In our latest dispatch, the envoy known as Iokaste reports back to her sponsor, Kalistos, after arriving in the ramshackle port town of Stormreach. Kalistos has assembled an expedition team to recover an artifact of the Age of Giants from deep within the jungles of Xen'drik. None of the members of the Xen'drik Blackwind expedition have previously met. Here, Iokaste details an interesting encounter with a most unusual scholar…
Zor, 19 Sypheros, 998 YK
I write to you from central Stormreach, in the vicinity of The Chapterhouse. An ill wind blows this night, bringing both rain and embers, coating the streets in an ashen paste. The air brings water and fire to the earth. What manner of omen is this?
The journey from Sharn was typically arduous. After securing passage aboard a Lyrander ship, I called upon our old friend Carnaby Goebb(1) in Tavick's Landing. Resourceful as always, he provided me with a signal anchor stone for later use bargaining with the sahuagin(2).
Fortunate indeed that I took this precaution. For all their airs, the Lyrander captains can be unholy fools when navigating Shargon's Teeth. Our esteemed commander assumed the bargain he struck with his sahuagin guide in Sharn guaranteed safe passage regardless of the route. Alas, the sea devils are as territorial as the Talentans, and we were promptly boarded by two dozen angry sentinels of a rival clan. Negotiations were proceeding poorly -- weapons were drawn, as I recall -- until I dropped Carnaby's signal stone off the starboard bow. We were soon joined by a rather glorious sahuagin priestess, resplendent upon her terrifying dragon eel.
Our Lyrander captain suffered an unfortunate bout of seasickness at that sight and turned nearly as green as the sentinels. I was able to secure passage through the remaining waters by bartering directly with the priestess's representative, according to Carnaby's instructions. I never cease to marvel at the reach of that old dwarf's influence! The remainder of the journey was relatively uneventful, and I stepped onto Stormreach's battered wharves yesterday morn.
I made myself present in The Chapterhouse common room at the appointed hour and was greeted by Professor Palinostrum of Morgrave University. He appeared just as I expected, I must say -- tall and thin, elderly, scholarly. Then he dismissed his glamour, and I was confronted with the good Professor's true form -- a powerfully-built, war-scarred menace with a giant pair of ram's horns sprouting upward and back from his forehead. Interesting. This being Stormreach, of course, few even looked up from their ales.
The others in the party having been delayed, the Professor and I spoke at length. Palinostrum is quite learned and genteel, of course. Observing the protocol in matters such as these, we spoke only very generally at first. As it happens, however, we have mutual acquaintances and interests, and soon our discourse became more intimate. Are you aware of his particular eldritch appetites?
Palinostrum is a binder -- a practitioner of pact magic(3). I had heard rumors and suggestions of such disciplines but never expected to actually encounter an openly practicing binder. Within Morgrave, no less! The Professor explained to me that his horns are a manifestation of his pact magic, specific to the spirit, or vestige, to whom he is bound. My knowledge in this area is limited, but it is my understanding that these vestiges are beings beyond gods and mortals, beyond death or any of the planes.
Most fascinating! I am encouraged that Palinostrum shall be orchestrating and guiding this expedition. I should likely have pledged my assistance previous to our acquaintance, due solely to the Professor's reputation and credentials. Now that I have an appreciation for the true power that he wields, I'm glad indeed of the opportunity to quest alongside him.
We are to meet on the morrow with the remainder of our company. I shall remain in communication as best I can as we proceed with the expedition upriver and into the wilds. As per your instructions, I am keeping this correspondence, and the manner of its conveyance, undisclosed to the others. Until we speak again, Kalistos.
(2) The Sahuagin of the Thunder Sea (from page 12 of Secrets of Xen'drik)
Look beneath the waves, and you'll find a vast and ancient world filled with secrets unknown to those who can breathe only air. Thousands of years of history are buried beneath the Thunder Sea. Kingdoms have risen and fallen there. Great wars have been fought between the sahuagin and aboleth slavers, between merfolk nomads and the Lords of Dust. Pirates and merchants battle sahuagin at the frontier between air and water, never dreaming of the mysteries that lie below.
The sahuagin are a powerful and sophisticated race. They are stronger, faster, and smarter than humans, with armored skin and a deadly bite. The sahuagin have a clan-based society, and they fight one another with the same zeal they devote to raiding surface vessels and fishing villages. So far, these internal struggles have kept the sahuagin from mounting a unified assault on the surface world.
Sahuagin can be found in all ten seas of Eberron, but they are most common in the Thunder Sea and the Barren Sea. For centuries, they were implacably hostile, but over time, the scholars and sages of Galifar and Zilargo were able to establish diplomatic contact with a number of sahuagin nobles. For the last two centuries, captains planning to travel across the Thunder Sea have made arrangements with the sahuagin, paying for peaceful passage and for aquatic guides to help ships navigate the dangers of Shargon's Teeth. Today, sahuagin guides can be found in all the great port cities of southern Khorvaire. In the Cliffside district of Sharn, sahuagin curses have even found their way into everyday speech.
Because of the conflicts between clans, having a sahuagin guide is not a foolproof shield against attack. A vessel must adhere to the territory of its guide's clan, and even then it might run afoul of a raiding party from a neighboring clan. Defeating such raiders won't invite retaliation, but fighting a clan in its own waters usually results in redoubled attacks as the sea devils seek to bring down their prey. Old sailors tell tales of legions of sharks led by sahuagin priestesses riding dragon eels. If caught up in such action, a ship's only hope is to cross into the territory of an opposing clan.
Adventurers in an appropriate port city can locate a sahuagin guide with a successful DC 15 Profession (sailor) check, DC 20 Knowledge (local) check, or DC 20 Gather Information check. It is also possible to negotiate with the sea devils on the open water. The Windwrights Guild has a few established points where a captain can drop anchor and drop a carved signal stone overboard to call a guide from the depths. In either case, the standard price for hiring a guide is 1% of the value of the ship itself (100 gp for a standard sailing ship). Many captains offer greater rewards in the hope of buying greater loyalty. On occasion, sahuagin have helped sailors battle threats from the deep.
(3) The Binder (from page 9 of Tome of Magic)
Between mortality and godhood, beyond life and undeath, souls exist in a place both forgotten and inaccessible. Mortals too strong-willed to pass into the afterlife, dead outsiders too powerful to be absorbed into their planes, the dreams of slain deities put to rest eons before the current age -- these are the beings called vestiges. A seal forms the door between these beings and reality, and knowledge is the key to opening it.
Only the binder possesses that key, because only he knows the vestiges' special seals and the rituals by which they can be called from the void beyond reality. By drawing their seals and speaking the words of power, he summons these strange entities, bargains with them, and binds them to his service.
About the Author
Glenn McDonald is a freelance writer and game designer in lovely Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He writes about games, film, technology, pop culture, shady characters, conflicted heroes, strange and terrible magic, and shadowy fantasy noir intrigue. Not all at the same time.
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