Approximate two months had passed since Prof. Victoria Ravenwood had set out for the port city of Bloodcove to join an expeiditon into darkest Mwangi to explore uncharted jungle. Her uncle (who was also her superior at the University) did not support her decision, but the expedition could mean finally fulfilling her parent's life work of finding the Pool of Life; she could not turn down this opportunity.
She witnessed the "Fever Lights", as her father called them, a few nights before her ship arrived in port.
Arriving in Bloodcove was quite the experience; she'd never seen a city like it before: a pirate city built on and around the roots of the massive Mangrove trees that grew ont he Mwangi coast, the whole city held above the bay by scaffolding and support beams.
Waiting for her at the docks was Abner Smithers, a representative of the Aspis Consortium (the Nimbali company who was financing the expedition). He welcomed her to Bloodcove and led her to Witchlight, the local inn where the Consortium was lodging the company.
It was only minutes after Smithers left that Victoria met Rhatigan "Rusty" Cadash, the dwarf who was to serve as the party's guide in the jungles. The two got along famously and Rusty regaled her with stories of his homeland and his many adventures and exploits that had taken him all around Athas during his time as a smuggler. As the conversation turned toward their upcoming expedition, Rusty showed himself to be a cynic. He didn't believe for a second that the trip was anything but surveying the land for the Consortium to exploit. He didn't care about the pay; he wanted to know what was so valuable that the Consortium would be willing to drop more than 50,000 gp on the project. While it was certainly an intriguing thought, Victoria did not see eye to eye with the dwarf on this matter.
The next day, she was awoken by a servant boy who brought her breakfast in bed, apparently courtesy of Gallus Aclassi (another party member), who lamented in a note that he would not be able to join her for lunch.
She spent the afternoon around Free Trade Square in order to purchase the explorer's clothes and supplies that Rusty had suggested the night before. As she did, she was accosted by a skeevy pirate who didn't seem to understand that no meant no. Out of nowhere, Victoria was saved by a gruff, older man who kicked the shit out of the pirate and made him apologize. Her savior, as luck would have it, was none other than the retired mercenary Bran Cousland; another member of her company.
He did not seem as open or enthusiastic about getting to know her as she was to get to know him. She followed him around, eagerly asking him questions but his answers were all terse and as short as he could make them. Like Rusty, Bran was a cynic but unlike the smuggler, Bran didn't want to talk about his past. In the end, despite sharing a drink, Victoria came away knowing no more about the mercenary than she had when she first met him.
That night, she received an invitation from Aclassi to join him for drinks. She accepted and finally met the Nimbali noble; he was young, handsome and charming. He seemed very interested in her and her life, her career, her interests. He spoke very little about himself, instead steering the conversation so that Victoria was the focus.
The next day, Victoria met with Aclassi for breakfast and the two went to check out the Explorer's Lodge. The lodge's proprietor, Malik Fenn, looked like he had seen a ghost when he finally introduced himself to the pair and after an awkward, weird conversation where he seemed to evade Victoria's questions, the two left. Before they left, Malik gave Victoria a warning: "burn the journal. Forget the Pool of Life; it brings only death".
The morning after brought the entire company to the headquarters of the Aspis Consortium in Bloodcove; a handsome, eloquent building. Victoria walked to the headquarters with Rusty and Gallus. They met Dr. Kleiner at the Consortium but introductions were cut short by the arrival of Abner Smithers.
Smithers passed around official Charters of Exploration to the party, issued by the Nimbali government. He explained the job and what they were expected to do and Victoria was appointed as official mapmaker.
After the meeting, Smithers invited the party to brunch and all but Bran accepted the offer. The party got to know each other a little better as Smithers talked them up to the other businessmen and investors in attendence.
Finally, as the next sun rose, the day finally arrived when the company would set out on their expedition. They left Bloodcove on a river barge, sailing up the Vanji River. The trip was an arduous one, the humidity and heat getting to a few of the party, though Victoria and Rusty didn't seem much affected. As they sailed, Rusty advised Victoria not to feed the monkeys, after what he saw happen to a guy who did. Victoria laughed at that, until she realized he wasn't joking.
After six days on the river, the party arrived at their destination and set out for Sweet Tom's, which was another four day walk from there.