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

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #6 (part II)

Meanwhile, their scout was doing his own thing. . .

Ratchis waited for the sun to go down and then crawled through the tall grass. He was convinced there was something strange about this fort. It was well maintained and yet seemed poorly guarded; it just did not add up to the woodsman. He stared at the wooden walls for what seemed like an hour. He finally decided to move forward out of his hidden position to get a closer look. Ratchis figured if his intuition was incorrect he could lead the goblins away from where his companions waited.

Finally, he moved out into the open and quickly crossed the ground between the brush and the fort. He attempted to peer between the logs of the fort but could not, the spaces between logs being filled with what Ratchis guessed was tree sap. The inability to look out between the logs of the fort as well as the absence of a watch-tower only further fed the woodsman’s speculation that this was no ordinary military fort. With no other way to see inside, Ratchis climbed up the corner wall he came to and peered inside. From this angle he saw goblins camping out among carefully plotted gardens. There were crates and barrels against the inner wall and a low building occupying about half of the space inside the fort. Ratchis climbed down and crept to the next corner of the fort, this one at its rear where the ground was rockier and began to rise into hills. When he observed this end, he saw little of interest besides more goblins moving about, bows in hand. However, he could hear one loud high-pitched goblin voice conversing with another that was deeper and had a strange accent to it.

At the third corner of the fort, Ratchis observed a strange scene. Two goblins chattered to each other in their guttural tongue, near a small shack. One pointed to the shack and their voices grew louder and sharper. The goblin closest to the shack opened the door and entered, the scent of the place revealing it to be an outhouse.

This side of the fort sat in mud near the river. Ratchis came to the fourth corner and climbed the wall. When peered over, the chatter of goblins became high-pitched and alarmed, as arrows began to bite into the fort wall near Ratchis. He waited a long moment to see if their reaction would reveal anything else about what the woodsman knew was not a normal circumstance, but only more arrows answered his mental query. Finally he half-climbed/half-jumped into the mud below and began to wade out toward the river to misdirect pursuit when suddenly the fort was illuminated in a light as bright as a bonfire.

A voice boomed out, “This is a healing house of Fallon (46) and you will be given aid if you need it. Do not force me to spill blood in this sacred place if you come as an enemy!”

Ratchis saw a tall figure upon the wall, seeming to hold the light at the end of a shaft in his hand. The shadowed faces of goblins, peered along the wall as well, stretching out on either flank of the man.

Ratchis yelled back, “I am with a group that comes in peace.”

“It is not very peaceful to skulk about my post,” the voice replied.

“I did not know what to expect with goblins about,” the woodsman answered.

“I promise you sanctuary if you and your companions enter my home in peace.”

“Come to the front of the fort with your holy symbol visible and in the name of Nephthys, we shall enter in peace,” Ratchis bellowed.

“So it will be done,” said the man. “I swear by Fallon.”

Ratchis returned to his post to find Kazrack there, standing in horror at the appearance of the light and fearing the worst.

“What have you done?” the dwarf asked sternly.

“I went scouting around the fort to see what I could about it and was spotted,” said Ratchis.

“What?!?” the dwarf cried.

Ratchis seemingly ignored the dwarf’s outrage, “Get the others. The place is a sanctuary of Fallon. The priest has promised us sanctuary.”

“What?!?” Kazrack said again.

“Fine. I will get the group,” the tall woodsman walked back to the camp, awaking the others. Tirhas merely stood against a tree, her ice blue eyes wide open and unblinking.

“The fort is a temple of Fallon. It is safe and we are offered sanctuary,” said Ratchis.

“But there are goblins there!” said Chance.

“Fallon takes all and turns none away,” said Beorth calmly. “It makes sense now. That is why the goblins were carrying their wounded. They were probably attacked by the wolves as well.”

Kazrack was dumb-founded. “But the place has goblins! Goblins! We cannot trust that man or this place.”

“I will take the word of a Fallonite,” said Beorth, simply.

“He said he would meet us at the front of the fort. He is making himself vulnerable as well. It is the best chance we have,” said Ratchis.

“We are likely walking into a trap,” said Tirhas. “But since it is the only chance to save Janx I will risk it.”

“Well, if it’s a Fallonite, it should be okay,” said Jeremy.

Kazrack sighed knowing he was defeated. He looked to Jana.
“It looks as if we have little choice,” she said.

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


The group marched out to the fort. They could see the doors were open, and goblin faces peered over the wall. As they approached they could see that the symbol on the sigh above the doors was a silver ankh within a red circle. Standing before the open doors was a man of less than six feet of height. He had sandy brown hair held out of his eyes by a blood red headband (47), and despite the fact that he did not appear to be beyond halfway though his twenties, he had deep lines of care and worry carved into his face. He wore a chain shirt and woolen pants with a leather skirt peeking out from beneath. In his right hand was a small silver shield in the shape of a tree’s leaf, complete with stem that curved stylistically from the top – in the right hand he held a heavy mace, about its head burned a bright fire that had apparently caused the light upon the walls. About the man’s neck was a holy symbol that matched that above the doors.

“Well met,” he said. “I am Escher of Fallon. This is Fallon’s Post.”

“Why are there goblins here?” Kazrack asked brusquely.

“All are welcome here who come in peace. All are worthy of mercy and healing in the eyes of my goddess,” Escher said in an even tone. “Follow me.”

The party followed him in – Tirhas Tesfay hanging back a bit, but as she entered, the Fallonite stepped past the group and closes the fort doors and sealed them with a simple log bolt.

The goblins turned and looked down from their perches on the wall ramparts, which only faced front. The large goblin in the chain shirt cried something in the goblin tongue, gesturing to the group, but Escher turned and replied in an equally rough tone in the same language. The goblin leader was silent for a moment and then called to his followers, who climbed down from their perches and returned to their tiny flea-ridden bedrolls scattered across the courtyard. They shot suspicious and angry glances at both Kazrack and Tirhas as they passed.

Kazrack returned the goblins angry, nervous looks with similar glaring. The rest of the party seemed bewildered by the scene, and at being so close to goblins and not be embroiled in melee. Among them only Ratchis seemed at ease – or at ease as he ever seemed, his body constantly tense as if ready to spring forward in attack, or back in defense.

“And now, who are you and what brings you so far into the wilderness?” the priest asked.

The group introduced themselves and explained about the wolves and the foaming mouth disease.

“Luckily, it cannot be passed to humans or demi-humans, though it drives the wolves to be aggressive. These goblins here, they were attacked by diseased wolves as well. They brought their wounded here to be tended to,” Escher said.

“Why tend to goblins?” asked Kazrack.

“All deserve mercy and a chance to do good in the world, even goblins,” the man said. “When my companions, The Oath (48), left Tallow’s Post, I remained behind, seeing that I could fill a need here – to help the goblins and lead them to a life where they could at least co-exist peacefully with other races.”
Kazrack harrumphed.

“That is a very honorable goal,” said Beorth.

“At first I was attacked often, as I tried to build this place. I would have to defeat the goblins and then heal them and release them. Then they would come when wounded and I would heal them and once healed would attack me, so I was forced to deal with them and then heal them again. Unfortunately, I had to kill a few during this process and the weight is heavy on my heart, but now the local tribes know I mean them no harm and have nothing to give them except healing. They come and I tend to them, and hope that this repeated mercy will soften their hearts in time and they will be filled with the loving light of Fallon.”

Kazrack harrumphed.

“Rasty!” called Escher towards the building. “Rastfar!” (49)

From the temple proper emerged and obviously young goblin dressed in a white robe of a priest.

“Yesh?” he said, looking at the party wide-eyed.

“Rastfar, prepare some beds for our guests and pull out the extra bedrolls, we’ll need them.”

“Okay,” the little goblin said, and ran back into the building.

“I rescued Rasty. He was a goblin runt and was beaten and abandoned in the woods. I found him out there and nursed him back to health. I named him after a former companion of mine. He will be full grown soon and then can decide what he wants to do with his life. He is kind-hearted and loyal. I hope he chooses to remain here,” said Escher. “Come into the temple. It is late and we should all rest. We can talk about why you have come here in the morning, with clear heads and rested bodies.”

The medicus led them into the simple log building. The crackle and glow of a fire greeted them. The far wall was a shrine to Fallon, with a pedestal with a basin of holy oil and a large bronze ankh in a red painted circle. Cots were set up lining the walls, and the four cots on the right were filled with wounded goblins. Just within the threshold was a rail - stopping there Escher removed his chain shirt and hung it up along side his mace (which had ceased to give the flaming light) and leaf-shield. Hanging on the wall was also a net and pole arm of some sort that had clasping arms for grabbing a victim about the waist and pinning his arms.

“No weapons may pass the rail. Please hang your weapons and armor here,” Escher said gesturing to the open pegs on the wall.
Beorth immediately complied, as did Jana who leaned her club against the wall. Ratchis removed his many weapons as well, and Jeremy followed suit; both Kazrack and Tirhas hesitated.

Noticing their hesitation, Escher spoke, “This is a show of trust to honor Fallon. No harm befalls anyone here.”

“This is only a hunting knife, not a weapon,” said Ratchis pointed to a long and wicked blade on his side. “Need I remove it?”

“It is a sign of deference to Fallon,” Escher said simply.

Kazrack and Tirhas finally removed their gear, and Ratchis placed his knife with the other weapons.

After a moment’s confusion, Jeremy, Jana and Tirhas took cots, while Chance, Kazrack, Ratchis and Beorth spread out on bedrolls on the floor.

“Before you retire for the night, I see that you are wounded. Allow me as Fallon’s vessel to tend to your wounds,” said Escher.
He laid his hand upon Ratchis’ beefy shoulder, “Fallon, please aid this honorable follower of Nephthys, (50) so that he may continue to help others find freedom and peace.” And many of the wounds on Ratchis’ body began to slowly heal and scab over.

The priest repeated the process on all the others, saying similar words.


“Goodnight,” said Escher, retiring into what appeared to be a small bed room behind the altar. “May Fallon bless your sleep.”
After Escher left the room, Kazrack turned to Racthis, “Listen, this whole thing worked out, but you need to realize that when you go off alone and take action without consulting the group you endanger all of our lives. Don’t do it again.”

Ratchis breathed deeply, “First, I am not a part of this group to have to answer to it. Second, when all everyone does is talk endlessly about nonsense, other than acting, someone needs to do something, and finally, when you all learn the danger of making a beastly amount of noise as we march through dangerous territory and how that endangers all our lives too, maybe I’ll consider taking the wishes of the group into account.”

“You may not be part of our group, but you travel with us for now and it is in all our best interests to communicate our plans. Even if you don’t want to discuss them with everyone, at least tell me so I know what you are doing,” Kazrack retorted.

“No offense, Kazrack,” Chance interjected. “But who made you the leader? I mean, if you want to be leader that is fine, but I don’t remember anyone saying you could tell people what to do.”

“I never said I was the leader,” Kazrack said, exasperated.

“Fine. I will keep what you have said in mind for the rest of our time traveling together,” Ratchis said and laid down on his bed roll.

After, a few minutes of silence, as the party's breathing grew deeper and regular, “If we get killed by goblins in our sleep it will serve us right,” Kazrack said.

A snore from Chance was the only reply.

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

Notes:

(46) Fallon is the Goddess of Healing & Mercy.

(47) Fallonites wear white robes and red headbands to be easily identifiable in battles so the wounded know who to come to and in places where her worship is respected both sides know not to attack the priest.

(48) The Oath is an adventuring party of small repute that cleared the mines of Tallow’s Port in summer of 563 H.E. and went on to retrieve the infamous Crown of Llywellyn and return it to the king of Neergaard.

(49) “Rastfar” is a dwarvish name of the northern black dwarvish dialect.

(50) Nephthys is Goddess of Freedom & Bravery. Escher has noticed Ratchis' belt of scored and twisted chain links with broken ends - which is the symbol of this goddess.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Teflem, 13th of Ese – 564 H.E.

They were awakened by the sound of steady rhythmic hammering outside. The goblins in the other cots were gone, and the cot that had held Tirhas was empty. Kazrack, Beorth, Ratchis, Chance, Jeremy and Jana walked out into the courtyard.

All sign of the goblins were gone, and Tirhas was sitting beneath a tree in one of the small gardens, studying from a large book. Escher stood shirtless, his tanned skin sweaty and gleaming in the bright sun of another elvish summer morning. He hammered sheets of scored and lacquered wood into place around the inner side of the fort wall, to decorate the sanctuary of his goddess. Escher’s back was marred by the countless serpentine scars of repeated whip-lashings, and seemingly branded into his right shoulder were the numbers “4-12”. Several more planks of the wood waited in pile on the ground, half covered by a tarp.

Rasty was stirring something in a pot over a fire next to the well in the center of the courtyard, and he looked up and smiled at he group.

“Good morning,” the little goblin said in his high raspy voice.

All but Kazrack returned the greeting. The dwarf only grunted, and seeing that all the goblins were gone, returned back into the temple proper to perform his morning prayers.

“Good morning,” said Escher, taking a nail from his mouth. “Would you like some breakfast? Rastfar isn’t half a bad cook, better than me anyway. I used to travel with an excellent cook, in my old adventuring group. I wish now that I have to cook for myself most of the time that I had paid more attention to what he did. I bet wherever he is now that he’s still making his crazy concoctions.”

For a moment Escher had a look of sad nostalgia on his face. He walked over to where Rastfar was serving stew into bowls and popping biscuits on top. The group passed the bowls among themselves, but Tirhas did not have any. Instead she unwrapped som light-colored bread from some leaves she kept in her satchel and munched on that.

“What’s that?” Jeremy asked her.

“It is called lembas. It is elven waybread,” she answered. (51)

“It doesn’t look like much to eat, no wonder you’re so skinny. You need to put some meat on your bones,” the Neergaardian said, perhaps thinking of the tall muscular women of his nation.
“It is all I need,” the elf woman said. ‘It is filling and among the more satisfying things to eat.”

“Can I try some?”

Tirhas rolled her eyes, and broke off a small piece and handed it to Jeremy. He ate it hungrily.
“Wow!” he said. ‘That stuff is great! Could do with a little jam though.”

As the group was having seconds (except Ratchis who was having thirds), Kazrack emerged from the temple. Rastfar ran over to him, “Ya want soma stew?” the little goblin asked him.

The dwarf bit back a snarl, “No…” he paused. “Thank you.”

Kazrack joined his companions who were sitting in a patch of grass.

Escher addressed them: “Well, I spoke with Tirhas early this morning while the rest of you slept, and she explained more in detail about her blink dog companion. She told me also of the difficulties of catching him. If it were easy, I would say to return him here for me to heal, but that might not be possible. I will meditate on the problem and hope to have an answer by mid-day.”

“What about the wolves?” asked Ratchis.

“The foaming mouth disease kills most animals quickly, making them more aggressive, but increasingly weak. It rarely lasts more than a fortnight. There were never so many wolves around here, so my guess is they were driven here from somewhere else and thus have been sick for some time. I remember seeing a sick one nearly ten days ago. They will not last much longer. I think it can be safe to assume that in a few days (if not sooner) the wolf problem will be no more.”
“What about the goblins?” asked Kazrack.

“What about them?” asked the Medicus.

“Where did they go? What will happen to them?”

“They will return to their tribe most likely, and continue whatever it is they do. Hopefully, their heart lightened by the healing power and love of Fallon – Remembering the kindness of my goddess when next they have a choice between kindness and cruelty.”

“But won’t they just go and raid and kill more people, after you’ve healed them?” Jeremy asked.
“I hope not, though it is a distinct responsibility – but as Ratchis I’m sure would agree, sometimes for freedom and goodness to prevail someone must be allowed to make the wrong choice,” said Escher thoughtfully.

“Feh!” said Kazrack, munching on cold iron rations.

“Since the Oath and I cleared Tallow’s Deep, no goblins have bothered the town, and have remained the wilds above this hill behind us. We closed off the tunnel to a great goblin city in the Plutonic Realms (52) and so they have gotten no reinforcements.”

“So, you were part of the group that saved the mines of Tallow’s Post from the goblins?” asked Beorth.

“Aye, they were led by a huge goblin, nearly six feet tall, called Mog-Grishog. We defeated them, with the help of Rene, who was a friend of Rastfar’s, a dwarven priestess of Thor. When the group moved on, I remained behind and Rene established a temple of Thor in the town. Actually, I am surprised she is not with you to deal with the wolf problem.”

“They said she was away on some business,” said Kazrack.

“Well, probably for the best. She is eager to fight evil, but a little too eager in my opinion. To be honest, I do not like her very much,” said Escher.

“You know the people of Tallow’s Post think of you as an old hermit,” said Beorth.

“Really?” Escher pondered. “That is odd. I do return to the town every few months for supplies, but then again the people barely remember me as being a member of the Oath. People have infamously short memories, and what there is is often faulty – but I do what good I can, not to be remembered, but for its own sake. And with that, I will retire into the temple and pray to Fallon for guidance on the matter of the white wo. . .I mean, blink dog.”

-------

While Escher prayed undisturbed, Ratchis went down to the river where he prayed as well and removed his clothes to bathe. Jeremy, Beorth and Kazrack sparred, the dwarf trying out his a maneuver designed to trip people with his halberd and then attack them while they were down. He had not quite gotten the hang of it yet. (53)

Tirhas practiced her own strange dance-like fighting style with her short sword, performing elaborate moves – one hand pointed outward at all time, occasionally twiddling her fingers in precise repetitive movements.

Chance and Jana sat alternately chatting and napping beneath a tree.

In time, Ratchis returned from the river, carrying his shirt and gear over his shoulder. The others could now see that the tattoo on his neck twined and ran like an indigo snake up and down both arms, and it appeared as if smaller figures were worked into the scale design of the creature, but the details could not be ascertained. They could also see that his back in addition to having a strange inhuman ridge for a backbone, was also horribly burned with what appeared to be bits of what was once molten metal still wrapped in the warped flesh.

Jeremy gagged and looked away. Jana, Beorth and Kazrack also pried their vision from the horrid sight. Chance however could not bring himself to look away, agog with horror. “Put ya shirt on, mahn,” he said. “Thass disguhsin’!”

Ratchis sneered at him and then complied.

Finally, Escher emerged from the temple.

The group gathered together to listen to what he had to say.

“Upon reflection I have decided there is little I can do beside offer you this,” he said, holding aloft a glass vial full of clear liquid. “This is a potion that should heal any disease or malady that ails the dog. It was a Festival of Isis gift (54) from my former traveling companion. I have always saved it for an emergency, and I guess this qualifies. All you need to is subdue or trick him into drinking it somehow.”

“Would it work if we poured it into some food and tricked him into eating it?” asked Kazrack.

“That is doubtful,” said Escher. “I am sorry that I could not be more help.”

“It is a great help. Thank you,” said Tirhas, betraying her first hint of genuine emotion since the group had met up with her. “I guess we shall be forced to subdue Janx somehow…”

“Jana, you know about herbs and such perhaps you can find something that if Janx eats will put him to sleep,” Kazrack said to the young girl.

“Perhaps,” she replied. “But it is unlikely, I do not think what I need grows around here, but I can look while we search for the dog.”

“Well, let me just say now, that is this plan does not work and it comes down to having to kill the dog or letting it go,” Kazrack said, pausing. “I will kill it.”

Tirhas sighed and then with a sad, yet determined look said, “If it comes to that, I hope you will let me do it myself.”

The group grimly agreed.

They all set to back up their gear and head back southward to search for Janx.

“Thank you again for all your help,” said Beorth, emerging from the temple where he had entered to leave a donation for the sanctuary.

“You are all welcome back anytime, and tell any you meet in the wilderness who require aid or healing that they may seek this place out. And I do ask that if you ever hear news of or happen to meet my former companions, The Oath, please tell them that you have met me and I am well, and hope that they will find time out of their adventures sometime to visit me.” (55)

“We will,” said Ratchis. “Thank you, and my Nephthys keep you free.”

And with that they left Fallon’s Post to search for Janx, Escher and Rasty waving goodbye to them from the gate.

--------

“Anyone know whut tuh-day is?” Chance asked as they made their way southward again. Jana was giving a cursory look for the black berries she needed to try to make a sleeping concoction – but knew that the group would move too fast for an effective search.

“I think it is Teflem,” said Beorth.

“Ah mean the date,” said Chance. “Is it the thirteenth?”

“I think it is the fourteenth,” said Jana.

“No, the thirteenth,” confirmed Beorth.

“Today is the Day of Bes!” cried Chance with glee. “Me favorite holiday. Today I leave all in the hands of luck. And if I were you all, I’d do the same, or else BAD luck will get you.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Kazrack.

“I hope not,” said Jeremy. “Not that I need luck. Not with my great skill as a swordsman.”

“Heh,” said Jana.

---

The group marched on in their usual order. Ratchis took the lead, followed by Beorth and Kazrack. Jeremy followed them, closely followed by Jana and Chance; Tirhas took up the rear.
The day continued the warming trend, and the grass was a last burst of brilliant green, in defiance of the threat of the dulled colors of the winter to come. The pines bowed slightly in the cool breeze, like old men tipping their hats, while deciduous trees shook in their newly bright-colored garb.

They had traveled for three or four hours when the attack came.
Wolves emerged from the brush. They appeared sluggish, and the white foam on their muzzles was flecked with blood; their skin hung loosely from their bodies, and large patches of fur were missing from their dull coats; their eyes were yellowed and sunken, but still they felt driven to attack.

The three wolves came at the party from two sides; one at Ratchis, one at Beorth and the last at Kazrack. In the distraction of the attack, the great albino dog appeared amid the group and bit Jeremy with great strength – though looking more bedraggled and a bit thinner, it was obvious he was doing a better job fighting off the disease’s effects.

Janx disappeared and reappeared behind Beorth, even as the paladin smashed the skull of his wolf opponent. The weakness of these poor beasts made over-coming them a matter of single hard blows, for Ratchis and Kazrack were able to finish theirs as well. Jeremy loaded his crossbow and fired a quarrel into the flank of the blink dog, it yelped and growled and disappeared as Tirhas cried out, “What are you doing?!? Subdue him! Subdue him!”

Janx appeared behind beside his old friend, and she turned to him. “Janx, its me. Don’t you remember me?” She held out her hand to the dog, who paused and cocked his head as if in a moment of confusion or debate, and then with a loud chomp bit down on her hand sending blood flying in all directions. She cried out and pulled away, but Ratchis had the chance to run over and tackle the dog, wrapping his thick arms around its neck and squeezing. After a moment’s choking noise, Janx disappeared again and the tall woodsman fell to the ground. The dog appeared beside Jana, biting her flank, Kazrack and Beorth began to run over, but the dog was already gone, and reappeared behind Beorth biting him.

Chaos then ensued.

Ratchis continued running at Janx and attempting to grab him and choke him into unconsciousness, but mostly just ran through the dog, only accomplishing the counter-productive task of throwing himself on the ground repeatedly. Chance, leaving his fate in the hands of Bes, mimicked the big man, and punched and kicked and grappled at the dog, having much the same result.
During this time, Jeremy, Beorth and Kazrack ran back and forth wherever Janx appeared and used the flat of their blades, or Beorth would strike for non-vital spots with the end of his quarterstaff. However, Janx’s ability to constantly phase in and out of exist and blink around, made the combat more comical then effective; well, comical if the bloody bite wounds he was dealing could be counted as funny.

Flexing her hands painfully, Tirhas spoke an arcane word, as Janx appeared near her in an attempt to bite Jeremy and the dog seemed dazed and unsure what to do. Jeremy and Kazrack were both able to get in good blows with the flat of their blades, and this time Ratchis grabbed hold of the dog extra tightly, twisting its neck slightly to constrict airflow, but gasping the dog disappeared yet again and appearing near Beorth bit the warrior again.

Tirhas cast her spell again, and again Janx was stunned, allowing another round of hits, including a green ray of energy from Jana’s finger – that few saw her accomplish.

Finally, Kazrack was able to grab hold of Janx and before the blink dog could disappear again, Ratchis kicked the beast with all his might, as Jeremy slapped it across the head with the flat of his short sword. The dog shuddered and passed out.

Kazrack gently let go of Janx and Tirhas ran over cradling her companion’s head in her lap, and pet his head. They could see the shine of a tear on her usually emotionless face.

She then pulled out the vial that Escher had given the group and gently opening the blink dog’s mouth she poured the clear liquid down its throat, messaging its neck to allow it to go down.
The others stood silently and watched. Kazrack gripped his halberd nervously, wary of Janx waking up and not having been cured.

After what seemed like an eternity, Janx began to stir. The blink dog opened his mouth and closed it again, and then struggled as if to get up, but settled back down with a shudder. Tirhas stroked her companions fur some more and brought her mouth down to his ear making indecipherable sounds. Janx made faint howling-type noises, and then Tirhas stood, lying Janx’s head gently on the ground.

“He will be okay,” the elf-maiden said. “I have spoken to him and he seems himself again. However, he is weak and will need time to recover.”

“Well, as long as the rest of the wolves die off soon, which from the look of those others looks like it will happen, this whole situation should be taken care of,” said Kazrack.

“Yes, it does seem so,” said Tirhas, and then paused. “I want to thank you for helping me and Janx. I would not have been able to help him without you. I do not have much in the way of a way to repay you, but…”

“Do not thank us,” said Kazrack brusquely. “We did what we were going to have to do one way or another. We able to accomplish it without killing the dog, but we would have done it the other way if we had to.”

Tirhas’ face hardened again, her subtle smile of gratitude shifting back into those long high cheeks, her eyes becoming steady and cold again.

“I will be staying here with Janx until he is well enough to move,” the elf said.

“I guess we will be going back to town to tell them that the wolf-menace is no longer a problem and to bring the wainwright back to the wagons,” said Kazrack.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come back to town with us where it is safer?” asked Jeremy.

“I do not think I would be very welcome there, and I cannot move Janx,” Tirhas said.

“I can only imagine how the townspeople would react if the ‘white wolf’ came strolling into town,” said Jana.

“Perhaps we will meet again,” said Tirhas, returning to her usual clipped tone. “Though your lives are short it may happen.”
The group began to walk back towards Tallow’s Post, leaving Tirhas stroking Janx’s fur, her golden hair shining in the dying light of the sun.

“Uh, guh-bye!” called Chance, looking back to the elf and waving.
“Maybe we should have stayed the night with her to make sure she remained safe,” said Beorth.

“She will be fine,” said Kazrack.

“Well, in the future when someone wants to thank us and maybe give us a gift, just accept it okay?” said Jeremy to Kazrack with a tone of annoyance. “We cannot afford to be giving up whatever we can get.”

Kazrack harrumphed.

“Ratchis, what will you be doing now?” asked Beorth asked their guide.

“I was hoping to return with you to this caravan you spoke of,” he said in his raspy voice. “I had heard of it before and need a way to get to Gothanius myself.”

“You’ll hafta sign a contract,” said Chance.

“That’s fine,” Ratchis replied.

“Well, it’ll be good ta haf `im `round,” Chance said to Jana. “Finally, they’ll be someone bigger than Devon.”

“Who is Devon?” Ratchis asked.

“You’ll see,” Kazrack replied.

Beorth, Chance, Jana, Jeremy, Kazrack and Ratchis walked down out of the wood toward the plateau where Tallow’s Post was located.

It was already dusk by the time they arrived at the Silver Vein Inn. Sergeant Fnord happened to be there, and they explained how the wolf menace was taken care of, and how the “old hermit” was really Escher of the Oath.

“Oh, I knew he had stayed around, but I never made the connection, that is good to know,” Fnord said. “And what of the white wolf?”

“He won’t be bothering anyone ever again,” said Jana.
No one mentioned Tirhas or Janx to the constable.
Nicholas, the inn-keep, offered the party a free hot meal, but said he would have to charge for rooms.

“I will sleep in the common room, if you don’t mind,” said Ratchis.

“Um, if ya wont we could, um… sharr a rume, I men et would be cheper that way… Uh, I men, it would be okay, I wouldn’t try nuthin’,” Chance said to Jana.

Jana smiled. “Thanks for the offer, but I was thinking I would get my own room,” she said.

“I’ll share a room with you,” Jeremy said to Chance.

“Yeah, okay,” said the Wallbrookian.

Kazrack and Beorth shared another room, and they all (except Ratchis) got to sleep in beds for the first time in weeks.

In the morning, they led Warren the Wainwright down towards the Mountain Door road, with his tools and two wagon wheels strapped to his mule. The workman carried a third wheel on his back.

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

Notes

(51) The secret of making this bread is known only to the elven people – but it is filling and nutritious, and a delightfully sweet and flaky

(52) The Plutonic Realms are the great tunnels and chambers beneath the mountains and islands of Aquerra where dwarves and mysterious other denizens dwell.

(53) Kazrack’s player hopes to have him gain the Improved Trip feat at third level.

(54) The Festival of Isis is a celebration of the New Year and of the Goddess of Motherhood and Magic – gifts are often exchanged between friends and family members.

(55) Unbeknownst to Escher, the entirety of the Oath (as he knew it) was killed in an ill-fated mission to the Hellish Seas.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session # 6 (part IV)

Anulem, 14th of Ese – 564 H.E.

Cold air pressed down on the hills as Kazrack, Jana, Jeremy, Chance and Beorth led Ratchis and the wainwright down to the Mountain Door road where the wagons had broken down. The air still had a dampness to it that made it easier for the cold to find its way down to the bone. Only Ratchis in his long coat of beaver fur, and Kazrack from pure dwarven stubbornness were not shivering.

Even before they saw the saw the road they could smell the cooking fire, and came over the hill crest to see that the wagons had been dragged off the road to a grassy spot just south of it. The tents of Crumb’s boys were haphazardly scattered on the muddy field, and camp fires were burning here and there; the boys huddled over them wrapped in blankets to stay warm.

Kamir came up the road lugging a bucket of water, a blanket tied around him as a makeshift toga, his brown hair plastered to his forehead by sweat, despite the cold, and the roundness of his face beginning to dwindle from the sparse meals.

“Hey!” he cried. “You guys made it back! I’ll go tell Crumb!”

He ran off, the bucket banging against his leg, spilling a trail of water behind him.

The party met up with Crumb outside of his large tent.

“I see you have succeeded. I was worried maybe you’d deserted,” Crumb laughed and elbowed Kazrack with forced playfulness. “We already had one person run off.”

They introduced Warren to Crumb and the leader had Deet show the man the wagons and what needed to be done.

“Well, how much did he need as a deposit?” Crumb asked Kazrack. “Is there any of my money left?”
“Actually, the burgomeister paid for the wainwright in return for some help we gave their town with a wolf problem, so we did not have to use any of the money you gave us,” Kazrack replied.

Jeremy sighed loudly and walked off.

“Well, that’s great. Let’s have it,” Crumb said.

Kazrack gave him the pouch of coins. “However, I was thinking that you might share some this saved money with us as we did do this favor for you and the caravan by retrieving the wainwright, and risking ourselves to help the town of Tallow’s Post in order to help you.”

“Well, the contract does state that you must be willing to do anything within reasonable means to help the group arrive in Gothanius. You were only doing what you agree to do by signing the contract,” Crumb replied in his deep voice, combing his mustache with a finger.

“Well, what we had to do was a little more than reasonable, I think,” Kazrack said with obvious frustration.

“But you did do it, that is all that matters and you have not only my appreciation, but that of all these boys. They all look up to you and your companions. Money cannot buy that kind of reward,” Crumb said.

“But if we had gone strictly by the contract and considered what we had to do unreasonable we would have just come back and then what? “ Kazrack’s voice grew louder. “Without incentive to do more than the bare minimum why should we do more?”

Crumb’s voice grew even deeper, and an undertone of anger and exhaustion came into it. “Listen, Kazack, you do what you want to do. You want to do the bare minimum. You decide what you want to do and you live with the consequences. If you had just come back without the wainwright, we would have figured something out, probably marched hungry and without supplies to the next town or wherever we could purchase new wagons – but that’d be on your head.”

“It would be on yours,” said the dwarf.

“Would it?” Crumb said, paused, and then he lowered his voice back down. “I run my operation the way I see best. If you don’t like it… well, you signed the contract and that is that.”

“So you are saying you’d rather I do the bare minimum,” Kazrack asked.

“No, you are saying that,” the fat man paused. “Is there anything else?”

“I guess not,” said the dwarf.

“Then I will take what you said under advisement and that will be the end of this topic,” Crumb’s vision fell on Ratchis who was standing a bit behind the companions.

“And who do we have here?” asked Crumb, putting his smile and good humor back on.
Ratchis stepped forward.

“I met up with Kazrack and the others near Tallow’s Post and I wanted to join your group that is going to Gothanius,” the tall woodsman said.

Crumb looked him up and down, “Heh, well do you know what you’re getting into? You know what we’re supposed to be doing?”

“Yes, helping Gothanus with a problem with a dragon or something,” said Ratchis.

“That’s right,” he paused. “Well, we could always use another warm body. Deet! Bring us a contract!”

Ratchis was handed a contract. He looked it over and then made a swiggle with the quill he was handed.

“Please make an X,” said Deet. Ratchis complied.

“Now remember, this thing says you won’t brawl with anyone, and will obey all the laws of the places we pass through or you will be left behind,” said Crumb.

“Okay,” said Ratchis.

“Kamir!” called Crumb, but it was as if the boy were already standing beside him waiting for orders.

“Find uh…”

“Ratchis,” rasped Ratchis.

“Yes, Ratchis, a place in one of the tents and tell him about meals and such,” Crumb told Kamir, who nodded his head with great enthusiasm.

Kamir led Ratchis towards the tents.

“Let’s see who should I put you with?” said Kamir thinking aloud. “I guess I could put you with Markle and Devon and the other guy. There are only three totheir tent, and the tents can hold five in a pinch. Maybe you wouldn’t like them…”

Kamir looked at Ratchis, “They aren’t very nice people, especially Devon. By the way, I’m Kamir. I help out around here, but I’m going to go fight the dragon too, and if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to ask.”

They came to the tent where Devon and his short ugly companion sat on a log by their campfire.

----

Meanwhile the rest of the companions had returned to where they found Kamir had set up their tents in anticipation of their return. Kazrack removed his armor and began to inspect it for broken scales and other weak points, finding a few broken wolf teeth wedged between the scales. Chance crawled into the tent he shared with Kamir and Jeremy and went to sleep.

As Jana was walking to her own tent she was approached by Markle, “Do you mind if we speak in private for a minute?” He gestured towards her tent.

“Sure,” she said and let him go in first and followed.

“Hey look,” said Jeremy to Beorth, seeing this happen. “I wonder what they are doing? Let’s go have a listen.”

“It is none of our business,” said Beorth, walking off to go pray.

“Of course it isn’t,” said the blonde Neergaardian, as he began to creep towards her tent. However, as he approached, he stepped on a stick which made a loud crack, and stumbling fell against the side of the tent with a yelp and the loud panting of someone who almost fell on their face.
“Who is out there?” Markle said within the tent.

“I think I know who it is,” said Jana. “Jeremy!”

“Uh, nope, it’s uh, me Chance,” said Jeremy in a horrible imitation of the Wallbrookian’s accent. “I wus juss walkin’ by. I, uh, I’ll see ya later.”

Jeremy ran back to his tent, leaving Markle and Jana to whatever secrets they might be discussing.

---------

“What in the name of Set’s Realm is that ugly thing?” Devon declared looking up at Ratchis.
“Uh, this is Ratchis. He’s new and is gonna be sharing your tent with you,” said Kamir nervously.
“I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, only three people in this tent – no more,” Devon stood, and stepped over to Kamir, towering over him. “Especially not some ugly piece of walking rotten meat that looks like some dog dragged him through the streets as a child.”

Ratchis just watched the loud tall man with a stony glare of anger, but said nothing.

“You had better find this freak of a pus bag somewhere else to sleep. Try something with a trough, I’ve seen more human looking turds than this guy,” said Devon, speaking to Kamir, but returning Ratchis’ look.

Kamir turned to Ratchis, “I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to stay here. I’ll go see if I can find you another spot, maybe Doris’ old spot.”

Kamir ran off.

“You do that, you worthless bag of bird-droppings,” said Devon. Ratchis growled softly.

“You don’t even talk do you?” Devon said, looking back to the woodsman. “They expect me to share a tent with an animal, you probably will mark your scent in the corner of the tent, you friggin’ mottled son of beast.”

Devon sat back down and tossed a stick into the fire.

After a few moments Kamir returned.

“Okay, Ratchis, I found you another place to stay, in Doris’ old place with Finn and Gwar and Frank,” said the doughy boy.

“Thank Ra,” Devon said. “I can smell that maggot-infested chunk from here. He smells like something born from the bloody ass of a sailor’s dog.”

Devon laughed, but his short dark companion remained passive, just watching the action. The tall man stood and stepped over to Kamir.

“Get him out of here you worthless bloated sack of pig fat, and then come back and clean my boots,” Devon said to Kamir, and smacked the boy in the back of the head.

Without warning Ratchis threw his backpack with all his strength at Devon, who was able to cushion the blow with his arm and an “oof!” The bag fell at the tall man’s feet.

“What the hell you do that for you stupid ugly cow bladder?” Devon cried. “Oh, well. I guess it’s mine now. What do we have in here?”

Devon began to open the backpack and pull things out, when Ratchis charged him, but with a speed obviously borne of many a brawl, Devon was in a fighting stance and before the woodsman could get his hands on him, an uppercut landed on Ratchis’ jaw.

Ratchis ignored the pain of the blow, and grabbing Devon pulled him to the ground, but Devon twisted and grabbed an arm and the big man’s head into a lock, holding him in place.

“Stop it now! I’ll pop your head off!” Devon said to Ratchis, sweat beading on his brow as he strained to hold the man in place.

Kamir began to yell, “Stop fighting! You’ll get in trouble. Stop fighting!” As the two brutish men did not stop, Kamir ran to get Kazrack.

Meanwhile, his upper body held motionless by Devon, Ratchis’ fighting instinct kicked in and he threw his feet out from under him, causing his opponent to fall forward with the sudden weight and loosen his grip a bit. Ratchis was able to break free and spin around grabbing the broad man from behind, squeezing his torso and arms in a tight pince, that made Devon roar. Ratchis squeezed and squeezed again, but finally Devon broke free with brute strength and pulled away, taking a swing that missed. Ratchis charged again and they both fell down, and switched places many times, pinning each others arms, locking each other heads, breaking free, squeezing and clawing at each other wildly in a wrestling frenzy.

Kamir returned with Kazrack. “Stop it!” Kazrack yelled.

The two did not stop. Devon broke free again and scored a punch against Ratchis, making his lip swell up. Ratchis grappled again.

Kamir grabbed a nearby bucket and filled it full of mud. When the grappling pair rolled over, Devon gaining dominance, Kazrack flung the mud at him, but the mud splattered on the two combatants.
‘Don’t do that,” Devon yelled, as Ratchis pulled away from him, receiving a hard yank on his head that sent jolts of pain down his neck. Devon followed this with his own tackle, which sent the two combatants tumbling one over the other.

Kazrack scooped up another bucket full of mud, fling it right on Devon’s chest as he tried to extricate himself from Ratchis once more, who twisted the tall man’s legs in a painful knot. Devon spun around and hammered his knotted fists into the woodsman’s back. Devon turned to avoid the blow of Ratchis’ head which he shoved forward toward the other man’s face. He looked up at Kazrack, who was readying another bucket of mud.

“Don’t you throw that,” Devon tried to say, but the moment he opened his mouth, Kazrack let loose a highly accurate blast of mud that hit him right in the face and went into his mouth.

Devon spat and coughed, and Ratchis took the opportunity to shove the man’s face into the ground and bang the back of his head with the butt of his calloused hand. Kazrack laughed and laughed.
“Kazrack, you have to stop them. They’ll get kicked out,” said Kamir anxiously. Kazarack did not answer.

With a burst of rage, Devon broke free of Ratchis grip and turning slammed the woodsman three times with the back of his hand and then roaring, grabbed the broader man around the torso and lifting squeezed with all his might. Ratchis let out a gasp, and pried loose of Devon’s grip. Grasping the belt of chain links around his waist, Ratchis placed his hand on his heart and began to say,

“Neph. . .” But a quick punch from Devon ended it and down tumbled Ratchis into unconsciousness.
Devon spit on him, his face was a raw dark red, and a small amount of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth – his face was covered in mud, and his clothes caked in dirt.

“Eh, take that ya smelly pork rind,” Devon said as he caught his breath,

“Looks like you had a little trouble there,” said Kazrack.

‘Shut up, Stumpy or I’ll do the same to you,” Devon, wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You ever toss mud at me again, you are gonna wish you were in the same shape as your friend here in comparison. I can make sure you see your friend Malcolm real soon.”
Kazrack stooped to scoop up more mud, and Devon stepped forward fists clenched.

“You had better stop,” he said. “Or you are gonna ruin our stay for everybody.”

At that moment, Markle walked over, having finished his conversation with Jana.

“Devon!” he said. “Stop right now! What the hell are you doing?”

“That big ugly guy attacked me,” said Devon, his attitude changing immediately as he pointed to Ratchis’ unconscious form.

“You know you can’t brawl! What had a told you? Do you want to ruin everything we have been working for?”

“That’s what I tried to tell him, but he just kept on fighting, Markle. I mean…”

“Get in the tent,” Markle said pointing to the shelter. “I want to talk to you in private.”
“But Markle…”

“In!”

Kazack laughed as Devon followed Markle in their tent with his bruised face scrunched up in an angry frown.

Jeremy came over. “What happened?”

“He fought with Devon and lost,” said Kazrack. “Help me bring him to his tent.”

“I’ll help,” said Kamir. “He’s staying the tent with Finn Fisher and Frank and Gwar - This way.”
They brought Ratchis to his tent, where Kamir remained behind to tend to his wounds.

As they walked back to their tents, Kazrack said to Jeremy, “We need to do something about Devon.”

“I think you are right,” the Neergaardian replied.

End of Session #6
 

Sammael99

First Post
I been reading this for a week and a half (takes a while ;-) and it's great stuff. I really love the setting and the low-key menace. Very full of flavour.

I'll move onto part II when time allows.

BTW, was that really only six sessions ? Man, they must be long sessions !!!
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Yes, only 6 session which are 6 and half hours long each.

Book I goes half way thru session #12. . .

Don't skip to Book II befier you finish Book I, you'll be lost!

I plan to put up two installments tonight to make up for the 2 missec installments this weekend.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #7-

Ralem, 15th of Ese – 564 H.E.

Ratchis awoke with a raw and tender face. One eye was almost sealed shut, and his lower lip was even larger and puffier than usual. Achingly he got up and got dressed, finding his tent-mates (whom he had not even met yet were already up and gone). Outside, Crumb’s boys lined up for the small breakfast that Kinney and Horung served, while Kamir was busy packing supplies into the newly repaired wagons. Warren the Wainwright had worked through the night and had already headed back over the hills to the north in the morning.

Ratchis hobbled over to the chow line and took his place.

“Ratchis, right?” said one young man with black hair and a sailor’s permanent tan. He had the place right in front of the woodsman in line.

“Yes.”

“I’m Finn, Finn Fisher. We’re tent-mates, along with Frank and Gwar, here.” He pointed to the two shepherd brothers ahead of him. They looked warily at Ratchis, with weak smiles and turned back around.

“You know what I hate Square?” a familiar gravelly voice said from behind them. “Pig-f**kers.” (56)

Ratchis and Finn looked to see Devon, looking a bit weary, but not nearly in as bad of shape as Ratchis, waiting for food a few people back, with his short ugly friend.

“I mean, the thought of some human lying with one of those inhuman porkish orcish bastards is so disgusting, I don’t know if I can even eat my breakfast.”

Ratchis did not respond, but turned back around to grab a bowl and have the steaming porridge poured into it.

“Some of them may look more human than others, but even if they don’t have tusks like some people around here, they are still stinking sons of pig-f**kers. Gross!”

Ratchis walked away with Devon’s braying laughter echoing in his ears.

Later, as he packed his equipment onto the front wagon, where he’d be riding, Crumb approached him.
“The word around the camp is that you and Devon were fighting last night,” said Crumb. “Now, I already talked to Devon and he assured me there was no brawling. What do you say?”

“There was no brawling,” said Ratchis in his raspy voice, his lip stinging where it was swollen.

“Well, that’s good,” said the portly man, looking into Ratchis’ puffy eye. “I’d hate to think that someone I allowed to join this expedition would violate the conditions of its contract within moments of agreeing to them. I would hate to have to pursue something like that to the extent of law for breach of contract, but I would do it, if you understand me. But that really shouldn’t apply to you, since you aren’t going to be doing any fighting, right?”

“Right.”

--------

The two wagons continued to make their way westward, stopping only for short rest and meals and for the night, camped on the side of the road.

That long day found the wagons moving through rolling plains with very little tree cover. The land looked like it might make for good farming, but was undeveloped. Late in the afternoon, they came to a wide river crossed by a wooden bridge. It was guarded by men in ring mail armor and leather helms, wielding long spears. Boris E. Crumb disembarked his wagon and spoke with the men and in a few moments the wagons creaked over the bridge and headed to copse of trees where camp was set up. A tower could be seen peeking from above the trees, perhaps a half-mile away.

“This is the town on Bountiful,” he said. “A trade center for local farms, not very big, but we will be stopping here for a day or so, to re-supply and re-gather our energies. There should be a market day tomorrow, and I encourage you all to explore, but please remember the terms of the contract you signed. Obey all local laws and no brawling. And please do not do anything to upset the Watch-Mage here.” (57)

Crumb’s boys spent what was left of the light gathering firewood, clearing areas for their camp fires and swimming in the nearby cold river.

Isilem, 16th of Ese – 564 H.E.

It felt like it could be the last warm day of the year. The sunlight was streaming down on the young men, stretching and rubbing their eyes, lining up to get their eggs and bacon (quite a treat compared to the cold jerky and stale biscuits they normally got). There was also a resounding cheer when Horung announced that he and Kinney would be getting a good fat sheep to roast for dinner.

They could hear the market coming together in the village proper. The sound of animals being herded, hammers on wood as stalls were put up, and bright voices calling “hello” to one another drifted towards the camp.

“I was thinking that we should get Kamir some kind of gift,” said Kazrack.

“What kind of gift?” asked Jeremy.

“I was thinking a set of cooking gear as a way to say thank you for everything he does for us,” said the dwarf.

“Why not get him a gift that is more just for him?” asked Jeremy.

“Maybe.”

“Ah say we git em uh womun,” said Chance, non-chalantly.

“What?” asked Kazrack.

“Uh womun, ta slep with, ya know. . . a womun,” repeated Chance. “We ken ahl chep in and git him a good one fear a night.”

“I want no part of this,” said Beorth walking away.

“It is not a bad idea,” said Jana, and her companions looked at her with some shock. “It might do someone like him some good.”

“I’d have no idea where to arrange for such a thing,” said Kazrack. “Would a little town like this have such… women?”

“Every town has such women,” said Jeremy with a sly smile.

“Lev it ta meh,” said Chance. “Ahll handle the whole thing. Ahm gun ta some cockfights. I ken find out tharr.”

“Cockfights?” said Kazrack puzzled.

“Oh, tahns like this ahlways ahve whores and cockfights, trust me. Ah just need 10 pesses o’ silver. Hand it over.”

“Ten silvers!” Kazrack exclaimed.

“That is only 3 each,” Chance said.

“You mean two, right?” Jana said with a smirk.

“Yeah, two.”

“Why so much?” Jeremy asked.

“Ah dun know whut kinda women ya be getting’ with, but the more ya pay da bettah ya git,” answered Chance. He turned to Jana. “Not that I know from personal experience, of course.”

He smiled.

“No, of course not,” Jana replied, moving her smirk over to the opposite corner of her mouth.
Chance collected what coins he could from his friends and then, they went to the market.
Meanwhile, Ratchis was eating his second helping of breakfast and talking with one of his tent-mates.
“You said your family name was Fisher. Is that what you do?” Ratchis asked the darked-haired fellow.

“Yes. I am. . .Uh, was a fisherman, like my father and his father and my uncles. I really miss it actually. Out on the water, wind in hair, Ra’s Glory warm on your skin. The pull of weight in your nets…”

Finn had a distant look on his face for a moment, and then remembered himself. “You ever fish?” he asked Ratchis.

“Yes, but using a pole and line, or a spear, never off a boat – just in streams and rivers,” the large man replied, wondering what any period of time on a ship must be like.
“So, uh,” Ratchis gulped back his usual inclination to not speak much. “What brings you here?”
“To Derome-Delem? Bad luck,” Finn laughed. “The war, I guess…”

“What war?” asked Ratchis.

“You don’t know about the civil war between Herman Land and the Black Islands? It has been going on for over a year!” Finn said with disbelief.

“I am from Derome-Delem. I didn’t know,” said Ratchis, meekly.

“Oh, well. Yeah, they are conscripting like mad down there. The village of Corbay, which is where I am from – just out of Verdun – was doing a pretty good job of hiding all its men to keep them from being conscripted, but I had to enter the city and got caught. It was either this or war. But maybe war would have been better, I would have died at sea most likely, as opposed to this hellhole. No offense.”

“Why would your village do that? Do they not feel any loyalty to Herman Land?” Ratchis asked, puzzled.

“Well, a village needs its men, and when it comes down to it, are the Black Islands worth keeping? No one like them anyway, and people say they even worship…” he whispered the last word. “Set. I’m just saying that no one liked them anyway, so why not let them go their own way?”

Ratchis did not reply, but went outside to practice with his quarterstaff. After a few minutes of practiced dodging, feigning, thrusting, parrying, blocking, spinning, Ratchis noticed one of Crumb’s boys watching him eagerly. He had dark skin, and short black curly hair.

Ratchis stopped and said, “Do you know how to use one?” He offered the staff.

Carlos took the staff saying, “Puedo luchar con el palillo grueso también.”

Ratchis looked puzzled, but motioned that Carlos should try out the staff.

“I am named Carlos,” the young man said, in a thick accent and with a smile. He entered a defensive stance and twirled the staff once, taking a few practice swings.

“I am Ratchis. Want to spar?”

It was Carlos’ turn to look confused, but he smiled and practiced a parry. Ratchis pulled out his short sword and stepped forward. Carlos dropped the quarterstaff with a frightened look and stepped away.

Ratchis sighed. “No,” he said, and motioned for Carlos to pick up the staff. Carlos did so hesitantly.
Ratchis stepped forward and hit his sword against one end of the staff. Hesitantly, Carlos brought the other end of the staff around and Ratchis slowly ducked, but in a few moments the two of them were exchanging hurried but careful blows, stopping to show each other what he had just done and in general having a good time.

Sweating and out of breath, they slapped each other on the back.

“Gracias, um… Thank you,” said Carlos, handing back the staff. “Podemos hacerlo otravez otro dia?”
Ratchis shook his head, not understanding.

“Again?” Carlos said gesturing.

“Sure, another time,” said Ratchis.

The outdoorsman went down to the river and washed up a bit, and then headed to the town market where the others had already been for a while.

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

Beorth, Kazrack, Jeremy, Jana and Chance went up to the market, quickly splitting up to check different sights, after buying pieces of grilled mutton on a stick, covered in a very spicy sauce. The people of Bountiful did not seem overly friendly, seeming to enjoy the market and greeting each other warmly, but ignoring the companions as they walked between the stalls. Kazrack went to look at bows, taking a few shots on the practice range that had been set up. Beorth went with the dwarf, not having anything to do. Chance who had bought a :):):):) before anyone knew what was happening went off to find some fight and look into acquiring a woman for Kamir. Jana went to purchase some salt and other herbs and spices, while Jeremy went to find the smith and get his armor repaired some.

Kazrack and Beorth moved on to where the livestock was kept, as the dwarf was interested in getting a mule or pony for the trip.

Meanwhile, at the provisioner’s stall Jana was having a strange encounter: The young girl asked the elderly couple for salt.

“How much do you need?” the kindly old man asked.

“ A half-pound,” Jana replied.

“Ya know, if you wanna salt meat for preserving you are going to need more than that,” the man said.

“No, it is just for my own consumption. I like my food very salty.”

“Funny, you are the second person in two days to say the exact same thing,” the old man said, casually.

Intrigued, Jana raised an eyebrow, “Really? Who was it?”

“Oh, just some other stranger to town. It was a thin and dark haired man,” the old man replied.
Jana scrunched up her pretty face in apprehension. She paid for the package of salt, and then walked towards the herbalist’s table, looking around her carefully, through the crowd of farmers and vendors.

The herbalist was a middle-aged man with dark hair and a care-worn face. He sat smashing some herbs in a mortar and pestle. Jana looked over his goods, tucking her sun-tinted brown her ear, but found little that that could help her.

“Do you have essence of narcissus flower?” Jana asked

The man looked up, his face was a web of lines and creases, and his eyes were dark. He cocked his head when he saw the young girl.

“I may have some, let me look in my satchel,” he said. He bent behind the stall and began to rummage in a bag, but did not take his eyes off Jana.

“Never seen you around before, where are you from?” he asked.

“Herman Land,” Jana replied, noticed some ginger root, which was supposed to help ease upset stomach. She placed some aside, along with willow bark.

“Um, Westron?” the man asked coming up with the ingredient she asked for.
Jana was taken aback by the question.

“How did you know?” she asked with building suspicion.

“Oh, just a guess,” the man said nervously. He picked up what she had picked out and began to wrap it up.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Jana handed over her few copper coins for the goods and then hesitantly said, “Jana.”

The man took the money and then said, ‘Thank you. Uh, I have to go,” and leaving his table unattended began to walk off.

Jana had hoped this might be the result and followed at a safe distance.

The man made his way through the market throng; past the jugglers and fire-eater and the old woman selling clay pots stylized with cats in a myriad of poses and to the local inn. He slipped in the front door and disappeared inside.

Jana waited a moment, unsure of what to do, but with a mental command, her unseen companion slipped down from her usual perch under the girl’s cloak, out underneath her skirt and skittered across the path and beneath the crack of the door.

She heard the soft hissing voice in her head whisper “Man go up,” and Jana decided to call her little friend back rather than risk her going into possible danger.

Alert to possible danger, Jana went back into the market to meet up with her companions.

---

Meanwhile, Kazrack had not found any of the animals to be to his liking or in his price range, so he wandered off to the smithy to offer his services for the day and earn some extra coin.

By this time Ratchis had entered town and wandered into the market. The people of Bountiful looked fearfully at the tall and scarred man and gave him a wide berth. He stood nearly a full head above most people here. He two sticks of the roasted mutton on a stick and devoured them hungrily. He then stood in line by the keg someone was selling flagons of mead from, and getting the first he immediately returned to line to drink as he waited for a second.

He had just gotten his second flagon, when the others caught up to him. Jana, Beorth and Chance gathered together with the newest companion. Ratchis had not been able resist the charming effects of the smell of fresh-baked pies and had purchased an entire pumpkin pie. He shared a piece with Beorth and one with Jeremy. Jana refused the last quarter, so Ratchis ate it hungrily.

It was then that they noticed a tall woman, walking in their direction. She was lithe and pale, with her long light brown hair in a single thick braid that fell down her back. She had a freckled face that was just barely on the pretty side of plain. She wore robes of various shades of lavender and carried a staff. Everyone seemed to know her and she seemed to know everyone. She greeted everyone by name as they waved to her.

“Good day, Alexandra!” they called to her.

The woman walked past the four companions and smiled, nodding, but as she passed she turned and looked at Ratchis and the her gaze fell on Jana and lingered there for a long moment, until she turned her head again to smile and wave at another villager.

“I wonder who she is?” wondered Jeremy, aloud.

Jana, Jeremy, Ratchis and Beorth walked over to a stall where knives were being sold and Jana bought one. And then decided to head back to camp.

“Hold on,” said Beorth, and then walked back to get a candied apple. “I figured I’d give this to Kamir. He deserves a treat.”

The four them walked back to camp and Beorth hunted down Kamir.

“Kamir, this is for you,” Jeremy said handing him the candied apple.

The permanent smile of the red-cheeked round-faced boy shrunk into one of astonishment; his mouth a perfect “O”.

“Really? This is for me?” Kamir’s smile returned.

“Yeah, sure, take it,” Beorth said. Kamir took hold of the candied apple’s stick.

“Um, no one has ever given me anything my whole life. Thank you. Thank you,” a tear slipped down the boy’s chubby cheek.

“Think nothing of it. I just thought you’d like a treat of some kind,” Beorth said, awkwardly patting Kamir’s shoulder.

Kamir licked the apple two or three times, and then took a very small nibble.

“I think I’ll save more for later. I have to finish distributing the wood for the fires. This will be great for dessert.” He stuck the candied apple stick into the ground before the tent he shared with Jeremy and Chance.

“Thanks again,” he said to Beorth with a wave, and then ran off to finish his chores.

---

At that moment, throughout the camp could hear the sound of young voices. A few more than a dozen boys broke through the brush in a jog. They carried wooden sticks with a wooden frame appended to one end with a net across it to create a pocket. They flung a ball between them as they ran.

“Hey, where are you going?” Jeremy asked a passing boy.

“We are going to play a game of Stick & Nets,” the boy said. “Wanna come? We are one man short.” (58)

“You’d have to teach me how to play,” Jeremy said, trying to hide his excitement.

“Well, you are kind of big so you can be on our team. I’ll get you an extra stick. I’ll explain the rules as we head down to the field.”

Jeremy joined the boys that ranged in age from 13 to 16 and fumbled the stick, trying to get the hang of “cradling” the ball in the net.

Jana and Beorth decided to follow and watch, along with a few others of Crumb’s boys and a bunch of parents and younger siblings of the two teams of boys.

The boys had two large woven baskets weighed down with rocks set up as goals. Jeremy found the game fascinating, if not a bit painful, as he soon learned, “you may hit your opponent’s stick with your when he has the ball, and oh, your hands are considered part of the stick.” It was interrupted a lot by callings of “off-sides” and more than once Jeremy realized that it was he who made there be too many members of his team be on the opponent’s side of the field. They had him playing defense, but somehow, he found that he was taking most of the abuse and boys seemed to target him with their checking.

As Beorth and Jana watched and laughed (well, actually Jana did most of the laughing, Beorth smiled once or twice) a few more villagers arrived to watch the game. Among them was the woman they had seen earlier in the village, with her staff and lavender robes. She greeted several on-lookers and then began to walk over to Beorth and Jana, walked away as the woman approached, making as if she were trying to watch the action by one goal a little closer.

“Good day and well met,” the woman said, raising one hand.

“Well met,” said Beorth.

“I am Alexandra the Lavender, Watch-Mage of Bountiful,” she said. “I take it you are here with the caravan of men going up to the Little Kingdoms.

“Gothanius, yes,” said Beorth. “I am Beorth, servant of Anubis.”

They shook hands.

“I noticed your companion; the girl. She is here with the group, too?”

“Um, yes. Why do you ask?” said Beorth with curiosity.

“Well, a man came through town only a day or two ago and was asking for a girl that fits her description. He was harassing some townsfolk, so I had to ask him to leave. He seemed very intent on finding her,” Alexandra explained.

“Really? Well, she has never mentioned anything like that to us,” Beorth said. “Come on, let’s ask her.”

He led the Watch-Mage over to Jana.

“Jana, this is the local Watch-Mage, Alexandra the Lavender,” Beorth introduced.

Jana met the tall woman’s eyes hesitantly. She felt as if Alexandra were examining her closely as if to find out something specific about her.

“Hello,” said Jana.

“Well met, Jana. I was just explaining to Beorth here, that a man came through town a couple of days ago and he was looking for someone that matches your description.”

“Really? Must be a coincidence. I don’t know of anyone that would be looking for me,” Jana said, innocently.

“Are you sure? It seems like a strange coincidence,” Alexandra said, skeptically. “He spoke with several people in town and I later discovered that several of them were charmed. I needed to break the enchantments, but it was difficult in some cases. There may even be some people left under his spell, but I have not yet discovered them.”

“Well, I have no idea about it,” Jana said with a tone of annoyance.

“It is good that you were able to break these enchantments, but really we have no idea who this man might be. And we haven’t heard anything about someone looking for Jana. It must be a coincidence,” said Beorth.

“Well, as Watch-Mage of Bountiful it is my responsibility to investigate anyone or anything that might be a danger to it. I’m sorry if I seem intrusive. Please enjoy your stay in Bountiful, and if I can help you somehow do not hesitate to find me. My tower can be seen from anywhere in town. And if you do learn anything about this man, please let me know. Good day!” Alexandra said pleasantly and walked off.

A young boy ran up to her and she walked away, and she scooped him up into her arms and playfully tweaked his nose.

The game of Sticks & Nets continued. Jeremy was moved to a mid-field position, and actually got a chance to score, but the abuse was laid upon him even more. Finally, the game was over and Jeremy’s team did win, though he did not score even one goal. Happy, but aching, he walked back to camp with Beorth and Jana for supper. They ran into Ratchis, who had spent the afternoon hiking in the small wooded areas about Bountiful, and feeding squirrels and groundhogs.

Everyone was waiting on the chow line, when Kazrack returned from his day of work at the smithy. He ran into Kamir, who was bringing buckets of fresh water up from the river.

“Hey, Kamir! How’d ya like your gift?” Kazrack said with a sly smile.

“My gift?” Kamir looked puzzled for a minute.

“Oh, I loved it,” he said, remembering the candied apple with a broad smile. “It was the best gift I ever got!”

“Oh, good I am glad!” Kazrack said. “You had fun?”

“Yeah, it was nice. I had some and then I had some later. I shared some of it with a few of the other guys too.”

Kazrack was taken aback. “Oh, really? That is very generous of you.”

“Well, what good is a gift you can’t share it with others right?” Kamir said.
“I guess,” the dwarf replied.

“I have to go. These buckets are getting heavy. Thanks of asking!” Kamir said, as he clambered away.

Kazrack went to get some dinner before it was all gone, perplexed by the oddities of humans.

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

Notes:

(56) “Pig-F*cker” and son of a “Pig-f*cker” are both common insults for those of orcish lineage.

(57) Watch-Mages are graduates of the Academy of Wizardry, who are assigned to guide and watch over specific towns and areas. The local government of Thricia is based solely on the power of the Watch-Mage. For more info on the Academy of Wizardry see www.aquerra.com.

(58) Sticks & Nets is a game said to originate in Thricia. It is very similar to our own game of lacrosse.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #7 (part II)

Late that night Jana slipped out of her tent and found a secluded spot in the clearing in the woods south of the camp. From her belt pouch she took a bone she had recovered from that night’s dinner and place it on the ground. She took out the baby wolf skull necklace that she took from the goblin warlock and placed in a few feet before her. Jana then took out the knife she bought earlier that day and cut her palm, wincing. Dipping the bone in the seeping blood, she traced a circle in the dirt around the skull and began to murmur arcane words, her eyes rolling back into her head as she reached, reached, reached out to make contact.

But, even as she felt her will reach out she realized it was not working. The token was too foreign, its power too evasive. She would have to try again another time. Jana heard a footfall behind her. Coming out of her trance she turned, feeling dizzy.

“What are you doing?” said a barely recognizable voice.

Jana stumbled to her feet, grabbing the wolf skull and then rubbing her eyes. She gained her sense of balance and looked. It was Alexandra the Lavender.

“What are you doing?” Alexandra asked again.

“Nothing,” replied Jana.

“That looks like a summoning circle,” Alexandra said, pointing to the circle of blood.

“It is not what you think it’s for,” Jana replied.

“I know good and well what it is, and nothing can be summoned in the lands under my vigilance without my leave,” the Watch-mage said angrily.

“I was not summoning anything to summon something, I mean. . . “ Jana was flustered. “I was not doing this to summon and control anything. I…”

“I know what you were trying to do, and I know how easily a circle of summoning can go awry. I cannot allow such things to happen unsupervised in my domain of protection. I suggest that you go back to your camp and do not attempt such a thing again or I will be forced to take action.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” Jana insisted.

“I only have your word on that, and looking at this scene, your word means little to me at the moment. I am glad that you are only here until morning, and if ever you pass through Bountiful again, I hope that you will be careful what you do.“

“Fine,” said Jana in a huff, and stomped off back to camp and went to go to sleep, but her annoyance and anger kept her blood-boiling and her mind too alert for a long time before she could slip off.

Osilem, 17th of Ese

Day came from the east riding the rays of Ra’s Glory, racing the smell of the distant ocean that expended itself in the effort to reach so far inland. In that first light Chance crept into the tent he shared with Jeremy and Kamir. Kamir had already awakened to do his usual chores.
Jeremy woke up, and turned to look at Chance who dropped into a pretend sleep as soon as he felt the Neergaardian stir.

“Chance, where have you been?” Jeremy asked groggily.

Chance gave a false snore.

“Chance, I know you just got in!” Jeremy said, angrily.

“Huh? Whut? Kep it don Ahm tryin’ ta slep,” Chance said, mimicking a groggy voice.

“You just got here,” Jeremy insisted.

“Will ya be quiet!” Chance rolled over. “Whatcha waking me fer, so early en tha marning?”

The waking breakfast bell rang. Chance sat up and rubbed his eyes, following this with an exaggerated stretch.

“Ach! Whut uh gret night’s slep that wuz!” he said, and crawled out of the tent to join the others in packing for another portion of the journey to Gothanius.

-----

The two creaky wagons rolled out of Bountiful, and once again Crumb’s boys broke into two groups, one that rode and one that walked. The rolling plains made brown by the recent harvest, but speckled with the occasional orange and yellow of pumpkin and squash pass them by, and by day’s end they had come upon the first of a series of hills that in the dying light seemed to go on forever in all directions. Here the road was made of a chalky gravel that kicked up large amounts of dust. They made camp in the nearby crabgrass and slept.

----

Tholem, 18th of Ese

The next day the wagons moved up and down over the hills steadily for hours with no end. The ridge was all of that dry crumbly stone, covered with a scrabble of low leafless brush in place, but with no trees to speak of and a cold wind that wound about the base of the hills and would swoop suddenly over the summit with a loud whoosh and a cruel slash across the face of those who walked.

Up and down. Up and down. Kazrack rode as he did everyday, and he felt as if he were back on the ship, but in a dreadful slow motion. He longed to feel the hard packed earth of Derome-Delem under his dwarven feet, but he was not allowed to walk as he could not keep up and it pained his dwarven soul.

It was past mid-day and still they had not stopped for lunch, and Crumb’s boys began to mumble complaints, when from the top of one hill there could be seen a huge cloud of dust approaching from behind the next barren hill. Crumb called for the wagons to stop, and those that were walking could feel the ground begin to vibrate as the cloud approached. Whatever it was could not be seen, but was moving at a steady pace nearly twice as fast as the oxen could pull the wagons. Ratchis stepped off the road and strained his eyes to see what it was.

Kazrack could now feel the rumbling and noticed that the wagons had stopped and leaning out of the back, looked forward to see the approaching cloud. “What could that be?” he said.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” murmured Jeremy.

Crumb called for the wagons to continue, moving down to the narrow valley between the two hills.

“No,” said Kazrack. “If this presents a danger we should stay on high ground.” But his advice went unheeded and the two wagons rolled down the hillside.

Those who walked followed hesitantly. Ratchis pulled his bow and left the road, coming down the hill through the scraggily brush. And now there could heard above the rumble the sound of many deep voices joined in song. At first it was barely discernible, but as the wagons came to a halt once again at the bottom of the hill, and Crumb called for them to be pulled off the road, the song was understood.

Over Hill, Over Dale
We are Dwarves and we fight `til we fail!
We kill orcs and goblins, too.
Better watch out or we’ll kill you.
We are Dwarves!
And we fight for what’s right,
`Cause we’re Dwarves!


The cloud of dust overcame the would-be heroes and within it could be seen a great caravan of dwarves riding at a quick pace atop huge lizards, lower than horses, but much longer. They began to pass making no notice of the young men on their way to Gothanius. Two by two, they passed, the front ranks holding flags forward, followed by dwarves upon their heavily laden reptilian mounts. The creatures’ dull green scales were covered in the dust of the hills, and occasionally, their long dark tongues shooting out to taste the air, dragging their heavy tails behind them.

There were several score of these lizard-mounted dwarves passing, and along their flanks came dwarven warriors in plate mail, and helms with visors to keep the dust from their eyes. Some bore spears and others crossbows, and the lizards they rode were outfitted in chainmail barding. These guards moved faster than the caravan, moving up and down the line, keeping an eye open. One such warrior, rode by slowly sizing up Crumb and his boys, who were now all gathered in a group to watch the spectacle.

“Wow,” was all Kazrack could say.

“Ah cahnna buh-lev et,” Chance said, his jaw dropped way down.

“Where can I get one of those?” Jeremy asked aloud.

The dwarven rider’s eyes caught those of Kazrack, and the dwarf who had long been in accidental exile raised his fist in a sign of greeting. The warrior reared his lizard and moved very quickly forward down the line, and at the end of his vision, Kazrack could see he had pulled along side one of the others of the caravan. Now, another lizard left the line and came quickly back down the line towards where the wagons waited for the dwarves to pass.

Seemingly unimpressed, Crumb called out in a loud voice, “It may take some time for them to pass. Let’s have our lunch break here.”

Some of Crumb’s boys began to help Kinney and Horung with the provisions, but others simply watched in awe. Finally, the other lizard that had left the line reared by Kazrack, and he noticed that it had a double saddle. The dwarf who rode in the rear, dismounted and stepped towards Kazrack. He struck a fist against his chest and raised a fist in a sign of greeting that Kazrack copied. He then threw his open hand forward and he and the new dwarf grasped each other’s wrists and shook. The rider brought his mount back into the line.

This dwarf had a thick black beard braided in three large braids that were entwined with twine of pure gold. He was dressed in a shirt of mail, and had a war hammer at his side. About his neck was a leather pouch full of what Kazrack knew to be runestones. This was a dwarven priest. (59)

“I am Daerngar of Mnornthord-Rymraugh, which humans call Rockmar. This is the 137th regiment of the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant Consortium,” the dwarf gestured back to the lizards that still passed. “It is not often that I see one of our kin traveling among humans in this fashion, that is why I stopped.”

“I am Kazrack Delver. While my family is originally from Derome-Delem, I have lived most of my life in Verdun, in the Kingdom of Herman Land, and have only just recently returned to our homeland.”

“Hmmph,” said Daerngar grunted. “It is good that you have found your way back. A young dwarf as yourself should not have to live among humans and be separated from his people.”

“Well, my father made sure I grew up learning the traditions and stories,” said Kazrack.

“As any father should,” replied Daerngar. “And why do you travel with humans now? Why do you not seek out the stronghold of your people?”

Kazrack paused, coughed and explained, “In order to arrange for travel here I had to agree to help these humans of the Kingdom of Gothanius in a small endeavor.”

“Gothanius? You know that is stolen land?” Daernagar asked, one black bushy eyebrow arching significantly.

“Aye, I do. But I have given my word,” Kazrack replied.

“I see. And a dwarf’s word should be as steady as the stone. But when you are done with this task you should travel and visit your brethren throughout Derome-Delem and see how it is that dwarves should live.”

“I plan to as part of my search for the king who will unite all the dwarven people into one kingdom,” Kazrack said gravely. (60)

“Are we not all searching for such?” Daerngar said.

“We are?” Kazrack was puzzled.

“Aye, we all are, whether we know it or not. Whether one looks or not, one might still find something, sometimes even a king.”

Daerngar was silent for a time, just looking at Kazrack. The sound of the passing train of laden lizards seemed distant in that moment, and then the rune-thrower spoke again.

“And what did your rune-thrower say before you came on this journey? Did you have your runes thrown?” he went one to ask.

Kazrack looked down and then away from Daerngar, trying not to look in his eye. Rubbing the back of his own neck, and clearing his throat, he replied, “We did not have a priest among my people. My father is wise and knows much, but he is not trained in the clergy.”

“So, you have never had your runes thrown?” Daerngar asked with a hint of disbelief.
Kazrack shook his head.

“Come with me,” Daerngar led Kazrack further away from the road and away from where Crumb’s boys were having their lunch.

He brought the younger dwarf to a spot clear of foliage and traced a circle in the dirt with his finger and then squatted across from Kazrack on the other side of the circle.

“Every dwarf should have his runes read ere he go on any journey,” Daerngar said, pulling the pouch of stones out from around his neck.

“Give me your hand,” the runethrower said, and placed the pouch in Kazrack’s open palm and covered it with his own strong calloused hand.

“Lehrathonar, (61) Keeper of the Secrets Under the Mountain, Carver of the Secret Ways Beneath the Sea, Scribe of Xoth (62) both lost and rediscovered, reveal to me of the path of this young dwarf so he may play his part in the grand role of our kin.”

Daerngar then spilled the stones within the circle in the dirt and began to examine how they lay.
“Hmmmmm,” said Daerngar. “It is as I thought, it is not mere coincidence that I was called to speak to you.”

“What. . . What do they say?” asked Kazrack hesitantly.

Daerngar looked directly into Kazrack’s eyes, “It is clear that you will make a choice, or help to make a choice that will determine the future of Derome-Delem and thus the dwarven people and their kindred races.”

Kazrack seemed to stop breathing, and Daerngar continued.

“It is unclear what this choice shall be, but it is not far by dwarven standards, unless you have been infected by human impatience, and it may not appear to be as important or wide reaching as it truly is.”

Kazrack let out a long slow breath.

“The gods do watch you. You serve them already whether you know it or not. Remember it is their will you perform when you act and you will not fail them – weigh all choice with the patience given our people.”

Daerngar stood, but Kazrack felt as if he could not stand with the weight of what he had just heard resting upon his lap. The rune-thrower placed one hand atop Kazrack’s head and spoke.

“Natan-ahb (63) , watch over this wayward youth so that he may find his way back into the fold and be welcomed into the arms of the dwarven people. Hodenar (64), watch over his journey, may he find aid where he needs it and may his legs always have the strength to continue when the road becomes difficult. And Krauchaar (65), please aid his skill with axe and hammer so he might overcome any dangers that require those harsh methods as he makes his way wherever he may need to go.”

“Thank you,” said Kazrack softly. Daerngar scooped up his runes and slid them into their pouch, place it back around his neck.

Daerngar placed two fingers in his mouth and issued a sharp whistle. In the distance, the rider who had dropped him off turned his mount back towards the dwarven priest.

“I must go, but remember what I have told you. Pray that Lehrathonar makes all cleared for you in time,” Daerngar said. The two dwarves clutched wrists and shook. Daerngar mounted on the back of the double lizard and raised a fist at head height. Kazrack returned the gesture.

Kazrack stood and watched the last of the great lizards pass, imagining riding such a beast into battle, while contemplating the words of the rune-thrower. Before he knew it, Crumb’s boys had eaten their meal and packed up again and it was time to continue the journey westward.

The rest of the day’s journey was uneventful. They camped that night on the edge of copse of trees.

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

Notes:

(59) Priests of the Dwarven Pantheon are called Rune-Throwers, because they both hold the secret of the ancient dwarven runes which have power and because they use them to cast spells and divine the future.

(60) There is a legend among most dwarven communities that a king will arise to unite all the dwarves of Aquerra into one empire as it was of old. The last time such a thing existed was in the 2nd Age, over 2000 years before present time.

(61) Lehrathonar is the dwarven God of Secrets & Lore. Also called “The Silent God”.

(62) Xoth is the name for the secret runic language of dwarven priests which no one else may know or use.

(63) Natan-ahb is the head of the dwarven pantheon. He is the Soul-Forger.

(64) Hodenar is the dwarven god of trade and travel.

(65) Krauchaar is the dwarven god of battle.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #7 (part III)

Balem, the 19th of Ese

The wooden wheels turned and the day was spent walking and riding westward, up and down hills, until finally a hill seemed to go up and never come back down, and a moderate forest filled the eyes in to the north, south and west. By mid-morning, the woods open up to reveal a small town of log buildings along the side of wide river that cut a deep trench in the land. The trees of the forest still clung close to the edge of this pimple of civilization.

As the wagons turned southward, seeking out a place to make camp, Crumb’s boys saw two men walking with a huge elk hanging from a stout stick they carried on their ssdahoulders. They wore long coats of fur, leather work pants, and hats made of raccoon and beaver. Walking along beside them was a young boy of about eight years, similarly attired, carrying the corpses of three rabbits tried to string. The town’s one street was made of a dusty packed dirt, and a stone bridge, could be seen across the entrance to the town, with covered turrets facing to the north and south (as the river ran).

The wagons came to a clearing along the muddy riverbank, and Crumb’s boys began to make camp, Kamir doing most of the work as usual. Even as they set their tent stakes into the ground and gathered what wood they could find, Crumb’s boys noted an odd smell coming from the river. At first it was subtle, but as the wind changed to come from the northwest, it became almost too much to bear. Beorth recognized it immediately. It was the smell of death.

Beorth and Ratchis walked down to the river to find the source of the stench and when they arrived it was all too obvious. All along the river bank, for about 100 yards in each direction north and south, was a chaotic collection of wooden spikes and stakes pointing towards the river. The sharpened wood ranged from the thickness of large tree branches, to smaller stakes, but impaled on these were countless corpses in varying states of decay. The whole area was splattered with blood and gore and bits of cloth. Some of the bodies were nothing more than bleached bones, but others looked only a week or two old, their faces bloated and purple. Rats scurried about munching on their flesh, and crows and gulls hopped from corpse to corpse pecking out eyeball, tugging on revealed entrails. The dead men were dressed in clothing one might expect of sailors; billowy sailcloth shirts, and short pants and kerchiefs. Broken spears and rusted sabres could be seen littered among the corpses.

Beorth stumbled backward, overwhelmed by the sight of so many bodies dishonored in such a way. He covered his face with one hand and let out a long breath. “Anubis, give me strength,” he muttered, and the turning to Ratchis he said, “Something must be done about this.”

The party gathered and discussed the situation. Beorth knew he could not let such an affront to Anubis pass, and yet he knew that the people of this town might not look kindly on his interference. They agreed to head into town after the mid-day meal and find someone in charge to talk to about the problem.

As Crumb’s boys gathered to get their bowl full of stew, Crumb coughed to get their attention.

“Welcome to the town of Stonebridge,” he said in his usual basso. “Let me tell you all, that this is kind of a rough place and it is best if you boys stay away from town. We have traveled far and to be honest, the easiest part of our journey is behind us. When we leave here, after three or four days of rest, we will be traveling along narrow trails, up hills and into the mountains. While we are here, see Deet about getting a small stipend for buying some winter gear for the journey, and I will send Horung and Kinney to get some good food and drink so we can celebrate all we have accomplished so far.”

“I wonder why he wants us to stay away from town,” mused Kazrack aloud as he, Ratchis, Chance, Beorth, Jana and Jeremy did just that.

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Jeremy with exasperation. “The people here impale people on stakes by the river and let them rot!”

The six of them came to the town’s one thoroughfare, lined with log houses on both sides, except for one large building of white brick. It was across from what was obviously a tavern that hung a painted sign of a dead pirate with six crows atop him pecking at his corpse. The avoided that place and went to the white brick building and knocked on the thick oaken door.

A middle-aged man, his hair already showing streaks of white answered the door. He looked the collection of people outside of his door up and down.

“Well met,” said Beorth.

“Well met,” said the man. “Are you looking for a room? We have vacancies.”

“Oh, this is an inn? No, we were jut looking for who’s in charge around here. Who is your Lord?” Beorth asked.

“We don’t have a lord,” the man replied. He looked over Beorth’s shoulder at Ratchis and wiped a bit of spit from the corner of his mouth. He then glanced down at Kazrack. “We have a marshal that runs the place. But I’m not sure you want to talk to him.”

“Why not?” asked Beorth.

“He is not a very talkative fellow, but maybe Kennoch the priest of Ra could help you. His house, I mean, the temple is right next door.” The man pointed up the street.

“Thank you very much,” Beorth said.

“And if you do need rooms feel free to return,” the man said and closed the door.

They walked over to a smaller house nearby, made of logs, but with a slate roof, unlike the thatched or log roofs of most of the buildings in town. Upon the door painted in gold, was the symbol of Ra. Again, Beorth knocked. There was no answer at first, so Beorth knocked again, this time louder.
The door swung open suddenly, and there was a man in his mid-twenties; his head was clean shaven, and he had a chain shirt hastily donned, in one hand he held a mace and had a shield strapped to his forearm.

“Are the pirates attacking?” he said, excitedly. He looked surprised to see Beorth and the others standing before his door.

“Um, no,” replied Beorth. “We have come to speak to you about the bodies on the river bank.”
“Oh, you must excuse me. Few people come to see me unless we are under attack, which is a shame, but the reality of this harsh place,” the man said, his face relaxing into a smile, his face has the creases of one who had been chubby, but who had become lean with time. They could tell now that he has the slightest hint of a Wallbrookian accent. “Come inside. I am Kennoch of Ra. This is my home, but it is also the house of Ra, all are welcome.”

He stepped inside and gestured for the others to follow. He slipped off his chain shirt and hung it on the wall with his mace. The far wall across from the door was a shrine dedicated to the Sun God, with a golden statue of the hawk-headed King of the Gods upon his barge. Two plain wooden benches lined the left and right walls, and a plain wooden door beside the altar led to a room behind. Kennoch went over to the hearth and tossed some sticks on the fire.

“Would anyone like tea?” he asked.

“I would be delighted,” said Beorth.

“Uh, okay,” said Jeremy.

Kennoch hung a teapot over the fire, and turned to the group. “So, what are your names and what are you doing in Stone Bridge?”

The six companions introduced themselves and explained about the trip to Gothanius, and then Beorth asked, “You mentioned pirates; are those the bodies of pirates by the river?”

“Yes,” answered Kennoch. “The Tall Twin River Pirates are a foul and Set-lovin’ bunch who use the river for their smuggling and slaving operation. They are a constant thorn in the side of the people of Stonebridge, taking slaves, setting fire to the houses, stealing their hard-earned crops and furs. The people of Stonebridge hate them and rightly so. It is for that reason that the bodies are hung up on the riverbank to show all the pirates what happens to those who come here to pillage and kill. Every man, woman and child here can fight better than many warriors I have seen back in Wallbrook and Herman Land.”

“But this goes against our ways of burial and the treatment of the Dead, no matter who they might have been in life, as set down by Anubis,” said Beorth, his voice soft and solemn.

“I know,” said Kennoch, pouring tea into cups for his guests. “But these are a hard and proud people and only recently have a I come to them with the word of Ra. It will take time before they will learn how wrong their acts are. It is only by virtue of my being able to help defend the town that I have earned the respect of any of them.”

“You help them fight?” Beorth asked.

“Well, they ARE pirates and law-breakers, setites, what else would I do?”

“Well, I don’t think I can let such a thing continue if I can help it,” said Beorth. “Do you know whom I might speak to in town to get permission to collect these bodies and lay them to rest?”

“Well, there is the Marshal Harrick Moonglum, but I do not think he would be much help. He is a man of few words and short temper - Do not ever disturb him when he is drinking! - He will not even talk to strangers, but I have been able to say a few things to him lately, perhaps I can speak on your behalf, and see if he will discuss the problem with you at least.”

“We would greatly appreciate that,” said Beorth.

“But I have to tell you again, the people of Stonebridge are proud and independent people. They even refused the offer of the dwarves of the Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant Consortium to build the town walls to fend off the pirates.”

“They were offered Dwarven walls and they refused?” Kazrack said in disbelief.

“Aye,” replied Kennoch. “The deal was for a safehouse (66) to be built here, but the people of Stonebridge do not want interference from the dwarves. They want to live free of all responsibilities to anyone but themselves. They suffer the pirates as the cost of their freedom.”

Ratchis shuffled restlessly in his seat.

“The marshal holds his title because he is the best fighter and smartest leader against he pirates, but if another came and could best or kill Harrick, he would become the marshall and the people would follow him until a stronger leader came along. These people have yet to learn some of Ra’s basic lessons,” Kennoch said. “I will go try to find him in his home in the woods north of here, but a half mile away. He is a furrier. If you like, wait for me at the Sign of the Six Crows and I will come and tell you what he said.”

So Beorth and the others went to the tavern across the way, as Kennoch took up his shield and mace agai, and took a path out of the north side of the town’s only street into the woods.
The Sign of the Six Crows was dark and had a floor of hard earth and long wooden tables and benches. There was however one small table with one chair in the center of the room. A grizzled man, looking old beyond his years and wearing a broad scar on his chin was cleaning the mugs.
“Eh? Well met,” he croaked.

The party ordered some mead, and then the barkeep went out back “to tend to some business” and said he’d be right back.

A few minutes later, a tall man dressed in studded leather armor, with a brown bear fur cloak and a beard to match, and having a hand axe and a longsword on his belt walked in the tavern. He had steel blue eyes, and while shoulders were broad, the rest of his body was lithe, but muscular. Without pausing he stepped behind the bar, grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a glass and then took a seat at the lone table in the center. He filled the glass up to the top with the whiskey and downed it quickly, and then poured another. This one he sipped more slowly. Not once did he address or even acknowledge the presence of the party.

“I bet that’s the marshal,” Kazrack whispered to Jeremy.

The swing doors creaked again, and this time the flamboyant form of Garcon came through.
“Oh, ho! Here are my stalwart companions and worthy friends, retiring to the comfort of the village tavern for a drink and a bite. I shall join them!”

Garcon walked over to the group, sitting next to Jana.

“Oh, such a vision of loveliness we have here that even this simple rustic tavern becomes beautiful in the light of her glow,” Garcon said, taking her hand and planting a sloppy kiss as she pulled it away.

Chance growled softly.

“Oh, but yes,” said Garcon, pulling out an atomizer and spraying himself with cologne. “We should not flaunt the connection we have, envious eyes turn cruel!” He put away his perfume and clapped his hands.

“Barkeep, please bring me your finest wine!”

The barkeep had just stepped back in, and Kazrack and Jeremy got up and moved away from

Garcon, taking spots at the bar.


“We have mead,” the barkeep said in a flat voice.

“Yes, well, that will have to do then,” said Garcon. “What a simple people!”

“You have to come and get it!” the barkeep called.

“Yes, of course. How quaint. And of course, refill the drink of the lovely lady,” Garcon said, getting up. He paused by Beorth.

“Excuse me dear fellow, I do seem to be a bit short, could you perhaps lend me a copper or two until the next time we stop somewhere?”

Beorth smirked and handed him a few coins.

“Thank you my dear sir. You re truly blessed by the gods!”

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

“Excuse me,” Kazrack asked the barkeep. “But do you know who that is there?” The dwarf gestured to the guy drinking the whiskey by himself.

“That there’s the marshal, but do yourself and me a favor both, and don’t bother him when he’s drinking, he doesn’t like it,” the barkeep said.

“Okay, we just wanted to talk to him about giving the bodies by the river a decent burial,” said Kazrack.

“Why the hell wouldja wanna do something like that for?” the barkeep said with surprise. “Those pirate bastards deserve anything they get. They killed my sister, and I killed the one that done it, and I was happy to see the crows pecking out his eyes, I tell ya. That is how I got the name of me place!” He wiped a bit of spittle from the corner of his mouth, a fire seemed to blaze in his eyes. “Anyway, that kind of talk will only make the marshal real angry, and I’ve seen him take on and kill six men by himself, so I wouldn’t really wanna make him mad if I was you.”

“He killed six men by himself? At once?” Kazrack looked over his shoulder at the marshal.

“I’m sure he did,” said Jeremy. “Every town has one of those, some guy that no one else can beat and who can beat a handful of people without breaking a sweat. Back home, it’s old Greavey.”
The marshall drained the last of the whiskey and walked out.

---

“So tell me about your grand adventures I have heard you have been doing? Can you use a sword? We could be a heroic dueling couple who fight for justice and the oppressed! I could teach all the skills that I have mastered with my weapons. I can be shockingly violent, but do not be frightened for with you I would be a gentle as a lamb,” Garcon batted his eyelashes innocently.

Jana sighed.

Jeremy walked out of the tavern after the marshal. He waited in the cover of the doorway until he saw the tall man turn around the corner and then he crept after him. The marshal stepped into the thick woods behind the tavern, and Jeremy decided not to follow. He went back into tavern and had another drink.

Not too long after, Kennoch came walking in. He greeted the barkeep, who grunted and walked over to where Beorth was sitting.
“I could not find the marshal. He was not at his home, or nearby,” said the young priest of Ra.

”I think he was just here,” said Beorth, but we were not sure and did not want to disturb him.

“Good idea. It is best if you are introduced before you try to talk to him, otherwise it can only hurt your cause,” said Kennoch. “Why don’t you return to your camp and I will continue to look for him. Return in the morning for dawn prayer to Ra and I will tell you what he said then.”

It was agreed and while Ratchis, Jana, Chance, Kazrack and Jeremy went back to camp, Beorth crossed the bridge and sitting on the opposite river bank went without a meal, and prayed for the souls those left out to rot, which is what filled his vision from where he sat. Kazrack brought him a bedroll, blanket and a bite to eat, fearing that he might stay there all night in the cold.

---

The afternoon waned, and soon the sheep that Horung and Kinney had been slow roasting on a spit was ready to be eaten. A mash of cranberries was boiling over another fire, and finally Crumb and Deet arrived rolling kegs of ale for all the boys. A cheer went up. This would be the best meal they had in a long time.

The mood was one of gaiety and the smell of roast mutton and overflowing ale covered even the nearby stench of death (and the fact that the wind had changed again also helped). Kazrack fetched his fiddle and began to play a tune and soon Chance had joined in on his harmonica and the boys were dancing happily in circles, and clapping and singing. Finn Fisher stood by the Wallbrookian and the dwarf and stomped his foot and clapped his hands to keep time. The ale flowed freely, and between songs Kamir bought mugs of it to the musicians (and during songs he ran back and forth filling Devon’s mug for him).

During this time Beorth simply sat on the opposite river bank and prayed, but as it got dark he cross the bridge and came back to camp. The festivities he found did little to ease his troubled heart, but even as he headed to the tent he and Kazrack shared, the song was interrupted.

Gwar came crashing out of the bushes, his shirt was torn and blood poured down from a wound on his right shoulder.

“Somebody attacked me!” he cried.

Ratchis came running over, “What happened?”

“I was peeing, over in the bushes where we all do our business and some guy comes tumbling out of the dark. He must been drunk because he was weaving here and there, and I look back up and he’s right there and grabs me and bites me! He took a chunk out! Look!”

Jana came over to deal with Gwar’s injury, but Ratchis just grabbed his staff and went running in the direction Gwar had indicated. Beorth followed, but being still in his armor, moved slower. Chance just kept playing harmonica, and Jeremy by this time was very drunk and crawling into his tent to get his sword, slipped down on his stomach and passed out. Kazrack handed his fiddle to Finn and ran behind the two of them as well.

Ratchis crashed through the brush towards where the latrine had been dug and saw the outline of a stumbling figure. He wore a white shirt, and short pants and seemed to be mumbling to himself. The figure moved closer with sudden a quickness and reached towards Ratchis. He could now see that the flesh of this person was a rotten blue and grey. The skin was bubbled and bloated, peeled back in places where insects crawled around on raw flesh. One eyeball was turned inward, and his skull bore the cleave of an axe. Ratchis readied his staff , as it lurched forward to grab him with its blackened fingernails.

End of Session #7

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

Notes:

(66) The Nauglimir Dwarven Merchant Consortium uses “safehouses” as places to store wares, rest caravans and give shelter to traveling dwarves.
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #8 – “Like Summer Rain on the River”

The fight ended quickly.

Ratchis fended off the mindless undead with his quarterstaff, as Beorth came around to its flank and began to cut off chunks of dead flesh with his longsword.

Ratchis struck a hard blow against its skull with his staff, and he herd the resounding crack, but the strength of the blow did not slow down the wild flailing of the creature’s arms.

“Use slashing weapons,” said Beorth through gritted teeth. “They work better against corporeal undead.”

Ratchis next blow knocked the thing down, and at the moment Kazrack ran in and jumped atop it, wrapping his burly arms around the stinking dead flesh. He rolled over, getting beneath the stubborn struggling mass of walking death, as Ratchis and Beoth finished it with a few blows, until the animating force was driven away by the destruction of the body.

“See what comes of disgracing even the dead among our enemies,” said Beorth cleaning his sword in the grass. “This must stop.”

Ratchis dragged the corpse of the zombie back into camp for all to see. The festivities stopped and a Crumb’s boys gasped collectively.

“I was bitten by that!” Gwar cried out, his voice breaking. “Oh holy Ra! Beorth, is something bad gonna happen to me?”

“No,” Beorth said, calmly. “You should be fine.”

Kazrack ran over to Crumb’s tent. “Crumb, we have a problem!” the dwarf cried.

The portly man stumbled out of his tent, his face rosy from too much drink.

“Whut? What’s going on? What happened to the music?” he said in his deep voice, slightly slurred now.

“Undead,” said Kazrack. “Undead attacked Gwar, and the camp.”

“Really?” said Crumb, his eyes opening widely. “Well, that is not good - Not at all. We should set up guards or something. Deet! See that guards are set up or something.”

The fat man went back into his tent, Kazrack could hear him flop back onto his cushy bedroll.
Deet went over to inspect the body. “Why did you bring one of those dead bodies into the camp?” he asked.

“It was animated,” said Ratchis. “It attacked Gwar.”

“It did?” Deet looked at Ratchis incredulously.

“Yes, what are you going to do about it?”

“Well, not much I can do. Set up guards I guess.”

Ratchis sighed.

“At least do something to help Gwar’s wound,” said Kazrack.

“I can’t do much about that either. I did not pray for any spells of healing today,” said Deet.
Ratchis sighed again and made his way to Gwar who was on the verge of panic.

“Let me see you wound. Get down on your knees,” said the huge imposing and ugly frontiersman.
“Uh, why?” Gwar looked up at Ratchis with a frightened look.

“I am going to bless you with the divine energy of Nephthys to protect you from any harm to your soul that might come from that wound.”

“Nephthys?” Gwar stepped away. “No way! She’s a traitor goddess.”

Ratchis’ eyes narrowed. “Fine. I hope you do not awaken as a zombie in the morning.” He turned to walk off.

“Wait! Wait! Okay, you can do it. I guess Nephthys isn’t that bad.”

Gwar got down on his knees before Ratchis, who laid a big leathery hand upon the wound and channel positive energy into the young man.

“Nephthys, please use your divine essence to cleanse this boy of any evil that might have entered him through his foul wound,” he said, softly.

“Uh, thank you,” said Gwar.

“Thank Nephthys,” said Ratchis.

“Uh, yeah, okay,” and Gwar stepped away to find his brother.

Ratchis and Beorth burned the remains of the zombie and everyone headed to their own tents, their spirits dampened by the event that ended the evening.

Guards were posted, but the rest of the night went by without event.


Teflem, 20th of Ese - 564 H.E.

The morning came with a snap of cold that left the grass hard and sharp. Beorth awakened and gathering the group together went into town to see Kennoch of Ra. The found the door open, and Kennoch was kneeling before the altar praying aloud to Ra. The companions let themselves in quietly and sat to join him in prayer or just wait in reverent silence for him to be done.

It was nearly 45 minutes later that he finally stood and turned and addressed them.

“A fine morning, Ra’s Glory shines brightly to burn off the cold,” Kennoch said, brightly.

“Not all things are so bright, unfortunately,” replied Beorth. “For last night our camp was attacked by the foul undead, and where there is one there will be more.”

“Oh, there will be more. Zombies, right?” said Kennoch, almost flippantly.

“What? You knew of this danger?” said Beorth, trying to hide his disbelief as to not be disrespectful.

“Well, I knew some. The problem with the zombies is an intermittent one. Every few months there are some zombie attacks. They are destroyed or forced off and then forgotten. The people of Stonebridge don’t do anything about it. The pirates are a much more immediate threat and I think they see the zombies as kind of a test for the people here. That is, if you can survive despite the zombies then you are strong enough to stick around and help fight the pirates. I think they think it toughens them up, and they don’t even see it as a big problem.”

The party did not know what to say about this, and all was silent for some time.

“But as a Priest of Ra, how do you feel about the zombies?” Beorth asked, cautiously.

“I hate them. They are a frightful aberration and if I could find the source and destroy them all, I would. But I do not have the time and I am only one man and cannot seek out the source to deal with it, and do not know if I could by myself even if I could get there.”

“You know where the source is?” asked Kazrack.

“Not exactly,” Kennoch said. “They say there is an old mortuary south of here somewhere that is cursed. And the zombies always seem to come from the south. The local herbalist, Cort might know more about it. He lives in a cottage about a half mile south east of town, Just take the trail behind my house into the wood. It will lead you to him.”

“We will seek him out,” said Beorth. “I am duty bound to put an end to this undead menace.”
“Of course, and I would greatly appreciate if you did it. It might help me in my goal to turn the people of this troubled town to worship Ra,” Kennoch said. “I can offer little help as I cannot go with you, but I can give you this…”

Kennoch went to the altar and took down three clay vials. “These are waters blessed by Ra,” he said. “They may help to hurt undead, or to consecrate a place of evil.”

He handed them to Beorth.

“Thank you,” said Beorth. “We will use them in service of Ra and Anubis.”

"Also I spoke to the marshall, Harrick," added Kennoch. "He is a very obstinate man and would not listen to reason about the pirates' bodies. He said he felt that they deserved their fate in this world and the next and that 'strangers should mind their own business'. I'm sorry. I'm not sure there is much we can do, without coming into conflict with the people of this town."

"I must meditate on this, but for now we have a more pressing goal, for the undead are ever the enemies of Anubis," replied Beorth.

“May Ra be with you on your journey, and good luck,” Kennoch said, as they parted.

Beorth, Chance, Jana, Jeremy, Kazrack and Ratchis found the trail and followed it through the light wood.

They came to a clearing with a small log cabin with a thatched roof. The windows were nailed shut with boards, and some garden plots in front looked as if they has been stomped on. The whole front area was nicely paved with flat stones of different sizes, and a large heavy wooden bench and table, worn by years of weather was to the left of the door. Only the sound of birds could be heard.
Ratchis crept ahead of the group and signaled for them to wait. He examined the soft ground and found the tracks of several humanoids, some in boots and shoes other barefoot (one seemed to only have one shoe) dragging their feet in circles about the cabin.

“Zombies have been here,” he said in his gravelly voice.

“Hello?” a voice called from the shadow of the cabin’s doorway.

“Hello! We come seeking the herbalist!” cried Jeremy from where the rest of the group waited for Ratchis.

‘Well, you have found him,” said a jovial voice, that capped the statement with a long roll of laughter. A hefty man of late middle age came out of the cabin. He had thinning black hair cut into a bowl, and was dressed in quite the same utilitarian manner of the rest of the occupants of Stone Bridge.

Jeremy and the others walked up to Ratchis, and the herbalist walked up to them.

“Well, you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I do not know yours,” said Cort, followed by another spout of wheezing laughter.

The companions introduced themselves, and explained what they were looking for.

“The old mortuary, huh?” He laughed some more. “Tis a dark place. Cursed, I’m sure and the dead might be coming from there, or animated by some force originating there.”

Cort’s belly shook as he laughed some more.

“The place has been around since at least the Herman Land invasion, maybe longer. Some family started it to deal with all the dead from the war. No one remembers their name, however.”

“Do you know how to get there?” asked Jeremy.

“Yes, my search for roots and herbs takes me all over the area, though I avoid the mortuary specifically. All you need do is follow the river south for about a half-day until you come to a dried up oxbow. There turn east until you come to a wild apple orchard. You will see tall hills to your south from there. Over the first or second hill, you should find the place.”

“Do the zombies come here often?” Ratchis asked, pointing to the boarded windows.

“Often enough lately. In the past it was only every few months, but there have been multiple sightings and at least 5 attacks in the last two months. They always appear from the south and retreat back in that direction. It must be the mortuary,” Cort laughed some more. His eyes shone with gaiety. “So, anyone need any herbs or poultices?”

“I need to replenish my healer’s kit,” said Ratchis, and he followed the still laughing chubby man into the cabin. The others came in as well.

The cabin was dark and warm, and was infused with the smell of flowers and herbs mixed with a smoky flavor. There was table against the wall below the window that looked out on the front yard. It could be seen that a small space between the boards allowed one to spy out on the yard and shoot the heavy crossbow that was lying on the table. There was another table set up perpendicular to that table covered with bowls of herbs and roots, and further in the cabin could be seen wooden chairs covered in furs, a hearth and cots.

Ratchis’ senses alerted him to another presence in the room, and the turn of his head drew everyone’s attention to a little girl hiding beneath one table. Her eyes met the huge ugly man’s and she crawled back a bit more.
Cort laughed. “That is my grand-daughter, Frances. Tiny little fragile thing, kind of easily spooked.” The man laughed again and the others found that his laughter was a bit infectious and could not help but smile themselves.

“Come on out, Frances. They are just customers,” Cort said to the girl. She just slid further into the shadows beneath the table. Cort turned and addressed the party, “Her parents were killed in a pirate attack, but she’s going to need some toughening up if she’s going to survive in a place like this.”
Ratchis replenished his needs, as did Jana, amid spontaneous laughter among all of them, but most especially Cort who seemed to have an indefatigable good humor.

Kazrack smiled and approached the little girl.

"Hello, Frances," he said in a friendly voice. "I am Kazrack."

She yelped and tried to slink further back, but there was no where left to go.

"Would you like some chalk? You can draw on stones with it?" the dwarf said, offering a piece of the white stuff.

She looked at him with saucer eyes, and then at the chalk, and then looked to her grandfather.
"Go ahead and take it," Cort said to her.

She snatched it from Kazrack's hand, and murmured a thank you.

They bid adieu to the herbalist and stepped into the wood to plan their next step and immediately fell into arguing about what to do next. While they all agreed that that should seek out the mortuary (well, except maybe for Chance), Kazrack felt they should go back to the camp and alert the others that they might be gone a day or two. The rest disagreed. Ratchis felt that could make better time cutting straight to the river. Beorth was in a hurry to deal with the undead menace. Jeremy and Jana felt that Crumb wouldn’t care where they were and that it was pointless to tell him or anyone else.

"Well, Ah ken tell him when ah go bahck tuh da cahmp. Ahm not tuh sure I wanna guh find this morcherry," said Chance. "Wanna come back wit' meh, Jana?"

"I am going to go help with the undead menace. I have seen the harm they can do in my own home of Westron," the girl said with conviction.

"Well, if Jana is goin' then ahm goin'," Chance said with a sigh. "Someone needs tuh look aftah `er."
Overruled, Kazrack joined the others in following Ratchis westward to the river, though the dwarf grumbled for most of the time. The walked through three-fourths of a mile of briars and another half-mile of peat bog, until they arrived at the river, well south of Crumb’s camp.

This far south the dead bodies were left far behind and soon the sent of autumn flowers drifted on the air brought to them on the breeze off the river. They followed a easy and seemingly well-worn track southwards than never left sight of the river, but that did occasionally wander up to as high up on the bank it could, above the sandy shore.

They had traveled several hours already and it was only about an hour after they had stopped to eat their rations, when Ratchis noted the smashed hull of a riverboat washed up against a large rock in the shallow water.

As they came closer they could see the weathered bones of a sailor just beneath the surface of the water. Ratchis approached the smashed boat, and Beorth followed not too far behind, while the others walked behind hesitantly. As the tall woodsman came within reach of the skeleton, the companions felt a chilling breeze cut to their bone and the skeleton rose creepily, holding a rusted cutlass in one hand, and still having ripped remains of clothing draped over its bones. Jeremy called out as five more skeletons rose from the sand and the boat’s remains. A wave of fear flowed over the party.

Jana found that she could not move or even speak. The fear knotted her muscles into paralysis, but everyone else shook it off and moved to deal with the undead menace. The skeletons moved with unnatural quickness, despite the awkward movement of their fleshless limbs. Ratchis immediately smashed through one with his great strength behind his quarterstaff, and Beorth took on two by himself, driving them back with a fury born of his hatred of the undead. Kazrack and Jeremy were having trouble with the skeletons they were facing, as their halberd and swords respectively were having trouble smashing the bones into uselessness. Chance stood back, blocking Jana with his body and keeping his short sword drawn, but not joining the fray.

Beorth knocked down one of the skeletons he was fighting, and smashed the other into a hail of bones. Jeremy stepped forward grimacing with the cut of a cutlass slash to his side and crossing both his swords in from of him, sent another storm of bone fragments thundering like summer rain against the river. Kazrack was able to knock the leg off of one and then smash it’s skull as it fell. Ratchis stepped towards another skeleton that was moving to attack Kazrack, and smashed it into nothingness with one hard blow, which was echoed by Beorth finishing the last one.

“I fear this curse is growing in magnitude,” said Beorth, wiping his brow of sweat.

“Really? What gave you that idea?” said Jeremy sarcastically, sheathing his long and short swords.

“Look!” said Kazrack, pointing into the water. “Something is shining in the water. It looks like gold!”

Ratchis waded out into the water and lifted a small black metal chest from among the boat’s wreckage. As he lifted, gold coins washed over the side and plopped into the water. Jeremy slipped off his chain shirt and dove in after them, surfacing with a handful of gold coins, his hair now wet hair glistening like the coins in his hands.

Ratchis placed the chest on the riverbank, and ran his hand through the coins, that while mixed gold and silver, most were silver. He also found that right on the top was a metal collar inset with tiny rubies all around and a ring for a chain or leash. He held it up for the others to see.

“Is that an animal collar?” asked Kazrack. “It seems rather extravagant for that.”

“I think it is a slave collar,” said Ratchis, softly.

“It is too fancy to be a slave collar,” said Kazrack.

“A slaver might cherish a slave the way he’d cherish any other item of his property, it does not make the act any less heinous. I think it was meant for a slave as well,” said Beorth.

“Wow!” Chance was breathless. “Looket does rubies! We’ll fetch a good price from that thing.”

“We will not profit from an item that represents all that my goddess stand against,” said Ratchis, he raised the collar over his head to throw it into the river.

“Wait! We’re not going to use it on a slave. We could use the money to help ourselves do some good,” said Jeremy.

“Aye, less kep it,” said Chance.

“Kazrack, may I borrow your flail?” Ratchis asked the dwarf.

“Um, sure,” he replied.
Ratchis placed the collar on a rock, and taking the flail, smashed it with the flail three times, bending the collar into a twisted version of what it once was. As he picked it back up, the small rubies fell around the rock and Chance leapt and scooped them up, mimicked by Kazrack who reacted slightly slower. The dwarf only got one ruby.

“Remember, those are all of us,” said Kazrack to Chance.

“Of carse!” said Chance, slipping the rubies into a pouch and winking at Jana.

Ratchis spoke a word to Nephthys and tossed the collar into the deep part of the river, a few rubies still clung to the metal. He then poured the chest of coins into a sack and tied them to his pack.
 

Sammael99

First Post
I want my fix !

Nemmerle, you shouldn't even be sleeping ! You should be updating this thread ! I still have 5 sessions to read before I can get onto section II !

C'mon man !

:D
 

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