Returning to Maxiga was a walk down memory lane for Mellvin and Vargas. The trek from Bushiken down the long road to Ken Ta Ral brought back so many fine recollections of their travels. The first place they visited was Po Kee, that little goblin village where the local farmers were trying to raise wild giant beetles as a source of food and other materials, which they called buggalo. They remembered Kage buying some plates and bowls made of buggalo shell to hand out to his beloved kender minions. Now, they had brought a kender of their own to his little town, and he was the only one that could properly fit in the little pub that existed to serve the needs of the goblin farmers and locals. Deciding to try and loosen their tongues a little to find out more about the oncoming war, Jethro thought he’d play a tune or two for the hardy village folk. His first couple of songs didn’t really strike a chord – Hold My Portal, followed closely by Hold My Dragon, just didn’t seem to be raking in the attention. But when he sang for them the Dirge of Mellvin, a gritty, sorrowful song about a crying elf escaping naked into the night, the tavern erupted with joyous laughter, and all was well. They told him that the oncoming war was a gold mine for them – although the orcs hadn’t actually figured out a way to get over the mountains or past Ken Ta Ral and over to the Swamp Mountains, there was apparently already several forces waiting for them in case they got that far – goblin and ogre mostly – and those forces needed meat. Well, needless to say marching herds of cattle across the virgin plains where the party had once upon a time fought landsharks would probably be a great way to lose a herd of livestock. But buggalo can fly, and these farmers had already started flying small herds over the mountains to the plains of battle, and were making a killing.
Well, with only the kender really fitting in the tavern, and everyone else standing out in the cold and wet – oh yes, that’s right, it rains every day in Manxiga’s floodplains – Veri was pretty much ready for rest. Using a reduce spell, she made her way into the tavern for long enough to memorize her secure shelter spell, and then came out and created a little cottage for everyone to rest in – except Vargas of course. The centaur would rather sleep outside in the elements anyway, apparently. Well, no sooner had they all retired into the little cottage that Veri had built with her magic, there was a knock on the door from an official town welcoming party, including none other than the little village’s mayor himself. The goblins introduced the newcomers to Manxiga to the efficient administration that flows in the veins of all goblins – and charged them a 500 gold piece tax for building a premises in the village. Veri, too tired to argue, just paid them off, and sent them on their way, the mayor with a huge grin on his face. There were no other disruptions for the evening.
When the sun rose, the party breakfasted on some bits of buggalo and some rations, before following the road down to Saketome. Now, though, the travel was a bit faster than before – they had gotten sick of the kender’s lollygagging, and so Vargas and Ajax took turns carrying the diminutive little man along the road. They reached Saketome by just after lunchtime, and here was another place that carried some serious memories. There was the Enchanted Rose, that hive of villainy where Lendle, archgnome mage, had once bought and sold slaves into prostitution. Moreover, where Lendle had started his large sake empire, and had his base of operations before heading west into the swamp to get into cahoots with that black dragon, X’Tang. Well, with Lendle now gone, the two rangers were keen to see what had become of the place, and so dragged the rest of the party inside, which of course drew all eyes to the centaur as he swung open the saloon doors. It was almost exactly as they had left it – bar in front, private tables and rooms with queue and rented rooms to the left, arena for fighting and betting to the right. Apparently the old concierge had become the new proprietor, and things were going just about as well as they ever had for the place, it seemed. They were asked if they wanted a room, but the general disgust of the party indicated that no, they should probably just take to the road and see if they could make it to the next town. Which, if their memories served, was Ho Tael – and if they could get to Ho Tael, it would be worth it, even if they would have to walk for a few more hours after dark.
As they set off down the road, and the sun began to set in their faces, there was a slight shift in the landscape. It was hard to tell at first – rice paddies are rice paddies – but it soon became clear that they had left the farmlands of the goblins, and entered an area of land tended to by humans. This was no more clear than when they saw a great elephant in one of the rice paddies, being led and commanded by a human man, seeming like he was trying to lead the beast onto the road, likely as not to take it home now that the sun was so low in the sky. But something seemed to spook the elephant – it was unclear quite what it was – maybe just the presence of all the party members that were unknown to it – but whatever the reason, it started trampling off into the rice fields, sending mud and water and bits of trampled plant flying. The rest of the party just gave a shrug and walked up, but Granlin, from his position on his giant dragonfly, saw an opportunity to spread the good word of Carna. Quick as lightning, he flew off after the beast, hovering in front of it and commanding it by Carna’s authority to stop! Unfortunately, elephants don’t speak the language of dragonfly riding elves, and the creature tromped past him. He was not about to give up though, and he called upon the rice plants to rise up and grab this hulking beast, and hold it in place. Unfortunately, rice plants are quite small, and elephants prohibitively large. They did their best, but most ended up just torn out of the ground by the mighty strength of the elephant, whilst those left over were still whipping about grabbing whatever came close – in this case, a farmer chasing after his elephant. They certainly got a hold of him, and with a scream of surprise and a splash, he fell face first into the water. Obviously this called for Granlin to call out Carna’s big guns. With a loud voice, he pointed at the elephant and called on Carna’s power to stop it in its tracks. Finally, something went right – the elephant was frozen there by Carna’s own mighty hand, and the trail of destruction it had left was finally at an end. Granlin flew down to the farmer’s side, who had now managed to free himself from the spidery clutches of the rice, and offered to help him with his work if he could. The farmer looked unconvinced, but he agreed, saying they could meet at that spot in the morning. With that Granlin agreed, and took off on his dragonfly after his companions, who had scarcely even watched the show over their shoulders.
Once the sun was fully down, and the rain was pattering atop their heads (except for Jethro, he had managed to acquire a goblin-sized conical hat woven from bamboo from somewhere), all thoughts were simply on arriving at the Ho Tael Plaza – Mellvin and Vargas were looking eagerly forward to it, and the rest were wanting at least to see if it could even begin to stand up to the billing it had been given by them, particularly by Vargas. Well, they certainly weren’t disappointed. Again there was the greeting at the door, even though they were wandering in well after 10 o’clock in the evening. Again superb bedding was supplied, and meals were provided, despite the late hour. They were made to feel completely and totally welcome, with anything they asked for provided to the best of their ability – even the kender was allowed to wander through some of the unlocked rooms and explore. The Carna cleric, though, did not make much of the accommodation. Oh, he took a room, certainly, since it was paid for by Veri after all, but he didn’t come down to eat, nor did he listen to any of the music, use any of the public bathing facilities, or order a girl to come and scrub down his coat like Vargas did. Instead, he got an early night, so that when the sun was rising, he could get aboard his dragonfly and zip off into the fields to find his farmer, who was already there waiting for him. Speaking a blessing from Carna out over the man’s entire crop, the effects were almost instant – the plants pointed boldly skyward, their growth looking more green and verdant than ever, while an unseen servant summoned by the elf began clearing up the uprooted shoots, and replanting them in steady rows. While he was off helping farmers though, the rest of the party were helping themselves to seconds, and thirds, of breakfast. There was anything they could possibly want – and if there wasn’t, the breakfast chef was cooking it up for them fresh. Veri thought she was in loved, and asked how much it would cost to take the chef away from all this to come with them? He laughed and said there was more to it than money, and that there wasn’t many places of higher reputation to cook than the Ho Tael Plaza. She sighed, knowing she probably wouldn’t get another breakfast like this in a long time. When it was time to go, she paid for everyone’s room and food – it was expensive, but less than the house in Po Kee cost them – and they were on the road again, this time to Ken Ta Ral.
It often surprises people from other continents just how big the major cities in Manxiga are. At first, the party were not that impressed – they thought it seemed about as big as Sanctuary, or any other large city they had seen. But Vargas and Mellvin just smiled knowingly. They were still in the outer suburbs. When they finally got to the walls of the inner city, there were suitable gasps of astonishment. The city seemed to sprawl out farther than the eye could see, and was an absolute bustle of activity. And in the midst of it all were an endless stream of goblins, carrying papers, marking down information, taking taxes, and of course ensuring everyone who entered the city had a valid reason to do so. Vargas was an Enforcer of Ken Ta Ral, and once that was verified, he was allowed in without further issue. The rest of them though, particularly the elves, were watched carefully, and when Veri explained that they were tourists from Vahassa, they paid the tourist fee of five gold coins, and were allowed through the gates. They passed through the crowded streets, being bargained at by endless lines of traders seeking to make a coin or two, before they came across the huge brick igloo in the centre of the city. Built by the slave giant Burt, it was a mishmash of all different types and colours and sizes of broken brick, from the rubble of the earthquake which had struck the city when last the party was here. While Granlin found his way to a shrine of Carna, at which he discovered a few goblins praying and joined them silently, Vargas took a mix of a scenic memory tour – visiting old acquaintances and places – and actually trying to get more information about the war, first from the temple of Paliyl, which no longer had Townsend in residence for them to talk to, but had been built up into a fine temple of justice – and to the town guards, where he learned that the ogres of Ken Ta Ral were on high alert, ready to march to the mountains if needed, but currently staying put to create a blockade to prevent the orcs getting there in the first place.
Veri, in the meanwhile, went to visit the temple of Sophia that had recently been built, and in fact was still in the process of being completely finished. She was seeking wisdom… well, not really. She wanted a cleric to scry Cherrock, for the purposes of teleporting to him to bring him to justice, or kill him, or something. She was occasionally vague on the details. The cleric, an older goblin woman, just shook her head and would not agree to provide such a service, because it did not seem like a wise course of action that would be smiled upon by Sophia. Maybe they should have just stayed in the Plaza.