Starday, Harvester 22, 552 CY (50 AN)
Southie retreats from the gnoll encampment and manages to lose his pursuers. He returns that night to deal silent death as they sleep, taking out sentries and slitting throats. One gnoll — a priest or warlock by its general demeanor — awakens before Southie can get to him, and it casts some curse that rusts and pits Southie’s resplendent magical armor, rendering it useless.
Southie maims him, and once the other gnolls are dead, he returns to finish the job. Slowly.
Perturbed at the damage to his armor, Southie camps for the night and resolves to go to Duchy Jepson the following day to have his armor repaired.
On Harvester 23, Southie awakens early and begins riding back to Duchy Jepson. He travels to the blacksmith to get his armor repaired, and happens to hear a couple of passers-by talking about yesterday’s wedding. He asks the passing townsfolk about whose wedding, and one of them answers that it was two women. The one had a foreign name. A bit of pondering yields Dhavita and Marguerite. The feast was fabulous.
A little crestfallen, Southie goes to the Addled Alchemist to have a drink and see if he can find the others. Not seeing anyone, he asks the barkeep, who explains that they left this morning. Headed west, he believes. Southie notes that’s toward Vonseloth, where Nobody was going to search for her people.
Once his armor is finished, and content that he has some idea of where the others headed, he attempts to head north again, towards the Black Moor.
It takes him two days to travel to the Black Moor by boar, and he arrives in the late afternoon of Harvester 25. He immediately notes the change, as rugged mountains crowd around a tree-choked marsh. As he enters, he hears the change as insect life buzzes about and the croaking of frogs and peepers sounds throughout the swamp. A hive of fat, red bees buzzes in one of the trees. A small, crumbling boathouse sits prominently near the entrance of the swamp, and Southie investigates it, finding several mouldering old sleeping bags, a few greasy coins, and a rusted dagger.
Content that there is nothing in the hut, he continues to wade through the swamp. Deeper in the Black Moor, he catches sight of movement as a small, diminutive humanoid, evidently made out of plant material, charges out of the brush with a spear. It launches itself at him, but he effortlessly cuts it in twain.
That’s when he notices the others, all crowding around, but they seem unwilling to come closer given his apparent prowess.
As Southie continues north, deeper into the swamp, he eventually catches sight of a large boathouse, evidently overlooking a small lake. The plant-men retreat as he approaches the building. He ties his boar to a post and approaches the crumbling building, catching sight of movement as a tiefling, clad in armor and carrying a spear, looms out of the shadows. He has a full head of hair, his horns are intact, and he has all of his teeth, but apart from these factors, Southie would swear it was the same tiefling he met in Duchy Jepson earlier in the week. The tiefling does not seem hostile, however, so Southie lets him be.
Southie inquires about the tiefling, and whether he is the Terrible Old Man, but the tiefling indicates he is not. He has not been called by his name in a long, long time and has no name — where he was once one, he is now many. From that, Southie decides to call him Manny.
Southie inquires as to how he became the boatman leading to the Terrible Old Man’s hut, and he indicates it is just what he does. A calling rather than a job.
Not willing to leave his boar, Southie and the boar pile onto the Manny’s rickety boat, which somehow carries the trio across the pond to the hut on the opposite shore. While riding, Southie inquires about any tips when dealing with the Old Man; Manny merely replies that Southie should not attempt to fight the Old Man, for if he does so, he will lose. Southie admonishes Manny to not eat his boar, no matter how much time passes, lest he become very angry. He then enters the hut.
A crooked, bent old man in shabby robes with stringy hair and wretched teeth answers — the Terrible Old Man. When Southie asks, he indicates he has many names, but is sometimes known by that one. Southie decides to call him “Terry.” He invites Southie within and offers him tea. Southie accepts, and the pair discusses business.
The Old Man seems to have some prior knowledge of Southie, indicating that he knows of his desire to destroy slavery. Southie responds that his aspirations are bigger, extending to the gods themselves; the Old Man acknowledges this. He offers to tell Southie’s fortune — 1 gp for a simple fortune, or 100 gp to tell it with the deck of many things — but Southie says that the concept of Fate is just another form of slavery, and he will not submit. The Old Man indicates he appreciates Southie’s integrity.
Southie inquires about where his comrades can be found, but the Terrible Old Man is not omniscient; that information can only be determined by telling Southie’s fortune. Southie refuses.
The Old Man also makes some oblique reference to caves in the mountain face close at hand, although they have been sealed by the wizards of the tower.
In keeping with his goal, the Terrible Old Man offers him a treasure map. An old map from the days of the Arkhosian empire, this map shows the location of a secret Creation Forge, left over from the Turathi empire. Creation Forges were first developed by the dwarves during their durance to the giants — something that greatly interests Southie — and were used most recently during the Cackledread War to create the warforged. However, the empire of Bael Turath also experimented with Creation Forges; one of them is close at hand, nestled in the mountains. Additionally, the map also depicts the fane of a loathsome idol; communing with the idol, using a particular ritual, will answer any question.
Southie expresses an interest in the map, and the Old Man charges him 100 gp. Southie pays, and the Old Man notes that there are probably materials still within to make roughly two dozen warforged, but beyond those supplies additional materials — iron, stone, and wood — will be required. He also recommends securing the services of an alchemist to monitor and run the Forge.
Southie also wants to know the information of the idol, and is interested in that ritual. The Old Man also sells it for 100 gp; he gives the ritual scroll to Southie, recommending that when he goes to visit the idol, he brings a friend along.
Southie thanks the Old Man and returns outside. Since they have already established that Manny is free to do as he wishes, Southie asks if Manny wants to adventure with him. He agrees, but noting that it is late, recommends they camp here for the night. Southie agrees; they will head out in the morning.
Meanwhile, back in Duchy Jepson on Harvester 23, Croitus, Dhavita, Nobody, and Resh say their good-byes to Marguerite and Sati and head out on the open road. (Dhavita, for her part, spent the night with Marguerite, singing many of the old songs she likes to sing. And that she knows Margot likes to hear.) Despite intermittent rain, it is a relatively uneventful journey. Dhavita does dream, however; her first dream on the road is similar to a previous dream, wherein the Scandshar Watch and representatives of the Peacocks arrive in Dawnslight. This time, however, the Scandshar Watch hears the news that both Geoffrey and Marguerite Weogora have fled a week ago — Marguerite in the evening with five travelers, and Geoffrey a day later with some of his retainers. They left no slaves behind — although Dhavita gets the distinct impression that they have been integrated into the population of Dawnslight. Lord Key then indicates that the only person whom they can find connected to these events must be incarcerated, and she turns to Zafira Shulud. Zafira is about to flee, but realizes the futility. They clasp her in irons and head back toward the direction of the Bloodstone Crags.
She has another dream over the course of several days — a grand masquerade ball wherein everyone is swept into the dance. The dance is Vonseloth, and the travelers are welcome — but a shadowy figure lurks on the periphery of the ballroom, and the figure has a peacock mask. Spies are everywhere.
Dhavita makes certain to inform the others of both of her dreams.
On the afternoon of Harvester 25, they encounter a half-elf merchant. He is apparently heading from Castow, on the road to Vonseloth, and informs the travelers that Castow is run by a knightly order dedicated to the trade and fortune goddess Avandra — coincidentally, the same fortune goddess apparently sending visions to Dhavita. They thank him for the information and purchase some rations before moving on.
The travelers arrive in Castow late in the morning of Waterday, Harvester 26. Dhavita travels to the local temple to pray while the others rest briefly at the local inn, the Drunken Bishop. Once they reconvene at the inn, they decide to move on so that they may arrive in Vonseloth around nightfall.
Croitus, Dhavita, Nobody, and Resh arrive in Vonseloth shortly after sundown, and after gaining entry, they inquire about a mid-priced inn, and the guards recommend the Solitary Monk. To the chagrin of the others, Croitus asks about the location of the Solaeque Purlieu. The guards direct them to it, towards the eastern portion of the town.
A brisk ride on horseback finds them in the tenements and shanties of the Solaeque Purlieu. Doors stand open on buildings, and the families within appear to be preparing for bed. In the central plaza, there stands a modestly-sized tree, and several eladrin and elves stand around it. They appear to be chanting in Elven, some manner of ritual prayer. Croitus gives his helm of languages to Dhavita so that she may understand what is being said. A few of the elves look at the newcomers, but it is the shaman leading the chant who pauses when she sees Nobody. Calling her “Dar’amaraltria,” she says that she has returned to them. Nobody indicates she does not recall herself, and the eladrin druid indicates she is ileneth (literally “no name” or “unnamed” in Elven). Speaking in Common, she introduces herself as the druid Van’solessonna, the leader of these people. She asks about what happened to Nobody, and Nobody explains her capture and enslavement. Croitus, again to the chagrin of the group as there may be spies about, offers that they were responsible for the “troubles” in Scandshar as a direct result of assisting Nobody’s freedom.
Van’solessonna, pleased at these proceedings, indicates that as they are friends of Dar’amaraltria, they are part of the tribe and may come and go as they wish. They will find some traditions that are a trifle odd to city-dwellers; their belongings are communal, and their doors stand open. If you wish to speak with someone, enter their house. If you need something, borrow it at your leisure. While the travelers are in the Purlieu, however, they are free, as are their horses. She unhitches them and whispers something to them; the horses remain without further prompting.
Although they were just engaged in evening prayers, Van’solessonna believes this is cause for celebration. The Solaeque bring forth whatever food they can spare for the feast, and the music and tale-telling continues well into the night.