Before there was ever a "spelljammer" I have had enchanted and flying boats in my world. Some of them are huge, most of them smallerish. And the magic to make them is prohibitive and expensive - and sadly not at all common in any degree anymore. So at some of the larger ports you can find one if you look, but to the smaller ports and river traffic - no,, they are like unicorns.
The party has now gathered control of a 4 ton small pleasure barge. It's not made for ocean traffic, the draw is too low and it would be torn apart at any given ocean borne storm. But for river traffic, a busy river like the Black Water - it's a terrific vessel. Even without the flight, the fact that it can lift most of its bulk from the water means with the right crew you can double the distance rowed in a given day.
But it's a small barge, 35' long, 15' wide at the top deck. You will not haul 10 tons of granite and marble to Woodhelven, neither could you ship cedar for the noble's manor houses in Titestory, and you can't move 400 head of sheep from Riverton to Brewersbridge with the barge.
So its uses are limited but still plentiful. And what the group does with it is their own business. Do they turn into business men? Keep it? Sell it? Commission it? That remains to be seen, but its been the conversation for 2 meetings so far and I suspect that as we get closer to our civilization, the group will become polarized and settle on one course of action soon.
Write up follows:
The party watched the wall of water racing away down the Black Water River, the flailing Kraken riding it until it was lost in the mist of falling snow. When the current calmed down enough and the small dammed lake had shrunk some we maneuvered the barge towards the center and dropped anchor to discuss what had happened and how we were going to address it.
No matter what, none of us were ever going to say anything to anyone that we had “done” anything. It wasn’t us, and it happened. Not our hirelings, not our henchmen, not passerby’s or bards or lords or anyone. No one.
But we also felt we HAD to warn someone, somewhere. The Black Water River was over 350 miles long from here to Titestory and the Mastelic Ocean. There had to be a dozen locations along the river one of which was Woodhelven to say nothing about maybe scores of smaller homes and thorps as well. And they were all in danger from a billion gallons of water and the enraged and released mythical beast.
Marcus still had one Sending scroll remaining from our time at Candlewick Keep and we decided that we should use it and warn someone. Marcus told us that the scroll would allow him to contact one person that he knew on this plane of existence. And the message couldn’t be long, perhaps 10 or 11 words not counting smaller filler words (a, the, and, or, it, etc..). We talked about all our people and who to contact and settled on the High Priest of Poseidon at Elven Keep.
He was not situated at the river (actually perhaps 25 or so miles away from it) but would be best placed to get a warning out to many of the locations along the Black Water River and hopefully in time. We wrote the message again and again, until it was as concise as possible and still avoided mentioning who we were (the spell would give the “voice” of the sender, but we assumed that it had been some time since we had seen the High Priest that he should not be able to readily identify Marcus’ voice). Upon satisfaction, the scroll was read, the words turned to fire and dust, and then Marcus read off the sentence and we were confident the High Priest received the Sending.
We then piloted the barge down river towards Castle Sterling and eventually pulled it as close to the castle as we could. The passage of the river had torn the swamp away, stripped every plant we could see on both banks, and tore up the ground and land all about. The river here was now less deep but wider, the banks more defined and much closer to the castle. We heard calls from above and the leaning tower showed Liscinia waving towards us and the call went out to open the main gates.
Once inside we got wind of what transpired in our absence. Horace had been knocked from the tower and sent careening into the frothing river where he was lost. Nyssa was crushed by falling stones and was killed instantly. Fermius had been caught as well but was still hanging on, his left arm broken in four places and his shoulder blade shattered. We dispensed healing, rounded up the donkeys, and led everyone into the Castle itself and lit a fire in the grand fireplace.
We talked, there were 14 of us now plus our animals. We were going to be leaving tomorrow after we had stretched out our food supplies from the gardens and Demeter’s blessing. We were going to take the Sky Chariot, what crates and chests we could, some other furnishings, and then leave this place and try our luck down river. It was going to be difficult with the passing of the flood and the Kraken, but everyone was going to have to pitch in and do their part.
We went down to the basement and unlocked the rooms, taking all the wine we could find as well as the 8 coffers of coins. We then went back to the vault and after opening it, took the 40 crystal statues crating them up as well. Everything was loaded onto the Chariot and strapped in place. Then we went through the dining room furnishings and picked the best dining table and set of chairs we could get. A quick walk through the upstairs rooms had us look over what we could there and then by 9 PM we settled down and got some sleep for the big day tomorrow.
Icemonth the 4th had everyone up and we broke our fast. A check outside showed we had a cold snap, with the weather hitting the low teens or single digits during the night. A gentle repose was cast upon the shrunken head of the Beholder and again on Nyssa to preserve both their bodies for the trip home. We expected 4 days to get back to Brewersbridge but that was with the river passable. For right now we couldn’t guarantee that.
Most of us worked on loading the barge, dragging a path through the almost 2 feet of snow to the river bank and the barge. From there we used the loading ramp and other timber from the castle as a ramp to allow us to maneuver the chariot onto the deck. Then we brought it into the cargo hold and strapped it down. From there it was hours of cold back bending labor to get everything else we wanted from the Castle.
While this was going on, Flimflam was at the gardens with the rest of the group where he cast Plant growth on our partially planted potatoes, tripling out food reserves from 2 to 5 days for the time being. It took hours to properly harvest what we planted and then bag it up and get it loaded on the barge. Tranis and Steiner swapped off a few times to give more than one person practice in captaining the vessel. But it was 1:45 in the afternoon when the last of the materials were stowed and we were set to sail off.
We were going to have most everyone row with the exception of Steiner (piloting), Fermius (1 arm working, would instead spot and call issues in the river ahead), Tranis (to swap with Steiner and offer his own help with Fermius) and Flimflam (who was too short to properly row, would instead keep the beat for those who weren’t). As soon as we set off we noted that Erd, Dugan, Viridia, and Taulib were tiring too easy so we made it possible for those four to swap off with one another in order to keep the barge moving.
As we rowed away we did note something different this time along. Since all 8 spots had rower and all 8 oars were working, what seemed to be white gossamer webbing began to stretch between the oars, growing thicker and more opaque as time went on. It didn’t impede the rowing and Steiner still kept the barge out of the water until only the keel and rudder were actually on the water. It was magical but we didn’t know what the effect was at this time.
The river had been scoured clean as we sailed, straightened and smoothed from the passage of the wave yesterday. Every so often we came upon a tree that had been uprooted and plowed into the bank some distance away. The road that had run along the river was gone, nothing was left to even show its existence.
As we sailed along the rippling white wings had the group thinking and Steiner once more concentrated on getting the boat up. And this time – it lifted entirely free of the water and rose with majesty until the keel was 15’ above the surface of the river. We couldn’t get it any higher, but this was just outstanding as far as the group was concerned. And it was for the best because we were coming up to where the great bridge had once stood that spanned the river on this side of Helm Lake. It was gone now, only a few stone spars were along the land to mark where it once stood. And a large concentration of the trees that had been ripped up and sent downstream had ended up here, causing a logjam of broken branches and muddy limbs that blocked the way into the lake and choked off the other portion of the river that lead to Ridgecamp and Mt. Ada.
Steiner guided us over the log jam with Tranis and Fermius calling out direction changes as need be. We picked out way along until we were once more over Helm Lake and were able to procced. The group wanted to stay on the south side of the Lake to avoid anyone near Varohelm from seeing us before we could meet up with them or be ready. Steiner did try guiding the barge over land (at 15’ in height) but the barge did slow down and rowing was difficult – so it was possible but not too likely.
We rowed our way along the south shore until the lake grew narrow again and was returning to a river once more. And from here we could see Varohelm. The low lying city was in ruins. It was apparent that the water had raced down and filled the city like a bowl, drowning many and toppling building and homes like playing pieces. The wall held but was bowed out in places. The land was a torn mess. The docks were gone, boats were smashed to splinters. And the choke point where the lake dumped into the river was a tangled mess of spars, limbs, buildings, floating dead, and wreckage – making any passage beyond almost a ridiculous impossibility. Steiner would have to sail over it and even then we would most likely have to pick the barge through the mess with exaggerated care.
And then we heard cries for help. From the broken remains of Varohelm their voices called out and we could see them emerging from the ruins and broken buildings. By ones and twos, they held their hands out and ran or stumbled towards the water. Some were men, others women, and even a few kids. It was cold, the temperate was just a nick over 20, and it was after 4 in the afternoon. Steiner didn’t want to leave. Neither did Erd, or Avidius. Others were also saying it was cruel to go on. Flimflam was trying to get people to realize that the barge was full now and taking on what seemed to be 15 or maybe 20 more people might mean we couldn’t sail – to say nothing of taking off the water’s surface which we would need to do to clear the terrible 1/8th of a mile jam and wreckage field before us.
We decided to land and Steiner guided the barge until we were 250’ or so from the shore where the docks used to be. A few had gathered there already and climbing on floating debris, began poling and paddling their way towards us. But there were many still on shore who could not do that. And the water was cold, icy death cold.
Steiner stood on the edge of the barge and called to Apollo to make his steps buoyant – and then stepped out of the boat and WALKED on the water. A breeze blew from below him and where his feet touched the surface a wave of white light rippled out. To everyone there, they were stunned to submission. He then proceeded to jog across the water to the shore, passing those floating out to “keep moving, hurry!”. He then made the shore, asked for two of the kids to be handed to him, and walked the two children back across the lake to the barge. It was miraculous to everyone.
Within 30 minutes we had gathered the 20 survivors and heard their terrible tale about the water and the death and then the tentacles from the Kraken that feasted on those still alive before it moved on and went down river. Steiner was looked at with reverence and awe and thanked constantly. Blankets and warm clothes were passed around and the party decided that they didn’t want any of the Varohelmians to go below decks to the cargo area and see anything we had already gotten. We would save them, but not necessarily trust them since we did not know then or who they were before the attack.
The barge was laden down and once everyone was in place and the oars were manned we managed to get up some speed and then slowly…so slowly…lifted out of the water. A well placed blessing from Flimflam on Steiner was enough to bolster the flagging priest and the barge lifted free until it was once again sporting the rippling white curtains against the oars and hovering at 15’ in height.
We passed over the wreckage and were back once more over the river as we pressed on southward. We sailed on until the sun had gone down and the evening was turning to night and we didn’t trust our ability to see. We settled back to the water’s surface and then coasted to the south side of the river and out of the main current (the odd trees were still floating down stream and we didn’t want any of them to hit the barge during the night).
As for food – our supposed stores that were going to get us home were suddenly in peril with 20 more mouths to feed – most of them had little or nothing to eat already during the day. We looked over all we had and the porters reminded us that we had almost 50 lbs. of what had been skink meat in the travel chests. Now that we had returned to normal size, the meat had grown as well. It was cold and rough, chewy and difficult to swallow – but it was a welcome sight to those who had nothing and were saved by our passing.
So here it was, 7:30 PM on Icemonth the 4th, about 2 miles downriver from Varohelm, on a pleasure barge we salvaged from Castle Sterling’s former inhabitants, its magic allowing us to sail over the wreckage so far, in the dark and with 20 people we saved from hypothermia and starvation from the ruined city of Varohelm. And we still had so much further to go before we were out of Darkenwoods.