* * * AIRSHIP MORNING PRIDE * * *
“So let me see if I’ve got this correct, you are responsible for the liftwood that your hometown is selling on consignment. If so I suspect I know where you can sell it at a good price.”
Lhekshey Oratem found it hard to concentrate. They were in a large damp room containing a small swimming pool. Rich Burton was lounging in a chair and he found himself unable to prevent his eyes from constantly returning to the slits that were leaking beads of water on the side of Rich’s chest. The room was full of elves and many were in the pool. All had the same peculiarity as Rich.
“Yes I am, and the Hardin Brandy too,” Lhekshey finally answered.
“No interest in that,” Rich waved the idea of the brandy aside. “Mother would have my hide if I involved her in the drug trade.”
Lhekshey shrugged, “It sells, and at the price no one is forced to take it.”
“Possibly, but Mother wouldn’t approve. Mind you unlike with slaves where we are encouraged to buy, and see to arranging for them to earn their freedom as quickly as possible, with drugs it is a case of hands off.”
Lhekshey licked his lips as things shifted in his understanding of past events, “Is that why you were willing to help the Titmouse? Because they didn’t employ slaves?”
“It certainly helped. Now as to your liftwood, are you interested in selling it at a premium? Say ten percent above market value?”
“Yes, but why?”
“Because the trees take years to grow before reaching a useable size. Very well once we drop off the Titmouse, we’ll take on your cargo and be on our way back to Sidehame.”
“The drow? But why would they want it?”
Rich grinned crookedly. “Guess. Please feel free to explore, I’m goin’ for another swim.”
* * *
Lhekshey found the airship bewildering. The black gang were beastmen, they all seemed to be mostly wolves as was Charlie their commander. And Charlie was rather peculiar. And they used salamanders! The damn things were playing and giggling with some of the crew. He left hurriedly, wondering why no one else used fire mages in the engine room.
The restaurant was over the top, and the kitchen staff were the only, well not exactly slaves, indentured workers on board. He’d talked to the maitre d’ and had the difference brought to his attention. They were earning their bond and while not exactly happy, seemed to understand it was so others could be set on the same path to freedom.
But the biggest shock came in the lift room. More beastmen, cats this time, but they were so very few. The planks were huge! And the blueish wood was speckled with small green blotches. It was only after that shock settled that he noted how smoothly they rotated, and how smoothly they interacted as the cat folk watched from small consoles scattered amongst the periphery. And about two thirds of the planks were slotted in the inactive position.
He was left with so many questions. The principal one being, what was their source of supply? Followed by wanting to know just how high the Morning Pride could go, and how the crew and passengers were able to survive at that altitude.
= = O = =
It was almost noon when the Morning Pride and her tow arrived at Petavonium. Once they had dropped the Titmouse in the sprawling half abandoned shipyard Lhekshey saw to the transhipment of his cargo, leaving sufficient liftwood to ensure that the Titmouse wouldn’t suffer. He was able to sell most of the brandy entrusted to him at a good price. The rest joined the liftwood in the Morning Pride’s huge cargo storage devices.
* * *
Rich with Cinders and Eldaan explored the commercial and civilian side of Petavonium. Rich noted that the town was moving from being just a garrison town on the periphery of the loosely knit Reearmen Empire into a far more diversified place. It looked to him as if the town would prosper. Probably helped by being in a fairly remote area that still allowed for reasonably efficient agriculture while the air was not excessively poisonous. Or at least not yet.
He didn’t envy Minnow and Steelheart. They were meeting the governor general Diocles Vallaerii to discuss the drow situation. He grinned to himself, the locals had never had a high priestess of one of the drow’s deities come calling and were understandably uncertain as to how to handle the situation. As the presence of the drow town of Sidehame was one of the major causes for the existence of Petavonium it didn’t surprise him that the meetings were occurring.
Then the Morning Pride was fleecing the local nobs. The restaurant and ballroom were booked solid. It seemed that anyone who was anyone wanted to be able to boast that they had dined and danced on the elven luxury liner.
* * * CONIMBRIGA & RUSTY RAPTOR * * *
Bolithico was getting frustrated. There seemed to be nobody willing to charter an airship for a journey to the Ithampar Ocean, especially the area near Zeehaven. Bolithico had been told repeatedly that the pirates were massing a fleet to do something unpleasant in that area.
Then they had a break, the group was relaxing in the Mad Hatter Bar at the Queen of Hearts when a runner sought them out. He came from the principal commercial shipyard. He politely waited to be recognised before handing over his message. Then he waited to see if there was a reply, and more importantly, if there was going to be a tip.
Bolithico broke open the seal and perused the message; he tossed the messenger a groat for his troubles. “This might be good news. Polly will you please see if we can hire one of the inns firewagons for a trip to the main shipyard? There might be an airship willing to take us.”
* * *
Thanks to the ever-present fog Bolithico was unable to make out much of the airship as he boarded it to talk with the captain. Shipyard workers were swarming over the area containing the engines. The cargo was being loaded from a couple of wagons and seemed to consist almost entirely of artillery and muskets.
The captain was one of the rare hawkmen. He listened carefully as Bolithico introduced himself and stated his requirements.
“You’re in luck mate, We’uns have an urgent delivery for the Zeehaven council. They’s having pirate troubles and gods are fighting in their streets. Kroopsteel got an urgent mirror order and they’s paying us’uns to deliver. Can take you wi’us for a guiney a head as a favour fer yer guild.”
“Very good. When are you leaving?”
“Soon’s we’uns loaded. Say four hours.”
“Damn! We’ll be ready.” Bolithico hurried back to the inn’s odd firewagon.
* * *
The adventurers only just made it in time. A bare ten minutes after they boarded the Rusty Raptor clawed its way into the skies over Conimbriga and slowly gained speed on its journey.
After the second day things settled down though the Rusty Raptor remained close to the ground, even winding its way around some hills.
Bolithico leaned on the rail near the airship’s cargo master, “Tell me Daaroos, why is the captain hugging the ground?”
Daaroos laughed, “Because he has to. Rusty’s grossly over laden. We’re packing far more weight than is safe. We’re using maximum lift now, luckily the ocean is lower than this so we’ll have a little flexibility soon.”
“Hmm. I see.” Said Bolithico as he strained his eyes to see through the fog, “What was that your captain mentioned about gods fighting in the streets?”
Daaroos grinned widely, “You know that trick that scumbag Vortexius has of using his champions to manifest? Well he tried it on one of the sea priestesses, her sea goddess did the same thing using the priestess and killed the asshole champion banishing Vortexius.”
Bolithico froze for an instant as he stared at Daaroos, “Truly? You’re sure of that?”
“Yeah. The Kroopsteel rep was spreading the tale in all the bars.”
Not long after that Bolithico went to find his parties priestess Leemanda so that he could tell her the tale.
* * *
Three days later captain Blackfeather was worriedly staring aft as he nudged the course his Rusty Raptor was following further to the south. Smoke was pouring out of the funnel as the engines strained to push them as fast as possible.
Behind them, closer than any of the people on the Rusty Raptor were happy with came a mismatched fleet. Said fleet was not maintaining a tight formation, it was spread across the sky in a straggling line making it impossible to work around.
Everyone on the Rusty Raptor was armed and armoured. The cargo master had broken out several muskets and most of the crew had a couple of loaded muskets by their side. Bolithico was cursing the clear skies and surprisingly sweet air.
Slowly the pirates were catching them. Then the lookout cried, “Airships ahead.”
Bolithico looked around. Two small sleek airships were approaching at surprising speed. They were preceded by six small silver flyers.
“Hey Bolithico, d’yer know that flag them guys r’flying?” asked Blackfeather as he lowered his brass telescope from his eye.
“Blue wi’coiled whip and white jumping fish.”
“The Drow? What are the Drow doing out here? The good news captain is that the Balancer is at war with Vortexius. The bad new is they are Drow, and flying the flag of one of their goddesses, they are followers of the Balancer.”
Blackfeather cursed and lowered his airship until it was almost skimming the surface of the ocean.
Bolithco watched as the greatly outnumbered drow squadron darted past them towards the pirates. Then they fired rockets! Bolithco was not surprised when the rockets started curving. The wildly inaccurate things were virtually useless after all. His hair stood on end as the rockets oriented on the pirate ships and homed in on the two largest airships.
The crew of the Rusty Raptor watched in fascinated horror as the drow easily maintained their distance and used their homing rockets and the single destructive light beam weapon each of the sleek warships was equipped with. It quickly became obvious that the drow did not accept surrender.
Bolithco watched the drow ships with a sort of fascinated horror. The way they shrugged off spells implied strong anti-magic defences. At least they didn’t have too many of those homing rockets, or maybe the drow had decided to use them individually to prevent them ganging up on one or two targets at a time. Their light weapon would be of very little use in the fog that was starting to cover much of the mainland.
Then there was the admiral’s flag. Unless he was very mistaken it was the flag of lady Hellwing, the scourge of the skies. Though it too had gained the seal of the Balancer. He made his way ton the captain’s side. “Any chance we can get away captain.”
“Not a chance ifen they don’t want us’uns to. They is chopping the pirates out of the sky too fast. Mind you matey, it is a foine sight but...”
“But we are reliant on Admiral Hellwing’s whim.”
“Hellwing the scourge? Us’uns thought she be daid.”
“That’s her flag back there...” then Bolithco fell abruptly silent as a very familiar sensation swept across him, he unfocused his eyes instinctively and sought...
« You have found the ocean dungeon Blue Lagoon. »
Captain Blackfeather resumed his cursing and started bellowing almost inarticulate orders. The Rusty Raptor started to gain altitude even as it engaged in a one hundred and eighty degree turn.
The guild party quickly gathered around Bolithico. The priestess Leemanda was wide eyed with shock. She licked her lips nervously. “Bolithico, the dungeon, it is... I’ve been studying the surface of the ocean, it has... something, that is cleaning the air and waters. That something is coming from this dungeon. This dungeon is spilling over... it is more...”
“I know Lee, I’ve met her. She is the Balancer. What to do; that is the question.”