Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 5:57 PM
The Processional was thronged with people this beautiful Moonday morning. It was the 10th day of the month of Reaping, and here and there people bustled about the City of Greyhawk's main street.
Errand boys, fetching ingredients or ferrying messages, artfully dodged and pushed their way through the crowd as they scampered to complete their daily chores and keep their masters happy.
Hawkers and shills strolled slowly up and down the margins of the Processional, calling out specials and promoting their merchants' wares as the finest in the Petit Bazaar, each one trying to sound more clever than the other.
"Walnuts! Hot walnuts!" barked one, while another promoted a particular blacksmith's blades as the sharpest to be found in all of the Flanaess.
A guard patrol, recently relieved of its watch duty at the Black Gate (which separated the Old City from the New), marched in orderly fashion up the Processional towards the Grand Citadel, situated at the far northern end of the wide avenue. Visible from nearly every point within the City, the Citadel was looking especially grand today, with its banners and pennons stretched taut and blowing majestically in a stiff wind.
Walking north in the middle of the avenue, with the ambling pace of those not in a hurry to be anywhere in particular, were a stalwart fighter and a finely-acoutred bard. They were enjoying the tableau of the City, and how its reputation as a cultural melting pot was always on finest display at mid-morning.
As their adventuring companions were otherwise engaged at the moment, and with a free morning to spend how they liked, Bardy the bard and Briar the fighter decided to go for a stroll. They were discussing strategy for their upcoming meeting later that afternoon with Sir Ranald Immanen, ambassador from Nyrond, who had an intriguing offer for the party regarding their recent discovery in the Cairn Hills.
As Bardy plucked idly at his fochlucan bandore and half-sung, half spoke his thoughts on what to say to the ambassador, Briar felt a sudden compulsion to look to the sky. There, once again, flying in the sky as easily as if it were sailing upon calm seas was the same three-masted sailboat she had witnessed in the gloomy skies above Furyondy last month. Unable to make out the symbols adorning its sails, Briar squinted her eyes into the sunlight and jabbed Bardy in the ribcage with her elbow.
"Ow!" cried out the bard, whose chain mail and padding proved just enough to prevent an incidental bruise from the strong fighter's even casual prodding.
About to protest, the bard instead followed the fighter's gaze skyward to behold the odd sight of a floating ship. Odder still was that the ship seemed not to be casting any shadows.
A few folk did indeed glance up into the sky, upon seeing this bard and warrior duo stopped in the middle of the Processional, staring into the heavens with their jaws slightly slack. Yet if these folk saw the flying ship, they gave no indication, and instead carried on with a shrug and a slight shaking of their head.
"Is this the same ship you saw over Furyondy?" Bardy asked.
Now shielding her eyes from the sun, but not taking her gaze off the ship, Briar nodded solemnly.
"Weird," Bardy declared, staring back at the ship. "It appears to be crewed by a bunch of old men..."
"Look closer," intoned the fighter.
Squinting, Bardy did as she asked, and then seemed startled. "They all look the same! It's like a crew of identical, crazy old men. They're all wearing the same red robe. Are they looking at us?"
"It's different from last time," stated Briar. "The old man was there, but he had other... strange crew. Now it's just... him. And him. And him again."
"I think he's looking at us."
"Which one?" Briar asked, frowning slightly, as still other passers-by occasionally traced the apparent line of sight of the pair and, upon seeing nothing but clouds and sky, shook their heads in bewilderment and carried on. A would-be pickpocket, certain of easy marks given Bardy and Briar's skyward distraction, was himself caught gazing dumbly into the heavens and then had his pocket picked in the process.
"That one there, in the centre. He's been kind of leaning over the starboard rail the whole time," Bardy said, now pointing.
"Oh yes, now I see. What's going on with his eyes? They're... swirling?"
"How can you see that much detail from this far away?" Bardy asked in exasperation.
Slapping the bard excitedly on the shoulder, Briar exclaimed, "He is! He is looking at us. Look! He's gesturing to the others now."
"Hunh," Bardy said, nonplussed and nursing his shoulder.
The men, who all appeared to be clones of one another, were excitedly bringing what appeared to be a very large tome over to the side of the ship. There were about ten of the men, all in flowing red and purple robes trimmed with gold, their snowy white wispy hair and beards blowing in an unseen breeze.
Bardy and Briar shared a quizzical look, shrugged their shoulders, then stared back up at the ship that no one else could see. They saw the old man in the centre of the throng - the 'leader' - lazily gesture in a vague downward motion. Promptly, the other men heaved the giant book over the side of the ship, from where it began to plummet towards the earth, spinning slowly sideways as it descended rapidly.
So rapidly, in fact, that the fighter and bard stood frozen with no time to react and barely enough time to notice the strange symbol embossed on the book's back cover as it slammed into them, knocking them unconscious and flat on their backs.
Coming to, a short while later, the bard and fighter sat up and dusted themselves off. They had drawn a crowd of curious onlookers, to whom it appeared the pair had suddenly shouted in alarm at something unseen in the sky, then fainted dead away to the ground.
As they dusted themselves off and stood up, Bardy and Briar shared a confused look and then began to scan around.
Finding no massive book with a strange symbol upon it, and shooing away the last of the boggling spectators, they both shrugged and complained of a mild headache. Of the floating ship, there was also no sign (save for one ship-shaped cloud that moved off of the sun and went unnoticed by the pair).
As Briar began to ask Bardy what he thought of what had just transpired, the bard wordlessly tapped her on the shoulder and pointed across the street.
There, wedged in between a bakery and a haberdashery, was a low stone doorway that they had not seen before. Not quite veterans of the city of Greyhawk, the fighter and bard had traversed this part of the Processional many times as they made their way to and from the various taverns they frequented here, at the intersection of the River Quarter, Foreign Quarter and Clerksburg.
What Bardy was pointing to in particular was the weathered wooden sign hanging above the doorway. Upon the grainy wood was a glowing crimson symbol - different to the one they had seen upon the phantom book, but alien to them all the same.
Deciding such a bizarre and curious turn of events could not be ignored, and with a few hours to kill, the pair decided to investigate the heretofore never-seen doorway with its arcane symbol and slightly menacing presence.
There was one low step down into a dusty antechamber, that was lit only by the sun outside. Within, off to their left, was a shimmering curtain of crimson-coloured beads, beyond which was a tavern, obvious given the sounds and smells emanating from the doorway.
Feeling the call of adventure, Briar and Bardy pushed through the shimmering glass curtain and entered the strangest bar they had ever seen. Having frequented more than a few bars in the free city of Greyhawk, this was a significant sensation.
Off to their left, and stretching away ahead of them as far as they could see into the smoky fug that filled the long bar, was a series of booths. Some of them had curtains that were drawn across, affording total privacy to the occupants within.
The bar itself, which began at their right, also stretched off beyond where they could see, as about fifty feet into the bar the admixture of smoke, light and dust prevented them from making out any detail.
Tending the bar was what appeared to be what can only be described as a giant red octopus. Its many tentacles were involved in many separate tasks: pouring beer, mixing drinks, exchanging money. One tentacle was even throttled around the neck of a patron who must have felt like leaving without paying for his drinks. Sitting askew atop the dome of the red octopus's head was a tiny black top hat.
Seated at the bar closest to the bewildered bard and fighter was a slight female with the features of a cat. She sat hunched over a clear crystal goblet that was filled with an amber liquid. Her jade green eyes flashed dangerously at Bardy, giving him a look that implied in no uncertain terms that she wished to be left alone. The smooth grey fur of her limbs stood raised on end, representing a further threat of imminent action should the bard not look away.
Bardy looked away.
To the left of the cat-woman were a couple of empty barstools, and further down from these seats was another otherworldly pair of 'individuals'. The nearest was a hulking figure, clad in a massive long tan coat that had deep pockets, many buttons and a large fly collar. This figure was wearing a wide-brimmed, low-slung grey hat that seemed made of a soft fabric. He was engaged in an animated conversation with a floating skull, which 'occupied' the barstool next to him. They seemed to be trading jokes in an unfamiliar language and laughing uproariously.
Stranger still than any of what Briar and Bardy had seen so far, was the vast number of doors. Not only was it odd that there was a door between each booth, or that each door was unique in its own way; what was oddest was that the doors would change after a short time. They would never change while being looked at directly, nor would they change at the same rate. But change they would, as what was once a simple wooden door became a metal hatch and then a little later it might be a yawning stone portal.
Nobody present at the bar - aside from its two newest patrons - seemed to pay any attention whatsoever to these curious, ever-changing doorways, or to the mind-boggling variety of races of humanoid present.
Bardy and Briar shared another look, gave a shrug as if to say, "Why not?" and then moved to the pair of empty barstools.
A few exotic drinks later, and after intriguing conversation with both the enigmatic feline and the bartender whose accent was hard to place, the bard and fighter had screwed up enough courage to try the mysterious portals.
Briar, ever the courageous one, went first. As she approached her doorway, she noticed that it was not so much a door as a break between trees, as if leading into (or out of..) a mighty forest.
Not to be upstaged (never to be upstaged, thought the bard!), Bardy shared one last drink with the cat and the octopus before boldly striding up to his door. It was a solid door of oak, banded in iron, and set in the stone framework of what could be a mighty castle or keep somewhere.
Sharing one last witticism with the bartender, the bard twisted the iron handle of his door and shoved his way through....
... to arrive in the audience of a powerful baron. It seemed that Bardy appeared just where and when he was meant to be, for a mighty fanfare subsided and the court's herald announced his presence to the baron.
Seated upon a magnificent throne of the darkest wood, polished to a shine, the baron regarded Bardy thoughtfully and bid him aid his people in a time of need.
Listening intently and playing right along, Bardy used his expertise in the disciplines of bluff and diplomacy to land himself in the middle of a quest in the middle of a barony that was in the middle of a land that he knew not.
But adventure - and glory - beckoned, and the bard rose to their call and set off with some of the baron's finest men towards the frontier settlement of New Haven, to investigate recent slayings there. Something lurked in the badlands to the west of town, and neither swords nor stones seemed to harm whatever set upon and slew nearly every member of a militia patrol.
Could Bardy, with his arcane powers, rise to the task of solving this mystery and free the fledgling town of New Haven from its nightmare?
"If so," he thought, "there's enough material here for at least a whole new act!"
Meanwhile, atop some hilly grassland somewhere even else from where the bard ended up...
Briar took in her surroundings carefully. It was a calm, beautiful day - much like the one she left behind in Greyhawk - only now, the stalwart fighter was standing atop a small hill. Rolling grassy hills surrounded her, and far off in the distance to her left she could make out where they transitioned into rocky terrain, just past a low ridge.
To the south, a heavy forest was visible. It was a great wall of grey-brown tree trunks, thatched by every shade of green imaginable. A veritable tidal wave of vegetation, this vast silent forest held a dim aura of menace. There was a stillness about it, as if it were waiting for Briar to come closer.
A small breeze picked up, carrying the stench of a marshland to the warrior's nose. As the wind died down, Briar could hear the sound of a woman crying out, somewhere nearby.
She traced the origin of the sound to the low ridge, or perhaps just beyond it.
Intrepidly, the mighty Briar set out at once for the sound, for if someone was in distress she was going to do everything she could to save them.
As she ventured closer to the ridge, she could see a squat, ruined tower coming into view. It was constructed of pitted and cracked stone, its base surrounded by wild and untended bushes.
Adventure was the order of the day, and Briar was losing no time in getting to the heart of it.
Sarana finished the morning mass, which was strongly attended today as it was on any day where the sun shone brightly. Pelor's followers often felt their prayers to the sun god were more likely to be heard when the sun favoured them with its benevolence.
As most of her flock made their way back outside into the blazing sunshine, Sarana noticed two members of her parish were still present. She favoured them with a kindly smile as she saw that it was the itinerant priest Balor and his protégé, the young Delaney.
As Sarana went over to speak with Balor, whom she had not seen for many weeks, she could hear Delaney telling him excitedly about her recent successful mission to eradicate the church cellar's rat problem.
Balor beamed with pride at the young girl, who only a month ago was literally fighting to stay alive every day, along with the rest of the ragtag contingency that lived at what was once known as Fort Disaster. Now, here she was, making a name for herself within the clergy of Pelor's church in the free city of Greyhawk. Soon, Balor knew, she would attain full rites as a priestess of Pelor and fulfill her goal of bringing his teachings and healing power back to her people in Balorton.
Grimly, Balor thought, the sun god's powers to eradicate undead would likely come in all-too handy for the girl and all others living on the tense border with Iuz's lands. Zombies, skeletons and far worse were lurking just across the Veng River, and it was widely known that Iuz's fell priesthood was ardent in the task of raising an army of the dead to try and crush Furyondy once and for all.
As Delaney made the proper courtesies to the high priestess and to Balor, she gracefully excused herself to return to her studies.
Watching her go, Sarana said to Balor, "It is good to see you again, young Balor. We were beginning to worry about you out there on the border. Such an ambitious first adventure for anyone, even you."
Balor nodded. "It was no simple task, Your Radiance," Balor said quietly. "But we succeeded. As you know, Pelor's work is never done when it comes to dealing with the likes of Iuz. There is much left we have yet to do."
Sarana smiled knowingly at the young cleric. "Aye, that is true, Balor. It is good to see you still keep the faith so strongly, and visit us when you can here in Greyhawk. Don't stay away so long next time, Delaney's daily pestering as to your whereabouts will be unbearable!"
Balor laughed. "I promise, Your Radiance, I shall endeavour to return twice as quickly from our next journey - if Pelor wills it."
The high priestess smiled at that, and nodded shortly. "Very well, Balor, but please - enough of this 'Your Radiance' business. There's no need to stand on ceremony all the time, you may call me Sarana. It's not like your school days here, where you'd have to say fifty Psalms to Pelor for breaking protocol!"
Belor nodded and bowed to the woman, whose tenure as high priestess had lead to a resurgence in the parish's following thanks chiefly to her kind and wise leadership. "As you wish. Sarana. Now if you will excuse me, I am off to meditate in the Sun Room before meeting up with the rest of my party later on. We have a meeting with the diplomat from Nyrond, Sir Ranald Immanen."
Bowing in return to Balor and hustling away, Sarana said, "I shall leave you to it, Balor. May the mercy of the Sun shine upon you."
"And upon you," Balor said in return, before heading off to the quiet solitude of the Sun Room. There, the tall windows of yellow quartz would bathe its occupants in a warm glow, suffusing them with a feeling of peace and the room with a soft light.
As fortune would have it, Balor was the lone occupant of the meditation chamber on this morning. He chose his favourite spot and knelt there in quiet reflection.
A few short moments into his meditation, Balor experienced a sudden bright flash. So startled was the cleric, he could not tell if his eyes were open or closed as his entire consciousness was flooded with brilliant light.
As the intensity of the light dwindled, the image in his mind's eye became that of the sun, as if he were gazing directly upon it. Yet it caused him no pain. For an instant he felt as if he could see a face in the sun, a visage of grand benevolence and wisdom. There was a recognition there, as if it knew him and everything he had seen and done. He could swear the face in the sun wore a faint smile, but before he could scrutinise it further the image was gone.
Then it was as if Balor were flying, and as he looked around he realised he was indeed airborne - on the back of a mighty ki-rin. This mythical beast was reportedly the favoured mount of the sun god, and its imagery featured heavily in Pelor's churches. How or why he was here, flying above some unknown but unbelievably lush landscape, Balor did not know. He felt oddly truncated, as he simultaneously felt like he was still kneeling in the church with his eyes closed, but also flying above the world atop a ki-rin.
Balor tried but failed to open his eyes. It was as if he were trapped in a dream, yet one where he had total consciousness - so he had that going for him. Which was nice.
He decided to make the most of it, and as he began to enjoy the heady rush of flying many thousands of feet above the ground, he realised the ki-rin had begun a slow, spiraling descent to the earth. This was not Oerth - leastways, no part of it he had ever studied on any map.
Far off to his right, as if in the centre of the land above which he flew, Balor could make out a vast manor that was surrounded by vineyards, orchards and farmland for miles. Closer to him, and very near to where the ki-rin seemed to be flying in a lazy downward spiral, was a charming little farm village. It straddled a small river, the bright blue ribbon of which could be seen threading its way through miles of forest, then plains, then hills, then forest again. Other settlements - some little hamlets, others large cities - could be seen dotting the landscape.
About a thousand feet above the ground, Balor experienced a sudden sharp disorientation, coupled with an intense nausea. The next he was aware, he was astride a horse, a black destrier, that was trotting lazily along a worn but well-maintained dirt road. He looked up ahead of him and saw his destination: the farm village astride the river. A sign off the side of the road to his right read: "Welcome to Pommeville, pop. 297".
Only dimly aware now that somewhere, sometime he was off kneeling in meditation in Pelor's church, Balor spurred his mount forward, the excitement to explore this sleepy little town in this inviting world now at the forefront of the cleric's mind.
The sun was making its way higher into the azure sky above the free city of Greyhawk. That meant that soon her streets would be thronged with all manner of citizen, going about their daily business in their complicated lives.
Which meant it was time for Kellern to strike out for the countryside surrounding the city, and escape its protective but oppressive walls.
Bounding through the Marsh Gate with barely more than a cursory nod at the morning watch, the druid immediately felt his spirits begin to lift as his connection to nature felt renewed. All who patrolled this particular gate in the southwestern section of Greyhawk's city wall now knew of the shifter's predilection for the plains and hills surrounding the fair city. Also, his unusual resemblance to a sabre-toothed tiger on two legs made it easy for them to spot his comings and goings.
When he chose to be spotted, that is.
Kellern decided to explore the areas to the southwest of the city as they transitioned from floodplains by the Selintan River to low-lying hills and then again to flat grassy fields as one approached the Nyr Dyv to the northwest. The Lake of Unknown Depths would be well worth a visit today, for its cobalt blue waters would be reflecting the sunlight in spectacular fashion. Not only would it be a sight to behold, but it would likely provide him with a mid-morning snack, as catfish and bass abounded in the lake's waters. While they were relatively easy prey for Kellern, they proved elusive to his pet feline M'Koll. What his cat lacked in size he made up for in ferocity, but the little devil was still unable to swat any fish out of the water with the same accuracy of his owner.
Somewhere not too far behind him, Kellern knew, M'koll was following in his tracks as he headed to the great outdoors.
Perhaps after the lake, Kellern would pay a visit to the Gnarley Forest, though his treading there was always with caution. Aside from the fact that bandits and worse preyed on all those who dared enter the confines of the Gnarley, Kellern knew that druids of Ehlonna tended to predominate there. Those woods, they felt, were theirs and theirs alone - and the enmity that Ehlonna's followers felt for those of Obad-hai were widely known. This stemmed largely from Ehlonna and her ilk's belief that, although she and Obad-hai were both druids and protectors of nature, the philosophy of Obad-hai was far too pacifist and removed. The rangers, druids and priests who revered nature through Ehlonna were quick to take Obad-hai's adherents to task for their perceived lack of action when it came to what was happening in Oerth's forests today - namely the Gnarley but especially the Vesve.
To Kellern, it was a small matter.
It wasn't that Kellern wouldn't be welcome by Ehlonna's brood or attacked on sight - as he certainly would be by any troll or ogre that laired deep in the Gnarley. But he wanted to proceed with cautious respect before attempting to make contact with the famed Rangers of the Gnarley. He had one contact of sorts already, in Geren Laraith (he of the Fellowship of the Torch), who had at least heard of Kellern and his band of adventurers, if not yet met them in person.
As Kellern began to think of what else he might get up to before he was to meet back with his fellow adventurers at the Silver Dragon Inn, a curious shape in the sky caught his attention.
Soaring high above the clouds, two tiny, dark shapes were wheeling. Soon, they became recognisable as birds - eagles perhaps, or even... larger creatures.
As they plummeted towards the druid, their mighty wings swept back, he realised to his horror that they were indeed rocs - terrible beasts capable of carrying off even elephants, and beyond the power of men to harm. Before Kellern even had time to look around for somewhere to hide, and just as M'koll had caught up to him and leapt into his arms, the monsters were upon him.
Screeching angrily, the two rocs tussled with each other briefly as if fighting over Kellern. The mightier and more determined of the pair managed to snatch the shifter (and, thusly, his cat) with its grasping claws. Immediately, the victorious roc flew higher into the sky, away from the disappearing ground below and away from the angry protests of the vanquished roc.
As the other roc flew off in search of other prey, the roc holding Kellern continued to spiral higher and higher into the sky. The druid became disoriented, and would surely have plummeted to the earth were it not for the tight grip of the mighty bird's claws. Miraculously, he was unharmed in the grasping, as those talons were razor-sharp and strong enough to tear through metal as if it were silk.
Unsure of where he now was, Kellern began to study the landscape below him. He could not identify the mountain range that loomed ahead, which was dominated by a dark, snow-capped mountain.
The portion of the range nearest to him looked as if it had once been slashed down its centre by a cosmic knife some eons ago. Filling this extended basin was a series of lakes, connected by a meandering river that exited the mountain chain at one end.
From there, the river wound like a serpent - indeed shaped very much like one - across the vast plains on the far side of the mountain range. The serpentine river ended in a lake shaped just like the head of a snake, complete with an island just where a serpent's eye might be.
The roc maintained its unwavering flight towards the lonely peak in the centre of this chain, down from which the valley began to form. As they neared the summit, Kellern could make out a massive nest of tangled trees and branches - with even half of a rowboat and an entire wagon incorporated into it! Hovering for a moment above the nest, which was empty of any other inhabitants (but filled with plenty of gnawed-upon bones and skulls) the roc deposited the druid and his cat unceremoniously into its centre.
The roc stared at its prize for a moment before flapping away into the distance, undoubtedly searching for more prey.
As Kellern and M'koll stretched and assessed their predicament (not good - the bottom of the nest was still forty feet above the surface below, which was nothing more than a steep, jagged slope of rock and ice with the thinnest of ledges), two more rocs appeared. They contributed another three 'prey items' to their nest and stared them down before they, too, flew off in search of more food.
These newcomers were a rather unusual grouping. One 'fellow' was a gargantuan humanoid who looked as if one of his parents was a great blue dragon, judging from the bluish scales adorning his body, which ranged in hue from powder blue to deep indigo at their crest. The second unfortunate was a tall, powerfully-built human who bore an instantly recognisable symbol emblazoned upon his armour: a mighty fist, closed around two bright yellow lightning bolts. This was unmistakably a man of Heironeous, the Oeridian god of chivalry, justice, and honour.
At first, Kellern mistook the third new occupant to be a small, dirty child. Upon closer inspection, he resembled a small man, barely four and a half feet in height, with an unkempt mop of raven-black hair and ashen grey skin. Only his eyes - lustrous and black, containing no white or pupil - betrayed his race: this was a shadar-kai, a being from the Shadowfell.
"The realm of the Raven Queen," mused Kellern. "An interesting lot, these three..."
The druid learned that these three chaps hailed from the besieged kingdom of Nyrond, well to the east of the city of Greyhawk. Two of them, Ugos Mentharin the cleric of Heironeous and Leag Leagensson the dragonborn fighter, had only just set out from their hometown of Mowbrenn. The ruler of the town was a corrupted Count under the control of a priest of Hextor, the evil god of war and discord (and, incidentally, half-brother to Heironeous).
They met up with, or were rather inflicted with, Nano the thief, fresh from the hamlet of Curtullen, a small trading outpost on the fringe of Nyrond. Seems he was caught attempting to pick Leag's pockets, but what he really wanted to do was see the world. At least, that's one option given him by Leag and Ugos after being caught, the other option being turned in to Curtulenn's thieves guild, which frowned mightily upon any freelance theft in its territory. As Nano was not a card-carrying member of said guild, it was a particularly good time for him to get out of Curtulenn and, as Leag had put it, 'see this world before I knock you into the next.'
Introductions, by necessity, were brief, as the cold was biting and the wind was pushing it through to their bones. There was no telling how much time they had to try and escape the rocs' nest before the angry birds returned, so with one last look at the winding river in the valley below, they set about climbing down Kellern's handy rope to the ledge below.
Not before seeing, just for a moment, the light catching the island in the centre of the 'snake's head' lake far away in the plains beyond the mountains. There, something glinted like a winking, inviting eye and then the shaft of sunlight that had broken through the clouds was gone.
Tarmiko sipped quietly from his flagon of ale as he sat (mostly) unnoticed in one corner of the Hanged Man Inn. Deep in the Thieves Quarter, the nefarious inn was known for many things: brawls, stabbings, backroom deals and assassination contracts, to name but a few. What the inn was most notorious for, however, was its serving as a front for the Thieves Guild. Most people in the know knew that the Guild really ran the city, and it was rumoured that even the esteemed mayor himself, one Nerof Gasgal, was once a member of the Thieves Guild.
Or its leader. Or maybe just on the take. What exactly the mayor was to the Guild all depended on who was telling the tale. But even though the narrative might vary, one truth was always evident: you didn't cross the Thieves Guild twice. Leastways, none who might have done so had seemed to live long enough to tell the tale.
Glumly, the monk-rogue pondered this among many other thoughts as he tasted his favourite brew, a red ale from Perrenland. Staring into his mug, the vanishing head of his beer was now forming a sort of slow spiral.
One of Tarmiko's thoughts was the recent memory of his tribulations with not only the Guild but with the City Watch itself. Caught stealing twice - once that he could recall doing in a fit of whimsy, the other instance of which he had no memory - Tarmiko ruminated on the paradoxical experience of being warned off by the Guild and then recruited by them.
Why in the Nine Hells would anyone want to join up with those cutthroat bastards, especially after they had pointedly threatened to cut his own throat? If they were trying to intimidate him into joining, it wasn't working.
But in the end, he knew, they held all the cards. Sure, one could try to make a career of flouting the Thieves Guild's authority in Greyhawk, conducting clandestine burglaries and picking pockets and staying one step ahead of them the whole time. The thrill of such a pursuit tantalized the rogue, and the rush he would feel in rubbing their nose in it was almost irresistible.
Yet the monk side of his nature weighed in. The cold logic of it all was that Tarmiko had the potential to make a name for himself now, what with his adventuring friends. More importantly, he could help rescue his beloved aunty from her gritty life here in the Thieves Quarter. She deserved a finer place, perhaps a nice little cottage up in Clerksburg, or even in the Foreign Quarter. He knew how much she liked accents, and there one only had to open one's windows to hear the pleasing melody of all of the different brogues as the various races and cultures of people went about their day's work.
There were the gruff and earthy tones of the dwarves, the singsong falsetto of the gnomes, the husky accents of those from the Great Kingdom with their clipped vowels.
Musing further, Tarmiko wondered again how it was that he had ended up in this particular tavern. One did not simply walk into the Hanged Man Inn. To do so was an invitation to a mugging, or worse. But the rogue was here on an invite, of sorts, and under the watchful eye of the bartender: one Kymm Warde. From time to time, the muscular, balding rogue with the tightly cropped copper beard and deep green eyes would regard Tarmiko. The fact that Kymm served as a recruiter for the Thieves Guild was as loosely kept a secret as the one that this bar acted as a front for many of their activities.
Catching Kymm's eye, Tarmiko nodded subtly and briefly flicked his left index finger, indicating that he would have another.
Nodding immediately in return, Kymm motioned to one of his serving wenches to bring the prospect another round. The intimidating recruiter had had one conversation with Tarmiko - and only one - wherein he let him know that if he wished he could join the Guild. All he need do is make it known to Kymm, and he would 'take care of the rest'.
Kymm also let Tarmiko know that if he wished he could end up in the Selintan, his throat freshly cut. All he need do is make one more unauthorized theft, and he would - again - 'take care of the rest'. This he said to him with a fiendish grin, one that Tarmiko dared not forget.
But he also knew that the guild was intrigued by Tarmiko's unique combination of prowess. Not only was he a rogue of promising usefulness, but his powers as a monk could make him a formidable assassin, or even an inside man. Kymm had let him know as much, as well as telling him that he had caught the interest of one of their 'specialty' trainers, a grandmaster known only as Slevyas.
As Tarmiko's third ale was served to him - and here it was only now approaching mid-morning - he pondered just which direction he would take in these next few hours before he was to meet up with his adventuring mates back at the Silver Dragon Inn.
Idly, he wondered what they were up to in this rare bit of free time they all had, and figured they were probably just as bored as he was. Still, he was eager to see them again and catch up with them all, and to get back in the saddle of the adventurer's life. It would do, for now.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012, 12:30 AM
What follows is an assortment of potential party names, brainstormed by our very own Miklos Dare over the past tenday. Please forgive him for any eccentricities here as he is fighting off a nasty sore throat and has been spending his time while off work fending off headaches and diverting himself happily in the quest to name his most-recently beloved party of adventurers.
Five Sought Adventure
The Stone Ring Syndicate
Lords of the Unknown
Slayers Chorus (Slayerus?)
The Way of the Drunken Monkey (Or, Drunkey) (Monkunken, even)
The Way of the Black Dragon ("If I may." ~Miklos)
Lute & Loot Incorporated
Sailors on the Low Seas
Order of the Low Seas
Riders of the Black Dragon
Whelps of the Black Dragon
Song of the Unstoppable Divine Monkey Storm (combines 5 individual PC power names)
Drunken Shield of Greyhawk
Avengers of Balorton
Death-knell For Evil
The Grey Company
The Stone Ring Quintet
The Free City Quintet
The Cosmic Quintet
The Nameless Five
Snake Street Outcasts
River Quarter Regulars
Orphans of High Street
Stuff of Legends
The Hawk's Academy
Gnarley Diplomats ("See what I did there?" ~Miklos)
The GH Syndicate
Explorers of Oerth (Oexplorers?)
Scions of Shack Town
Shack Town United
Firefly inspired names
Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal
Ten Percent of Nothin'
Inevitable Crushing Defeat
¡No hay Dragones en Greyhawk!
Oerth Girls Are Easy
Flanked and Prone (Pronked?)
Fellowship of the Flaming Arrow (Heh.)
Flaming Archery Butts ("Heh." ~Miklos)
Barmiko Balordy & K'ern (Like a law firm! Only, you guys hunt treasure and stuff.)
Bro Baldy and K (Could even make that "Special K")
K Baldy Bro
Hard Tack II: Tack Harder
Greyhawk Tack & Bridle
Seekers of the Forgotten/Golden/Lost tack
Straight Outta Balorton (S.O.B.'s)
Six Year Old Girls Do Not Frighten Us
Greyhawk's Got Talent
So You Think You Can Master Dungeons?
We Can Haz Treasure Parcel?
Five Demon Bag
Kennelmasters of Ubu
Ubu Go Walkies
Fellowship of the Beastbane
Adventurers Drink For Free
Grey City United
Greyhawk City Rollers
Big Trouble From Little Greyhawk
Firedogs of Exploding Triple Final Death
BUTTKICKING FOR GOODNESS
Five the Hard Way
Tough Love For Orcs
Pagan Star Evocation
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Sunday, December 16, 2012, 2:23 AM
Larissa took a taper down from the candelabra on the mantel and brought it over to Evan's desk.
"You're going to be blind as a bat if you keep squinting to read in the dark, you silly sod," she said with loving reproach as she lit the wick of a lantern on her husband's desk.
Evan looked up from his almanac and smiled ruefully at his wife, who leaned in for a quick kiss. He then gratefully took the battered brass lantern in his hand and lifted it as he stood from the desk, carrying his almanac.
"Is it time for supper already, my dear?" Evan asked with a hungry glint in his eyes. "That smells like your famous rabbit stew. Just the thing for a starving old man and a growing young boy."
"It is rabbit, and that boy of ours is becoming quite a good shot with that bow the bard left for him," Larissa said as she stood looking out the window into the back yard.
"He has you to thank for that. And that bard," Evan said. "I only taught him the axe, you were always the marksman in the family."
His wife smirked and waited a beat as she expected him to get in his usual taunt about archers being inferior to foot soldiers, but for some reason Evan held silent. Opening the window onto the back yard, Larissa called out, "Stephen! Come inside for tea now, love, you'll wear yourself out if you don't stop to eat and sleep once in a while."
A bright, cheery voice hollered in reply as Larissa closed the window, a fond smile upon her face. Deep in thought for a moment, her smile faded into a mildly concerned frown, and then her eyes rested upon Evan - seated now at the dinner table and once again reading from his farmer's almanac.
"Pssh, put that dusty old book away, Evan! Between Stephen training for the army and you studying that almanac these days, why I might as well live out in the kennels with the dogs. At least they'd pay attention to me," she finished as she leaned over his shoulder, placing her arms around his neck.
"Oh, quit pouting love," Evan replied as he gave her hands a fond squeeze. "Stephen's had word from the recruiter, Jakartai is taking on new men in Chendl, and our boy will be gone in a month. I need to study the almanac here to see how much help we're going to need to take on for autumn. Bloody wheat and corn aren't going to just harvest themselves, and Stephen does the work of two men as you know."
"Aye..." Larissa replied faintly, trying not to think of the day when Stephen would finally leave home and head for the borderlands, coming nose to nose with Iuz's fell orcs - and worse.
But she squelched her fear, and in its place was a mother's pride, for she knew that she and Evan had raised a strong son. Also, Count Artur Jakartai was a good man - the ex-Shield Lander was a cut above most men in Furyondy.
"And here's the boy now, speak of the devil!" Evan said with a laugh as he stood from his chair to greet his son.
In through the back door strode a tall and rangy young man, whose thin build belied the strength he possessed. His boyish looks aside, Evan could now see his son for the stalwart young man he had now become. When did he grow up so fast? he thought to himself. A double-bladed axe was strung to Stephen's back, next to an empty quiver. The shortbow he carried with such a familiarity now, it looked as if he had been born with it in his hands. These were all the hallmarks of a young soldier off to the front lines, brimming with a sort of reckless pride.
As young Stephen laid aside his gear and went to freshen up for supper, his parents shared a smile and a look that said more than words could say.
The rabbit stew Larissa had prepared that night tasted better than it ever had, for not only was it Stephen's first rabbit he had hunted successfully with his new bow, but it was one of the last meals the couple would share with their son for some time. Perhaps for good.
They resolved to savour every moment of it.
Skyler, Curate of Zilchus, sat at the desk in his small office in the main administration building of the city of Willip. He was busy finishing his tasks for the day before the late afternoon service to Zilchus - the god of merchants, also known as The Money Counter. The service always began as soon as the clock struck its fifth note.
A pile of parchments, neatly stacked, sat to his right, and before him was a quill and a small inkpot that was nearly empty of black ink. Behind the young priest was a sturdy cabinet with many drawers. Its dark wood had been polished to a soft glow, set out by the cold shaft of sunlight that beamed through the lone window in his office.
With an efficiency of movement, only expending the exact amount of energy necessary to perform his chores, Skyler picked up one last sheaf of parchments from the left side of his desk. Crudely bound in twine, and stained with sweat and ale from the guards that had handled it, the documents gave off a musty and sour odour.
Handling the twine with delicate but precise fingers, Skyler unfastened the papers and began to unfurl them. He separated them out, five pieces of parchment in all, and laid them out in an orderly fashion before him on the desk.
Pulling open the top right hand drawer of his desk to just the right distance, Skyler fetched from within a sturdy and perfectly columnar piece of jet black stone. Expeditiously, the cleric began to smooth out each single piece of parchment, and three rolls of the stone apiece seemed to do the trick nicely.
Staring at the parchments with a studious air, Skyler blinked in satisfaction as he carefully replaced the stone to its drawer and neatly closed it so that it was perfectly flush with the outer surface of the desk.
Now opening the central drawer of the desk before him, Skyler scooted back in his chair the precise distance he always needed to get the drawer open without having to stand up, yet still being able to reach within and retrieve what he needed.
The cleric placed a neat, vellum bound black ledger with the writing "Blade Coppers, 585" embossed in gold leaf on its front onto the desk before him - away from the parchments, but still within easy handling distance - and he proceeded to open it to the current date, using the red felt ribbon that ran down the inside of the ledger as a bookmark.
Taking up his quill, Skyler made two quick dabs with it into the inkwell and proceeded to copy information from the first piece of parchment into the appropriate compartments on the fresh pages open before him:
"2 Reaping 585 CY, Tarmiko, rogue, City of Greyhawk, paid his Blade Coppers."
He then placed his initials "SS" neatly into the associated column at the right, and began the process again with the second piece of parchment: two dabs in the inkwell, same exact penmanship, his initials, and repeat.
Everything was going smoothly and as it should up until the final piece of parchment. There, where the adventurer's name was scrawled, was a large, ugly beer stain. Or perhaps it was sweat - either way, some oafish guard on duty at the road into Willip had bungled his paperwork. The adventurer's name was illegible, although it was clear from the rest of the writ that he (or she) (or it) had paid their Blade Coppers in full. All the clerk could make out was that their name began with the letter 'B'.
Given that the careless guard in question was also a man of Zilchus (but not, sadly, a proper clergyman, like Skyler), he would have to answer for his oversight at the next joint meeting between all arms of the merchant god's church.
Tsk-ing irritatedly to himself, Skyler became visibly more agitated when, as he opened the second drawer on the lefthand side of his desk to retrieve his Logbook of Errors (this one a bright red hide-bound tome), he could hear the town clock bonging its first note.
Unbelievable, the fussy curate thought to himself. I'm going to now be late for the afternoon service, all thanks to some careless neophyte guard. Point of order at the next meeting. POINT OF ORDER!
Scowling furiously, seeming on the verge of tears, Skyler hurriedly but accurately cleared his desk and filed everything in its proper place before retiring for the evening.
At least the inkwell was perfectly dry, the clerk cleric consoled himself as he strode briskly towards the church of Zilchus. No wastage there, Zilchus be praised.
The curate allowed himself a small, secret smile.
Belowdecks, second mate Riffkin was frowning over a map of northern Furyondy, specifically the Veng River, which formed a natural border between that good kingdom and the foul lands of Iuz to the north.
The map was Riffkin's latest purchase in the city of Greyhawk, the Eagle's Nest just having put in to port there at the end of another successful run. This particular journey had been a touch more profitable than the last, too, thanks to the captain taking on board some adventurers that needed transport.
"Excuse me, Pete, but could you please have a look at this map here, sir?" Riffkin asked of his immediate superior.
The first mate ambled over to where Riffkin sat hunched at the galley table, which served as his makeshift desk in between meals. A sudden swell that caught the ship didn't affect Pete's sea legs one bit, let alone the bowl of porridge he was finishing off as he sauntered over.
Squinting at the map, Pete scanned it for inaccuracies but finding none said, "Aye, Riff, what is it lad? Looks all right to me, 'cept it's shinier than your last map. Just needs a bit o' breakin' in is all. A little splash from the Nyr Dyv and she'll be a proper and official second mate's map then, you'll see," the first mate said with a wink and a smile.
"Aye, Pete, I know that, I does, but look here!" said Riffkin, stabbing a finger at the map.
Frowning vaguely, Pete examined the map where the second mate was pointing. Sure enough, right along the Veng River halfway between Barduk to the south and Fort Belvor to the north, was a new settlement.
Or was it new? "Hang on, what was that called before? Wasn't that something else? Never heard of this Balorton..." Pete said, scratching his head thoughtfully with his spoon.
"I could swear it was Fort Batlet, what they used to call "Fort Disaster", only now it's got this name. We haven't done a bit of trade that far up the Veng in a long while, though," Riffkin said.
"Not since before the Wars lad, no," Pete confirmed. Then the first mate's eyes brightened with recognition. "Well blow me down! Of course! That lot of adventurers we dropped off back there in the city - one of them was named Balor. I'll bet it's named after him. They mentioned how they just done this big security gig for a trade caravan along the Veng. We had us a real celebrity on this ship, Riff!"
"So we did!" Riffkin exclaimed, joining his fellow officer in excitement. "Sure beats the usual cargo. Bolts of silk cloth and barrels of brandy don't exactly talk much. D'you think the Cap'n knew?"
"Cap'n knows everything, ain't nothing gets by him," Pete replied with full conviction.
The second mate turned to stare at Pete in awe. "And you... you shook his hand! I saw it - when they first boarded!"
Pete, beaming now and flushing red, grinned happily in reply. "Aye, I did lad, that I did. This calls for a drink!"
Riffkin hooted in excitement as they made way abovedecks with a freshly opened bottle of grog, singing a sea shanty and in high spirits.
As Riffkin poured out the drinks to the off-duty sailors on deck and Pete told the full story of how he sat next to Balor in a pub in Willip, the second mate suddenly seemed to remember the other adventurers that were with Balor.
"Say, Pete, do you think the rest of those that was with Balor are famous too?"
All the other sailors present fell quiet and looked to Pete in anticipation.
Frowning and tilting his head side to side, the first mate then pronounced, "Mmm... naw. Those were probably his manservants or something! Those high rolling priests always need a big entourage. You know, to carry all their relics and whatnot."
"Aye, aye," the other sailors murmured in agreement at this piece of irrefutable wisdom from their first mate.
The Captain-General of the Watch settled in to her spartan bed that evening, anticipating her first night of good sleep in many weeks.
Derider Fanshen looked over at her desk from her bed (more cot than bed) and sighed contentedly, as on that desk was a signed order from the city's head magistrate. On that order was a declaration, making Tarmiko the rogue and - by association - his fellow party members, free of any further debt to the city of Greyhawk.
Something about this group of adventurers touched her more deeply than others she had encountered in her many years of service. They just seemed destined for greater things than most, although when she thought about it she could never put her finger on exactly why she got this impression. Leave it to Istus to weave her strands of fate as mysteriously as always, Derider reasoned.
Blissful sleep coming readily to her now, the captain rolled over onto her side to finally embrace some much-needed slumber, troubled only by the tiniest thought rattling around in her subconscious.
Just what do they call themselves anyway, these curious heroes of mine...
Olaf Al-Azul eyed the growing mound of coins on his desk in front of him with slowly widening eyes. A thin smile began to creep in from the corners of his mouth, which were normally turned down in the form of a serious frown.
"It is as you say, rohi," his wife smiled back at him as she finished counting and stacking the gold, silver and copper coins. "You did count properly. This bard is turning you a nice little profit."
"Turning us a nice little profit, light of my eyes," Olaf beamed at his wife. "We can finally take a trip away, to the west, like we had planned! Just you, me, and the girls," the inkeep said as he began to shovel the coins into a sturdy wooden box.
"And leave the Silver Dragon in charge of that reptile, Felipe? Never again!" she said, spitting in pantomime disgust.
"No, no, Nahid, my sweet," Olaf assured her, grasping her upper arms and staring at her devotedly. "I would sooner shut the inn and sell it to the embalmers than let that fool run this place for me again. It is bad enough the Blue Dragon is across the street, but it took two months to settle down the Watch after he brought his 'business' here."
"I know, Olaf, I was there, remember?" Nahid said, her eyes narrowing shrewdly. "We had half the Thieves Quarter in here placing bets on the Pit - and worse, until we finally cleared our name. You are a trusting old fool, Olaf," she said, not unkindly, as she took him in an embrace.
Olaf hugged his wife close, running his hand through her straight black hair that smelled of cherry bark and almonds.
"Get Miklos to run our place for us while we are gone," Nahid murmured into her husband's chest. "He owes you a favour doesn't he?"
The innkeep chuckled softly to himself. "Yes, my sweet, he does." It was true. The huge bear of a man did owe Olaf one, and he looked forward to paying a visit to the Black Dragon to collect on it.
Only... the inevitable arm-wrestling match with Miklos? That part, Olaf did not look forward to.
"So Miklos, tell me again why it is that you've allowed Tarmiko to tend bar for you? With... access to the coin box?" Bardy asked the hulking figure across the table from him.
As the bard spoke, he nodded towards the bar at the Black Dragon Inn, where his rogue friend Tarmiko was indeed serving drinks and taking coins from patrons.
The massive man named Miklos beamed at Bardy in reply, and laughed. It was an amicable laugh, full of mirth in its rumbling bass tones. "You tell me, bard! You're the diplomat. Got to bury the hatchet, and all that," the innkeep replied as he sloshed down some ale.
"True, but aren't you worried he'll be too tempted to steal from you again? He is a rogue after all," Bardy riposted, taking a healthy sip of mead.
Balor, priest of Pelor and patriarch of Balorton, shot his gaze back and forth between Bardy, Miklos and Tarmiko at the bar. The cleric was enjoying this debate about believing in the inherent goodness of men, and all that. Somehwere, he knew, Pelor would be smiling at this free-wheeling discussion about one of life's finer virtues: forgiveness.
"Nonsense!" Miklos Dare pronounced bombastically, slamming the heel of his tankard down on the table for emphasis. He glared fiercely at the half-elf bard for a moment, then the innkeep's face dissolved again into laughter, his black bristly beard contrasting sharply against his white teeth.
Leaning in towards the bard, putting a hand up on one side of his face as if to disguise his words from Tarmiko, the innkeep said in a harsh whisper, "Tarmiko and I have come to an understanding, it's all in the past."
Miklos leaned back, then paused as another thought occurred to him. "Besides, I'm giving him good honest work now! A chance to earn some tips from the patrons, maybe pick up some tips about adventures from other... adventurers," he said, gesturing to the room at large with his tankard.
Balor smiled at Miklos and nodded slightly in his direction, though the innkeep did not see it.
"Well..." Bardy said, pausing as he spoke to take a slow sip of mead for dramatic effect. "...you certainly are giving him a second chance, and definitely one to make money off your patrons. He might not steal from you, but haven't you ever heard of pick-pocketing? A packed room like this, he could fleece them all like sheep." The half-elf finished by slamming his mead glass down onto the table, though not so hard as to break it, but just enough for it to make a satisfying 'click'.
A flicker of doubt passed across Miklos' face, and he sat back in consternation. "Well," Miklos rumbled with a troubled frown, "if he decides to pursue the life of a freelance thief in this, the City of Thieves, he'll not pursue life for long..."
"Be that as it may!" Bardy continued, clapping his hands together and rubbing them rapidly. "This discussion of money segues nicely into our next topic of discussion, where you - the innkeep - tell me - the best bard the Black Dragon has ever seen - just how much of a percentage I'll be making from my next performance here."
Miklos regarded the bard with a sly grin, and wagged a finger playfully at him. "All this talk of thieves in my tavern, Bardy, while all the while I'm sitting across from the deadliest rogue of them all: a silver-tongued bard!"
They shared a hearty laugh together, each refilling their drinking vessels from their respective pitchers.
Suddenly, Bardy stopped laughing. "No, I'm serious: 50 percent."
"Hah! I should break my hands, and hever play the harp again."
Bardy looked confused. "You play the harp?"
"No," Miklos stated flatly. "8 percent," he offered back, his face the very mask of a shrewd horse trader.
Quickly growing bored with the more mundane subject of numbers, Balor excused himself from the booth and left Bardy and Miklos to their semi-regular haggling session. While it was always a mighty duel, it was never as interesting as the arm-wrestling matches between Miklos and Briar, with each of them owning three victories against the other. It was a good-natured and spirited rivalry Miklos had going with most of the party now.
Taking a refill of his wine flagon from Tarmiko at the bar (who poured and served it to Balor with a startling deftness, making a no-look pass of his vessel as he slid it back down the bar to the cleric), Balor wandered out into the Black Dragon's side yard. It was a breezy evening, with a late spring chill still in the air.
Many braziers set about the perimeter of the courtyard were burning, with fat pieces of timber crackling and giving off a warm, radiant glow. The faces of the inn's patrons, students and adventurers most of them, seemed more jovial and a bit more intoxicated in the ruddy glow of the flames.
The cleric of the sun god found the blazes quite comforting, and as he sipped his wine, Balor stood a little closer to a brazier than others might dare, which drew some curious stares. The cleric just smiled amiably back at any who looked in his direction, oblivious to the nature of their impressions of him, as well as to the blazing heat from the burning wood.
Under the canopy of a galda tree, Balor could make out something yellow glinting in the light. At first, he mistook it for the characteristic yellow bark and leaves of this kind of tree, but as he stared longer he realized it was something else...
...it was a pair of eyes. No, two pairs! Occasionally he'd see them flash in the light, and then they'd turn away, and after a moment he got the impression the two creatures to whom these eyes belonged were in a conversation.
Moving away from the brazier, Balor ducked under an overhanging branch and entered the large, cool space beneath tree's outstretched limbs. There, reclining leisurely against the courtyard's stone wall, was Kellern. He was speaking quietly to a figure that looked remarkably like him - it was another longtooth shifter, this one sitting with his back to the tree's trunk. His fur was of a darker hue than that of Kellern's, and he somewhat more resembled a wolf than did Kellern, though they were both longtooths.
They regarded the cleric with nonchalance as he entered their space, seeming neither bothered by nor interested in his presence.
Kellern was munching on a whitish, cone-shaped fruit that Balor immediately recognised as the fruit of the galda tree, while the other shifter seemed to be idly gnawing on what appeared to be a tough strip of leather.
As Balor approached, smiling politely, Kellern nodded at the cleric and acknowledged him with a simple, "Balor."
"Kellern, hello," Balor replied back, looking over at the shifter's shifter friend. "It is much better out here, on an evening such as this. Better than that smoky bar."
"Indeed," Kellern agreed. Pointing at the other shifter, Kellern said, "Balor, meet Tor. Tor, this is Balor, priest of Pelor."
The shifter named Tor made a noise something between a grunt and a growl as he swiftly rose to his feet. Eyeing the cleric up and down, he didn't so much offer a hand in greeting as sniff the air around Balor.
Somewhat familiar now with shifter customs, Balor was unfazed and said, "Well met, Tor."
Seeming satisfied with Balor's man-scent, Tor nodded back at the cleric and grinned, showing a white set of teeth and sharp fangs. "Balor," he said as he sat back against the tree. He began once again to gnaw on his leather strap, but then suddenly seemed to forget his manners and he offered up the strap to Balor with a mildly beseeching look.
As Balor went to sit and join the shifters, he noticed the proferred strap and chuckled. Politely, he held up a hand and said, "Thank you, my friend, but not just now."
Tor simply shrugged and went back to chewing heartily on the strap. Balor could see how and why the shifter's teeth remained so sharp and clean.
Balor learned (by patient extraction, as shifters were known to be a laconic lot) that Tor was actually a student, here in the city temporarily studying with some master of natural lore at Grey College. Seeing as how the city's schools provided the best education in the Flanaess, enrolment was quite sought after - and expensive. As such, Tor worked at a tavern to help pay the bills, as did most students in Clerkburg.
Tor had been working for Miklos the past fortnight, having recently arrived here a fugitive of sorts from the Gamboge Forest, set within the troubled lands of Nyrond. He was a warden by class, and longed already to return to his beloved forest to help maintain its sovereignty and protect it and everything within it from the evil that bordered it to the southeast, in the fallen Great Kingdom.
Balor, too, had joined Kellern in sampling the fruit of the galda tree (it was somewhat astringent and salty, but refreshing and nutritious). As he finished his to the core, Balor decided to return to the inn proper to check on the rest of the party and to see if Briar had yet returned from her errand.
Tor excused himself with a gruff but respectful nod and grunt to the cleric and returned to his duties in the stables, while Kellern yawned and stretched and began eyeing the higher branches in the galda tree.
Briar always fancied this part of the city of Greyhawk, especially at night. The Processional, where it made its way through the heart of Clerkburg and the Foreign Quarter, was particularly quaint. Much of the bank of the Millstream, which wound its way through the city much like The Processional, was like a grassy preserve where it intersected with the main road. Students would often study here by day but by night they would gather in small groups and relax by entertaining each other with impromptu plays or just socialising.
To the left, as one moved north up The Processional towards the Grand Citadel, was Burrow Heights, set within the Foreign Quarter. Mostly halflings and dwarves and gnomes lived here, all of the buildings appearing from the outside as nothing more than holes in the ground. The true melting pot nature of Greyhawk was nowhere more evident than in the Foreign Quarter, and while many of its residents were hard working and did not relax as often as their student counterparts across the way, occasionally young families could also be seen enjoying the grassy banks along the Millstream at night.
Briar's destination tonight was Wharf Road, in the city's Garden Quarter, specifically the new ambassadorial complex. She aimed to meet with Sir Ranald Immanen, Ambassador of Nyrond, and discuss with him his intriguing offer regarding the chamber the party had found in the Cairn Hills a couple of months back.
The rest of the party had business to attend to (mainly the 'relaxing' kind of business) at the Black Dragon Inn, but this suited Briar just fine as she relished a chance to wander The Processional and visit a new quarter of the city.
As Briar strode up Greyhawk's wide central avenue, a dark-haired girl with bright green eyes turned to watch the mighty warrior walk away.
The girl, a skinny, straggly little thing, moved away from the family she was sitting near, a group of recent refugees from Nyrond who simply shrugged at each other as none of them had seen her appear.
Quiet as a shadow, the ragamuffin girl tailed Briar expertly up The Processional, always melting from view if the fighter cast a stray glance her way or quickly looking involved with other people out for a walk on the grand road.
This game of cat and mouse continued all the way up to the Garden Gate, with Briar never noticing her tail and the girl realising she'd not be able to follow any further at this time of night, for the gate was routinely patrolled.
As Briar signed her name to the evening watch's ledger and was admitted into the city's High and Garden Quarters, Christa "Little Miss Streetwise" caught a suspicious stare from one of the gate guards.
She whistled a happy tune and turned and strode back down The Processional, at least until she was sure the guard lost interest in her.
And then in the blink of an eye Christa seemed to vanish from the street, as she moved with seeming supernatural speed and stealth along the wall separating the River Quarter from the Garden Quarter.
"Now where is that secret rock..." she thought to herself as she scanned the base of the high stone wall, like a hawk searches for its prey.
Meanwhile, back at the Black Dragon Inn...
A bleary-eyed Miklos Dare counted and double counted and triple counted his takings for the evening as he stood behind the bar, towering over it as he did most everything else in life.
Tarmiko leaned against one end of the bar, enjoying his first beverage of the night, a flagon of cool, clear water. It suited his outward demeanour, as he showed no ill effects from his long night of tending bar. Coolly, he regarded the coins as Miklos went through his routine end-of-night tallying.
Balor had bellied up to the other end of the bar, looking like he could barely stay awake.
Bardy had apparently not been able to stay awake, as he remained seated in the booth he had occupied all night, his top half was sprawled across the table in a drunken slumber.
Kellern, presumably in his tree, was nowhere to be seen, and Briar had yet to return from her sojourn to the Nyrondese ambassador's quarters.
Finishing his third and final count, Miklos grunted contentedly and slammed the coin box shut, locking it. Still left outside the box was a short stack of gold coins, which Miklos pushed across the table towards the rogue.
"I'm much obliged, Tarmiko, you did a fine job tending bar for me this evening. Here's your take."
Tarmiko could easily see it was 25 gold pieces in total, and he accepted it with a grateful nod and polite smile at the hulking innkeep.
Balor emitted a low whistle of appreciation.
"Further to that, as more thanks for your help, you can all stay here free of charge for the night," Miklos continued.
"I negotiated that!" Bardy called out, apparently not quite down for the count, although the only movement he made to accompany his muffled words was a lazy raising of one hand in the air.
The others all ignored him.
Rubbing his eyes, Miklos yawned deeply, then he produced a set of keys from beneath the bar somewhere. Handing them to Tarmiko, he said, "Last room on the right, upstairs. And take a torch, don't want the grues to get you." He was grinning wickedly.
This got a good laugh from Tarmiko and Balor. Bardy raised his head in confusion from the table, one side of his face red from compression and looking like a relief map of the table top. A thin tendril of drool trailed out of one corner of his mouth. "Grues, wha...?"
Miklos looked at the bard. "Bardy."
The half-elf turned his gaze to the innkeep.
"Go like this," Miklos said, making a brushing motion with his hand along one corner of his mouth.
Tarmiko and Balor snickered a bit at this rare but amusing lapse in the half-elf's composure.
Bardy shot up from his seat at the booth and began to gather himself.
"Oh, one last thing for you and your 'party', Bardy," Miklos said as he once again reached beneath the bar. He produced a sturdy wooden bucket that seemed to be filled to the brim with wooden chits of varying but similar sizes and shapes. Each one bore writing on one side.
As the three attendant members of the adventuring party gathered around the bar to stare curiously at the bucket and its contents, Miklos said, "Remember what I told you? That if you all could not come up with a name for yourselves, then old Miklos would do it for you?"
Bardy, Tarmiko and Balor all shared a look.
"Yeah?" they replied as one.
Miklos smiled, amused at the situation. "Well, seems I had a bit of a brainstorm. Since you've been back and told me all the tales of your travels, well I've reflected on that a bit, and figured I'd try and help you come up with a name for yourselves."
"Oh," Balor said blankly as he stared uncertainly at the dozens of chips in the bucket. "Thanks, Miklos, so what do we...?"
"Have a look, see if there's any you like. If so, take it as my gift to you. If you don't like any of them, well that is just fine by me. Some of them are not meant to be taken seriously. I'm not used to naming parties, but I am used to putting their names on my wall, when they've earned enough recognition," Miklos said, gesturing to the many brass nameplates on his tavern's walls.
Some of the plates were shiny and new, freshly minted by some of Greyhawk's most recent and up-and-coming adventuring parties. Others - mainly the ones closest to the bar - looked a bit tarnished and old, but rather than make them look tired they had a more distinguished look to them. Many of these parties and their adventurers were now retired or dead, having scattered across the Flanaess after their adventuring days were over.
"So, you might just have done enough to earn a spot on my wall here, if that's something that you'd want," Miklos continued. "But before I can put you up there, first you're going to need..."
The three men, all staring in the bucket, again answered in unison: "A name."
Miklos winked at the group, then waved at them as he retired to his quarters at the back of the inn.
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Monday, November 26, 2012, 9:28 PM
The evening was quiet at the Traveler's Boon. Normally, such a statement would be about as enlightening as stating that 'water is wet' or that 'Iuz is evil'. However, on this night in particular, the mood was an especially quiet one at the Boon.
"Tell that story again, Cerris," prompted a grizzled-looking man, one of the many regulars at the Boon and also one of the many struggling silver miners that called the little hamlet of Haggash home.
A stout, ruddy woman who looked to be about as wide as she was short (people often mistook her for a dwarf) snorted into her beer. "Which one, Rogg? You'll have to be a mite more specific if ye be wanting me to spin another yarn, ye do..." She took a long swig from her tankard, finished it off and then slammed it onto the bar. "Another fine, dwarven ale if you would be so kind, Mister Tal."
A tall, unassuming gentleman behind the bar moved to refill the tankard of the surly woman miner who looked to be a dwarf but wasn't a dwarf.
"Pick any story you like, Cerris," said another miner with a bark of sardonic laughter. "We're back to telling the same godforsaken tales to each other that we always did, now that those adventurers have gone," he lamented as he stared sullenly into his cup of wine.
"Why can't we hear the story of what they did, Uncle Tal?" piped up a young lad of about sixteen, who was helping the innkeep behind the bar. "I want to hear about how they got rid of those bird people, and about that strange tiger-man they had with them!"
"Yeah, Unka Tal, why can't we talk about them?" asked another impatient boy, having just come in from tending the horses at the stable. This one looked to be the younger brother of the first.
An awkward sort of hush had settled over the crowd at the inn. With a stern look at his nephews, Tal nodded toward a man sitting by himself at the end of the bar. "Now boys, you know better than that. Where are your manners? Reverend Dosol here has had a devil of a time at the hands of those kenku - your 'bird people', Ommos. The man is here trying to recover from his ordeal and so we won't have anyone else bringing it up!"
Dosol was already an elderly man nearing retirement when the kenku descended upon the village over a fortnight ago, and the experience of being magically charmed and controlled by them had nearly killed him. It aged him visibly, as he was now quite gaunt and even more pale than he was before. His shock of white, unkempt hair was the same as ever, only now it made him look more ghost than man, given his shrivelled, sunken appearance.
Tremulously, Dosol held up a small silver cup for Tal.
"Another mead, Reverend?"
The ghastly priest shook his head gently, indicating he was done for the evening.
Dosol's wordless nod of thanks when Tal took his cup away to be washed and stored behind the bar was also a gesture of appreciation for the barkeep's kindness.
"Here, someone please take Dosol back to the Abbey, he's done for the night," Tal directed to the room at large as the elderly priest made ready to depart.
"I'll walk him back, Tal," volunteered a hale, middle-aged man who had the look of an ex-soldier about him.
"Thanks, Derrik, and see you in the morning," Tal said. "I'll bring the boys and we'll get back to repairing the abbey's foundation."
Derrik nodded and said a curt 'Aye' in reply as he gently took Dosol by the arm and lead him out of the inn.
"Now can we hear the story?" the younger lad asked, as soon as the inn's front door had closed behind Dosol and Derrik.
The cheeky request lightened the mood of the inn's patrons and there was general laughter. All this got him from his uncle, however, was a hard look.
"Go and help your mother, Thumor," Tal ordered. "Lots of baking to get done for tomorrow."
"Aye, Unka Tal," the boy said glumly as he moved quickly to obey.
The remaining customers at the Boon, all of them locals and all of them sharing the bond of a large, extended family as people who live in small towns often came to do, went back to their drinks and private conversations.
A short while later the Boon's front door opened and in strode a young, half-elven man in a dark green rider's cloak. He had the look of someone well-travelled, yet none present had ever seen him before. He bore an air of good humour and his eyes and visage gave the impression of an enlightened and sentimental sort of person. He seemed glad to have found an inn with a fire going where people were sharing stories and tankards of ale.
The half-elf strode confidently towards the bar, pulling back his hood and removing his cloak to reveal a set of fine elven chainmail, coloured a similar deep green - almost black. At his belt he wore a sheathed longsword, the pommel of which was set with an emerald that seemed to glow softly in the firelight. An ancient gold chain hung around his neck, bearing a phylactery of some sort, and around his back was slung a musician's case shaped like a violin.
"Hail and well met, barkeep, I am Rafendyl of Kisail although I am more widely known as 'Gildentongue.' Feel free to call me by either name, but before I avail myself of your establishment's delicious refreshments (and they do smell delicious!) I would first have your name, good sir!" said the half-elven bard called Rafendyl, or 'Gildentongue', as he proffered a hand to shake, after first removing a black leather glove.
Tal, looking a bit overwhelmed at this showy entrance from this bold but amicable newcomer, could only offer a humble "Tal, if it please you sir" in reply, shaking the bard's hand. The bard's was a firm grip, and sincere - not overly done as if by someone seeking to impress or intimidate others.
Gildentongue laughed - a thoroughly disarming sound - as he seated himself at the bar. "Then Tal, my very good man, if you would select for me your finest wine and a helping of whatever dish is responsible for that delectable smell I am detecting from your kitchens, I would be much pleased indeed!" the bard said with a charismatic wink as he began to roll a silver coin across his fingers in a dexterous manner.
Tal nodded heartily, abashed at the friendly sort of kindness emanating from this pleasant stranger. As he turned to call an order to his sister in the kitchen, he found that she was already in the doorway, staring dreamily at the handsome half-elven bard.
"Assa?" Tal said with a surprised sort of curiosity.
"Yes?" she said in reply, not taking her eyes off of the bard.
Tal smirked. "Did you hear the gentleman's order, or were you too busy with him off in La-La Land somewhere?"
His sister blushed furiously in reply, "Aye, Tal, I heard him, and I'll thank you not to embarrass me further!" she said quickly as she ducked back into the kitchen, looking chagrined.
"Your sister Assa is very cute, Tal, but you flatter me so by over-estimating any effect I might have on her," Gildentongue said with genuine courtesy.
Turning back to face the bard, Tal said, "She lost her husband in the Greyhawk Wars, and those boys lost a father. A good sort, he was, and I'm only glad I can look after them here at the Traveler's Boon, and keep them safe." There was a certain meaning in these last words and Tal gave the bard a measured look as he spoke.
Not missing the innkeep's protective undertones, the bard replied diplomatically, "Well you shall have no concern from me, my good man Tal. I am here this evening to take shelter from that damnable fog out there, and to rest on my way back to Kisail. Nothing more than that."
Tal held his gaze for a brief moment, as if sizing him up, then he favoured the bard with a congenial smile and clapped him on the shoulder. "Say listen, bard, with a name like 'Gildentongue', do you think you could be persuaded to favour us with a song or two, plucked from the strings of your fancy lute there?"
A small crowd had been gathering behind Gildentongue, his onlookers already starved for a story and now hardly able to believe their luck at, once again, having an itinerant bard join them for an evening in this backwater town.
Turning on his barstool to scan the growing and eager crowd at the inn, Gildentongue beamed at them happily and bowed with a flourish and then swung back around to face Tal. "Tell you what..." the bard began.
"You can have half the takings, and room and board for the night," Tal offered instantly, sensing the bard was about to haggle. When the bard stared at him in faint surprise, Tal then blurted out, "And I'll have Thumor give your horse a really good mucking out, and he'll even polish your saddle. You do have a horse, don't you?"
"Yes of course, Tal," Gildentongue said, laughing good-naturedly. "But you've already beaten me to the punch. Of course I'll take you up on your generous offer, but that is not what I was about to say."
The half-elf collected his thoughts for a moment, even as the crowd behind him - sensing or rather lobbying for a performance - had already begun to clear away the tables and chairs and create a sort of makeshift stage for the bard. "I'm always on the lookout for new tales to tell, new stories to sing. I find that many times the best ones come from the small towns in the heartlands, and not from the lips of brash adventurers in big city taverns. Could you provide me with any such material, my good man Tal? Do you have any stories of things that have happened here in humble Haggash?"
Tal leaned back, a glimmer in his eye, and as the bard spoke the last sentence the crowd went silent too. Then there was a release of pent-up energy as everyone in the inn laughed, save Gildentongue, who had a look of bewilderment as he realised once again he always seemed to have impeccable timing.
"Indeed we do, lad!" shouted Cerris, the not-a-dwarf who served as Haggash's de facto bard with her many mining tales and zest for impersonations.
Just then, everyone crowded around the bard at the bar and began regaling him with the town's recent drama involving the tribe of kenku that had invaded and dug up the foundation of the abbey. The kenku had roughed up Dreab the shopkeeper along the way and stolen many of his tools, not to mention their callous treatment of Dosol and their attempts to use him against the town while they dug up the old church. There was much discussion and debate about the type of thing that the druid who called himself Kellern was (a longtooth shifter, Gildentongue educated them politely). The mention of another half-elf bard in the party certainly pricked the current half-elf bard in Haggash's interest and he seemed instantly intrigued.
Laughingly, Tal told the story of how the party had this magical basket of neverending provisions, whose uncanny ability to provide local provender was so accurate it duplicated Assa's signature venison stew perfectly. Assa herself confirmed this shyly and was still blushing, stealing glances at Gildentongue as she scurried back into the kitchen.
The bard grew pensive at the mention of a mysterious silvery orb being unearthed from the foundation of the abbey, and he became unsettled at the mention of it disappearing shortly thereafter. He found it downright fascinating that certain members of the party claimed to see some sort of flying ship in the fog, complete with a crazed-looking old man at the helm.
As Gildentongue produced a pen and a leather-bound journal from within the folds of his riding cloak, Tal noticed the silver brooch the bard had pinned to his cloak. It was an elegant piece of jewellery, the silver shaped into the figure of a mighty roanwood tree. Beautiful as it was, Tal had not ever seen its like worn by any other traveller to come through the Boon.
"That symbol you wear, Gildentongue, what does it signify, might I ask? I've not seen its like before."
The half-elf, busy writing notes in his journal, explained distractedly, "It is the insignia of the Knights of Luna. I am a proud member, lo these many years."
A quiet chorus of "Ohs" and "Ahs" went up from the crowd as they watched the bard, mesmerised even by the sight of him writing in his journal.
"Many years? You're but a wee whelp, young lad, can't be a day over twenty-five!" declared Cerris, to the accompaniment of approving laughter from the crowd.
Gildentongue looked up from his writing and smiled politely at her. "Aye, but we half-elves age more slowly than you humans," he said, absentmindely fingering the chain around his neck.
"The Knights of Luna, I've not heard of them," Dreab said, frowning thoughtfully. "What do you, um... do?" he asked with a sheepish grin.
The bard turned to him and said, "All in good time, my shopkeeping friend. I'll sing you a song or three about our exploits and the mighty people of Highfolk," he promised firmly. "But for the now, I think I have in my mind composed a new ballad about the town of Haggash!"
As he stood from his barstool and began to open the case containing his violin, the bard's fawning crowd clapped and stood back to clear out a space for him.
Leaning across the bar and barely able to conceal his fascination, Tal the innkeep asked of the bard, "Say, lad, you're not going to play that fiddle of yours and sing at the same time, are you? That's an odd arrangement, and certainly another first out of you if so!"
Now it was Gildentongue's turn to smirk. "My good man Tal, no, I do not intend to play this 'fiddle' and sing at the same time. I may as well bang on a drum and bellow war chants if I were to be so gauche. My voice and my violin shall each have their own stage on which to perform, as it were, and I'd never upstage the one with the other."
Another round of enlightened "Ahs" went up from the crowd, including Tal himself, as the bard strode to the centre of the inn and began to tune his violin. The instrument was a thing of rare beauty, its polished wood emanating a rich glow in the firelight. Much like its owner, the violin seemed a thing of rare grace.
The crowd goggled at the fine instrument, and someone asked, "Does such a beauty have a name?"
"Why yes, I am Rafendyl, although you may call me Gildentongue," the bard replied with a wink and a smile and the inn was once again filled with laughter. "But I jest, and yes in fact this beauty is called Lelani, and she has been in my family for seven generations now," the bard said as he held his violin aloft.
"Ohh" and "ahh" went the crowd.
"Now before I play for you this ballad of Haggash and her mighty heroes, I would first have from you the names of these bold adventurers," Gildentongue asked of the crowd.
At first there was a cacophany as everyone shouted names at once, but eventually Tal got control of the crowd and spoke on their behalf. "They were five in number, Gildentongue, and they were lead by one much like yourself: a half-elven bard named Bardy Bardson*. He played a bandore and he was most welcome company. Surely St. Cuthbert blesses us all to favour Haggash with two bards in a fortnight!"
"Hear, hear!" said many in the crowd.
Nodding at the innkeep, Gildentongue said, "Very good, I should like to meet him one day. And who were the others?"
"There was Briar, the warrior. She was a quiet one but very kind and not one I'd like to be on the bad side of at all. Very pretty, too," Tal went on. "And Tarmiko, he was quite an interesting fella that one. Quiet, too, but he was aware of everything going on and he looked like he could do more damage with his bare hands than with the wicked-looking blade he had strapped to his back."
General murmurs from the crowd seemed to agree with the innkeep's assessments.
"We've already learned about their druid Kellern, the shifty one."
"Shifter, Tal. He was a longtooth shifter, from the sound of it," Gildentongue corrected him. "Another one I'd very much like to meet. Please, do go on."
"Aye, shifter. I hope somebody is writing all this stuff down, never seen so many new things come through Haggash at once before!" Tal proclaimed in exasperation. "Let's see, well that leaves their holy man, Pelor."
"Balor!" cried out several in the crowd, amidst much laughter.
"Of course! Balor, not Pelor," Tal said, dissolving into laughter as well at the thought of the Sun God himself having decided to adventure in the greater Flanaess, let alone come to Haggash. "Yes Balor, and he went toe to toe with Dosol while the poor man was under the control of those kenku. A mighty battle, that, but Balor was noble enough not to slay him even though he got the better of him in that fight. Truly a great man, that one."
"I thank you, Tal my friend, and you also, good citizens of Haggash, for welcoming me into your hearts and hearths this evening," Gildentongue said, taking back the stage, the true orator in him beginning to emerge. "But I need one last thing from you before I perform. All good ballads need a name, and I feel like that dominating hill outside your town is a presence that just demands to be heard. Pray, does it have a name?"
Everyone in the inn shared a look before replying as one, "Durham Hill!"
"Excellent! Durham Hill..." the half-elf said as he became lost in thought for a moment. Absently, he pulled his bow across the violin and tuned it some more while thinking.
Then, resolved, the bard announced, "My friends! GOOD HAGGASHIANS!" (At this, merry chuckles from the crowd). "Allow me to play for you the story of your brave heroes, in the ballad I like to call, Thrills Beyond Durham Hill!"
The energetic crowd, now completely in Gildentongue's thrall, cheered mightily for the bard and then quieted down to give him the silence he needed to perform.
Later that evening, as he sat in his room and wrote notes in his journal by the comfort of a cosy fire, Gildentongue reflected happily on his performance earlier. It was always refreshing to create new material, and it was even more rewarding to have discovered a new town he could frequent in his many travels. He felt he could always call on Haggash now, this small and friendly hamlet that was probably missed by most who travelled Furyondy's roads.
He felt somewhat disquieted again, however, as he went over his notes from his earlier discussion with Tal regarding this mysterious orb. Unearthed from the foundation of a forgotten abbey - only to disappear spontaneously soon after? Bards prided themselves on having a wide-ranging knowledge of most subjects, and yet he had heard nothing of such an artifact before. Even though Gildentongue appeared to be in his mid-twenties to most, his true age was 108 years. The youthful looks were thanks in part to the elven half of his heritage, but mostly due to the magical phylactery he always wore around his neck.
Running the gold neck chain through his mouth absently as he often did, Gildentongue thought further of this party of adventurers that had just happened through Haggash. He decided he would seek them out, if for no other reason than they sounded like very interesting company. But perhaps they, too, were puzzled by the mystery of this silvery orb and its origins. And what in the Nine Hells were a bunch of kenku doing here digging it up?
"Curioser and curioser..." Gildentongue muttered to no one as he stared down at his feet.
But where to find this party? Perhaps his cousin Melf would know. He was as well-connected as anyone that Gildentongue knew, and he resolved to head for the City of Greyhawk at daybreak. The elf was either there or back home in Celene, but the bard had no desire to head back to that reclusive kingdom at the moment. Dealing with Her Majesty Queen Yolande was more torment than Gildentongue cared to sign up for just now.
As the half-elf lay down to sleep, he was periodically disturbed by a faint ringing sound, as if from far off. He had never experienced such a noise before. Hoping it wasn't the onset of tinnitus, the horrible condition that ruined the career of any bard so unfortunate to sustain it, Gildentongue's usual positive demeanour returned and he pushed the sound and all thoughts of it from his mind.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Haggash...
Every citizen of Haggash slept fitfully that night, all of them bothered at times by the faintest sound of ringing, as if from very far away...
*No relation to Beardy Beardson, the half-orc lumberjack the next town over.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2012, 12:28 AM
"Who do you reckon wrote this, then?" the guard named Graig asked of his friend Robert, who was also a guard.
Robert smiled forbearingly in response, not turning to look at Graig as he was busy scanning the treeline for orcs (or worse).
"Well now, Graig, my money would be on someone named 'Bardy', seeing as how they wrote Bardy was here... on the wall there," Robert said politely, without a single note of sarcasm. He did truly enjoy Graig's fellowship, as even though others in the company mocked his dim nature at times, Robert knew of no other fighter in Furyondy's army who fought with a skill and ferocity like Graig Tyneman. So as a platoon mate, Graig was a stalwart ally.
"Hunh," Graig grunted thoughtfully, still furrowing his brow at the message that had been scrawled onto the wall of the mine with some sort of indelible chalk.
Taking his eyes away from the trees on the horizon for a moment, Robert flicked a knowing nod at several junior soldiers making their way back into the mine. Probably their seventh or eighth trip already, Robert thought to himself. He turned his watchful gaze back onto the scrub forest surrounding the base of the hill that was the old Cragson Mines.
"Gone a bit pink today," Graig offered as he traced his thumb across the chalky words, still unable to make them smudge.
"Yes, I know, and they were red when we first found them nigh on a week ago," Robert said agreeably, briefly succumbing to a fit of déjà vu as this was very much like a conversation he had with Graig when they pulled their guard shift yesterday. And the day before that.
And the day before that, even.
Graig chuckled to himself and grinned. Then the puzzled frown returned to his face as he stepped back from the wall. "You think this Bardy is the same fella what wrote on them graves over there, Robert?"
Robert followed Graig's eyes over to where he was staring, at two shallow earth graves recently dug near the tunnel entrance.
"Might be," Robert allowed, "but I tend to think he had some help clearing out this base, unless Pelor's got some holy bard wandering around out there now, singing his praises and thumping orcs in his good name."
Graig laughed at that, as a ten year old boy might laugh with his mates.
A makeshift sunburst, constructed of twigs and vines from the nearby scrub, had been placed between the two graves. Next to this symbol of the sun god Pelor was a piece of slate, with more chalk writing on it, commemorating two young men named Marcus and Patterson who were buried here. The handwriting on the slate matched that of the scribble on the wall.
Now Captain Rildillian from Barduk, the late Marcus and Patterson's commanding officer, oversaw this detachment of the king's army, sent all the way from Chendl, to handle clearing out the mine and recapturing arms and armour stolen from the fallen Shield Lands.
A cache of orc gold and pig iron found within the mines was also going a long way towards restoring morale to the tattered Furyondyian army. A new hope had been given to the troops and the peoples of this country, still pressed heavily under the constant threat of invasion from Iuz's legions of foul orcs and fiends just beyond the border to the north.
"Wow," Graig muttered softly, his eyes vacating into a thousand-yard stare. "A holy rollin' bard, knockin' off orcs and ogres ..." He shook his head in wonder.
Robert glanced sideways at his dimwitted friend and then couldn't help but burst into laughter, the crow's feet around his eyes giving his weather-beaten face a kindly look. Whenever any of the others laughed at Graig, there seemed to be a dismissive and superior quality to it. But when Robert laughed at the things he said, Graig didn't feel stupid but instead felt like he was entertaining a friend. This comforted rather than hurt him, as laughter often could.
"Take it easy, my friend," Robert was saying as he opened his waterskin and took a swig. Proffering the waterskin to Graig, who took it, Robert went on to say, "Before you know it, there'll be rumours floating around about some all-powerful bard, shooting sunbeams from his fingertips and blasting away evil with his mighty songs. Istus knows we've got more myths and fairy tales being told in this land already without one more clouding them further!"
Graig stared at Robert for a moment, his eyes narrowed. Water dribbled down from one side of his mouth (or was it drool?) as he held the waterskin absently aloft after taking a drink from it.
Suddenly, the realisation hit home and understanding lit up Graig's eyes. "So he had help!"
"Yes, my wise friend, this Bardy most certainly did have help," Robert said with the tone of a father who had just taught his son how to add and subtract successfully. "And you can hear all about Bardy and his bunch tonight in the mess hall, as soon as we finish cleansing the mines of all the dead orcs and their filth."
"The Bardy bunch," Graig said, grinning, as he handed the waterskin back to his mate.
"And lo, on this morning of Starday the 1st of Reaping, in the Common Year 595, the High Court of Belvor the Fourth, King of Furyondy, welcomes the delegate from Libernen," the herald called out in his high, reedy voice. It was a voice that often served to damage King Belvor's calm and threatened to turn his tensions into a full-blown headache...
...especially given the identity of his next supplicant: Claudia Kynan. A proud and haughty woman strode before the king's court and looked every inch the jaded noble that she was. She curtsied stiffly before King Belvor and she seemed to be all at once bored, distracted and irritated.
"The Countess Kyaren Rhavelle, Supreme Ruler of The Gold County, bids the King fond tidings from her seat in Libernen," the countess' noble representative stated, in a tone more frosty than fond.
Belvor nodded and smiled with simple grace, a move he had perfected decades ago while watching his father hold court with hostile nobles - especially the southern ones. They always resented the notion that any of their precious gold would go to help the northern nobles and their causes, shockingly even in times of war when the northern nobles were all that were between Iuz's fiends and the southern nobles' precious holdings.
"Countess Rhavelle brings good news to the court, and is pleased to once again offer His Majesty a higher tribute than all of the other nobles, thanks to a bountiful Richfest and an earnest effort on her part to ensure every one of her citizens does their loyal part for Furyondy," the noble Claire was saying, her words now infused with a smug righteousness.
Somewhere from the king's council table came a derisive snort at the mention of Rhavelle's 'earnest effort'. The conceited noble had a searching look at the table but found no one owning up to the sarcastic retort.
It was true: the Gold County did pay a slightly higher tax revenue than all of the other nobles in Furyondy. However, this was simply because they had taken in a larger portion of effete nobles fleeing the Shield Lands after the Wars, so naturally the noble tax levy would be higher anyway. Rhavelle didn't need to lift a finger to raise her general tax levels thanks to this windfall. The tight-fisted Countess deemed that sufficient enough to support Furyondy's war efforts, and she never missed a chance to point this out to the king or any who dared ask.
King Belvor and all the rest of the nobles knew this wasn't really enough, especially since the grasping Rhavelle rebuffed all attempts to get her to supply extra revenues to the crown or to send troops. She barely kept only a small standing army at home who were more local militia than an organised regional force. But every last copper counted, especially in these grim times, so Belvor could not afford to alienate any of his southern nobles by raising taxes and thus tolerated their indignance, for the now.
"Thank you, My Lady Kynan, for bringing these good tidings to Furyondy," replied Belvor with the customary dignity of a good and patient king. "Please give my warmest regards to your Countess Rhavelle and tell her I do look forward to visiting her Holdings as soon as duty allows me to attend. Her continued support of the kingdom is gladly welcomed."
The Lady Claire smiled with satisfaction and curtsied again before the King, this time almost as an afterthought as she then made her way out of the audience chamber.
"Another tiresome southron noble bringing you more empty promises of gold and soldiers. How can you stand it, Sire?" a flame-haired young woman sitting to the left of the king whispered to him as he sought the attention of the herald. "Trithereon's followers are many, and the church's coffers are overflowing with donations," Cataryna went on, warming to her cause. "Let me lead an army for you, we can --"
"Not now, Cataryna," Belvor said to the priestess of Trithereon as he shot her a sideways impatient glance.
Finally catching the eye of the herald, the king signalled to him for a short recess, which the herald then announced to the court.
A band of musicians and minstrels strode forth to the centre of the audience chamber as the attending nobles and freemen alike took advantage of the break to seek refreshment in the outdoor market.
The priestess, clad in burnished dark blue plate mail with a golden trim, smirked at her king in reply. She never tired of goading the king to take more of an aggressive stance towards Iuz - the Pact of Greyhawk be damned. Never ones to take a backseat to patient diplomacy, the clergy of Trithereon the Summoner were always ready to exact revenge and strike into evil lands, taking the fight to the enemy.
It was these philosophies that were making Trithereon a particularly popular deity in the aftermath of the Greyhawk Wars, at least in border territories like Furyondy. The triskelion symbol of the Summoner was seen adorning the doorways of more and more houses throughout the land. It was this groundswell of support that gave the high priestess Cataryna the cheek to harass her king in such a manner.
"Cataryna, now is not the time for your hot-blooded revenge," said a towering man seated to the right of the king. "None more than me wants to snuff out Iuz and all of his foul horde, but right now we must adhere to the Pact."
The fiery priestess shot a challenging look at the massive paladin, but she bit her tongue before she could form a sharp reply. Count Artur Jakartai, more than anyone else she knew, had suffered the greatest in the aftermath of the Greyhawk Wars.
His wife, the Lady Valderesse Sharn, also a paladin and leader of the Knights of the Holy Shielding, was slain by a priest of Iuz during the battle for Crockport. Artur's battle frenzy that resulted from her death marked the beginning of a singularity of purpose for him, as he cast aside his oaths to the Knights and was ennobled by King Belvor to take over the northern frontier province of Crystalreach in Furyondy. He was relentless in his efforts to fortify defenses in his land, and his presence brought much hope to the beleaguered people of his province.
As to what may have happened to Sharn's remains after the battle, none could say, as the city of Crockport fell to the attacking orcs and fiends of Iuz's army. But such a strong paladin would make an excellent trophy for one of Iuz's priesthood, and necromancy was one of their specialties. None dared point this out to Jakartai, but there was a particular unease about the fate of any good creature who was slain or captured by the demonic forces of Iuz.
If even Artur could not be vengeful with what had happened, Cataryna reasoned, then perhaps others should take pause. Jakartai was the one person who could assuage Cataryna's burning need for action, so she wisely chose not to confront him.
"Well... Perhaps we could send in your newest favourite band of adventurers then, Count Jakartai," Cataryna said facetiously, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief. "They had better be ready to confront Iuz, for he is certain to learn of their deeds now."
In reply, Jakartai fixed the feisty priestess with a stern look and said nothing.
The minstrels had finished their first tune and were now beginning a second, this time accompanied by dancers clad in soft leather jerkins and wearing headbands adorned with branches as makeshift antlers. The minstrel troupe was lead by a half-elven bard who plucked out his tunes from a bağlama, a stringed folk instrument from the lands of Ket.
Belvor took a long swig of water from his mug (and here he parted in tradition from his father, who often said a hearty ale was necessary to make it all the way through holding court. Belvor found that alcohol only clouded his judgment while holding court, but that it was most welcome directly after court).
"Vendenn, what say you, my good man of Rao?" the king asked of an older man further down his council table to the left. At this, Cataryna pulled a face. "What wisdom might there be in funding an excursion deep into Iuz's territory, now that we are privy to his troop movements along the Veng?"
The tall Canon of Rao had been listening quietly and he projected an air of calm and superiority as he answered his king. "While such a boon of intelligence is certainly something that cannot be ignored," Vendenn said with his low-pitched voice, "it is wise to plan such a mission very carefully. Among other things, you could not have it appear that the crown supported these adventurers in any way, should they be found out. And, of course, Chendl needs more time to rebuild and to fortify her defenses. Any such mission into Iuz's territory now would be reckless in the least."
Cataryna mumbled something about it always being about Chendl's defenses, but no one paid her any mind.
Belvor soberly assessed the priest's words, knowing them to be wise indeed and yet he could not ignore the urgency of the military intelligence these young adventurers had granted him.
"Very good, Vendenn, thank you. And thank you, also, Cataryna, for your courage and intensity, as always," Belvor said. The priestess smiled sweetly back at him. "Count Jakartai, remain in contact with these adventurers and see if they would be interested in any future endeavours on behalf of Furyondy. Specifically, assess their strength and will and see if they have what it takes to go deep behind enemy lines." Artur nodded in reply, but Vendenn's eyebrows rose in alarm.
"I mean somewhere down the line a bit, Vendenn, fear not," Belvor said, soothing the priest. "And of course we will be careful to keep Furyondy's hand out of it, visibly anyway, so we don't run afoul of the Pact."
"Might I interject something at this point, my good fellows?" said an aging elven warrior, seemingly blind with age given the milky cataracts in his eyes.
"Of course, Cerenellyl, you may speak whenever you wish," Belvor replied. "The Knights of the High Forest are fortunate to have you in their service, as are we here in Furyondy."
"Thank you, my lord," the elf replied with a simple smile. "Regarding these adventurers of yours - and any others that step forward to take up Furyondy's cause - consider sending them west to me, at the Towers. There are many lost treasures and relics in the Yatils and the Clatspurs, let alone the Vesve, and even now Iuz has his foul priests prowling the land for anything that will strengthen his army. We should seek to thwart him at every turn in this regard."
The minstrels had now begun playing their third, and final, song for this short break. The dancers were gone and the musicians were playing a patriotic song from Furyondy's earliest days when it was known as Ferrond. To reflect that time period, the musicians were of course playing the rebec and pipe.
"Would you be able to provide them support?" Belvor said. "Those mountain ranges are dangerous, filled with all manner of dragons and worse. I fear they may not be up to this task as yet, Cerenellyl, although I do appreciate your taking an active interest."
The elf hesitated briefly, before replying. "We could offer them guides, and the Towers are a stalwart fortress from which they could base themselves. I have many maps and tales in my library, and of course these rare things would be at their disposal." Though it seemed he should be blind from his cataracts, Cerenellyl looked everyone in the eyes when they spoke to him, for he wore an ancient elven ring of true sight and thus could see what everyone else could - and more.
Belvor and Jakartai shared a look, then the count spoke. "Your offer is kind, Cerenellyl, and the adventurers would do well to grow in power and wisdom before they venture forth into the Lands of Iuz. And with you leading them, they would be very priveleged indeed to have your guidance."
"You are too kind, my liege," the elf said with some humility.
"Not at all, sir, and I will ensure the party hears of you. They are due back in the city of Greyhawk shortly," Jakartai said as he began already to write an order to contact them.
People began to filter back in to the king's court as the musicians finished playing. The herald had resumed his position at the head of the court and was busily unfurling the long parchment that held today's order of business.
"Of course, we could always throw them straight into the fire, and let them lead Cat's van as she retakes Crockport for us," Belvor said with a wink at the priestess, who smirked back at him.
"Trithereon thanks you for your interest, my good King Belvor," she replied bitingly.
The king laughed and said, "You'll get your chance, Cataryna, all in good time."
"All in good time," echoed Vendrenn, smiling charmingly at Cataryna.
She grinned sourly at the Canon of Rao, by now more than tired of his constant beseeching for more time to plan and deliberate and then plan some more.
Without any preamble, the court herald took up reading off the next bit of business from his parchment.
"And lo, on this mid-morning of Starday the 1st of Reaping, in the Common Year 595, the High Court of Belvor the Fourth, King of Furyondy, welcomes the delegate from Balorton."
The members of the high council all shared baffled looks with one another. Even the king appeared confused.
"From where, my good herald?" Belvor asked.
"Forgive me, your majesty, but Balorton is how the people of formerly-Batlet wish to be known now. The official documents requesting the name change should have come for your seal of approval yesterday, but was I not wise in checking that your majesty did sign such a document?" the herald replied with a sort of bland politeness.
Wincing, and blushing a little bit, Belvor remembered that there was indeed a sheaf of paper to which he did affix his official seal yesterday, granting the name change from Batlet to Balorton. Amidst all of the other issues plaguing Furyondy of late, it was no surprise the king would retain little memory of such a trifling matter, yet he felt chagrined nonetheless.
"Yes of course you are right, Herald Thomas, it is just that I am not privy as to why they have gone through with such a change?"
"Your majesty, the people of ... formerly-Batlet requested the change in thanks and praise to Balor, the sun cleric of Pelor," Jakartai explained. "The party of adventurers that have just helped along the old Grabford-Critwall-Willip trade route threw back an assault on the fort there, and this Pelor made quite an impression on the villagers and militia there with his particular style of urgent healing and his brutal use of the morningstar."
King Belvor raised his eyebrows and made an approving nod. "Very well, then. I guess being known as Fort Disaster must have been a sort of curse for them, so I'm very glad to hear how this tale will now be told. Balorton has a much nicer ring to it than Batlet ever did, anyway," he declared.
The others seated at the council table with the king nodded in agreement, as if they meant it and not just in the usual perfunctory manner.
"Carry on then, Thomas, and let us now hear from this representative from our newest settlement of Balorton," the king decreed.
Perched upon the befouled waters of Whyestil Lake, the black city of Dorakaa was overcast as always with dark clouds. Fiends thronged its 50-foot high stone walls and abyssal bats flew in the eternal gloom of Dorakaa's skies.
Deep within the city was the Boneheart Citadel, and behind its thick stone walls with murals of leering skulls of every kind laired most of Iuz's senior priesthood, known as the Greater Boneheart.
The sinister, dark-haired, swarthy Bakluni figure of Kermin Mind-Bender towered over the prone form of a cowering mage. Her blood-stained robe and skull mask might serve to intimidate lesser foes, but her look earned nothing but sneering contempt from her superior.
The scowling blackhearted priest held forth a leather band from which dangled a strange symbol crafted of twisted iron. The symbol radiated an eerie black glow and it seemed to fill the prone mage with a sense of utter hopelessness.
Her skull mask askew, the mage began to weep despairingly at the senior mage's feet. "Forgive me, Master, oh please be merciful..."
His dark eyes burning with a sort of lustful glee at the inferior mage's suffering, Kermin said implacably, "You have failed me, Cryenna."
The broken female mage called Cryenna began to sob more loudly now. Desperately, she reached out with her hands in an attempt to clutch at Kermin's boots.
Dismissively, he kicked her hands away. "Pathetic," he spat. "You are weak."
"No, Master, no I am not weak. I am strong, let me prove it to you," Cryenna babbled, her sobs turning into a desperate kind of whimpering.
"You only had to keep the mines a secret. In this you failed," Kermin stated.
"I know, but -" Cryenna began.
"You only had to protect the mines until they were fully stocked. In this you failed," he went on, cutting off the mage's feeble protests.
Cryenna's mask had slipped away completely now, exposing a sallow and pimpled face that was contorted in an expression of absolute fear.
"You only had to stamp out a feeble band of adventurers" (this word said with an ardent hatred) "and in this, you failed. You are weak, Cryenna."
"No, I -" she said, her eyes wide in horror.
"Weak! Do not deny it, for that is what you are," the fearsome mage said, his bristling black eyebrows making his expression even more dire.
He held her terrified gaze for a lingering moment, his dark eyes burning holes into her psyche. She could sense him now, reading her thoughts and combing through her memories in that way he often did with all who came before him. The yellow beryl centered in his white turban glowed softly as his mind penetrated hers, probing deeply for secrets and fears.
Then, Kermin Mind-Bender snickered. It was a nasty sound, filled with malice and contempt. "I am going to give you to Iuz."
Cryenna screamed in terror. "NO! You must not! Please, Master, no!"
"I'll not suffer his wrath for your failure. For your weakness. No, you must face his rage. Perhaps he'll find some use for your worthless soul. I know I could not."
With a wave of his hand, Kermin Mind-Bender dismissed Cryenna.
As if taking form from the shadows themselves at the periphery of the room, a hezrou appeared behind Cryenna and snatched her up in its massive arms. Its claws digging into her flesh, the hezrou grinned down at the hapless mage, exhibiting a maw filled with dozens of long sharp teeth.
Cryenna's screams echoed within the Citadel as the fiend stalked away with her, bound for the Agony Fields, across from the Palace of Iuz. It was here that Cryenna would find her final judgment.
And she would wish that she had been slain by that nefarious band of adventurers instead of escaping to the gruesome fate that now awaited her...
NB: Some of the descriptive text used here is not verbatim but darned close to Carl Sargent's excellent "Marklands" and "Iuz the Evil" references, specifically regarding Kermin Mind-Bender and Dorakaa. I just couldn't say it any better and wanted to do his creations justice, without stealing the honour.
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Saturday, August 25, 2012, 10:55 PM
The party stared grimly up at the remains of the two guards, Marcus and Patterson. In a heroic gesture, these two green recruits from Barduk's militia had ventured out into the wilderness to help the party as they assaulted a secret orc base, hidden inside the old Cragson Mines.
The pair could not have had better timing, for they made the treacherous descent into the mine just before the adventurers were about to be ambushed by a strike force of orog militants and their orcish foot soldiers.
Marcus and Patterson had both paid with their own lives in order to ensure that the adventurers did not come to harm as the party undertook the daunting task of uprooting the orcs before they could gain a real foothold inside of Furyondy's border.
Forced to retreat from the base for the night, the party had no choice but to leave behind the bodies of their two guard friends, in the hopes that they could retrieve them later and carry them back to Barduk for a proper burial.
Instead, as the party began their dawn raid on the mine, they were confronted with the grisly sight of the defiled bodies of Marcus and Patterson. Impaled upon crude iron spikes formed into crucifixes, their flayed bodies now attracted crows and flies. Even worse, the bodies were headless but the detestable orcs made sure to leave the flayed scalp and face of each guard hanging above their contorted remains.
What had become of the skulls, the party could not immediately see, but those of them who had heard of Iuz's nefarious Road of Skulls had a suspicion what the orcs' intentions were for the guards' skulls. Such an infernal road was rumoured to exist, extending from the dark capital of Dorakaa deep within Iuz's territory all the way out to his latest conquest, the fallen evil city of Molag. Not only was this road formed of the skulls and bones of all of those who fell before Iuz and his mighty army, but there were also said to be great towers of bone stationed along the road, which contained foul pitch fires that burned day and night with sacrifices to the demonic demigod.
There was also said to be a heinous throne of skulls within the Dark Citadel at the heart of Dorakaa, upon which Iuz sat and brooded over his growing empire, nursing all the slights he had felt over centuries past.
While Kellern and M'Koll scouted the entrance to the mine and the fallen orcs outside of it, Tarmiko cleaned his khopesh in the cold, professional manner of a trained killer. The blade had recently run red with the blood of orcs, and the rogue hoped to dirty it again in such a manner soon.
Balor gazed with a solemn look at the remains of the guards, and then closed his eyes and muttered a quiet prayer to Pelor. Briar, too, stared at the guards' bodies, only her gaze did not waver. She had a hard look on her face, and her jaw was clenched in determination. One hot tear trailed down the fighter's cheek as she contemplated vengeance.
"I'll not see these young lads defiled like this," Bardy said as he directed Ubu to sit. "We must get them down from there and see to a proper burial."
Kellern and M'koll had completed their reconnaissance of the entrance and returned to stand quietly at the ready, their eyes gleaming with readiness and just the hint of the wild. Tarmiko had sheathed his khopesh, now cleaned and oiled, and he had drawn his hand crossbow and begun to calmly load a bolt into its firing mechanism.
Briar continued to stare purposefully at the crucified guards, a flush now beginning to creep up her neck.
Having finished his prayer, Balor opened his eyes and said, "And that we will do, brother, but right now we do not have the luxury of time."
Bardy shot him a challenging look, and opened his mouth as if to protest. But then he relented and nodded. Sparing one last glance at the guards, the bard said, "Very well then. We'll finish what we started, and see to poor Marcus and Patterson when the job is done."
Balor favoured the bard with a kindly smile and a sympathetic nod, and then began walking towards the mine's entrance. As Tarmiko and Kellern fell in wordlessly behind the cleric, Bardy looked over at Briar and said, "Coming, Briar?", his brow furrowed slightly in concern.
For a couple of heartbeats, the warrior did not move. She was as a statue, glaring and defiant, her gaze now unfixed as if her mind was elsewhere. Just as Bardy was about to call to her again, the warrior whirled and began to stride briskly into the mine.
Without a word, she pushed past Tarmiko and Kellern and, as Briar disappeared into the tunnel at the base of the hill, she hefted the shield off of her back and drew her longsword from its sheath in one fluid motion.
Tarmiko and Kellern shared a look, as if to say, "Stand clear!" and then fell in behind the fighter.
"Better light the way for our fighter, it's dark in there," Bardy said bemusedly as Balor - already one step ahead of the bard - nodded and smiled, cracking a new sunrod to life and filling the tunnel ahead with blazing light.
Tarmiko slunk back around the corner, retreating from the chamber at the base of the shaft.
As the rogue-monk began to speak in a quiet whisper, Balor nearly jumped out of his skin, for he had not seen the rogue make his return. "He's getting awfully good at this sneaking about business..." the sun priest thought to himself.
"Th.... rcs in the.... n us yet," the rogue whispered, sotto voce.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012, 7:03 PM
Two Rhennee were engaged in a knife fight at a corner table, some stevedores were arguing loudly with some sailors about whose job was tougher, the band of minstrels was more intoxicated than the patrons and was creating an absolute cacophony, pickpockets were working the crowd, and the wine was flowing.
All in all, it was a night like any other at the Green Dragon Inn.
Ricard Damaris, the inn's proprietor, surveyed the common room of his establishment in an idle moment as there was a rare lull in activity at the bar.
A sense of contentment filled Ricard, as not only did the brisk trade warm his gruff heart but the manner in which the Green Dragon went about its business would be particularly pleasing to Olidammara. And anything that pleased the patron deity of wine, revels and rogues would please Ricard.
Sensing any such a positive mood in the man, however, would be a daunting task: Ricard's towering height, the thick black hair worn to his waist, the triangular scar on the left side of his chin, and the mighty broad sword hanging sideways on pegs above the back of the bar all indicated a man of violence and ill temper.
Absently, Ricard thumbed the stump of the missing fourth finger on his left hand. His gaze fell upon a group of Nightwatchmen, drinking quietly in a shadowy booth. As Ricard idly wondered who in particular they might be staking out, his attention was drawn by the tiny figure approaching him at the bar.
Gazing down at the small person, cloaked in raiment of deepest crimson with the hood drawn, Ricard favoured them with a frown. "Here, look you. We don't serve children at night. Get back to your mother, before I turn you in to the City Watch," he growled.
A pair of delicate hands shot forth from within the folds of the robe and shoved back the hood, revealing a beautiful elven visage, as if cast in porcelain, framed by straight silver hair. Her indigo eyes glittering with a dark mischief, the tiny elf spoke in a mock pout. "Ricard, how rude!"
The hulking barkeep stammered and the colour drained from his face - only for the briefest of moments, but it was enough to draw curious looks from other patrons at the bar. Ricard Damaris on the back foot was a rare sight.
"Mistress Kiri, why I- I-" he sputtered, at a loss for words.
"I'll take that remark about being a child for the compliment that it is, Ricard, for you see tonight I am travelling in cognito," the elf named Kiri said.
"Very clever of you," Ricard said, now having recovered his composure and grinning at the elf - a sight more sinister than reassuring. "It's just that... You aren't wearing your usual blues and silvers."
"Hence the disguise," Kiri finished for him. "And besides, it's 'Mistress of Magic', if you do please sir. I do have a reputation to uphold you know," she said, winking.
Now Ricard was blushing, another altogether uncommon sight. He simply grunted and flashed another wicked grin. "Your mates are in the back, Kiri. Go on in, Florence will bring you your usual."
Kiri curtsied and smiled, then drew the hood back over her head as she stepped into the Inn's back rooms.
The Fellowship of the Torch were now all present, now that Kiri had turned up. Her comrades greeted her with warm smiles and hugs, as this was the first time in several months the Fellowship members were together in one place. A grim sort of resolve now hung over the Fellowship, as their usual joy at seeing each other had been tempered in the months since Fischer's death.
Kiri went to hang her cloak on a peg inside the curtained booth, the kind reserved for the Dragon's regular patrons. This particular booth was a favourite of the Fellowship's, having been used by them since they were first allowed in the inn's rarely-seen back rooms. There was still the figure of an evil chicken carved into the wood at one end of the table, a comical legacy of Grimmri Fischer's. While it once used to annoy Kiri (and even scare her a little bit), she would now always smile sadly when she saw it, wistfully tracing its outlines with her finger as she sat at the table and conversed with her mates.
As it always had when the Fellowship met here, the Torch of Anazander sat in a sconce on the inner wall of the booth. The fire ruby at its tip glowed with a dull red, as if smoldering. The smaller chunks of rosy quartz that ringed the torch's odd grey metal haft caught firelight from the more mundane torches in the Inn and reflected it in sparkling fashion.
Turning to sit at the table, Kiri noticed that Geren sat across the table from her and next to Nastassia (as always), and to the inside of Kiri was Marie, who even to this day still regarded Kiri with something akin to awe. It still made Kiri feel awkward, if not a little flattered, especially now that Marie Sennefort was a formidable spellcaster in her own right.
"Kiri, what news from the Knights of Luna? I trust Melf is well?" Nastassia prompted, the half-elf never one to waste time getting down to business and the Fellowship's natural leader.
Nastassia Aiareni Nightstar
"He is well, thank you Tasha, and he sends you all his regards," Kiri announced, the others nodding in reply. "As before, he reports that Queen Yolande is still reluctant to engage in a dialogue with King Belvor, let alone commit any money or - gods be good - any of her precious soldiers from Celene."
Geren Laraith chuckled dryly, unsurprised at this news. "Sun rises east, so does Yolande cower on her throne," the ranger stated gruffly. "The Gnarley Rangers stand ready to aid us in the Vesve. Even the werebears want to come. They spoil for battle, eager to free the Vesve of Iuz and his scum."
"That is good to hear, Geren, thank you," Kiri said to him in a gentle tone. Geren had taken the loss of Fischer the hardest of the Fellowship's survivors. Kiri knew he burned with a single-minded desire now to eradicate Iuz, starting with his intrusion in the Vesve Forest. Only the love that Geren had for Nastassia, (known to most by her surname 'Nightstar') kept Geren's quiet rage in check. The ranger was still too stubborn to admit his true feelings for the half-elven beauty, though they were plain for all to see.
Nearly every man who encountered the warrior-mage was ready to hand his heart over to Nightstar. While she herself was aware of her disarming appearance, it was something the half-elf never let go to her head. Whether or not she knew of Geren's love, Nightstar never said, as she wished to keep a professional demeanour with her colleagues. Aside from the business aspect of the Fellowship, however, they all shared a depth of fellow-feeling which truly endured to (and beyond) death.
"I am eager to see your werebear friends in action, Geren Laraith," Marie said to the ranger with an insouciant grin. "I would like to meet them before we leave, if I could. Jawal has found me some wonderful old tomes, and I'm keen to try some new spells out on Iuz's lackeys. Your werebears could feature heavily in some of my new tricks, my friend..."
Geren chuckled and shook his head slightly in bemusement at his wild friend, and merely nodded in reply. For the laconic ranger, this minimalist reply spoke volumes to his friends.
"Ugh, how can you spend so much time in the company of that drow, Marie," Kiri muttered, pulling a face. "I much preferred your drinking and gambling days to this. Now all you do is spend all of your free time holed up in that dusky library with Jawal."
"He is only the head librarian at the Guild of Wizardry!" Marie said in feigned shock, knowing to tease her elven friend only a little about her recent companionshp with the dark elf. "But then you knew that, you being the Mistress of Magic and all," Marie said, poking her tongue out at Kiri.
The petite elf mage merely smirked in reply at her friend, who had come quite a long way over the years in her pursuit of magical knowledge. They held a mutual respect for each other and while their shared interests in all things magical might have made for more unsporting competition between the two, Marie's focused interest on illusionist magic and Kiri's more wide-ranging magical interests kept them from butting heads too often.
"Take it easy on her, Marie, Kiri has had a long day," Nightstar chided Marie with a friendly smile. "Besides, Jawal has been above ground and rattling around that library's halls for so long now, he's more bookworm than dark elf at this point."
"This is true," Marie added eagerly, taking up Nightstar's tactful offering. "And anyway, enough about me and Geren. We are ready to head to Highfolk whenever you are. Tell us what you found out from Constable Fanshen, Kiri."
As Kiri opened her mouth to speak, the curtain to their booth was drawn back and Florence appeared. The innkeep's wife was bearing a silver tray with an assortment of drinks upon it. As she began to place the drinks in front of the party, she said "Ricard says these ones are on the house, friends, as thanks for past help from your Fellowship."
"He is most kind to do so," Nightstar said with a bright smile. "Please give him our thanks, Flo, we really do appreciate it," she said as she took a sip of her wine.
"Don't forget your tip, Flo," Geren said as he placed a small stack of silver pieces onto Florence's tray.
"Ever the gentleman, lad, I thank you Geren," Florence said with a kindly smile. "So the Fellowship of the Torch is off to find glory again, is it? Where are you off to this time, if I'm not too cheeky in asking?"
The group shared a quick look and then Nightstar said, "We're headed back to Highfolk, Florence. Melf tells us things have gotten worse in the Vesve Forest."
At the mention of the forest, Florence's smile vanished, replaced with a grim look. "Ah, I see. Well, you lot be careful okay? There's no group yet that deserves your favourite booth here. Wouldn't want to have to go looking for replacements, ya hear?"
Florence then bowed her head slightly and took her leave of the group. Any mention of the Vesve Forest was a sobering topic in the post-war Flanaess. Although the Pact of Greyhawk technically meant the Greyhawk Wars were over, all knew that nearly every day Iuz sent his forces in to harass and destroy as much of the Vesve Forest as he could. Rumours of entire settlements being put to the torch and strange necromantic experiments abounded, and - more disturbingly - sightings of demonic creatures were being reported.
Kiri then picked up the conversation where it had left off, albeit in a more solemn tone. "Derider Fanshen says that she has made contact with a promising group of young adventurers. She thinks they might be interested in helping us in the Vesve, but right now they're away in northern Furyondy on a job for Lemajen Sterrich."
"Working for Sterrich?" Geren said, his interest piqued. "A mark in their favour."
"Northern Furyondy?" Marie asked with surprise. "What in the Nine Hells are they doing up there? This is a group of young adventurers, you say? They'll be butchered by orcs out there, that fringe territory all but belongs to Iuz."
Nightstar regarded the illusionist shrewdly. "All the more reason to meet up with them, should they survive the trip," she said.
"Even Melf is interested in meeting them at some point," Kiri put in. This got the focused attention of the rest of the group, and Nightstar's eyes widened a bit. "He showed up while I was talking with Derider, and he knows they have a half-elf in their group. A bard, no less. This is just the sort of person he'd love working for the Knights of Luna."
"What did Melf say of the Vesve?" Geren asked, the ranger ever chafing to drive evil out of any forest, anywhere and at any time.
Kiri swallowed and collected her thoughts for a moment. "He is quite concerned, Geren, and you all know how cautious Melf is and how long it can take him to take action. For him to be on the move again... " The elf did not need to finish the thought.
"I know all too well from my mother's side how much the elven concept of time differs greatly from that of all others," Nightstar said.
"That's putting it mildly," Marie said with a snort.
"Be that as it may," Kiri put in, "Melf is aware that some priests of Nerull have been skulking around Flameflower. He says he has long known of some bane buried in the earth near there, an ancient artifact of Nerull's. Now his priests want to try and dig it up."
"Given up on Delvenbrass, have they?" Geren said with consternation.
"Not in the least, Melf says," Kiri replied. "In fact, now Iuz has some of his wretched bone priests sniffing around Delvenbrass as well, though what anyone could want from that godforsaken pile of cursed rock is beyond me," the tiny elf said with a visible shudder.
"Godforsaken is precisely the point, sweet Kiri," Nightstar said, her eyes glittering in the light of the Torch. "To draw the eye of not only Nerull but also Iuz, why there must be something foul and powerful down below Delvenbrass after all."
"And it's not just Iuz's cronies that have been seen there. One of the local orc tribes of Gruumsh has been stirred up in religious fervor," Kiri said ominously. "They, too, seek to claim some sort of birthright or Corellon knows what out from under that crumbled castle."
"Where does Melf want to start?" Geren asked. "Let's leave those thrice-damned orcs and the evil priests to duke it out at Delvenbass, I say."
"He says we should get to Highfolk first. He has a force organizing there. Mayor Greystand has officially invited the Fellowship to take part in taking back the Vesve," Kiri said, allowing a small confident smile.
"Very good then, Kiri, thanks for that," Nightstar said. "Is Melf still here or has he made way for Highfolk already?"
"He has left the City tonight, only he's Celene-bound first," Kiri said hesitantly. "He has business in Queen Yolande's court to attend to, but he assures us he'll be awaiting us in Highfolk in a fortnight. While there, he intends to seek out the Blue Wizard and ask him about the Singing Stones."
"We'd best get ready to travel then, mates," Marie said with a happy sigh. "Ah, it'll be good to be on the road again with you all. I have missed our travels together."
"I as well," Geren said with a rare smile, one that showed the lines on his face. Geren had aged considerably since the Siege of Chendl and the loss of their comrade Grimmri Fischer, the gnome rogue who always brought a smile to their faces when times were hardest.
Giving voice to what they were all thinking of at that moment, Nighstar raised her glass of wine and said quietly, "To Fischer."
"To Fischer," the others replied in unison, their glasses tinking together.
After sipping their drinks and sharing a moment contemplating their fallen friend, Kiri was the first to speak. "Shall I wait here for Derider's protégés then, and catch you up in Highfolk?"
"Nay, I think not, Kiri. Let's all wait here in town for them together," Nightstar said. "We've all only just arrived and I don't know about the rest of you, but I do miss the fair city of Greyhawk."
They all muttered terms of agreement and sipped from their drinks. Then, Marie said, "A-ha! I know why it is you want to stay behind and wait, Kiri."
The elf stared back at the illusionist blankly.
"You've got a boyfriend," Marie said in a sing-song voice. "Isn't Kieren Jalucian on sabbatical right now from the Wizardry Guild? And didn't I hear about you and him attending the Opera togther last night? Hmmmm?"
"Stop teasing, Marie!" Kiri said hotly, her pale features now a bright red.
As the embarrassed elf mage took a deep draught of her wine, all she could do was pout quietly while the others regarded her with teasing grins.
"I didn't hear a denial in there, Kiri," Nightstar said with a smile. "As it is, let us adjourn for the now. I'll find Constable Fanshen in the morning and leave word with her where to find us, should her group return successfully from Furyondy and be interested in our plight."
"What do they call themselves, these young charges of Constable Fanshen?" Marie asked Kiri.
Frowning in thought, Kiri said, "I'm not sure, Fanshen didn't say."
"Perhaps that's it. They work for Constable Fanshen, so... Fanshen-istas?" Marie offered.
The rest of the group groaned in reply.
"I see we're still looking for a wit that can fill Fischer's boots," Nightstar said. "See you all tomorrow morning at The Savant. That sage is going to meet us about the Torch."
"Hands in your pockets, eyes on your purse, friends," Marie said as she farewelled the group.
"'Ware and were, friends," Geren said, in the manner of farewell used by rangers of the Gnarley Forest. It was a veiled reference to the colony of werebears that lived there, something only known to the rangers and their closest allies.
"Good night all," Kiri said simply as she drank the last of her wine.
As Nightstar took down the Torch of Anazander from its sconce, the Fellowship left the booth in a dimmer light than before.
The Fellowship of the Torch, dormant since the end of the Greyhawk Wars, was now reassembled and more determined than ever to confront the endless threat of Iuz in the Vesve Forest.
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Monday, June 11, 2012, 9:00 PM
"Frakus no coward," the hulking young stable boy was saying. "Frakus kill many orc!"
Balor smiled beseechingly at the nervous boy, thought by many to be 'simple' but in reality he was a half-orc. Frakus was in the care of Morin, the dwarven blacksmith who worked metal for the soldiers in the small fort that was Barduk. Today, he was answering questions about his whereabouts during the sudden orc ambush on the fort, during which time an esteemed merchant - and formidable spy, as it turned out - was murdered.
"Did you see Jasmalus - I mean, Jetero - while you were in the stables, Frakus?" Balor asked in a gentle tone.
Frakus furrowed his brow, looking all at once worried, angry and ashamed. "Frakus no in stables! Frakus fight!"
"It's all right to admit you were in the stables, Frakus," Briar put in, leaning across the table towards the frightened young fellow. "You were just in there protecting the horses, weren't you?" she offered.
At this, Frakus brightened. "Y-yes... Frakus fought orcs... from stable! Yes, Frakus protect horses in battle. Did both. Fought orcs. Saved horses," he said, now looking more relaxed and somewhat happy.
The so-called Bardy of Five was gathered around a table, just beginning the interrogation process in trying to determine who murdered their friend and cohort, Jetero the merchant and secret agent. He was acting on the interests of the crown for King Belvor of Furyondy and, more specifically, on the orders of Count Artur Jakartai.
During the orc ambush of Barduk while the party was away delivering Jetero's journal to another agent, Jeremiah, Jetero was somehow slain in the stables, as his guardians were unable to save him in time from the throes of some terrible poison.
Under the stern but fair guidance of Rildillian, Captain of Barduk, the party were situated in the Bloody Axe Inn interviewing town and militia members one at a time to try and piece together what happened during the ambush and how it lead to Jetero's death.
Above their heads, high in the rafters of the Inn and out of everyone's view, a perfectly round glowing sphere of soft blue and yellow light pulsed slowly as it floated in through a high window.
"Two scrawny lil' guys came in," Frakus went on. "One of them just fell over, and the other one... he just shot an arrow at the wall and then left."
"Scrawny guys?" Bardy asked. "They were scrawny? Would you recognize them again if you saw them?"
Frakus frowned in thought again. "They just guys. All guys look scrawny to Frakus," he grinned, flexing his muscles. "But one of them your friend, Jethro."
"His name was Jetero, Frakus. And thank you, we don't have any more questions for you at this time," Balor told him as he nodded at Captain Rildillian.
Later on, a wild battle raged in the tower's courtyard. The Bardy of Five was engaged in an intense manhunt for a renegade drow assassin named Celini, who had slain their friend Jetero. Attempting his escape, he was fenced in the courtyard just in time by Rildillian's men, but had used dark magic to disappear from view and was now stalking the party, one by one.
"Ow! Dammit!" Briar screamed again, as yet another invisible force hammered her in the back of her head.
"Over there!" Kellern shouted decisively, pointing to an area of the courtyard to the party's left.
The other members looked to where the druid was pointing, yet saw nothing but swirling dirt and empty space.
"I'll head over here, watch my back," Tarmiko announced in a steady voice as he focused his attention on a different spot, stalking their invisible foe.
Floating beside the tower wall, high up, a softly glowing sphere of blue-yellow light hung steadily in the air.
Briar let out a choking gasp as she went down to her knees and then collapsed to the ground, her longsword clattering from her grasp.
Standing over her dying body was the now-visible form of Celini the Dark Elf - or Drow, as they had come to be known. The repugnant rogue began to taunt the rest of the party by licking Briar's blood from his blade.
His position now known, the assassin went down quickly under the might of the enraged assault of Briar's comrades. They subdued him in time to save Briar from death, and Rildillian's soldiers frog-marched the captive drow assassin into custody.
Later, at the Bloody Axe Inn, the dark elf bartered his life for information: the location of a secret Iuzian base within Furyondy's borders.
Somewhere high above the forest floor, seated amongst the woven branches of a massive tree, a cowled figure scrawled a single word in a leather-bound journal.
"I think we should rest," Balor said, panting.
Tarmiko nodded in silent agreement as he cleaned orc blood from the blade of his khopesh.
"What about those buildings over there?" Briar indicated, pointing to the east with her longsword at a series of two-story buildings, some of the only ones atop the hill of the abandoned Cragson Mines.
"Fine, let's do this, before we get found out," Bardy said with a note of impatience in his voice. Ubu sat by his side, awaiting the bard's orders. The magical canine proved to be a dark menace for the orcs, and his jaws still slavered with blood.
"...and the flaming orc there?" Kellern indicated, nodding towards the now-burning remains of an orc archer who just so many moments before was attempting to set the entire party alight.
Now, Kellern's feline companion Mkoll was circling the burning corpse of the orc, his hackles raised high and his tail fluffed out.
"Leave him there," Balor said, with a mordant look. He began to move towards the nearest two-story building, as ramshackle and non-descript as the rest of the dilapidated structures here atop the mine site. "There'll be more like him around here, and we must go and take them all out one by one before they find us."
As the Bardy of Five finished bandaging their wounds, swigging water and taking a short rest, they set about the uncertain task of continuing to explore the abandoned Cragson Mines, the until-now secret base of orcs that Iuz hoped to establish inside Furyondy's borders.
Throwing the doors of the building open and striding in, the party found this particular building to be what must have once been a barracks, its cots and trunks now nothing but smashed bits of rotted wood and cloth.
Imperceptibly, a blue globe of light moved through the overcast sky to position itself above the barracks.
As the adventurers debated whether or not to explore the second floor of the abandoned barracks, a nasty surprise in the form of multiple centipede swarms emerged from within the scattered rubbish and attacked Balor.
While individually no match for the mighty band, the stalking and shifting swarms of hungry and poisonous insects proved to be quite a vexing opponent for the heroes, who in many ways found the beasts more difficult to vanquish than orcs.
Morale took another hit soon after when, as the party went about the dour task of stuffing orc bodies in a deserted general store, they gamely opened another mystery door and set off an ancient trap. Fortunately for the "Bardy" the only legacy of this mishap was an embarrassingly wide and unattractive red scrape atop Balor's head, the path hewn by a very rusty crossbow bolt.
A light blue hand penned another word in the journal, its pages lit softly in a blue-yellow light.
His turn to open the basket of Everlasting Provisions, Balor hooted in happy surprise as he pulled forth a flat, warm dry stone. Atop the stone sat a wondrous creation of baked dough garnished with tomato sauce, melted cheese and various other so-called toppings such as mushrooms, slabs of spiced meat, and tiny salty fish.
"I nominate Balor to pick from the basket every time," Tarmiko suggested while pointing at the cleric, to which Kellern nodded in emphatic agreement. The shifter was already three bites into a slice of the deep pie he had carved out with his claws. Mkoll hungrily chewed his sample of the feast while emitting a low growl.
"Now, now," Bardy chided. "We all agreed we would take turns opening the basket, so let's be fair."
"Ok..." the rest of them said with resigned agreement.
After chewing a few mouthfuls of the delightful meal - which was accompanied by loaves of steaming hot buttered bread, spiced with garlic, as well as curious wedges of fried potato and deep wells of a creamy dressing - Bardy admitted, "But given how the basket offers up fare that is popular in the region, we really must make a point of coming back here..."
The others nodded in agreement again, this time with more enthusiasm.
"Where in the Nine Hells are we, anyways?" Tarmiko asked, as he took a swig of some sweet wine that the basket had provided.
"You know where we are," Briar said. "We're 10 miles southwest of Barduk, at the old Cragson Mines. So old, they're not on the map."
"Exactly!" Tarmiko said, pointing the tip of his wine bottle at her. "We're in the middle of nowhere, in some godforsaken place not even on any maps."
"How do you think Malin and Emerald are holding up?" Balor asked, of everyone and no one in particular.
The group all chewed thoughftully for a moment, remembering their main reason for going on this journey, and how much things had changed to have lead them here.
"I think they're fine," Bardy said with conviction. "They're back at Barduk, inside the wall and in the Bloody Axe, having some of Borik's fine ale."
"And Squarin's tarts," Kellern put in, licking his fingers and eyeing up the remainder of the curious bread-cheese-meat-sauce pie.
"Hey, you leave those tarts at the Inn alone!" Briar said, grinning at Kellern and winking at Bardy. "Lyla and Penny are nice girls, far too nice for you lot."
The group let out a collective laugh, their first in many days since embarking on this most dire phase of their adventure.
"Hey!" Bardy piped up. "Briar made a funny!"
The warrior merely smirked at him, but the smirk quickly faded into a frown and a hard stare - which served to wipe the grin off of the bard's face as well.
There were a few more moments of pensive silence. "You know, we might not come back from this," Balor said quietly.
"We've got to uproot this base, no one else knows but us," Briar stated. "Nobody else could get here in time."
"We'll finish off these orcs, and then we'll finish escorting the caravan to Willip, just you wait and see," Bardy said, determination in his voice.
They all shared looks with each other, quiet confidence in their eyes.
"Rest up now, lads and lass," Tarmiko said. "I've got first watch."
As the group began to prepare their campsite for an extended rest within the mouth of the collapsed tunnel that once served as a throughway to the ancient mine, a globe of light backed away from the entrance and floated off into the night.
A final word was penned in the journal, before a pair of light blue hands closed it and tucked it away into the folds of an indigo-coloured robe.
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 12:24 AM
"Squarin! Another round of me fine dwarven ale for our friends here, if you please," Borik called out as he wiped the beer foam out of his beard with his forearm.
A short, round and powerful human woman strode up to the table at the Bloody Axe Inn. She fixed her lesser half with a hard stare. "I'd say 'Fetch it yerself,' Borik, only I know you're half into your cups and less far into another bloody song!"
With that, the tiny but mighty chef swept the table clear of empty mugs and favoured the other patrons seated at the table with a warm and friendly smile that suddenly appeared on her face. She reserved her sterner expressions for her husband.
Borik the dwarf watched Squarin saunter away, an appreciative leer on his face. "They're ballads, my lady! Not songs," he uttered in protest, though wisely just below her hearing.
He turned back to regard his fellow revellers, who were all smirking at him.
"Now pray, continue, my dear sweet lass," he said to the lovely Emerald, the half-elf merchant and erstwhile rogue. "You were saying he cut down an ogre?"
"Well, it wasn't just him, Borik. He did have help," replied Emerald in a melodic voice. Her flowing, sandy-brown hair looked especially lustrous in the light of the fire, and more than one soldier present at the Inn was smitten by the sparkle in her green eyes.
Earlier that day, many of them fell under the sway of Emerald's charms as she mastered the art of dealmaking in selling her trade goods. None of them were ripped off - she was far too responsible to abuse her power to that degree. But she did make a tidy profit on this particular sojourn of the brave merchant caravan.
Borik nodded at her to continue.
"Tarmiko had managed to sneak over the wall and hide in a bush - all past two waves of screaming orcs," the half-elf continued. "Somehow, his party mates knew he was there, for then came their priest Balor and their shapeshifting friend Kellern. This was after the druid - he's the shifter - had somehow managed to make the river obey his commands and nearly drown some orcs!"
"This was while the wall was still under siege?" Jarvis asked. He was one of Captain Rildiliian's lieutenants and arguably the most smitten with Emerald.
"Well yes, but our fighter, Briar, she always looks out for us. She was up there on the wall with the rest of them, pouring boiling pitch and kicking over ladders," Emerald said. "At first, the orcs had the upper hand. Nearly everything inside the wall - and including the wall - were on fire when they sprung their attack."
"So how did they take down the ogre? He was wielding a tree trunk, you say?" asked a corporal, elbowing his way into the front of the crowd of soldiers and townsfolk that had gathered around the merchants' table.
"Yes, it was this gnarled old tree, and it looked like he had just ripped it out of the ground before rowing himself across the river with it. Bloody fearsome thing, he was," Emerald said with a far away look in her eyes as she recalled the battle to save Batlet, or Fort Disaster as it had once been known.
"So as the ogre let out this bellowing roar and began to charge at the wall, a contingent of soldiers came down from the wall with the priest and druid to meet him. Bardy was egging them on from the wall, holding his scimitar aloft and singing a song of conquest and victory. The whole town and garrison rallied around him for that battle. He was amazing," Emerald said, her cheeks flushing a little.
Borik let out a bark of laughter. "Just wait until you hear me sing, lass! Now if you'd just finish your tale I can get on with it. Composition requires a delicate mix of detail and ale, and speaking of ale... SQUARIN! Where - oh..."
"Here's your ales and mind your manners, you old coot, or I'll make you wish you were back fighting the war!" Squarin declared, as she and one of her serving girls set down a fresh round of drinks for the table. There were gales of laughter as Borik was humbled, however briefly, by his wife and the affectionate tug she gave to his beard before she ambled away.
"So anyway," Emerald said with a touch of command to her voice now, as she was desperate to finish her tale. "Tarmiko waited until just the right moment to strike, moving so fast he was a blur as he came up behind that ogre. I saw his blade flash in the firelight as he sliced open the back of one of the ogre's legs, and it went down with a mighty bellow. By then, his friends were upon it and they just slaughtered the beast before it had a chance to do any real damage."
Whistles and cheers went up from the crowd. "So what happened then?" Borik prompted.
"Once their ogre was defeated - and so thoroughly - the remaining orcs scattered. Those ones that weren't slaughtered before they could get away that is," Emerald said with a sly grin. "Makes me almost wish I hadn't given up my adventuring days, seeing our guardians go to battle to protect us time and again. Almost," the half-elf said, a wistful look in her eyes.
Borik sat back in the booth, a starry look in his eyes. "So they saved Fort Disaster - from disaster!" he proclaimed.
There were nods and harrumphs and murmurs of affirmation from the crowd.
"A regular party of heroes they are, your guardians," Jarvis said as he made eye contact with Emerald.
Malin, seated next to Emerald, nodded in agreement. "They've saved us many times, young man, more than I care to count," the merchant said as he regarded Emerald's would-be paramour shrewdly. Just another in a long line of suitors, this one, he thought to himself. But I'm not worried about Emerald. She's handy with a blade and could sell rocks to a hill giant.
Turning to Emerald, Malin asked in a quiet voice, "Where's Jasmalus - I mean, Jetero - gotten to this evening?"
She leaned over to her fatherly comrade and whispered, "He's gone up to his room early to try and relax. He won't rest until he knows that journal of his is in Jeremiah's hands."
Malin nodded gravely at her, shooting a concerned glance in the direction of the stairs to the upper rooms.
"Sing us a song about the heroes, Borik," asked one young soldier.
"They're ballads, lad, some day you'll remember that," the dwarven bard chided him gently. The young man blushed.
Borik saw this, and stood up in his seat with surprising dexterity for a dwarf. "Nay, nay, we'll have none of that lad!" he said, clapping the young man on the shoulder. Then, drinking deeply from his mug of ale, Borik gestured with it in a wide sweep of his arm to hush the crowd before him.
"This is a tale of war and of love..." he began.
"Love?!" shouted one soldier. "How does that figure in with blood-crazed bandits?" he heckled, to much laughter.
"Silence, you!" Borik shouted back in feigned outrage.
"He's always going on about love in his songs. He's mad for it, my little love-sick dwarf," Squarin called out, miming kisses at her now red-faced husband, the crowd's laughter now crescendoing.
"Woman! They're ballads and you damn well know it and awwww, Heck with it!" he yelled as he briefly stoopped down, filled his mug to overflowing, and sculled it all back in one smooth motion.
The bard now had the crowd back in his hands as they favoured him with mighty applause. A loud burp erupted from within as Borik opened his mouth to attempt to sing again, prompting more laughter.
He set down his mug and spread his arms before him slowly, calming and quieting his eager listeners.
"Along blasted lands, alongside rivers twisted
Did the brave souls travel, where few existed.
Slaying orc and ogre, no foe their equal
Iuz the Evil's plans, would need a sequel.
Suddenly, the loud hooning of a warhorn could be heard from outside, bringing a sudden and tense hush to the crowd at the Inn.
A second blast of the warhorn was then accompanied with frenzied sounds and shouting from outside.
A red-faced sergeant burst into the inn, where soldiers were already scrambling to don their armor and ready their weapons.
"Orcs at the gate! Orcs at the gate!" came the cry to battle.
As the soldiers made an organized rush for the doors, leaving a few of their number behind to guard the merchants and the innkeep and his staff, a shadow detached itself from the wall and moved imperceptibly upstairs...
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Monday, April 30, 2012, 9:12 PM
Journal of Krayg, wain driver for Jasmalus
15 Wealsun, 585 CY
Somewhere in Furyondy
Luna is waning, Celene is waxing (Richfest soon)
Beory favours us with a clear day today. Little chance of turning another wagon wheel today, but this foul mud will make fer slow going.
Tended to Copper she's as true as ever. Mint, that horse is. Picked out a few pebbles from her hooves and gave her a rub-down. Gave her the oat bag, she's a good girl. If I ever become seperated from this horse, I just may as well find myself a new trade. Driving wains just would not be the same without a horse like Copper.
Jasmalus returned from shifting his bowels and began tending to his trading stock. My turn to cook today, as that roguey fella Trimeeko pulled some nice phezzant eggs and some spuds and rashers of bacon from his magic picnic basket this morning.
The group broke their fast and gave me some nice complaments on my cooking. Darned if I didn't smile a little bit, though like my boss Jasmalus I prefer to just sit to myself and smoke a pype. And rite - Mister J tawt me to rite last year, and he says my spelling is even emproving.
That Bardy fella, he sure can talk. If he ain't strumming his lute and humming to hisself, he's going on and on about some damn thing or other. I got to say, at first I didn't like him, a bit of a dandy for my liking. But seeing the things he's dun and how the common folk really take a shine to his stories, well now I do admit I see the truth in what he's singing about. Riting things down is just another way of singing, so while I don't have his throaty talents, I sure can rite my version of things too. Going to hand this over to you my boy Seth one day, fill your head with stories of wonder.
Just yesterday, be damned if this here group of heroes we got working for us didn't save our hides again! These damned orcks keep turning up left and right out here. Furyondy ain't what it used to be. Never did come out to these parts too much anyhow - Momma always said the Veng is full of eels and trubble makers. Well, hain't seen no eels yet, but we sure have had some trubble.
This time, these orcks tried to take us unawares by lying down in the grass and breathing through tubes. Well, that Trimeeka fella, he seen them good and they pounced on them like tiegers! Once they was done messing them up, they caught up to some more of those flayming orck archers and rolled them.
This group is good, they put on a real show - that is, when I can muster the kurrage to look out from the wagon! There was lightning. They were hurling cold winds. The bardy fella hangs back and sings a lot, but it sure does look to put more of a fight into his group. The tough girl, their fighter, mostly just lays into anything foolish enough to come near her with her long sword. She usually wins, and she even knows how to push monsters around with her shield!
The rougey fella, he did not bust into his drunkin monkey show this time. He mostly stayed on his horse and dealt out some ass whooping from there. And their klarrick, the sun worshipper - that big spikey ball of his sure puts a hurting on things! It gloes, too, I bet his god gave it to him because he's so good.
The cat fella, he and his little cat just run around out there, shredding things to bits. At one point he became some kind of fierce beast, it was a whirlwind of teeth and claws. I always expect him to eat the orcks after he kills them, but I have not seen him do it yet.
Something new was out there this time too. I was too skared to look, but Emerald told me later it was called an O-rogg. Half orck, half ogur. Nasty! I have never seen an ogur and never want to. But these heroes of ours, we best be paying them good, for they have slayn the O-roggs and this time Emerald did not have to jump out and help, bless her little soul.
There weren't no high Orck priest of Grunch (or whatever they call it) this time, that foul god of theirs. Or no babblin-orcks running around, thank Beory. But these heroes sure have saved our hides - twice now - so Seth boy, I will write their nayms down here for you to see and remimber them always:
Trimeeko, he's the rogue fella who has some kind of misstikal fighting powers
Bardy Bardsin, the shiny fella who can sing and talk like nobody I've seen. Elfish
Braar, kwiet and real kyoot but she is the toughest of the bunch!
Baylord, he's a real good man, that one. He prays to Paylord, the god of the sun, just like your uncle Jocephus (on your Momma's side) did
Killurn, now this one here I never seen nothing like him. He's like a great big Cat-Man - fur and claws and all - and he knows a lot about trees.
They also got themselves a cat, kind of looks like a smaller version of Killurn. Mikkel or something. Sweet thing, I always give her the last of my meat at dinnur. Wouldn't want to upset her, though - she joins the fights with the rest of them!
Seth, son, I have got to get into the wagon now, once I've made my offerings to Fharlanghn. (Mister J taut me to spell that one propperly)
We are nearly at Batlick, some kind of fort. Although I hear tell it needs a lot of work, so we are probably going to have to kill some more orcks and Beory knows what else before we are done.
Know that your Daddy loves you very much, should he not make it home from his epik jurnee.
I will write to you and Momma again tomorrow, good Beory willing and the river don't rise.
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