Chapter 06: Aquilla

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Session Number: 77
Date: Sunday 12 December 2010
Venue: Fergus'
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr8 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Feren Rog9 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal9 (Craig) (kills: none)
Tomen Rgr9 (Ash) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz9 (Densial) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBC

Harley circles above the frustrated giant. Rowaine Lays Hands on Arrian as Troll climbs up to their altitude.

"Oi!" Troll says. "What you doing here?" Only Arrian can hear the words.

"Troll!" Arrian yells back. "Rescuing you!"

"What for?" Troll asks. "I'm alright."

"Well… good!" Arrian says, exasperated. "What are you doing?"

"Oh, just having a look around. Hey, we should go sometime eh?"

"Yeah!" Arrian says.

"Now'd be good before the rest wake up," Troll says.

"What?"

"Well, you don't think he's alone, do you? There's about a dozen of these things. They hide in the stone!"

"Argh! We can talk about it later! Let's go!"

Rowaine watches Troll's Disc disappear into the dark. "We need to stay here and distract this thing!" Arrian shouts, but realises that Rowaine cannot hear. He taps Rowaine's shoulder, points at Harley, then makes a circling motion in the air. He then casts Spiritual Weapon. An incorporeal long sword slices the giant's side. Rowaine casts Bless.

Feren and Emily continue running towards the dome, weaving around boulders and slabs of rock. Before them, the air just above the ground shimmers. They draw weapons and veer around it.

"Jump on the disc!" a voice yells behind them. The words literally fall on deaf ears. Another noise: a deep rumble from the throat of a giant.

Feren looks at the disturbance in the air as he runs past it, then pulls Emily up short. He recognises it as Tenser's Disc. "Troll must be near," he thinks. He motions for Emily to climb on the near-invisible object and looks into the darkness. He sees nothing. Once they are both on board, the Disc starts climbing vertically.

The giant notices the disembodied blade, then looks up. "RrrraaaaAAArrgh!!" it screams in rage, extending its free arm in Harley's direction. Its hair stands straight out from its skull and arcs of electricity course up its arm, culminating at its outstretched fist. CRACK! A bolt of electricity arcs upwards, striking Harley. Simultaneously, two smaller bolts break away, orbit around the stone flyer and contact Rowaine and Arrian. Involuntary convulsions wrack the muscles of all three victims. Harley struggles to maintain mastery over her body.

Arrian ceases concentration on his Spiritual long sword and heals some of Harley's wounds. Rowaine Lays Hands upon her beloved mount, then directs her towards the dome as best she can - difficult from the rearward position, but she manages.

Troll sees Feren and Emily lifting off the cavern floor, bathed in alchemical light. "Drop your sunrods!" he yells. They do not respond. "Bloody elves!" he says, floating closer. Feren spots Troll and Shalélu emerging from the darkness as his Disc continues to climb.

Arrian hears a booming growl from his right - not where he expected the giant to be. Is it another? Ahead, he can just make out Troll, silhouetted by a light source floating beyond him. The light then drops away, falling to the cavern floor below. He becomes conscious of how visible he is, lit up by Rowaine's sunrod. He motions for Rowaine to drop her light source. She does, watching it fall to the ground.

Harley continues flying in the darkness. The wind dies down as she reduces speed. Arrian and Rowaine can clearly see the dome ahead and several other sunrods dotted around.

Troll and Shalélu hear something large fly by. Troll hopes it is Harley.

Two minutes later, Harley descends and lands beside the dome. Arrian and Rowaine dismount, weapons drawn, peering into the darkness. Arrian murmurs and touches Rowaine's shoulder once, then twice, healing more of her wounds.

"No," Rowaine says, shaking her head at Arrian. "Save your healing." Arrian grasps the intent, if not the words themselves.

Shortly after, the ringing in the party's ears abates and they begin to make out sounds again. Sounds like groaning and grunting from within the cavern, coming from multiple directions.

"Shall we move inside the fence?" Arrian whispers.

"What if the others need help?" Rowaine replies.

"We stay close to the outer shell so we can get out quickly."

"Very well." Before they step inside, Arrian picks up the sunrod at his feet and throws it forty yards away. Feren sees a sunrod arc through the air in his direction and land on the floor.

After five minutes, Arrian spots Troll's two slow-moving Discs descending towards the dome.

"Any sign?" Rowaine asks when they near the ground.

"No," Troll says. "They've gone."

"Gone?"

"Yeah, probably."

"Let's get outta here," Rowaine says. The party work their way through the metal barrier. Harley paws at the metal, then sinks into the stone. She reappears moments later.

"I cannot get in," Harley says to Rowaine. "The metal continues below."

"Go, Harley," Rowaine says. "Go to your home. I will see you again soon." Harley's form shimmers briefly, then vanishes.

Feren transports everyone back to Trina. It is early evening in the grove. "Can you heal our wounded?" Feren asks.

"Easy," Trina replies. The party's wounds start feeling itchy. "It will take a little time," she adds.

Rowaine turns to Troll. "What were you thinking? Do you know how much trouble you could have gotten into? How much trouble we got into?"

"Well, you went away," Troll says. "What was I supposed to do? I went and had a look." His gaze meets Rowaine's. "I won't do it again. I promise."

Rowaine storms off. Despite her exasperation, she notices movement about a hundred yards away. Arrian spies it too. Rowaine walks towards it.

"Troll," Arrian says, "just something to think about. If you get in trouble, then all of the towers become unusable. You're an important person."

"I've made arrangements," Troll replies. "It'll be alright."

Telling Troll to think of the consequences of his actions is a futile waste of breath.

"Not to mention that fact that Rowaine would be devastated," Arrian continues. I know that she cares about you deeply."

Troll's shoulders drop a little. "Alright, I'll be careful. Cool place, though. Lots of undead monsters. Little flying things that go through the ground like this:" Troll's hands make a flopping motion.

"I completely understand your desire to satisfy your curiosity," Arrian says, "but perhaps you could take Rowaine with you next time?"

"She buggered off to see the elves! Useless, pissy people…"

Arrian looks over to Rowaine and walks quickly after her. Ahead, Rowaine identifies the movement as people - elves, if she is not mistaken. Once closer she identifies one of them as Prince Elathon. Arrian catches up with her as she approaches.

Rowaine bows. "What brings his highness to Trina?"

"Lady Rowaine. We understand that you intend to visit the Ships of Song. My mother is interested in knowing how they fare these days. Her majesty wishes to have someone accompany you."

"Very well," Rowaine says. "One of your family?"

"Yes."

"Not yourself?"

"No. Ethalon, my younger sister."

"The princess? She is welcome. Will she have an escort?"

"Yes." The prince turns around and indicates an elf standing beside the princess. "Tomen."

Feren recognises the elf, who has an impressive martial pedigree. He wears a mithral chain shirt and his weapons rest easy at his side; everything about him suggests competence. At the party's gaze, the princess walks over. Tomen's eyes follow her.

"Greetings, princess," Arrian says. "I understand you are accompanying us to the Ships of Song?"

"Yes. Mother has tasked me with viewing the ship. I would be very happy to come with you, if you will have me."

"Of course, your highness," Rowaine says. Introductions are made for those whom the princess has not formally met.

"Trina," Arrian says, "is it light where your branch is, out at sea?"

"Yes, barely. The sun is in about the same place in the sky."

"Is it far away?" Rowaine asks.

"I don't know exactly, but I don't think so. Not compared to the size of the world."

"Is it warmer or colder than here?" Arrian asks.

"It is about the same."

"What is the weather like?" Feren asks.

"A little different… Windier."

Rowaine turns to Troll. "Did you find anything interesting in the Underdark?"

"Lots of dead things in the big cave," Troll answers. "And big giant things. They seemed pretty organised, pretty smart… and little wee floppy things that go flying through the ground, a bit like Harley does."

"Earth Gliders," Rowaine says.

"The big giant things smash the living shit out of them. All the time."

"I wonder whether the giants are not all that bad," Rowaine says. "They probably just don't like bright light, and people walking around their cavern. It may be well that we didn't kill any."

A paladin says 'didn't.' The rest of the world says 'couldn't.'

Later, as evening sets in, the prince invites all to dinner. Emily is seated next to the prince. Tomen sits beside princess Ethalyn.

"How is the queen?" Rowaine asks.

"Well, thank you," the prince replies.

"She is still in her residence in the south?"

"For a short time."

"Do you have plans to venture into the Underdark?" Arrian asks.

"No," the prince says. "One step at a time."

"We found the branch there not terribly well defended," Arrian comments.

"I find that surprising," the prince says flatly.

"It was surrounded by a layered metal globe," Arrian explains, "but I can't see it keeping things out."

"Legend has it that Trina has her own defences."

"Perhaps Trina has some relationship with the giants," Arrian says. He turns to the elf, Tomen.

"Well met, friend elf," Arrian says.

Tomen eyes Arrian, then his gaze passes over the other party members. "It is good to meet you all."

"How did your association with the Roielles come about, Tomen?" Rowaine asks.

"I am a protector of the forest, as my family has been before me. The Roielles have called upon my services in the past."

"What are your areas of expertise?" Arrian asks.

"I can track. I have skill with animals. I am able to use nature-related magic."

"Can you take your place in a standup fight?"

"Yes. Easily."

Dinner ends. Princess Ethalyn takes her leave, as does Troll. Rowaine addresses the prince.

"I am rather intrigued as to the choice of person to undertake this task. I am concerned for your sister's safety - as I am sure you are also."

"That's why we are sending Tomen," the prince says.

"You feel that is sufficient?"

"Well, I don't expect it to be particularly dangerous. It is one of the Ships of Song, not the Underdark. My sister is reasonably proficient at taking care of herself. I have every confidence that you will all be able to handle whatever you encounter."

"You know your sister far better than I," Rowaine says. "How does she act in a stressful situation?"

"My sister is the youngest, so she has the least responsibility and the most freedom. As such, she has chosen less of a political life and more of an active life. She spends a lot of her time in the forests, unlike her siblings. She follows the elven goddess of nature. If you anticipate trouble, then maybe I should send guards?"

"I think that with a princess of the realm at stake," Arrian says, "surely overkill is better than the alternative? How long has it been since anyone has been through to this branch?"

"Three days."

"What?"

Rowaine puts two and two together. "Troll has already been there. He has spoken with you, Prince?"

"I have spoken to Trina. She told me that Troll has visited all three of the remaining accessible branches. The one at Aquilla is apparently in an alley; it sounds like it is in a city of some kind. Trina has been dissuading people from entering the alley."

"Is it in motion?"

"The Ships of Song were always in motion. I see no reason why that would no longer be."

"I suggest we make to our beds," Arrian says, sensing dinner's close. "Goodnight."

"We will look after your sister," Rowaine adds. "I pledge it." With that, everyone leaves the table.

Rowaine and Arrian locate Troll.

"You have been to the Ships of Song?" Arrian asks.

"Yeah yeah, huge market. Buy anything there."

"It's a big place?" Rowaine asks.

"Well, the market was."

"Is it actually a ship floating on the sea?"

"One street I went down had the ocean beside it. I couldn't see any land."

Rowaine recalls her conversation with K'at. He alluded that the Ships of Song were said to be powered by the type of magic that he might use to free Krag. She reminds the others of the conversation.

"We need to find this power source and somehow barter or trade for it," Rowaine says. "Troll, what are the people like? Do they speak our language? Do you stand out?"

"Not particularly."

"What races did you see?"

"All sorts. Half-orcs, I saw a couple of half-ogres…"

"Well," Rowaine says, "we have some magic items we could use for trade. Weapons, necklaces, wands, potions. I hope it's enough. We can leave them here for the time being."

The party visit Abbey, let her know what they plan to do and restock equipment.

"I think I'll stay here for a while," Emily says. I have some research of my own to do. Have fun."

The next morning the party gather at Trina's tree. Tomen and the princess are waiting. The princess carries a bow and short sword over nondescript clothes and hooded cloak.

"Would you care to do the honours, your highness?" Rowaine asks. The princess calls Trina to transport the group through to the Ships of Song.

Three people that can get us back again. Should be enough.

The party find themselves in an alleyway, ten feet wide and around fifty feet long. The air smells strongly of sea salt and litter, something Rowaine has not experienced since visiting Carthenage. Crates and rubbish line the alley's sides. People can be seen walking past the opposite end. Above the two-storey buildings, the sky is bright blue. Behind them is a tree.

Rowaine leads the group down the alley, which intersects another.

"Which way to the market, Troll?" Rowaine asks.

"To the right. The sea is to the left."

The party exit the alleyway and head right. Some people bearing handcarts look up as they exit, looking somehow surprised to see them.

"Interesting," Arrian says in muted dwarven. "Perhaps some sort of illusion."

"Maybe we should talk about that in a more private place," Rowaine replies. She casually looks over her shoulder, looking back down the alleyway. The tree can be seen at the end. She looks around, trying to memorise the intersection. The walls have many doors that look as if they are very infrequently opened. The intersection bears no signage.

The party walk nonchalantly on. Less than twenty yards later the alley intersects a timber plank street, the right-hand path almost doubling back upon itself. The street is not obviously named.

"Market's that way," Troll says, pointing left. The street to the right ends not far away in a dock, beyond which the sea glitters.

"Hang on," Arrian says, looking back down the alley. "Shouldn't we be seeing the alley with the branch? It should be just there…" So it would seem, but there is no sign of the alley or the tree.

"Wait here," Rowaine says. "Feren, come with me." The pair retrace their steps back into the alleyway, Rowaine leading. The paladin stops where the alleyway should be, but cannot find it. She looks around: yes, there is that washing line, that window, that chimney… She waits for Feren.

"What?" he says.

"The alley," Rowaine says. "Where is it?"

"What do you mean? It's right there," Feren says. Rowaine still cannot see it. Feren takes Rowaine's hand. The instant they make contact, the row of buildings shimmers and Rowaine sees the alley.

"Well, at least we know what we need to do to get back," Rowaine says. "Let's rejoin the others." They head back to the water and describe their experience.

"Evidence of transdimensional spaces?" Arrian says.

"Perhaps," Rowaine says, thinking of their mission. She looks out over the ocean, then closes her eyes. Yes, she can feel the 'street' rocking, almost imperceptibly.

The party turn around and walk towards the market. The noise of many people and much industry increases as they walk some five hundred yards down the street, until it terminates in a huge, open circular area, bustling with activity. Clumps of market stalls dot the area. Merchants shout out the virtues of their goods. Arrian and Tomen see ship masts somewhere near the circle's centre, a good quarter mile away. Arrian points it out to Rowaine.

"Have you been there, Troll?" Rowaine asks.

"No."

Rowaine looks behind. If the street they exited has a name, it is not advertised by a sign. Knowing his great memory, Rowaine asks Troll to take note of the street so he might lead them back.

"How are you finding this place, sis?" Feren asks the crown princess. She looks at him sideways briefly.

"It's busy. A lot busier than I'm used to. Court is like this, sometimes."

"Shall we try and stay together?" Arrian says.

"What are we looking for?" Rowaine says. "Those masts look significant. We need information."

The group head towards the masts. Many of the stalls look like temporary, moveable structures that have put down roots. Despite the many people shopping, it is easy to wander through. Many races mingle together: humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, plus others the party have never seen before. Some stand on boxes shouting out the praises of unfamiliar deities.

The masts are indeed masts, part of a ship nearly two hundred feet long that seemingly erupts from the market's wooden floor. It is not identified by any inscription. A ramp leads up to the middle of its starboard side, guarded by two half-orcs at its base and two more at its top. Rowaine approaches a market stall close by.

"Greetings and good day to you," she says to the proprietor. He looks up at the beauty before him and smiles.

"May I interest you in a pot, good lady? Very good for cooking things."

"Possibly, yes…" Rowaine says. She looks briefly over her shoulder. "This building behind me, the one in the shape of a boat, what does it house?"

"You don't know about it?"

"No."

"It's the One Ship."

"What is its function?"

"It's at the centre… mmmmm… The place where the important people live. It's the centre of our… You know how you came in and landed on the wharves, right?"

"Mmmmm," Rowaine says, "do go on…"

"You know how it's all one big platform, right?"

"I'm guessing that, yes…"

"Then this is the centre. Legend has it that it is what makes it all float properly."

"I see," Rowaine says. "Is it the physical centre of this place?"

"No, it's much bigger than that."

"What else do you sell besides pots, sir?" Arrian asks.

"Frying pans?"

"Good frying pans?"

"Excellent frying pans. Can I interest you in this frying pan? It allows you to fry things."

Arrian takes the implement and inspects it. "How much?"

"Six silvers."

"I'm not ready to leave," Arrian says, "and I don't want to carry a frying pan around with me for the rest of the day. Would you be able to put it aside? I can give you half now."

"Absolutely."

"My name is Arrian, and I'll be back for it."

"Bob, at your service."

"How long have you been here, Bob?"

"All my life. Born and bred shipper."

"How do you find your way around?" Feren asks. "I see no street signs."

"Street signs? It's not big enough to get lost."

"This is our first time," Arrian explains. "It's pretty strange to us."

"I gathered that. A lot of landers think it's a bit weird, but it's how we live. We like it."

"How long has this platform been afloat?" Feren asks.

"Years and years."

"I've not heard very much about it," Rowaine says. "Are there stories of how it came about?"

"Well, some say the great god Hefgwat wanted to save all of the righteous people from a great plague that was on the lands, so he built a huge floating platform and said to them 'come here and you will be safe from the plague and you can return eventually when the plague is over,' and obviously the plague isn't over yet. I personally think that is codswallop, but some people like it."

"If that were true," Rowaine says, "surely they would not allow trade..?"

"Yeah, that is a minor hole that they seem to gloss over in the speeches."

"Did you grow up here?" Arrian asks.

"Yes. My daddy owned this stall before me."

Arrian looks over to a group of scaly humanoids. "I haven't travelled much. I've never seen people like that before. Who are they?"

"We get a number of lizard families on the platform, because of their affinity with water."

"Are they from here?"

"Some of them are."

"Is it possible to gain entrance to the One Ship?" Rowaine asks.

"Oh, no… I dunno if anybody's ever been aboard."

"Would it be similar to a town hall in cities of the land?"

"No. No one ever goes aboard. Well, hardly ever… People do sometimes."

"Is it a shrine?"

"No. My daddy used to tell me that the One Ship is what keeps it all hanging together. I don't really think that because if you look at it, it's nowhere near big enough to have that kind of effect."

"How do people gain entry into the One Ship?" Tomen asks.

"They don't."

"But you said that some do."

"They're probably official people, like the mayor."

"There is a mayor of this platform?" Feren asks.

"Yeah, yeah."

"Where does he reside?"

"Over there. See the tall building with the steeple and the red roof?" The building is about ninety degrees clockwise from the street the party entered the market.

"Is there an area where I might find temples?" Arrian asks.

"A number of temples border the marketplace."

"Are any dedicated to Corellon Larethian?"

"I believe so, yes."

"Where might I find one?"

"The temple to Corellon Larethian is directly on the other side of the circle to the mayor's residence.

"And temples to Moradin?"

"Yes, over by the library, over there."

"Do you have a mage's guild?" Arrian asks.

"A guild? There are mages… You might try the library."

"Thank you, Bob. You have a good day. I'll be back for the frying pan."

The party walk away. The princess approaches the boat, dragging everyone in her wake. She stops near the boardwalk and looks up at the vessel, then starts purposefully walking around it. Tomen follows.

Rowaine looks at the ship. It looks as if the market floor has been built around its hull. Wooden struts appear to hold it upright. She believes it is more ship than building.

The princess completes her circuit around the ship, looking at Rowaine. "Where to now?"

"We might have a word with the guard," Rowaine says.

"Can I suggest we don't all stand in from of the guards, demanding entry?"

"Agreed," Rowaine says. "I will go and speak with them. Walk with me, Feren."

The pair approach the gangplank. One of the half-orc guards starts to growl.

"How's it going?" Feren says, amiably. Silence. All four guards start looking very alert.

"Whaddaya want?"

"Can you tell me much about this ship?"

"No."

"How do I get in?"

"You don't."

"Why not?"

"Not all of you will make it in."

"Why not?"

"Because only part of you is allowed up the ramp."

"Which part?"

"The top part from here up, if you keep talking to me," the half-orc says, indicating his neck. "You should go away. Glug not allowed to talk. Go away."

Feren decides not to press it. Rowaine seeks out the temple of Moradin, leaving the others outside. A few dwarves are inside, including a priest at the far end, dusting the anvil-shaped altar. Rowaine walks forwards and takes a seat. She says her prayer, then approaches the priest.

"Greetings," she says.

"How may I help you, lady?"

"Rowaine Kharag, Paladin of Moradin, initiate of the Silver Hand. I am from the Kharag Monastery, near the Dorval river that passes near Minehome, home of the Steelhammer and Darkshield clans, amongst others. This is my first time in this place, and I am interested in any information you may have about it: its history, who rules it, where it is."

"I have heard neither of the monastery of Kharag, nor the Order of the Silver Hand, lady. You greet as a dwarf, but your height surprises me."

"An accident of birth."

"We all have burdens we must bear, I suppose. Did you arrive here on a ship?"

"No."

"Fly?"

"No."

"Hmmm… Keep your secrets, paladin. Well then. Where to begin? This city is like a large floating island."

"Is it old?"

"Older than anyone remembers."

"What holds it together?"

"Magic."

"Magic housed in something shaped like a boat?"

"Yes, actually. Not a lot of people know this but us religious types have scrolls that date back a long time. The boat-shaped building was originally a boat. The way it is said to work is that any part of the boat can float, no matter how much weight is in it. So can anything that is attached to the boat. This has never been proven, but the general consensus is that the structure just needs to be made of wood, which is why all the paths are made of wood. As long as it is all connected, it acts as part of the boat. As you might imagine, the scale of magic involved requires an awful lot of power."

"What does one know about the power source for this phenomenon?" Rowaine asks.

"As far as we can tell, it is the boat itself. If you are able to detect magic, then you will notice that the boat radiates strong magic which weakens the farther away you get."

"What is the political power structure here?"

"There is a hereditary mayoral position. He calls himself 'The Captain,' and is pretty much the head of everything here. He is a very fair man, his entire family have been for some time. He maintains very strict hold on peace. The laws are very black and white. If you steal, or push someone off the edge, it is corporal punishment."

"I see. How does he enforce this law?"

"There are a lot of guards."

"The mayor, is he human? Elf?"

"He is human."

"Might one gain an audience with him?"

"You might be able to, being a paladin of Moradin, but it would be unlikely, unless you had some sort of business with him."

"And if one wanted to initiate business with him?"

"You would have to have something to initiate with… For example, you might want to dock a large number of boats, or broker a large trade, or maybe add on to the ship or build something… These things might take time to sort out: days, weeks, sometimes even months. Generally speaking, you would not deal with the mayor immediately. In the case of a large docking request, you might first deal with the harbourmaster, who may or may not take the request further."

"So there is a bureaucracy."

"Indeed."

"The One Ship - is it the only ship of its kind on this floating island?"

"Yes. There is only one ship."

"This city - what is it called?"

"Aquilla."

"I have heard the name. Have you heard of Minehome, or of the Steelhammer and Darkshield clans? Do you know where Aquilla is in relation to them?"

"I have heard of those clans, but I do not know where we are in relation to them."

"Is Aquilla close to any land mass?"

"Currently? I don't believe we are."

"Are there any legends about who created the ships?"

"The legends speak of them being an elven creation."

"We have heard that one possible explanation for their existence was that there was a plague at some point in time past and that they were a refuge..?"

"Well, it could have been. I have heard that as well, but I do not think it is completely true. It may be true for some, but not all. I have also heard that everyone here is descended from elves, but I know I'm not."

"Thank you for your assistance, sir. Where may I tithe?" Rowaine deposits some money in the offering receptacle and leaves. She meets the others and tells them the information given by the priest.

"There were seven ships originally," the princess says.

"Seven Ships of Song?" Arrian asks.

"Yes."

"Did Trina have branches on all of them?"

"No. Only on one."

"What do you know of the others?" Feren asks.

"According to legend, the seven ships travelled together in a fleet. They were the home and the centre of power of the aquatic elves. The ships could travel underneath the water as well as on top. My family lost contact with the ships when Trina was put to sleep."

Arrian pays his respects at Corellon Larethian's temple and receives similar information. Next: the library.

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