Zeitgeist

Shakedown Cruise

Leocamp face saboteurs on the royally-attended maiden voyage of the RNS Coaltongue.

The heroes are greeted on the royal docks by Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft, their immediate supervisor at the Flint branch of the RHC. After being congratulated on a job well done for thwarting the docker troublemakers, Delft introduces Leocamp Assurgent to none other than Harkover Lee, master wizard and chief advisor to King Aodhan .

The towering mage closely examines the team and also extends his thanks for their crowd control efforts. He pays particular mind to Utsusemi, and asks about the fabled flying cities that the dromite race are said to hail from. Such magic, says Lee, is known to be impossible. Utsusemi remains coy about his people’s psionic advances, but polite. Lee invites Leocamp to enjoy the festivities soon to commence on the Coultongue’s maiden voyage. He departs, but not before casting an askew glance at the arrival by carriage of the king’s sister, Duchess Ethelyn of Shale and her handmaiden, an elf named Sokana.

Awaiting the arrival of the king and the christening ceremony, Leocamp mingle among the party-goers assembled on the royal dock. They go to work, looking for threats that even a master wizard like Harkover Lee might have overlooked. Among those they interact with are Captain Rutger Smith, commander of the distinguished R.N.S. Impossible, which occasionally assists the RHC on missions. He’s discussing philosophy with a black-bearded dwarf, a Drakran envoy. Smith endorses the writings one William Miller, who said all conflicts could be avoided by sufficient understanding between opposing groups. The dwarf counters with Heid Eschatol theory that any ordered system will inevitably be ruined by some misunderstanding or accident.

Immediately, the party find themselves apprehensive of this sinister-looking Drakran, though a quick survey of his peers and Talus‘s mystic sense of evil intent allays suspicion. Talus, however, detects a variety of evils throughout the crowd—unscrupulous industrialists, merciless military vets, and a few ruthless heads of state. Knowing that any or none of these could pose a threat to the proceedings, Talus can only endeavor to remain vigilant. He finds himself diverted in his watch by two encounters. A decorated Risuri general loudly and longly praises the gearman for his impeccable service during the last Yerasol War. A more personal discussion occurs between the paladin and Geoff Massarde, a Danoran ex-pat who helped build the Coaltongue. Geoff was a close associate of the late Tomas Licht, Talus’s creator. The tiefling expresses his condolences and his hope to become better acquainted with the gearman.

Lethe remains troubled by last night’s as-yet unaccounted for vision of a broken tin whistle. Along with Nex, she investigates the underside of the dock. The druidess laments the pollution of the bay’s waters by the warship, but sees no obvious threat. Lethe is approached by Sokana, who leads her to Duchess Ethelyn. The king’s sister, a devotee of Risuri’s druidic traditions, confides that she is unenthused by the Coaltongue and asks that the constable arrange for a room for her to rest in during the evening’s party. Lethe agrees and finds a petty officer to satisfy the Duchess’s request.

Soon enough, King Aodhan arrives amid much fanfare, with his retinue and Flint’s Governor Roland Stanfield. The christening goes without a hitch. The king takes a champagne bottle, announces that the ship shall be formally known as the Royal Naval Ship Coaltongue, then smashes the bottle across the bow. At that precise moment a steam whistle sounds, and black smoke begins to roil out of the ship’s stacks. The crowd begins to board the ship, and Inspector Delft reminds Leocamp they’ve got a party to enjoy. Once everyone is aboard and enjoying light refreshments on the main deck, the new warship sweeps toward the center of the harbor, where eight traditional fourmasted ships enter formation with it. Against their white sails, the black clouds from the Coaltongue’s smokestacks makes for a dramatic image, and though the heroes catch the duchess glowering at the sight, they can also see crowds along the shore cheering as the small fleet sets a course out of the harbor, toward open sea.

Utsusemi relays to Roland Stanfield the docker Thames Grimsley’s concerns about police brutality and unfair working conditions. The aasimar seems generally impressed, but unconvinced. After an impassioned debate with the heroes, Stanfield agrees to look into the matter.

Lethe takes it upon herself to lead the Duchess to her room—and sneaky Utsusemi follows unseen. This time, Lethe notes that the handmaiden Sokana is at least partly eladrin, the fey offshoots of elves. On the way, Ethelyn confesses to the druid that Risur is on the wrong track pursuing her brother’s vision of industrialization. Ethelyn remarks that each of the elf’s partners are beholden to technology and wonders if a single advocate of nature and tradition among four can provide a proper balance. She seems satisfied with Lethe’s commitment to the Old Ways before retiring. But Utsusemi appears from the shadows and the two quarrel about her loyalties.

They return to the upper deck to the party. As the naval band begins to assemble to perform the national anthem, Nex overhears the king complaining to Harkover Lee about stomach distress. The king explains, “one of the local archfey is upset I parked my ship here. One of the burdens of kingship; the fey can really let me know when they’ve got an opinion.”

Soon after, Stover Delft asks the team to retrieve the Duchess, whose further absence might embarrass the king. Lethe and Utsusemi go to her room. After a polite knock, the door remains closed and they are rebuffed by the handmaiden. Utsusemi hears a commotion in the room, followed by a splash. Sokana continues to stall, imploring Lethe, her spiritual sibling, to leave the ship. Utsusemi tires of waiting and bypasses the lock. Throwing open the door, the constables catch sight beyond the viewport of a Duchess Ethelyn—welcoming the embrace of some tentacled sea creature who brings her below the waves!

Lethe recognizes the creature as an aspect of the marine arch-fey Beshala and surmises the Duchess has used the creature to escape. Utsusemi circles and runs back to get help from the upper deck. Lethe warily approaches Sokana, who continues to plead with Lethe to abandon ship. Once within striking distance of the handmaiden, Lethe is run through from behind by an unseen foe! As she bleeds into unconsciousness, Sokana turns to the assailant, a big knife-wielding brownie who’d been posing as a halfling chef, and says, “leave her, we cannot delay.”

Utsusemi first attempts to convince Captain Smith that there is a clear and present danger, but without specifics or proof, Smith laughs at the idea that the Duchess of Shale would attempt anything nefarious at her brother’s ceremony. Harkover Lee, however, proves more receptive. While not totally convinced, and hesitant to disrupt the proceedings on one being’s word, he provides the dromite a signal orb to shatter should he determine the situation absolutely requires an evacuation of the Coaltongue.

After hearing from Utsusemi, Nex arrives to the Duchess’s room first, and quickly administers a healing elixir to the dying druidess. Lethe wakes and explains who they are looking for, and Utsusemi, who has commandeered the services of two guards, easily detects their trail with his insectile senses. Talus arrives, and the four head from the gun deck down to the berth deck, to the ship’s magazine. Talus senses the presence of evil from the magazine, where gunpowder and firegems are stored. Leaving Talus with the two ship officers, the rest of Leocamp follow Sokana’s trail further downward to the engine deck.

Talus has his hands full. Two small fire elementals are busily dismantling the magic wards that prevent the casks stored in the magazine from accidentally detonating. Interrupting their work, Talus and the guards charge the elementals and raise their weapons against them. After a short clash, the elementals are dispatched but one of the officers is severely wounded. As Talus and the other sailor attend to him, giving him comforting words, the brownie assassin appears from the shadows and hurls a throwing blade through the dying man’s throat. “I couldn’t just let that stand,” he mocks.

Meanwhile, on the engine deck, Lethe is the first to find Sokana with two more saboteurs dressed in coveralls and welding masks. The latter two wield large bloody wrenches, which they’ve used to murder the few engineers assigned to remain below decks and to disable the exhaust ports. One also possesses a wand made from the antennae of a rust monster, which has corroded to uselessness the valve wheels. Lethe passes the firegem pit and uses its heat to ignite an incendiary arrow, which she shoots at one of the henchmen. Nex follows, firing his pistol at the terrorists. Sokana angrily says to Lethe that she should have heeded her warning to abandon ship before tossing a large red jewel into the engine. Utsusemi descends the ladder nearer to the saboteurs as the battle commences. Seeing that the stone is steadily coalescing into a large flame elemental that will doubtlessly overwhelm the engine, Utsusemi chooses to shatter the orb and warn Lee to begin an evacuation.

Back at the magazine, the brownie uses fey sorcery to create illusory duplicates which fluster Talus’s attempts to skewer him with his trident. The acrobatic assassin easily slips past the gearman and jumps down to the engine room. Talus and the guard begin to pat out the small fires and restore the safety wards, just as Geoff Massarde and a retinue of sailors arrive to help. The tiefling says that the stacks abovedecks have stop smoking, and implores Talus to go to the engine, as the terrorists have doubtlessly disabled the relief valves in order to cause a catastrophic pressure buildup.

Sokana and her henchmen prove to be tough opponents. She is a sorcerer of significant power, and sprays her foes with fans of flame. Covered by Nex’s gunfire, Lethe braves the heat of the engine and Sokana’s spellcraft to pull the elemental jewel from the engine with a pair of industrial tongs found lying nearby. In defiance, Lethe hurls the gem at her eladrin enemy. However, the engine is still overloaded with firegems and the pressure has nowhere to escape. Nex, meanwhile, is pounded by one of the henchmen.

The brownie arrives to complicate the battle, but Talus is hot on his heels. The paladin calls upon the powers of good to guide his trident past the evil little assassin’s formidable defenses, including his resistance to arms not forged of cold iron. After a dramatic charge, the barbs of Talus’s weapon bite true, finally drawing blood from the psychotic fey. Utsusemi raises his wakizashi blade and attempts to flank Talus’s foe, so that he and the gearman can quickly finish him. However, one of the thugs charges the dromite and bashes him with a wrench. Lethe magically summons an eagle to engage the saboteur, and the man, revealed to be half-elven, is critically mauled by the bird’s beak and talons. The other masked terrorist falls to a well-placed bullet courtesy of Nex.

Sokana retrieves the elemental jewel and the rusting antennae after finally putting down Lethe and Nex with her flame spells. However, a decisive thrust by Talus mortally gores her brownie accomplice, whom the gearman finishes by flinging into the firegem pit. The mighty paladin busts open the pressure valves with his bare, adamantine hands, which begins to flood the room with searing-hot steam but relieves the pressure building in the engine. Facing both Utsusemi and an unwounded Talus, along with the sound of more guards clamoring down the stairs, Sokana runs. Utsusemi gives chase, calling for the guards to follow. Talus, just ahead of the expanding cloud of steam, scoops up his fallen companions and carries them to safety.

Utsusemi finally zeroes in on Sokana on the birth deck, and a well-placed throw of a bag of caltrops prevents the eladrin sorceress from running or climbing. Picking barbs out of her feet with eight naval officers’ crossbows aimed at her head, the Duchess’s handmaiden surrenders to Utsusemi without a word.


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