The gathered band of adventurers had previously taken on a quest for one Uruuk Shaataz's bounty, murdering the young half-orc in a back-alley. They had learned that the journey to the capital Illuminias will take weeks, prompting a quick trip to the marketplace in search of preservatives for their bounty's head.
While questioning the peddlers about acquiring some brine, Ron Cutler bumps into an orc identifying himself as Yugg the Manbreaker, a pirate — he is immediately recognized by Jason Silversun as he proceeds to plead that the young half-elf return with him to the sky pirate's life. Ron stresses the need for the bounty in order to get Jason's ship out of port, and Damaia then suggests that they have Uruuk's head preserved by some cleric at the city's Temple District; Yugg briefly distracts them by attempting to preserve the head with salt from his own piss. Before they head off, they have a brief run-in with a black arms dealer — and Z.E.C.H.S.' disdain for such dishonorable practices ends up preventing any purchases from the hooded man.
They enter the first temple they see, which turns out to be dedicated to the Raven Queen: a goddess of death made popular by her church's dedication to caring for the dead. The item that will preserve the head for the entire trip is a Wand of Gentle Repose, far too expensive for anyone in the group. They settle on paying 5 gp for a single casting of the spell that will last ten days: Long enough for them to reach their first stopover on the trip, the town of Riverbridge. All of them book a trip aboard a coach cab to Riverbridge, with everyone paying 150 cp (or one and a half gp) for themselves except for Jason: He is forced to cover for Z.E.C.H.S.' share of the fee.
The road to Riverbridge is bandit-free, giving everyone a week of idle travel. Yugg, in introducing himself, mentions that Captain Sparsebeard is looking for means to take his pirate fleet to the Darklands beneath Aetheria's sea of fog: reportedly he is the only man to have returned from the surface below, in his previous exploration of the lost Dragonborn empire. Z.E.C.H.S. also introduces Yugg to his strange ability to divide himself into five smaller (and weaker) versions of himself, then admits that he has never tried dividing into more than five copies; he apparently sees five as his limit due to the fact that each of his five selves is just barely above animal intelligence.
The curious orc then proceeds to express his mistrust of magic-users by angrily questioning Ron Cutler's new habit of practicing his magic by flinging Poison Sprays out the coach's window; the drow demonstrates his default response to hostility by magically charming Yugg. Oddly enough once the spell wears off, there is no change in the dim orc's demeanor.
They arrive at Riverbridge, a town rumored to have 'a dark secret'. Damaia recalls that its mayor is Wilson Stoutly, the descendant of Willas Stoutly: a notorious mage who had gone mad from arcanite addiction and attempted to start a peasant rebellion (this was foiled by the timely intervention of some hired killers). After brushing aside another attempt of Yugg's to piss on Uruuk's currently-preserved head, the party asks around for the mayor. They are told that he has departed for the capital to attend the upcoming festival, as Mayor Wilson himself is a fan of the joust.
It doesn't take long for them to find the town apothecary; upon entering, everyone but Yugg manages to get high on the herbal smoke filling the shop. The shopkeeper, a halfling who seems to be extremely high on the fumes, informs them that he can use an herbal solution to preserve the head for an entire month — it will cost them 10 gp. Ron successfully haggles the price down to 5 gold. As the halfling turns around to begin preparations, Jason picks the man's pocket and simply takes the gold back.
While the halfling is out back preserving the head with special herbs, Yugg entertains himself by flinging one of the smaller Z.E.C.H.S.-es around: He manages to grab a potion off the shelf, which Ron immediately identifies as a bottle of Black Lotus Extract: one of the deadliest ingested poisons known. The drow opts to take the bottle for himself.
Everyone decides to settle in for the night, and Damaia's exceptional singing (and dancing) earns them a free stay at the inn; they also purchase more rations for the trip ahead, a week's worth; enough to get them to their next stopover at the border of the Blackroot Swamp. The innkeep reveals to them that he's looking for someone to talk to some Barovians who have spent the past three days holed up in their room, with no one emerging to pay for their lodging.
The group agrees to remind these guests about their overdue rent, heading up to find their door very much locked. Z.E.C.H.S. fails to break it down before Yugg simply kicks it open, revealing the guests to be three oddly-dressed men chanting in a circle. Talking to them or shaking them doesn't seem to break their concentration, though one does pause for a moment to mutter some nonsense about 'the mists' and 'the darklord' before resuming the ritual. The party opts to simply return to the innkeeper and report this; he in turn takes a crossbow from under his counter, comes back up and shoots the three men dead. Upon looting the corpses, the party finds no weapons on them and no treasure beyond three crystal balls; the sort commonly sold as arcane implements in towns with negligible resale value. Ron, however, examines them for a moment and finds that one of the balls was actually painted to appear white; it was in fact a full pound of platinum in a perfectly spherical shape. He takes this for himself, and moments after Yugg snatches the single gold piece that the innkeeper was paying the drow for the meager help with those three Barovians.
Everyone sets out on another coach ride, this time heading towards the town of Blackroot: the last stopover before cutting through the Blackroot Swamp, the most direct path to the capital. The charge is again 150 coppers, with Yugg paying for Ron's ride and Jason paying for Z.E.C.H.S.; Ron realizes that he has officially spent every last coin on his person.
Yugg proceeds to further explore Z.E.C.H.S. strange ability by forcibly injuring his smaller selves and making them rejoin. They discover that he is unable to physically separate his limbs from himself (due to the orc simply pulling a limb off), and he can't be forced to divide into his multiple form: Only Z.E.C.H.S. and Z.E.C.H.S. alone decides whether he is one man or five. Oddly enough they discover that he has a crude form of healing: Removing a limb from one of the duplicates does not leave the limb on Z.E.C.H.S.' natural form, though it does still leave him somehow hurt.
On their second night out from Riverbridge, the adventurers are forced to defend their ride from an ambush by wolves. The beasts are easily dealt with and everyone settles down to work on skinning them for pelts and preparing the meat as additional rations. In the act of skinning the pelts, Z.E.C.H.S. remembers that at some point in his past he had been tasked with torture; he remembers being in a dark room, flaying a man alive.
While splitting the pelts and cooked wolf meat, Yugg trades part of his share to Ron for the emerald earring, and notices that it seems to be making a faint noise. After the group experiments around with it, Ron manages to identify it as a magical item used exclusively by members of the Emerald Enclave to communicate with their field agents. A deep voice finally gets through as Ron tries placing it on his ear, looking for Uruuk; the drow manages to bluff that they'd found him dead in an alley back in Saltmarsh, and the speaker on the other end urges them to meet up with an Emerald Enclave agent at the Blackroot Ruins, not too far within the Blackroot Swamp.
On their fourth day out of Riverbridge, the group happens upon a band of tribal warriors from the Frozen North; they immediately threaten to kill them all if they don't allow Damaia to return with them to her husband. Ron and Yugg manage to talk them into leave without her somehow, using the power of true friendship.
On the day before they arrive at Blackroot, they run into a strange hooded man on the road; he proclaims himself to be a devotee of Kos, or as some say, Kosm. He hands the group a pamphlet that seems to be written in gibberish (upon Jason's examination), then simply continues along the road. Ron suddenly recalls that the cult of Kos have a reputation for worshipping a deity whose benevolence is questionable at best, and are known to be passing around cursed relics known for causing madness; they decide to simply crumple the pamphlet and wrap it in the ruined wolf pelt that Z.E.C.H.S. brought along. Ron also decides to leave the Black Lotus Extract with Z.E.C.H.S. instead.
That night, Jason dreams that his brain has been lined with eyes. He wakes up in a cold sweat and discovers to his horror that the crumpled pamphlet is now neatly folded in his pocket, and the gibberish has started to shift into barely-legible writing in Draconic. Yugg tries to solve the problem by making Jason eat the pamphlet instead; he spits it out and Yugg eats the pamphlet of Kos, or as some say, Kosm.
Completing their second full week of travel, they finally arrive at Blackroot Village, a settlement at the edge of the darkened swamplands between The Reach and Dominus' central Windspear Region (wherein lies the capital of Illuminias). The place is notably surrounded by a palisade, with the most fortified wall facing the swamp itself. Atop the guard towers are gunmen — wielding the new form of black powder ranged weaponry developed by the dwarves, known simply as guns or more formally, firearms.
The group seeks out the town's armory, a large structure filled with firearms of all shapes and sizes. They are greeted by the operator of the armory, a gatorman identifying himself as Ol' Ace — interestingly enough he speaks in the accent of Blackroot Swamp's bayou folk. Upon discovering that they're nowhere near able to afford any guns, he proceeds to threaten any attempts at trade or theft by tossing a coin, drawing his pistol and shooting it out of the air. Ron attempts to chip some pieces off his platinum orb but instead causes glowing blue lines to run across its surface. When he offers to trade it for some weapons, Ol' Ace vehemently refuses, informing them that it's a key for the nearby ruins and muttering "I'm not dealan' wit' anudda damn curse."
Ron checks their supplies and informs everyone that they've got two days of rations left; just enough to get them to the Blackroot Ruins and back before having to resupply. They spend the next day trekking through the swamp, strangely avoiding any encounters with any of the Blackroot Swamp's infamous wildlife. They finally find the Blackroot Ruins; little more than a partially-crumbled monolith atop some steps, in a center of a stone 'island' in the swamp. At the front of the monolith is what appears to be a circular groove that fits the platinum sphere.
Yugg takes the sphere and starts ascending the steps to place the key as everyone else draws their weapons in preparation of any surprises. They hear the noise of some large creature beneath the murky waters and everyone but Yugg turns around as a black dragon's head abruptly rises in front of them.
Commoners: 30 XP
Wolves: 200 XP
Tribal Warriors: 200 XP
Cult Fanatic: 250 XP
680 XP/5 = The adventurers gain 136 experience points each.
Character changelog updated.