The river barge floated downstream towards Kordova, carrying the quickly bored Nemedians onboard. The journey would take a week or so, as the ship had to anchor each night. The barge was transporting tin bars to the sea harbour downstream, her crew and captain happy to accept passengers for some extra coin.
During the first days of the trip, the Nemedians just let the days slip by, engaging in petty gambling and chatting. More out of boredom than true necessity, they started taking part in the night watches. The children stayed silent and closed, yet Alcemides was determined to take care of their well-being. Onboard, Thothmekri told a bit about himself and his past. He had been a street urchin and a thief, untill a burglary went wrong and he was caught. Instead of a gruesome execution he was taken as an apprentice and servant to a powerful wizard. In a few years, he had become the unnamed sorcerer’s assistant and spy in the World beyond Stygia. It seemed that the Stygian enjoyed his role as a proxy of some powerful master in shadowy games of espionage.
On the fourth night of the trip, Tyrus was sitting on the deck as a night sentry when he heard cries of help from the shore. An obviously female voice screamed for help, before being suddenly cut off. Sentries among the crew heard the cries as well, going to wake the captain. He decided that the trouble on the shore was not his problem. Worse yet, it could be some sort of trap by river pirates. Tyrus was not happy with that and instead went to wake up Noam and Barathus, explaining them the situation. They decided to take one of the ships rowboats and go to check the shore, something the captain grudgingly agreed to. They reasoned that Alcemides and Dionysos would not be interested in the plight of a stranger and went on their excursion without waking the two other Nemedians or the Stygian.
As they beached the boat, the trio almost immediately spotted a fire on top of a hill nearby. Against the flames three silhouettes could be seen, clearly visible in the dark night. Tyrus and Noam went sneaking ahead, Barathus following behind them in his brigandine. On the hill seemed to be a camp some sort, with three rough looking men with wild beards and dirty clothes sitting on logs. On the ground was laying a woman in colorful robes, tied and gagged with ropes. The three Nemedians decided to attack without a warning, making short work of the (apparent) bandits.
As they returned to the boat, carrying the gagged and tied woman with them, shadowy shapes followed. Just as they had started rowing towards the ship, crossbow bolts started raining after the men. Instead of rowing to safety, Barathus intimidated the others to turn the boat and return to the beach, setting himself in the front with his shield up. As they reached the beach, the three men and the wardog started giving a chase to elusive, ragged forms, of which some seemed to be women. The frustrating skirmish in the dark forest seemed to carry on and on, although they managed to incapacitate at least one of the attackers. Finally the three decided to retreat, instead of hunting bandits all night long and risking getting lost in unfamiliar terrain. Meanwhile, the sounds of battle had woken up everyone aboard the ship.
As the trio finally returned onboard, the woman was freed from her restraints. Untied, she turned out to be a stunning Shemite beauty. The woman explained that she was a priestess of Ishtar, who had been enjoying the hospitality of a local baron. As she went to the local woods to look for herbs, she was attacked by bandits. Only through sheer luck she managed to escape for a moment later on to shout for help when she saw the lights of the ship. She was not very fond of the baron however, and made it clear she would prefer to journey to Kordova with the boat. The captain was glad to grant her that request. Her presence seems to have an electrifying effect on all the men, and the captain invited her to reside in his personal cabin.
The next few days passed by as before, although the priestess wandering through the decks always caught the attention of the crewmembers and the Nemedians alike. It seemed she sought out the ones easiest to manipulate and then extracted information out of them – something that became obvious only later. The third night before arriving at Kordova the priestess announced that at midnight, a special ritual for Ishtar would take place. All of the group, except Thothmekri and Noam, made sure they were on the main deck as the midnight came closer. As the priestess started dancing, wearing only transparent silk, they forgot the absence of their friends – as well as the fact that no crewmembers seem to be in sight anywhere.
Suddenly Alcemides noticed that something seemed to be wrong. There were rope ladders set against the sides of the ship. Just as he started moving towards them, there was a glint of moonlight on steel and the first of the attackers jumped on the deck. Soon the “priestess” was on him, fighting barehanded like a devil and pricking his skin with a ring, armed with a hidden needle coated with poison.
A brutal combat ensued on the deck, which was soon slippery from blood. Attackers armed with cutlasses and arming swords swarmed over the sides, while the treacherous woman seemed as dangerous with her bare hands and feet as an armed man. Luckily, the noise awoke Noam and Thothmekri, who charged into the fray straight from their hammocks. Finally, Dionysos was reduced to a desperate measure, releasing his arcane energy in a shockwave of death, killing foes and Noam’s faithful warhound. As the remaining aggressors started to withdraw towards their boats, Alcemides and Barathus jumped on the other boat straight from the deck. At the same time Noam peppered fleeing enemies with arrows. As the bloody night was finally over, blood and corpses covered the deck. A few floated in the river, with arrows in their backs, including the corpse of the treacherous woman. Only a few attackers had managed to flee. Yet the Nemedians were badly wounded as well, especially Alcemides, who had become paralyzed by the poison coursing in his veins.
As the wounded were tended to and the fallen inspected, it became obvious that all of the crewmembers were missing. A quick search of the ship revealed that they were all unconscious, from a sleeping draught slipped in the wine barrels. The passengers had been saved from that fate, as they preferred to consume their own rations instead of what the sailors had to offer. The bloodied men were facing a new temptation. As the wounded, exhausted Dionysos said with a rasping voice, they could just slit the throats of the sleeping men and steal the whole ship. Surely it would net them a princely sum of gold and silver.