Serpent's Skull

The Beginning: Souls for Smuggler's Shiv

2 April 4730

They say the dead walk on Smuggler’s Shiv, and that those who have yet to die dine on the flesh of their kin. They say that the very plants and animals of the island thirst for blood. And they say that those who sail too close to the island’s cutting edge are already doomed, even before their ships are impaled and slip beneath the shark-hungry waves. The island itself is a grave to all manner of folk—pirate and soldier, merchant and smuggler alike. By day, one who approaches too closely can hear their screams from the green that crowns the isle, and by night one can watch the witch lights dance on its shore, said to be glowing cannibal ghosts eager to lure new meals to their shore. They say all this and more about  muggler’s Shiv. I can think of no better place to hide my treasure.

—Final recorded words of Captain Lortch Quellig

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The waters moving slowly out towards the Arcadian Ocean glinted with the evening sun which lay down a hot blanket of light on the back of Arya’s neck and arms.  As the ship she rode sailed west towards the island of Nuat, Arya watched the city of Azir shrink in the distance.

The ship’s captain, a straightforward man named Alizandru Kovack, had made the stop at the Godless Port to pick up a few passengers headed south and purchase extra supplies.  Arya had watched as the captain spoke with several men at the dock.  She thought it strange the stop was so short.  The large wooden crates had the words textiles painted on them, and none of the crew disembarked.

Boarding in Azir was a cousin of hers- of sorts.  A Dark Elf.  She’d seen her Dark Elf brethren before, but never singularly.  In her homeland of Kyonin, the Dark Elves sometimes raid into the surface lands from Below.  The elves had captured several Dark Elves during a raid when she was younger.  They were defiant and evil, but occasionally had heard tales of rogue Dark Elves who, through magic or sheer force of will, could withstand the Sun and the calling of evil.

She hoped the Dark Elf boarding the Jenivere was such a person.  He certainly didn’t appear to be one.  He wore a dark cloak with the hood up, but the Captain forced him to show his face before boarding.  The Dark Elf did so reluctantly, but the Captain waved him on.  

The Dark Elf would join a ship that already had a myriad passenger list.  Arya had boarded the Jenivere in Corentyn.  Cheliax did not suit her.  She stayed only a month before finding a post on a pole about finding adventure and lost cities in the jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.  Arya preferred to visit the deserts of northern Garund, but no expeditions were set for the heat of the summer.  Instead, she chose the rainforests of the Expanse.  

Boarding with her in Corentyn were other adventurers who also answered the call for a jungle exploration.  Rhovyn Fangwood and Arjin Tain from Nirmathas were excited to get out of war-torn Nirmathas and help find lost cities in the hot, humid nether regions of Golarion.  Arya could tell immediately that Rhovyn had elven and human blood.  Arjin looked like he had a trick up his sleeve.  Just before the Jenivere left port, another adventurer came running down the docks, his pack flailing behind him, pants partially down, and a woman chasing him from behind.  The fellow looked as if he’d freshly jumped ship from a raiding boat out of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings.  

The woman caught up to him, hugging him and crying for him not to leave her.  He shrugged her off and said something to the point of their tryst being only one night and he had business to attend to.  When he finally boarded, he glanced at Arya and mumbled something about crazy women.

Other passengers included merchants from Varisia heading to Sargava to set up trading businesses; a fellow from Nidal who was creepy and quiet, but had a strangely charismatic smile and bearing; a woman and her husband from Andoren who had boarded with her from Almas; and several other folks coming and going for family reasons.  The crew consisted of your average run-of-the-mill crew for a brig merchant ship- with its two square-rigged masts- and a pleasant First Mate, Alton Devers.  

Standing out from everyone else was the cook, who had a nasty mouth but made superbly fresh and delicious food and a Varisian scholar named Ieana.  Ieana had apparently boarded in Magnimar, Varisia, and wasn’t friendly to anyone but the Captain.  Four other passengers garnered attention during dinner, and the cook, despite his fondness for lewd talk, told passengers that for the past several years, Captain Kovack has made the western run between Magnimar and Eleder in Sargava to the south and then back with few complications, despite the fact that his route carries him through waters controlled by the piratical Free Captains of the Shackles, brushes with the eternal winds of the Eye of Abendego, and into periodic conflicts with the Nidalese navy.

Of the four other passengers who were noteworthy was Gelik, a Gnome who somehow kept his clothing spotless and pressed, who also led the evening entertainment.  A woman, who looked like she could be a ship’s captain herself, came out of her cabin only to retrieve dinner.  Arya believe her name to be Miss Mavato, as the cook called her.  A Tian man who liked to sit on the bow of the ship during the morning and evening often joined by a pretty red-head with a strange tattoo on her back named Sasha for stories.

So it was with this motely crew the Jenivere struck out south-west from Azir, heading towards Sargarva, where several adventurers sought to make some gold exploring the wilderness.

Once passed the Island of Nuat, the Jenivere bore straight west in order to pass north of Mediogalti Island, then bear south to avoid the Eye of Abendego.  When Arya asked about this storm, Alton, the First Mate, described it as a vicious hurricane which did not move.  Arya couldn’t understand how a hurricane simply stayed put, and Alton explained the Eye appeared in 4606 AR in what was then known as the Abendego Gulf. Although the exact cause of its appearance is unknown, it came into being after three weeks of tempest following the death of the god Aroden, and remains as the greatest physical evidence of the event.  The cook, overhearing the story, said if the Jenivere were to sail through the storm, the foremasts would break and fly straight up Gelik’s Gnomish ass.

Not wishing such a thing to happen to the Gnome, who retorted the cook’s insult with the “size of his main mast,” Arya was glad to avoid the area.  Sasha, the woman with the strange tattoo, on the other hand, was not.  While most passengers stood abovedecks during the passage of Mediogalti Island, she remained below.  The half-elf from Nirmathis and the Dark Elf managed to strike up a conversation with her as the ship sailed westward and then south.

Sasha loved to talk, but didn’t waste words on trivial matters.  She also laughed at everything.  Literally, everything was funny to her.  Every now and then, she would laugh so loud and hard that people began to wonder if she was batshit crazy.  Rhovyn wasn’t afraid to engage the red-head, however, and plopped down next to her.  Rhovyn wondered about where Sasha was going and where she’d come from, but didn’t think the opportunity right to ask such questions.  She did laugh and carry-on with Sasha, though, and the two enjoyed their time together.  

After boarding, the Dark Elf went to the assigned cabin.  He didn’t care to speak with anyone.  Entering, he looked it over.  He’d paid good money to get a cabin of his own.  He’d been on a boat before, but the space was small.  He checked beneath the blanket on the hammock and peered out the small porthole window.  He unloaded his pack and sat down on the floor, laying his twin scimitars on the ground beside him.  He unclipped his crossbow from his pack and began fiddling with the firing mechanism.  The crossbow was special- it could fire underwater, and he had used it on the shores of the Winding Way in the Eternal Oasis of Rahadoum to catch many a crocodile before he left.

Although he didn’t really care what people thought of him, he did notice the lack of stares as he boarded.  Generally, the presence of a Dark Elf strikes fear into people.  Apparently, ships bound for Sargava were full of worldly people.

He considered himself a worldly person, especially by his heritage's standards.  He had escaped- yes, escaped- from the World Below many years ago.  He did not have the evil that resided in his kin.  Neither did he have the resourcefulness, either.  He had shunned his people, only to be shunned and run out of Azir when he breached into the Bright World.

He thought back to when he first set eyes upon what the surface-dwellers called the Sun.  His retinas nearly turned to ash in his head, but the warmth of the rays buoyed him.  He had emerged from a cave in the Napsune Mountains and made his way across a desert, following the brightest star in the sky which did not move.  He had originally followed the brightest object in the night sky, but wound up right where he began.  He soon figured out that like the Sun, the White Lady in the night sky moved, too.  Surface-dwellers called her the Moon.

He had reached a river, then followed it west until he came upon scattered villages.  He knew better than to walk into the middle of town and ask for work, so he disguised himself and spoke in the Common tongue which he copied off a surface-dwelling merchant years back.

The guise worked, because he ended up living in Azir for a year before the city-folk found out he was a Dark Elf.  The city guard came to arrest him for practicing dark magic and worship of demons and other evil things.  He fled in the night, walking south once passed the outlying regions of Azir.  He was young, very young.

Fonder memories came to the fore- starving and exhausted, he leaned against a beautiful, large tree, which he gave himself up to, ready to perish.  He awoke the next morning to the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, one so beautiful it made his heart hurt.

He smiled at the thought.  Now, years later, he was somewhat accepted.  However, he was leaving Azir for good- there was nothing left for him there.  It was time to strike out and make a fortune for himself.  He wanted companionship, but didn’t need it.  Growing up in the Night Below, companionship didn’t exist.  However, he wanted to pay it forward, for his heart was good.  He wanted to represent those who took him in- the magical fey with which elves share a common ancestry.  But he also wanted adventure, and adventure never came alone- not for long, anyway.  His fey friends thought adventure was just turning a rabbit’s fur bright pink or tripping a traveler.  Drizzt wanted to hone his skills, wanted to hone his body into a machine for fighting.  He wanted to master the art of the two blades he wielded, so that if need be, his new companions would be protected.  Perhaps someone on this very ship was to be his traveling companion on his adventures into the jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.

Rhovyn was born in the Laughing Jungle of Sargava, but during her teenage years moved to the Southern Fangwood, on the Merideth River.  She was born to an Elven woman and a human father.  Her father was an expert Ranger, a profession which she picked up at an early age.  Her family moved to the Nirmathas city of Tamran, which has a history unlike any other.  The city of Tamran is a ramshackle city, especially for the capital city of a nation. It is built on piers and pilings over the marshlands at the mouth of the Marideth River, where it meets the banks of Lake Encarthan. The city is connected by a web of bridges, ramps and causeways, and a flotilla of barges and skiffs, and all of the buildings are made from wood. Due to the fact Tamran is still standing after its violent history it is seen as a symbol of Nirmathas tenacity and resourcefulness.

The history of Nirmathas as an independent nation goes back less than a century. Before that it was part of the province and later the nation of Molthune. Before gaining independence, Nirmathas was seen as just another resource-heavy province ripe for harvesting, first by Taldor, then later Cheliax, and finally Molthune, a country with which Nirmathis is constantly at war.  It is this war which drove Rhovyn to seek adventure in the farthest-away place she could get to.

A childhood friend, Arjin Tain, and her always spoke about adventure.  Arjin would always go on little adventures without her; her family was very protective of her.  However, after obtaining official training from the Nirmathis military, Rhovyn thought she could handle anything Arjin could.  So the two set off to Corentyn after finding a posted handbill about adventure in the jungles of Sargava.  It would also give Rhovyn a chance to see her birthplace again.

After boarding the Jenivere in Corentyn, Rhovyn watched as several other adventure-seekers boarded at Azir.  One caught her eye- a red head named Sasha.  Rhovyn wasn’t sure what it was about her, but Sasha exuded a confidence which was attractive.  After several days of observing, Rhovyn decided to make a move.  Sasha was being “courted” by many others aboard the ship, but Rhovyn knew once Sasha got to know her, the others would go away.

Rhovyn was quick to make friends with other passengers- Arya, who rivaled Rhovyn’s own skill with the bow and arrow; the Dark Elf who’s name she found was Drizzt; Ismur, who took a liking to Rhovyn and likewise- Rhovyn has witnessed the pants-less run; and Arjin.

Ismur liked everyone- literally, every woman aboard the ship.  Rhovyn watched humorously as Ismur tried to put the moves on nearly every female on the ship and get shot down every single time.  Ismur, however, didn’t think it funny.  He just wanted companionship was all.  As the group of five coalesced, they began to see Ismur as a strong ally, although his strength lay in his quickness with his dual longswords.

When passengers found out Ismur Wolfbear was from Osirion, a betting game took place on how a Garundi man (arab) who looked like a raider from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings wielding two longswords with quick speed came to be aboard a vessel heading to Sargava.  Ismur just shrugged and said “I’m bored.”  Drizzt won that bet.

Rhovyn’s friend, Arjin, was excited to board the ship and head into the jungles searching for lost cities and treasure.  He leaned on the rails the first few days, saying little.  Every now and then he would rub the brand on his hand, or reach up unconsciously to touch a ring which hung around his neck.  

Drizzt stayed quiet for the most part, but looked hard at Sasha one day on deck.  He nudged Arjin, asking him if he knew what Sasha’s tattoo was.  Arjin said he was pretty sure it was the symbol for Achaekek, the god of assassins, and the patron god of the Red Mantis assassins based on the island of Mediogalti, which they were just passing.  His symbol is a pair of mantis claws depicted as if in prayer.  Ismur then told what he knew about the Red Mantis assassins.  The Red Mantis are one of the most feared organizations in all of Golarion. This order of professional assassins can be distinguished by their trademark bright red and black, light armor, serrated blades (such as the sawtooth sabre), and frightful mantis masks which grant them both an enhanced sense of sight and a terrifying visage. Drizzt was intrigued and approached her.

It was then that Drizzt noticed another attribute of Sasha- she was missing her pinky finger.  When Rhovyn came on deck, Drizzt decided to ask Sasha about those things.  Rhovyn, Drizzt, and Sasha talked for a long while, and they found out that Sasha Nevah is a daughter of the Red Mantis, yet while she shows great promise—she’s a natural fighter, takes pride in her grace, and delights in violence— she’ll never make it as an assassin because of her insatiable curiosity and rebellious streak. Had her mother not been a highly regarded member of the Red Mantis, Sasha would have doubtless met with a tragic accident years ago she said. Sasha has little interest in joining the Mantis, as she rankles at even the thought of following orders. Her mother was angry and sent her to Sargava to “assist with Mantis interests in Eleder,” and while this task is not technically exile, her mother has certainly made it clear that if she returns to Ilizmagorti, she’ll

never leave it again. Sasha understood what her mother meant (especially after she severed one of Sasha’s fingers to drive home the warning), but rather than dwell on the fact that her mother

threatened her life, she sees this as an opportunity to meet new people, hone or fighting skills, and find treasure.

A week later, the Jenivere shifted course back east after passing the Shackles, of which the leaders of Shackles society are the Free Captains. Most command only a ship or two, but the most powerful each control one of the region’s ports and/or islands and make up the Pirate Council. The leader of the council is Kerdak Bonefist, the Hurricane King.  Alton said the Jenivere would have been welcomed there, but time would be lost if they made the stop, so the ship bore east until reaching the coast of the Kaava Lands.  The Jenivere sailed south from there, then turned east one final time into Desperation Bay, heading for Eleder in Sargava.  

Two days out from Eleder, the Captain announced a grand dinner to be planned by the cook-the last dinner before reaching Eleder.  All the stops would be pulled out, since the voyage thus far had been without issue.

As the passengers and select crew sat down to eat and drink and be merry, none of the adventuring party knew what was in store for them.  

When Arya began to feel lightheaded, she wondered if she’d drunk her wine too quickly. Ismur was already five beers in and didn’t realize he was about to pass out.  Drizzt had been drinking a Chelaxian whiskey he has siphoned off out of a barrel in the hold, but chalked hs bad feeling up to seasickness.  Rhovyn was enjoying herself and thought she simply overdone it the past few days, while Arjin thought it may be the excitement of the coming adventure.  None of the group could do anything before passing out quickly; before the darkness overcame them, however, they saw all the passengers were affected, as well as the few crew members eating, too.

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