Tobarra – Chapter 1

By on June 2, 2010

Many of the gamers that I’ve met are, like myself, frustrated authors. We often see our games as something that might appear in a novel, or at least in writing. Thus I’m starting up this campaign log for the D&D game that I just started with some friends. It’s 4e, set in a generic D&D world of my own creation. Read and (hopefully) enjoy.

On the docks of the warm, northern city of Harada, the night is deep and dark with the lights of the city to one’s back and little to light ones path. Despite this, three unique individuals head toward a small, two-masted schooner at the end of one of the piers.

Despite the fact that it is well before dawn, the docks, and even the vessel they head for, are hives of activity. The tide will soon turn which is the best time for vessels to leave the busy harbour.

The first to approach is Toran, more beast than man, and he moves like it. When he isn’t climbing over crates or leaping over and between obstacles, he uses them as cover, as if from unseen assailants. He is unused to cities and sees everyone in the crowd as a prospective threat.

At a more leisurely pace comes Xanthia. Of a similar Human-Beast fusion as Toran, Xanthia is more knowledgeable and cerebral. He knows something of cities and while he despises the throng of Humanity and other races that gather like a swarm, he knows well that they are mostly less dangerous than he is.

The final man, a little way behind, blends into the background without even trying. Part of it is the long, black cloak that he wears but, while his bearing suggests that he has not a care in the world, his steps are quiet and something causes people’s eyes to simply slip past him unnoticed. Meanwhile, Kaelin notices everything as he goes past.

Toran is crouched behind several barrels and waiting for Xanthia to catch up to him when he looks up and notices yet another strange sight. Normally, he would regard it as something truly extraordinary but he has seen so much in this city recently that he is somewhat immune to being surprised.

A glowing, transparent disc, carrying an overlarge Dwarf, travels at a stately pace above and continues on to the ship that they travel toward. He peers over the barrels and sees as the dwarf lands and the disc shrinks allowing him to stand on the deck while it continues to carry his cargo.

The Halfling Captain, which Toran met yesterday to book passage, greets the Dwarf with a wave and sends a member of his crew to him. The crewmember, a slim, attractive Tiefling seems a little uncertain but the gruff Dwarf doesn’t seem to notice and immediately starts speaking and moving to the back of the ship.

“No, no, don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine. Now, lock the door after me and don’t open it up for anything. Whatever I do, whatever I say, don’t open it until we get there. Understand? I don’t care if the ship is on fire, don’t open this door, for all that you hold holy, until I get there.”

With that, the Dwarf slams the door, his cargo on the disc having followed him in, “all right, now lock it!”

“But what about your meals?” The Tiefling said with obvious concern.

“I’ve got all I need here – now lock it and don’t open this door until we are in sight of Griffinport!”

Seeing Xanthia approaching, the Tiefling quickly locks the door and goes to meet the new passengers. Toran moves quickly to leap from the dock to the deck and protectively stands in front of the elder beastman looking around.

“Oh, uh, you’re the other passengers, yes?” The Tiefling remarks in surprise.

Xanthia manages to move around his protector and nods.

“Ah, good, well I’ll just . . . ” she looks past the two and notices Kaelin standing on the deck at the end of the gangplank. “Oh, you’re the last passenger?”

“I don’t know about being ‘the last’ my good lady, but I am, indeed, a passenger.” Kaelin says politely and then offers a small bow.

“Excellent.” She smiles, obviously relishing at least one, normal seeming passenger. “If you’ll please follow me then, we’ll get you settled.”

‘If she only knew’, Kaelin thinks hidden behind his civil mask.

As the passengers moved, they suddenly noticed a truly hideous stench waft over them. They looked around but could see no source. Kaelin put a handkerchief to his nose while Toran shook his head and snuffled in annoyance – his sense of smell was the keenest and thus he suffered the most.

“Here are your cabins”, the Tiefling said as she reached the back of the ship. “There are three left so you don’t need to share. Now, please stay inside until we get underway, it’s the busiest time and the crew won’t want you getting underfoot.”

“Certainly my good lady,” Kaelin said from behind the handkerchief, “but please tell me, what is that horrible smell?”

“Oh, that’s the cargo.” She said with disdain, “Sadly one gets used to it after a while. Now, . . . .” There was a sudden shout from the Halfling Captain and the Tiefling turned. “I’m sorry, I have to go now. Please make yourselves comfortable.”

Kaelin picked a cabin close to the main deck while Xanthia picked one of the slightly larger ones at the very back of the small ship. As he entered, Tolan moved in behind him and quickly shut the door.

Xanthia sighed and spoke in their own language, “you know, you don’t have to share a room with me. You paid for a cabin of. . . ” He gave up recognising Toran’s fixed and stubborn expression. “Very well, but I’m getting the cot.”

“I’ll sleep near the door.” Toran replied evenly. He then opened the door a crack and looked out.

“What are you doing?” Xanthia asked.

“I want to find out what this ‘cargo’ is that smells so bad.”

“But we’re supposed to . . .” Again, Xanthia gave up. He didn’t know why he bothered. He never managed to get past Toran’s stubbornness.

Toran was gone anyway. He darted with all of his speed across the deck to the large, open cargo hatch. In a fluid movement, he leapt in and grabbed the edge with his hands and hung in the darkness of the hold.

Despite the smell assaulting him and causing his eyes to tear, he managed to make out several large, humanoid shapes laying at the bottom of the cargo hold. He managed to see some movement and noticed heavy chains holding them down.

As he hung there, a Dwarf, this one female, moved toward the grate which now served as a ladder to the deck. She spotted the beastman hanging by his long arms, grabbed a heavy, warhammer at her hip and shouted, “what in the nine hells are you doing here ye’ bucket of filth?”

Toran moved, athletically swinging himself up and racing back toward his cabin. The Dwarf continued to spew obscenities at him, many of them both creative and in Dwarven.

None noticed Kaelin standing quietly in a small space of the deck watching the scene.

The ship, named the Blessed Benetabra, left the busy port a little later. The noise quieted and things seemed to calm down, except for a single loud shout from the locked Dwarf’s cabin as the ship set off.

After a time, Toran again carefully set off out of the cabin but this time he leapt up into the rigging as soon as possible to avoid the crew. He climbed with great agility and thought he was alone until he heard a Human voice.

“Hello there,” said the thickly accented voice, “come on back here.”

Toran saw a slightly built man in the rigging near the rear of the vessel. Swinging to quickly join him, the man gestured from his perch back toward the lights of the port city. “Beautiful is it not?”

“The buildings get in the way.”

The man turned toward him, “you do not like cities do you?”

Toran’s only response was to grunt.

Extending a hand, the Human said, “I am called Tashir and you are?”

“Toran.” The beastial man said and examined the hand curiously. Eventually Tashir smiled and gave up, turning once again to regard the dwindling lights that at least he regarded as beautiful.

“What’s with the people in the cargo hold?” Toran asked after a while.

Tashir was surprised by the question but didn’t mind. “Orcish slaves. We sell them in Tobarra. Quite well paying according to the Captain.”

Toran rewarded the man with another grunt and the two of them went back to regarding the view in silence.

About an hour after sunrise with the shore now completely out of sight with the exception of the tops of the Chomarr Mountains, the Tiefling came on deck from the galley and began serving breakfast.

Xanthia and Kaelin came on deck and even Toran came down to grab a bowl of the porridge. However, when no one was looking he managed to dump the contents over the side. He had his own food and didn’t trust these people. He would see if it had an effect on any of the others before he would eat or drink anything else.

Xanthia provided ample distraction for Toran’s act to go unnoticed. He emerged, dressed in skins with a goats skull codpiece which could not help but draw attention. Xanthia knew that it was useless to try to explain that the skull was that of the first creature he had ritually killed and that was positioned to access his Sacred Chakra. The skull was his totem, a base of power.

He moved to the extreme front of the ship, hoping to show that he wanted to be left alone. He knew that he had more in common with the fish that swam near this ship than any of the passengers or crew, with the exception of Toran.

Unfortunately, the Tiefling female didn’t seem to understand this. She moved to him, probably in some foolish effort to be sociable. “Hello, I didn’t get to introduce myself before. My name is Rona and I . . .”

As she had been saying these useless words, Xanthia calmly set down his bowl and allowed his true nature to show. The effect was dramatic, his limbs elongated, as did his head. His clothing disappeared to be replaced by thick fur, only his totem remained as he looked up at her, a shadowy, giant wolf.

She gasped and took a few steps back from him. Calmly, Xanthia bent his head to his bowl and began lapping at the contents. He had made it clear that he didn’t really wish to interact with them.

“By Sehanine!” Kaelin observed mildly behind Rona. “I can’t say as I’ve ever met someone that could scratch their ear with their back foot before.”

After a pause, he extended his hand to the Tiefling. “I at least am happy to receive your introduction. I am Kaelin Tarana, adventurer at large.”

“Rona,” she said again and smiled at him. She hadn’t realised the night before how handsome the man in the dark cloak had been. “So, what will you be doing in Tobarra?”

“Seeking my fortune, of course, good Rona. Whatever, adventurous deeds need to be done, I’ll be there to do them.” He replied with a broad smile.

The passengers, with the exception of the Dwarf, soon met the entire crew. The Captain was a vivacious, flamboyant Halfling known as Captain Riverwind. He seemed well matched and well pleased with Kaelin, quickly expressing that he was a “boon companion”.

Captain Riverwind’s cousin was the ship’s navigator. Quite and dull as Riverwind was ostentatious, Nevin kept mostly to his charts and took the early shift as ships master.

The ships bosun was a giant, reptile like Dragonborn called Graa. Nearly as civilised as Toran, Graa’s primary duty seemed to chivvy the three crewmembers into action. Something even his almost expressionless face managed to show that he relished in.

Poor Inis was the large, strong and somewhat slow thinking crewmember who bore the brunt of Graa’s attentions. Agile Tashir worked in the rigging and managed to avoid Graa for the most part and Vendorin was the ship’s carpenter and rope master. He was too skilled for Graa to push too hard.

The female Dwarf that Toran had seen was the cargo master. Keeping the slaves secure and alive were her duties and while it was clear that she despised the Orcs that she was in charge of, she would feed them and do what she could to keep them healthy. She was as foul as Rona was fair, often spitting, breaking wind, picking her nose and ears or making comments that managed to include some swearing at least three times per sentence. Her odour mimicked that of the cargo hold and that, plus her quick temper insured that most left her to herself.

Rona had the official position of Porter and was there to cater for the passenger’s needs. Apparently Captain Riverwind thought that an attractive face would mean increased profits. This was only Rona’s second trip with Blessed Benetabra and she found it increasingly difficult to deal with the idea of the Orc slaves. She had been victimised in the past and couldn’t see how those Orcs were any more victims of their heritage than she was.

Over the next several days, Rona attempted to lose herself in Kaelin’s arms. The other passengers had made it clear that they didn’t require her assistance for anything, while Kaelin was charming, friendly and seemed to take her seriously. She was actually a little flattered for, while she knew that she was pretty, he was certainly better looking than almost anyone that she had ever met. He also had a bit of the cold detachment that many of the true adventurers had – or at least that she imagined that they had.

A routine quickly sprang up that during the day most of the passengers would come out on deck. Toran would climb into the rigging after breakfast and survey the ocean around, part of him looked like he was searching out some threat but at other times he would happily nap up there. After the third day he had decided that the food and drink wasn’t tainted and was happy to partake.

Xanthia would head to the front of the ship, which he learned was called the prow. When any came too near he would once again release the aspect of the Shadow Wolf and passenger or crew would generally get the idea to be elsewhere. All except Kaelin, the tall Human seemed almost without fear and once even patted Xanthia’s wolfish head – which took the Druid by surprise. He could have bitten the hand, probably biting the offending limb off, but he hardly wanted to start a fight. Reflecting on it, he realised that the man had ‘called his bluff’ but fortunately the rest continued to keep their distance.

Kaelin and Rona were almost constantly together. They would disappear, usually in the warm afternoons, into Kaelin’s cabin where, it was reported, that he showed her many of the books he had packed. However, few, if any, believed this.

On the sixth evening of their voyage, all were sitting around the deck eating dinner when Selda, the cargo master, made one of her many rude comments about how foul the cargo was. Rona stood immediately and said, “how can you call yourself a civilized being. Slavery is an assault, an offence against the gods and the very nature of the world. It’s evil.”

Selda stared and then spat a gob of phlegm on the deck. “That’s worth more than every Orc we have in the hold. I don’t see you crying and waving your spoorna at it so leave off.”

Rona went red and looked like she was about to leap on the Dwarf when the Captain quickly cut in. “Rona! Have you gone mad? Their Orcs, you know, Orcs that kill people, burn villages, steal and torture, that sort of thing.”

“You have no proof that these Orcs have done anything wrong.”

Selda looked like she was going to say something but Captain Riverwind silenced her with a glare. “Come now Rona. I can’t see that these Orcs are any better than most. In fact, we’re even doing them a favour.”

She snorted but Riverwind continued, “yes, if it weren’t for us, they would have been killed out of hand. Their bones would be littering some field now. Instead, because I have a market for them, the adventurers spared them and brought them to me and now I can offer them life. Not a good life maybe but at least they still live.”

Rona was clearly not impressed. “In some cases, death is preferable.”

Captain Riverwind took another tack, “no, I don’t believe that and you’re upsetting our guests. Kaelin, you seem the strong adventurer. You’ve probably killed an Orc or two in your time?”

Suddenly caught, Kaelin remained mute for a moment and then said, “I’ve never killed one that wasn’t guilty of a crime.”

“Well there you go,” the Captain said taking this as assent. “So you’ve killed your share and I say that if you find any more, let them live so I can show them some mercy and make us both some money at the same time.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Kaelin said in a dangerous tone, “these Orcs should have at least had a trial.”

Selda nearly exploded. “A trial for Orcs! Hah! You might as well hold a trial for every fish you catch or fargin try to determine if your meal came from a gorram guilty cow or innocent!”

Rona drew herself up to her full height, looked at Selda and said in a deceptively quiet voice, “well perhaps the Orcs have all judged us as we have judged them.” With that she turned and left.

After waiting until she was out of earshot, Kaelin looked at Captain Riverwind, “thanks a lot for setting me up.” He then left to find Rona. Both Toran and Xanthia looked at each other and said as one, “Uka’s”, which was a derogatory term for so called ‘civilized beings’ with a tone suggesting that their ways were unknowable.

The next day seemed heavy with tension, even the weather reflected it with a heavy, humidity lasting through the morning only to be blown by a warm, wet, wind in the afternoon that just grew and grew. The crew secured everything on deck, changed course to steer into the wind and made sure that hand-holds were steady.

The most alarming noises came from the Dwarven passenger’s cabin. Bumps and shouts were the least of it, there were crashes, sloshing noises, at least one scream and, for a little while late in the afternoon, some sort of deep, Dwarven singing which caused Selda to swear and move as far from the cabin as possible.

There was no dinner on deck that night since the ship was rocking too much to fire the oven safely. Instead, cold food and drink was distributed freely and the passengers warned to stay away from the edges of the deck as much as possible.

“Don’t worry about this little squall.” Captain Riverwind said in an attempt to lift spirits, “the Benetabra has weathered far worse than this in her time. In fact, I see this as a good shake out to make sure things are ship shape.”

Despite his words, as evening fell and the winds continued to increase, the Captain brought four of the Orcs up from below to assist. The passengers retired to their cabins and tried to get what rest they could.

A loud yell and something that sounded like a lightning strike awakened them all sometime in the darkness, causing them to rush out on deck.

The first thing they saw in the light of wildly swinging lanterns was Graa lying on the deck in an expanding pool of blood, an obvious head wound above one eye. Three of the Orcs and two of the crew stood near him staring blankly. Near the wheel, both Captin Riverwind and Nevin struggled mightily to keep the ship steady.

Xanthia ran instantly to Graa’s side and pointed to Inis. “Help me get him below!”

“But I’m supposed to . . .” The large man began, only to be cut off.

“Don’t talk, just do.” With that Xanthia picked up the Dragonborn’s shoulders and, with some reluctance, the big man joined him. As they went, Xanthia said to Kaelin, “I’ll take care of him, you get the rest of these men working.”

“Alright men,” the tall man said, “and Orcs, I guess. Get going, you should know what to do and . . . uh . . . you should do it.”

The Orcs stared blankly, not understanding a single word he was saying. Vendorin, the only other Human there had picked up a belaying pin to use as a club and was too busy watching the Orcs warily to even notice Kaelin’s words.

Fortunately, there was help at hand. Toran had climbed up to the wheel even before Xanthia started moving. “We need to keep it steady!” Captain Riverwind said to him, straining along with his cousin.

Towering above the Halflings, Toran studied the wheel for a moment and then took hold . . . and all motion stopped. Despite the water pushing against the rudder, or even the combined might of the two Halflings, Toran didn’t let the wheel move so much as an inch.

After a second, both Riverwind and Nevin let go and gasped in relief. Toran, apparently without any effort at all, held the wheel as if it was incapable of moving. “So all I have to do is hold this still?” He asked.

“Yes.” Panted Nevin as the Captain staggered down to the deck. Within moments, the Captain spoke a few phrases in Giant and the Orcs were moving. This then freed up Vendorin to go forward and check on the sea-anchor.

Kaelin suddenly stood alone on the deck. He moved back to the wheel where Nevin was watching Toran as he held the wheel in his strong grip. Despite the grim look the beast man gave him, Kaelin decided to see if he could help and also took the wheel. He did this for about half an hour until, in response from an instruction from Nevin, his hands got in the way of Toran’s, and the beast man, for the first time lost his grip. He got it back quickly enough, but after that, Kaelin decided that he would keep his hands to himself and just joined the Halfling in observing.

He was thus in a prime position to observe two of the Orcs up in the rigging being flung out into the churning ocean as a large wave hit the ship at an odd angle. Rushing as fast as he could to the side in order to see what he could do to rescue them, he saw no sign. They sank below the waves once they hit the water and never resurfaced.

An hour or so later, the storm was all but over. Xanthia emerged with Graa, the Dragonborn’s head bandaged and with a poultice of herbs found in the galley. The crisis averted, the passengers went back to their cabins.

The next day, Kaelin made much of his efforts at the wheel to Rona. “I don’t want to brag, but I am certain that the ship would have been completely lost if it weren’t for my efforts.”

“I just feel for the two Orcs that drowned.”

“Yes, they were the true heroes.” He said sympathetically. He knew her moods now and had worked out how best to exploit them. “I did all I could to save them but they just vanished too quickly, and I had to hold the ship steady.”

“I know you did.” She said draping her arm across his chest. “I just wish things were different.”

Once again the day seemed to reflect the mood of the passengers and crew; while the wind had died down, a deep grey overcast covered the sky from horizon to horizon. The surviving Orcs had been once again confined, the crew moved steadily, if somewhat wearily about their work and the passengers once again resumed their routine.

“Not much longer now.” Tashir commented to Toran while they sat in the rigging. “I see some gulls this morning. That means we close to shore. Just a few days to get around to north side of island and, you are at port.”

“Yes, I will be pleased.”

Despite their fatigue, the passengers were once again awakened by a shout in the middle of the night.

“Their loose! To arms, the Orcs are loose!” Nevin’s voice pierced the darkness and within moments the passengers, except for the Dwarf, began gathering weapons and armour.

It was pandemonium on deck by the time they emerged. Two Orcs were already on deck, their chains wrapped around their powerful fists to use as weapons. Next to them and wielding Selda’s bloodied hammer, was Rona. She too was armoured and, as they watched, she took a swing at Graa who was moving toward her with his large club.

Kaelin moved first. He didn’t want to harm Rona but he knew she had gone too far. While he had told her that he sympathised with the plight of the Orcs, he had little doubt that, even if she won against the crew, that the Orcs would soon be their masters.

Thus he called on his inner powers. He drew and pointed his small sword at one of the Orcs; as he did, his eyes and the blade of the sword turned as black as jet. A shadowy image leapt from the back of the Orc he pointed at and grabbed and twisted the neck. After an exceptionally loud crack, the Orc fell back into the hold.

Xanthia came forward and quickly drew a seed from a pouch on his hip. With a whispered muttering he threw it and it exploded against the side of the other visible Orcs head with a dazzling flame. The Orc had time to scream with its head on fire before it too fell back into the hold like a blazing torch.

However, the Orcs were desperate and two more quickly took their place. Rona, on her second swing managed to catch Graa in the stomach with the hammer and he doubled over in pain. However, the Captain, short sword in hand, rushed forward and she was forced to quickly move her legs to avoid several slashing blows.

Inis moved forward with a belaying pin and whacked one of the newly arrived Orcs smartly across the head, causing it to fall flopping to the deck.

Toran, initially unsure of what side, if any, of this conflict he should join made the decision based on Xanthia and, to a lesser extent, Kaelin. He threw a javelin which struck deep into Rona’s thigh. With a shriek, she lost her balance and toppled into the hold as more Orcs climbed up.

Xanthia’s second seed missed a climbing Orc and burst into flame inside the hold. Kaelin raised another shadow of a newly arrived Orc which died as readily as the first had.

Rona had the dubious blessing when she fell of landing on the blazing Orc. While this broke her fall she did get somewhat scorched in the ordeal and, quick to try to save the situation, once again climbed onto the deck.

She was nearly up when Toran’s second javelin hit her in the shoulder and sent her down into the hold again. She looked around, there was fire, filth and the corpses of those she had wished to save; it was so like the hell that created her own Tiefling heritage that she let out a wail.

Looking up, she caught sight of Kaelin, his face with the jet black eyes looked alien and without the compassion she had hoped for. “How could . . .” She said as a shadow looped around her neck. It tightened like a noose and hauled her into the air. She couldn’t speak or even breath! She was nearly at eye level with Kaelin when she died, her last thought was that of his terrible betrayal.

Only two of the Orcs survived to surrender and they were quickly secured so that everyone could hurry to put out the flames in the cargo hold. Unfortunately, most of it was out though before they had the chance. In two places, the flames had weakened the seams of the hull, water had come through and extinguished the flames.

“It’s like I thought sir,” Vendorin said climbing up from his inspection in the water below. “We’re going to keep taking water. We can slow it with sailcloth but that won’t stop it.”

By morning the Blessed Benetabra was definitely lower in the water. While the rest of the crew looked nervous, Captain Riverwind again tried to lift spirits. “We’re making for land and I for one am sure we’ll get there. We’ll probably even make Chassel.”

“Where is this Chassel you speak of?” Toran asked.

“It’s a small town on the south side of the island.” The Captain explained, “fishing village or some such. Now I know that I promised to take you to Griffinport but that’s on the north end and I’m afraid we just can’t make that now. But I do here there is a road that runs through Hot Creek and on to Griffinport. It would definitely be quicker than waiting for the Benetabra to be repaired.”

The ship came in sight of Chassel later in the morning and beached itself several hundred feet off shore. The gig was unhitched from its position and lowered into the water.

“Now, I have a couple of things for you.” The Captain said as the three passengers prepared to depart. “First, is this letter. If you get to Hot Creek, look for a Halfling named Able Windward, he’s an old friend of mine. Please deliver this to him if you could.”

He held out the large, warhammer that they had last seen in Rona’s hands. “Second, I’d like you to have this. Selda went on and on about the craftsmanship so it should be valuable. I can’t thank you enough for your help and I think Selda would have wanted you to have it.”

‘I very much doubt that!’ Kaelin thought to himself, ‘my guess is that she would far prefer to be alive and keep the hammer for herself.’ Selda’s body had been found in the hold with its throat cut. The surviving Orcs corroborated that Rona had lured the Dwarven woman to the hold by saying that the Orcs were sick and then killed her.

“So I . . .” Captain Riverwind was interrupted by Vendorin bending and whispering in his ear. “Oh yes, I’d quite forgotten.”

He produced a key and went to the fourth cabin door where the Dwarf had been. Opening it, he recoiled in horror. The room was completely destroyed, everything torn or broken and filth of all sorts clinging to most surfaces. Amidst the ruin lay the comatose form of the Dwarven passenger.

“Oh dear!” Riverwind exclaimed and turned to Toran. “Um, you couldn’t fetch him out of there and bring him to shore could you.”

With a grunt, the beast man did as asked. While foul, he knew he could clean off soon. The Dwarf’s pack joined theirs in the boat as Inis and Vendorin rowed the passengers to shore. They could see in the distance some piers with several fishing vessels unloading the morning catch.

The crewmen dropped them a little way from the edge of the town. The group took their first steps on the island of Tobarra.

Source : fanfiction.net, Simwise

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