The trees overhead gradually came into focus as Baelnog regained his senses. Slowly, an indistinct mass of green coalesced into trees, branches, leaves, moss. Just as slowly, he was aware of a pain in his leg growing more and more acute. It was supported by a fuzzy background of soreness and aching through his whole body in much the same way a Tartrix virtuoso was supported by an entire orchestra. Indeed, “symphonic” would probably be the best way to describe the pain he was feeling, Baelnog decided.
“This is the last time,” he thought. “The last time I’m taking a job from that beard-for-brains old coot. It never goes smooth. How come it never goes smooth?” He tried to move his leg. Definitely broken, judging by the searing fire racing through his nervous system, and broken badly.
It was supposed to have been easy. A nice easy job to keep the crew fed and the ship flying. Get an artifact from the dig site in Leafsdown to Capron in Alnoc. Not a dangerous artifact, not a haunted dig site, none of that. Just a simple milk run. Sure, the old man had been a bit stingy with his payment, but an old scholar’s income isn’t exactly lush, and a job’s a job. So they had taken it.
Baelnog should have known that no good would come of this job when they showed up at the site and found Leafsdownian government inspectors there already. The mischevious, but nervous dig foreman Libbo told him that it was part of a surprise inspection by the government since the dig was taking place on their lands. “That’s the thing about this blasted country,” the Halfling had said when he stole out to the Cloudskimmer that night to talk with Baelnog. “Leafsdown is so obsessed with their trade status that they can’t pass up an opportunity to get their hands on things like these artifacts. Never mind the fact they don’t know what the blazes they DO, they just want to show them off and look wealthy. Ol’ Cappy and I go way, way back, so we both know what would happen to those tablets if Leafsdown got their hands on them: nothing. No one could look at them, learn from them, and instead they’d just be sitting in a box in a closet.” Baelnog decided then that he liked Libbo.
The darkness of nighttime deepened, and the crew of the Cloudskimmer set about their job with incredible adroitness. Even their captain hadn’t expected it to go over as well as it did. Without much trouble, Varos talked up the guards at the dock while Herrat, Adeliza, Brangaen and Gus snuck into the supply shed where Libbo said he had hidden the tablets when the inspectors arrived, found and opened the secret storage compartment, and snuck the tablets back to the ship in a footlocker. The Cloudskimmer lifted off silently thanks to the mechanical expertise of Vermilio, and they made their escape into the night skies.
It was clear sailing for a few days, but then the unexpected happened, as it always seems to. It was Herrat who first saw them. “Goblins!” she shouted from the lookout. The maniacal raiders closed in quickly on the ship with their ramshackle craft. It seemed like the only parts of it they had really cared about were the massive engine and the red paint job. “”/campaign/the-skies-of-velaris/wikis/mogabex" class=“wiki-page-link”>Mogabex", goblin for “Skull Crusha”, was scrawled on the stern in a spastic hand. Poetic, as always, Baelnog remembered thinking. There wasn’t time for more thought than that, however, as the raiders opened fire with a huge cannon bolted to their deck. It was difficult to tell whether the huge, explosives-laden cannonballs were more dangerous to their operators or their targets, but they certainly did a number on the Cloudskimmer, taking out a large bite of the aft deck and setting the port lift sail on fire. The goblin’s barbarity was matched by the bravery of the crew, however, with Vermilio and Varos leaping down onto the goblin’s ship to fight them up close. Adeliza, meanwhile, picked off a goblin with a vicious-looking sword with an expertly aimed crossbow bolt, and Brangaen called forth divine power to pull a sniper off of the ship and send him tumbling to his watery doom. When the goblins tried to board the Cloudskimmer, Gus was there to flay them where they stood while Herrat transformed into a primeval bear to tear them apart.
Still, try as they might to fend off the attack, the hobgoblin gunner tore hole after hole in the poor ship, and it eventually began losing altitude. Rather than try their luck against the remaining goblins, Varos and Vermilio jumped back to the Cloudskimmer to do what they could to save it. “I knew I hired them for a reason,” Baelnog mused. What he couldn’t figure out, even as they sank toward the tiny island on which he now lay, was why the goblins had attacked them. The most likely scenario was that it was completely random, a raid just like any other carried out by goblins to take whatever wealth they could from whatever craft they could fight. It was an age-old pattern, and Baelnog knew that it was probably the case, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the timing was just too perfect. But what would goblins want with a bunch of old tablets? Baelnog had never known goblins to be much for reading, much less of dead languages that only the wisest scholars could understand. Beyond their educational value, however, Capron hadn’t mentioned any inherent power that would make the tablets attractive to simple-minded goblins. The only other explanation that Baelnog could conjure was that the old man had enemies he wasn’t letting on.
“This is the last damned time I take a simple job,” the captain thought. They were always the ones that seemed to go wrong. The trees overhead began to fade back to an emerald haze. Baelnog could feel consciousness slipping like cloud vapor through his fingers. “The last time…”