Aerys strong armed her way through the swarming crowd of frightened pirates while she lead her friend by the arm. The crush of sweaty bodies threaten to tear her from her faltering grip but luckily Sasha, even blinded as she was, could move almost effortlessly through the teeming mob. Corey circled overhead, cawing nervously. What happened to cause this madness? Aerys could hear snippets of hurried conversation as captains tried to gather their far flung crews. A mad wizard attacked, someone said, killing the crowd with magic. A woman bodily slammed into Aerys’ side, jousting her ragged wound and causing her to stifle a cry of pain. With an instinctive flush of rage, she lashed out and punched the woman in the side of the head, sending her unconscious to the ground, where she was lost beneath the trampling feet of the mob. If her problems were only just beginning then that woman’s problems were over.
It was so simple. Go to the empty beach before the big feast and trade the blasted sword to the Red Mantis. Collect their pay and be done. Maybe even head back to the party and have a few celebratory drinks before finding passage back to Port Peril. Sasha could gloat about having one upped her mother by finding the Blade, Gelik had another story to give to the Pathfinders, Ishirou could grow his map collection, Jask could finally start that library he was talking about and Aerys could finally buy her own ship. But no. Something had to go wrong. So much for dreams.
The meeting place was just a small stretch of beach. Far enough away from the bustling fort to not be seen but still close enough to not draw suspicion. The Mantis had set a time that most of the pirates would be at Commodore Foundling’s final big feast. The Castaways quietly scouted the area and figured it was too far from the jungle’s edge to be easily ambushed and, if something came from the sea, it would still have to cross dry land to reach them. A good space to simply walk towards each other, make the hand off of Bags of Holding and head in different directions. The Castaways blended in by standing near one of the many makeshift camps that littered the beach until they saw the four Red Mantis in full regalia walk towards them.
One of those figures was Sasha’s mother, the infamous Red Mantis Assassin named Siobhan Nevah the Huntress, Aerys remembered thinking as they moved towards the assassins. Another was the Mayor of Ilizmagorti itself, an enigmatic figure that spoke to no one and seemed to never take off it’s insecticidal shaped helmet. But they all dressed so similar it was difficult to even tell gender, let alone rank. Which was deliberate, or so Sasha said. They were an intimidating sight as they moved in synch with their blood red armour and their hands on their sheathed saw toothed swords.
“Are you sure they aren’t going to double cross us?” Aerys remembered Gelik asking nervously while the group steadily approached.
“Yes,” Jask reassured him confidently, “They consider killing a sacred duty. Murdering us for helping them just isn’t something they would think about.”
“But they might try something,” Sasha growled while she fingered her own kukri, “So just be ready.”
The groups met. Jask carefully reached into his robe and took out the small brown leather Bag of Holding, keeping it close to his body but exposed enough for the Red Mantis to see it. The lead Mantis flashed a similar bag, one made of purple silk, in it’s cupped hand, showing their willingness to deal. It was then that the world exploded.
Aerys wasn’t even sure what happened. One second, they were ready for the tense exchange, the next a huge old crone was towering over them, cackling madly and tearing the lead Mantis apart with her ragged long claws. A sword flashed and a black clad figure with a strange smiling doll’s face stabbed a blade through Jask’s chest, gingerly taking the bag from his hand as it slide the blade effortlessly through his ribs. Other forms appeared. Aerys thought she saw ghostly apparitions attacking the Mantis, swarming over the red assassins like vile smoke. Someone screamed “Stop them” and Gelik began casting. Aerys felt a sharp pain as the figure that stabbed Jask turned and flicked a thin knife into her. Then, as if by magic, they were gone. The lead Mantis was lying on the sand, it’s bag missing, gone along with it’s arm, yet with no blood poured from the terrible wound. Two of the other Assassins were running wildly down the beach, leaping blindly over logs and tents in a mad bid to escape. The final assassin was frantically trying to help it’s fallen companion. Sasha shouted in a panic and began to flail at Gelik, who was trying to cast a spell at her. “I’m sorry,” the gnome pitifully cried out as when struck Sasha with a bolt of lightning, “I can’t help it. She put me under a spell!”
Aerys looked at Ishirou, who was standing still watching the exchange with a baffled look on his face. “Do something!” Aerys demanded of the confused ninja while she ran up to tackle the gnome, but Ishirou only stood there and watched, raising his finger as if to give some sort of rebuttal. Gelik turned on her but he was no match for a physical contest between them. Sasha, although badly injured, was still capable of helping tie the little gnome up as he pleaded and thrashed about, trying to cast another spell. Aerys looked back at the assassins but they had disappeared, leaving only vague footprints in the sand.
“What happened?” Ishirou demanded, suddenly regaining his senses in a flash.
“I don’t know,” Aerys, slipping the slender knife out of her body, grimaced, “I saw Jask get stabbed and then they just vanished.”
“Gelik said one of them put him under some sort of compulsion,” Sasha added and Corey flew over head, cawing angrily.
“They took him,” Aerys said distantly, pointing to the pool of blood that was splashed across a patch of sand, “They took Jask.”
“And our pay,” Sasha added bitterly and called Corey to her, “We have to go. It won’t take long for the Mantis to regroup. Then they are going to come looking for answers we don’t have.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Gelik blinded me with one of his spells, the idiot.”
“Take my arm,” Aerys offered gently and lead her friend from the beach, “We need to lie low for a bit and take stock.”
They pushed towards the fort and realized that something had happened there too. A rush of panicking pirates crushed into them, threatening to knock them from their feet. But the sounds of the combat they were fleeing was fading. Aerys felt her muscles starting to cramp and her vision fading. Poisoned, she realized, the little bastard poisoned me.
“Sounds like people took care of that problem,” Sasha commented ruefully.
“Our robbers must of had another distraction,” Ishirou said quietly as he carried an unconscious Gelik over his shoulder, “Attacking Pirate Lords. A bold move.”
“One that’ll come back on us if we don’t find a way out of here,” Sasha growled peevishly while she felt her way through the thinning crowd, “We need a place to hide.”
Aerys looked past the mob and saw that the tower door was open and unguarded. “We can use the arena. It’ll be empty now. But we’ll need some sort of healer to fix all of this,” she said weakly over her shoulder, “I can’t believe they took him. Why?”
A woman touched Ishirou. “You injured?” Sindara Quinn asked as she gestured to the unconscious Gelik, “We’re triaging the wounded by those tables. How bad?”
The ninja looked at Aerys and then to the cleric. “She’s been poisoned,” he said, indicating Aerys, “That one has been blinded and this one is under some sort of charm spell. Can you help?”
First Mate Quinn frowned and nodded. “You’d be surprised how often that combination comes up,” she said crisply, “I can deal with the blindness and the poison but I don’t have the magic to break the enchantment. Wait, I know someone. Oi! Some help here!”
Amiska Lewynn ran over, her face covered with elaborate white and blue make up, now smeared into a sweaty mess by the fighting, her jaunty bicorn knocked askew. “What?” She asked breathlessly.
“These people need your help,” Sindara pointed to the Castaways.
Amiska looked them over and smiled. “What seems to be the problem?” She asked sweetly.