On a Boat!
At the guardhouse where we last left the Saviors of Sandpoint, Sheriff Hemlock explains that the man in the cells was apprehended trying to run short cons down at the Hagfish. When they brought him in, the guards noticed a Sihedron rune tattooed on his shoulder. As the resident experts, Hemlock leaves it up to the heroes to find out whether that’s significant.
The man in question is obviously a jaded grifter, terse and unwilling to give up any information without some benefit to himself. The party tries intimidation, diplomacy, and even Detect Thoughts, but only gets pieces out of him without acquiescing to letting him free to run. They eventually decide to put him on a boat to Riddleport if he cooperates, and that’s fine with him. He then spins a tale, corroborated by Balekh’s mind reading, of a casino riverboat plying the large lake near Turtleback Ferry, far to the east. The mark was put on him by the owner of the boat, a pretty woman named Lucretia, as a mark of favor for casino regulars to avoid the cover charge. He suspects, though, that several people on the boat have them. Balekh explains the significance of the rune, and that the man has likely been conned himself, but does manage to discover that the mark can be Erased from an unmurdered subject without any apparently harm.
Deciding that this far-flung Magnimarian territory may be the next breeding ground in whatever Sihedron-related plot they’re dealing with, the heroes pack up their bags again and head south to catch the postal boat on its way to Turtleback Ferry.
A week on the barge gives them ample time to learn about the region from the two postal boatmen that ply the route. The area is apparently situated in a rough and rugged territory, bounded by ogres, reclusive gnomes, fairy swamps, and an ancient Thassilonian dam that holds back the Storval Deeps. They initially suspect that the heroes are monster hunters trying to get a look at Black Magga, the sea monster said to wander the deeps and sometimes surface near the dam. They also prove helpful about the casino, claiming it rolled in late the previous fall and shows up on the weekends for a night of gambling and drinking that has quickly become the central vice of most of the town. Apparently, many wives in the town don’t know just how much their husbands are losing at the boat.
Arriving at the town a few days before the boat is due, the party seeks to kill a few days. Haggor pays a local fisherman to teach him to fish and then finds himself dragooned into helping at the inn based on his latest cooking experiment with a caught gar. Balekh, Shayliss, and Taeva spend a few days shopping and preparing for the casino. Veshenga quickly realizes that she’s not far from the Black Arrow ranger outpost, Fort Rannick, and begins planning a daytrip. The innkeeper cautions her that it’s actually a bit of a trek, especially since the snows haven’t completely melted to the north, but she does mention a ranger that’s on leave and staying at the inn. She also learns in passing that many of the rangers at the Fort are essentially paroled convicts, working off death sentences or life imprisonments defending the country.
Veshenga marches upstairs and meets the ranger, a roguish man named Kaven. He seems interested to meet her, and they discuss Magnimar and the business that brought her and her friends to the town. He suggests that he’s not leaving until the next week, so if she wants to finish her business with the riverboat, he’d be happy to have her along when he returns to the Fort.
On schedule, the riverboat arrives at the town’s docks on the first evening of the weekend, and the party, all dressed up and smuggling in what weapons they can hide, follows the line of citizens to the party. Haggor is suspicious about a man leaving the boat, but these worries are quickly forgotten as the sound and light of the casino wash over them. The guards at the dock take their cover fee, including a first-timer’s charge for a minimum amount of chips. With gold already invested in gambling, the party begins to play various games while looking for clues.