On the morning of the third day the party arrived in Luskan, The City of Sails. The Dancing Darling docked near Whitesail Harbor on the northern bank of the River Mirar. Red, Glasha, and Shadamehr disembarked to pursue their own affairs while Khelgar remained behind to help unload the ship. They agreed to meet up later at a tavern call One Eyed Jax just across the river.
The trio traversed Harbor Cross, longest of the three bridges that spanned the River Mirar, and made their way on towards the lawless Southern District. Glasha was in search of a tavern called The Cutlass, and if all went well she would meet with a mysterious Harper named Hadrian the Leaf.
Halfway across the bridge Red stopped, captivated by the majestic sight of the Hosttower of the Arcane to the west. The two hundred foot tower looked like a massive, four-limbed tree. It sat upon Cutlass Island in the middle of the harbor and glowed pink and orange in the morning sun.
Glasha and Shadamehr stopped and waited for the bladesinger, but Red motioned for them to continue on without her. She wanted to stay behind and study the Hosttower, though she couldn’t explain why. The half-orc and barbarian shrugged and left her to her privacy.
After a bit of wandering Glasha and Shadamehr found themselves in a run-down section of Luskan called Dragon Beach. They quickly located The Cutlass on a deserted street corner near the water’s edge.
As they approached it the front doors burst open and a hulking barbarian stormed out. With a single heave the bouncer hurled a bloody, unconscious man into the street. The body hit the cobblestones with a sick thud and rolled over once before coming to a rest face down. Shadamehr turned his gaze from the motionless body to the barbarian bouncer. He thumbed the hilt of his sword.
Sensing potential trouble, Glasha politely asked Shadamehr to wait for her outside while she conducted her business within. Shadamehr reluctantly agreed and took a position near the tavern’s entrance.
Inside Glasha found the tavern as delightfully seedy as she had hoped. The air was thick with the stench of pipe smoke, cheap liquor, body sweat, and sour breath. The patrons were mostly sailors, pirates, and mercenaries— a tough crowd. More than one scallywag eyed her threateningly as she took a seat at the bar.
Behind the counter a skinny barkeep plied dark, murky ale from a huge keg behind him. Glasha tossed him a silver and ordered a glass of the so-called Dragon Beach Brew. The ale was strong and bitter, but not half bad.
Glasha was nearly done with her first glass when a young barmaid arrived at her side. She set down a second glass of the same ale. “On the house,” the barmaid whispered. Glasha turned to thank her, but she was already gone.
A bit suspicious but also a bit thirsty, Glasha quaffed the rest of her ale and reached for the second one. But as she brought it to her lips she noticed something floating at the bottom of the cup— a small oak leaf.
Glasha set the glass down and looked out across the tavern, her eyes darting around in search of the barmaid. She soon spotted the young woman disappearing through a door at the back of the tavern.
The half-orc stood and followed. Through the door she found a short hallway and another door at the far end, this one ajar. Beyond that door she found a small room with a single table and two chairs. One of the chairs was empty, in the other sat a tall, muscular human woman. It could be none other than Hadrian the Leaf.
Even seated, “The Leaf” was imposing. Easily six and a half feet tall, the woman wore her blonde hair in tight braids pulled back into a ponytail. Her features were sharp and chiseled, hinting at barbarian or even giant blood. To add to her striking appearance, a jagged, livid scar ran from her forehead down to the tip of her nose. She wore a functional mix of studded leather and chain armor, all of which appeared quite worn. A sword and shield, similarly worn, leaned up against the wall next to her.
As Glasha sat down The Leaf poured her a glass of wine. “Greetings Glasha,” she began, her voice deep and sonorous, “First, I want to congratulate you on your victory over the druid Belak. He has been a thorn in our side for some time. The Harpers are grateful for his capture.” The Leaf raised her glass.
Glasha demurred the praise, but toasted nonetheless. After they drank Glasha decided to cut the formalities and stated her suspicions plainly— this meeting wasn’t about Belak was it? The Leaf smiled and nodded. "The Harpers have a new mission for you, should you accept. We want you to keep a close eye on the half-elf bladesinger, the one known as Red. We have an interest in her, and we are not alone. Others seek her as well but for different purposes. It is important to keep her safe until we learn more."
Glasha accepted her new mission with her trademark stoicism. The Leaf nodded in thanks. "I knew we could count on you." Then, just as quickly as the meeting started, it was over, and Glasha returned to the boisterous, noisy tavern.
Glasha and Shadamehr left The Cutlass and returned to One Eyed Jax where they met up with Red and Khelgar. After renting a few rooms for the night the party fell deep into their cups. The rest of the night was spent drinking and recounting tales of their exploits beneath the Sunken Citadel.
At one point during the evening the gnomish cleric Erky Timbers showed up at the tavern. The gnome's eyes lit up when he spotted his friends. He smiled and walked over to say hello, but was immediately shouted down by the drunken party. Red seemed particularly aggressive, lunging for his throat with a hiss. The terrified gnome fell backwards from her attack before turning and fleeing from the tavern. An empty beer glass shattered against the door frame behind him.
The next morning Shadamehr led his hungover party to the Hosttower of the Arcane. The barbarian wanted to extract payment for his last contract and also find out what happened to the scheming gnome Manner Twobits.
Beyond the front doors of the hosttower was a vast lobby of polished marble, plush chairs, and dim magical lighting. Several clients relaxed in the comfy chairs, waiting for their own appointments. One of these clients, an eyepatch-wearing halfling in full scalemail, greeted Shadamehr warmly. The halfling was a fellow mercenary by the name of Treem Bunceler. The pair talked shop for a bit until Treem’s name was called by a robed clerk. The halfling clasped Shadamehr's wrist and suggested they get together for drinks sometime soon.
Shadamehr was summoned by a robed clerk soon after. The barbarian assumed he was being led to one of the small offices on the first floor to meet with a low level bureaucrat— the standard procedure. Instead he was taken up a winding flight of marble stairs into the North Tower itself.
The curious barbarian soon found himself deposited in an warm, opulent study filled with books and magical curios. Tall windows looked out across the bay, and from this height the white-sailed ships seemed like toys.
Across from Shadamehr, seated behind a polished wooden desk, was a beautiful moon elf wizard wearing silk robes threaded with gold. The elf had long blonde hair and eyes like glittering emeralds. Next to her stood a quiet young man, also wearing robes but of a simpler, less opulent, design.
”Greetings good Shadamehr,” said the elf in a rich voice, “I wanted to thank you personally for your service to the Arcane Brotherhood. I am Valindra Shadowmantle, Overwizard of the North Tower.”
Her name meant little to the simple barbarian, but he understood power when he saw it— and this elf exuded power, both magical and otherwise. Shadamehr kept his tongue in check and offered a respectful greeting in return.
Valindra made good on Shadamehr’s contract, providing him with an official Arcane Brotherhood Currency Exchange Note that he could redeem downstairs with the Vaultmaster. Shadamehr took the note with his thanks, and inquired casually about Manner.
"Ahh yes, Manner. The troublesome gnome returned to the Hosttower a few days ago by way of a teleportation scroll. The reckless fool brought a spellbook with him that he pilfered from some subterranean vault. It turns out that the spellbook was trapped with an explosive rune. Manner opened it before a group of eager young apprentices and the rune detonated, badly injuring Manner, blowing apart two of the apprentices, and destroying half of the alchemy lab. A third apprentice died from his wounds a few days later. Truly awful. Manner's injuries have been healed and he is currently under disciplinary house arrest."
Shadamehr snickered inwardly at the story. That sounded like Manner alright. He thanked Valindra again and stood to leave, but she stopped him with a simple offer. "Interested in another contract?" The barbarian raised an eyebrow. He was listening.
"Keep an eye on the half-elf bladesinger named Red. Make sure no harm comes to her. Do this and the Brotherhood will reward you richly." Valindra then nodded at the quiet young man standing next to her. “And take my apprentice with you. It would do him good to get away from his books and formulae for awhile. He needs to experience the real world.” Shadamehr eyed the human skeptically but finally nodded his agreement.
“Excellent,” said Valindra, “My apprentice will meet you later today at your lodgings. One Eyed Jax is it?" The barbarian nodded again. "It's done then. Good day, Shadamehr.”
Shortly after Shadamehr left, Valindra took her apprentice aside. “I have a task for you too, young Mezan. I want you to keep an eye on that mysterious half-elf. Contact me if you notice anything strange about her, or if she does anything unusual. It doesn't matter how small the detail.”
Valindra then magically plucked a book from her bookshelf. It floated over to Mezan who took it in his hands. “Mantras for Mages?”, he asked skeptically.
"It's collection of daily affirmations and inspirational poems," Valindra replied. "Maybe you'll find some value in them, I don't know. The contents are unimportant. If you should notice anything strange about Red, turn to page 114 of the book and recite the words Voltamehr Sor Suuloos. Doing this will open a one-way communication portal with me. It is very important that you wait until you are alone before opening this portal. Let no one see you. Understood?”
Mezan nodded and placed the book within the folds of his robes. “Good," said Valindra, "You may go now. Luck be with you, my apprentice.” Mezan bowed to Valindra before leaving.
Downstairs Shadamehr relayed Manner’s fate to his companions, who all seemed to enjoy the story. He also informed the party about their new traveling companion— a young sorcerer named Mezan. Then the barbarian collected his payment from the Vaultmaster and they left the Hosttower, returning to One Eyed Jax to get down to more important matters.
Back at the tavern the booze flowed like the mighty River Mirar. After an hour or so Mezan arrived, a backpack slung over his shoulder and a walking stick in hand. Shadamehr waved him over to their table. The shy sorcerer approached and the barbarian introduced him to the rest of the party.
As the night went on the drinking intensified. Shadamehr and Khelgar put their pints away at an almost desperate pace, and soon they were both very drunk. At one point, with no provocation, the red-faced barbarian stood up. He swayed in silence for a moment, spittle limning his puffy lips, before loudly challenging Khelgar to a wrestling match!
Never one to back down from some good old fashioned “Dwarven Wrasslin”, Khelgar wiped the froth from his beard and accepted the challenge. The party began moving tables and chairs out of the way to make room for the match while the proprietor and barmaids looked on skeptically.
Sensing an opportunity for a bit of profit, Glasha started taking bets from the other patrons. As the wrestlers warmed up people began streaming in from outside to see what was going on. Glasha took their money too.
Mezan watched the unfolding circus with a mix of incredulity and trepidation. What sort of maniacs had Valindra set him up with?
The wrestling match started and the two fighters squared off— barbarian and dwarf. The combatants paused for a second before launching themselves at each other, grappling and straining and trading insults. The dwarf used his low center of gravity to bring the lanky barbarian down, and then proceeded to wrench his leg back. Shadamehr howled in pain before twisting out of the hold. He lifted the squirming dwarf into the air and slammed him down onto the wooden floorboards. The tavern shook and the crowd roared.
To add some extra spectacle Glasha snapped her fingers and illusionary pyrotechnics filled the tavern room, along with some low-lying fog. The crowd cheered at the lightshow and more bets were placed. Glasha gathered the money gleefully.
Focused as she was on taking bets, Glasha began to lose control of her magical fog. The cloud grew in height and density, until it filled the interior of the tavern. Soon Shadamehr and Khelgar were little more than shadowy outlines in the mist, circling each other like panthers waiting to strike.
And then they did. Both combatants rushed forward to deliver simultaneous headbutts, unaware that the other was doing the same thing. Their skulls cracked together with a loud, echoing report and the pair fell back onto the wooden floor, unconscious.
As the fog slowly dissipated the two unmoving fighters were revealed, and the loud, boisterous crowd grew quiet. Soon a deep, uncertain silence filled the tavern. With both fighters down, the match was a draw— there was no winner!
Glasha tried to reassure the crowd that she had a contingency plan for just such an occurrence, but she was met with a single cry of outrage, followed by another. Soon those cries escalated into a loud chant.
"Give us our money!"
Sensing that the situation was growing unmanagable, and becoming a bit bored with the whole thing, Red whispered an incantation under her breath and traced an arcane symbol in the air before her.
The Sleep spell went off like a grenade in the middle of the angry crowd. Nearly a dozen Luskanites collapsed immediately, and the rest panicked. They stampeded out of One Eyed Jax, screaming about dark magic and thievery.
Glasha and Red glanced at each other for a moment before springing to action. They scooped up the unconscious dwarf and barbarian, and with Mezan following nervously behind, fled through the rear door of the tavern into the winding back alleys of Luskan.
After keeping out of sight for a couple of hours they sneaked across Dalath’s Span and made their way towards Whitesail Harbor. Once there they planned to hide aboard The Dancing Darling until things cooled down. Khelgar and Shadamehr had regained consciousness by this point, but they both had throbbing headaches.
As the party approached the ship they noticed two figures standing at the base of the gangplank. One was Amalia Scarly, the other was a dwarf wearing the official uniform of Mirabar. Captain Scarly took her leave as the party arrived, and the Mirabarran dwarf approached Khelgar.
“Aye, yer Khelgar then? I have a message for ye from Mirabar.” With that the dwarf handed Khelgar a rolled up parchment, dipped into a low bow, and took his leave.
The concussed dwarf squinted at the departing messenger and then down at the parchment in his hands. He unrolled it.
It was a short note. It read:
Our father is gone, taken in a forge accident. He’s with Dumathoin now. Come at once to Mirabar to settle affairs.