The Adventures of Volo
The Urge to Hunt
By Ed Greenwood (Dragon #282)
Volothamp Geddarm at your service, gentles, setting truths of the Realms before you like a rare and strange beast, slain by hunters, the likes of which not one astonished observer has ever seen before. On this occasion, I write of two hunts currently gaining popularity and importance in Faerûn. The squeamish should be aware that this won't be a catalog of gory trophies nor an enthusiastic description of slaying after slaying, but (as the scribe Asgerlan Burtrann once described his controversial work Cormyrian Customs And Scandals), "a brief and tasteful inquiry into interesting social pastimes and their effects."1
The Dark Dragon Hunt
Pirate depredations killed the early Sembian "noble"2 pastime of voyaging to monster-infested "Wild Isles" in the Sea of Fallen Stars for beast hunts centuries ago. Yet Sembians like to think of themselves as valiant, risk-taking hunters; those who doubt this given their general tendency to obesity and love of luxuries need only glance at the many hunting scenes on tapestries hanging in inns, taverns, and private homes. Many Sembians retain a thirst for hunting and pay large sums to be taken on boar hunts in the Dales, or to hunt more exotic game farther afield.
An enterprising pirate by the name of Endreth Molipher (who became involved with slavers and found it prudent to stage his own death in a shipwreck and "drop out of the trade" for a time) hit upon an idea after a harrowing experience in 1359 DR.
He was hired to kidnap a reclusive wizard, Onsible Draung, and deliver him as a blinded, tongueless, and handless slave to serve on the rowing-benches of a trading galley operating out of Westgate. Molipher managed to seize and subdue Draung, but he almost died under the claws and jaws of the wizard's monstrous guardians.
Under torture, Onsible revealed that he was in the habit of collecting monsters on his travels, subduing them with spells, and feeding them with lesser beasts produced by captive deepspawn. Molipher fulfilled his commission and returned to the wizard's estate - to find it being ransacked and blasted apart by greedy Sembian wizards in search of magic.
Aided by several minor wizards among these scavengers who were eager to earn easy fees for a task that would temporarily remove them from what was becoming a vicious many-sided spell-duel,3 Molipher caged and carried away the deepspawn, sailing them to the large but undeveloped pirate island of Stoma,4 notable only for the dangerous shoals that surround it and its tiny, dangerous, rocky harbor (festooned with the remnants of many shipwrecks).
There Molipher built a dwelling and entered into a formal pact with three wizards whose identities he prefers to keep secret.5 Each of them brings him magically subdued monsters whenever they can capture such beasts, and each of them has a hideaway ("magical cache" would perhaps be a more accurate term) on the island. Using the deepspawn to produce enough wild, roaming food, Molipher raises monsters on Stoma and sails them, caged, to Yhaunn, for release into a large, wooded hunting preserve on the northern edge of Sembia. Every season, his agents start rumors of particularly rare and deadly beasts to be defeated in the "Dark Dragon Hunt" - and each year, increasing numbers of wealthy Sembians pay handsomely for the pleasure of being guided through the bogs, thickets, and rolling hills of "the Dark Dragon Lands."
There is no dark Dragon, and never has been, but Molipher has found that his guests like the thrill of danger his tales of a ghostly guardian dragon bring. It drives the more fearful among them into hiring some of his men as guides, and not wanting to incur "the dragon's displeasure" is his convenient excuse for not repairing the old ruined castle he uses as a hunting lodge into the palatial opulence that Sembians expect elsewhere.
The castle, built as the hold of a self-styled "Duke Baraudos" in the days when Sembia was young, has many deep and rather damp storage cellars, and in one of these Molipher keeps hidden some beast-trophies (claws, stuffed heads, and the like). Hopeless hunters are always convinced (with the help of drink and beautiful companions) to spend a last night at the secluded Haunted Lake Lodge, and there, after they are put to bed, one of Molipher's wizards puts vivid images of a fear- some monster attack - and their valor in slaying the beast - into their dreams. When they awaken, they are treated with awe, told of their prowess, and presented with a suitable monster trophy of "their" kill.
Molipher isn't loathe to sell discreet wizards and alchemists either live beasts or body parts and essences for their work. His staff needs provide solid career opportunities for folk who like to work magic, but they lack the ambition or ruthless, danger-dismissing nature necessary to really rise in the world as independent wizards. One can enjoy a good life, some excitement, and light work duties in the Dark Dragon Lands while pursuing magical studies in a relaxed manner - and there's often a chance for some real rewards, and peril, if one of Molipher's wizard partners needs magical assistance with a task or on an expedition.
In recent years, Molipher is known to have stocked the Dark Dragon Lands with a chimera, fifty or so wild boar, two behir, several manticores, a dozen lions, a wyvern, a stinger, a water naga (put into Haunted Lake, and still not slain), and even a beholder that is blinded in several eyes. Molipher himself is known to own and use at least two griffon steeds, and to have acquired enough magic items to escape alive from several confrontations with hostile Sembian wizards.
Just in the last few months, a disquieting rumor has surfaced in Ordulin and Yhaunn: For a fee, folk whose disappearance is desired can be kidnapped, transformed into beast-shape by magic, and released in the Dark Dragon Lands during a hunt, to be brought down by eager Sembian hunters.
The Black Bucket Hunt
A new and dangerous pastime has erupted among the bored and jaded nobles of Waterdeep. There have been only two annual "Black Bucket Hunts" thus far, but their wild proceedings have led no less than Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun to publicly warn: "I've been meaning to fill up Undermountain for some time now. This just might do it!"
Fill up Undermountain? The greatest tourist attraction - and brigand removal service - of the great city of Waterdeep? It appears that wizards don't think before they speak any more than kings do. Still, this tendency makes grand pronouncements prime entertainment.
This could, of course, be an empty threat, uttered to make participants curb their deeds. If I must hear threats, archmages at least have the vocabulary to make them interesting. I'd love to hear Elminster, The Simbul, and Khelber all threaten each other . . . from a safe distance away. Half a continent or so should be about right, don't you think?
The Black Bucket Hunt is undertaken by drunken, thrill-seeking nobles at a revel chosen by mutual agreement (thus far hosted by the Kothonts and then the Urmbrusks), and staged by a mysterious group of masked women sponsored by many senior nobles. From a large, battered, and fire-scorched bucket, small tokens are selected by participants, dividing them randomly into teams - often grouped with rivals and longtime foes.
The bucket is then filled with rubies and a dozen tokens that each exempt the bearer from all city fines, fees, and taxes for a year. It is then magically transported away (in a showy process of spellcastings, monster-summonings, and the like) to "a secret corner of Undermountain."
The teams (usually eight or more groups of at least six folk each) are then dressed in ridiculous, magically-luminous costumes and conducted through the city in a raucous parade to locales where they're teleported or shown down through cellars into Undermountain. The area where the Hunt occurs is, 'tis said, scoured of monsters thrice before the event begins,6 and many passages temporarily walled off to largely seal it away from most of sprawling, dangerous Undermountain. Moreover, so the whispers go, Halaster himself approves of this hunt, and takes no part in frustrating or endangering it.
Nevertheless, there are some "monsters" - usually human skeletons, spiders with paralyzing bites, and the like - to be met with in the Hunting Ground, as well as unpleasant features like dung-slides, garbage heaps, and "perfume bombs" (rubbery spheres filled with cheap, strong, less-than-pleasant liquid scents) that participants can find and hurl at predators and each other.
The first team to lay hands on the Black Bucket is magically transported - all of its members at once, regardless of their condition or location - back to the revel, to divide their loot publicly (often in a violent squabble).
The luminous costumes are usually of pink, yellow, or orange flimsy cloth, and sport waggling tails, exaggerated bird beaks and wings, forests of small dangling arms, and the like. They provide the Hunt's only sources of illumination. During the hunt, participants are often stripped (so as to be left in the dark) by rival teams or even members of their own team, and although efforts are made to ban the use of armor, magic items, and weapons by participants, some always sneak in.
The Hunt usually includes a few murders, much violence, and a large number of wounded, senseless, or scared participants (the latter wandering cold and lost) who must be rounded up by a team of Watchful Order wizards and armsmen after the prize has been found.
Given the potential for slaying, maiming, or disfiguring foes, it seems surprising that so many nobles eagerly and avidly participate - but despite the silliness and relatively (to a noble) paltry prize to be won, "winning" the Hunt carries a considerable cachet among Waterdhavians of all social standing. Strangers and commoners who've been part of the two winning teams thus far have found doors opened for them in social circles, guilds, and both informal cabals and formal circles of investors all over the city. The Hunt is gaining fame and popularity, with word reaching up and down the Sword Coast, and Waterdhavians are speaking of it to outlanders with pride!
Between Hunts, the Bucket itself can be seen on display (under heavy and magically-assisted guard, after several successful "snatch" attempts) in the entry hall of Piergeiron's Palace.
Priests of many major faiths attend each Hunt to heal participants (healing fees are paid by the sponsoring nobles, not the hunters), and at the second hunt several "consolation prizes" (notably a huge silver tankard whose lid was topped with a sculpted, bejeweled beholder) were awarded to hunters who took particularly spectacular pratfalls or intrepid actions.
It seems several wizards will be allowed to cast modified arcane eye spells at future Hunt-revels (under strict Watchful Order supervision, to prevent all other magics from being cast into the Hunting Ground) that allow revelers to watch Hunt proceedings from afar (what the arcane eye sees being "projected" into the air as a large, floating vertical image). Only two such spells were managed at the last Hunt (none were cast at the first). These showed Guster Ilitul strangling Delbert Thorp during a battle between teams, and thrusting Thorp's body underwater, and an amorous encounter of great passion and acrobatic skill between Tlannada Gralhund and Daervin Husteem, undertaken in a room awash in cherry fruit jelly transported in onto their heads for the occasion by a mischievous Arsten Thunderstaff II. Both scenes were reported to be highly entertaining, and revelers loudly desired more extensive viewing of future Hunts.
Inevitably, betting on various outcomes of the Hunt has begun. In other events, such a "raising of the stakes" has led to violence, deception, and an escalation of weaponry - but in the Black Bucket Hunt, such tendencies were well underway, regardless.
The origin of the Bucket itself remains mysterious, by the way, though there are the inevitable rumors of its having magical powers, a sinister ultimate purpose, and sacred significance to at least one cult.
1. Tasteful is a word whose boundaries folk seldom agree upon. It must be noted that the good Volo fails to apprise the reader of the fate of Asgerlan: He was dragged to death behind a horse on the orders of Throrton Marlir, for "staining the good names and characters of the fine families of the realm, and thereby besmirching all Cormy, and moreover laying bare diverse secrets and weaknesses of the kingdom to all of its foes possessed of the ability to read, or listen to what others read aloud - which might well include a few Sembians."
2. That is, an activity undertaken by the richest Semnar - that's what we used to call them, though the term seems little used these days - merchants to show their less fortunate fellow Sembians just how wealthy they were. It was rare to have idle time enough for such dangerous and expensive pursuits. Therefore, look ye, how special they were.
3. This struggle is known to have caused the deaths of the wizards Ieigyn Malaunt or Ordulin, Gargreth Mraeyvyn of Hillsfar, and at least a dozen minor wizards. The estate - formerly a wooded, walled triangle of land in the western reaches of the city of Saerloon with Draung's plain, simple stone tower at its center - was ultimately reduced to a smoking pit. Wild magic yet lingers there, though new homes have been raised on the site. No trace of tress, walls, or tower remains. At least one combatant was forced into the shape of a phantom fungus, a prison from which he's yet to be released; he's rumored to wander form woodlots near Saerloon or lurk in its cellars or sewers.
5. Know ye that they are, in fact, the fat, gluttonous and wine-loving Halartan Groune of Drelt (a hunter's hamlet northeast of Daerloon); the cold, shrewd, and secretive investor Orbel Mhaerouzan of Saerloon; and the adventurer and legendary seducer of highborn ladies Gorstal Hammers of Telpir. If ye feel a hankering to rid the Realms of a wizard or three, feel free to choose these fellows: we'll not keenly feel their loss.
6. This is true, for I've seen the adventurers hire to do so. They're usually expendable sorts from outside the city, but they are always well-paid (an bribed even more highly by this noble family's agent and then that one, to leave a note, concealed weapon, false black bucket, or the like in the area they're scouring.
To make things more adventurous for these hirelings, there are even signs that some predators who inhabit Undermountain have begun to anticipate the event, and they gather to feed on the adventurers or the hunters who soon follow.