Stilicho looked at everyone in the room, with a stern look upon his face. “What I am about to say does not leave this room. “ His voice was deep as he nodded toward Grimlock. “We believe that Vridich is being tracked through magic. This is due to a lot of unusual astral activity that has been going on around him since his arrival at the Reach. We believe not only is this how the Therans knew right where you all were as you left Kaer Derin Kuyu, but it’s also how the Therans aboard the Vedette that attacked the Reach, knew that Vridich was in this very building at the time of their attack.” He motioned toward the door again, this time gesturing lower toward the Theran blood stains on the floor, now barely visible in the cracks of the stonework.
Before anyone could respond, Grimlock interjected, looking around the table as he spoke in his self confident and all-knowing tone. “The astral activity around him was masked, somewhat, but it is clear that some entity is paying close attention to Vridich. I believe this could be due to a pattern item of Vridich’s which they are using to track him, or by one or more sprits that the Therans have summoned to keep tabs on him.“ He made eye contact to each of the Unchained in the room. “It’s likely that they just know his whereabouts, but it’s also remotely possible that they can hear what he hears and see what he sees.” He paused, as though finished, but then added. “I should point out that it is unlikely that Vridich is aware that he is being tracked, though, I would not be surprised if he at least suspects the possibility.”
Stilicho nodded, indicating that he already knew all of what Grimlock said. He then addressed the room once again. “It is for that reason that I had Vridich leave the room, and why Grimlock confirmed we were alone, for what I am about to tell you must not be overheard by the Therans.”
He looked down at the map, and began tracing the route from the Reach through the Servos Jungle with his finger. “This route is a well known trader’s path that is the only real option we could take to travel to Throal. The Servos Jungle is a dangerous place for any airship to fly, as there are lots of vicious airborne creatures in this jungle, including wyvrens, chimera, and even dragon. For that reason, this route requires ships to fly low, not far above the tree canopy. They must use the favorable contours of the land to conceal their travel. Those contours, plus the settlements along the way, make this route, our only good option for getting to Throal.”
He frowned ever so slightly. “I have spoken with other sky captains here at the Reach, and there is no other good way for us to get there, without involving even greater risk.” He then pointed his finger at a dot on the map marked as ‘Bartertown’. “Not only is Throal the only place we could go to be safe from Theran influence, but it is also the only place that makes sense for us to go if we were to leave the Reach. Our attempt to travel there is logical, even if we didn’t have the book. It is the obvious move for us to make after the attack on the Reach.”
He then motioned toward the door, where Vridich had walked out of moments earlier, and his voice goes hard. “The Therans have clearly been trying to get Vridich for some time now. This most recent raid on the Reach proves Vridich’s importance to them. Their attack not only has stirred up the Stoneclaw moot, but it represents an insult to troll honor the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Battle of Sky Point! All of the trolls from every moot in Barsaive will soon have heard of this insult, and they are sure to seek vengeance in Theran blood.” His hand slipped down to the hilt of his sword as those words were spoken. ”It was a brazen attack, and though Therans claim to be superior to all others, they would not have risked stirring up more conflict with the trolls like that, only to simply give up.” He clenched his fist tighter around the hilt of his blade. “No, they have made several bold attempts to get Vridich, and this latest attempt will not be the last… especially since they have likely have anticipated exactly where we will go.” He looked down at the map, his face stern as he began tapping his finger on the word ‘Throal’. “That is why I believe that our travel to Throal will be met by a Theran ambush.”
Every face in the room darkened.
Stilicho’s voice was even harder now. “Not only are they able to anticipate our direction, they know our route. It is a route that is perfect for an ambush. We are forced to fly low, over thick jungle where there are many places to hide a ship and pounce on unsuspecting prey.” He sneers at that. “The Theran captain has proven bold and clever, and because he is clever, I believe he will be waiting for us along our route. Likely someplace before lake Pyros, probably hidden among the trees somewhere along the river. They will be simply waiting for us to come to them; like a young hare bounds through a forest toward the patiently waiting coyote.”
He then points to lake Pyros on the map. “If they are there, and I believe they will be, the reason they would make their move before lake Pyros, is because the areas before lake Pyros are sparsely populated. And while the area around lake Pyros is more densely populated and well travelled, it is also deep enough into Throalic territory to put them at immense risk.” He pauses for a second, looking around the room. “Word of any Theran Vedette that far into Throalic lands, would spread quickly, and it would likely result in a response from the Throalic Navy. So, if they are waiting for us, it will be somewhere along the river, between K’tenshin and lake Pyros.”
“I expect there to be two ships. The one that attacked the Reach and took our people, and the one that fought against Wind Viper and lost most of its men. Rorik estimated that ship had lost more than half of the men it had on board. A standard Theran Vedette, like the one we saw at the Reach yesterday, has a crew of about 40, many of whom are slaves lead by slave masters, with the rest being air sailors or non-adept airmen. The Vedettes also carry a contingent of marines. They can carry as many as 100 such marines. However, I doubt they would have that many for this voyage simply due to resupply concerns. Regardless, with so many losses on the one ship, and providing the Therans still want Vridich, I believe it will lead them to reinforce the first ship with the remaining men from the second ship that attacked the Reach. Then they would have both ships waiting in ambush for us. If their captain is smart, he will set up that ambush to ensnare us even if we try to outrun them with a fast ship, like the one we have. “
His mouth turns from a grim expression into a steely half-smile. “The folly of the Therans is due to the fact that our route is predictable, which means that so is the possibility of their ambush. They probably suspect that we’ll hire some merchant to give us a quick airship ride to Throal, or that we’ll try to hoof it on foot or by boat. Regardless, the route is the same. So, I say we give them exactly what they expect. We take our airship and fly it right where they expect it to go. Only our airship will be slow, and loaded to the brim with cargo. In fact, we’ll have so much cargo that we’ll have a bunch of it strapped onto the deck and covered with a sail cloth, as though to keep it dry.”
His mouth turned into a half smile. “The coyote will see a fat, juicy rabbit bounding right toward it.”
He paused for a second, as the imagery sank into everyone’s mind. “They will not see a threat. They will see an unarmed trading vessel that isn’t expecting trouble. They’ll see a small crew, on a ship that is overloaded with goods to sell. They’ll see men, hired swords for a wealthy trader, who are in awe of their power and have no hope of escape. They’ll see these things because this is what Therans do. They are pirates. They swarm villages and provinces with overwhelming power, never truly expecting a real fight. And these Therans will not expect one either. No, they will likely pull along side us with one of their vessels, the other following their protocol and guarding the flank. They will form a boarding party, maybe just to take Vridich, or steal our cargo, and maybe to take slaves. They’ll pull up to us, as though to board. Perhaps they will talk for a minute, and try to negotiate Vridich away from us. Or perhaps they will just decide to board with 40 marines and overwhelm our crew. It matters not.”
Stilicho’s look became fearsome as he continued. “Only it is not a rabbit the coyote sees… it is a wolf. The cargo under our sailcloth would not be salt, or dry goods, or foodstuffs. It will be fifty troll Crystal Raiders! These trolls will be veterans, who have faced battles and fought against incredible odds many times. Blazing a path of blood onto an enemy ship is not only their purpose, it is their passion! They are fearless, and longing for righteous vengeance against these bastard Therans! Also with us will be the legendary Tago Steelskull! Joining him will be the most powerful troll elementalist, in the Twilight Peaks. Grimlock. ” He spoke Grimlock’s name as though the name itself spelled Theran doom.
Grimlock’s normally serious face, flashed a hint of a smile at that.
“Instead of them throwing grapnels onto our terrified boat, we will be boldly doing it to them. This will surprise them. As we are doing that, the sail cloth comes off, revealing their doom. Grimlock blasts their deck, sending the terrified Theran boarding party flying. The Crystal Raiders then leap aboard the Theran vessel, and begin doing what Crystal Raiders do. Instantly the Therans, who are expecting an easy boarding maneuver, will be fighting a losing battle on their own ship. The power of the elements will be upon them, followed by the fury of dozens of enraged Crystal Raiders, leaping into their midst and bringing death. It will be absolute chaos. Then, our crew of adepts, men who call the trolls their brothers, will be upon them. Imagine the shock… the surprise. You’ve seen multiple times with your own eyes how the Therans have surrendered when the odds were stacked against them. Imagine what this crew will do when the chaos of such an attack is upon them?"
Stilicho leaned forward, with his arms on the table. “Now, I know most of you are thinking that there will be another vessel. This is true. However, once we are locked into battle with the first ship, their fire cannons are useless. I also have spoken to the clan elders, and they have generously allowed for my brother Rorik to follow us with Air Wolf, the flag ship of the Stoneclaw moot. This ship will trail us, just a minute or so behind us. The goal will be to allow for just enough time for the Therans to close with us and for us to spring the trap, before Air Wolf makes its presence known. Then, while the battle rages on the deck of the first ship, the second will have to deal with Air Wolf. And that will be the easiest fight of the day. Air Wolf is larger than a Vedette, she was built only for war. She is a Longship, faster than even our lithe vessel, and unlike us, she is well armed. The ship boasts six Thunderbolt Throwers, specially designed to punch through the stone hulls of giant Theran vessels like Kilas and Behemoths. Air Wolf’s wooden body is also covered with living crystal plates, and protected by a fire sheath, making it almost impervious to Theran fire cannons. Like the Vedette, it too can hold up to 100 troops, but these troops are Crystal Raiders… and they are more than a match for a Vedette, even one with a full contingent. When Air Wolf comes, the only hope the other Vedette would have is to surrender, or run.”
Stilicho sighed, and continued. “Now, all of what I have described is assuming all goes as planned. It could be that the Therans gave up on Vridich, and went home with their tail between their legs. I doubt that is true, given their location, but it’s possible. It could be that only one vessel will be there, or perhaps they’ll hire pirates to do the work for them. I do not know. What I do know, is that it is likely that they are there, and that if they are there, this is our one and only chance to get back our brothers and sisters of the moot who taken into the horrors of Theran slavery. I also know that, if they are there, not only will it give us a chance to strike a blow against the Therans, and get our people back, such a move might be our best chance at getting to Throal. For as I said before, any sky captain worthy of his ship should be able to ambush a faster ship along this route… especially if they can track it.”
He looked down at the table. “Now, I know you haven’t been at the Reach for very long, and that some of you may even be a bit bitter about being here in the first place. That is, understandable. But you know those who were taken are good name-givers. You have broken bread with some of them, worked beside them, some of them are even from your own moot families. So, I believe that although such a plan is risky, that there isn’t a soul here who wouldn’t brave it anyway.”
He looked up, looking each of the Unchained in the eye with a sincere expression. “The recovery of our people is of vital importance. The clan elders have decided that you are all vital to the success of this plan, and that if you all will agree to help us with it, that the Dashing Stag will be sold to the six of us at the cost of 1 silver piece, with the agreement that we will pursue the Staff of Aramod Whitewind, and bring it back to the clan if it is found. The elders have also told me, that for whatever reason, the Passions have decided that our destinies are entwined. So, I would ask you as my companions and as my friends, to consider this plan… for the recovery of these people is dear to me as well.
He paused, suddenly emotional. Then just as quickly, his face became a mask of steel and his voice was unwavering. “Thystonius tells us that fortune favors the bold. Well, I say we put that theory to the test. What say you?”
Skram stood up from his seat “I have gone over this plan with Stilicho. I do have some reservations as to placing myself at risk to save a people that at one point enslaved both my friends and I. I do not wish that fate on any one. No one should be forced to face that every day.”
Skram looked down and shook his head. “On another note”, those of us that are not air sailors, and do not know the workings of an air ship, might think as I did the first time I heard this plan. We have the faster ship by far. Let’s put the Dashing Stag high up in the air and just fly as fast as we can, to out run the Therans.”
He paused, and looked toward Stilicho. “Well, as Stilicho said, it is not only air ships that you have to worry about. Even the smaller dragons fly faster and hit harder than we can. So our speed is negated by the winding river route we have to take, making us easier prey should we take a less travelled route.“
Skram pointed to the door that Vridich had walked out a few minutes before. “The best thing we can do for Vridich, is get him to Throal and contact a high circle magic user that can break this hold that the Therans have over him. He is my friend. We have spilled blood together, and he has helped me during the many times I have watched my life blood leaking from my body, and I have felt the chill touch of the hand of death. Without him I would be dead twice over. So I will do what I can to help get him, and the book, to Throal. If the odds are that we are going to get ambushed on the way buy the bastards that took the many innocent name givers from this village as slave, then I’m all for giving them a beating and taking everything they own.“
Skram looked back at Stilicho. ”Stilicho has come up with a good plan that I think will work. He has worked hard to try and get all the information he can to make the best judgment. There is a lot of risk with this plan, but it is difficult to plan when you are guessing that you will get ambushed. We will need to practice this week so that we can learn how to properly board another ship and how to keep each other safe during the battle to come. In the end, I believe that Stilicho has given us a strong chance of success.”
With that, Skram took his seat and Stilicho gave him a curt nod, with a look of relief on his face. “Thank you for the kind words my friend. Over the next several days, I will do everything I can to prepare us all for this venture.”
Dremnin listened quietly to the words of the plan, and reached inside himself to consider… the music in his heart. The music brought forth a tune… martial and slow, as though building, but not discordant. As he listened, one fact stuck out to him… what about Thera’s magicians? He then spoke. “A question, if you will, gentlemen. What of their magic resources? What will we face besides their cannon and Marines?”
Stilicho nodded at that, as though he had anticipated the question. "I’m glad you asked that Dremnin. It is normal for each Vedette to have a sorcerer of some type, usually an elementalist who can do repairs. They use them also to communicate long distances. They often don’t risk them in battle unless absolutely necessary. The one on the other vessel was killed, so they are down to one. Obviously the one they have is not the powerful Nethermancer that seeks your friend, nor would he be even remotely close to Grimlocks power. No, we would expect something around a 3rd to 5th circle adept for that ship, but it can vary from ship to ship. Either way, I will be leaving you in command of a small group of archers and spell casters who will remain on our ship once we board theirs. So, I thought the first target for your group will be to take any enemy spell casters immediately out of the picture. We should have the element of surprise, so my hope is that between the combined efforts of your group, their sorcerer will be ineffective before he can get into the fight. That sorcerer must die, and die quickly. After he is for sure dead, your next targets would be their officers, for without them, the others are more likely to surrender.
Skram turned to address Stilicho, “What is the loot split going to be after we win this fight? I can’t guess that there will be much after splitting it with our hoard of Crystal Raiders, and that does not even count the Air Wolf. I’m guessing that the Moot will keep the Vedettes if they are taken, they are good boats.”
Stilicho nodded again. “We’ll have to work that out, as I hope our crew’s part of the fighting will be minimal. However, yes, if the Vedettes are captured, they will go back to the moot. The fifty veteran Crystal Raiders will take the lion’s share of the loot we get from the boat we fight, but our share will be determined by how much our crew is involved. Air Wolf will take whatever they can get from the other Vedette, and if they help us with ours, we’ll split whatever is taken with them as well. I’m sure we’ll get some good plunder though, as very little of the Theran gear is suitable for trolls, and since we hope they will be doing the bulk of the fighting, it is only right that they would get the most of the spoils. The main thing is the return of our people… dead or alive.”
“One thing to keep in mind is that Crystal Raiders are experts of the smash and grab tactics. It may be that Air Wolf’s crew will simply board the other ship, free the prisoners, take whatever else they can grab, and then leap back off onto Air Wolf with our people in tow. Such a fight would keep their casualties to a minimum, but how they handle the other ship is entirely up to Rorik. If that happens, Air Wolf will probably just destroy the other Vedette with Thunderbolt Throwers as they try to flee. Even if some of our people are killed in that way, a swift death is better than Theran slavery.”
Dreminin stood and addressed the group. “Very well then, this sounds acceptable. May I suggest, however, that before any vedette is destroyed that you give me a chance to search it before you bombard it? It would be sad to think that a prized possession, like that found in the Dashing Stag, were to do down with the ship and be lost simply because the prize crew didn’t want to search it.”
Stilicho smiled. "Have no worries Dremnin, I think you misunderstood me. The vessel we plan to attack with our counter-ambush, will hopefully be captured and fully plundered before being sent back to the moot. What I was referring to is that it is a common tactic among Crystal Raiders to board a vessel using Wind Catcher, fight the crew to secure precious cargo, and then make off with that cargo before the crew can stop them. If Air Wolf chooses to employ that tactic, the Vedette they do it to will likely be destroyed, instead of captured, once our people have been rescued from it. But the one we board with our fifty Crystal Raiders and crew, we will capture and search thoroughly.
“Very well”, the scout said in resignation. It was obvious to him that the trolls, in their enthusiasm to best the Therans, would wind up sending the other Vedette crashing in flames without a chance to search her closely for hidden booty.
Stilicho glanced at Tago, and then continued. “We will be allowed to take a couple of the Theran prisoners with us, if we choose, and that will be at my discretion. Also, whatever slaves of the Therans we rescue that aren’t from the moot, I think should come with us and be freed in Throal.”
He looked looked around the room, seeing no other responses, he added. “Unless anyone has other questions, we can now head to the tavern to address our crew who will be meeting there. Most of them will already be there, and once they have all arrived we can address them and welcome them as part of the crew.”