By Jeff Quick
The Slaves' Escape Portal
Kohar-De Hethshep (N male human Wiz4) is a Mulhorand slave trader who hit the jackpot when he found a colony of aarakocras living peacefully in the steppes of the Hordelands. A few sleep spells later, Kohar-De had a caravan wagon full of brightly plumed slaves for the jaded tastes of Mulhorand slave owners.
The colorful, bird-like creatures have been a hit. They are considered exotic and fashionable slaves to have in one of the last nations on the continent that still condones slavery. Many clerics of Mulhorand pay handsomely for the privilege of owning one of these strange humanoids. Those who appear more hawk-like command even higher prices, and are seen by some as a symbol of the gods' presence.
As symbols of prestige, little is expected of an aarakocran slave in Mulhorand. Mainly these expensive status symbols are kept nearby as decorative 'objects' or as ostentatious displays of their owner's wealth. Aarakocran slaves usually accompany their owners as part of an entourage, for both business and social functions. Sometimes they are instructed to flank their owner and wave palm fronds, but mainly they stand around with their arms chained decorously to their sides to prevent them from flying off.
Though treated well, a caged bird is still caged. The aarakocran slaves who remember flying freely over the steppes long for return to the life they knew before. Fortunately, though few know it, they have an ally.
Mather Esseylnn (CG male halfling Rgr11) is already an outsider in this ancient land simply by being a halfling. But he would be hunted in the streets if someone discovered his real purpose in Mulhorand. Mather was a slave in Mulhorand himself sixty years ago. In the intervening years, Mather traveled west, joined the Harpers, had many adventures, and now has returned to the land as an anti-slavery crusader.
When Mather was a slave in his youth, he ran away often. Once when hiding from his master, he ran into a dilapidated building in Gheldaneth. Worming his way farther into the building, he discovered a staircase that led down to an odd room beneath the street. There, he discovered an ornate room with relief carvings covering every wall. The carvings were of slaves carrying palanquins full of gold and food through a shimmering rectangle, from a land by water to a grassy land with magnificent buildings. Humans, connected by long chains and dressed in animal skins, walked back through the rectangle in exchange.
One wall was crumbled however. From within that wall, a rectangle of light poured through into the room. When he looked through, Mather saw a ruined city. Frightened, but desperate, Mather walked through the portal. He never learned what the name of the ruined city was, but today the land is known as 'Tethyr.'On return to the land of his captivity, Mather took some of his earnings and bought several buildings surrounding the area where he had discovered the portal so long ago. He now lives quietly in the slums of Gheldaneth, and runs a secret 'underground railroad,' moving slaves out of Mulhorand to Harper compatriots in Tethyr.
His heart goes out to the growing number of aarakocras he sees trailing about the cities. Since aarakocras are so high profile, it's noticeable when one goes missing. He can't move them as simply as he does human slaves. But he keeps his eyes open for opportunities to help them escape -- or for adventurers passing through who have no reputation to lose while attempting a high profile liberation run.
How to Incorporate the Slaves' Escape Portal Into Your Campaign
- Player characters in Mulhorand might be hired by Hethshep to serve as guards for his caravan. Of course, Hethshep neglects to tell them beforehand that they're guarding a caravan of slave traders, off to grab another lucrative batch of aarakocras.
- Aarakocran slaves are waning in popularity, in favor of other exotic slaves. Aarakocras are being discarded or forgotten in droves. Mather needs help moving two dozen aarakocra from Neldorild to his underground escape space. It must all be done all in one night and completely in secret.
- It's been three generations since Mather was a slave in Mulhorand, so there's little chance of him being recognized. But if someone were to discover his former slave status, the family that owned him is still active and would be happy to have the long-lost (and forgotten) asset back in their portfolio. If this happened, Mather's Harper friends in Tethyr would be willing to hire good-hearted adventurers to go rescue him from his new masters. Of course, Mather wouldn't want to leave without taking some friends with him...