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Posted by the GM
Per Multiversum
Chapter 2 — Athanar
~ ninth-day, 19th of Kythorn, The Year of Rogue Dragons, nine bells

The adventurers were all startled out of sleep by the sound of birds, not just the repetive sounds of songbirds in the morning that most were used to but a cacophony of complex and melodic songs of much greater volume rising from the jungle canopy below them over the edge of the plateau where the Frihet was docked.

   It was dawn already. The night had been short, as it always was on Coliar, and the day would be long. Coliar, they would soon learn, had 30-hour days, fifteen hours of bright light and about seven and a half hours of twilight. That left fewer than eight hours of darkness for sleeping.

   The previous night, they had all felt tired many hours before it grew dark, because of the effects of "jammlag", as it was called by wildspace travelers. The crew of the Frihet kept a rigid schedule of shifts, as most crews did, but without being able to rely on the sun, they had purchased an hourglass and a bell, which is what most spelljamming crews did. One crewman per each of the three shifts was responsible for ringing the bell and turning the hourglass every hour. They had had good practice of this in the nearly three-day journey from the Rock of Bral to Coliar.

   Now on Coliar, it had still been light out, though dim and fading, when the first bell rang after what would have been midnight had they been on Toril or the Rock. About that hour, rain had begun to fall. They had almost forgotten about the existence of rain, having spent more than two months prior on a worldlet with no clouds. Now they were on a world with more clouds than land, and they wondered if rain was to be a common experience.

   The rain itself was welcome, for it cooled things off a bit. The previous day had only grown hotter after Kichichaw Birkinar, the dock manager, had departed for the nearly four-hour rest that all aarakocra apparently took during the heat of the day, and the party soon understood why. It was certainly hot! Even after the rain, the coldest it got all night long was probably still nearly 80 degrees.

   Before the rain had fallen, when the aarakocra's rest had ended, a crew of colorful aarakocra workers had come to inspect the cargo that they had. A receipt was handed to Hakam ensuring that the goods had been approved for sale. They had been told that they would be sent an escort the next morning to carry them down to a military base outside the city proper.

   "Carry us?" Ombert asked.

   "Athanar is not handicapped-accessible," explained the birdman. "There is no way for someone with your disability to get down to the city from the docks. You will have to be carried in litters. It is how all handicapped guests are taken into the city. Your goods for sale will be carried down as well."

   "Actually," corrected Solisar, "I am not handicapped; I fly without need of wings."

   The birdmen had looked at him doubtfully.

   Early that night, after the rain had fallen for about an hour, just as it was getting dark enough that they thought they might be able to sleep or trance, the thunder and lightning began. The booms and cracks and rumbles were greater than any storms that any of them had ever heard on Toril. The bolts of lightning traveled across the thousands of miles of sky in violet arcs in the otherwise endless gray sky.

   And now it was morning again, and it seemed like the entire avian population of Athanar was singing.

   After this, things were mostly quiet for another three or four hours. Thirteen bells rang on the ship. They were hungry for lunch and ate, but it was still clearly morning on Coliar; the sky was barely half as bright as when they had first landed yesterday.

   "Has anyone else noticed that there are never shadows on this planet?" asked Marin.

   "You cannot have shadows without a direct source of sunlight," said Nargroth. "Ambient light will not cast shadows. It is the same way on many of the other planes of existence without a sun."

   "That's a good thing;" said Brad, "we won't have to worry 'bout vampires."

   "That's a bad thing, you idiot!" said Gren. "Now we won't have no way to recognize a vampire on our ship!"

   Before the sailors' argument could grow more heated, a flock of red-feathered aarakocra appeared in the air, rising from below the plateau. They seemed to be flying in formation; groups of four or six were carrying below them wooden litters of two different sizes, each suspended by cords. One after the other, these litters were skillfully set on the shore of the lake. The smaller litters had a single wooden chair nailed onto the otherwise flat platform. From the four corners of each platform rose a wooden framework from which the cords were looped and tied from different points.

   The porters and litter-bearers landed upon the ground or the docks shortly thereafter.

   One of them informed the visitors that their transports were ready.

   "I apologize," he said, "but we do not have a palanquin designed to carry such a large person as your horned one there." He nodded at Kytharrah. "But we have brought with us an extra cargo-carrier if he can hang on without a chair to sit in."

   Kytharrah was quite happy to ride on the cargo litter.

   Once their crates and kegs of smokepowder were strapped down, Ombert, Jayce, Oma, and the adventurers buckled themselves into the chairs on the aerial palanquins, while Kytharrah stood in the middle of an empty cargo litter.

   The aerial coordination of the aarakocra was enjoyable to observe in action. The birdmen perfectly timed their circular ascent into the sky with the slacked ropes, ensuring that each cable grew taught at the same time, such that the jerk into the air from the ground was as comfortable as possible to the passengers. The motion was much like a gentle rock back and forth on a child's swing.

   They were carried out over the plateau and able to look down at the jungle below them. The aarakocra clearly lived above the trees. In some ways, their city or town was like those of forest-dwelling elves, with structures built in the trees and connected by wooden bridges. However, elven tree villages were below the leaf cover, and these were all enormous nests at the very tops and centers of the trees, with the trees' upper branches and leaves fanning out all around them. Each "nest" was typically large enough to contain two or three wall-less shelters — as they had seen when hovering above before docking the previous day — and so they could look about and see the entire bustling population at work "inside" or flying about from nest to nest. Not surprisingly, very few aarakocra seemed to make use of the bridges connecting the network of nests.

   A few of the most elaborate nest-structures seemed to have pools within them, with water pumped up from the ground far below to burst forth in fountains. Several smaller aarakocra were frolicking in one of the pools as they passed over.

   The military base to which they were being carried was actually located on a massive cliff ledge on the side of the plateau on the outskirts of the town.

   They were gently set down on the solid ground with care, and the ropes were released to fall to the sides around them. The porters and palanquin-bearers flew off, and a group of aarakocra soldiers approached. These wore bandoleers and harnesses upon which were hung clusters of round stones and hip quivers with half a dozen short javelins each.

   One of the soldiers wore a green-feathered headdress that contrasted with his own red and orange feathers.

   "I am Lieutenant Blacktips," said the aarakocra male, who seemed to be staring off into the distance as he spoke. "Welcome to Athanar Airforce Base. We have been notified that you are merchants from the Rock of Bral willing to sell us smokepowder to support us in our religious war against the cursed lizardfolk. Is this true?"

   "Yes, this is true," said Hakam. "We would be happy to sell our smokepowder to you at a fair price."

   "It is of the upmost quality," said Jayce, "the best that the island nation of Lantan on Toril has to offer!"

   "This here is my sales negotiator, Jayce," said Hakam. "He can provide any details that you need."

   "This sounds fair," said the lieutenant. "I shall have my men carry your goods into the bay, where they will be inspected by someone who knows more about the quality of smokepowder than I do. I am a flight commander, not an alchemist."

   As aarakocra troops began moving over to their cargo litters, Leokas took his companions aside. "I missed until now that this is a religious war. How do we know that our goods are not going to support a an evil power? How do we know that they will not use the powder against females and children?"

   "Aarakocra are not evil creatures," said Hakam.

   "A population can be good while its leaders are evil," said Oma.

   "I am curious as well," said Hakam. "I shall go question the lieutenant for clarification about the history of the war."

   "Take care not to offend our hosts!" Leokas cautioned.

   Hakam approached the lieutenant. "We do not understand much about your conflict. Can you summarize for us why you are fighting the lizardfolk?"

   "They profane the name of Syranita, our great goddess, and take the lands that she has granted us rightfully. Their rulers enslave their own people and forbid them common freedoms, like property. They even eat our children and sell their bodies as food to off-worlders like yourselves!"

   "How can the military fight for a leader if that leader changes constantly as a result of these 'elections' about which I hear?" Hakam was highly suspicious of such a seemingly chaotic form of government.

   "Our military is entirely voluntary," said Blacktips. "The soldiers fight because they love Athanar and they love freedom. If an election were to take place and an individual had a moral conflict with the new leadership, he could always request an honorable discharge or not renew his service time. The cockerels are well-trained, and the military pays very well. In any case, the current president has been in place for a long time, multiple seven-year terms, and she is not the first Donakkis president, so there has been great stability in the military as of late."

   "How long has the war been going on?"

   "Decades," answered the commander, as he stared of into space looking bored, "though not in the form of major battles. Nearly every state in Coliar is only a single island or a few, and skirmishes arise over the unclaimed islands depending on where the islands happen to be. The aarakocra people as a whole have had conflict with the vile lizardfolk for as long as anyone can remember, but the Donakkis's current conflict with the lizarfolk of the island of Chazzma has been happening for at least 20 years."

   Hakam reported this to his companions.

   "It may be worth having a meeting with Asharra Chickchee, the other political candidate," said Szordrin. "These people might not be having the whole story told to them by the current incumbent."

   "Do we really want to get into the politics of these people?" asked Bevlin. "I for one, do not. I only came here to learn more about who killed your master."

   "As long as they do not use smokepowder to harm the innocent...," said Leokas.

   The lieutenant ordered his troops to carry the cargo litters into the "hanger". The litters had two poles on the side, with which four aarakocra soldiers each bent down to pick up the litters awkwardly with the hands on their wings.

   "That is a little 'handicap' there," said Leokas stealthily to his companions, and a few of them chuckled. Oma looked offended.

   The adventurers followed Lt. Blacktips and their cargo around a corner and into a massive cave in the cliff. Along each wall of the 40-foot tall entrance were piles and stashes of melon-sized stones, javelins, and lance-like weapons with feathered hafts. Leokas suspected that the lances were intended to be used in dive-bombing attacks.

   In the center of the sheltered bay were several giant kite-like crafts and what was probably a small aarakocran spelljamming craft. It was about 60 feet long and had two pairs of feathered wings spanning 50 feet, a small forward cat-rigged sail, and a tail fin, with a single half-walled deck. It seemed to have two large, encased wagon wheels upon which it was resting, being clearly designed for land take offs and landings, not water ones. (The feathers were much larger than aarakocra feathers, reminding the group of the rocs that they had ridden from the storm giants' abode when in Hartsvale.)

   The lieutenant then ordered his men to place the goods in an open spot next to many other kegs. "Our alchemists will arrive in the next light call to confirm the quality of the powder. If they approve, we will discuss with you a purchase price. In the meantime, we have a room prepared for visitors to wait, and we will bring you breakfast." It took them a second to recognize that he was speaking to them again, since he was facing the kegs and crates, not them.

   The "room" was an open gazebo back out on the cliff lee with comfortable benches — comfortable for everyone but Ombert and Kytharrah at least. They sat here and enjoyed the beautiful view of lush green below them and clouds and floating islands in the distance beyond that.

   Attendants brought them breakfast, which included delicious citrus fruit juices and strips of what tasted like chicken seasoned with lemon and something peppery.

   By the time that they had finished breakfast, they were approached by the first brown-feathered aarakocra that they had seen, and when she spoke, her higher pitched voice confirmed that she was a female.

   "Welcome, visitors to our world," she said. Like Lt. Blacktips, she too wore a feathered headdress, but hers had blue feathers. "I am Captain Selora Honeysong, the munitions master of Tee-Wee Flight Squadron. That is a grand batch of quality smokepowder that you have there."

   "As I promised the lieutenant," said Jayce.

   The captain continued. "We have no use for the powderhorns, as aarakocra anatomies do not work well with firearms, but would you allow the government of Athanar to take all 100 powderkegs from your hands for the equivalent of 25,000 standard gold pieces in gems?"

   Hakam asked that the gems include certificates of quality so that they could avoid having to pay expensive appraisal fees wherever they sought to cash in the gems.

   Jayce went further than that and directly requested additional money for such fees.

   "I assure you that this is a fair and standard offer for gnomish-crafted smokepowder. It is, after all, my job to provide our troops with the finest of alchemical weaponry."

   Jayce stepped forward. "I can tell that you are an exceptionally knowledgeable woman — forgive me if that is not the correct word to use; I mean no offense."

   "There is a unique name, kwa-thee-nee, in our language, but in Common, female is preferred, but woman is fine. 'Hen', however, is very offensive. We eat chickens."

   "I will be sure to remember that," said Jayce, "but as I was saying,... you know, would do be willing to step aside with me for a moment into the sun? I do not want to bore my companions here with some of the finer details of this deal."

   Jayce came back alone with a big smile on his face and said that he got them an additional ten percent in addition to appraisal certificates for the gems. "The only reason that we got that bonus was because I did not fly the spelljammer this morning; I had to resort to some bardic magic for that deal. And no, I did not charm her; it was just a little white lie — though one which should have been completely unbelievable."

   They were paid primarily in rubies, blue sapphires, and purple corundums.

   "I thank you for contributing to the pending victory of the aarakocra over our pagan adversaries. Now, as you must understand, I am a busy bird with a great deal of work to do this day. I leave you here in the guest room. It is my understanding that you have requested that a postmaster be sent. She should arrive here at growing threequarterlight."
Session: 110th Game Session - Monday, Jun 08 2020 from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM
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