"Out of the Frying Pan" - Book I: Gathering Wood (reprise)


log in or register to remove this ad

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
WARNING! This installment has adult themes.


Session #10

While everyone else set up their tents, Kamir running about to help everyone he could as usual, breaking a sweat despite the frigid breeze, Ratchis walked down towards the dwarven guards. He walked down the line of chained men in tattered furs, and watched them pulverize stones. The clanking and rattling of their chains chaffed against the priest of the freedom goddess’ sensibilities, and he felt his mouth get dry as he stepped up to a heavily armed dwarf. The dwarf wore a suit of chain mail and a helm that covered most of his face, leaving only his mouth, beard and cold blue eyes visible. He had a battle exe on his back and a heavy crossbow in his hands. He stood unmoving and followed the approaching half-orc with his eyes. Ratchis could feel the eyes of half the guards on him, the other half never stopped watching the prisoners.

“Well met,” called Ratchis.

The dwarf merely grunted.

“Do you mind if I ask you what is going on here?” Ratchis asked.
“We are building a road from the Mountain Door (75) to the Kingdom of Gothanius,” the dwarf said shortly. “I take it that I where you and your group are traveling to?”

“How did you know?” asked Ratchis.

“You are not the first,” the dwarf replied. “I am on duty and cannot stand idly by and converse with you even if I were inclined to speak to one such as you normally. The captain stands by the engineers. He will answer your questions, if he sees fit to.”
Ratchis grunted a thank you, and walked over to a metal table set up by a large number of tents set up near the road.
Again he introduced himself, and then asked where the men on the chain gang were from.

“They are criminals,” the Captain explained. “Bandits and the toadies of slavers and the like. Actual slavers and pirates are put to death. But these men often came to be criminals by being manipulated by others, so we give them a chance to be productive.”

“How long are they prisoners for?” Ratchis asked.

“Most of them for 20 years, or until they are too old to work effectively. Whichever comes first,” the Captain said, with some disgust for whom he was speaking to. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have matters to attend to. The day’s work is almost done and the prisoners must be put to bed.”

Ratchis thanked the dwarven captain with a grunt and returned to camp. The dinner fires were being lit by Kamir and Kazrack finished putting up his comparatively palatial tent. He then went down to meet his brethren.

Kazrack greeted one of the guards, who directed him to the Captain who was yelling orders to his men.

The captain raised his fist in greeting, and Kazrack mimicked him.

“I am Kazrack Delver,” Kazrack said, introducing himself.

“I am Captain Bardolph Gritchkar,” said the Captain, and they grasped wrists. “You are traveling with these humans to Gothanius?”

“Yes. I had little choice. I am from Verdun, and it was either agree to come with these men to Gothanius or fight in a war I felt had nothing to do with me.”

“I see,” said Bardolph. “This road is being built by the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant Consortium to connect the Mountain Door to Gothanius, by way of a trade agreement with its government.”

“Now it is my turn to be surprised,” said Kazrack. “Is that not stolen land? Why would dwarves trade with these humans?”

“Convenience,” sighed Bardolph. “As there is no unified dwarven kingdom, as you well know, there is no means or impetus to retake these lands from the humans. However, by helping the Gothanians to remain strong we keep the Menovians at bay.”

“Menovians?”

“The Kingdom of Menovia, a corrupt land of slavers who put our people into bondage and slay all halfing and gnomes. They are evil worshipers of the human serpent god. Between them and the broken lands that once belonged to those who now call themselves the Bzontra, there is much evil afoot in Derome-Delem.”

“Bzontra, but that. . . “ (76)

“My work calls me,” interrupted Bardolph. “But return when you see the fire alight in our camp and here the chanting of our voices - You are welcome.”

Kazrack returned to his camp just as Horung and Kinney were serving dinner, and by the time he was done, he could see the fires of the dwarven camp and hear their voices chanting dwarven tales. He bid his exhausted friends goodnight and returned.

----

Kazrack heard the deep bass of a dwarf telling the tale of Natan-ahb creating the world, and has he stepped into the edge of the circle of dwarves about a fire the dwarf telling the tale ended with the fracturing of the first island by Natan-ahb, who struck his hammer upon the world to punish the dwarves who had gone astray. (77) The dwarven voice died away. Kazrack spoke as he stepped into the light and spoke:

“I dreamt that Natan-ahb, our First Father, and the other Lords and Lady, were watching over my shoulder as I looked upon the First Dwarven Kingdom. All Dwarves called each other brother then, and we were wisely ruled by our King. We built wonders to behold and mined the earth’s mysteries. And the wealth gathered in doing so is to make the strong better able to help the weak lift their hammers. We knew the truth of this but yet the strong made the weak mine for them and horded the Grey Giver’s gifts. The Liar had told each of these Dwarves that they should be King and that wealth would put a Crown upon their heads. None knew that the liar spoke to many heads and promised many crowns and brother turned against brother. I saw this drama played out below me. The Grey Giver’s mystery was shaped like two poles of uneven length crossed perpendicular to each other; the shorter pole close to the end of the longer. I watched as all the dwarves of the First Kingdom clung to the Grey Giver’s Last Gift - Each clambering for position, and clinging desperately on to another if it proved impossible to grasp the Last Gift directly. I saw our Last True King command, beg and cajole the others to let the Last Gift be; To turn away from it as individuals and return as a community. But the dwarves of the First Kingdom each cursed the other too loudly to hear their King’s wisdom. I looked upon the Grey Giver’s last gift and saw that the mass of dwarven kind had turned it into a Great Hammer. Natan-ahb’s mighty arm reached over my shoulder for it and hefted it into the air. Our last True King grew desperate then, crying frantically to our kind, “Let go! Turn away!” But again, our curses were too loud to hear. The First Father judged us and found us wanting. He brought that living hammer down upon Aquerra and shattered it. The many pieces scattered and landed into a configuration I recognize from maps today.”

“Who is this dwarf who comes and speaks of dreams and portents?” said the deep voice who had been chanting earlier.

“I am not speaking a portent, but rather…” Kazrack was interrupted by someone pulling on his sleeve. He looked down and saw Bardolph sitting beside him.

“Announce your name,” he whispered, alerting Kazrack to the fact that he has made a dwarven faux pax.

“Uh, I am Kazrack Delver, most recently from Verdun, but my family is from Derome-Delem, Llurgh-Splendar-Tor,” Kazrack said.

“Welcome Kazrack Delver,” said the dwarf with the deep voice. He had a white beard with streak of blonde. It was obvious to Kazrack that he was a hill dwarf. “You speak as would a rune-thrower and come to us from a land of humans to a place beset by that race. Take up a flagon and join us.”

Kazrack spent the evening with his brethren, sharing tales and news. He learned of the land called Verdaise, which had once belong to the Elgaard Dwarves, who now called themselves the “Bzontra”, having all cut off their beards until they regained their ancestral lands after their mountain was destroyed by an unknown god. He learned of the recent war between Menovia and the Principality of Rhondria, and how Rhondria had basically come under the sway of the former.

The night had grown even darker by the time Kazrack crawled drunkenly into his tent, as clouds had rolled in beneath the stars.

Anulem, 28th of Ese – 564 H.E.

Crumb’s Boys were awakened by the sound of jangling chains and the sound of hammers on stones before Ra’s Glory had even risen. Mumbling and murmuring complaints, they ate cold breakfast packed their gear and hit the road again. Not there was much more than a vaguely visible track through a rocky area with crabgrass which followed the edge of the ravine.
Kazrack waved to the dwarves as he and the others marched away, but none returned his good-bye, keeping a tight eye on the chained and working men.

They marched onward and upward most of the day. Many times they could see the river, now not as far below them as before, but gurgling angrily over rocks rapidly, as the incline became steeper and steeper.

Crumb’s boys began to breathe heavily as the going became slower. The mules sure-footedly picked their way through the uneven round, and some of the weaker folks began to lag behind at times. They took frequent breaks and by mid-day the group had made perhaps as few as three miles distance since they started in the morning.

Soon after crossing an old stone bridge, Kinney and Horung began to unpack one of the mules and re-distribute its gear among Crumb’s boys, allowing Boris E. Crumb the Third himself to climb up on the mule.

The group continued their arduous march, and by mid-afternoon, despite the fact that the climb had level off, they could barely make any more progress as fatigue had set in. They stopped and began to make camp in a clear stony area surrounded by sickly pine and firs. Once again, the river was way below them in a ravine, and to the east they faced the near barren peak of a craggy hill.

As Kinney wearily prepared a meal, and Horung brushed the mules, and Kamir ran about doing odd chores, including helping to set up Crumb’s pavilion tent, Ratchis worked a large rock out of the dirt. He lifted it above his head and pumped up and down several times, and then tossed it a few feet and then repeated the process.

“What the hell are you doing now?” Devon’s voice rang out. “Trying to build up your muscles? Well, ya better keep working if you hope to ever beat me.”

Devon laughed long and loud. Ratchis ignored him and continued with his exercises.

Jana had wandered away from camp and towards an area where the trees were healthier and thicker, and crawled beneath them looking for herbs and mosses that would help in her healing craft. While standing scrapping moss off a tree, she felt someone tap her shoulder from behind. Jana swung around, stepping back and brandishing her knife. She had not heard anyone approach.

“Whoa!” Markle said, a big smile on his face and his hands in the air. “It is only me.”

“You should be more careful,” Jana said in her quiet voice.

“My apologies, but it is good to see you are ready for eventualities. It is a good addition to your other talents that I hope you will put to use for us,” Markle said.

Jana simply smiled.

“Though our progress is slow, we will be getting to Gothanius sooner than you think and the time is coming for a choice. You owe me a favor, and I mean to collect that – but it need not be just that. You know you can really profit from this whole venture,” Markle said, whispering and standing close enough to Jana to steal a kiss.

Jana put a hand up, and nervously took half a step back. “Let’s not go into specifics yet. I don’t want to know too much too soon”

“Of course not,” Markle replied, his smile widening. “We cannot afford that risk and it is in your interest to be able to plead ignorance. I understand.”

They were silent for a moment, and Markle looked around and stepped close again.

He continued, “I will tell you this much, the least I will require from you is to keep your goody-goody friends from getting involved in what we plan to do. It is none of their business, but as we both know, that has not stopped them before.”
Jana nodded, her smile vanishing.

“But, if you want to play a bigger role, there is money to be made and things to be gained. Do you really think that the Kingdom of Gothanius is going to uphold a contract signed by a woman? A backwater rinky-dink little monarchy in the middle of nowhere? Think again. After all this effort, you need to take what you can, and I can give you that opportunity,” Markle stepped back again. “Think about it. You know where to find me.”

He began to walk off, but looked back with a wink and a smile. Jana stood there contemplating the offer for a second, and then returned to looking for herbs.

---

Back by the edge of the ravine, Beorth sat upon a huge rock and prayed to Anubis, while the sun set behind him. As he contemplated death and rebirth, he heard a repeated and echoing bang from across the ravine. Beorth opened his eyes to see a pair of large rams slamming each other repeatedly on the craggy hill across the way, while a hand full of other mountain goats looked on. BAM! Their heads would strike each other and they’d stumble backward, pause, look at each other and then slam again. Beorth watched these evenly matched rams do this for some time, when they suddenly stopped. At that moment, movement further up on the hill caught the paladin’s eye and he looked up to see the hindquarters of what must have been an impossibly large ram turn the corner out of sight. All he really got a good look at was one rear hoof, which looked big even if it had been a horse. Beorth was amazed, and turned to see if anyone else had seen that, when he saw Kazrack and Ratchis approaching.

“Beorth!” Kazrack called. “I just came back from helping to gather firewood and Ratchis said he wanted to talk to us.”
They came up to the rock Beorth sat on.

“I wanted to tell the two of you because honestly I am not sure how much we can trust the others to keep this quiet for now and not raise a panic,” Ratchis said quietly.

“What is it?” Beorth asked.

“I have reason to believe we are actually being led to where we will be sold into slavery in Menovia,” Ratchis said plainly.

“Well, that must be why Crumb seems to think of us more as chattel than as people,” said Kazrack.

“Who are the Menovians?” Beorth asked.

“Set-worshippers and slavers. It is one of the Little Kingdoms that Gothanius is a part of,” Ratchis explained. “The reason I joined you after helping to deal with the wolf problem was because your group was the one I was looking for. I had reason to believe groups were being led to be sold into slavery under the pretext of gaining land and becoming heroes.”

“So, why not tell everyone?” Beorth asked.

“I think it would cause a panic, especially since we have no way to know if it the truth, yet, “ Ratchis said. “Better that we just remain alert and be ready for the eventuality. If more evidence presents itself, then we can consider telling the others.”

“Shouldn’t we at least tell Chance, Jana and Jeremy?” Beorth asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Ratchis. “I don’t trust Jana, period. I have seen here talking with Markle, and I‘m not unconvinced that he and Devon and the little one aren’t in on it. They are definitely different than the rest of the boys here.”

“Then again, so are we,” said Beorth thoughtfully.
Ratchis nodded. ‘Regardless, as for Jeremy and Chance don’t seem like they can be trusted to keep their mouths shut. Even if they wanted to, I think they’d end up blabbing.”

“Agreed,” said Kazrack. “How do you think it will happen?”

“I’m not sure,” said Ratchis. “Either there will be an ambush, perhaps at night or when we are passing through a canyon that is not easily escapable, or we will be led directly into some castle or town where we will be easily captured. Anyway, I am telling you because I need more than one pair of eyes, and it is my sword duty as a Friar of Nephthys to oppose tyranny and slavery wherever it may rear its head.”

It was agreed that they would keep it to themselves, and soon everyone adjourned to bed. As had been the habit on this stretch of the journey, people were set on watch that night in pairs. Ratchis and Jeremy for the first watch, Kazrack and Beorth for the second, and Jana and Chance for the last.

Ralem, 1st of Syet – 564 H.E.

Crumb’s Boys awoke to frost on the grass, and a biting cold. There was not much for breakfast, and Ratchis feeling pity after watching Kamir shiver and seeing his toes peeking through his worn shoes, called upon Nephthys to protect the boy from the elements.

Chance and Jeremy ate the little there was while they let Kamir pack up their tent for them.

“What are you doing?” Kazrack admonished.

“Whut da it luke like?” Chance said groggily. “We’re etin breakfest.”

“I mean, Kamir. Why are you letting him do you work for you?” Kazrack asked.

“Why nut? He wonts ta do et, I say let `em,” Chance said.

“It is not good to take advantage of people like him,” Kazrack said.

“Why nut?” Chance said. “Pepple luke him are kind ahve anon an’ es best jas ta let em do whut they wont ann’ be done wit’ et.”

Kazrack sighed and walked over to where Kamir was taking the tent down.

“Here, Kamir, let me help you,” the dwarf offered.

“Oh, no, it’s fine, Kazrack. I got it. It’s not a problem. I like to help,” Kamir said.

“Well, so do I,” Kazrack said. “Listen, Kamir. You can’t let people boss you around.”

“Oh, they don’t boss me around,” Kamir replied. “I like to help. When you are helpful people like you, my ma used to always say, especially if you stay out of their way and just do all the work. She used to say that, too.”

“Sometimes you have to do what you want to do, not what other people want of you,” Kazrack said. “Duty is one thing, but letting yourself be walked all over is quite another.”

“But I do want to do it,” Kamir said. “I want people to like me.”

“But if you do it too much people will not respect you,” Kazrack tried to explain.

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” Kamir replied.

“I know it doesn’t,” Kazrack said with a sigh.

When they were done, Kazrack tossed the packed up tent to Jeremy angrily.

“What?” Jeremy said, dumb-founded. Kazrack merely walked over to join the line of Crumb’s boys beginning to march.

----

Crumb rode one of the mules all this day as well, and in places the incline was such that the group had to switchback many times, slowing their progress to as little as 10 miles that day. At the end of the day everyone was exhausted, and the meager dinner did not sit well in their stomachs. Kamir, Frank and Gwar were sent to retrieve fire wood, and the individual fires were much larger this colder night.

Isilem, 2nd of Syet – 564 H.E.

The smell of snow was little comfort to the tired and hungry men and boys who continued their march the next day. The cold was such that few words were spoken, and people just pulled their furs tightly around them and looked up occasionally to see if the snow had arrived yet, but the gray sky only threatened.

Ratchis blessed Kamir with another Endure Elements spell, as he was not as well-prepared for the cold weather as others were.
After mid-morning the march eased up as they the land inclined downward and soon they were walking along side the river again. They followed deep wagon ruts in the riverbank, and by midday they came to a rocky place where another river met the one they were following. However, the new river’s water was murkier and almost black in places. Where it met the Tall Twin River, it foamed up, with the black scum floating downward and slowly breaking up as it passed them.

The group crossed a wide wooden bridge, that led to the land between the two rivers. They stopped for lunch not far from there, where the edge of a hilly forest curved away from their direction and to the northeast. The track they followed broke in two here. One followed the Black River, the other followed the large river they had been following all along, but now on the other side of it.

Deet gathered everyone together, the skin of his balding head wrinkled from the cold, and his lips a blue that matched his robes. Crumb wanted to address his men.

“This is South Fork, and so we have officially enter into the territory of the Little Kingdoms. We are in the Kingdom of Gothanius, but not far from the Kingdom of Menovia. In a few days, we will reach North Fork Wall, and there we will have a long deserved rest. From there it is but a half a day’s march to Twelve Trolls and our final destination.”

There was a pause, and then Crumb’s boys dispersed to get what rest they could before the marching continued. Crumb looked perplexed as if he expected cheers, but what he saw instead were weakened men throwing themselves on the ground to get what little sleep they could. Leaning against a tree to gather his strength, Ratchis noted that this spot had the remains of other small campfires scattered throughout the clearing.

---

They marched onward about an hour later, heading west by northwest along the easternside of the river for a time. However, exhaustion just got the better of all of them, and it was not two hours later, when the crew stopped again and made camp. Actually, most of Crumb’s boys just threw themselves on the ground again, while a few others tried to make fires, but the tinder was low again. Jana set up her tent and went inside to nap, and Ratchis just lay on the ground. Kazrack and Beorth set up their tent, and Chance crawled in, being too tired to set up his own as Jeremy and Kamir were sent to get firewood.

The dinner bell awoke everyone from their sudden slumber and the sky looked darker than ever. Ratchis, Kazrack, Beorth, Jana and Chance got the bowl of scraps served for dinner and sat around a tiny fire to eat.

“Anyone seen Jeremy?” Ratchis asked.

“Ah thank he wint ta get sahm wood wit’ Kamir,” said Chance.

“They’ve been gone for a while,” said Kazrack.

Ratchis slurped down the last of his food and stood, walking over to where Horung and Kinney were cleaning up the cooking pots.

“Where the hell is that boy? Don’t tell me I’ll have to clean all this myself!” Kinney was saying. “I’ll tan his hide!”

“Have you seen Kamir?” Ratchis asked.

“That lazy boy isn’t here to do his chores. I have no idea where he is. Probably off hiding and shirking his duty.”

Ratchis growled, and walked towards Deet.

“Have you seen Jeremy and Kamir?” Ratchis asked.

“I sent Jeremy and Chance to go get wood. I don’t know where Kamir is,” said Deet.

Devon, who was walking by to look for non-existent seconds stopped.

“Lose one of your little puppies?” Devon asked Ratchis mockingly. “You better hope no one threw them in a sack and drowned them.”

He laughed loudly, but Ratchis ignored him and walked back to the others. Snow began to fall.

“We have to go find, Jeremy and Kamir,” Ratchis said.

“You are sure they are not around?” Jana asked.

“I asked around, and it is getting dark. They may be nearby, but it is better to be safe,” Ratchis replied. “Chance, weren’t you supposed to go with Jeremy to get firewood?”

“Aye, but Kamir insisted he go for me, so I dint wontta break his lil heart,” Chance said with a wink.

The group strapped on their armor and grabbed their weapons, while Ratchis jogged in the direction that he thought they might have gone to find wood and searched for tracks.

The others caught up to the tall ugly woodsman.

“There is no good wood around here, they probably made their way towards that tree-covered hill,” Ratchis pointed north by northeast. “There are signs that at least two people broke through the brush here.”

Ratchis took the lead, keeping a good forty feet ahead of Kazrack, Beorth, Chance and Jana. They made slow progress as the woodsman stopped and stooped often to check for signs of their missing companions.

They came to the woody hill, and found the way up to be treacherous. The increasing snowfall did not help, as visibility lessened. Ratchis led them slowly up the hill, the trail he followed curved nearly to the other side, but then switched back and then came to a severe drop that the party had to clamber down.

“It looks like the stopped a lot,” noted Ratchis. “Here, one person climbed up and another continued along this path. Let’s take the straight way. I don’t think that higher way will lead to the top of the hill.”

The followed the lower path for a a few dozen yards, when Ratchis stopped again.

“Someone came tumbling down the hill here at right about the time it started to snow. There is blood here, and then two sets of tracks continue,” said Ratchis.

”I bet it was Jeremy,” said Kazrack with a smirk.

“I’m sure they were trying to make their way to the top of the hill,” Ratchis said. “If they were lost they probably thought that from up there they could gain a better view of the surrounding area and find their way back.”

“That sounds pretty smart,” said Beorth.

Jana, Beorth, Chance and Kazrack finally made their way up to the top of the hill, led by Ratchis. The snowfall was not heavy, but rather its lightness was such that the flakes hovered obscuring vision. The top of the hill was flat and surrounded by a ring of leafless deciduous trees. Just off center of the plateau was a small pond that was partially frozen.

“Stand here,” Ratchis commanded, and began to wander around the top of the hill, sometimes getting down on his hands and knees and crawling about face nearly pressed to the ground.

After some time he cam back to the others.

“It looks like two people wandered around here for a while, going in circles around the top. They also stopped by the water and rested there. It also looks like someone else camped here perhaps a day or two ago, there are the remains of two small fires over by those trees. However, it looks like in the end Jeremy and Kamir were confused and chose the wrong way. They went down the side of the hill opposite of our camp.”

As Ratchis led the group in that direction, they found that the northeastern side of the hill was thick with tall both deciduous and coniferous trees. However, a few hundred yards down and to the left could be seen light emerging from beneath the canopy. The party headed down to a level equal with the light, and then turned left.

“I will go ahead and see what I can see,” whispered Ratchis creeping ahead into the darkness. The party extinguished their own light and waited.

----

Ratchis slowly got closer and closer to the light, but the snow and the trees and underbrush obscured the area it emerged from. He moved slowly and carefully trying to remain quiet, and could only vaguely hear what sounded like talking and perhaps grunting. It was then that the backlit and silhouetted form of an armored man appeared atop a large rock up ahead.

“Who goes there?” the man called. Ratchis could see that the man held a light crossbow, and wore studded leather armor, and had a long sword scabbarded at his side, but darkvision did not allow him to make out the detail of the tabard the man wore.

“Put a light up here!” the guard said, calling over his shoulder into the clearing the light came from. He turned back to Ratchis, “Stop!”

Ratchis moved in a wide arc to the guard’s left, so the man lifted his crossbow and fired, but missed.

“Who goes attacking travelers?” Ratchis asked summoning all the authority he could in his voice, but making his way for the cover of a large tree. However, by this time the soldier had reloaded his crossbow and fired again and Ratchis felt the bite of the bolt as he dived for the tree.

A second figure holding a lantern in one hand and a long sword, armored as the first approached Ratchis.

“Stop in the name of the Kingdom of Menovia!” the soldier on the rock said, reloading his crossbow, and now Ratchis could see that the man blindingly approaching him with the lantern wore a gray tabard with a purple serpent twined about a black tower.
“He’s over there to the left,” the man on the rock said. “Kill whoever it is!”

Ratchis prayed, “Nephthys infuse my weapon with your divine might so that I may slay these evil slavers,” and cast Magic Weapon upon his quartertaff. But the other soldier point him out and the words of prayer led the lantern bearing one right to the Friar of Nephthys, and he received a hard blow from a long sword. While his chain shirt absorbed most of the blow, its force knocked Ratchis down, making him momentarily visible from behind the tree, and the crossbow-wielding soldier took another shot, but it hit the trunk instead.

Ratchis quickly got to his feet. “Come taste death, Menovian scum!” he cried, and swung his quarterstaff connecting heavily with the man’s shoulder. The soldier dropped the lantern (which did not break) and swung his shield into position and struck Ratchis again, drawing blood. “Captain!” he cried.

By this time the rest of the group had heard Ratchis cry out and the sound of other voices and they began to move up. Jana spoke a word and touched Beorth’s staff and it began to shed light. Chance hid behind a tree, but as Jana moved to join him, the guard upon the rock noticed her in the new light source and she felt a crossbow bolt painful rip through the flesh of her calf. Beorth stepped in front of Jana to shield her, and Kazrack move in a wide arc to get to Ratchis.
Ratchis slammed one end of his staff into the gut of the soldier he fought, but when he brought the other end down, his opponent raised his shield and the staff struck awkwardly splintering into countless slivers. Ratchis’ eyes opened in amazement. The soldier tried to take advantage of the moment of surprise, but Ratchis parried with what was left of his staff, and then dropped it on the ground.

A second soldier with a crossbow appeared from the clearing beyond. Jana moved to get into position and speaking arcane words cast a spell upon the guard that just arrived, but he shook it off. He replied by firing his crossbow at the young girl, and more blood was drawn. Ratchis drew his short sword and dealt a heavy blood-splattering blow on his opponent who fell on a heap on the snowy ground. Beorth moved towards the guard by the rock, but could not get close enough to strike a blow, while Chance stayed low and crawled through the brush behind another tree. Kazrack hurried towards the circle of light in the clearing, and dodged the crossbow bolt of the soldier upon the rock.

Another soldier appeared, wielding a long sword and shield and ran towards Ratchis’ position.

“Nephthys, hear me!” Ratchis cried, laying his hands upon himself. “Heal my wounds so I may defeat these agents of evil!”

Kazrack moved to cut off the soldier going towards Ratchis, but another soldier curt him off, even as he felt a crossbow bolt pierce his scale mail. Beorth struck the soldier upon the rock twice his light-imbued staff, while Chance crept up hidden towards the clearing. Jana cast her spell again, but again the spell failed, and she barely dodged another crossbow bolt. Kazrack charged his new foe with his halberd and struck a hard blow, that drove him and the collapsing guard back into the clearing. The dwarf raised his head and audibly gasped when he saw what was there.

Several lanterns hung from the branches of trees, and a small fire burned near the center of the clearing. Three more soldiers were moving in their direction, one to join the one fighting Kazrack and two moving towards where Jana and Beorth were. One last tall figure, with a black cape and wearing a suit of chainmail, was tightening his armor, and held a long sword of obvious quality in his left hand. The man’s tabard had a golden braided trim, and he had black hair, and the shadow of a beard on his angular face. Jeremy was bound to one tree, his arms curved back painfully about the trunk, his head drooping down onto his chest, and on the ground before him was Kamir. The poor boy was on his knees in the muddy snow, his trousers around his ankles, and blood dripping down his thigh; his normally bright and smiling face was a black and blue swollen mess pressed against the cold ground; his breathing evident, but shallow.

“They’re over here!” Kazrack was able to yell, as the man in the golden-lined tabard stepped forward and swung his sword with until now unseen skill, cutting deep into Kazrack armor and sending painful waves up and down the dwarf’s body; blood pouring in a torrent out of the wound.

Chance popped out of the brush and tossed a dagger expertly at one of the soldiers with a crossbow, striking him in the torso. The man grimaced in pain even as Jana cast her spell again and he turned and fled out the other side of the clearing. Beorth continued fighting with the soldier upon the rock, and while Ratchis moved from his position to support Kazrack the soldier he had downed hopped up and took a swing at him, missing. Ratchis broke into the clearing and saw Chance and Jeremy, and one of the soldiers on Kazrack cut him off striking him with a glancing blow.

Kazrack, in an attempt to deal with his predicament used his halberd as it was intended and tried to trip the captain, but the captain was too dexterous and easily leapt over the low blow. The captain struck once with his long sword as he regained his footing and swinging his sword backhand cut the dwarf deeply beneath the right arm. Kazrack dropped to the ground with a cry.

Beorth continued his ineffective battle with the soldier who had leapt down from the rock by now, and Jana cast her spell to make him flee in fear. Chance pulled his short sword and stepped in to aid Beorth against his opponent, striking a glancing blow as he turned to run. Ratchis, who had drawn his dagger by now, attacked with both blades, easily dropping the soldier that had cut him off. The captain stepped up to the tall woodsman, swinging quickly and with impressive skill. Ratchis was able to parry the first blow, but the second found purchase, and Ratchis could feel his leg numbing from the blow as his life’s blood escaped him. He gritted his teeth and growled, giving no ground despite the fact that he knew he was outmatched.
Jana circumvented that melee and positioned herself for a spell. Speaking her arcane words, she pointed at the captain and a ray of sickly green light shot from her finger at the man, but went wide, as she tried to miss Beorth, who was now moving to aid Ratchis against the captain.

Ratchis struck two effective blows, one against the soldier that had duped him slaying him and one against momentarily distracted Menovian captain. The captain spoke, “Looks like scum is all over the place. I’ll teach you to step into Menovian territory!”

Kazrack, barely clinging to consciousness, rolled away from the melee.

“This will take but a moment,” said the Captain, and he twirled striking Beorth soundly and coming around with a high arc blow on Ratchis, that the half-orc barely blocked with his short sword.

Jana shot her ray again and struck the captain, and Ratchis moved to flank him striking twice, scoring a nasty wound to his weapon arm. The captain’s sword drooped as he grimaced, blood pour down his arm.

“You are going to pay for that,” the Menovian said to Ratchis.

Beorth tried to press the advantage of the critical wound, but even through the pain and in his spell-weakened state the captain’s prowess was breath-taking. He flipped his long sword into his off-hand, and cut deep into the half-orc’s side. Chance, meanwhile, had made his way to Kazrack and yanking his beard and slapping his face said, “By Bes, get up and do something!”

Kazrack felt a fresh rush of energy and adrenalin and stood. He was about to re-join the fight against the captain when a voice called out, “Everybody stop or the fat kid gets it!”

One of the soldiers who had fled into the woods after having been affected by Jana’s spell had found his way back. He had Kamir pull up against his body by the hair, and held a dagger to his throat.
Ratchis stepped back from the captain, “Hurt the boy and you won’t get out of here alive, I can promise you that.”

Beorth moved towards the soldier holding Kamir, and Kazrack and the others waited. The captain stepped towards Kamir.

“We’re leaving and we’re taking the boy with us,” he said.

“No, you are not,” said Kazrack.

“Leave the boy and go,” said Ratchis.

“Yeah, right,” said the captain with a smirk, blood still flowed steadily from his arm and into the snow.

“You can have a head start,” Ratchis added.

“Yeah, right,” the captain repeated. “Move him out.”

The soldier began to hesitantly step back with Kamir.

“Wait,” Jana cried.

Ratchis pulled a javelin from his quiver at his belt, “Let the boy go or I will kill you,” he said to the guard holding Kamir.

“Put down your weapon or the boy dies,” said the captain to Ratchis. “And just so you know, there are other patrols around here. You best be leaving while you still can.”

Kamir had a look of numb indifference on his face. There was no emotion, as if his mind were vacant; his mouth open with a look that might have been humorous under different circumstances. The soldier was basically holding him up by the hair, his knees bent and his legs slack, still naked from the waist down. He was covered with mud, blood and snow.

Beorth stopped where he was, but Kazrack stepped forward, “You holding the boy, your captain is leading you to death. Let the boy go and you’ll live.”

“Captain Himmell, let’s get out of here,” the soldier holding Kamir said nervously.

“You are NOT getting out of here alive,” Kazrack insisted. Jana tried to slyly move closer. The other soldier that had fled came into the clearing. He held up his sword and shield and moved to cover the captain from Kazrack, who had his halberd leaning on his shoulder raised his crossbow.

Ratchis took a deep breath and yelled, “Let go of the boy and run!” and with great speed and strength hefted his javelin and threw it at the captain, hoping to kill him with one blow.
The captain knocked aside the javelin with his long sword, as he twisted his body out of the way.

The guard who had just returned charged Ratchis, but the friar dodged the blow. Kazrack fired at the captain, but the bolt went wide, and Beorth ran behind the try Jeremy was bound to in order to free him.

“Kill the boy,” Himmel commanded, and pulling a clay vial from his belt sucked down the entire contents. Kazrack and Ratchis saw the man’s wounds quickly close. Chance attacked the guard that attacked Ratchis and missed, and Jana spoke some more arcane words and another ray of green light struck the captain.

And during all of these events, the guard that held Kamir did not hesitate. He was a good soldier and drew his dagger across the boy’s neck with sudden violence, making a thick red line of blood appear from ear to ear as the chubby boy’s body flopped to the ground.

Ratchis roared and tossed another javelin at Captain Himmel, which pierced the man’s shoulder clean through, now ore blood poured out of the man. The solider fighting Ratchis and Chance, hit the woodsman hard with his sword, and the gravely wounded friar collapsed in an unconscious and bloody heap on the cold ground. Beorth cut Jeremy free and the Neergaardian slid down the trunk into a ball. Kazrack, dropping his crossbow, picked up his halberd and raced at the captain. The halberd axe head buried itself deep in the Menovia’s gut and he roared with futile anger as he collapsed to the ground.

The soldier who slit Kamir’s throat ran back into the woods, and disappeared into the darkness. Beorth hurried to Kamir and turned him over. It was too late. The young helpful boy’s eyes stared blindly into still falling snow. He would never help anyone again.

Chance continued his fight against the remaining soldier, but his martial skills were not up to the task, even after Jana spoke and arcane word and the man seemed momentarily distracted. Kazrack yanked his halberd out of Himmel and moving over to the remaining soldier easily slapped his long sword out of his sweaty hand with the pole-arm. Seeing that Kazrack had things in hand, Chance ran towards where Himmel was on the ground and hacked wildly at the dying man, “Take that ya bloody filty bash-tahed!”

Jana attempted to daze the soldier again, but he only turned and ran into the darkness. Kazrack was close behind him, the soldiers fumbling among the trees in the night making up for the dwarf’s shorter legs. He tackled the soldier and both tumbled one over the other, and the soldier extricated himself and tried to continue to flee. When he heard that Kazrack would not give up, he turned and swung blindly at the dwarf missing. Kazrack grabbed him, “Give up!” The soldier’s shoulders drooped and he surrendered.

Jana tended to Ratchis’ wounds, while Beorth examined Jeremy’s. Chance lifted his short sword with both hands and sunk the blade into Captain Himmel’s neck, making sure once and for all that the Menovian was dead.

“Ta Set wit’cha,” he said.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Notes:

(75) The Mountain Door is the road that leads from Cutter Jack’s to the One Road (which connects a series of town in a mountain range that bisects Derome-Delem.

(76) "Bzontra" means “shamed” or “beardless” in dwarven.

(77) Every culture in Aquerra has a legend as to how the first huge island was smashed into the many smaller islands found in Aquerra today.

(78) Llugh-Splendar-Tor could be translated as "Low-Star Hills", but probably means something close to Spread Wide Like Stars of Gold Above the Hills.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Sam,

Writng Style different?

Well, I did take a lot of time back when I wrote this one to make sure it was just perfect - you will see as you go on (esp. in Book II) that this story hour begins to include more and more dialogue - until I am often using the character's voices to explain a lot of what is going on.
 

Sammael99

First Post
nemmerle said:
Sam,

Writng Style different?

Well, I did take a lot of time back when I wrote this one to make sure it was just perfect - you will see as you go on (esp. in Book II) that this story hour begins to include more and more dialogue - until I am often using the character's voices to explain a lot of what is going on.

I can see why you'd want to do that. FWIW, I haven't dealt with such heavy themes since my WoD days. At one point, things became so heavy that we switched to Earthdawn for a bit of lighthearted fun.

I sometimes wish I could include that kind of stuff in my current campaign, but as I mentioned previously, we play infrequently and I believe the players would rather have something heroic yet lighthearted. That being said, there was this whole issue of one of the PCs having slept unknowingly with an assassin woman, who is now pregnant with their child... It would have made for a great "heavy" theme had said character not died...

About the writing, I just noticed that it was the first time you named a spell, for example. I guess it just stuck out to me as being different...
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #10 (part II)

“Where’s Kamir? They were hurting Kamir. . .” Jeremy said with a croaking voice. He sat with his back to a tree where Beorth had propped him up.

“He is dead,” Beorth said, dabbing at a cut above Jeremy’s right eye. “He has started his journey to Anubis’ Realm.”

“Oh, Malcolm is gonna be pissed!” Jeremy said, with a sigh. “The first one of us to greet him in Anubis’ Realm is gonna be Kamir! Oh no. . . Oh no…”

Beorth turned to the others, “He seems physically okay. A little beaten up, but he’ll be okay.”

Kazrack quickly searched the corpse of the captain after tying up the captive. Ratchis, and Jana gathered the packs of the soldiers and too several woolen blankets, water skins and trail rations. Kazrack found a leather map case and a clay vial on the captain.

Jana cast detect poison to determine if the vial’s contents were poisonous, but there were not.

“We had better get out of here in case there are other patrols around,” said Kazrack. “It is dark and we won’t get far, but at least we can put some distance between us and this place.”
Jana cast her spell of light upon Beorth’s staff again, and Kazrack quickly assembled a sledge of sorts to drag Ratchis’ unconscious form with them. Chance and Beorth carried Kamir between them.
They made their way up to the top of the hill by the pond, and decided that was as far as they could go. They were all wounded and exhausted, and Ratchis could not be moved very far because of his size and condition.

They cleared the snow from under a tree and laid out the blankets there.

“Who are you people? Who are you with?” the Menovian solider asked, bewildered.

Jana played with her dagger in his view and eyed him maliciously and he shut up. Kazrack opened the map case and found a map of the Little Kingdoms and a duty roster for Captain Lawrence Himmel and the six men in his company.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Beorth said to Jeremy who has been sitting silently wrapped in a blanket against the tree.
Jeremy opened his mouth, but no sound came out for a few minutes. He coughed and then spoke, “Kamir and I went out to get wood. I guess it was our turn to do the chores, but there was no wood near the campsite, so we wandered toward a hill we saw in the distance, but we got lost. There were several hills and they all looked the same, and we walked in circles and came up here to see if we could get a better look around. Before that, we had seen the light of the soldiers’ lanterns and heard their voices. Kamir wanted to go ask them for help, but I thought better of it, and suggested we keep looking for our way back.”
“But then…” Jeremy paused when his voice cracked. “But then, it was getting dark and it started to snow and we just chose a direction and started marching, and Kamir kept saying we should go to the light for help, and I gave in, when they found us first.”
He paused again, and looked at the bound solider. “They started bullying us and questioning us right away. Their captain knocked Kamir down and kicked him in the face and called him names. Kamir just kept apologizing. I rushed him, but two soldiers grabbed me and punched me in the stomach and head a bunch. And I, must’ve blacked out, because when I came to I was tied to that tree and they had Kamir on the ground with a sword to his neck. When I saw what they were going to do to him I cried out, but someone hit me again and I passed out again. The next thing I knew Beorth was there.”

Tears were sliding down Jeremy’s flushed cheeks, and Chance got up and walked towards the pond and stood looking at the freezing water for a while.

They gagged the soldier and set up watches for the night. Jana and Chance watched first.

It was silent for a long time, only the sound of wind swirling snow in wide circles across the top of the hill. About an hour into the watch Chance finally spoke.

“Jana?” he said, without looking towards her.

“Yes, Chance?” she replied.

“Ah. . . uh, Ah dun know what ta do,’ Chance’s voice broke, tears welled up in his eyes. “This is all me fault.”

“How so?”

“It was me turn ta go get wood. Jeremy n; Ah were suppusedta go git it, but Ah let Kamir go for me. It shoulda bin me that died, ar it shoulda bin me that had ta deal wit’ the Menovians.”
Chance sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“You had no way of knowing that this was going to happen,” Jana said. “It is not your fault.”

“Yes, it is,” Chance insisted, he was openly crying now. “Me Da’ alwess said that tis good ta git outta wark, that that is whut it meant ta be locky, but he alsa said, that real good lock isn’t gained ot the cost ahthers.”

Jana patted Chance’s shoulder. “It will be okay,” she said. “You had not no way of knowing.”

Chance stifled his tears and was silent for the rest of the watch.

---

Beorth and Kazrack watched for the next shift, and then Jeremy awoke and took over for the paladin of Anubis until morning came.

End of Session #10
 
Last edited:

Sammael99

First Post
No fix today ?

No fix today
My poster's gone away...

:(

Forget it... Just noticed the fix had come (probably at the time I was posting this ;))
 
Last edited:


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #11

Osilem, 3rd of Syet – 564 H.E.

Groggy and aching, Beorth awoke in a cold dark place that seemed to be the lower crypt with the sarcophagi where the party had fought the mummified creature. The tapestries seemed to be maps of places in Aquerra. Beorth recognize one as Herman Land and another as the Black Islands. The others were blurry and hard to read. The wall to Beorth’s right was covered with tall shelves filled with books, somehow Beorth just know that these are all books on herbal lore that Levekt would love to have.
Suddenly, Beorth realized that lying around him were the bodies of all his companions. Instinctively, he knew they were dead, but suddenly they sat up and began to crawl towards Beorth.

Jana, her face twisted into a permanent grimace of death, spoke, “You should not have let us die that way, Beorth.”

“Better that you would have killed us yourself,” said Kazrack.

“Than to let us be turned into these painful abominations,” said Ratchis.

“The pain never ends,” said Jeremy.

“And it is your fault,” said Chance.

“You must join us,” said Jana.

“You are coming with us,” said Kazrack.

“You could have stopped this,” said Ratchis.

“But you cared more about yourself,” said Jeremy.

“Then for your duty,” said Chance.

“It is all your fault,” they all began to chant together, over and over. Crawling towards Beorth, they began to rip the flesh from Beorth’s body with their thickened and black fingernails. Beorth put his arms up and try to bat them away, but it is a feeble and futile attempt. He could feel blood pour over his raw and revealed flesh, and the comfort of death was replaced by the cold bitterness of the undead.”

----

Beorth awakened with a start, sweating.

“You okay?” Kazrack asked him.

“Uh, yes,” Beorth stood, and wiped some sweat from his brow despite the cold. “Just a dream.”

The snow had begun to fall again, just very light flurries, but already their tracks began to disappear. The pond was almost invisible under the blanket of white.


Ratchis stirred, and Beorth knelt beside him, placing his hand on the half-orc’s temple. “Anubis, please heal this brave warrior who fights for all to enter your realm as free men,” Beorth intoned.

Ratchis gasped and sat up, his normally ruddy hide was a yellowish color and he was breathing heavily. He groaned.

“It is okay,” Beorth said. “Rest. It will be some time before you are up and completely well.”

They built a small fire and ate some of the rations they found in the Menovian’s gear to regain their strength. Beorth wrapped the body of Kamir more tightly in the blankets, while Ratchis exhausted (79) from his travails stretched and eyed the prisoner, who shivered from the cold.

“What are we going to do with him?” Ratchis asked, gesturing to the Menovian.

“We can bring him to the authorities, I guess,” said Kazrack.

“And how are we going to do that?” Ratchis said, with some sarcasm. “How do you think Crumb will feel about bringing along a Menovian prisoner?”

“Well, what do you want to do with him?” Kazrack asked.

“Either we kill him or we let him go,” Ratchis replied. “But first let’s ask him some questions.”

Ratchis removed the gag from the man’s mouth.

“Why were you in this area?” Ratchis asked him.

“What do you mean?” the soldier asked through chattering teeth, a mix of fear and cold. “We were patrolling our border. You came into our territory.”

“We did?” asked Kazrack.

“Yes, you did, and our standing orders are to question and capture anyone found on our side of the border with Gothanius,” the man said. “I was just doing my job.”

“And your job includes assaulting and killing innocent travelers?” Ratchis roared, kicking the man with the little strength he had in his exhausted body.

“Ow!” the man cried, trying to put his bound hands up to shield himself. “I was just following orders. They were on our territory. They could have been spies or bandits!”

“But they weren’t!” Ratchis said, and kicked the man again and again. Beorth stepped forward to stop the woodsman, but Ratchis stopped on his own. The man coughed blood, and was unconscious.

“We should just kill him,” Ratchis insisted. “He is a slaver and a murderer.”

“We can bring him to Gothanius and he will be imprisoned,” Kazrack suggested again.

“He should get a trial,” Beorth offered.

“What do you others say?” Ratchis asked.

“I don’t see how bringing him along will help or be possible,” said Jeremy. “But I’m not sure I want to let him go.”

“If we let him go, he will either starve out in the woods or bring more patrols down on us,” Kazrack said.

“Crumb will not want to bring him along. He will just be dead weight, and a worry if he escapes,” Jana said.

“Kill tha bahs-tahrd,” Chance said.

Ratchis pulled his long hunting knife.

“Any objections?” he asked.

“I object,” Beorth said quietly.

“Well, then I will bear your animosity for this act. You can blame me for it,” and with that Ratchis jerked his knife across the man’s throat, killing him.

Beorth sighed.

They collected stones and built a cairn over the soldier.

Beorth spoke briefly,

“Anubis, here comes one bound for Set’s Realm once his stay with you is done. Please watch over him as you watch over all others until Osiris has duly judged him.”

And then they headed back to the camp, Ratchis silently leading the way.

“Ya know they probably left without us,” Chance said.

“We’ll catch up with them,” Kazrack said.

--

They marched down the hill, their boots crunching in the snow, moving through the scattered barren trees towards where the camp had been. Kazrack carried Kamir’s tightly over his shoulder, huffing loudly with the weight.

Ratchis led the way, and soon spotted a lone figure moving from tree to tree. The woodsman called for everyone to stop.

“Did you see that?” Ratchis asked quietly.

“It looked like someone up ahead behind the trees,” Jana whispered.

The figure dashed to the group’s right, behind a larger fir, and Ratchis dashed in that direction, slowing down just before the tree and starting to slowly creep around it.

At that moment they all heard voices calling, “Ratchis! Kazrack! Jeremy! Jana!”

Carlos, Finn Frank and Gwar were making their way towards them calling their names.

“Aqui estan!” cried Carlos.

“There they are!” echoed Gwar. The four young men jogged forward waving. While Ratchis came around the tree, sword pulled to find the tall older man that traveled with Crumb’s group, spear in hand. He wore his studded leather armor and a fur cloak. The man grunted, and Ratchis could see how the spear was held lightly and comfortably in the man’s hand. He grimaced, and backed away moving back to where camp had been.
“Where did you guys go?” Frank asked. “We have groups divided up looking for you.”

“Yeah, Deet ordered everyone to pack up and move on without you guys, but I refused and organized people to look for you,” said Finn. “It would not have been right to just leave without you guys.”

“Yeah, Finn stood up to Crumb,” said Gwar. “He got him to give us `til noon to find you guys. We were worried when you did not come back by morning. What happened?”

“Kamir has been killed,” said Beorth.

“What? No!” said Frank and Gwar in a moment of confusion.
Finn’s shoulder’s sagged.

They headed back to the camp together, running into the other searching groups as they got closer, who were happy to see them, but then immediately saddened by the news about Kamir.
As camp came into view, they heard a loud voice proclaim, “Ah ho! I knew my fine searching plan would be successful!”
Garcon stood there. He took off his hat and bowed as the party passed him.

“Oh, but I see a sadness has come into our merry group! But I am much relieved that it was not the fairest of our number,” he blew a kiss at the passing Jana, who sneered.

Deet and Crumb emerged from the latter’s tent (the only tent left up).

“What were you wandering off for?” Crumb asked as he approached. “What happened?”

Ratchis, Jana, Chance and Jeremy just walked past the two men, but Kazrack stopped.

“Jeremy and Kamir became lost and we went out to find them. Unfortunately, Menovians found them first,” the dwarf said with anger smoldering under his sadness.

“Kamir is dead?” Deet asked.

“I am carrying him now,” said Kazrack gesturing to the wrapped body on his shoulder and then walked over to a spot where he lay the body down. He and Beorth cleaned the body, as Crumb addressed the collection of men and boys.

“We will stay here to eat lunch and bury the dead, and then we will put as much distance between us and this place as possible,” the stout man said. “We should be in 12 Trolls in four or five days. In that time you do not have my leave to wander from camp, or to go look for anyone if they do. We will keep a low profile, and march long hours until we are safely within Gothanian territory.”

Jana began to gather stones for a cairn for Kamir and Frank, Gwar, Carlos and Anthony (a short dark-haired lad who was traveling with the group) helped her. Chance merely sat to one side, resting his elbows on his knees, head hung low.
Eventually, they took turns placing stones over Kamir’s body, building a cairn, some saying a quiet word or prayer for his soul as they passed by. Chance played a mournful tune on his harmonica.

Finally, Beorth spoke, “Anubis, please watch over the spirit of this lad who never wanted anything more than to work hard and be helpful and to aid his fellow travelers to make their journey that much more comfortable and easy; who wanted nothing more than to do go and emulate the heroes of tales we have all heard all our lives. May Fallon take his kind spirit to her breast and bring him to a place where he need never work or suffer again.”

Everyone gathered their stuff, and as Kazrack walked to place Kamir’s flint and steel that he had used to light so many fires for others atop the cairn he passed Devon, who was adjusting the straps of his pack on his broad muscled shoulders.

“It was only a matter of time someone killed that kid,” Devon said, with his usual smirk.

“What do you mean?” asked Kazrack.

“Come on, someone like that? Someone that ‘helpful’ is either up to something or just damn annoying, either way people like that always get killed. Ya can’t do anything for anyone else without being punished for it,” his smile broadened. “Then again, it is gonna be rough having to shine my own shoes. Stupid kid got himself kilt to soon.”

The march began again, though Jana looked back and saw that Chance sat beside the cairn for a long time until the line of men was nearly out of sight, and then he stood and sluggishly followed.

----

As Crumb’s boys marched, they began to stretch out in a long line, walking in groups of two or three and mostly being silent, exhaustion having worked its way deep down into their bones and unshakeable. In time the distance between the head of the line (Crumb upon one of the mules) and Chance, by himself at the rear was a few hundred yards.

Kazrack walked beside Beorth.

“Oh, I found this among Kamir’s things,” Kazrack pulled out a small wooden flat stick stained with some red sticky stuff on one end. “Do you know what it is?”

Beorth’s normally emotionless face was filled with visible pity as he took the stick from Kazrack.

“It was the stick of the candied apple I gave him when we were in Bountiful,” Beorth said quietly.

“Then I think you should keep it,” said the dwarf.

“I cannot believe that such a small gift meant so much to him,” Beorth said, looking down at the stick, and then fell silent.

They continued through the afternoon over barren hills that while they went up and down, were definitely ascending to a higher elevation.

As Ratchis moved up to speak quietly with Kazrack and Beorth, he noted that Markle slowed his pace to walk beside Jana who walked near the back.

“How are you holding up?” Markle asked with a smile.

“Tired, but okay,” Jana said simply.

“You have chosen good friends from among this group,” Markle said. “They seem pretty capable.”

“Yes, they are,” Jana replied.

“Well, the danger in such friends is that eventually they will take on something they can’t handle, or something that is just none of their business.”

Jana nodded.

“So, like I mentioned before, the favor we want of you is simple: Keep them out of it. Keep them from getting involved in whatever goes down when we arrive at Gothanius. However, we can offer you more, if you are willing to do more. It this can be very profitable for you, if you should choose to do so.” Markle’s handsome brown eyes sparkled in the dying light of Ra’s Glory.

“I will keep that in mind, but you can assuredly rely on my returning your favor. I owe you,” said Jana.

“Of course,” Markle said, and increased his pace to move further up the line to where Devon and The Square walked. As he passed Ratchis he smiled and nodded. The large man grimaced and moved back towards Jeremy.

While Ratchis was with Beorth and Kazrack he told them to be on alert, he feared that they might be attacked by Menovians at anytime. His two companions convinced him that he should at least warn their other companions. So, he moved back and told Jeremy.

“Good,” Jeremy replied. “I want a chance to kill some of this bastards. I’ll want to kill as many as I can and make them suffer for what they did.”

Ratchis just nodded, and slowed his pace even more to let Jana catch up to him.

“We may be attacked, I fear,” Ratchis said to her.

“I figured it might be a possibility,” Jana replied.

“How is Chance doing?” Ratchis looked back at the sullen gambler, bringing up the rear, but falling farther and farther behind.

“Not too well, I am going to go talk to him and get him to walk faster before he slips to far behind,” Jana said with a note of sadness in her usual cold voice.

Jana slowed down to speak with Chance, while Ratchis moved up, but was interrupted by Finn Fisher. Finn had a look of worry on his travel weary face, and his growing black stuck out from beneath the hood of a black fur coat he wore.

“Um, Ratchis,” he said through his Herman-Lander fisherman drawl. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” Ratchis asked.

“Come on, Ratchis,” Finn’s face became serious as his brow furrowed. “I saw you go and talk to Beorth and Kazrack, and then to Jeremy and then to Jana and now Jana went back to Chance. Something is happening.”

Ratchis sighed, “We have reason to believe we might be ambushed by Menovians. I just wanted people to stay alert, without causing panic.”

“Oh,” Finn’s face turned back to one of fear. “Well, I’m gonna tell Carlos and Frank and Gwar at least. The more capable people that are watchful the better.”

“Ok, but be discrete,” Ratchis replied.

“Thanks,” and with that Finn walked briskly to alert his new friends. Soon, Ratchis could see them all looking around with paranoia, and rolled his eyes.

Jana got Chance to quicken his step a bit, but he still lagged behind and was for the most part, silent.

----

The march continued into the cold night, including a very steep climb up a hill to a plateau where camp was finally made. Jana spent sometime before going to sleep looking over the weary travelers for ills or frost-bite, when Anthony led her to his younger brother, Stefan.

Stefan had one boot off, and Jana found a burst and badly infected blister that now made the entire front part of his right foot a yellow and scarlet mess. She did what she could to comfort him and tend to the wound, but she knew that more marching would only make the situation worse. She wrapped the pus-oozing wound, and retired for the night.


Tholem, 4th of Syet – 564 H.E.
In the morning, Jana pleaded with Deet and Crumb to allow Stefan to ride the other mule. They grudgingly acquiesced, as the supplies were running so low there was not so much extra to be spread among the walkers. Kazrack and Ratchis offered to carry an extra share.

Of course, Devon had to comment when he saw Stefan get hoisted upon the mule.

“Aw, look the baby!” the tall man said. “Does your footsie hurt? Markle, maybe we should rub his foot.” Devon erupted into loud laughter. Anthont sneered at Devon, who growled in return. Ratchis cracked his knuckles, but no conflict ensued.

They marched the whole morning through, with just a gradual incline. The river moved far away to their left, while to the right was a steep drop off to another narrow stream and a thick coniferous forest. They walked among increasingly thick pines and firs themselves.

As their stop for lunch, Ratchis scouted out the area around, checking for the possibility of attack. Looking to the east, he noted a line of figures dressed in black walking parallel to their own route, but southward along the stream a mile or so away. He summoned the others to take a look, while they all stayed low and out of sight.

“Menovians?” asked Kazrack.

“Could be,” replied Ratchis. “Looks like there are over a hundred of whoever they are.”

They relayed this information to Crumb, and the break was cut short. Ratchis and Kazrack took up the rear guard for the rest of the day’s march.

It began to snow again, and it was after dark when they camped again, Ratchis and Jeremy taking first watch.

Balem, 5th of Syet – 564 H.E.

In the morning, Ratchis woke up earliest and went to check on Stefan’s foot, as the young lad had been moaning in pain through the night. The early odor of putrescence wafted up from the foot.

“We may have to amputate,” Ratchis said to Jana when she came over.

“I fear it might be so, but I think we still have some time to make the choice,” she replied. She bathed the foot in the water in which different herbs had been steeped, and bandaged it a bit.

Flurries began again as the group began their northward march once more. The set a faster pace than the few days before, and all were silent in their single-minded exhaustion and desire to arrive.

At lunch, all there was to eat were the cold scraps of meat left from the last dinner. Stefan did not have much of an appetite, but Ratchis fed him some dry rations regardless.

As Ra’s Glory set, Crumb’s Boys found themselves marching along a narrow ravine, the walls of which flanked them high on either side, plunging them into shadow when the sun should have still been visible. The marched quickly, but nervously, all inherently knowing that such an area was very dangerous, but when the last light was long gone, they say before them a beacon light burning brightly. It was up upon an earthen wall, which as they approached they could see reached from one cliff to another blocking the way. They could see the silhouetted forms of soldiers atop the walls, and the hulking shapes of war engines.

“Who approaches the North Fork Wall at this hour of darkness?” a voice called down.

“It is I, Boris E. Crumb the Third,” Crumb declared. “I bring you those who would be great heroes and save your realm in this time of great need! They are here to answer the king’s call and slay the dragon of Greenreed Valley or die trying!”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(79) In Aquerra, when one returns from negative hit points (whether it be by magical healing (except Heal) or natural healing) you are considered exhausted (-6 Str and Dex, no running, no charging, move at ½ normal speed) until you have rested for one hour, and fatigued (-2 Str and Dex, no running, no charging) until you have rested for 8 hours.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Well, only one more installment to go and this reprise of the first Book of my story hour will be concluded. . . .

I will be posting it later tonight and a like to the current story hour. . .

Those of you who have been following this story for the first time will get to go wild and stay up all night reading Book II until you have caught up to real time (or actually 4 and half sessions behind "real time")

Thanks for everyone that has read so far - you comments and questions are encouraged. :D
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #11 (part II)

The great doors of North Fork Wall were opened, and Crumb led the way through the dark passage that led to a another set of great doors. Ratchis and the others eyes the murder holes on either side of them anxiously, and Jeremy looked up to note a grate above their heads where any sort of something could easily have been poured atop them as they passed through. Once the whole group was crammed into that small space the outer doors were closed and the inner doors were opened, revealing a small village beyond them.

Crumb’s boys stopped just beyond the doors, to see that the village seemed abuzz with activity. To their left was a guardhouse, with bright lights and the sounds of music and festivities could be heard from within.

A man dressed in party attire, but with a long sword at his belt approached from the direction of the guardhouse, followed by six guards in ringmail, armed with spears.

The man spoke quietly with Crumb for a few moments and then addressed the group.

“I am Captain Hoss Izold,” he said. “Welcome to Northfork Wall. You are the last group to come through, so I am certain they are eagerly expecting you at Gothanius Castle. You are our guests here, but please remember that infractions of the law will not be tolerated. My men will show you to your campsite, but if you will excuse me, I want to rejoin my men in celebrating the High Holiday of Bast. (80) I know most of you must be exhausted, but there is celebrating also going on at The Golden Lantern, so feel free to join in.”

Two guards led Crumb’s Boys further into the village, which was set between two tall cliffs of stone. As they walked, Kazrack noticed what looked like a construction site covered in a huge tarp. Three heavily armed and armored dwarves seemed to be guarding it.

Camp was set up just beneath one of the cliffs on the east side of the village, but the place was so small the very center of it could be seen. There stood The Golden Lantern, which was painted a bright gold and was hung with ribbons and paper-lanterns. Music and merry-making could be heard from inside.
Ratchis and Jana examined Stefan’s foot again, and both came to the conclusion that he was going to have some toes amputated to save the rest of the foot. They agreed to wait until morning.
Chance and Jeremy headed out for The Golden Lantern, and walked into the festive little building to find it full of off-duty guards drinking and singing in merriment. A young pretty girl was serving drinks to the happy men. She had long straw-like red hair, and dash of freckles across her nose.

“Ah new-comers!” greeted the barkeep, “My name’s Balfus, but people round here call me ‘Sarge’ or ‘Old-Timer’. Feel free to do the same. Get yourself some food and have a seat and my lil’ Sally will be over to serve you in a minute.”

The bar was covered with a spread of breads, meats, cheeses and gravies. A large urn was set out and was partially filled with coins. Chance and Jeremy threw in some coins and grabbed some food.

They drank for a bit, Chance merely having ale after ale, and not saying a word despite the festive atmosphere. He took unenthusiastic bites at his meat and cheese.

However, then Kazrack came in and the place fell silent. The two-dozen faces of the off-duty and drunken guards in mid-revelry turned to the dwarf and fell upon him like a weight. There was a pregnant pause, and then the bar-keep spoke up.

“My, my, not often we get one of stone folk in here,” he said, waving Kazrack in. “In fact, despite that some be living right here in our town, I don’t think any ever have. But, welcome, welcome, I’ll have Sally send you over an ale.”

The guards went back to their revelries, and Kazrack grabbed some food and joined his companions.

Sally came over with a tray full of ales, and placed one down in front of each of them.

“Bast bless you on this fine evening,” she said, batting her eyes at Jeremy. “What brings you into town? Are you here with one of those groups of dragon-hunters? I thought they had all already passed through.”

“We just arrived tonight,” Jeremy replied, slipping two copper coins in her apron pocket with a wink. “We are part of a group going up to answer the call for dragon-hunters.”

“Wow, really?” Sally replied, with a smile. “When I have a free moment, I’ll have to come by and have you tell me all about it.”
She moved among the tables to collect empty plates and mugs, and they could tell that all the guards treated her with sisterly affection.

The three companions drank and ate quietly, just taking in the joy of the guards around them, when suddenly the door opened again and there was an even heavier silence.

Ratchis stood there in the doorway, Jana’s tiny form just barely visible peering from behind the hulking and ugly man. A few grumblings of displeasure could be heard from among the guards, especially some of the drunken ones.

“What the hell is a razza-frazzin’ pig-fragger doin’ in here?” the slurred voices could be heard to say.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Ratchis said, taking a step back out through the door.

“No, no, come on in,” the barkeep said in an obviously forced tone. “All the dragon-hunters are welcome here. Pay up a donation and have something to eat.”

The murmurings died down as Ratchis and Jana walked in. The companions ate and drank their fill and all left large donations in the urn. The guards began to make their way out about an hour later, some hefted out of their seats and out the door hanging on the shoulders of friends, mumbling drunkenly.

Ratchis left the inn, as the last of the food was being put away and Jana left with him. Chance got up and stumbled to the back door to use the outhouse. When it had been a while and he did not return Kazrack bid Jeremy goodnight and went out to see if the Wallbrookian gambler was okay and if he needed help getting back to camp.

Kazrack approached the door to the outhouse and knocked, “Chance? You in there?”

There was no reply, but the dwarf got the sense that someone was in there. He listened. A very soft and distinct sound of sobbing could be heard from within. Kazrack listen more closely and could hear Chance murmuring, “Argh, it’s all me fault! It’s all me fault Kamir is dead. Ahm sorry! It shoulda bin meh. It was me turn ta go.”

Kazrack knocked again, “Chance?”

“Gah away!” Chance managed to choke out through his tears. “Gah tha bluddy `ell away!”

The sobbing continued, louder now.

“Chance? What’s the matter, Chance?” Kazrack asked.

He sobbed some more, followed by the retching sound of his vomiting.

Kazrack took a deep breath, and then spoke in measured and comforting tones, “You know Chance, it’s a good thing I found you alone, because there has been something I have been hoping to talk to you about.”

“Whu-wh-whut are ya talkin’ `bout?” Chance said, through snorts of his runny nose.

“Well, I have been feeling bad for a long time about Malcolm,” said Kazrack.

“Malcolm?” Chance sniffled. ”Why?”

“You see, I feel guilty about his death,” Kazrack explained patiently. “I sent him after Jeremy by himself and he died.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Chance asked through the door, through lessening sobs.

“I just needed someone to tell that I feel guilty,” said Kazrack.

“But ya had nothin’ ta do with his dyin’” Chance said. “He wuz crazeh. He woulda run inta some fight `ventually and died anyways.”

“So you are saying that I couldn’t have known what was going to happen to him?” Kazrack asked.

Of carse not! It’s not like me case!” Chance cried. “It’s all me fault. Can’t ya see? It’s me fault Kamir is dead. Ah as good ahs kilt him.”

“But it just like me and Malcolm, Chance,” Kazrack said soothingly, and slowly opening the door to see Chance sprawled on the floor, his head over the vomit covered seat over the waste hole.

“Everyone has done things they would have done differently, or that that are not proud of,” Kazrack continued. “You are only responsible for being irresponsible, and now you know better, right?”

Chance snorted a bunch of snot back up his nose.

“I mean, if you had to do it again, you would do it differently, right?” the dwarf asked.

“Oh yes, oh bluddy yes,” Chance cried. “Ahm sorry, Kamir! Ahm sorry! Ahd change places with ya, I would, ahm sorry!” And with that he leaned forward and puked a steady stream of what smelled to Kazrack like pure ale mixed with bile.

Kazrack hefted the lanky lad on to his shoulders and carried him back to camp.

Meanwhile, all the soldiers where gone, and Sally had sat down with a very tipsy Jeremy while she was supposed to be cleaning up. Her father was in the kitchen, cleaning in there.
“So you are one of the dragon-hunters?” she asked, all moon-eyed.

“Well, I don’t like to brag, but most of the others are just kids really, don’t really know what they are getting into. I, on the other hand, know a thing or two,” Jeremy said, with nary a slur, but with all his concentration. “Uh, and my immediate companions as well, they are a stalwart lot, under my leadership, of course.”
“Have you faced many dragons before?” she asked, leaning in.
“Well, to tell you the truth most tales of dragons are exaggerated. There aren’t nearly that many in the world, if any left. Experienced adventurers like me know this kind of stuff,” Jeremy explained, thinking this sounded pretty good and reasonable.

“Wow, you sure do seem to know a lot. I’d like to learn more, but I have to finish cleaning up now, or father will chastise me,” Sally said, getting up. “I have to get to work now, but if you want I’ll probably have an hour or two free tomorrow afternoon if you want to come see me.”

“That’s be nice,” Jeremy said, with a sleepy smile. He motioned to get up, and Sally left the common room, but he settled back into his seat and laying his head on the table fell right back to sleep.
Jeremy was not sure how long had passed when he heard the barkeep’s voice yell, “Hey! We’re closed! Wake up!”

“Uh, yes, I was just going…” Jeremy stumbled back to camp and slept.

Teflem, 6th of Syet – 564 H.E.

Early the next morning, the camp began to stir, but then many went back to sleep when they realized they were in a safe place and that today would be a day of rest and not travel. While Chance and Jeremy remained asleep in the tent they once shared with Malcolm and Kamir, Jana and Ratchis went to find Stefan who had not slept much due to his pain.

Kazrack went over to the closed down construction area to visit the dwarves he had seen the night before. He spoke with the guards, who were representatives of the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant Consortium, set to guard the site of the future safehouse until construction could continue in the spring. He asked if they had heard of a rune-thrower called Bellear Gritchkar, (81) but they said they knew of no other dwarves in Gothanius aside from the six stationed here. Kazrack also asked about help repairing his armor, and they pointed him towards the Northfork Wall guardhouse, where they said the town guard has a reasonably sized smithy to deal with the large number of soldiers here.

Kazrack was able to arrange for several hours of time to work in the smithy, and returned to camp to tell the others and see if anyone else’s armor needed mending.

Ratchis has heated his knife, and Jana readied to cauterize the wound right way when the toes were removed. Stefan’s brother, Anthony, held his hand, while the young man bit down on a piece of wood. A mid-morning meal of porridge, apples and bread was being distributed, and the companions took some and sat among the fires, when Crumb gathered everyone together.
“There is someone important that wants to address you all,” Crumb told the group.

A middle-aged man, with curly dark brown hair, a well-trimmed beard and a medium build stepped before Crumb’s Boys. He wore what were obviously finely cut clothing and a cape of pristine white fur.

“Greetings!” the man said. “I am Leonor Bozell, alderman of this fine village of Northfork Wall.” The man began to pace back and forth before the group, occasionally making eye contact with one of Crumb’s boys or another. “I want to welcome you all and thank you all for answering the call of the king in this our time of great need. As you all know, we are not just in need of heroes who slay dragons, but great men can also be measured by their peaceful endeavors. Yes, you all will go off to a very dangerous undertaking, but when you return you will all be offered land and resources to use for the benefit of both yourselves and the kingdom, and I just want to be the first to offer you such a place. While Northfork Wall may not seem like much now, with the coming road and the trade agreement with the stonefolk, Northfork Wall will be the gateway to wealth for the kingdom. We have lands available for shepherds, and even some for farmers, and a need for craftsman of all kinds and officers in the standing army that guards our borders and has their headquarters here in Northfork Wall. So, basically what I wanted to tell you all is to keep us in mind. With your help and the help of strong young backs and minds like yours our fine village can grow into something all of Gothanius can wonder at and be proud of. I hope to see at least some of you here again when this whole situation has been taken care of.”

Bozell stopped pacing, “Thank you for your time.”

Crumb’s Boys just sat not knowing how to react, “What was that about?” Guisel asked Finn.

“Politicians, all the same,” was all Finn said.

Kazrack collected armor from Ratchis and Beorth and headed back to the guardhouse, accompanied by Beorth, who came along to help him.

The rest of the day passed by uneventfully. Kazrack worked diligently all day, and showed something of what he was doing to Beorth. Ratchis stopped by, but the master-smith insisted that Kazrack could have no more than one person in there with him at a time, and made it clear that he did not want that person to be a half-orc.

Jeremy did not go and see Sally.

Late that evening, when others were getting ready to bed down and conserve their energy for the last leg of their journey the next day, Jana went out to a secluded spot far from camp and prying eyes. There she placed the small wolf’s skull she had snatched from the goblin shaman what seemed like so long ago on the ground, and cut her hand. She squeezed blood onto a chicken bone and drew a circle in the ground (which she had cleared of snow) and began her chanting that slowly drew her into a trance, reaching out for the being the token summoned. However, in the end her attempt failed, and picking up the skull, she covered the spot back over with snow, and bandaged her bloody hand.

Anulem, 7th of Syet – 564 H.E.

The next morning Crumb’s Boys packed up what was left of their gear and began a more leisurely march towards Twelve Trolls, (82) the capitol of the Kingdom of Gothanius. Stefan was left behind under the care of a local healer, as he was in no shape to travel, and Anthony was sad to leave his brother behind.

The road to Twelve Trolls was smoothed mountain stone in many place, probably carved into the rocky outcroppings here by years of running water. But unlike most of this group’s journey to Gothanius, they could now see houses intermittently dotting the hills to the left and right, some with some remaining green visible from beneath melting snow of the warming day, but most being a blurred mix of white, gray and brown.

There was a brief stop after 3 hours of marching for a snack, but then they continued, new energy filling all of them.

They came over an embankment after another couple of hours of marching and before them was revealed a very small town of earthen buildings tucked into plateau on the edge of this mountain, across a broad natural stone bridge that crossed a deep chasm, stood a old fort upon another peak, the tightly packed peaks of the area creating its moat.

There was a murmuring among Crumb’s Boys, when he looked back from atop his mule and said, “Welcome to Twelve Trolls, capitol of Gothanius.”

“We’ve come all this way to come here?” Jeremy protested.

Resigning themselves to their fate, the continued on and passed right up the center of town. The people of Twelve Trolls stopped in the streets and some waved to them and other called a greeting, but most were silent and looked haggard and tired themselves. The place was hardly bigger than Stonebridge had been, and definitely much smaller than Cutter Jack’s. (83)

They passed out the other side of town, and began to cross the open stone bridge towards the fort. Narrower stone paths could be seen to go down into the chasm at right angles to the bridge where it branched from the plateau. They came to the great gate, and Kazrack took the place in.

The fort looked as if the few years (in his people’s view) that it existed had been rough on it. The stones looked worn, and ill-fitting in places. One whole section of wall looked as if it had been rebuilt with a different kind of stone. The rebuilt section looked like it might even be of better construction, however was certain that one of the towers was askew.

Kazrack was pulled from his reflection and examinations, but the sound of the great gate opening. Crumb had called up to the soldiers lining the walls and they had replied.

The marched into the courtyard, and could see a fine building in poor repair beyond a bunch of smaller buildings that marked the border of what looked like a pretty large garden that was criss-crossed with paths.

Over a score of soldiers stood on either side of Crumb’s Boys as they marched in.

“Line up in rows of five for inspection!” a gruff voice called out.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes

(80) Bast is the Cat Goddess, revered as a goddess of revelry, comfort, leisure and wealth, she is most popular among the rich and noble, but her holiday is celebrated by everyone as an excuse to be festive. On this day, cats (which are her holy animal) are fed and cared-for. Harming cats is considered a treacherous act in many Aquerran cultures, as those blessed by Bast are said to return in the form of these animals pampered by the rich.

(81) See Session #10

(82) Twelve Trolls is named for the famous Battle of the Twelve Trolls during the Mountain Wars when the Kingdom of Herman Land tried to conquer Derome-Delem.

(83) The party arrived in Cutter Jack’s in Session #3 and in Stonebridge in Session #7.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
So there you have it. . .

The Conclusion (kind of). . .

The Confusing Beginning of Book II can be reached by clicking HERE.

And I want to thank everyone who came here for the first time and read (I envy you devouring Book II all at once :D), and all of you who came back to read again.

As I said before - I encourage all comments and questions. :)
 
Last edited:

Phorck

First Post
Great story so far nemmerle, I look forward to reading book 2. One question though, why does Jana owe Markle a favor again? I can't seem to remember at all.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
This has not yet been revealed - but you can bet it has something to do with the secret conversation they had in her tent that night that Jeremy tried to overhear.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
BUMP

This is just a bump for those who were not around this weekend and did not get a chance to see that the conclusion had been posted.
 





An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top