Landoon, Marketplace – 12 pm
Session date: February 6th, 2013
“I suppose there’s not much else we can do now but take a trip to Tarris?”
Ash glances at his companions as they are leaving the Wizard Tower. Baellon, his old comrade, has a pensieve look about his face, doubtless that he is still mulling over the information they gathered from the despaired wizard whose home they just left.
“I reckon so,” said Bael thoughtfully. “We need preparations for the journey, then.”
“Does that mean we’re going shopping?” Karen’s beautiful eyes sparkle brighter than the Northern Stars at the prospect. “Finally! I’ve been looking forward to it! I saw some fab boutiques on our way to this stupid, dank tower. I can’t wait to check out the new spring line at Vurlaa!”
Fernando chuckles softly. “You do remember, though, my dear sister, that we’ve spent most of our coins for that expensive carriage ride to get us here.”
Karen throws her brother a blinding smile that sends a considerable heat down Gortek’s and Archon’s lower regions. “Don’t you worry about that, Fer. With my voice and this bod, I’ll get our money back in no time.”
She struts graciously toward the town square, her brunette hair shining under the midday sun, her shapely hips jiggling from side to side as she moves. The adventurers stare at her retreating back, entranced with the view.
“Aye, ‘tis official, then. Me eyes have never seen a finer arse on a lass,” Gortek sighs wistfully.
“Choose your next words carefully, Master Dwarf,” Fernando retorts in a sweet, yet icy way that only he can pull off. “That’s my sister you’re speaking about.”
“Our barbarian friend is right, though,” Archon chimes in. “Your sister is way too gorgeous for her own good. I’ll go and make sure that no one will harass her.”
The young fighter bounces away in Karen’s wake, ignoring Fernando’s protest, while Gortek swears for having been beaten by Archon’s quick, if questionable, initiative.
Ash sighs, mildly annoyed. “And here I was just going to say that we should meet up at dusk by the gate.”
Fernando pats the ranger lightly on the shoulder. “Worry not, my dear sir. I’ll make sure they know. Come, Sergio.”
Fernando has started to chase down his sister and her harasser, when he remembers something. Turning around, he glances down at the skulking figure who is already slithering away from the remaining party members.
“And what about you, Mistress Rogue? What are you going to do now? Will you stay with us?”
Startled, Elluvio turns slowly to face the smiling druid. “I… have personal matters to tend to.”
“Of course. But will you meet us by the gate later?”
Elluvio knits her brows, slightly irritated by the question. “I don’t see why I should. I only joined with you people because I needed to get into the Tower. Now that my business there is done, there’s no reason why I should stick around.”
“Oh?” Fernando’s look of mock surprise is not lost on the halfling. “I thought you were interested in the quest as well. Because if you do, then what better way is it to travel to Tarris but with a group of combat-ready companions? Besides, we could definitely use your… shall I say, unique set of skills.”
The gears in Elluvio’s head turns quickly. Personally, she always prefers to travel alone. Her past experiences have proven that traveling in a group tends to slow things down and attrack hostile attentions. There have been news of bandits and orc sightings outside the town walls after all. But then again, her past experiences have also taught her that travelling in a group means that there are several other bodies that the enemies can hit before they reach her.
She really does need to get to Tarris as soon as possible, she thinks.
“Fine,” she says at last, almost dejectfully, “but don’t wait for me if I’m not at the gate by six.”
Fernando smiles in relief. “We’ll see about that.”
“If that’s settled, then Imma hit the stores,” Gortek huffs loudly. “I need me some food and sharper weapons.”
“Then I’ll go with you on your quest for food, my good dwarf,” Baellon bows politely to his bearded companion, before turning to Ash. “I assume you’d like to replenish your quiver too, Ash?”
“The town gate, at dusk. Don’t be late!” Ash reminds the rest of the group once more before leaving with the wizard and the barbarian.
“How many times do I have to tell you? Fuck. Off. Jerk.”
Karen glares at the persisting Archon in the middle of the town square. The fighter grins in what he considers his most charming way.
“Don’t mind me, girl. I’m just here to protect you. You know what these simpletons are like. They tend to be grabby around curvy things like you.”
Karen seems positively seething now. “You douche. Who are you to tell me that I need protection? I can take care of myself, thank you very much. Haven’t you seen my Louboutin stiletto heels? These babies have seen the inside of many a bastards’ throats. Take another step and they will be in yours.”
Archon takes a quick glance at the gleaming black leathered heels and feels a little quimsy. But he is Archon the Great, damn it. He is not going to let a woman think that she can beat him with a pair of girly footwears. Especially ones with sequins on them. And rhinestones. And possibly peacock feathers? Who the hell travels around wearing such ridiculous shoes? Crazy chick, he thinks to himself. But the crazy chick has curves in her body. Dangerous curves. Damn those curves.
“Look, you can go sticking your pointy shoes in any guy, fine by me. I’m just saying, it can’t hurt to have an extra blade guarding you while you do your thing.”
“You’re exactly the kind of guys that tends to be in the receiving end of my Loubs, you know. Fuck. Off.”
“Nope. I’m going with you.”
“Oh my god! I’ll pay you to leave me alone.”
“No, you won’t. You won’t part with your money just to keep me away.”
“You’re right, I won’t waste my hard-earned coins for scumbags like you,” Karen slowly produces her harp from her backpack. “But I’m not beneath doing this.”
She strums the chords of her harp and sings a gentle tune. When Archon realizes what she is doing, it is already to late. Her voice and the gently tinkling tunes charm their way into his brain, reducing his mind into a pile of mush. He topples off his feet in the next second, sound asleep right in the middle of the town square.
Karen stops her singing. Staring down at the snoring, sorry excuse of a fighter, she pokes the tip of her 500 gold pieces-worth of shoe at his chest. No response. Eyes gleaming with mischief, she reaches into the coin pouch hanging from his belt and takes some gold coins.
“I need you to protect me, huh? Riiiiight. Suuuuuure, I do.” She rolls her thickly-lashed eyes. “Don’t make me laugh. I don’t want to have wrinkles around my eyes. Not until I can afford a Botox job.”
Elluvio sees the black flower sign among the many messages posted on the public message boards in front of the post office. It is inconspicuously drawn on the bottom corner of the wooden panel, almost hidden by a poster of a missing pet badger and another one that offers a sale of second-hand farming tools. Most people who peer at the board will not see it, unless they know what they are looking for. Elluvio is not most people, however. Most people do not have the same sign tattooed on their forearm.
She reads the code written beside the sign. The code looks like incorrigible scratches of an unknown rune, easily dismissed as children’s pranks. Which is exactly the point.
VD, Lndn chapter. Turrin @ Spk Brd.
VD. The Velvet Dahlia. That means the guild branch in this town is an information hub, just as she suspects.
She sweeps her eyes across the square, looking for another sign. Numerous shops line the busy square, with people of various races strolling up and down the wide streets. Some gather in front of the front windows to admire the display, while some walk in and out of the shops. The sound of tinkling bells from the one two doors down the road from the post office catches her attention. She looks up and reads the sign board.
The Bread Everyone Speaks About
SPK BRD, huh? Smirking, Elluvio makes her way to the bread shop. A group of three young girls are standing in front of the display window, lost in a deep discussion over which baked treat is best given to boys on the upcoming Starshower Festival. Colorful cupcakes and fruity pastries decorate the shop’s display, with golden-skinned breads in various shapes stacked on large silver plates, and a ten-tiered wedding cake spruced with intricate icing designs and an elegant yellow-tipped lily arrangement. Through the display window, Elluvio can see that the shop is bustling with customers.
The bells at the door tinkle again. Gortek and Baellon walk out, each holding a white paper bag that contains a sweet-smelling Red Volvet. Elluvio quickly hides behind the cover of the girls’ gowns and waits until the two disappear into the square while loudly commenting on their newly purchased treats.
Making sure that no one notices her, she opens the door just enough without sounding the bells and slips inside the shop.
A middle-aged halfling man in a white apron, standing in the middle of the room eyes her quizzically. No one else in the shop seems to notice her. He walks up to her and offers her the selection of tester breads on a tray he is carrying.
“Would you care to try out our new product, Miss?” greets the man, still eyeing her closely.
“These are the Red Volvets, our new spring treats.”
She stares at the fragrant breads, then up to the man. “No, thanks. I’m looking for Turrin.”
“And who is looking?”
“Foxfeet, from the southern VD.”
“Which southern part?”
The halfling in the white apron rises his brows. “You’re a long way from home, kid. We don’t see many friends from Zolaiman up here.”
“Not even after the war?”
“Especially after the war.”
The halfling man walks up behind the register counter, putting the tray on the counter, gesturing for Elluvio to follow him. They slip into a small, dim hallway behind the counter. There is nothing in the hallway except for a pile of wooden crates at the end and three closed doors that line the wall.
“Now, what can I do for you, kid?” The halfling man crosses his arms across his chest. “I’m Turrin. I run the Landoon branch.”
“I’m looking for a friend. He’s in the guild, too. Name’s Shadowgallow. Algieve Shadowgallow. But he’s also known as the Bla…”
“The Bladedancer,” Turrin cuts in. “Yeah, I’m familiar with his works.”
“Has he passed through here?”
“Yeah. He works for me on a job.”
Elluvio tenses at the reply. “What job?”
Turrin rises his brows once more. “Are you really a member of the guild? If you are, then you know we don’t give away job details to anyone, even to guild members if they’re not related to the job.”
“Sorry. It’s just that… I’ve been looking everywhere for him.”
“Seems like you haven’t been looking at the right places.”
“Apparently, I am now. Where can I find him?”
“Tut, tut,” Turrin shakes his head, “that’s something I can’t disclose as well. What do you want with him?”
Elluvio tightens her lips. “It’s personal. But I have to see him. It’s urgent.”
“Personal, but urgent? Sorry, kid, but you gotta to throw me a bone here. Intel for intel, remember? Nothing’s free in the world.”
“Can you at least tell me a general direction I can go to?”
“Nope. Sorry, kid.”
Exasperated, Elluvio rakes a hand through her messy tangle of hair. “At least let me know when you last heard from him? Is he even still alive?”
Turrin watches her silently, as if considering if she is worth the information. “I received an update from him six months ago.”
“Six month!? Fuck me, he could be anywhere by now. He could be dead!”
“I’m sorry to tell you that, considering the type of job he’s working on, you might be right. But such is our line of work, kid. Sometimes an agent can go underground for months before coming up with a new intel. Yeah, he could be dead, which would be a great loss for me and the guild, but he could also be lying low somewhere, waiting for the right moment to surface. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with such methods, let me ask you again, who the hell are you?”
“I’m a friend of his. A very good friend. I’m looking for him because he has been missing for four years.”
“That’s about the time the war started.”
“Right. So, is there nothing you can tell me?”
“I tell you what,” Turrin strokes his chin thoughtfully. “Work for me and I’ll tell you more. Probably.”
“Work for you? What do you need?”
“Intel, kid. What else? Go out there. Use your eyes and ears. If you hear anything related to Iskandar, and especially the Queen, you send words.”
“The Queen?” Elluvio stares at Turrin. “You… Is Shadowgallow working for the Queen of Iskandar?”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Turrin shrugs nonchalantly. “The only thing you need to know right now is that I am. I serve the Queen. So, what say you, kid? Are you willing to be the humble servant of the Queen as well?”
“I’m nobody’s humble servant,” Elluvio spats irritatedly. “But if that’s what it takes to find Shadowgallow, then fine. Wait for my words.”
Turrin smiles wickedly and rubs his hands together. “Jolly good! Now, may I talk you into stuffing your bag with my tasty designer breads? One for the road, maybe? Or two or three?”
Fernando finds a quiet spot at the park by the edge of the town square. He sits on the grass with his back against an old oak tree. Sergio lays dozing by his side, resting his head on his master’s lap. Fernando strokes his pup gently behind the ears, while listening to the whispering leaves over his head. He sighs contentedly at the calming, intoxicating peace he gets whenever he is in tune with nature.
As he listens to the shuffling of wind among the leaves and the chirps of birds leaping from branch to branch, his senses grow acute to his surrounding. He can not wait to leave the suffocating town behind and return to the wilderness. There are no people hurrying about their businesses in the woods, no clanging sounds of the smithy, no distracting creaks of cart wheels rolling over cobbled stones. No shrieking children running around and no one to chatter loudly about things that does not concern him.
Some of the chatterings that come from the people that mill about the town square reach his ears, much to his annoyance. He can not help but catch the words that intrude on his somber peace.
“Have you heard? Harlin Stoneforge showed off his battle scars in the Grinning Goblin last night. Said he was attacked by orcs on his way home from Tarris. I know, right? What’s with these talks of orcs so far down the mountains? Also, he claimed that the orcs ran fast, faster than they usually do. What’s that about? Doesn’t make any sense. If you ask me, I’d say the dwarf was lying. Trying to impress the tavern wench, he might. Which reminds me, it’s been awhile since last I stuck me hand down Lucille’s bodice. Now, there’s a fine tavern lass I won’t mind lying to impress.”
“Are ye lookin’ for work, lad? Why, you better ask around the noble quarters. I heard a noble gnome is looking for a convoy to guard him in his trip.”
“Have you heard about the Queen? The poor thing. Being a prisoner in her own home. People have been saying that she is weeping all the time. Can you blame her, though? I mean, seeing your own husband murdered right before your eyes? No woman should ever recover from such brutality.”
“Oh, but have you heard the rumor? It started in the noble quarters. Some people saw the Queen wandering around. I know, I know, she is locked up in the Light Tower, but more people have claimed to see her here! In Landoon! I don’t know what to believe anymore. I’m starting to think that she has passed away, died of too much mourning, and it’s her spirit that people see in the streets.”
Fernando opens his eyes in a start. He looks around for the women who are talking about the Queen. He notices two of them standing by the town well, each of them carrying a water jug. He rises to his feet and approaches them, after telling Sergio to wait by the tree as not to scare the women away.
He asks them to recount the rumors they heard. They oblige him, but offer no new information. They have not witnessed the sightings themselves. They are merely repeating what other people are saying.
Curious, thinks Fernando. Perhaps the rumor is nothing more than just a rumor, weaved by desperate minds that long for something to get through the hard times after the war. But he is also a firm believer of the saying that there is no smoke without a fire. As of the fire itself, he has no idea where to find it. Yet.
Landoon, Town Gate – 6 pm
The grey stone wall looms above like a tidal wave about to hit the shore. The waning sun casts its golden light along the battlement at the top, creating the illusion of an overturned gold-edged blade. Long shadows of the wall chase the dusts along the cobblestoned streets, providing shelters for weary town folks from the surprisingly warm spring afternoon.
Ash stands leaning against a lamp post by the side of the street, not far from the gate. He has spent the last half hour rechecking his equipments and supplies. People-staring gets boring after a while. He looks up at the coming dusk, wondering where his companions are.
Baellon and Gortek are the first ones to arrive. The wizard chatters blissfully on about something that the dwarf responds to with only a gruff grunt every now and then. He is probably talking about obscure arcane things again, Ash smiles to himself. His wizard friend sometimes forgets that most people do not find the intricate workings of the arcane as interesting a topic as he does. When the two men reach the spot where Ash is waiting, the dwarf glances up to him with a look of someone asking to be rescued. Grinning knowingly, Ash quickly greets the wizard, thus sparing the dwarf from a further in-depth explanation of the thaumaturgic formation theory.
Archon appears next, wobbling dazedly while rubbing his temple, just as Gortek is telling Ash about the fancy +5 greataxe he saw in the weapon shop.
“By golly, Archon, what happened to you?” Baellon stares at the wobbly fighter in wonder.
“That wench!” Archon fumes. “She tricked me with her stupid lullaby song! Right in the middle of the town square! And she stole my money, too! Who does she think she is, humiliating me in public like that?”
Baellon can barely hides his laughter. “Well, is it possible that you humiliated her in the first place?”
Archon scowls. “Why are you even taking her side? We men must stick together or the wench will have us all under her damn pointy shoes! Is that what you want? Are we going to let a wee girl walk all over us like a cheap tavern rug?”
“Get yourself together, man. No one is taking any side and no one is a cheap tavern rug,” Ash lets out a sigh. “It just goes to show that our bard, lovely and fragile-looking as she is, is not someone you can push over.”
“Och, true dat,” Gortek grunts in somber agreement. “I’ve seen what a lass could do with tha blunt end of a spoon. A world of hurt, that’s whut. Ain’t a sight for tha faint of hearts, I reckon.”
While the rest of the party quietly ponders about the kinds of physical pain that could possibly be caused by a blunt spoon, Fernando arrives dragging his sister in the arm, while Sergio saunters silently by his side.
“Enough with the whining, Karen,” Fernando reproaches sternly. “I’m not going to remind you again that we can’t afford to splurge on a new cloak. Your old cloak is fine. Besides, it’s spring time. Who wears a woolen cloak in the spring, anyway?”
“How dare you, Fer! IT’S BURBERRY. It’s perfect for any season!”
“It costs 2 platinum pieces, Karen. Do you even have platinums?”
“Give me an hour and I’ll get them. Isn’t there a pleasure house behind the tavern?”
“You are NOT going to sell yourself for a cloak! Have you no self-respect, Karen?”
“Fer, please, have you met me?”
“Um,” Ash clears his throat awkwardly.
“Oh, you’re no fun, Fer. Whatever. At least, I managed to get a great deal on this seriously amazing L’Occitaire’s exfoliating bath soap. It’s 2 gold, but it’s exclusively handmade, so it’s totally worth it.”
“Did you just say you wasted 2 gold on a soap!? A soap, Karen? A SOAP?”
“Fer, honey, look at me,” Karen gestures to her face. “All this doesn’t come cheaply. I’m a bard. Consider it a long-term investment.”
“Riiiiight…,” Ash cuts in. “So, is everyone ready for the journey? No stopping by at the pleasure house?”
Fernando casts a dark look at the ranger. “NO.”
“All right, then. Let’s go.”
“But, wait!” Fernando looks around. “The rogue is not here yet.”
Gortek lifts his sturdy shoulders. “Maybe she ain’t comin’ after all.”
“She is. She promised me.”
“Well, you know how it is with them rogues, lad. Not exactly the most dependable bunch, aren’t the…”
“I’ve been here for the last fifteen minutes, you idiots.”
Elluvio leaps from the roof of a one-storied building that stands behind the lamp post, causing Karen to jump aside in surprise. She lands on her feet and acts like she has not just dropped from the sky. She scowls at the rest of the group as if she blames everything bad in the world on the six of them.
“I… didn’t even notice you were there… And I have an excellent Spot score…” Ash’s stuttering dies meekly as the halfling scowls on.
“All right, we can go now,” Fernando smiles happily.
The party moves toward the opened gate. The traffic leading into the town is busier now that daylight is nearing its end. Wooden carts drawn by weary oxens share the street with carriages that carries travellers from the surrounding regions. The adventurers move slowly behind a throng of farmers who are returning to their homesteads outside the wall.
Ash, who actually does have an excellent Spot score, notices a carriage parked by the side of the street that leads out of the gate. An old mule strapped to the carriage is busy sniffing the ground in forlorn contentment. A middle-aged male gnome walks to and fro beside the carriage, his face twisted with consternation. Ash, sensing a potential sidequest, approaches the gnome.
“Afternoon, old man. Is there something wrong with your carriage?”
The gnome looks up. His glazed eyes widen with surprise at the sight of seven adventurers standing before him.
“Are you here to help me?” Frustration rings clear in his squeaky voice.
“That depends,” Ash replies good-naturedly. “What do you need help with?”
The gnome throws his hands in the air with despair. “My guards! They breached their contracts and stranded me here! I hired them to guard my carriage. I paid half of their fees in advance, too. But when they heard that I was going to Tarris, they wanted nothing to do with it. They just left! Serves me right for hiring cheap mercenaries from the tavern.”
A carriage heading to Tarris! The adventurers glance at each other.
“My good sir, would you mind my intruding query?” Fernando steps up. “What are you transporting to Tarris that requires such protection?”
The gnome looks up at Fernando with his hazy eyes. “Breads. A month-worth supply of breads for the orphanage in Tarris. I’m called Uncle Turrin. I’m a nobleman who lives here in Landoon. Every month, I deliver free food to the orphanage. One of my family’s charity projects, you see.”
Elluvio tenses up. She eyes the gnome closely. Is Turrin a common name in these regions? She just met one and he was a halfling. It is probably just a coincidence. But, coincidentally, Elluvio does not believe in coincidents.
As the rest of the group listens to the gnome’s tirade about the irresponsible guards, Elluvio creeps silently to the back of the carriage. She jumps up and hangs on to the edge of the opening in the back. She searches among paper-wrapped breads and finds interesting objects hidden at the bottom of the pile.
A tent kit, a dirty shovel, and a chopped up human thumb.
The latter two have no business being in a nobleman’s carriage. Elluvio takes the thumb and slips it into her pocket, then returns to the party.
“Why didn’t you try to stop your guards from leaving? You still carry their contracts, don’t you?” It is Baellon’s turn to question the gnome.
“What could I do? They threatened me with their axes and torn the contract into pieces! Those dwarves could be really terrifying, you know…”
“Oh, I think we know what you mean…”
Everyone steals a glance at Gortek, who grunts gruffly at the sudden accusation. “Whut? Whut are ye sodding buggers are lookin’ at?”
Uncle Turrin gestures pointedly at Gortek. “See?”
Grinning, Ash nods at the gnome. “Very well. We’ve heard your plea. What say you, friends? Should we lend our help?”
“If it’s any help, I can pay you what I promised to my traitorous guards,” offers Uncle Turrin. “Three hundred gold pieces after we arrive in Tarris.”
“Well, we are going to Tarris after all,” Baellon points out. “I’m in.”
“Count me in too. I could use the gold.” Gortek agrees.
Karen raises a perfectly-manicured hand. “Hold on a sec. Three hundred gold pieces for a crew of seven doesn’t impress me at all. How about seven hundred?”
Uncle Turrin shakes his head, his gold-brimmed monocle shifts on the bridge of his nose as he does so. “Three hundred gold is all I have with me now, Miss. Either you take it or I’ll look for help someplace else.”
“I don’t mind. As long as we’re leaving the confine of the town, I’m in,” says Fernando, ignoring the trecherous look from his sister.
Archon brandishes his sword and strikes a heroic pose. The pose would have been successful if he was not still a little groggy from Karen’s lullaby charm. “Yes! An adventure, finally! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
Ash looks questioningly to Elluvio, who remains quiet in her thoughts. The halfling gives a little shrug. “Whatever. Although doing an escort job for three hundred gold makes this practically a charity and that’s sort of a challenge against my class. Maybe we’ll meet some people on the road I can rob to balance things out.”
“That settles it, then!” Ash quickly cuts in with a nervous laugh. “We’re leaving to Tarris!”
The road between Landoon and Tarris – 8 pm
“You know, I’m starting to regret we didn’t wait until morning before we left the town.”
Karen looks around her with a growing trepidation. The dirt road they are on is dark. The waning moon provides little illumination for the convoy. The only source of light comes from the oil lantern hanging at the front of the carriage, beside the carriage seat. The lantern swings as the carriage moves, causing the dim coccoon of light that surrounds the convoy sway from side to side. Sometimes the light hits the Windy Forest that sits on the right side of the road, casting eerie shadows on the trees that makes Karen jump anxiously.
“Actually, I’m starting to regret that we left the town in the first place,” says Karen again, quickening her pace. “How long did you say it’d take us to Tarris, Uncle Turrin?”
Turrin puffs up his pipe, the smell of sweet clove thick in the air. “Two days, Miss Cartwright. We’ll go on until dawn, then we’ll make camp near the intersection ahead.”
Baellone raises his brows. Having lived in Tarris for years, he knows that a trip between the two towns does not take as long. Twelve hours by carriage, at most. But their carriage does move at a slow speed, being filled to the brim with breads and pulled by an old mule. Oh, well. He lets the gnome’s miscalculation pass without saying a word.
The carriage rolls slowly on. The adventurers walk beside it, guarding the precious cargo and its owner on all side. Elluvio is leading the pack, riding on Sergio’s back as Fernando has suggested. She realizes she probably looks silly sitting on the back of a wolf pup, but it spares her from running along the way to catch up with the group on her short legs. Besides, the direwolf provides the warmth against the night breeze she is not willing to refuse. Baellon and Gortek walk on the right side of the carriage, while keeping their eyes for possible ambushers from within the forest. Ash is leading on the left side, scanning the road ahead with his Survival skill, as Fernando and Karen trail behind him. Karen keeps surreptiously glancing at the field of tall, wild grass that spreads as far as her eyes can see at the left side of the road.
The night is quiet. Much too quiet for a spring night in a fine weather, Fernando muses. He looks up to the moonless sky and sees thin stretches of clouds hanging under the dim, faraway stars. He glances to the side, at the silent forest that does not whisper back to him. That is odd.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, kind gnome,” Fernando turns to Turrin who sits on the carriage seat, holding the reins. “Why did we not wait until morning?”
“Why, I’ve worked out this logic perfectly, you see,” replies Turrin, puffing another mouthful of clove-smelling smoke. “You know what the biggest threats to travellers these days are? Orcs. And when orcs are out and about, goblins are usually not far behind. I’ve been hearing about a group of orcs attacking travellers in broad daylight around these parts, which means that somehow they are active during the day. Just like us. And because they’ve been busy during the day, they must spend their nights resting. That’s what I’m counting on. We can pass safely through the roads at night while they’re sleeping.”
“What a load of bull crap,” Elluvio snorts from over Sergio’s back. “The biggest threats to travellers on the road are bandits.”
Archon grins mischievously. “Heh. Knowing that one of them is travelling with us should help keep them at bay.”
Elluvio scowls and grumbles under her breath. “You wish I was only bandit.”
Baellon notices that Gortek has quietly crept closer to the forest edge.
“What is it?” he whispers to the dwarf.
Gortek peers beyond the line of trees. His Dark Vision allows him to see shadowy figures zooming past among the trees. He readies his greataxe.
“There be movin’ things in the forest. People. Tall people, I reckon. They be runnin’ really fast, headin’ to the same direction as us.”
“Are they bandits? Orcs? Goblins?”Karen hisses anxiously, quickly reaching for her harp.
Ash squints at the trees, trying to use his Spot and Survival skills. He must have failed them because all he notices are the dark figures of the threes and the rustles of leaves dancing in the night breeze. Fernando tries once more to speak with the forest, but to no avail.
“You vegan, Go-Green people are so useless,” curses Elluvio. “Hey, druid, mind if I take your wolf for a walk in there?”“That would be an excellent idea,” Fernando agrees. “Go with Mistress Rogue, Sergio. Send words if you see anything alarming.”
Elluvio bends low over the young direwolf’s neck, stroking his hair, whispering gentle words to his ears. The direwolf leaps graciously toward the forest edge, then disappears behind the shadowy trees.
“We’re already in an alarming situation, Fer,” Karen points out. “We’re travelling at a snail pace on the road at night where orc attacks have been happening. What we need is a group of goblins juggling explosive balls to hold a blockade up the road and we’d be set.”
Fernando casts an irritated look at his sister. “Why don’t you actually do something instead of just complaining? You have a Light spell, don’t you? Why don’t you light something up and throw it to the wild grass to our left. I think I heard movements there as well.”
Karen gasps in delight. “Oh my god, you’re right! I forgot I had that! Wait, though. What movements?”
“Oh, for Obad-hai’s sake, just do it, Kare.”
Karen looks around at the ground. She picks up a pebble and casts the Light spell on it. The small stone glows a bright white, enveloping the whole convoy with a bubble of light. She then turns to her left, to the vast expanse of wild grass that are tall enough to hide whatever malice that might skulk among its stalks. Karen throws the glowing pebble. The rest of the party watches as the tiny white light arcs in the air before it disappears behind the swaying grass.
“Oh, fuck,” Karen mutters under her breath. “It’s the goblins, isn’t it? Of course, it’s the goblins! They’re going to blow us up into smithereens!”
“Looks like we’ll soon be surrounded by danger,” Archon climbs above the carriage, brandishes his sword, and strikes a pose. “I’ve been waiting for this moment. You will all finally learn why I’m called Archon the Great. Witness my lengendary sword-wielding prowess, simpletons, and let yourself be awed!”
“What about my carriage?” Turrin squeals in fear. “Don’t let them destroy my carriage! The orphans! Think of the orphans! The orphans need these breads!”
“Let’s get the carriage off the middle of the road. Move it to the right, so we can protect it from whatever it is that is hiding in the grass,” suggests Baellon. “And would someone please hush the gnome!”
Ash moves to guide the mule to shift its route. He whispers comforting words to the animal’s ears and strokes its head. The mule whinnies softly, ready to follow Ash’s gentle handling.
Turrin flails frantically on the carriage seat. “Wait, wait, what are you doing? Are we stopping? We can’t stop here! We must get these breads to the orphanage as soon as possible! The starving orphans are going to…”
Karen snaps. “Oh, would you stop it with the starving orphans! We’re the ones who are going to die if you don’t shut your trap!”
Cursing under her breath, Karen climbs up to the carriage seat, completely aware of the kind of damage she might do to her expensive Louboutins. As the clichè goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. And Karen is one desperate half-elf woman who wants nothing more than to survive the night, even if it means risking the death of her fancy heels. She hopes with all her heart that Tarris has an excellent shoemaker experienced to handle ruined designer shoes.
She puts a calming hand on the gnome’s shoulder, while keeping the other one tight around the reins.
“Don’t you worry, sir,” she changes her tone and puts on her most convincing smile, ”have faith in my friends. We’ve promised to protect you and your carriage until we get to Tarris, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
The gnome seems convinced. He whimpers meekly and lets Karen hold the reins. The party moves even slower this time, with Gortek scaling the edge of the forest, and Ash and Fernando sneaking toward the field to the left, ready for any ambush that might come their way. Everyone keeps silent as the carriage rumbles on, until it finally arrives at a blockade made by boulders piled on top of even bigger boulders. The blockade covers the entire width of the road. There is no way for the carriage to continue on until the boulders are cleared from the road.
“Whoa, stop! Stop!” Karen jerks up the reins, causing the mule to stop abruptly.
Archon, who is still striking what he considers a heroic pose on the top of the carriage, is caught unaware. He trips and stumbles, hitting his head on the wooden frame that supports the carriage’s canvas roof. Cursing, he quickly looks around to see if anyone notices his heroic stumble. Fortunately for him, the rest of the group is distracted by the blockade and the potential of a sudden ambush.
Their concern proves to be right. A huge, hulking figure rises over the blockade, followed by three smaller others. The first orc is monstrously tall, with bulky, green arms sticking out of his sleeveless chain mail vest, and even bulkier legs that seem to almost burst the seams of his hard-leather breeches. A gleaming metal plate that studded with spikes protects his left shoulder. Upon the shoulder plate, the orc rests a humongous, blood-stained wooden club. Bloodlust burns in his deep-set eyes, burrowed under dark, bushy brows. A pair of yellowing tusks rise from a set of filthy teeth, keeping his mouth twisted in an eternal snarl. That very mouth is grimacing with dark amusement at the moment, as the orc surveys his preys from the safe height of the boulders.
“Well, well, what do we have here, lads?” the orc’s voice rumbles deep, rough as sandpaper. “Look at what the cat brought in. Little fries. Someone better start a fire because we’ll be having grilled meat for supper.”
“What cat, boss?” One of the smaller orcs looks around in search for a feline. “I ain’t see no cats.”
“I reckon, it’s an expression, Yozhukk,” another smaller orc, which apparently has a higher Intelligence score, elbows Yozhukk in the guts.
The first orc sighs wearily. “Memo to self: Remember not to recruit minions from a cheap tavern anymore. Put the new entry right under: Kill remaining minions with bare hands.”
“Hey, boss! ‘s not fair!” the smaller orcs protests in harmony, with Yozhukk being the loudest.
“Oh! I completely understand your pains, mighty orc!” Uncle Turrin nods knowingly. “A little tip from me, though. Stay away from them dwarves, sir.”
“Hey!” Gortek grunts, offended.
“I’ll remember that, puny gnome,” roars the first orc. “But now we must settle our business first. You won’t happen to surrender your lives and cargo peacefully, will you?”
Ash smiles in response, a longbow ready in his hands. “No, sorry. Not a chance.”
“Suits yourself! Puny minions, show me what your hiring fee is worth! CHAAAAARGE!!”
The orc leader jumps from the blockade and lands a few feet from the carriage. Gortek dashes up front, swinging his greataxe, shouting his clan’s warcry. Karen leaps to her feet and starts singing an Elvish battle march, adding morale to the ambushed companions. Fernando unleashes a nature spell, trying to hinder the leader with tangled vines, but the orc evades them easily.
“Wait, wait! Don’t start the battle without me!”
Archon tries to climb down from the carriage top, but due to a lousy skill check, he only manages to do that slowly. When he finally reaches the ground, he points his sword dramatically at the orc leader.
“Taste the might of my blade, you vile ambusher!”
Archon’s ominous threat might have had a better effect had he been standing in front of the orc leader, instead far to the back of the combat line.
Baellon casts Magic Missiles at the smaller orc that stands nearest to him. The spell hits the orc right in the chest, causing him to stagger and roar angrily. He is about to charge to the wizard when, suddenly, something leaps from the deep dark of the forest and lands behind the orc. The orc shouts in pain, before dropping to the ground, blood raining down from the gaping wound in his back. Behind the dying orc, Elluvio sits on Sergio’s back, wiping the blood off her short sword on her victim’s breeches. Baellon nods appreciatively at the little rogue, who smirks in response.
The leader, possibly angered by the incompetent minion who is not worth his hiring fee, does something the party does not anticipate. He strikes a mortal blow to the old mule. The poor thing lets out a piercing shriek, then toppling sideways, dead before his severed head hits the ground.
“THREE GOLD!! NOOOO!!” Turrin screams hysterically.
Enraged, Fernando throws a pebble with his sling, only to miss the orc leader, and hits Gortek instead.
“Damn ye, lad, watch where ye shootin’!” Gortek shouts in pain, rubbing his bruised nose.
Fernando grimaces guiltily. “Dear me, I’m terribly sorry, Master Dwarf!”
The battle continues on, until the combined powers of the party finally prove too much for the mighty orc. He crashes to the ground with a loud groan and never moves again. After the death of their leader, the remaining orc minions grow scared and erratic. They are quickly dispensed with. The battle lasts only for a few minutes. It ends so fast, the last minion is already dead by the time Archon reaches the front line.
“What? It’s over?” Archon flails his sword angrily. “But I haven’t even swung my blade!”
“It’s not like we needed your help, you douche,” Karen jeers, leaping down from the carriage seat. “No one does.”
“But I’m the fighter of the group! The battle shouldn’t have started without me!”
“Don’t worry, Archon. I’m sure there’ll be other battles ahead of us,” says Ash, strapping his long bow to his back. “Tarris is still a long way off, after all.”
“Especially if we keep moving at this pace.” Elluvio rises from the orc leader corpse, slipping the looted gold pieces and a +3 Shoulderplate Armor into her backpack.
“The problem is, we’re not going to be moving at all now that my dear Three Gold is killed” says Turrin forlornly. “How are we going to reach Tarris without a mule?”
Baellon glances at the dead bodies strewn about them. “Let’s just loot the bodies for anything we can use, then we’ll sit down and think about our next step.”
“But what about the goblins? I bet they’re still lurking in the grass,” Karen eyes the darkness over the wild grass field with disgusts in her eyes.
Fernando gives a reassuring pat on her shoulder. “All in good time, Kare. All in good time.”