12th day of the 10th moon in the year 4512 of the Noruz reckoning, late morning.
The dry dock is located near the mouth of the Kahnul River where it feeds the Bay of Kahnul. The river lies to the west of the city of Kahnul and flows southward. The Kahnul River floods during the spring thaw, but is very low during the summer and at this time of year. It will completely freeze over very soon. The dry dock consists of scaffolding built on the currently dry part of the riverbed. The nearly completed Sea Falcon rests on the scaffolding and is tied to large tree trunks driven into the earth.
Sasurai trudges back to Kahnul on the way back from a Claacos hunt. He joined his first Claacos hunting party when he arrived in Taft about a year ago. Things were pretty bad there and got worse after Duke Rupert Morlock started the practice of conscripting his so-called Chain Gangs. Sasurai joined the steadily increasing flow of refugees making the journey from Taft to Kahnul. Despite his strange appearance and mannerisms, he quickly found acceptance with an Aval hunting party because of his obvious physical prowess and his willingness to fill the hunt’s most dangerous function of swordsman. Claacos hunting is good work that pays well, but recently Sasurai has found it monotonous and unfulfilling.
Sasurai is distracted from his thoughts as he passes the dry dock. He has enjoyed watching the ship grow over the past few months from a mere skeleton of wood to its current state of near completion. Progress had been fast, but seems to have slowed. Today, instead of the usual bustle, everyone seems to be waiting for something. A few workers loiter in the dry part of the riverbed below the ship, but otherwise it is clear of the usual tools, partially assembled structures, and stacks of material that have been there since Sasurai arrived. A few people are on board milling around, and the rest, including what appear to be spectators, are well on shore.
Curious, Sasurai tells his companions he’ll catch up with them later to celebrate their most recent hunt. His stature and unusual dress make it easy for him to push through the small crowd to the front. He sees a slim craftsman with the badge of the Aval Carpenter Guild teasing his companions telling them to be patient and see what will happen. His companions are a large male human with a quarterstaff (Bortheus), an older, worried-looking male human (Evor), a scarred elf (Corvis), a pretty female half-elf (Relana), an older male half-elf (Jongo), and a yellow gnome (Sorkin) who is gawking at Sasurai.
Bortheus, Corvis, Relana, and Sorkin are eager to see what Enril meant when he said they would see some ‘real progress’ today. Enril refused, and continues to refuse, to give any details. Scanning the small crowd that has grown behind them, they notice a large man in strange dress make his way to the front of the crowd. Sorkin tactlessly gawks and points and asks, ‘What’s he wearing?’ Bortheus snorts, ‘He’s obviously from Kavus. He’s wearing a kimono.’ Enril (the badged craftsman) says, ‘Ok, it’s about to start now.’
Kahnul’s High Priest of Nentu arrives with a small entourage from the local temple. The cleric is clad in layered garments of various shades of blue with gold trim. He walks with a trident in his right hand. The shaft is painted a deep blue and the tines are gilded. His head is buried in the folds of his hood against the cold, but a well-trimmed black goatee can be seen against his pale chin.
The guildsmen have spent the morning clearing the work area below the ship. Upon a trumpeted signal by one of the High Priest’s escort, all of the workers leave the riverbed for higher ground. Those on board the Sea Falcon disappear belowdecks. The High Priest begins his incantation to Nentu. He raises his trident towards the sky with both arms as he bellows his supplication. In response, the meager waters of the Kahnul River become choppy and violent. The flow from upstream accelerates even as the flow from downstream slows and eventually reverses sucking seawater up the river. The area around the dry dock fills to springtime flood levels. Those on shore step back farther. The ship lifts off its supports and lurches as waves toss it about. It strains against its ropes, but does not drift out of the dry dock area.
With a sharp exhale, the High Priest releases the water which rushes downstream back to the sea. As the river recedes and the ship settles back onto its supports, water drains from holes in the hull. These locations are noted by guildsmen on the shore. They mark schematic drawings of the hull with red ink to flag these points. The men who went belowdecks re-emerge and give their own report on the leaks they observed. After a brief conversation with the guild foreman, the High Priest departs with his entourage in tow. Everyone gets back to work with buckets of pitch and scraps of canvas to plug all of the discovered leaks.
Bortheus exclaims, to nobody in particular, ‘Wow, that was impressive.’ He introduces his boss Evor to everyone else, just to be polite. On the side (out of Enril’s earshot) he has a brief conversation with Evor on the fact that their diplomacy approach worked. ‘And the ham was tasty, too! By the way, where has Lord Drafus been? You’d think he’d want to see this.’
Both curious, and bemused at what had just happened, Sasurai looks around for someone who may have answers. remembering seeing a man with a badge, and who seemed to know what was going on Sasurai goes looking for him. Once found Sasurai taps him on the shoulder, and kindly say’s ‘Excuse me sir,’ bows, ‘but could you tell me what all this means?’.
Enril explains, ‘We just executed a hull integrity test. By flooding the dry dock, we force open any weak spots in the hull. Observers on the ship note where the water penetrates. When the water is released, observers on shore note where the water spills out. Then, we re-patch everything. The foreman will decide if we need another test. Once we put the ship in the ocean, it’s really hard to patch anything big. Getting the ship in and out of dry dock is difficult this time of year since the river is so low, so we don’t want to rush anything. Assuming this test went well, and I’m not an expert here, we’re still at least a day or two out.’
Sasurai takes in what Enril says, looking at him in wonderment as he has never seen a ship of that size before. ‘What is it for, and what will it do when it does not leak anymore?’ He ask as he turns his attention to the workers around the ship.
Enril, grateful for the impressed audience, explains, ‘The Sea Falcon is a vessel for carrying men and goods on the open seas. If it leaks, then it will sink. We must be sure it doesn’t leak before we put it in the ocean. This particular design is optimized for speed and carrying men at the expense of cargo space. When launched, it will be the fastest sailing ship in the world. With a full complement of marines and armament, it will be unbeatable. The Bandaran Navy has commissioned this ship to defend its trade routes. It is a pirate hunter.’ Enril continues with increasing technical detail about the length-width ratio of the ship, the curvature of the hull, the intricacies of the design of the keel that allow the keel to descend once the ship is out of dry dock, etc.
Sasurai listens intently to what Enril says, though not fully understand much of it since he’s never sailed on a ship. Once Enril is finished speaking, Sasurai thanks him for explaining ti to him. ‘Well I must depart now, I need to meet up with my friends one last time after the hunt.’
Sorkin completely ignores the nautical events around him and blatantly stares at the ninja-guy, letting his enormous nostrils flare open in amazement. He stands transfixed on the cool looking scabbard this guy is carrying, and wondering what kinda neat weapon lay within. Sorkin vaguely seems to think that some sort of magic was happening, but he shakes off the feeling in a second. After the ceremony, as the ninja begins approaching his group, Sorkin nudges Bortheus and whispers, none too softly, ‘Hey, that dude is coming over here! Let’s go talk to him. I bet he has all sorts of neat stories.’ Sorkin, after having been disappointed by Bortheus with the prospects of finding a decent meat shield for his secretive plans to raid the treasure fields of the lost Emperor Xelem XV, he looks hungrily at this new dude and instantly, his hopes renewed.
‘Hey, what’s your name? Aside from all your crazy get-up, you look like a friend of mine from the carnival. His name was Jubei. But you wouldn’t be related to him. He was our accountant. I’m Sorkin and these are 4-5ths of the band ‘Ringo’s Star’, plus this big guy is Bortheus. Sheriff over there is Enril. He’s a woodworker.’ Sorkin chats with the ninja and tries to befriend him. He leads up to asking the guy whether or not he’s interested in going on quests or making money, intimating that the current company seems to lead into interesting situations. He tries to size up the ninja and see if he wants to accompany him tonight on an ‘errand’ as sort of a trial run, to see if he would find it worth his time to hang out with us. Sorkin says that he is trying to establish relationships with one of the local businessmen, and the transactions are just kicking off. He wants to see if this guy is worth dealing with or not. The ninja could help him determine this.
‘Indeed,’ Bortheus replies to Sorkin, joining Sorkin to go talk to the ninja. Neat stories, as the gnome put it, can only be helpful in this investigation. ‘By the way, Sorkin, how about this errand of yours? I’m establishing relationships with the local businessmen, too. Anything I can help with?’
Sorkin turns tentatively to Bortheus. ‘Uhh, this businessman is a bit shy, which means to say he’s a bit misanthropic, to be sure. He wouldn’t like it if I showed up with anyone really, but I was thinking this ninja could hide in the dark or something, so he wouldn’t be seen. I saw this black tunic once that read on the front, ‘There are 3 ninjas on this shirt. Can you find them?’ I really really looked but couldn’t find any ninjas! So I figured they’re really good at hiding.’
Sasurai turns to the short yellowish man, ‘My name is Sasurai Bito, who might you be?’ Sasurai shrugs his shoulder at the mention of the name Jubei. During the conversation Sasurai takes an interest in the quest Sorkin mentioned, noting ‘I never turn down a chance to make a little bit of honest money. I would like to know more about these adventures you have in mind. I will be at the Great Oak Boarding House celebrating with my friends, feel free to stop by. we can talk about what’s in store… That is if you would like for me to join.’ He bows to Sorkin, and heads off to the Inn to meet up with his companions.
Relana is confused by all this. Ships! Circle! Where’s the treasure! What would Jongo do?? She doesn’t quite trust all these newcomers – but they do seem kind of nice and burly. She needs to get out of town anyway. She decides to support any suggestion that involves ‘getting out of here’ in light of the circumstances. To that end, she also avoids playing the lute for the time being, and attempts to play the flute for the time being…
Corvis has been thinking about his exit from Kahnul. While he’s sure he can take care of himself in the wilderness to the south, he’s worried about Relana. Though he’s made no formal commitments, having taken responsibility for her protection in Aval City, he finds it hard to let go. The charge of the elf-ghost weighs on his mind as well. While there are elven tribes in the southern borderlands, there are also elves to the north in the outlands of Seft and Chogha as well as in East Daryaa proper. The ship presents a new option, so he asks Bortheus, ‘Where are you headed, and are you taking passengers?’
Bortheus replies, ‘Passengers… hmm. Well, that’s a possibility, I guess, but it’s not my decision. We do have a couple passengers already, who are taking the Sea Falcon becase it’s faster than the overland route. Who would be coming? I don’t know what fare we’re charging, but I can find out for you. We aren’t just taking anyone, because this ship has a mission, but if you’re heading to Bandar we could drop you off along with the other passengers. You do need to understand this isn’t a passenger vessel, though; it’s a Bandaran military ship and will be under the command of the Bandaran Navy under Lord Drafus, whom Evor and I work for. You’ll need to conform with naval protocol once aboard.’ Bortheus has no idea what a reasonable passenger fare on the Sea Falcon would be, so he just explains to Corvis that it’s not his decision and he’ll see what he can do. He does seem favorably disposed to taking the passengers because these guys seem like reasonable people. If Salvar should become a difficult passenger, demanding all kinds of extra service that’s incompatible with a military vessel, then having passengers around who are less demanding could only help. Bortheus does think these guys would be more reasonable than Salvar, if only because they’re younger and don’t seem to be wealthy businessmen.
Bortheus pulls Evor aside to discuss Corvis’s question. Evor is flabbergasted, ‘Are you crazy? What was in that ham? We’re not supposed to take any passengers. It’s bad enough Lord Drafus is breaking the rules, now you too? These are Enril’s friends? What if this is some elaborate ruse by the guild to put people on the ship to sabotage it once it’s on the open seas and after we’ve already paid for it? Remember, this will be the fastest sailing ship in the world, including Aval Kingdom! Why are they willing to sell us a weapon more powerful than any they have? Something is not right here, and we still don’t understand it. We’re not taking any passengers just because you think they’re nice people. What interest of Bandar is served by bringing them on board? I’m surprised at you Bortheus, and very disappointed in your judgment.’
After delivering his scolding, Evor asks, ‘How was the ‘religious ceremony’ anyway? Some pompous Sacred Aval hocus pocus?’
Bortheus responds, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, I’m interested in keeping an eye on these guys if possible. Something’s up in Kahnul, but based on our previous work, I think we’ve established a working conclusion that while there’s probably an enemy of Bandar at work here in Kahnul, the Guild isn’t it. I also don’t see why the Guild would want to cause a high-profile failure of their best ship. So I totally admit I failed to consider the possibility of a plot… I just don’t think it’s a Guild plot. Anyway, I didn’t mean to argue for having more passengers, just for the consideration of it, in the spirit of considering all options, and in light of the ceremony.’
‘The ceremony had nothing to do with Sacred Aval. Honestly, I was totally surprised there was a ceremony at all; I thought Enril made up the whole thing. Well, he didn’t. It was an elvish ceremony where they burned a bunch of wooden totems in order to free a deceased elvish spirit. I guess that was why Enril was taking those ‘scrap’ pieces of wood. Anyway, all of a sudden there was a purple fire and a face in the fire, with some kind of elvish gobbledygook about the Circle must be warned, Tadiq has betrayed us, the Apostles rise in the south. The elf seemed completely floored; he wasn’t expecting that.’
‘It seems to me we have two possibilities here. Either this was an elaborate ruse just for me, or it wasn’t. I don’t mean to sound gullible but I just don’t think the ceremony was a ruse. That’s a lot of trouble to go to, and a lot of coded messaging. A ruse, you’d think would be more explicit; for something this coded, what’s the point? So on the theory that the ceremony was real, I thought it might make sense for us to file a report on it. What I said last night to Enril’s friends was that in my opinion, circles, squares and purple fires were all just more reasons to get the Sea Falcon completed and underway. I guess that piqued their interest in the Sea Falcon. In any case, I’ve just been trying to learn more. I have no idea whether anyone in Bandar is interested in circles and apostles, but maybe the report will fit in somewhere, and if it doesn’t, no big deal.’
‘The other thing is, this gang (gestures toward them) doesn’t look like they’re capable of causing a lot of trouble. They’re no older than me. Now granted, they could have some kind of a magic item, but I don’t see what for. Whatever they are, they don’t seem to be affiliated with any anti-Bandar sentiment. The only one who seems a little weird is that Sorkin (points); I think he’s harmless but seems to like mischief, so I’d worry about that.’
‘Anyway, I totally could have been wrong to suggest taking them on. I just brought it up because they asked, and I thought it was interesting enough to bring up. On the other hand, the passengers I do worry about are Salvar and Beadle. They always seem very circumspect and are (I think clearly) hiding something from us. Taking them on as passengers was, as you said, a clear violation of the rules. I guess I worry most about us being left having to serve them on the ship; I worry a lot about that, as I know you do, because something’s not right there at all. I mean, how did Beadle know that ship delays take exactly two weeks? That’s strange. I don’t see what interest the Guild has in sabotaging this ship, and we know the Guild somehow didn’t receive whatever payment they were expecting. So that part makes sense. But Beadle and Salvar know a little too much about this and I worry Lord Drafus really got us entangled with something that threatens the mission. Taking on additional passengers might further threaten the mission, I think that’s very true. The only Bandaran interest I had in mind was that it might make it more difficult for Salvar and Beadle to keep us so busy on the ship that we miss investigating something. But I really just brought it up because they came to me asking, and I wanted to pass that along. You’re the decision-maker here, so I’m willing to risk bringing up wrong ideas once in a while just in order to give you thorough information.’
Evor’s brow furrows even more deeply in concern, ‘The Circle? A new power in the south? That’s pretty serious. This part of the world is a tinderbox. Yazd has been slowly collapsing for the past 200 years as you can see from all of the Yazd refugees camped here. It’s in everybody’s interest for somebody other than Yazd to run Yazd, but nobody wants anybody other than themselves to run Yazd. Back in the early 4300’s Aval Kingdom attempted to occupy Yazd, but Sob-Rooz assisted Yazd to fend them off. If Aval Kingdom took Yazd, it would be more powerful than Sob-Rooz. Bandar would also suffer under an Aval Kingdom takeover since Aval Kingdom could then trade directly with the interior of the Shomaal via New Zarch bypassing New Mazra. Nobody trades through New Zarch right now because of the general lawlessness. Similarly, trade through New Mazra would suffer if Sob-Rooz controlled New Zarch. Naturally, Aval Kingdom would prefer to keep Sob-Rooz land-locked. You might think a solution could be found with one power taking New Zarch and another taking Taft, but nobody want’s Taft without New Zarch. Taft is a money-sink because of the necessity of maintaining Claacos defenses.’
‘I agree with you, the ceremony sounds authentic. This warrants more investigation. Perhaps you should stay behind and try to learn more. Going south would be dangerous as it is, but if Tadiq defeated an elf with enough power to deliver this message after death, going south could be downright suicidal. You definitely should not do it alone, perhaps your new friends are interested. On the other hand, maybe it would be better to bring them to Bandar so others can question them further. Then we could send a more experienced and better prepared team to investigate. Think about it, I won’t order you to stay, it’s too dangerous. We need to talk to Lord Drafus. Unfortunately, I am not the decision-maker. You and I are just advisers.’
Evor and Bortheus leave the dry dock area to find Lord Drafus. They find him at the stone guardhouse that has been loaned to the Bandar party while they wait for the ship. Evor explains to Lord Drafus that Bortheus has learned that a new power is rising in the south that could upset the status quo regarding Yazd. Bandar must get ahead of the information. To do so, they need to take another 5 passengers (all those who witnessed the elf-ghost). He does not suggest that Bortheus stay behind. Lord Drafus looks at Bortheus and narrows his eyes. He thinks in silence for a few moments, ‘Very well, get them on the ship. They must surrender their weapons while on board.’