Lightning Rail – Sharn to Sterngate
7 Barrakas, 998 YK
Sar, 12:01 PM
The Cyrans booked standard passage for themselves on the lightning rail using a voucher provided by Lady Elaydren in the backpack, along with assorted equipment and a letter explaining the mission. As they took their seats, Rickard pulled the missive out and read through it again.
The object you recovered for me from the ruins beneath Sharn is a schema, a piece of a pattern used to create items both mundane and magical. I have learned that another schema connected to this pattern was being studied in a secret Cannith workshop in Cyre, called Whitehearth. I wonder if this research is tied to the Day of Mourning?
Parts of my own house seek this pattern for evil purposes, and I do not know whom to trust. So I turn to you. I need you to travel to Cyre. You must travel to the House Cannith outpost in the town of Rose Quarry in Darguun, to recover a record of all of Cannith’s hidden workshops.
In Rhukaan Draal, find a man named Failin in the Bloody Market. He can provide you with transport to Rose Quarry. From there, travel into the Mournland to find Whitehearth and the second schema. It is an adamantine plate in the shape of a diamond, about the size of a human’s palm. Once you have retrieved it, return to Rhukaan Draal, where I will meet you. Succeed and I will see to it that you are well rewarded for your courage.
The Tharashk heir considered its contents for a moment more before sliding the letter back into his pocket. Back to Cyre…well, Cyre-That-Was, anyway he thought to himself, careful not to let it slip through the mindlink. He frowned at that, turning his attention back to his companions.
“This is exciting,” Rebexa was saying. “I haven’t been on the lightning rail since I was a child.” That was a lie, of course – she’d been on the rail that had brought the group to Sharn on their first mission together, at least – but Rickard knew that, if he called Bex out on every lie, he’d have no breath left.
“Hopefully the pleasure gained will make up for the time lost,” Ralharath said. The warlock recalled that he had wanted to take a boat to Rhukaan Draal but had been outvoted.
“Yep,” Bex said, nonplussed.
Rickard kicked back in his seat, pulling his hat low over his eyes. “We’ll get there in plenty of time, I’m sure,” he drawled.
“At least here we can keep an eye out for suspicious people coming on and off the train,” Relic said, his tone pacifying.
Best we use the mindlink to communicate any business, the warlock heard the kalashtar’s voice in his head, and assumed the others did as well. Ralharath always kept his eyes open and his senses probing – the wizard was nothing if not cautious. Overly so, to Rickard’s thinking.
Would you like me to check the train, Ral? Relic offered. I wouldn’t mind stretching my legs anyhow.
None of us should wander completely alone, came the reply. I shall accompany you should you choose to scout. “Rick and I can keep an eye on things here,” Bex said aloud.
“Bah,” Rickard complained. “Can’t get a decent nap with all this yammering in my head.”
“Okay, I’ll keep an eye on things here,” the changeling amended. “You take a nap.”
“Let’s go, Ral. We might find some mischief to get into,” said Relic, his tone amused.
The kalashtar gave him a look that was anything but. Hopefully, we do not find trouble. And please, refrain from saying any of our names aloud. It is obvious we are as much targets as our Lady and the schema she desires. Relic looked at Ralharath as they stood together, but if he gave any mental reply it was outside of Rickard’s “hearing”, which he preferred.
Rocky and Arturo had gone to the sleeping cart to store the group’s baggage, and the armored warforged returned as the wizards were standing. He took a seat near Bex, who solicited his opinions about her attempts to pass for a hobgoblin. After awhile, the changeling asked after the tiefling, who had stayed in the sleeping cart. “Hope he’s all right. It ain’t like Arturo to hide like that,” she said.
When the wizards returned with nothing to report, Rickard gave up on his nap and picked up a copy of the Korranberg Chronicle that another passenger had left on the bench and proceeded to read. After several minutes of relative silence, Bex wrapped the wrought-iron mirror she’d been gazing at in a red velvet cloth and jammed it back in her bag, turning toward the warlock. “Anything good in there, Rick?”
“A lot of the usual mess,” he said, noticing that the Cyrans were the only people in the lightning rail car. “Unrest in the Eldeen Reaches, Karrnathi goodwill missions, the Brelish and their fear of Droaam…” He thumbed farther through the paper to a spot he’d marked. “This is an interesting tidbit. It seems like we aren’t the only ones with problems from the Lord of Blades. His agents have been popping up in all sorts of places far from Cyre-That-Was.” He didn’t mention a story about an Aundairian noble whose daughter had gone missing. Just one more worry among countless others. “Looks like the Emerald Claw is stirring up trouble along the eastern border of Thrane, as well. Troubling times, my friend. Troubling times.”
“To say the least,” she agreed. “It’s like our problems don’t amount to a hill of beans.”
“Can you remember when the times were not so troubled?” Ralharath asked.
“With the Last War and everything after, I doubt there’s a soul alive who can remember,” Bex said.
“Aye, we traded the troubles of War for the troubles of Peace,” Rickard grumbled.
The kalashtar inclined his head. “And so the days drawl on. Let us keep our focus on our task and try to bring some calm amidst the storm.”
“Things weren’t so bad, really,” Relic offered. “Life in the military was grand… Up until the Mourning, of course.”
“There were peaceful times before the Mourning,” Rocky agreed, “for some. Peace still to be had if the desire is strong enough.”
“Let us hope true peace is actually possible,” said Ralharath. “But conflict rests in the hearts of all individuals. It shall never truly be vanquished.”
“So, how does one get the flag we are going to need to travel Darguun unmolested?” Relic asked, changing the subject.
“Arturo said we can get one in Rhukaan Draal or any Darguun embassy for ‘bout a hundred gold,” Bex answered, clearly relieved to be quit of the topic of conflict.
“Let’s hope Sterngate has a Darguun embassy,” the warforged wizard said.
Rickard closed the newspaper and put it aside. “The Emerald Claw stirring up trouble on the eastern border of Thrane… Far enough south and that becomes the western border of Cyre. Could become an issue for us.”
“The Emerald Claw causes issues wherever it goes,” Bex sighed.
“They are an extremist militant sect that tends to follow their own rules,” Relic said in a lecturing tone. “I don’t believe their aims will intersect ours, but I wouldn’t suggest running into them.”
. . .
After an hour-long stop in Wroat, the capital of Breland, the train continued northeast, bound for Starilaskur, a journey expected to take about a day and a half. Some of their fellow passengers disembarked at the capital, and new passengers boarded the lightning rail to replace them. Ralharath kept a wary eye on all the newcomers to the car. Mind your words, my friends. We are no longer alone here.
Rickard was interested enough to take a look around. An older human male picked up the Korranberg Chronicle Rick had set down and started flipping through it, loudly proclaiming his disbelief and outrage at every story. Across the way, he saw an apprentice wizard drawing arcane symbols on the window and glaring at anyone who disturbed him. Finally, a young red-haired female human in a tight dress tried to get male passengers to buy her drinks. He gave her a warm smile and nodded his head almost imperceptibly in greeting.
She approached him with a lascivious smirk. “Buy a girl a drink, handsome?”
“Sure,” he said. “What’ll it be, darlin’?”
He heard Ralharath’s voice in his head warning him, The girl is desperate for something. Whether booze, your attention or something more, I cannot say. Tread carefully.
You’re just jealous that this fine-looking dame came to me instead of you, he retorted, noticing Bex’s measuring gaze upon him. The changeling usually talked a good game, depending on which face she wore, but talk was all she did… Rick whistled for a waiter, then returned his attention to the redhead.
She smiled and sat down beside him. “I’ll have a Wildcyre, cutie. Thanks,” she purred as the waiter arrived.
“Ah, yes,” Rickard drawled. “A Wildcyre for my lady friend and two fingers of Karrnathi Rye for myself.”
“Very good, sir.” The lad returned promptly with the drinks, standing nearby expectantly.
“Best service I’ve had in quite awhile,” the warlock assured him, paying the tab and leaving a generous tip. The waiter bowed his thanks and stepped away, but Rickard noted with pleasure that the young man kept a close eye on the drinks, ready to refresh them should the need arise.
“Traveling all by your lonesome, my dear?”
Placing one hand upon Rickard’s leg, the woman nodded, biting a pouty lip. “My brother has a place in Starilaskur. I’m headed there for a visit,” she said, tilting her head to one side. “Where are you bound for, Mr..?”
She’s lying, came Ralharath’s mental voice. Rickard ignored it.
“Ah, Starilaskur,” he said to the girl. “I hear that it is lovely there in the springtime. As for me, I’m bound for wherever the stories are. You see, I’m a reporter for the Chronicle,” he lied, gesturing toward the paper in the hands of the muttering old man.
Smooth as always, came Bex’s voice, devoid of irony. I do love to watch you work. While he appreciated the praise, the telepathic buzzing did make it more difficult to concentrate on the game.
Her eyes flashed. “Written anything I mighta read, Ace?”
“Why sure,” said Rickard. “I just had a lovely piece published about the good works that the Karrnathi are doing. ‘Tis in the latest edition.”
“Mmm, a political writer. That must…pay well.” The redhead arched an eyebrow, her hand slowly wandering up his leg. She sipped her drink and leaned into him in a pleasant way, before whispering in his ear: “Do you like to party?”
“Why yes, dear. I do enjoy a good party.”
She grinned wickedly and glanced around at the others before turning back to Rickard. “Wanna go somewhere a bit more…private, baby?”
“Sure,” he said, ignoring Bex’s eyerolling. “It is getting a bit ‘cramped’ in this car, after all.” She laughed and stood up, taking Rickard’s hand to help him up and leading him toward the sleeper carts. He heard Ralharath muttering in his head about venereal disease, but he turned the stuffy kalashtar out as he and the courtesan made their exit. He was pleased to see that Arturo had vacated the sleeping cart at some point, leaving them ample privacy…
. . .
9 Barrakas, 998 YK
Mol, 7:58 PM
The rest of the lightning rail trip wasn’t nearly as interesting to Rickard. Just over half a day after the train departed Starilaskur, it arrived in Sterngate. The rest of the journey to Rhukaan Draal would require an overland journey. After a brief discussion, the Cyrans decided to seek out an Orien caravan planning to travel through the Marguul Pass to the capital of Darguun. Bex found one and led the group to the caravan boss, a middle-aged human by the name of Salter, whose wagons were scheduled to leave the next morning.
The man looked the six companions over. “No’ bad. No’ bad at all,” he said, and Rickard could hear his Aundairian accent. “Glad to have adventurers such as yourselves along for this trip,” he said, slapping Relic on the back. “The mountain clans have been acting up lately, and we could use your steel and muscle to make sure all of us make it to Rhukaan Draal in one piece. To show my appreciation, I’ll give you fifty gold apiece when we safely make it to the goblin city. Fair bargain?”
“Sounds good to me,” Bex said. “Whaddaya think, boys?”
Rickard had to agree. “Safe passage and pay. Nothing wrong with that deal.”
The others expressed their agreement, and then Rocky asked, “What travels in your caravan? Mostly people or mostly cargo?”
“Cargo mostly. Better profits in it, innit?” Salter guffawed at his ‘play on words.’
“Hahaha!” Rickard laughed good-naturedly. “Good one, mate!” He liked this fellow.
Salter nodded appreciatively. “Aye, then. We leave on the morrow. Bright ‘n’ bleedin’ early.”
. . .
On the Road – Sterngate to Rhukaan Draal
15 Barrakas, 998 YK
Sul, 5:40 PM
Aside from Bex teasing him about his dalliance on the train, the first six days of the trip had passed uneventfully for Rickard, who spent most of his time napping in the back of one of the wagons. Towards the end of that day, however, some of his companions started looking around nervously. The changeling came back from the front wagon where she had been walking alongside Salter’s wagon and warned him that the caravan was being followed by a large group. The warlock sighed heavily at the news and decided to nap a little less heavily for the rest of the trip.
. . .
16 Barrakas, 998 YK
Mol, 6:43 AM
The attack came at dawn, while Rickard was dozing with his hat over his eyes. A javelin impaled his leg, a rude awakening if ever he’d experienced one. He glared around and saw enemies everywhere as a hail of spears and fire magic rained down upon the caravan from the top of the eastern canyon wall. He saw some of his companions already engaged with the foes – hobgoblins from the look of them, with a few bugbears scattered about. With a heavy sigh, he jerked the javelin out of his leg with a wince, and stood to see where his spells would be of greatest use.
Beside him, Ralharath evoked a fireball atop the rise, scorching the goblinoids, but not dropping any of them. Rocky struggled to clamber up the stony walls of the canyon to take the fight to the foes content to fight from afar. Spearmen and hobgoblins adroitly wielding a pair of scimitars charged down to engage the defenders, fighting with much more discipline than the toughs that had been hired by the warforged called Glaive. The enemy war mages used fire and ice in equal measure, setting things aflame, or forcing them back.
In the face of all of these raiders, Rickard chose his targets with surgical precision, his vicious curses dropping each victim they struck. Slowly, the defenders gained momentum in the fighting and as more of the hobgoblin raiders fell, the rest apparently decided that it was folly to remain. Those that could escape the caravan guards’ wrath fled for their lives.
In the aftermath of the fighting, the warlock frowned to see how some of his companions had fared. Alone at the front of the caravan, Bex had suffered the brunt of a bugbear assassin’s attempt to murder her. Arturo was seeing to the changeling’s injuries, and she kept staring toward the front where the vicious creature had vanished uninjured. Relic and Ralharath were comparing strategic notes as they usually did, and Rocky descended from the canyon wall with a few new dents.
Someone had pointed out the sword-shaped brands on the forearms of the hobgoblin raiders, and Rickard looked down and saw them himself. That meant little enough to the warlock, but Arturo suggested that it meant this group belonged to the Kech Shaarat, a clan gaining power and prominence in Darguun. “They ain’t likely to take defeat too graciously,” the tiefling opined. “Reckon they might cause more problems if’n we ain’t careful.”