The heroes ride from Sandpoint to Magnimar down the Lost Coast Road, or, as Zendo calls it, the Kaspakari Trail. Though the rains make the roads muddy, the travel goes quickly. The men (and Shalelu) stay at a wagon stop overnight, and ride into Magnimar by the evening of the 17th. Rather than spending their coin at an expensive inn, the heroes resolve to stay in a humbler establishment at the Shore.
The next morning, on Moonday, the men hike up to the Summit, and, brandishing their letter, receive an audience with the Lord-Mayor. Haldmeer Grobaras seems fairly busy, and a bit distracted. He tells the men that the small town of Turtleback Ferry has lost contact with the rangers of the nearby Fort Rannick. Seeing that the men aren’t too familiar with Turtleback Ferry or Fort Rannick, Grobaras sketches them a quick historical outline.
Turtleback Ferry is a small town, subsisting mostly on logging, trapping, and fishing, eking out an existence in the shadows of the Storval Deep. Long plagued by the ogres of nearby Hook Mountain, the villagers appealed for aid long ago, and Magnimar, eager to extend their influence towards Korvosa, replied. They sent troops to build a fort, Fort Rannick, in the region, and garrisoned the fort with a new order of rangers, the Order of the Black Arrow. The Black Arrows were, and are, largely made up of malcontents, loners, and petty criminals, which, given the isolation of the posting, is understandable. However, the rangers achieved a major victory over the ogres of Hook Mountain at the Battle of Broken Trees nearly forty years ago, and the small garrison patrols regularly to keep the remaining ogres thinned out and disorganized.
The Mayor of Turtleback Ferry, Maelin Shreed, replied to the missive from Magnimar, saying that the rangers, who normally visit the town on weekends, had not been in town on the past Starday. Mayor Shreed was organizing a party to trek to the Fort, but given the time necessary for any reply to reach Magnimar, it would be some weeks before the situation was known. The Lord-Mayor, knowing the interests of the Lost Coast Avengers, assumed that they might wish to investigate further on Magnimar’s behalf. Grobaras also assured the group that he did not expect their services for free, and agreed to disburse funds from the city coffers for their expenses, though he dismissed the Black Arrows as scruffy and uncouth, and Turtleback Ferry as rural in the extreme.
After the departure of the Lord-Mayor, his assistant, Valanni Krinst distributed a substantial sum of gold to the men (750 gold each) and provided them with more specific information about the region and the Black Arrows. Searching through the records that he prepared, Krinst was able to tell them that the current captain of the Fort was one Lamatar Bayden. Krinst also explained that despite the disdain that Grobaras holds for the Black Arrows, the order has an arduous task in patrolling Hook Mountain, and, despite their often less-than-respectable origins, the rangers who survive are tough and disciplined.
The men regroup with Shalelu and their horses and make for Whartle, departing later that day They travel along the northern banks of the Yondobakari River, known to the Varisians as the Dry Way, though the persistent rain puts the lie to that moniker. For two nights, the group camps at night at the caravan stops along the road, seeking the safely and companionship of the Varisian nomads traveling their traditional routes. Fortunately, while the rain and cold make travel unpleasant, they also inhibit the mosquitos, nightbelly boas, and boggards of the Mushfens on the other bank of the river. On the third evening, Oathday the 21st, the men are able to make it to the boardwalk streets of Whartle and enjoy some modest creature comforts in the small frontier town. They restock their rations at the general store and speak to a few of the plain-spoken townsfolk, mostly swampers and trappers. Their generous coins loosen several tongues, and some of the locals warn Zendo about the cold shoulders in Ilsurian, which seems to have a poor reputation among the boisterous, bearded men in the Lean-To, a dilapidated tavern which seems almost ready to tumble into the murky swamp.
Another two days travel brings the group to the whitewashed homes of Whistledown, an appealingly eccentric village on the southern shore of Lake Syrantula, in the afternoon of the 23rd. The men are surprised by the number of gnomish townsfolk, almost outnumbering the humans of the town, and bemused by the inexplicable profusion of windchimes hanging from every building and post. They stop for the night in the Azure Cup, one of the few inns with sufficient human-sized beds to sleep five weary travelers.
However, sleep is far from the forefront of most minds. Tonight is the full moon, and the night of Seven Veils! Whistledown has been celebrating the holiday all day with feasting, dancing, and courting, and the heroes are not too late to miss the splendid evening meal. The masquerade of the Seven Veils begins, and the men are quick to participate. Ragnar attempts to parlay the celebration of diversity into a romantic interlude with Shalelu, who is clearly in no mood for him. Perhaps hoping for luck similar to his previous encounter with the Varisian maid, Corvus flirts with the aloof elven ranger as well, to no avail. Gellius and Ragnar both make passes at some of the more comely gnomish girls, though the normally faithful Gellius is more successful than Ragnar. Zendo embraces the masquerade with the most enthusiasm, and uses his magical chapeau to transform himself into a tall, rangy Ulfen shield-maiden, looking as a sister to Ragnar. The bard is careful to read the crowd, however, and chooses to flirt with a good-humored, rather short man who seems unlikely to resent the imposture. At the end of the masquerade, Zendo reveals his true seeming, only to discover that the stout man was, in fact, a slender woman, also concealed under an illusion! Hikage, exasperated by the tomfoolery, turns in early, only to be driven to distraction by the incessant tinkling of windchimes throughout the night.
On Sunday, the group rises late from their revelry and journeys through the increasingly steady rain to the free town of Ilsurian on the northern banks of Lake Syrantula. Owing allegiance to neither Korvosa nor Magnimar, the Ilsurians are serious-minded, outspoken folk. Though the town seems orderly and well-maintained (if a good bit smaller than Sandpoint), Zendo picks up on an undercurrent of hostility in the townsfolk which takes him aback. At first, he is inclined to think that the Ilsurians are unfriendly to half-elves, but as he warily interacts with them, he suspects that the largely Chelaxian natives are suspicious of his Varisian heritage. Unusually for the outgoing bard, he turns in quickly that evening, and the group leaves Ilsurian on the 25th without incident.
Cautiously fording the swollen Skull River, the men (and Shalelu) follow the trail north, skirting the foreboding Ashwood to the east. Arriving on the southern shores of Claybottom Lake around noon, the group decides to take a mid-day meal in the small fishing thorp of Pendaka. The Walleyed Wife serves as the small village’s only inn, and also as a trading post. The men sample some of the local fare, including black gar, and a delightfully offbeat cranberry turtle egg pie, made by the proprietor, Olam Keecher. The men regretfully decide not to cross Claybottom Lake in the rather unique ferry-boats, made from the shells of giant snapping turtles, given the size and weight of their horses, and follow the muddy, rutted path along the lake’s shore to the town of Turtleback Ferry.
Arriving near sunset in the small town, the men have little chance to look around the modest town, but quickly locate the town’s only inn, the Turtle’s Parlor. They speak briefly to the innkeeper,Cesten Orlandi, who seems in a foul mood. The modest rooms are quite expensive, more than the opulent quarters at the Golden Acorn in Magnimar, and the group grouses about the expense, but has little choice. Food is not served at the inn, so the group runs through the rain drenching the town square to the adjacent tavern, the Bottom’s Up. The tavern is run by a friendly halfling couple Yads and Bethandy Kesker, who commiserate with the men over the prices of the Turtle’s Parlor.
They explain that with the sinking of the Paradise, along with the rains, few travellers frequent Turtleback Ferry any longer, and the innkeeper’s custom has dried up. Talking to Yads and Bethandy, and many of the other residents frequenting the small tavern, the men learn a great deal about the town, and hear a lot of unsubstantiated rumors and theories.
The Paradise was a gaming hall aboard a river barge moored in Claybottom Lake. It was owned and operated by an attractive woman named Lucretia, who some of the town viewed as scandalous. It sank on the evening of the 26th of Lamashan, and there were no survivors.
A lake monster known as Black Magga supposedly lives in the Storval Deep, where the Skull River lies dammed behind Skull Dam. Bethandy believes that Black Magga is upset and her disquiet is causing the incessant rain. Others claim that underground rivers link the Storval Deep with Claybottom Lake, and Black Magga sank the Paradise after traveling through them.
Her husband, Yads, claims that the rains are not due to Black Magga, but that the Hook Mountain ogres, a clan known as the Kreegs, have tamed a dragon, who stirs up the clouds and causes the rains.
Some claim that the Paradise was not a simple pleasure barge, but a den of iniquity, and the wrath of Erastil sank it and sent the sinners aboard to a watery grave.
Storytellers also tell the men about Old Pinkeye, an albino giant gar who lives in the lake. The bright sun hurts his eyes, so Pinkeye is never seen during the day, but his immense, pale back is sometimes seen on moonlight nights. The dense cloud cover has darkened the skies so much that some fishermen claim to see Pinkeye’s scaly back even during the day now.
Other villagers claim that the rains aren’t all that unnatural, but the disappearances in the Kreegwood are due to the Grauls, a backwoods family with ogre blood somewhere in their family tree. They warn the men about the mistrusted family, who no longer even travels to town to buy supplies.
After receiving two earfuls of tales about the town, the men resolve to meet with the Mayor in the morning and investigate Fort Rannick for themselves.
In the morning, the group crosses the muddy town square, past the general store and smithy, and down past the one-room schoolhouse to the large, rustic Church of Erastil. Maelin Shreed, mayor of Turtleback Ferry and priest of the church, stands on the church steps, methodically sweeping the mud off the wooden boards with a wet broom. He looks up from his work, rain dripping from the brim of his hat, and greets the heroes. Evidently word has already reached him that the ‘men from Magnimar’ are here.
As he begins speaking to the group, Gellius tells the weather-beaten old Garundi man about their adventures and discoveries in Magnimar. Shreed insists that, unlike Magnimar, Turtleback Ferry is a simple town, full of simple, plain folk, and not the sort of place where secret cults of murderers can hide. When Corvus tells him about the sorcerous serpent-woman, Shreed irritatedly insists that Turtleback Ferry doesn’t have any ‘snake-women’, just rapacious, cruel ogres. The men persist in trying to convince the mayor that the troubles plaguing his town are somehow connected to a deeper mystery they seek to unravel, but Maelin quickly becomes frustrated with the group. “I thought Magnimar was going to send up some soldiers to go to the fort and help us get things under control! We don’t have any cults up here, or snake-women. All I have is some missing villagers, a sunken boat, and a fort that’s gone quiet! I need help, not more problems!” While the men assure Shreed that they will investigate the fort, they mistake the priest’s desperation, and dismiss him as narrow-minded rube.
Despite their initial dislike of Shreed, they are true to their word, and quickly set out of town up the trail leading to Fort Rannick. The path leads along the Skull River, flowing fast and high into Claybottom Lake. After crossing a stout old wooden bridge spanning the river, Gellius hears a feline yowl of pain from the woods nearby, though it is hard to notice over the sounds of rain and river. The group dismisses it as some of the local wildlife, which has been described by the villagers as ‘all stirred up’. They move on up the trail, but soon Hikage can hear barking hounds in the woods, accompanied by a deep, off-key voice, singing about hunting ‘kitties’. Though the urbane monk is inclined to dismiss the incident as a trapper or hunter, Shalelu and Gellius insist that, while some trappers might use hounds to tree prey, it is a strange sort of huntsman who would broadcast his own location to his quarry.
Gellius transforms into an eagle to scout out the dense forest, as Hikage and Shalelu dismount and cautiously make their way through the woods towards the disturbances. The three happen upon a strange sight in a small clearing, not much more than a quarter-mile from the path. A firepelt cougar is trapped in a bear trap in a small clearing. Though the animal seems to sense both the monk and ranger, it remains quiet, and persistently pulls itself towards them, though the trap holds its rear leg painfully.
Using his bardic magics, Zendo communicates with the scouts, and the men decide to move up and take a closer look. They tie off the horses, save for Trencher, who Ragnar sternly orders to ‘Guard!’. As Zendo and the others move towards the clearing, Gellius cannot wait any longer. He transforms from an eagle back into his human guise, and approaches the cougar, who calmly stands its ground. Sensing that the cat is no wild animal, Zendo approaches it and carefully uses his ‘tools of the trade’ to release the trap, as Gellius casts a spell and speaks to the feline in its own language.
The firepelt is known as Kibb, and he names his master as Jakardros, Shalelu’s step-father and Black Arrow! Kibb says that the big, loud men have captured his master, and he needs help to rescue him. Kibb was trapped by the big men here, and their dogs are on the way. The men can clearly hear the hounds, now that the sounds of the river have receded, and they quickly prepare for a confrontation.
Gellius heals Kibb, and asks the cougar to guard Corvus, who prepares one of his more impressive fire spells. Shalelu remains hidden in the woods, but readies an arrow. Hikage creeps into a brambles in the clearing, seeking to surprise the oncoming hunter, while Ragnar and Zendo nock arrows to their bows behind the cover of some shrubs.
Soon enough, large, aggressive hounds rush into the clearing. Arrows are loosed at them, though more of Shalelu’s find the mark than those of Zendo or Ragnar. Indeed, despite the driving rain, the elven ranger downs most of the hounds herself. Even as the hounds bay and snap at the men, a tall, burly oaf emerges from the woods. “I be huntin’ kitty-cat!”, he bellows through a broad, flabby mouth full of yellow teeth. “No business of yers, less you want hunted too!” The ‘hunter’ is large, even taller and broader than Ragnar, and grotesquely disfigured. Not only is his head overly wide and toothy, his left arm tapers to a single, thick finger, rather than a normal hand. Ragnar curses him in a strange tongue, which only Corvus seems to understand, but the backwoods trapper charges at Gellius, who stands between him and Kibb. He stabs the druid with a spear, injuring him significantly.
Ragnar takes the opportunity to close with the strange trapper, undoubtedly one of the Grauls, and smites him mightily, though he takes a painful blow in return. The violent oaf is surrounded by the men, and quickly beaten down, finished off by a deft strike from Zendo’s rapier.