From the Journal of Sharak Langenbart, Weaponsmith:
The person at the door was one of the windlings from the kaer, an unusually calm and focused fellow by the name of Sylphis. He introduced to us his elven apprentice, D’thrinial Silvermane, and suggested kindly that we let him accompany us on our further adventures. I suggested strongly that the extent of our adventures of late was in the making of nails, but he would have none of it. As D’thrinial is a Thief adept, and as we have lacked all varieties of stealth on our adventures in the past, I thought he would be a useful addition in any event should something pop up.
Of course, it wasn’t but a few hours before something did. Another windling, of the more typical chatty and excited sort, appeared at the door and offered us a reasonable reward if we would come assist his master, Wivin Akarem, find something in the jungle. After a bit of haggling with the fellow — Skreet was his name — we agreed, including the elf in our arrangements this time. It will be nice to have a change of scenery and stop making so many nails. I made my apologies to MY GIRLFRIEND WHO IS TOTALLY NOT MADE UP and sent a message to the inn to make us some traveling rations.
It will be good to be on the road again.
Following Skreet, you board the waiting t’skrang riverboat, the K’reest-et, and set sail only a few hours before the sun sets. Unlike the galley-sized ship the troupe met aboard, this vessel seems more designed for speed and maneuverability; its many scars and scorches indicate that its agility may well have saved its crew more than once, but the sheer number of these blemishes make all wonder exactly what it has seen. Its captain, T’sshnurr, appears to have suffered every blow his ship has been through, his visible flesh pocked and scarred.
Only a few hours laters, with the waning sun struggling to offer you its final warmth for the day, the K’reest-et passes the tributary that leads to Lang [the green dot on the map -kk]. Parth, Nels, and Sharak can’t help but wonder how the folk of Lang are faring, and Sharak absentmindedly strokes the heavy stone dagger he still carries at his side.
Both night and rain fall gently, and everyone who isn’t a member of the crew retires to the dry interior of the ship.
The following morning the group is awoken by the loud clanging of pots and pans, a riotous racket that (even for those who went to bed sober) splits the skull as painfully as any trollish axe. Despite this, and the ever-present drizzle, everyone’s mood is lifted by the feast prepared for breakfast above decks; several braziers stand defiantly in the rain, each sizzling with a variety of fishes (and other river creatures) caught during the night as well as fresh vegetables from the Ardanyan market.
The t’skrang play their dagger-darts and other betting games, chiding those who refuse to participate even during the stronger downpours of the day. Those that do participate, and do poorly, are taunted, but in a more friendly fashion. Those that do well are given backhanded compliments, but treated as equals. Otherwise, the day passes by uneventfully.
The next morning again wakes everyone with clatter. Once more, the light of open braziers pierces the morning fog, this time the night’s haul of fish is cooking aside steaming piles of kelp and other river flora. “Fill your bellies if you wish,” the captain bellows, “but whatever you put in it stays in it!” You aren’t sure of the meaning of his odd dictum, and have little time to ponder it before you begin to hear a dull roar in the fog-concealed distance: the Adipae. Most ships slow so they may have a more controlled descent through the Adipae, but apparently this captain plans to lose no time in the name of safety.
D’ethreniel’s mood goes from mildly nervous to frightened confusion as you approach the Adipae. After some rapidfire interrogation, he realizes that his knowledge of Barsaive’s geography is 450 years out of date: what were once the cataracts of the Adipae falls are now merely the white waters of the Adipae Rapids.
The elf calmed somewhat, non-crew head below deck or lash themselves to something for safety as T’sshnurr gives the order to push ahead full speed. Travel down the rapids does nothing to maintain D’ethreniel’s calm … or anyone else’s. Repeatedly, T’sshnurr tacks the K’reest-et sharply, often in order to make one set of rocks before he has completed another. T’sshnurr’s mad dash down the Adipae lasts nearly two hours — about half the time it would have taken a more careful captain — and the crew sets about repairing damage from the all-too-numerous close calls.
Even more disconcerting, the crew now appears more apprehensive than they did before enterring the Adipae. Their backs toward you, each peers intently through the silence of the fog, searching the waters for … something. As the fog begins to clear, Nels, Parth, and Sharak remember the site with a grimace. It was here they first fought side by side, having been press-ganged into fighting some merfolk [the blue dot on the map -kk].
Once into Lake Ban, the crew of the K’reest-et relax and set about their routines once more. Interestingly, they seem to be “going slow” in their duties, distracted by something off the starboard side. Questioning the first mate, T’chal K’vechrialonika, results in a half-distracted explanation of the hill called Ayodhya.
Ayodhya rises more than 500 feet from the plains southwest of Lake Ban and dominates the surrounding landscape for miles. “According to t’skrang legend, the Old Man of the Nets [T’chal does not bother to explain who this is, as if you should know. -kk] ordered his children to carry his chair to Ayodhya and build his funeral pyre atop the hill when he knew his time had come to die. When they had finished doing as their father had asked, the Old Man’s children turned to him for guidance, but found he had died while they worked. They placed his body and chair in the middle of the pyre and set the wood ablaze, the flames consuming the Old Man’s body but sparing his wooden chair. As a result, Ayodhya is one of the holiest of t’skrang sites, and is the beginning for those who wish to walk the Pilgrimage Route.”
“But the site is holy not only to the t’skrang, but to the obsidimen as well. As we round the lake you will perhaps glimpse atop it the Ayodhya liferock. At its base is a shrine to the Earth spirit. That is the start of the Pilrgimage Route.”
As we pass through the spot where we fought the Mermaids Parth takes the chance to ask the crewmen around him about them. Are they namegivers? Do they often attack vessels? What are they actually called? And then expand from there if their answers provoke more questions.
“The merfolk?” The first mate makes a noise that seems like a hiss, although you get the feeling he was trying to spit. “Don’t talk to me about merfolk!”
“I’ll tell ya about merfolk!” booms the boatswain. “Nasty little fuckers’d bite yer face off as soon as soon as … well, really, that’s about all they’d be interested in doing, to be honest.”
The boatswain needles between his teeth with one of his long talons and pries out a bit of fishbone, spitting it over the side before continuing. “But it weren’t always that way.”
“In the early days, when the t’skrang first swam the Serpent River, we shared the Great Water with a race of strange creatures called mermaids. The mermaids caused us many troubles, but not because mermaids they were evil or terrible, like thee Horrors or slavers” — he sneers as he mentions each — "although they were known to kidnap elf children and make them into mermaids; it’s how the procreated, y’know. Anyway, while the elves may have had reason to fear them, we t’skrang did not because they were like us. They talked and they sang and they told stories. They built houses to live in, they loved their children, and wanted peace with their neighbors.
“Just because you mean well, though, doesn’t make you a good neighbor — and the mermaids were not good neighbors. They thought they were more beautiful to behold than the finest sunrise, that their jokes were cleverer than any others, that their voices were a greater blessing to hear than the sound of a good sailing wind.” As if to emphasize his statement, the wind picks up slightly and the boatswain lifts his head to it, his eyes sagging closed for just a moment.
“Now, because they believed that they could do no wrong, they did not understand why we did not love them. They made friends with the fish we ate and warned them away from our boats so that we could catch no dinner. They frolicked and played in the river without paying any attention to where our boats were going, and often tipped over our vessels — sometimes by accident … sometimes on purpose.
“Now, I see some of you looking at me rather incredulously.” Indeed, a small crowd has gathered loosely before him. "You must remember that these things happened long before Upandal helped us discover the secret of the fire engine, so the boats I speak of were flimsy things, easy to tip over compared to the ones used today.
“Anyway,” he continues with a pause, “the mermaids tipped over our boats and we would lose our catches. Also, because the mermaids were made of elemental water, they could slip under the doors of our houses and make themselves at home any time they wanted to. And when their pranks and doings made us angry, the mermaids would not apologize. Instead, they laughed at us, because they thought the wrongs they did us were funny.” He shakes his head with the slight sadness of an elder who just doesn’t understand “kids nowadays.”
“One day, we t’skrang had simply had enough. Determined to make the mermaids stop their foolishness and leave us the hell alone, a wise one named Rossaruss and her daring mate, T’Chakru, went to the Parliament of the mermaids to plead our case. The Parliament was to the mermaids what our aropagoi are to us, though their Parliament was loud and disorderly compared to the way we t’skrang run our affairs. The Parliament met in a huge palace underwater, a building of great grandeur but little use. Its halls twisted and turned and led to nothing. Its rooms were of strange shapes that confused the eye. Its staircases led nowhere — and, no, I don’t know why they even had stairs, so don’t freakin’ ask — and one could not see out of many of its windows. And the only room in the whole grand, foolish place that anyone ever used for anything was the Great Argument Hall, where the mermaids gathered to quarrel with each other and play practical jokes on whomever happened to be present.
“So Rossaruss and T’Chakru swam to the Parliament and made their way to the Great Argument Hall, where Rossaruss spoke to the assembled mermaids, but the proud mermaids rebuffed her. They claimed that the Great River was theirs and said we should be honored to have them bursting into our homes and tipping over our boats. They then began to sing and play their lyres for Rossaruss, thinking that their performance would be sufficient payment to make up for perceived wrongs.
“Now Rossaruss was very clever, and she knew that the mermaids would say these foolish things. As the mermaids played and sang, Rossaruss whispered to T’Chakru to study certain fish that attended the mermaids’ Parliament. T’Chakru saw the fish and memorized their appearances — there was a fat bass with a pattern like a wheel on its left side, two carp with glowing green eyes, three pike with long fins like arms, and an eel as long as seven riverboats … but remember, the riverboats were smaller back then. Still, a damned big eel.
“Bold, brave T’Chakru spent many a year hunting for these fish, until he had caught each and every one of them. Then he imprisoned them in underwater cages, hiding them well from all eyes. Soon afterward, the haughty mermaids called Rossaruss to their Parliament and demanded the return of their attendants. The bass, they claimed, was their bailiff, the two carp were said to have kept all their Thoughts and Memories, the three pike were their chief Child-Stealers, and the eel was their representative to the Passions. Rossaruss refused to give the fish back, and the narcissistic mermaids became so angry that they threatened to leave the Serpent River — and this world — unless Rossaruss gave in to their demands. This threat was exactly what Rossaruss had been waiting for. Politely, but firmly, she refused the mermaids one last time and wished them a safe journey to the other world.
“Now, these words took the mermaids aback; they could not believe that Rossaruss would risk losing their delightful company. But the mermaids were too proud to take back what they had said, and so they made preparations to go to another world. Up until the very last moment, even as they stepped over the gate from this world to the new one they had chosen, the proud mermaids expected Rossaruss to relent, to promise to return the fish and beg them to stay. But Rossaruss merely bid them farewell, smiling all the while.
“After that, the river remained free of mermaids for centuries. They were all but forgotten as we all hid during the Scourge.” For the first time during his tale, the boatswain seems truly saddened, rather than annoyed. “However, it appears they have returned with the coming of the Horrors, albeit in a terrible, twisted way. We can only guess, but it seems likely the new world chosen by the mermaids was assaulted by the Horrors, much as our own has, and the mermaids became horribly corrupted, twisted…. As the mermaids now bear a striking resemblance to t’skrang” — the boatswain pauses and spits to the floor — "it seems likely the Horrors shaped their appearance so as to further mock them as well as us.
“But it is them, we are certain of that. Gone are the practical jokes. Gone is the hubris. Gone is the ability to flow freely as water. But they are the same folk we chased away hundreds of years ago. Warped by the Horrors and corrupted by their hatred of how we treated them, the merfolk — we don’t like to remind ourselves of our part in this by continuing to call them mermaids — prey upon any vessel sailing the waters of the Serpent … their waters. They still foul our nets, scare away our catch, and make our lives miserable. But now … now, their actions are wrathful, not whimsy.”