The Sea Maiden Faire

Aleina followed the hooded and cloaked form of Jhelnae down the hallway. The blue carpet runner, thick beneath their boots, made their tread soft and silent. Blue and green tapestries of various shades, artfully folded and rippled to call to mind the sea, ran along the walls and the air hinted of salt and spray. Not the fishy and commerce laden smell of the Dock Ward, just outside the walls of the tavern, inn, and festhall known as the Mermaid Arms, but a clean, fresh, and wild smell. Something that recalled the wide expanse of an ocean vista from a clifftop with its promise of endless possibilities. The effect was likely spell-wrought, similar to what Sylvarie had done to her lounge in the Temple of the Restful Lily, and very pleasant. Probably also what patrons of this place deserved given the nightly price for a room here.

"And, here we are," the handsome host that walked in front of Jhelnae said.

He opened a door with a gold-plated key and stepped back to usher them inside with a bow and a wave of his hand. The half-drow swept past him and the aasimar did the same. He entered on their heels and Jhelnae turned towards him, cloak swirling, and held out her hand for the key.

He did not, however, offer it.

"Third night in a row," he said. "Not too many local guests do that."

"How do you know we are locals?" the half-drow asked, an edge of warning in her voice.

The smile the host gave probably made most women swoon. If Aleina was honest with herself, she did swoon a bit. It was a nice smile, both reassuring and roguish at the same time and included a crinkling at the corners of his striking blue eyes. He reminded her of a younger version of Renaer or Floon, two who were very self-assured of their charming handsomeness. Of course Renaer also had a noble title and wealth to match, which always helped.

"I know you two are trying," the man said. "But throwing on cloaks and hoods is a poor disguise given how distinctive an aasimar and a drow are. I do read the Waterdeep Wazoo."

Aleina sighed. That damnable article.

"Well," Jhelnae said. "Don't believe everything you read."

"She isn't the runaway aasimar bride?" the host asked, his voice indicating he knew otherwise.

"Oh, she is," the half-drow said. "But she didn't give up marrying a wealthy noble of Baldur's Gate to become a barmaid like the article said. She did it for the mind-blowing sex. So, if you'll excuse us, she is about to get ravished."

The host's eyes widened and Jhelnae used his momentary astonishment to move forward and pluck the key out of his hand. He only found his voice again when she was prodding him out the door.

"You know we have other services to offer…," he said.

The rest was lost as the half-drow shut the door in his face. The lock snicked as she engaged the deadbolt.

"By all that dances!" she said. "Good-looking, but dumb. If he remembered us from the previous two nights, why didn't he remember his trying to fleece us for more amenities annoys me?"

She turned, then caught sight of the aasimar's surprised expression.

"What?" she asked.

"You just gave him the entirely wrong impression of what will happen in this room tonight," Aleina said.

"Isn't that the point?" Jhelnae asked. "Was I supposed to say we were going to use this room to spy on the Sea Maiden Faire and try and catch a killer?"

"Well, no," the aasimar was forced to admit.

"Then what?" the half-drow asked, raising her hands in question.

"Nothing I suppose," Aleina said, shrugging.

"Good," Jhelnae said.

She reached up, pulled back her hood and unclasped her cloak. The aasimar followed her lead. Together they swept them off, revealing the black silk body suits they wore beneath. These, a halfling shopkeeper at Aurora's Realm Shop had told them, were imported from a far away land and meant for silent night work. But in truth Jhelnae and Aleina really just liked their look and feel. They also pulled out the telescoping spyglasses and the parts for the stands for them. The host had made the wrong assumption about the purpose for the cloaks. They were not meant to try and conceal their identity. Had Aleina wanted, she could have used a disguise spell to hide her features. But a bulky cloak could also be used to hide surveillance equipment.

"Careful," Aleina said. "These are expensive. We drop them, we buy them, and we don't want that."

They were renting the devices from Aurora's.

"Third night we've rented them," Jhelnae said, setting up the stand. "Third night you've given me the same warning. I know."

"Yeah, well renting a room at the Mermaids Arms three nights is expensive enough," the aasimar said. "Excuse me if I don't want to add paying for a broken spyglass."

"Hey," the half-drow said. "At least we get the good room, right?"

Aleina finished affixing her spyglass to its tripod stand and looked around their room. It was very nice, nicer than the room she shared with her friend at the Trollskull, with a big fluffy feather bed and an excess of pillows. A divan sat in front of a set of large windows for when guests wanted to pull back the drapes and take in the view of the docks. There was also a wash basin, a door to the balcony, another door to their own private privy, and a big marble tub. A bottle of Goldenfield White stood on a stand near the bed with a pair of long-stemmed glasses. They would definitely not be touching any of that. Not unless they wanted to add an over marked up wine bottle to their bill.

Kuhl and Sky were in another room in another inn, probably far less appointed, down Dock Street and Ront and Yagra were in another. All so the three groups could triangulate on the Sea Maiden's Faire. But Aleina and Jhelnae were in the prime location, the closest to the dock where two of the ships of the traveling carnival were anchored with gang planks down, and also the one with the most luxurious accommodations. Not that they'd be able to enjoy any of it, working as they were.

The half-drow, also done with her spyglass, suddenly got a thoughtful expression. She moved to the bed, leapt onto it and pulled back the blue and green patterned top quilt and ripped out the well tucked sheets and covers. Some of the pillows she tossed to the ground while others she punched. Then she stood and started jumping, sinking into the feathered mattress with every leap.

"Jhelnae?" Aleina asked, eyebrows raised. "What in the Nine Hells are you doing?"

"I… just… realized… I… told… that… smug… smiling… host… you… were… about… to get… ravished…," the half-drow said in a halting cadence to speak between jumps. "So… I'm… leaving… suitable… evidence… of your… ravishment."

She dropped to her knees on the bed and surveyed her handiwork. The aasimar laughed, it started as a chuckle, but something about seeing Jhelnae, kneeling amid the ruin of the bed with her head cocked and lips pursed in contemplation as to whether she'd done enough, made it grow into the full-blown variety. The half-drow glanced up.

"What is so funny?" she asked.

"You," the aasimar said, still laughing. "You should see your face. I can see you wondering if you should flip over the divan and rip down the drapes. Just how vigorous is this pretend ravishment supposed to be?"

"Very vigorous," Jhelnae said, joining in on the laughter.

She climbed off the bed and actually did push the divan onto its side.

That got them both laughing harder, and it was several moments before either of them could speak.

"Don't you dare touch those drapes," Aleina said between breaths. "We are not paying for room damage on top of everything else."

"Well, you're no fun," the half-drow said. "And a terrible lover by the way. You've made me do all the work."

After a time, laughter gave way to bemused smiles - the aasimar's stomach ached from their shared mirth.

"So, was it good for you?" Jhelnae asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I feel very ravished," Aleina said, wiping away a tear.

"Good," the half-drow said. "Because I'm a drow with succubus ancestry. So, I have high expectations to meet."

"You know, you could have waited until after we had slept in the bed before you ripped it apart," the aasimar said. "And what happens if we want to do something like, I don't know, sit down?"

As the night wore on, when there was little activity, they typically watched the docks in shifts while the other slept.

"Yeah," Jhelnae said, giving a final laugh. "Sorry."

She moved to the divan and lifted it back onto its feet. They looked at the two set up spyglasses and then at each other.

"Guess we should get to work," Aleina said with a sigh.

The half-drow nodded, went to the lamps and darkened them. That completed, the aasimar pulled back the drapes and carried her spyglass to one of the windows.

In truth, Aleina didnt know what they were looking for. She pulled a pair of field glasses, also rented from Aurora's, out of a pouch on her belt and lifted them to her eyes. It was well after sunset but still early evening and both the street below and the dock was busy with activity. So busy a traffic warden, a member of the Watch wearing their distinctive green-and-goldenrod doublet and a tall steel helmet, stopped carts and carriages with a yellow flag when a group of carnival goers wanted to leave the dock and cross the street.

"I love how those dragon balloons glow at night," Jhelnae said.

Floating above the carnival, secured to the docks by heavy ropes, were large balloon floats in the shapes of dragons - one for each of the chromatic colors, red, blue, green, black, and white. They weren't large enough or realistic enough to be mistaken for real dragons, but big and real seeming enough to be awe inspiring. Aleina could attest to that from standing under one of them and looking up when they had scouted the carnival during the day. At night the dragons did glow with an inner light, one more light source among the torches, lanterns, and glow globes lighting up the dock carnival.

"I don't think a giant balloon murdered those four sailors," the aasimar said. "So less admiring the balloons and more working the crowd and the sailors."

"Yeah," the half-drow said. "You know what else is true about the killings? They all happened in the dead of night after the taverns close. We're watching early just in case we catch anything suspicious. So, forgive me if my eyes wander a bit. Especially on my third night of doing it. Hold on…"

She put her field glasses back into the pouch at her belt and lowered an eye to her spyglass.

"Those little brats!" Jhelnae said.

"What?" Aleina asked. "What do you see?"

"Look over at the catapult area," the half-drow said.

At one corner of the dock, a pair of gnomes operated a catapult that launched children into a large, canvas, air filled cushion. Catching nets were set up in case the gnomes were off target, but they knew their work. The screaming children landed near the center every time and air was released as the cushion partially collapsed in on itself to be refilled for the next aerial traveler by a pair of humans working strange, oversized bellows.

The aasimar switched to her spyglass and swiveled it to the catapult area.

"I don't see anything suspicious," she said after a brief study.

"See the three children watching?" Jhelnae asked. "A taller girl with dark hair, a tiefling, and a dark-skinned boy?"

Aleina did see them now.

"Aww," she said. "Look at the poor little things! They are standing there watching all the other children getting thrown by the catapult and not getting to try it."

"By all that dances!" the half-drow said. "I should have known you would feel sorry for them. Those are the same three urchins who tried to pick my pockets on the dram. Sky made me give them money as a reward for trying to steal from us and how did they repay her? By throwing garbage at her."

"They're just children," the aasimar said. "Trying to survive. The gnomes should just let them have a try."

"That fat gray beard lech with his daughters is taking an interest in them," Jhelnae said.

A fat man did just approach them. He did not actually have a beard, but did have a long drooping mustache that, thanks to the spyglass, Aleina could tell had gray streaks mixed in with the brown. And the two young women hanging off either arm were, as the half-drow's sarcastic use of the word indicated, obviously not his daughters. He spoke to the three children, pulling an arm free and pointing at the catapult. The urchins nodded eagerly, and the fat man gave some coins to the gnome attendants, after which the three children ran to the back of the line waiting to be catapulted.

"Aww," the aasimar said. "He bought them a turn. That was very sweet of him."

The man and his companions wandered away towards one of the food stalls. He seemed heavily inebriated, and his two young lady friends worked in concert to keep him steady and walking mostly in one direction, weaving through the crowd as they did. Aleina soon lost interest and swiveled her spyglass back to the urchins in line. She watched the three of them advance until, one after the other, they were each catapulted into the big air cushion, arms windmilling and screaming. An animated discussion followed when they regrouped, with a lot of gesturing and grinning.

"Fine," the half-drow said. "It might have been a little sweet."

Aleina smiled to herself. Despite calling them brats, Jhelnae hadn't been able to resist watching the children get their turn either.

The night wore on. The aasimar focused most of her attention through field glasses and spyglass on the two ships anchored off the large dock. Human sailors moved about on deck, often watching the revelry below. Both sets of crews were a lithe and unusually uniformly short. And, in their case, sea legs seemed to translate to grace and nimbleness. They practically glided around the decks rather than walked. But except for performers and carnival workers, no one came and went up and down the gang planks. It was just as Sky said. For the third night in a row, the sailors didn't leave.

Strange.

One uninvited visitor, however, did try to get on board one of the ships. The drunk, long mustached fat man, at one point, got away from his two young companions, and went stumbling up one of the gangplanks. Aleina tensed, expecting him to trip and need to be rescued from a plunge into the ocean. But even though he swayed and teetered on the edge a couple of times, he never fell over. The response on deck was immediate and sailors massed to repel the intruder, shouting and waving him back. His two lady friends broke from a crowd of gathering onlookers and ran up the ramp and retrieved him.

"Selune's Tears," the aasimar said. "It was Tymora's own luck that he didn't fall."

"Perhaps…" her half-drow companion said.

"What do you mean, perhaps?" Aleina asked, looking up from her spyglass and at her friend.

Jhelnae met her gaze, expression thoughtful.

"Doesn't he seem too much the buffoon?" she asked. "Old, out of shape, slovenly, drunk, his two young friends making him seem like the aging male desperately clinging to youth?"

"You think it is an act?" the aasimar asked. "You think he is scouting the Sea Maiden's Faire? Like us?"

The more she thought about it, it made sense.

"I'm saying if he wanted to know how the sailors would respond to someone trying to come on board," the half-drow said. "Without arousing suspicion, he did a pretty good job."

"Well," Aleina said. "Now we know as well."

"Now we know as well," Jhelnae agreed.

They both let that silently sink in for a moment, then returned to their spying.

Time passed. Trips to the privy were taken in turn. More and more frequently, aasimar and half-drow relied on their field glasses alone, backs tired from bending over their spy glasses. Soon the crowds thinned, and vendors and carnival workers packed up for the night. The gnomes broke down their catapult as families left to tuck children into bed. Briefly, Aleina couldn't help but wonder where the three urchins had gone. She hoped they had a safe place to sleep. This made her think of Stool and Rumpadump and she hoped the little sprouts were safe as well. At least as safe as anyone could be in the Underdark.

Performers were next to retire - bards, acrobats, clowns, and also the clockwork animals and automatons. The aasimar watched this last group through the spyglass with interest, awake and alert despite the late hour and it being the third night in a row she'd watched them. She didn't think she'd ever get tired of seeing such a strange sight. Food and drink vendors closed up, those selling spirits having to practically force the last straggling patrons from their stools. And finally, the carnival workers moved everything of value to be stowed aboard the two docked ships. This included the balloon dragons, now noticeably drooping, which were untied one at a time by a mob of workers and guided to one of the ships to be secured again.

As the last of the carnival workers tramped up the gang planks, Aleina and Jhelnae were left watching only a closed up big tent and locked stalls on a now darkened dock. Still, they kept looking through their field glasses. Aleina was sure if the killer was going to make his move, it would be soon after the closing of the carnival as it corresponded with the closing of many taverns. All the killings had happened around that time.

Yet, like the previous two nights before, they saw nothing. Was Sky wrong? Was the killer not a part of the Sea Maiden's Faire? Perhaps not even a sailor? Her reasoning was sound, but the arrival of the ships and the start of the killings could be coincidence.

Finally, the half-drow sighed.

"Get some sleep," she said. "I'll keep watch and wake you to take over."

"Should we change it up?" the aasimar asked. "I'll take the first shift this time?"

Jhelnae shook her head.

"I like it better when you warm up a spot for me," she said. "Puts me to sleep faster."

She smiled, but there was little mirth in it. Aleina understood. It was frustrating to not see anything again for the third night in the row. The aasimar unbuckled the belt holding the field glasses and moonstone orb. Without it, the silk bodysuit made good night clothes. She climbed into bed and yanked covers on top of her, fluffing one of the pillows the half-drow had previously 'ravished' with punches.

She must have been more tired than she thought. The next thing she knew she woke to the sound of her name.

"Aleina!" Jhelnae called, pitching her voice loud enough to wake, but quiet enough to not carry to other rooms or the hall. "Something is happening! Get up!"

The cloud of sleep evaporated immediately for the aasimar at those words. She threw back the covers and leapt out of bed, scooping her belt with the field glasses and buckling it on as she hurried to the window.

It turned out she didn't need her spy equipment to see what was happening. A thick fog rose along the water, engulfing the two vessels of the Sea Maiden's Faire and dock alike. As the gray mist thickened, the glow of the street lamps along Dock Street became increasingly haunting. Through the gloom, the aasimar spotted three shadows gliding across the dock like elves slipping through a forest.

"By all that dances!" Jhelnae said, lowering her field glasses. "If they are the Dock Ward murderers I am going to kill them! Let's go, we can't let them get away."

They left their room through the balcony door, the half-drow pulling a length of elven rope from her discarded cloak first. The night air was unexpectedly cold for a late Spring night. Likely the product of this unnatural fog. Jhelnae tied the rope off and descended to the street below. Aleina followed, heart in her throat even though they had practiced this many times off one of their own balconies facing the alley at the Trollskull. She could have flown down, but glowing wings would undoubtedly attract too much attention.

After she dropped to the ground, the aasimar glanced up at the hanging rope. They'd thrown it off the side, so it hung mostly in shadow rather than lamplight and thus not likely seen. Anyone with dark vision, however, would see it, and could climb up and steal the two valuable spyglasses. No help for it.

Aleina grabbed hold of the half-drow before she could head off after the three running from the dock. The aasimar had missed something. Something Jhelnae had seen allowed her to identify who they pursued, and Aleina wanted to know all she could before they gave chase.

"Who are they? she hissed, close to her friend's ear. "What did you see?"

The half-drow beckoned her to follow but whispered in answer as they ran down Dock Street.

"My mother and those like Trelasarra work so hard to improve the reputation of the drow," she said. "But any gains they make are fragile. Years and years of work can be undone with one vile act. The three we are chasing, who might be the Dock Ward killers, are drow."

5-17-2022 Those of you who know the module know I changed some stuff. There is no description of the carnival on the docks, but I wanted to make something festive and fun. I did use some of the stuff in the hold of the boats from the module.

You will also note that I made it so that people can't just walk on board. In the module, it actually says you can just walk on board. No one will stop you. They just don't notice you until you are on board. In my play through we did watch the ship and nothing happened. Afterwards the DM said, "I don't know why you guys didn't just walk on board? Nothing would have stopped you."

I don't know...maybe I'm wrong, but that made no sense to me. There were hints that there is something suspicious about the ships and there actually *is* something suspicious, but you can just walk up the gang plank with no ramifications? In our play through our logic was that we didn't want to tip our hand and showed we knew something was up. So we played this waiting game, hoping we'd see something. But we never saw anything, so we chased other leads.

BUT, BUT, now I know that an event *is* triggered if you watch the ship (what is referenced in this chapter). I have no idea why my DM didn't use that.

Oh and a certain famous Masked Lord of Waterdeep made a cameo. Not too hard to guess... :)