The heavy storm of the night before had cleared and it looked like a perfect day for Dinosaur Racing. The Fellowship of the Forge woke early and took a fine breakfast on the balcony at Kaya’s House of Repose, the most hospitable lodging in Port Nyanzaru outside of the Merchant Princes Villas themselves. Skopti, not used to the rich fare he had gorged on the previous night, was suffering from a bout of food poisoning and stayed in bed.
Fully rested, except for Valdimir who is still suffering slightly from his ordeals in Neverwinter, the adventurers made their way to the starting line of the race determined to take part and maybe earn some renown and some coin. As luck would have it, they met Faroul and Gondolo, two out of luck charlatans exiled from Waterdeep who had a stake in the race. The pair explained how they own a young Triceratops called Zongo but neither of them were a competent rider. Valdimir convinced them of the honour of having the “Great” Nundro racing for them and got a better cut of the winnings as a result. Plans were made and bets were laid and it was time to race The Princes Chase!
Before the race the sponsor, Merchant Prince Kwayothé, addressed the crowd urging the riders to give the people of Port Nyanzaru a thrilling race and to honour the noble dinosaurs bearing them.
Horns blew loudly AAAAAAAANNND THEEEEY’REE OFFFFFF!
Cantankerous ankylosaurus Deadly Treasure, ridden by the Tortle Kwilgok, and the ancient dimetrodon Mountain Thunder, ridden by Cpt Swift & Dark, got off to good starts. But it was Nundro who sped into an early lead going over the narrow walkway connecting Goldenthrone to the Temple of Savras. With the stocky Triceratops Zongo farting along beneath him, he looked like a natural in the saddle, a hastily drawn banner flowed behind him displaying for the whole city to see the name “Fellowship of the Forge”. Towards the back of the pack, Canker Keel dug her heels into her stegosaurus Juicy Stakes, but the confused dinosaur had heard mad whispers in it’s head and went sideways rather than straight, taking out Olu on the other ankylosaurus Grung Stomper. Olu went flying out of the saddle and over the side of the walkway before being helped back up by fans in the crowd. A cunningly placed Hex on the main threat, Ubtao’s Favourite ridden by the son of Merchant Prince Ekene-Afa Tiryki, proved decisive as he found himself at the back of the pack behind the chaos.
The dinosaurs raced around the Temple of Savras where jubilant clerics were casting spells on riders and their dinosaurs. Zongo, still out in front, benefitted from a bless cast by an acolyte of the Lord of Divination. It didn’t help his flatulence however. Some of the riders in the back of the pack decided to apply the lash to their mounts. This worked in Tiryki’s favour and Ubtao’s Favourite surged forward. It did not go so well for Olu, whose liberal use of the lash sent Grung Stomper into a frenzy, crashing into the wall of an expensive looking villa.
Dodging water jets and flying snakes, Nundro’s lead was unassailable as Zongo roared from both ends and thundered out of the city gates into the Old City. Passed ancient, crumbling ziggurats and round the fighting pit at Executioners Run they went. Ubtao’s Favourite had caught up and Mountain Thunder was racing hard just behind through the packed stalls in the Grand Souk. Following close by was Deadly Treasure who had been encouraged by a little lashing from Kwilgok bobbing along in his howdah. Glancing behind, the Tortle knocked down a canoe directly into Juicy Stakes path ending the race for Canker Keel and any chance of Cole getting any gold back on his outside bet. Cole, Valdimir and Grom had taken shortcuts and caught up with the racing dinosaurs. The streetwise wizard had a new trick he wanted to try out and after magically altering his appearance, he reached into the mind of Tiryki and drove a psychic spike into it, rendering the unsuspecting man unconscious. His Triceratops Ubtao’s Favourite trundled on with the rider strapped in, but at a much reduced pace.
The finishing line was in sight atop a tall hill, the stone arena they call the Grand Coliseum thronged with cheering crowds. Zongo let out an almighty fart and burst through the winners tape as Nundro, who still hadn’t lashed the beast, clung on muttering prayers to Marthammor Duin all the way to win The Princes Chase!
The crowds roared and Nundro climbed down from Zongo and put his arms around the Triceratops neck (not an easy feat) and they shared a special moment. Nundro sure does love that dinosaur!
To the winners, the spoils and this was not exception. Nundro was presented with a wooden box filled with ten gems, five passes for a free day at the Public Bathhouse and an invitation to dine with the mysterious Kwayothé. Faroul and Gondolo collected their dinosaur and their winnings before fairly paying their share and the Fellowship also cashed in their feather tokens winning heavily as Zongo had odds of 7:1.
Next stop was to find Musharib and spend some of this gold on equipment and provisions for an extended trek into the jungle. It had been decided that despite rumours and propositions to the East (including a settlement of flying birdmen holding the last heir to the Royal throne of Chult, the final resting place and hoard of an ancient Green Dragon know as Needle, Mezro the city of magic apparently ruined and ransacked by the Flaming Fist and the hanging gardens of Nangalore a favoured palace of long-dead Queen Zalkoré), the Death Curse was the priority and the way was clear. Head down the river Soshenstar passed Camp Righteous (abandoned) and Camp Vengeance (hastily built) through Batiri Goblin territory to Mbala atop a high plateau with views of the South region of the undead-infested jungles of Chult. West of this cursed town is what is left of Orolunga, once a great city, now choked with vegetation. All that remains above the treeline is a ziggurat which is fabled to be home of a wise guardian who can guide those lost in the maze of life and show them the right path. If, that is, one can make it to the top of that beguiling ziggurat.
With Musharib’s guidance everything was bought in short shrift and stowed with the Albino Dwarf. He would meet the Fellowship when they are ready to depart as agreed when they paid his guide fee upfront, favouring the honest Chultan dwarf over skint charlatans Faroul and Gondolo and snidey bitch Salida. Still to buy was insect repellent but as the party were heading to dinner at the villa of the Merchant Prince who deals in it they thought that a deal would be there to be had.
The Public Bathhouse was a fine experience as the heroes were pampered and scrubbed before relaxing in a hot spring fed pool rubbing elbows with the locals of Port Nyanzaru both rich and poor. More rumours were picked up, particularly a tale about how the great god Ubtao once guided the people of Chult, but he tired of their constant warring and abandoned them. Since then, Chultans have turned to the worship of other gods, some of which were tricksters and deceivers.
After the obligatory and inevitable celebration booze up at the Thundering Lizard, muscular Gladiators appeared and hailed for the Fellowship of the Forge. Being taken by palanquin was a rare treat for all the adventurers, especially Grom, who just didn’t see the point, as they arrived in style at the opulent mansion of Kwayothé.
Her villa reeked with scented perfumes, and bowls of fresh fruit could be found throughout. Oil lamps and braziers were lit even though it is was still balmy outside. The Merchant Prince herself greeted them flanked by exquisitely beautiful consorts and led them through a great hall with sweeping staircases to a dining room with views of a tropical garden. There attractive Chultan attendants served tej, fruit and sweet pastries and Kwayothé told her story of how she grew up in the streets of Port Nyanzaru, poor and destitute. She went on to express a strong dislike for nobility and the Chultan royal families, of which rival Merchant Prince Zhanthi is said to be a descendant of. When asked of the Death Curse she calmly said how she wished Zhanthi would get the disease! It was about this time that Kwayothé’s consort whispered in her ear and she excused herself. Not five minutes passed when everyone heard “No! Please no! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!”. Gromund was first out of the door and saw Kwayothé with a metal staff glowing hot and a working Chultan with dye-stained arms on his knees with a smoking brand on his chest. “Please excuse me.” said Kwayothé in a vaguely menacing way. “This one decided to buy dancing monkey fruit off the black market. No one does that to me!!” she yelled suddenly as she brought the scolding hot symbol of the fire god Kossuth on the end of her staff down on the hapless man again. Valdimir simply remarked “None of our business.” and had another tej.
Kwayothé returned with a smile when she had finished and when asked how the Fellowship could win more favour with her, she simply replied “Go to Fort Beluarian and kill a man named Shago, no questions asked”. Valdimir immediately asked a question…
We left our heroes as the dinner had ended, Kwayothé had retired and they had been escorted out the front door onto the streets of Port Nyanzaru beneath a blanket of stars.