The Summer Empire

Snake in the nest

Our session begins with a bunch of pirates swinging from lines onto the Aurora after hurriedly leaving with a load of dye destined for Lanun. As Petrichor, Autumn Oak and Mara fought off the invaders, Bartelby ran down to the cargo room to secure the dye, then to his office in the ship, came back up on deck, and—waving official papers in their faces—loudly proclaimed that they were official traders from Lanun, and they were fully paid up on their licenses, and why were these pirates attacking us. The losses on the pirates’ side led them to parley with the Aurora crew. Mara took the most wounded pirate to the infirmary, where she discovered they had cargo in boxes and human form. Mara also noticed that all of the pirates looked a little worse for the wear prior to the fight, but pirates aren’t known for their healthy lifestyle so she let it slide. Mara carried the good news of cargo to Bartelby without telling him exactly what it was. To his surprise, it turned out to be a white-haired teenage girl. Bartelby asked Autumn Oak to check out their ship, so Autumn Oak looked into Twilight and saw that their ship’s totem was a wolf spirit. Far from being a strong predator, though, the wolf was weak and sickly, just like the ship’s crew…

With the pirates sent off with references that might get them mercenary work in Lanun, the Aurora’s crew settled into the mess. Mara spoke to the girl, and it turned out that her name was Pav, and that she had been taken away from her parents while they stopped in a market somewhere in the lower reach of the floating islands. She revealed from the Capital in Patria, and Bartelby recognized the names of her aunt and uncle—Wren and Ash—as being similar to the naming style of House Aundae, one of the dhampir families ( Dhampir Houses). House Aundae was also a business consortium that made a tidy sum dealing with rogue spirits, and with that sum came the opportunity for wealth for us. The crew decided to change course and take Pav back to her family…for a modest reward.

Autumn Oak summoned up ravens to dispatch messages to a contact Bartelby had in Patria to drop off the dye and a message to House Aundae that we had found one of their members who had been kidnapped and were coming to the Capital to return her. After the messages were sent, while Petrichor read the winds, Autumn Oak went down to consult with Aurora about the state of the ship. Aurora was a bit uneasy about the new passenger, and referred to the starving wolf spirit of the other ship, but Aurora was suitably cryptic.

In the middle of the night Bartelby woke up to a knock on his door, opens it, and found Pav standing there. After asking why she’s there, he led her down to Mara’s room and put her back to sleep, and then stumbled back to bed himself, feeling far more tired than even waking up in the middle of the night would have led to.

In the morning, after breakfast, Petrichor moved a storm out of the way to shave some time off the Aurora’s trip to Patria. Pav asked him about what he’s doing, and after the ritual was completed, she gave him a quick hug and then head off elsewhere on the deck. Petrichor sat down, feeling more tired than he should have from just manipulating the weather, and while Autumn Oak and Petrichor discussed the weather patterns and how close they can safely get to increase their speed, Mara went to Bartelby and asked for him to restock her medical supplies, since fieldwork and research is part of the reason she signed on with the crew. However, Bartelby was as tightfisted as ever, and eventually Mara stormed out onto the deck, muttering imprecations about Bartelby’s purse. Soon Bartelby came up on deck, and with the whole crew there, the questioning started again. Pav eventually admitted that she didn’t really want to go back to House Aundae, because she didn’t feel like she was “special,” and she didn’t have any powers like her aunt and uncle. Bartelby went back down below, and a still-annoyed Mara told Pav that Bartelby would be a great person to go draw next to—a suggestion that Pav eagerly agreed to.

Pav made a drawing of a grub—part of Autumn Oak’s breakfast—and Aurora, which Bartelby later offered to Autumn Oak as a sacrifice to take to Aurora. Autumn Oak said that a sacrifice was usually something valuable, and Bartelby spun a grand tale of how he had always wanted to have children but his constantly-moving lifestyle meant that he had never been able to, and the drawing of a happy child was of inestimable value to him and Aurora should find it so as well. Much to Autumn Oak’s surprise, Aurora accepted the sacrifice.

Later, the crew were talking on the deck about what to do about Pav and how she still seems odd. She was drawing pictures, but her drawings and her speech were more like that of a six or seven-year-old rather than the thirteen years she claimed to be. As they discussed, they felt an overwhelming sense of danger from Aurora, and Autumn Oak ran down to the engine room. While Bartelby found Pav crying amidst a pile of chocolate wrappers with a broken lock to one of his cabinets, Autumn Oak communed with Aurora and received a vision of Pav walking by and the a sudden sense of loss, and all of the pieces fell into place. Autumn Oak ran up to the mess in a fury and summoned up vines out of the floor and walls to entangle Pav, and as Mara looked on in horror, Autumn Oak blamed her for draining the ship and for draining the pirates and their ship before that. He said she was a lamia, and that she wasn’t safe to have on board.

Bartelby performed some tests to see how safe Pav was, and after two attempts to touch her with bare skin left him sweating and slumped against the wall, they bundled her off to her room, locked her in, and settled down to discuss what they had to do. Autumn Oak was adamant that they had to take her back to her family, since House Aundae would surely have a better idea of what to do with her than they did. Mara was torn between letting her go free and the knowledge that Pav probably wasn’t in a proper state of mind to decide. Bartelby thought that Aundae probably wouldn’t pay up and wouldn’t want anyone else to know they had a lamia in their family because of the association with the Nobility, but Petrichor pointed out that if we did that and Pav hurt anyone, we would be partially responsible. Bartelby mused that maybe House Aundae would just kill her, and she might be better off in the still-Noble-ruled nation of Calas. That drew an explosive reaction from Autumn Oak, who categorically refused to go to Calas for any reason and stated that there was no way they would hand Pav off to Alexis and Flauros. Bartelby asked why it was so bad, but got no reaction from Autumn Oak except an angry stare and eventually agreed that they would not go to Calas. The crew decided that they would take Pav back to her family, because while they might know what to do with her, we definitely had no idea.

The landing in Patria was uneventful, but two representatives from House Aundae were waiting for the Aurora at the docks and boarded the ship. They introduced themselves as Wren and Ash of House Aundae, and while quite cold and imperious, things seemed to be going okay until Autumn Oak noticed that Wren was an adept and was prying into Mara’s mind. He accused them of bad faith dealings, and things soon escalated as Autumn Oak called the House Aundae members “Noble-spawn” and Wren used her powers on Autumn Oak and sent searing pain shooting through his whole body. As Autumn Oak dropped to the ground screaming, Petrichor ran to the scene and Bartelby ran to the engine room, where he—knowing Aurora’s opinion of him—told the ship-spirit that Autumn Oak was in danger and she should take off immediately and make as many evasive maneuvers as possible. Mara rammed into Wren, breaking her concentration and freeing Autumn Oak from the pain, and the ship lurched, throwing most of them off their feet. Battle immediately commenced, and Ash and Wren were pretty quickly bested. Petrichor whistled up a wind and blew Ash off the ship (though the ship wasn’t high enough to kill him) after disarming him and taking his sword, and once that happened Wren was subdued, knocked unconscious, and dropped off in a rural area, then the ship took off again.

The session ended with the crew planning to go back to House Aundae’s headquarters, return Ash’s sword as a gift of goodwill, and offer a detente—no assassins sent after us in exchange for not revealing Wren’s unsanctioned mind reading and Pav’s existence. As for Pav, the university Mara attended is in the Capital, and Autumn Oak suggested that she write to the university and see if there was anyone there who could train Pav, or knew someone who could do so.

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Negotiations and New Adventures

Wind blows through the ship
Removing all aggression
Only peace follows
-Petrichor

Previously-disarmed sword in hand, Petrichor and Bartelby went to House Aundae to smooth things over with the dhampirs before the entire organization decided that we’re a threat that needs to be eliminated, or at least an example that needs to be made. After being met at the gate by a guide who lit a torch, they were led into the main headquarters of the Aundae. The inside was pitch-black other than the light of the torch, and they could hear the sound of people sparring, the murmurs of conversation, and see people studying ancient tomes in apparent darkness, all of them with the parchment-white skin and snow-colored hair of the Aundae.

They were led into a large room in the center of the house, where they were met by three people—a bald man, a woman with her hair bound in a tight bun, and an old man in between them with a snow-white beard. The meeting got off to an excellent start when the woman said, “You are the ones who took Ash’s sword from him,” causing Bartleby to immediately go into high gear. He mentioned the misunderstanding and how he wouldn’t want any damage to Aundae’s reputation, and offered to sell the Aurora’s dye cargo to the Aundae as a gesture of goodwill. Petrichor mentioned that he only had the sword because it was being wielded against us, and there was some argument between the bald man and the woman before the man with the beard shut it down as family business.

The woman asked why Ash and Wren were even on the ship, and Bartleby tried to divert attention for a bit before admitting Pav’s existence. After being asked about her whereabouts, Bartleby said that the last place he saw her was at the docks, and the woman said that if she would be returned to House Aundae, the dhampirs would be very grateful for her return and for our “continued discretion.” Bartleby agreed, and an agreement was struck while the sword was handed over and the dye promised.

While this was occurring, Mara and Autumn Oak headed to The University in order to talk to one of Mara’s contacts, Provost Quarrin, a scholar of the cultural impact of the Dawn War and an aficionado of games. They were trailed by Pav, wearing a large cloak to hide her distinctive hair and skin, through the campus. The University is centuries old and has been built and built over and rebuilt enough that they have to make their way through a maze of different architectural styles, with Mara pointing out some examples commissioned by vengeful professors or deans of ages past along the way. When they reached the provost’s office, they found a long room with walls stacked with games from all over the Summer Empire, as well as a number of historical works on the sociology of the jihad against the Nobility.

While Autumn Oak checked the book titles of books on the war, Mara and Quarrin chatted. Quarrin asked about Mara’s fieldwork and mentions he managed to find a new game from the quarantined part of Sheol, and Mara talked a bit about her time on board the ship, then the discussion got quickly to business. Mara explained Pav’s existence, the nature of her abilities (to the extent we’re familiar with them) and how she was hoping Quarrin would know a scholar who might be able to assist. Quarrin cautiously said that he could probably take her in, and that he has a colleague studying Ruach, the name for whatever it is lamiae drain from people to keep themselves young, and that Pav might make a good research assistant as well. Mara replied that she could donate some of the proceeds from the Aurora‘s jobs to Pav’s upkeep as compensation for Quarrin’s money and time.

At this point, Autumn Oak interrupted to point out that the provost has a game of stones from Alfheim, but it’s only half-complete. Quarrin agreed that this is so, but mentioned that he bought it from a merchant who talked up the difficulty of trading with the Ljosalfar. Autumn Oak replied that this used to be true, but as the Nations of the Night get further from people’s memory most Ljosalfar are becoming more open to the outside world, and he sketched out a crude map with the location of a village where Quarrin could probably get the second player’s pieces. Quarrin thanked Autumn Oak and Mara, and as the two left to go to the university dining hall, they couldhear Quarrin ask Pav, “Now, my dear, do you enjoy games?”

After the meeting at House Aundae, Petrichor and Bartleby headed out to the streets of the The Capital and stopped in at a food stall, ordering some simple meat pies and soup. As they were eating, a man walked up and sat next to Bartleby, introduced himself as Liam, and mentioned that he sought them out specificially with a job. Bartleby quizzed him about the job while successfully seeming indifferent, and learned that Liam’s employer wants us to head to an island in the upper reach with ruins in the middle that need exploring, and that his employer wants the crew to retrieve a specific item in exchange for a large amount of money. Sensing that Liam was hiding something, Bartleby offered tentative acceptance but said he needs to put it to the crew, so he agreed to meet with Liam on the ship later and then, praising the generosity of Liam’s employer, passed him the check.

Petrichor spent the whole conversation eating increasingly improbable amounts of food and attracting a larger and larger crowd.

Back on the ship, Autumn Oak consulted Aurora about the necessary port rites, since part of the pact the crew has with the ship spirit is that a part will be replaced every time the ship is in port. Aurora wanted the window that Petrichor blew Ash through to be fixed, and while Petrichor lay on the deck in a food coma, Autumn Oak and Bartleby headed out to get a new window that would satisfy both Autumn Oak’s need for quality and Bartleby’s need to maintain high cash flow. They returned before nightfall having secured a work contract, and when Liam arrived at the ship for a meeting, the whole crew headed into the mess to meet with him.

The meeting was mostly inconclusive, with Liam having very little information to contribute, but he did have a map of the island that shows it to be covered in thick jungles, and he said that as far as his employer knows, it’s not inhabited because it’s far away from most of the main trade lines. The item we would need to retrieve was a large stone egg, but the only description available was that we would know it when we saw it. When asked what we should bring back if the egg was gone, Liam suggested bringing back the ruin reliefs, and when Autumn Oak incredulously asked if actually meant a rubbing of them, he clarified that no, he meant the originals. He also explained that the ruins were left over from the Mazatl, a pre-First Empire civilization of lizardmen—at least, according to the art in their ruins—who had died out for unknown reasons.

Finally, Bartleby and Liam got down to negotiating, but due to incredibly flowery language and incompatible systems of metaphor (and neither of them rolling any successes), they spent quite a while dancing around each other and getting nowhere. Finally, Autumn Oak leapt in with a demand for higher payment up front, the rest of the original payment if they bring back the reliefs and a bonus if they can find the egg. Liam somewhat grudgingly accepted, and then he handed over the initial portion and left the ship.

Expecting problems with diseases or poisons, Bartleby took some of the money and gave it to Mara to go buy additional medical supplies. Somewhat astonished at his generosity, she quickly took the money before he changed his mind and headed out. While Petrichor stayed on the ship, the others all headed out to stock up. Mara bought some medical supplies and some simple charms against disease, as well as some paper and brushes for Petrichor to write more of his poetry and some fresh grubs for Autumn Oak to sprinkle on the gruel that Bartleby makes for dinner. Autumn Oak bought some chalk and paper for rubbings of the reliefs, because there was no way he was going to He also bought a freshly picked apple and, with a smile on his face, ate the entire thing.

In one of The Capital’s market, Bartleby was looking through supplies when someone brushed into him. The person started to speak sharply but stopped and stared in astonishment, just saying, “It’s you!” and “You’re here.” Bartleby brusquely said that they must be mistaken and dove into the crowd, quickly losing the astonished man and ignoring the shouts that followed him.

The next day, the ship left port and headed out on the long voyage to the island. It would take a week, and other than a storm on the second day that Petrichor used his weather witchery to steer the ship through while Autumn Oak summoned a tempest-spirit to smooth their passage, there was no difficulty. As the ship ascended higher and higher and the islands in the skies above grew less common, Mara and Autumn Oak—both from the upper reach—started spending more time on deck, while Bartleby, who missed the more crowded skies of the area around Patria and Lanun, spent more time in his office.

Eventually, they reached the island and performed a quick flyover, finding the ruins but noticing that the whole thing was full of riotous overgrowth and even though it was only a dozen or so miles in diameter, they would have to land at the edge and walk overland, probably taking at least an entire day to reach the ruins. After a bit more flying and surveying, they found a suitable spot and landed, and right as the crew walked off the ship, an incredibly loud roar resounded through the jungle, which Autumn Oak identified as the call of a terror wyrm.

The session ended with Autumn Oak staring into the jungle and, with a heavy sigh, asking the others how good they were at remaining unseen.

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