When our adventurers return to Hodam-- the grisly spoils of their decisive battle with the young dragon well-hidden from kobold eyes-- they find that much has transpired in their absence. Melany, acting in Tralamin's behalf, has struck a very good trade agreement with the denizens of Kobold Pocket, exchanging shipments of Hodam's Famous Ale for their sweet darkwheat. A note was left for Jarmangle by the comely tiefling mercenary Tyne, asking that he and his friends meet her on Bloodpurse Isle. And a young human woman, Evelyn, has come from the East, claiming to be Jarmangle's adopted sister.
The latter proves to be true; she's come, along with her dwarfish bodyguard Uncle, to take Jarmangle back home. She asks him to stop this nonsense and tells him that their parents are worried. Jarmangle is not swayed, but-- happy to see his sister-- asks her to come with him and his friends to the dangerous, pirate-infested Bloodpurse Isle. Evelyn is horrified and doesn't believe that her sweet brother Jarmangle would do such a thing. To prove that it's him, Jarmangle reveals a brand on his shoulder-- a brand that he had when Evelyn's family found him as a baby and that's distorted over the years. He again asks her to come with them, and she refuses, deciding instead to leave for the East. She asks her bodyguard to accompany Jarmangle, to keep him safe, and to try and persuade him to give up this life of danger and adventure.
Before Evelyn leaves, Tralamin takes a fancy to the girl's parasol and tries to trade her for it, even offering the bloodied elk remains that he wears as pants. Evelyn, for some strange reason, declines.
Return to Firepalm
Irving suggests that the fastest way to get to Bloodpurse Isle would be to take the river down to the ocean, and he recalls that there was a port on the outskirts of Firepalm. They decide to return to Firepalm, so that they might either charter or, more likely given the homicidal tendencies of the town's residents, steal a vessel. Because of the danger posed by the fire dwarfs, they decide to travel light, leaving both their whores and ales at home. Perhaps there's trade to be done on Bloodpurse Isle, but it'll have to wait for a return trip.
They arrive in Firepalm near dusk and find it strangely devoid of insane, fire-bearded dwarfs. The one-street town almost seems deserted. The group decides to check into city hall-- after all, the mayor still owes them money.
The mayor is there, but just barely alive; he looks sickly, and seems not-quite-aware of their presence. Tralamin remembers that when they killed the dragon, the fiery creatures and the firepalm ore that resided in its lair grew cold and dead. Perhaps extinguishing its life-force also extinguished all the magic of the ore; now the fire dwarfs, deprived of it, are suffering withdrawal. Taking pity on the poor creature-- but not before looting his office of course, finding a sparkling gem-- they adjust his body so that he won't choke to death on his own vomit.
Jarmangle, feeling vindictive, suggests that they cut his beard off-- Tralamin can already see ways that he can use it as an article of clothing. The dwarf bodyguard Uncle is appalled and lectures them on the importance of a beard to his kind. They refrain from taking the beard, Jarmangle consoles himself with taking the mayor's mountain-shaped paperweight, and the group heads to the port.
The Eve of Destruction
There's one vessel in the port, a ship given the somewhat off-putting name of The Eve of Destruction. Warily, our heroes try to detect the presence of ghosts or demons before they even set foot on it. They detect nothing.
Once aboard the ship, however, Robyn-- whose vampiric blood aids in the detection of the undead-- has a bad feeling about what awaits below. Within the ship, they find the corpse of a headless dwarf. Searching his body, they find a number of items meant to protect him from the undead; the items obviously did not work as planned.
They also find a scrap of paper, once part of a map, with an "X" marked just west of the Devil's Vulva. They've not any time to consider it now, however, as they hear the shuffling murmurs of the undead in the next room. Determined to catch the foul things by surprise, our heroes rush into the ship's sleeping chambers.
A horde of zombies, detached crawling body-parts, and undead beasts await on the other side, controlled by a terrible wight. The last time they fought a wight, Irving nearly met his demise; since that battle deep beneath Hodam, however, they've fought fearsome orcs, sly kobolds, the cult of cloth, living statues, and, yes, that terrible and tragic dragon. With the element of surprise in their favour, and the benefits of battle-won experience-- not to mention a few handy, undead-targeting trinkets-- they easily trounce the undead. Only Uncle, the newest of their number, takes any serious injuries; coming from the East, he's not as familiar with the beasts and horrors that populate the West. But his mastery of the martial arts ensures that no blow struck against him remains unreturned, and he knows his wounds will heal.
They dispose of the undead and then, at Uncle's behest, they give a short burial at sea for the headless dwarf.
And then, with morning approaching, they sail down the river.
The Nameless Pub
Docking at Bloodpurse Isle after two days of sailing, the six adventurers-- not knowing where Tyne might be waiting for them-- stop in at The Nameless Pub not far from the docks. It's a rowdy, bawdy place, stuffed to the gills with cutthroats, mercenaries, and pirates. Listening to the boisterous bragging and secretive whispers, they're able to glom onto a few salient facts: most famous of all the pirates on the Isle, and to many its defacto ruler, is Captain Bergris. For decades the scourge of the Empires of the East, robbing their ships and ports with abandon, he'll ride the currents back to Bloodpurse Isle. He and his men are safe here as a result of a pact they've made with the mermen who live in the bay, and this fact, along with the many stories of his exploits, is responsible for the allegiance many feel towards him.
Some, however, swear allegiance to the new pirate lord Tallybrooke. He's already made a name for himself by throwing copious amounts of money around and providing plenty of work for the various scurvy dogs who populate the Isle.
The Drinking Contest
One particularly fearsome looking pirate challenges all comers to a drinking contest. Feer, Irving, and Tralamin abstain, but the promise of winning the pot entices Uncle, Robyn, and Jarmangle to throw in. Round-after-round, shot-after-shot, they try to outdrink each other. Robyn quickly falls to the floor, and the pirate who challenged them follows soon after. One of the others points out that Jarmangle and Uncle, being the only two left, could split the pot between them, but they're determined to stay in it until one of them falters.
That one, surprisingly, is Uncle, who proceeds to cover Jarmangle in copious amounts of vomit. Irving quickly uses his magic to clean the drunken tiefling, just in time for the latter to come face-to-face with Tyne.
Tyne has a job for them. In a cave on the island, guarded by pirates, is a stone given to the mermen that represents the sanctity of their pact with Captain Bergris. Her employer, whom she won't name, wants the stone. If they retrieve it, each of them will get 200 gold-- except for Jarmangle. Jarmangle, she says with a wink, will get whatever he desires of Tyne.
This sounds like a good deal for the lustful tiefling, but the others are suspicious. Irving, remembering how the magical ecosystem that grew around the dragon died along with it, is concerned that removing the stone might harm the mermen in some way. Feer, however, is pretty sure that the mermen are a naturally-occurring beast, and that the pact stone is likely just that.
That raises the question of why steal the stone? Tyne is evasive, but offers that her employer wants to renegotiate the terms of the pact, to ensure that Captain Bergris doesn't have a monopoly on the power of Bloodpurse Isle. This in turn raises another question: why doesn't Tyne just do it herself?
This she's more willing to answer. Jarmangle, with the proper disguise, could pass for Captain Bergris. Dressed as pirates, the group could get past the guards and into the cave. In case there are any mermen present, because living underwater they have exceptionally poor eyesight, they will in turn think Bergris is taking the stone and ending the treaty. Then, her employer can return with the stone to renegotiate the treaty.
The group agrees, but is wary; Tyne has put them in a tight spot before, and they're in no hurry to be tricked or trapped. They take the disguises she's given them and decide to plan their next move very carefully.
Thanks to an elixir provided by Tyne, Jarmangle is now slightly less drunk and Robyn is conscious if hungover. The group leaves Tyne to explore the town, stopping at a confectionery to buy cotton candy and ask the locals for information. They more-or-less confirm their suspicion that the obvious suspect to be Tyne's mysterious employer is Tallybrooke, as renegotiating the mermen treaty would tip the balance of power in his favour.
They stop in at a blacksmith, to see what can be done with the scales they looted from the dragon's corpse. The blacksmith freely admits that such material is beyond his kin, but says that his mentor, Orgath Blackhammer, the master blacksmith who lives on the mainland in the forest just west of the Bell of Harvest, might be able to work with it, for a price. He offers to place the multi-faceted gem Jarmangle took from the mayor's office into his sword-- that, at least, is within his power-- but Jarmangle doesn't have enough gold. The blacksmith spies Jarmangle's paperweight, also from the mayor's office, and offers to place the gem in exchange for it; Jarmangle's suspicions are aroused by the blacksmith's sudden interest in a supposedly worthless trinket and declines.
Jarmangle and Feer decide to scope out the cave before they all go marching in, and the others agree to wait.
Jarmangle, disguised as Bergris, easily fools the half-drunk pirates standing watch. They're surprised that he's home, as they thought he had just left for the East, but Jarmangle insults their mothers in a suitably pirate-like fashion and they kindly shut their mouths. Jarmangle and Feer head into the cave and discover that there's not much to it; no tunnels or twists, no chambers, no death traps. There is, at the far end, a pool that seems to have no bottom, perhaps feeding into the ocean and the mermen city itself. Within the pool, set inside a magic bubble, is the pact stone, and guarding the stone is what Feer correctly determines to be a were-shark.
They exit the cave, find the others, and report their findings. If they can find some way to distract the were-shark, they reason, they'll be able to grab the stone. But what if the removal of the stone results in some sort of trap being tripped? Jarmangle and Feer had not detected any mechanisms, but they're also ill-versed in the ways of arcane tortures. Robyn offers that they might swap the pact stone with her Charm of Nebulous Shape and Size, and Jarmangle suggests using the bloody dragon meat to distract the were-shark.
They return to the cave-- Tralamin still wears his owlbear cloak over his pirate disguise, and "Bergris" introduces him to the guard pirates as his trusted ally, Lt. Owlbearicus-- and set their plan into action. They tie the bloodied dragon meat to a rock so that it will sink. As soon as it hits the water, the magical blood spreads, making the water murky and hard to see through. But they do see the were-shark descending after the meat before it becomes impossible to see.
Irving uses his magically-conjured hand to swap the charm for the pact stone. As the water starts to clear, they see that the bloodied meat also attracted the attention of some nearby mermen. Fooled, for the moment, by the charm, they do not realize the pact stone is missing, but they are confused as to why "Bergris" is in the cave, as they only meet to confirm the pact on the solstice, which is still three weeks away. Jarmangle apologizes and says he simply got the dates mixed up while at sea.
They leave the cave without incident, and then they find Tyne.
She confirms that, yes, her employer is Tallybrooke, and takes them to Tallybrooke's impressive manor house so that they might hand over the stone and collect their gold. The group, realizing that Tallybrooke is unlikely to have seen the pact stone, and wishing to be cautious, gives him the glittering jewel they found in the office of the mayor of Firepalm, passing it off as the pact stone. Tallybrooke takes the bait, and points the group to a table on which sits a heap of gold and announces that he is taking his leave.
They are, naturally, suspicious, but they determine that there's nothing magical or illusory about the gold. And so, they all take their money. All, that is, but Jarmangle, who steals away with Tyne for their proposed tryst.
But as Tyne starts to undress, Jarmangle discovers that she has a brand on her shoulder-- very close to the distorted brand on his shoulder, which he used to prove his identity to Evelyn. When he asks about it, Tyne explains how she got it.
She is the daughter of Captain Bergris; when her father, her pregnant mother, and herself were captured by one of the empires of the East, they were all branded as pirates. Bergris escaped, but left Tyne and her mother in the clutches of the Empire. Her mother died in childbirth, and the baby, her brother, was branded a few days after his birth. Tyne doubts her brother survived.
The only thing she hates worse than the empire, she says, is the only other person alive with the brand-- her father, Captain Bergris.
Jarmangle reveals that he, too, has the brand-- and both of them realize the reason why he bore a resemblance to Bergris. Jarmangle is his son, and Tyne's lost brother. This, of course, puts the kibosh on their plans, and Tyne hurriedly gets dressed.
They join the others; Uncle tries to pump Jarmangle for details and Tralamin offers, given the short time they were away, that it happens to everyone. Jarmangle reveals that Tyne is his sister, and supposes he'll have to go back to hitting on the bard. Robyn, the bard in question, rolls her eyes.
Suddenly, the night sky is filled with strange signs. Irving intuits that it is a Wizard's Cipher. It's a cipher that disappears after a few minutes; even if you write it down, even if you memorize it, the cipher disappears from both page and memory. The translation would remain, meaning that it has to be cracked within that small window.
Eagerly, the entire group throws themselves into cracking it. Just as the words start to fade, they do; it's a message sent by Tallybrooke to an eastern empire, suggesting that the mermen pact is broken and confirming that he will be made governor of Bloodpurse Isle once the empire comes to destroy the returning Captain Bergris and his pirates. Tyne is shocked; had she known Tallybrooke worked for the empire she despised, she would never have sent for Jarmangle and his friends, would never have worked for him.
Returning the Stone
The group heads back to the cave, and finds within a group of angry mermen, readied for war with the pirates. Their trick has been discovered. Jarmangle, still doing a passable imitation of Bergris, apologizes and explains that a fiend named Tallybrooke was attempting to steal the stone, and that they took it only to prevent its theft. The logic might be screwy, but the delivery is convincing, and the "owlbear" they perceive standing next to Bergris is suitably frightening; the mermen agree to accept the stone and restore the pact, so long as the thief adheres to the mermen code and gives up one of their fingers. It's only now that they take note of one of the mermen, who has only two fingers and a thumb left on one of his hands.
Irving offers that it was his magically-conjured hand that stole the stone, and conjures another so that they might claim its finger.
The pact restored, and all fingers intact, our heroes merely wait and watch as Bergris returns to the Isle, the empire fast on his heels. Said empire is quickly rebuffed when the mermen join the pirates. The empire flees, and so does Tallybrooke; in the days that follow, some report seeing him near the Dark Spire, an unholy tower looming on the mainland's peninsula.
Jarmangle and his friends (minus Tyne, who has disappeared) are brought before the real Bergris, who admires Jarmangle's audacity in impersonating him. Jarmangle reveals that Bergris is his father, and the conversation that follows is fairly awkward and not particularly warm.
Bergris does offer Jarmangle a place among his pirates, but Jarmangle has already found his place.