“It’s called Seducer’s Bane,” the merchant was saying, “It protects you from enchantments, so you remain in control of your own actions. Quite useful, eh?”
“Protects me as in make it harder to enchant me, or make me immune?” Milacent asked.
“Only the mindless are truly immune, but you will be a difficult target, yes. And when he fails, the would-be enchanter will still think he has succeeded.”
“Then we have a deal” Milacent said, and placed several gems upon the table. Buying powerful magic items was not like buying bread; you didn’t just stroll over to the marketplace with a bag of gold and start looking for something suitable. No, you met brokers first, you found out what they had available, you showed you could afford it, and once everyone was satisfied that no one was going to rob anyone else and that a meeting would not be a waste of everyone’s time, only then did you enter into the display house to see the actual goods. By that time, the showing of the item and the negotiation of the price was often just a formality. They knew what you wanted, you knew how much they’d accept for it, and everyone knew how the meeting would end.
Still, Milacent enjoyed listening to the sales pitch. She got to sit in finely upholstered chairs while servants brought her pastries and tea, and generally not spend her time crawling through swamps and getting demon blood splattered all over her. Make no mistake, she enjoyed the adventuring, but she had been a noble once, and every now and then she liked to be waited on and called “My Lady” once again.
With the transaction done Milacent slipped on the slender silver bracelet she had just bought and left the building. Zelcor had used the Shard of Lust to determine the location of the next one, the Shard of Gluttony, and it was time to use the wealth they had acquired in the Lady’s Light to prepare for the next expedition. As much as Milacent might want to relax and be pampered for a while, there was reason to hurry. While they were gone, someone had broken into Heidmarch Manor in an attempt to rob the place. The thieves had been caught, and the investigation had shown them to be little more than common burglars, perhaps more skilled than others but otherwise unremarkable in every way. In every way, that is, except one: before being caught they had bypassed many valuable objects and works of art in the manor to head straight for the rooms where Milacent and the others stayed when they were in town. Theodora would have liked to question them further, but they had unfortunately been killed in prison in a fight with other inmates. A little too conveniently, everyone agreed.
So now everyone was in a hurry to get out of town before another incident happened, and the vision Zelcor had seen of the next shard’s location was a fortress on top of a cliff, a six-sided ring of stone 80 feet high, topped by towers of every description, and an entire city in honeycombs carved into the stone. Theodora knew this place: it was Kaer Maga, City of Strangers. It had existed for as long as there were records; most considered it a remnant of ancient Thassilon, but its architecture was different from anything else the Thassilonians had built, so the mystery remained. Since time immemorial it had served as a haven for outcasts, criminals, and misfits who could not find a home anywhere else, thus gaining its other nickname: The Asylum Stone. As befitting a place for outcasts, it had no city government, just the local guilds and criminal gangs guarding their own territory and locked in a tenuous balance of power that only occasionally broke into open warfare. It was an interesting place, to be sure, and that was where they were going.
There was a river route from Magnimar that ran directly to Kaer Maga, but it was roughly 600 miles upstream, usually by donkey-pulled barge. At that rate, it would take them at least two months, probably three or four to reach their destination. Fortunately, someone with an alternate form of transportation owed the Pathfinder Society some favors, and Milacent was on her way to find out just what that alternative would be.
When Milacent got to the riverbank she saw the rest of the party assembled, such as it was: Scratchy with Fleabait, Zelcor with a new riding dog, and Theodora, who still showed no interest in returning to her old body, and in fact had acquired a whole new wardrobe of distressingly revealing clothing. With them was Helanda, who had agreed to join their party. Orianna had been dead set on returning to Korvosa to report to the Queen, but for Helanda the experience of seeing her sisters mind-controlled by someone the queen had sent them to, and then betrayed by those very same sisters, had broken the supposedly unshakeable loyalty of the Gray Maiden. She would never fight against the queen, but she would never again be one of the Maidens. There were some strong words between her and Orianna, but in the end Orianna relented and went back to Korvosa alone, with her ship fare coming out of the party’s common fund.
Milacent walked up to her comrades and asked them about the transportation, and Theodora smiled and pointed to a barge sitting in the water. It was flat, as barges are, with the middle open for cargo and cabins fore and aft. What made it unusual, though, was a giant cylinder with paddles attached to the back of it. Milacent was just examining the strange contraption when a halfling in a wide-brimmed hat sauntered up to her.
“Ah, I see you’re admiring the Lucky Jenny! She’s the best ship on the river, she is! That wheel is my own personal invention – I had it enchanted to turn on command, and now this ship’ll go 50 miles a day upriver! Amazing, isn’t it? I call it a ‘paddle wheel’.”
“I think you should call it a ‘wheel paddle’,” interjected Zelcor.
Milacent ignored him. “Fifty miles a day upstream?” she scoffed, “That’s insane. What are you trying to pull?” Nevertheless, two days later she was on the ship, traveling east at the advertised 50 miles a day.
Travel on the Lucky Jenny was relatively pleasant, with the biggest problem being that the cabins were all designed for the halfling crew, who all found vast amusement in watching the ‘big people’ bump their heads against door arches and ceilings. Milacent took to spending most of her time in the open middle section, even sleeping there, and trying to enjoy the trip as much as she could. They were attacked once, by a group of boggards who were quickly dispatched. Their leader’s body sank into the river after it was killed, and Milacent dived in to see what treasure it had. She returned with a crown of reeds and stone, which she then placed upon her head and declared herself ‘Queen of the Boggards’. The leader also had a magical belt which she claimed. It had a Glyph of the Open Road embossed on its buckle, and the name ‘Eando Kline’ scratched into the back. Since the Glyph of the Open Road was a commonly used symbol of the Pathfinder Society, Milacent figured she had just avenged a fellow pathfinder and felt a little better about herself.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and mostly an opportunity for sightseeing. They passed a town called Wartle, with the houses perched on stilts above a swamp. There was the gnomish town of Whistledown, featuring hundreds of wind chimes that played weird, haunting melodies at night. There was the mill town of Melfesh, one of the few to charge a toll for passing through, and Sirathu, founded by Korvosan dissidents who quickly noticed the distinctive Gray Maiden armor that Helanda wore. When they became too obnoxious Helanda shouted, “Silence, worms!”, and the hostility was reduced to whispers and stares.
Finally, they reached the foot of the Storval Rise, the thousand-foot cliff upon which sat the city of Kaer Maga. As she stepped off the ship Milacent saw the dusty road ahead of her, spied the ragged travelers making their way to the cliff base, and sighed, “Well, time to get dirty again.”