Darkness cleared. Where was he? His head hurt, and it was hard to breathe. Burning flickers of light fought with blobs of shadow across his vision. Cinnamon, armor polish, and sweat overpowered the smell of his own fear. All around him, he recognized his possessions, some of them overturned, most of them upside-down. He tasted blood. Finally, he heard a voice, insistent, over the throbbing in his head.

“Otho,” the voice was feminine, but powerful, compelling attention, “I’m going to shift my weight and let you breathe. Don’t try to move.”

A bit of the pressure on his windpipe eased, and his eyes finally focused. A metal boot with a deceptively frivolous-looking heel almost perfectly bound his neck to the floor. He followed it up a towering and flawlessly sculpted leg until his survey was interrupted by the line of a very sharp sword flickering with a very calm and deadly blue light.

“Otho. Pay attention. Attempting to escape a properly-announced Hellknight is only the latest of your offenses. Larceny. Extortion. Blackmail. Kidnapping. Murder. Over the last several decades, dozens of counts of each that we can prove, hundreds more we suspect. You’ve been a very busy half-elf.”

He frowned and finally ripped his eyes free from the edge of the very threatening weapon and continued up the line of the torso that was both aggressively armored and aggressively sexual. The woman that had him pinned and dead to rights would have been a fine trophy wife for some rich merchant had she been of a slightly smaller scale, he imagined, but the gold digging opportunities for women bigger than many half-orcs were very limited, even if they were built like a marble statue of Iomedae.

“For your crimes, the likely sentence is being devoured alive by salt mephits over several days. It’s not a good death, but I expect you’re a man with enough imagination to realize that.”

The Order of the Scourge found talent where others would discard it, though. It’d been one of the more progressive orders in the past twenty years; at the very least so far as allowing members to customize their uniforms to meet their most distracting potential. The last few minutes caught back up to him, and he remembered that it was a method he couldn’t exactly fault; the moment of pure appreciation as she kicked in the door had probably cost him his escape.

“I’m prepared to offer you a commuted sentence for services rendered if you tell me what I want to know.”

He met her eyes across the haze of the axiomatic blade and read only pure inertia there. If he held firm she’d move through him without a second thought. The next of his associates she found would have the same answers and a better example of what happened to those that got on her bad side. He grunted his approval.

“Your network has wormed its way deep into the flow of gold between the nobility and their disposable agents. I want to know everything you know about the crown’s pursuit of the remaining Bloodline holdings over the last thirty years.”

And an hour later, she did. A trickle of blood dripped from the edge of his neck as his head rolled to a stop, the arteries severed by perfect blue fire.

“Death by torture commuted to a quick and painless end. Thank you Otho. You were very helpful. Facilis descensus Averno; sed non commune mereri.”

Fishing Adventure (by Haggor’s Player)

The anchor tore through the greenish-blue ocean water with a large splash. The heavy anchor chain chased after its head like a metallic snake racing for the bottom. Soon, the chain ended and rope followed in its place. It writhed and jerked in its coiled nest, eventually becoming still, as if patiently waiting to strike.

Haggor picked up the rope and gave a stout pull on it; he could feel the anchor biting into the sand on the ocean floor below. Feeling it firmly in place, he tied the line off to one to the large cleats at the forecastle of his sailboat. The boat shifted in the slight breeze, and Haggor could feel the rope stretch taunt, holding the boat fast. It settled into a balance between the wind, currents, and the line holding it in place.

Haggor was happy with this spot—a nice, secluded, sheltered spot off the coast of one of the many small islands north of Sandpoint. He was anchored in a sandy-bottomed area off the edge of a kelp field not far from a small reef. There was plenty of variety in the ocean terrain for fishing here.

Though he loved to fish, Haggor still wasn’t familiar with the fishing practices on the ocean. He’d learned the wonders of fishing in a small, sleepy lake village far to the west, and what worked out there on the freshwater lakes didn’t really apply in the vast ocean of salt water.

Making his way back along the boat to the stern, he caught site of movement in the kelp fields: a dark, sinewy movement darting along the fields of green strands reaching up from the bottom. Some variety of fish, he momentarily hoped. Visions of mermaids, pirates, and giant kraken flashed in his imagination. A big grin crept across his face at the thought of that last one. Watching more attentively, he soon realized it was an animal—a sea otter, in fact. Seeing more movement, he noticed another, and then a much smaller one. It appeared a family of sea otters had made their home here amongst the green forest of the ocean.

He watched the otters play and hunt for a time. It didn’t seem to Haggor that the nimble otters swam so much as slid effortlessly through the water, as if the otters were so slippery not even the water could touch the playful creatures. The otters swirled and twirled in the water, occasionally chasing schools of fish. One could get dizzy just watching their antics. The smaller of the three otters appeared to be a cub. He lay on the surface with a length of kelp wrapped around himself like a blanket. Occasionally, one of the larger otters would return to the cub with some morsel of food. Haggor watched as the largest of the three returned with a large shellfish of some kind in it’s mouth. It splashed and twirled its way to the cub and rolled onto its back. In its small black paws it carried a worn stone. Dropping the shellfish onto its, tummy it pounded on it with the stone until it could get at the tasty meat inside. Eating some, it passed the rest to the cub and raced off in search of more food. Eventually, it was nap time as all three huddled together, wrapping themselves in blankets of kelp. Aww, such a cute, little, furry family, Haggor thought.

Realizing that he’d spent a good hour or so entranced by the hypnotizing creatures, Haggor decided it was time to get down to some serious fishing. Looking over the section of bait he purchased from a vendor near the docks, he selected a small mackerel, baited his hook, and threw his line out as far from the boat as he could manage. Sitting on one of the boat’s benches, he held the line, waiting for a tell-tale tug. The sun was high in the sky as he relaxed and enjoyed the solitude that sailing and fishing offered him. Pulling a straw hat on to shield his bald head from the bright sun, he thought about the future. Soon it would be time to leave Sandpoint again and head off to the Storval Plateau… see what shenanigans this army of giants was up to.

Haggor watched as one of the otters woke from its nap and made a great big stretch and yawn. Diving down deep into the water, it disappeared. Would we be able to sail to this plateau? Haggor thought, I’m sure the guys wouldn’t mind, right? The otter returned to the surface with a mackerel in it’s paws. Little hands, they looked like to Haggor. Tiny little black gloved hands. Even Taeva couldn’t match these little guys for agility. For a moment, Haggor tried to picture the little gnome in the water: somehow darting around like these furry little predators. But his imagination had a mind of its own and the image bent and warped into a vision that involved a lot more splashing, cursing, and sinking. Smiling, Haggor watched as what he was calling the momma brought the mackerel to the cub. It grasped it in its own little pair of black gloved hands and munched on it head first. Aww, soo cute.

Pulling in his line, he realized his bait was gone. What to try next? he thought, Let’s try some squid. The vendor swears by them. Baiting his hook with the small squid, he cast out his line. Haggor enjoyed being on the ocean at this time, with the sun high in the sky. Just the right amount of wind to create small undulating waves of sparkling blue green. Each wave like a brilliant scintillating diamond; you nearly had to shield your eyes from the brilliance or be blinded. In that respect, the water here was so different then the lake water where he learned of this obsessive fishing. That water was dark and impenetrable, holding its mysteries tightly cloaked in dark unyielding depths. A splash brought Haggor’s attention back to the little furry family of creatures who could swim and bend their bodies in unimaginable positions. This time, the speedy little predator returned with a tiny squid in her mouth. Its dead legs dangled along the side of the slippery little captor. Haggor watched as it gulped the tasty morsel down. Aww, soo cute, he thought with a smile.

As the sun moved across the sky, Haggor checked his line and realized he’d lost his bait again. This ocean fishing is much more of a challenge, he thought, So many varieties of fish to learn, strategies to master. If it took him a lifetime, he didn’t mind: he loved every second of it. Besides, with furry little acrobats to entertain you while you fished the day with, who could complain? His little furry friends bobbed and danced on the waves just lying there on their backs, chittering to each other, almost laughing, perpetual whiskered smiles on their faces. What wonderful fishermen these creatures were. He smiled at their antics as he baited his line with the next bait: some clam meat. Tossing the line in, he patiently waited.

Heading into the cabin he retrieved a small cask of freshwater, a small sack of walnuts, and a nut cracker he’d brought along. Returning to the deck, he fondly thought about the day Tiger, Bear, and he had collected the nuts from the forest around the cave he called home, the season before. Cracking a walnut’s shell, he scooped out the tasty nuts inside as he watched the line. Aww, look, the otters have gotten themselves… what is that… it appears to be some clam meat. Good for your little guys, he thought, Aww, it looks like they are waving at me now. Soo very cute.

Well, he wasn’t having much luck with any of these baits, it seemed. He was having a hard time just keeping it on the line. One last try, before he needed to head back to Sandpoint. We’ll try some herring, he thought, couldn’t be any worse then the rest of this bait. Casting the line, the herring almost hit the water not far from the reef. As the bait neared the surface of the water, the ocean beneath exploded into a dark, scaly fish. The fish leapt from the water, grabbing the bait and hook before furiously splashing back in. Now, this is more like it, Haggor thought. He could feel the excitement washing over him as he struggled with the line to bring the fighting fish closer to the boat. This is what it was all about: the relaxation, the patient waiting, and then the moment of exhilaration as you fought the fish. He wondered if those wily otters felt like this as they chased as school of fish or flipped over rocks to find a squid or octopus racing away. He admired his furry counterparts. Finally the fight was out of the fish—a sea bass, he realized as he hauled it aboard. His brain was already turning with ideas on how to prepare and cook this delicious catch. He quickly cleaned the fish, throwing the head and guts overboard; maybe his little brown friends would enjoy them.

Making his way forward, he attempted to haul the anchor up but it was stuck. He’d have to swim down and free it. Kicking off his sandals, he dove into the salty blue green waves. Hand over hand, he followed the rope down into the crystal clear depths. One of his little fisherman friends joined him, excited to see what he was doing, swirling and zipping around Haggor. He smiled as the little guy’s black gloved paws padded him. Like a little furry pick pocket. Sorry little guy, I don’t have any food for you, he thought, Sooo very cute! Freeing the anchor from the rocky ledge it had trapped itself under, he pushed to the surface. The sunlight cascaded through the waves in wonderful beams of bright light, penetrating the waves. Breaking the surface, the otter was waiting for him, circling him in fast tight circles. I wish I could stay and play, little guy, but I need to head back before it gets dark. I’ll come back and visit you soon. Maybe I’ll bring Tiger and you can play. The little guy clutched at Haggor’s robe, tugging lightly. Haggor heard what must have been the other otter splashing around the on the other side of the boat as the this otter reluctantly released Haggor’s robe. Climbing over the rail, Haggor turned back and waved bye to the friendly otter as he finished hauling the anchor on board.

Raising the sail and setting his course with the tiller he turned back to wave to his new friends. Aww look they caught themselves a sea bass, too. Soo cute! The other of the larger two was working on a small brown walnut like shellfish with something shiny. Clutched between the otters little black hands was a nut cracker. So industrious, he thought, Wait a second! A nut cracker and a sea bass!? Quickly glancing around, he realized his catch, nutcracker, and nuts were gone. “Hey you little thieves, that’s my fish!” he shouted back at the animated otters, who were waving and chittering back at him. Awww, so cute, he thought, then mentally slapped himself, Stop that! But he couldn’t resist and smiled at his little furry pirate friends. As he smiled at the quickly receding otters, he realized that he had a name for his boat now.

The next day Haggor returned to the docks with a painter in tow. The painter set to work on the bow of Haggor’s sailboat. He patiently waited for the painter to complete his work. When complete, he examined the results, nodding appreciatively. Grinning, he turned his newly named sailboat, “The Otter Pirate.” Along with the name, in stylized letters, was a painted otter standing on its hind legs, striking a dashing pose, wearing only a black pirate hat with the skull and crossbones, a pair of black leather gloves, and a cutlass belted to its long waist.

Aww, so cute.