kind man, older than her own grandsire, and certainly didn’t object to paying her well to do small things.

This morning, it was a trip to the baker. Gellan was hosting several guests for dinner and needed more bread than what his own cook could produce in time. Nestled in with the cloths to keep the bugs off the bread was a pouch full of real gold. He’d told her to buy as much as the baker could sell, without running short for his normal orders, and she could keep the rest!

The heady smell wafted on the morning breeze, chasing away the fishy smell and making her smile. She stood for a moment, eyes closed, and inhaled deeply. She would have to buy a roll for herself; one that was warm from the oven and fluffy.

Pushing open the door to the small shop, she smiled at the middle-aged woman behind the counter. “Good morning!”

The woman blinked, “I don’t know you.”

“Oh, that’s because I just got to Saltmarsh yesterday!” Nessa moved forward and extended her hand, “My name’s Nessandra Fiosrach. I work for Councilman Gellan.”

A small smirk appeared on the woman’s face as she shook Nessa’s hand, “Do you, now? And, um, what exactly do you do for him?”

“Oh, run errands that he doesn’t have time to do. Help whoever in the house needs it. He’s really nice. Have you met him? What’s your name?”

“I’m Berra. What can I do for you, Nessandra?”

“Councilman Gellan is hosting a dinner party tonight, and needs more bread and rolls than his cook can make in time. He said you’re the absolute best in town, outside of who he hired, and I should come buy as much as you’re willing to part with.” Nessa pawed through the cloths and pulled out the purse. “He gave me gold to pay for it. And this big basket,” she raised her arm, “to bring it back with.”

“Varas!” Berra yelled over her shoulder.

A man came around the corner, wiping his hands on a flour-covered apron. Nessa’s eyes grew wide when she saw him, and her jaw fell slack.

“What do you need?” He asked in a voice that mesmerized her.

“Take this young lady to the back, let her fill up the basket.” Barra looked at her. “Once I see what you’re buying, I’ll know how much gold to charge.”

The Triton waved his hand, beckoning her to follow him. She’d never seen anyone like him before! His skin was a blue-green, like the water in the ocean. He had what looked like fins on his arms, and his ears were even stranger than her own Elvish ones.

“Go ahead and get what you need,” he told her, pointing to the racks and baskets full of baked bread.

“You’re a Triton,” she whispered in awe.

“And you’re a Wild Elf. So?”

“It’s just…I’ve never seen someone like you before. You’re beautiful! Do you have a home up here or do you have to go into the ocean at night? How many are in your family? Do they live close? Can I touch your fins?” She fired questions at him as she pulled bread out and filled her basket.

“My husband went missing, and I’m trying to find him. He’s the only family I have. And, no, you can’t touch my fins.” He dusted a piece of dough with flour, then began to roll it out with even, strong strokes.

Nessa gathered the bread, paid Berra, and left. “I wonder if he’ll let me touch the fins when we’re friends?”

Serena

Nessa lay down on the grassy hillside, letting the sound of the waves below her echo in her ears. She liked Saltmarsh so far. The people were so friendly! Her room at The Wicker Goat wasn’t big, but it was clean. She made sure to make the bed every morning, too.

Not that sleeping outside, in the crook of a tree, was a bad thing. The temple bed had been hard, and the one at the wizarding school was way too narrow. There was even a small window in her room here, that she could open and let the night air come inside.

She’d delivered the bread and her boss gave her the rest of the day off. She went to the market, picking up a couple of pretty hair pins and a new pouch, then got a meat pie from Lankus before heading to the grassy knoll to have lunch. The barmaid at the inn, Jerrika, said they were going to host some organized bar fights outside later tonight. Nessa had no idea what those were, but they sounded exciting!

Something about the waves changed, and she sat up. A figure was rising from the water. Another Triton? Was it Varas’s husband, come to find him at last? The person waded toward the beach and Nessa signed, disappointed. It was a young woman, and not a Triton. Merfolk?

“Hey! Up here!” She stood up and waived her arms in the air at her as she emerged fully from the sea. “Are you hungry? I’ve got extra!”

The young woman nodded and climbed up toward her.

“Here you go,” Nessa said, offering her half of the pie.

“Thank you,” she said.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Serena Gem. Who are you?”

“My name’s Nessandra, but my friends call me Nessa. Do you have somewhere to stay? Why did you come to Saltmarsh? There’s a Triton in town, too! He works for Berra, the baker. Do you know any Tritons?”

Serena blinked, “I reached the age where all Merfolk in my family are required to go into the world of the surface dwellers and find their path. I don’t know any Tritons, though. They don’t live in our village. If you know of a place I can stay at, that would be helpful.”

“When you’re done, I’ll take you to meet Lankus. I’m staying at his inn. They’re having bar fights tonight! I don’t know what those are, but they sound fun.”

“I’d like that.”

Nessa smiled. “I think we’re going to be great friends, Serena.”

Christos

Nessa stood with the crowd, waiting. She’d never seen a bar fight before, let alone an organized one, so it would be fun. It’s not like anyone would be hurt, not really. There had to be clerics around, too.

Seriously, why would they want anyone to die doing this? It’d make it impossible to get anyone to sign up.

The sound of a mandolin drifted on the light breeze, followed by a deep baritone voice singing:

“You have never heard a drinking song,

Until you heard a drinking song.

A drinking song to all your friends

Until they get their fill.

 

“A good ale to start the tale

With a little hint of mystery

Three cups in, will guarantee a sale

Right into her heart of plenty

 

“You have never heard a drinking song,

Until you heard a drinking song.

A drinking song to all your friends

Until they get their fill.

 

“A nice fine wine, to spend your time

With curves tan and bronze

To take the bottle is not a crime

Provided it’s older than twelve

 

“You have never heard a drinking song,

Until you heard a drinking song.

A drinking song to all your friends

Until they get their fill.

 

“A glorious mead is always in need

Of your hands all over it

Just be careful not to bleed

When her husband comes back for it.

 

“You have never heard a drinking song,

Until you heard a drinking song.

A drinking song to all your friends

Until they get their fill.”

 

The bard, a youthful human with sun-bleached hair and brown eyes, smiled broadly at her as he finished playing. He bowed with a flourish, “Christos, my lady. May a poor man ask for a name that would do such beauty justice?”

Clapping her hands excitedly, she giggled. “I’m Nessandra. Though I let my friends call me Nessa.”

He stepped closer. “And how does one go about becoming your friend, Nessandra?”

Before she could answer, the first pair of fighters were called forward. She caught sight of Varas, and went to the rail, eager to watch how he did.

A surprise in the morning 

The rain fell in sheets. By the time Manak woke up enough to realize what was going on, his clothing was soaking wet. Add to that the layer of mud that clung to him and his body felt worse than the nonstop hangover raging through his head.

No use moving, he thought. Rain’s not going to stop. At least I’ll get somewhat clean this way. Something on his chest and legs moved, the weight shifting enough that he knew it wasn’t just mud or excrement from the sty. It didn’t feel like the pigs, though.

Opening his eyes, he slammed them shut again as a rather large drop of rain landed on the bridge of his nose.

“Bonecrusher,” the innkeeper’s voice barked.

“What?” he grunted, not bothering to open his eyes. Damn that mead was strong!

“I need to let the pigs back in here to eat. They can’t get fat enough to make good bacon if I keep them starving. Grab your friends and get out.”

My friends? He opened his eyes and raised his head slightly. Laying across his chest and legs were three women, covered in mud and nothing else.

The one closest to him stirred. She turned her head and looked at him through stringy, dirty hair. “Hi,” she croaked.

“Um, hello.”

“It wasn’t supposed to rain.” She sat up, making it so he could do the same. The water began to rinse the mud off of her. “Oh, well. We left our clothes inside anyway.” She turned, nudging the other two. “Drisa, Abi, come on. Time to wake up.”

Manak looked at her. “I must’ve had a lot more to drink than I thought.”

“Oh, you were pretty drunk. Lots of fun, though,” she winked at him. “Come on,” she said to the other two. “Maman will want us to bathe before we see anyone today.”

He reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Lots of fun, huh? Can we have some more? I mean, I don’t remember much of last night.”

She stared at him, “Sure. If you pay us. We did what Christos paid us to do. Anything else is on you.” Her gaze took in his appearance. “Come by the house later, ask for Marnie. But after you bathe. Sleeping with you out here was bad enough. I don’t want my room smelling like a pig sty.”

Without another word, the three left Manak sitting in the muck.

Looking around, he saw the innkeeper leaning against the top rail of the pen. The man had a smirk on his face. “Ain’t often I get someone out here sleeping in the muck with three whores who can’t remember what happened. I’ve gotta raise my prices…or water down the ale.” With a laugh, he swung open another gate and ten pigs came running into the sty.

Rising, Manak staggered toward the exit. The women said Christos had hired them. It was time to find the bard.

A scream in the night

Nessa winced, trying hard not to grab her head from the pain. Somehow, Manak and Tiko managed to take the Banshee down. Which was good, as she had work to do.

            Serena was laying face down on the cave floor. Christos and his pseudo-dragon were unconscious as well. The creature’s wail had mowed them down. Without hesitation, Nessa knelt next to Serena and sent a wave of healing through her body. Manak did the same with Christos.

            “This is not right,” Tiko said.

            “Which part?” Nessa asked him as she helped her friend sit up. “Here,” she handed Serena a waterskin.

            “First, the relic of my people ends up with you. On the other side of the world. There’s the note that mentions her,” he nodded at Serena. “And then the hobgoblin captain had the statue that was almost an exact replica of her. How does it all fit together?”

            “Don’t care,” Manak grumbled. Nessa looked at him. The goliath stood against the entry, wiping blood and gore off of his weapon. “These are my woods now. Once I get all the heads on spikes around the house, no one will come knocking who isn’t welcome.”

            “It matters,” Nessa said, “because Serena’s in trouble somehow. Someone wants her for some reason. Tiko, can you tell us anything about the sapphire?”

            The monk stared at her, “No.”

            She nodded in understanding. He was a wild elf, as she was. Trust wasn’t easy for them. He might tell her, later, when the others weren’t around. Or he may not. Placing her arms protectively around Serena, she scanned the cave. “We need to rest,” she said. “Manak? Can you haul that outside?” She pointed at the corpse of the hag. “If we take turns on watch, let the wounded sleep, we should be good to head back to the house in the morning.”

            “It’s a plan,” the goliath said as he grabbed the creature by the ragged clothing and threw it out the opening. “I’ll take first watch.”

            Nessa leaned against the earthen wall, then motioned Serena to use her lap as a pillow. Once her friend was asleep, she turned her thoughts inward and closed her eyes.

            Perhaps Corellon will give her answers.

Rough Landing

“Shit,” Christos muttered, lowering the spyglass.

            “Problem, Captain?” the first mate asked.

            “Nothing I wasn’t ready for,” he collapsed the instrument and secured it in his belt pouch. “I’m going ashore with the next load. Keep enough on the ship that you can come get us later, but I want the soldiers mixed in with the lumber. They’re going to be earning their pay.”

            Ten minutes later, he stood at the bow of the rowboat as it approached the sandy strip of land. Manak waited on the beach. Not bothering with waiting for the boat to be beached, he leapt out and waded toward the Goliath. “What’s going on?”

            “Skeletons are popping up if we move off the path. Damn things are triggered by noise, vibrations, just about anything. Nessa turned a bunch to dust, but we’re going to be doing a lot of fighting to get to the ruins. Somebody’s going to get hurt eventually.”

            Christos shook his head. “No, they won’t. Where’s Tiko and the women?” The large man pointed to a small knot of people and they walked over to them.

            “Come to join the fun?” Nessa asked as they approached.

            “How often can you blast them without running out of magic?”

            She shrugged, “It’s not that I run out. It’s more that I gotta catch my breath. What do you have in mind?”

            He pointed up the rocky hillside at the ruined building. “If there’s anyone there, they know we’re coming. There’s no reason to hide ourselves. We’ve got the troops, the wood. Tiko,” he looked at the monk, “how hard would it be for you to trigger these traps and get them to come to us? I’m talking controlled amounts, not the entire beach.”

            “That’s easy,” Tiko replied.

            “Okay, we keep the wall here for now. Tiko, you do a run, bring them to the opening in the center. Nessa, you blast them. We let her catch her breath, then you do another run when she’s ready. While she recovers, the soldiers will dig a new trench, move the barricade.”

            “What if she doesn’t get them? I want to have some fun, too,” Manak asked.

            “The opening in the center’s barely wide enough for one of us to get through. If they resist her spell, they’ll bottleneck themselves there. You can have a field day chopping them apart.” Christos looked at Nessa and Sirena. “Sirena, stay with her. Make sure she gets any food or water she needs between waves. Once you cast, step back and let Manak and Tiko take care of stragglers.”

            Nessa nodded, “This is going to take hours. You know that, right?”

            Christos smiled. “Doesn’t matter. If anyone’s up there, they’ll watch it all unfold. Either they’re going to surrender when we get on their doorstep, or they’ll run.”

What is seen cannot be unseen

Tiko eased his way down the corridor. Everything about this was wrong. The storm, finding themselves on a sea that reminded him of Theros, this island…all of it.

            Kruphix, are you behind this? Is there something here I must see?

            The passage was well lit, and barren of dirt or dust. Strange, given the tight seal on the door. That wasn’t the worst, though. It was the murals on the walls.

            One of the core duties of his Order was to protect the star sapphire at all cost. It was the key that unlocked the cube where the Marin was trapped. It, along with the siren in the lore, was also the source of doom for that vile creature.

            The murals depicted, in graphic detail, the lore of his Brotherhood. Not just the capture of the Marin, but how it tore ancient cities of Theros to pieces when released. And of the sacrifices made to ensnare it once again.

            “Can we come in, Tiko?” Christos called from the door.

            “Not yet,” he said. There was a bend ahead, and he wanted to see if what he feared was there really was.

            The sapphire had disappeared the night of the Agrypnion. The next day, he set out to find it. And the siren the lore spoke of. Both would be necessary to finish off the Marin for good, seal him away where no escape was possible. He’d found the gem, bought it off the same people who he now traveled with. It was the siren that had him concerned.

            Turning the corner, he saw the portrait. Sirena’s face stared at him, perfectly depicted on the wall. In one hand, the sapphire. The other held a hammer poised to strike.

            He walked back to the party; his face solemn. Whatever else the temple held, he had to share this truth with them.

The Dreams Begin

Blastaar woke; sweat poured down his face as his heart raced. The icy finger of fear, accompanied by the stench of death, wrapped around his body. Not again!

            He sat up on the edge of his bed and cradled his face in his hands. The same dream as before, yet more detailed. Tonight, though, he’d not been able to shake it and return to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, it started again.

            “Blastaar?” a voice came from the other side of the door.

            “Yeah?”

            “Master wants to see you.” He could hear the messenger’s footsteps as he left.

            Rising, he found his apprentice robes and put them on. Being summoned in the middle of the night wasn’t a good sign. Maybe he knows about the dream, he thought, and can help me control them.

            Opening the door, he closed it behind him and cast the locking ward. While he trusted almost everyone within the school, it was prudent. The Master was sought after by many races, and not all were respectful of the property of others.

            The hall leading up to the tower stairs gave him a sense of calm. What his Master had created here, a separate dimension above a popular inn, was a testament to his skill. He passed one door; solid oak, bound with iron hinges. None but the Master went in there, or his friends. Stories of their adventures had been immortalized by the bards. One day, when I’m ready, I’ll find companions to adventure with. And songs will be sung about our deeds!

            Climbing the winding staircase, he calmed his mind. He had been diligent with his lessons. Whatever the Master wanted; it couldn’t be bad. Please let it be about the dream!

            The door at the top was open. The warm glow of a roaring fire beckoned. “Master?” he called out from the doorway. “You wanted to see me?”

            “Yes. Come in, have a seat.”

            Blastaar crossed the threshold and took a seat in one of the chairs near the fireplace. From the shadows, his Master appeared. The blonde man held out a mug. “Here,” he said, “you probably need this.”

            Sipping the contents, he nodded. “Thank you. You know about the dream, then?” The ale began to course through his bloodstream, chasing away the edges of anxiety.

            “I do,” Adam said as he settled into the other chair. “At least, I know you’ve been seeing things that others don’t. This is a rare talent, Blastaar. You need to learn to control them, learn from them, or else they’ll control you. And so will the person who is sending them.”

            “How?”

            “One step at a time. Tonight, you need to describe them to me. I need to know all that you see, hear, and feel. If there’s evil in the world, I need to know. Otherwise, I cannot determine if it’s something that you must fight, or if my friends and I must step in.”

            Blastaar nodded, “I understand.” Taking a deep breath, he began to weave his story.

The Way Back

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Nessa’s voice had an edge to it.

            “I’m fine, really!” Serena reassured her.

            The elf sighed. “It’s all so strange,” she said. “Why are these things coming after you? Are you sure you don’t know something? No strange dreams or anything like that?”

            She laughed, “I’m not an Oracle or seer, Nessa. I’m as baffled as you are. The only person who has a clue is Tiko, and he’s not exactly talking.” Serena kept her tone light. I don’t want to scare her, make her even more worried than she is now. Even though I’m as baffled as she is.

            The ship rocked gently beneath them. Christos was on deck, making sure they got back to Saltmarsh safely. The attacks were getting more frequent, and being squeezed by that rug had given her moments of terror. “We’re going to find out soon enough. Once we pick up Christos’s First Mate in town, we’re heading to Theros. That’s where Tiko’s from, where he says my destiny lies. This isn’t going to stop until we go there, figure out who’s hunting me and why.”

            Nessa snorted as she pulled the brush through Sirena’s hair. “Tiko needs to tell us more. If he knows what’s hunting you, and why, shouldn’t we know? How can we be ready to protect you, keep you safe, and kill this thing if we don’t know what we’re against?”

            “He told us, back before we went into the temple. Remember? We were in the storm with the face and got blown off course?”

            “All he told us was that the sapphire he bought off of Christos is some sort of artifact that keeps some bad guy locked up.”

            Sirena turned in the chair, facing Nessa. “That wasn’t all, love. He told me I have to destroy it, at the right time, or it’ll be set free. And that the other side wants to get me to unlock the prison instead. I know what a Marin is. They’re evil, nasty things. That there’s been one trapped this long…let’s just say the threat’s to more than the surface world. He’ll be angry enough to destroy anything living under the waves, too.”

            Nessa caressed Sirena’s cheek. “I’m scared I’ll lose you.”

            Sirena smiled, “Nope. I like life too much! Especially with you in it!”

            The clamor of feet running on the deck above them drew their attention. Muffled shouts of commands, followed by a shift in how the boat moved told them they’d arrived.

            “Let’s go on deck,” Sirena suggested. “Christos needs me to help navigate into the dock. If the Shauhagin haven’t destroyed it, that is.”