The journey back to Almernae was uneventful, Ogden’s words weighing heavily on all our minds. As we traveled in silence, save for Moira’s softly-sung songs, I planned out our next move. Machine was going to be south, in the Golden Valley of Austrail no less, in a week’s time to assassinate the lady Alethea Albright all orchestrated by Belarin. As much as I wanted to speak with my former companion, the protection of the young Albright’s life and capturing Alexis Machine took precedence.
We returned to the Dusty Drink in the evening to find two new faces in the pub. Mersh, after missing for years, had returned and answered my summons. That would be a first. I was delighted to see my friend after so long, but he remained tight lipped as to his whereabouts for the last three years. Accompanying him was the ‘rock-man’ Peregrine had told me about, Albion Halberg. He explained his situation and asked to join our company in our quest. Peregrine and Moira seemed to trust him, so I had no reason not to accept him into The Tiki Company. After all, we were going to need all the help we could get to track down both Alexis Machine and this Illusive Man who for some reason wanted me dead. Little did he know his first and last mistake was to try and get to me through my friends, my family.
After introductions were made, we set off at dawn’s light with Artemis for the nearest port town to find a boat willing to provide safe passage to the Golden Valley. As we left, Kiana pulled me aside to make one request of me. She handed me a gilded dagger, her father’s dagger.
“Tibles, I want you to take this dagger and I want you to plunge it into Machine’s black heart when you find him. I want you to return with the blade coated in that monster’s blood. Please, for my father, do this for me.”
Her father, Thannis Allan, had been murdered by Alexis Machine three years ago. I could still see the look of horror and the light leaving poor Thannis’ eyes after Machine pulled his knife over a lack of payment. It had been why Kiana had granted me sanctuary in her father’s pub. I promised to end Machine’s life and to avenge her father’s death. I nodded and took the knife, reiterating that very promise.
We made our way to the port town of Arefu to the south to procure a ship that would grant us voyage to Westvale. One week remained before the ball, one week to make our way down south, one week to come up with a plan, one week to capture Machine in the act and end this game of cat-and-mouse.
However, it was finding a ship willing to take us to Austrail that was the problem. Every captain, sailor, and shipowner we had approached refused to sail anywhere near Fort Renwick on the west coast of the island, let alone Westvale on the east coast. It was after much searching that we were hailed by a young captain of a ship. Mersh spontaneously began dancing with some rather impressive moves in the middle of the docks dressed in a poncho, a sombrero, and a false mustache. I suppose this should have registered as odd behaviour, but after knowing Mersh for so long, I’ve almost missed his antics.
While Mersh continued his dancing spree, besting all challengers in the port town, we negotiated our fare for passage to Austrail. The captain seemed to not know what exactly was the cause of the clout of fear that had spread over Austrail, but did hear rumours that it was some kind of epidemic disease spreading across the populace. The young captain, against his crew’s wishes, agreed to take us to Austrail for a rather hefty price. Peregrine was doubtful of his capabilities, but we agreed nonetheless.
With a little bit of extra pay for Peregrine’s pony, we were off. I busied myself with maps, scrolls, and the like at the bow of the ship, enjoying the feel of the fresh salty air against my face. I had been buried in that basement for far too long. Moira chatted with the captain while Peregrine roosted in the crow’s nest. Mersh had not yet gotten over his seasickness and spent much of the journey incapacitated and Albion acquainted himself with a rather threatening cook. Mersh got up to his usual hijinks after night fell but found himself caught in the act by the cook.
It was not until the next morning as we neared Austrail that thing took a turn for the worse. I suppose I should have seen it coming. Things never go well for us when we take to the road, at least not for long. Another ship, bearing no colours or flags of any kind, had spotted us and began its pursuit. We readied ourselves for battle, the crew hiding below deck while the captain remained vigilant at the wheel.
Slave traders, led by a formidable barbarian foe wielding a magically enchanted lightning spear. Wonderful.
After a long, gruesome battle with the barbarian and his crew of lizardfolk, we stood victorious with the spoils of the slavers safely on board. It had nearly cost us our lives, specifically Albion’s, Mersh’s, and my own, but they were vanquished. The captain was more than willing to pay us our fare back and supply us with healing potions as compensation for protecting his ship and crew.
As we cleaned the deck of the corpses of our fallen enemies, the rumble of thunder in the distance warned us of an incoming storm. Black clouds began to form on the horizon, heralding a mighty storm. No sailor in his right mind would be on open seas when that storm hit. The captain offered to take us to shore, away from any kind of civilization before he turned back. Leaving us with few options, we had no choice but to accept or be delayed by another few days that we could not spare.
As the first signs of the storm began to surface we had reached the shore. Rain began to fall, steadily growing faster as the wind picked up to near gale-force. The ship that had taken us this far was already moving towards the horizon and away from the storm. Artemis, Moira, Peregrine and myself had opted to set up camp for the night to wait out the storm. The nearest town, Whimsyshire, was still a few hours away. The storm gathering in strength was all we needed to find shelter for the night. Albion and Mersh, however, had other ideas. While we insisted on waiting out the storm, the fighter and the rogue had decided to try and walk through the storm to Whimsyshire and find ‘proper’ accommodations there.
The Tiki Company had been reformed for a total of three days and already we had been shouted at, shot at, hit with lightning, boarded by slavers, almost killed, and left out in the rain. Looking back, I should have been grateful that was all we had to face on our way to Austrail. We still had to deal with Machine, getting into the ball, and whatever disease had been plaguing the island. It was strange, over the howls of the wind and the rumbling of thunder that resonated across the landscape, I could have sworn I heard wolves…