The coast was snowy. The party (absent Vaclav, who had to attend state banquets for the Festival on behalf of his mother, but with Jack Scabbard) headed to the area where the river from the capital washed out to sea. To the north-west a small peninsula jutted out, and the party could see an island a little way off the coast. The party washed briefly in the icy water, to wake themselves up after the trip. Once they found a good spot, out of the tide, Oswyn built some rudimentary snow walls to ward off some of the wind and offer a little bit of protection. The party set a watch, not really expecting anything, but to get a sense of what might be going on to prepare for the morrow. Oswyn (used to night hunting) and Vana (with her night eyes) took the midnight watch, and as Vana gazed out at the island, she realised she could see boats heading towards it.
Oswyn could barely make out anything except movement, but something about the visitors to the island’s gait suggested they were small creatures – could be goblins, children, even dwarves. Vana performed a small divination before retiring to bed, hoping to establish which of the cosmic forces the scales would swing towards in the coming days, and deduced that the next day would be ruled by Chaos. She was somewhat concerned.
During the next watch, Scabbard heard distant singing and music from over on the island. Suddenly, he heard the sound of something crashing about in the swamps near their camp. It sounded like a heavily-laden person hauling something to the beach. Then, emerging onto the snowy beach in a thick and waterlogged cloak, a humanoid figure appeared dragging a boat. The creature missed Scabbard, who was well tucked away into the shadows, but saw the embers of the fire and staggered over to warm themselves by it. Scabbard gave them a moment to settle down, before slinking over with a dagger to interrogate them. Or rather, attempting to. Snow crunched under a soft-soled boot, and the person whirled round, hands up. Their silhouetted face was invisible at first, but when she spoke Scabbard heard a woman’s voice. She seemed alarmed, and began apologising – claiming to be escaping from slavers in the city. Scabbard politely but determinedly raised a crossbow.
“My name is Gorga,” said the stranger. “I was going to use this boat to try and escape – there’s a way – an island just offshore. If I can just get there, I might be able to escape to my homeland.” She began explaining that there was a shine to the Keeper of Sanctuaries on the island.
“That island?” asked Scabbard.
She turned to look, and as she saw the lights of the strangers’ campfires a tone of mild defeat crept into her voice. She said she was captured by slavers under the Hobfather’s orders, and the Hobfather’s slave-catchers must have reached the island before her. At this point, Scabbard began waking the others.
Vana asked the strange woman about the shrine, and during the conversation the party quickly discovered that Gorga was the blue-tattooed orc they saw fighting in the arena. She explained that whilst the orcs “around here” were generally under the sway of sinister gods, through a combination of tribal pacts and constant psychic influence by the Laughing Wolf, she herself was a follower of the Keeper of Sanctuaries. She came here to try and find a way to free the local orcs, but was captured by the hobbits. (Vana had private doubts about this explanation, since as far as she was aware orcs were bound to the Laughing Wolf or the other evil gods the world over.) The party offered Gorga some food, as she seemed starved, and asked if they could help out. They struck camp, not forgetting to keep the swan well-wrapped, and prepared to leave.
The island was a rocky lump, with plenty of inlets and coves, and the party found one reasonably distant from the lanterns they saw. Oswyn’s enthusiastic suggestion of holing all the slave-catchers’ boats was politely rebuffed. Jack suggested instead that a dinner of roast swan might distract them long enough for the orc to do her thing, although he mournfully suggested that it might come to violence anyway, since “I am quickly finding that a philosophy of violence is not compatible with the harsh realities of life” – a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.
The party discovered that the hobbits were singing in the distance, apparently beginning a feast.
“It’s not often you find yourself armed with a swan, facing a legion of enemies renowned for their gourmandism,” said Jack. “I’ve been reading the dictionary since I have been injured,” he added, explaining his enhanced vocabulary.
The party set up a swan roast within sniffing distance of the hobbits, and it wasn’t not too long before one of the hobbits came along to investigate. He was dressed as a clown, and offered the Jester’s greetings. Vana gazed at him with open dismay. Oswyn quietly made sure he knew where his spear was.
More hobbits appeared. They too wore motley garb, and clown face paint of an aggressive, warlike bent.
OOC comment: “Oh god, it’s the island of Juggalo Hobbits.”
The party accepted the hobbits’ ale, and Oswyn offered them a bite of swan.
Meanwhile, Scabbard and the orc were stalking their way across the island. There were still a number of hobbits lounging near the shrine in clown make-up. Scabbard and Gorgo overheard a bit of discussion of the group who went out to investigate the campfire – and particularly the phrase “I hope they remembered to take the antidote before they drank any beer”.
Oswyn reeled and keeled over. Vana and Jack suddenly realised there was a distinctively odd aftertaste to that beer, but both were able to remain awake. The hobbits looked at the remaining two, and produced nasty little shivs. “Well, looks like we’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way,” said one.
Near the shrine, Scabbard and Gorga heard a whistle coming from the direction of the party’s campfire, and the hobbits who’d been guarding the shrine hustled over to the rest of their group, leaving an opening for Scabbard and Gorga to slip by.
Vana pulled out her axe and stepped in front of the unarmed Jack.
“Now now, no need to be hasty, no need for tears before bedtime,” said a hobbit. “Let’s just wait for the High Juggler to get here, and we’ll see what he has to say about this.”
The Juggler arrived, and took the view that whilst he didn’t like having a bootlicking Law-worshipper around, he wasn’t really interested in trouble. He tried to present the hobbits’ business as an “internal matter” between different factions of Chaos followers. He proposed that the party come along with him to wait near the shrine, and when the person the hobbits had been waiting for arrived, they’d “deal with” her and then everyone could go their separate ways. He had one of his lackeys give Oswyn the antidote as a gesture.
Meanwhile, Gorga had uncovered a secret room within the Keeper shrine, full of hieroglyphs and strange scenes painted within. She says she should be fine from that point, and that if the party managed to rid the place of hobbits, Jack should step inside the secret room, since the Keeper might feel like rewarding their efforts with a token of appreciation. Scabbard asked if it matters if the hobbits die. The orc pointed out that very few Good gods would support slavery, and the Keeper in particular views slaving as an ultimate sin. Then she closed the secret room behind her. Scabbard concealed himself inside the shrine to await the return of the hobbits.
Meanwhile, hoping to buy some time, Oswyn exaggerated the extent of his wooziness, so Vana came to check on him. Oswyn remonstrated with the hobbits on the crime of adulterating good ale. After a minute or two, the Juggler threw up his hands, saying he needed to get back to guard the shrine, and hastened back to check on it. Scabbard managed to disappear just in time, and the Juggler saw nothing. Satisfied, he sats on the steps, looking out for signs of an approaching orc or for his men to return. Scabbard seized his moment to strike, but something warned the hobbit just in time, and he ducked forward; though Scabbard’s blade caught him, he did not do a killing blow, but in throwing himself forward the Juggler ended up tumbling painfully down the steps leading up to the shrine entrance.
Scabbard pulled out his crossbow, but didn’t quite have time to line up a shot. The Juggler grabbed his staff and began chanting ominously. Scabbard heard the sound of laughter in his ears as the Jester’s power surged over him, but he shrugged it off and shot the hobbit in the eye. The laughter stopped.
Unfortunately, just at this time the other hobbits returned. Scabbard ducked into some rudimentary cover just in time, and the hobbits were understandably distracted by their leader’s corpse. Five rushed over to check on their leader, leaving only one behind. There was a split second to act, and Vana nodded meaningfully; in a single perfect thrust, Oswyn drove his spear through the remaining guard. They grabbed the corpse as it fell, shoved it into cover and tried to disappear into the surrounding brush. Unfortunately, especially with Jack’s missing arm, they made a certain amount of noise. Thankfully, they don’t draw the hobbits to Scabbard’s hiding place, and he was easily able to follow the group in secret. The hobbits split up to search, and three ended up confronting the party in a clearing.
“We’ll make you pay for what you did to our Juggler!” they cried.
The party politely demurred. As the hobbits advanced, Scabbard appeared behind them and killed one in a single shot. Oswyn took advantage of their confusion to thrust his spear through another one. Jack punched the last one and sent it reeling, and it was easily finished off. In the distance, a rather posh hobbit called out: “Oh, you beastly do-gooders! We despise you! We despise you! We despise you forever!”
Scabbard launched a crossbow bolt in that direction, and a cry of “Oh, crumbs!” went up, followed by the padding of feet. Scabbard hastened after it, shouting for the others to get Jack to the shrine, while Oswyn headed towards the boats; they really didn’t want the Hobfather learning what happened here. Unfortunately, Scabbard wasn’t quite his usual stealthy self, and caught a rock in the chest from an alarmed hobbit. Oswyn circled round and began slinging stones at the remaining hobbits, killing one. The last hobbit rushed to a nearby clifftop, and hurled itself off, crying “for the Laughter!” before his body crashed onto the rocks below.
In the shrine, Vana found maps of unknown continents in the hidden chamber. She realised that the chamber was a place where the boundaries between worlds are thin, since most of the heiroglyphs related to planar travel, and the maps made her realise that in particular it could lead to alternate Prime Material Planes! The favoured followers of the Keeper might be able to use this place to flee from Evil, but Vana realised it would have been disastrous if the Jugglers had discovered it, since breaking down the borders between worlds is precisely what Chaos is about and the Jester’s followers could attain great power from control of such a place.
At Vana’s nod, Jack entered the chamber and pulls the door to behind him. A voice begans to whisper to him.
The door opened. Jack had two arms again. One was his usual left arm. The other momentarily looked like his usual arm; but as he moved it constantly shifted, seeming sometimes hairier, sometimes more or less muscular, tattooed, scarred, feminine with painted nails, even scaled. It was rather disconcerting.
“Apparently I’ve been touched by the goddess of whossname,” said Jack apologetically.
Retrieving the swan, the party returned to town in time to enjoy the rest of the festival.