Monday, July 17, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.4 - Ill Breath in Lomah

Played 3/27/17 to 4/17/17

Thus far the biggest challenge with the Play-By-Post mode is keeping everyone engaged. Some post far more often than others.

After last episode, the caravan arrived in the town of Lomah - the last town before the frontier villages.

****

The 20th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: evening in the town of Lomah

Evening had come on the town of Lomah like a slow fever. With the rain, the shops in the upper town on top of the cliffs closed and most residents stayed inside.  But the lift was still working and the marble steps remained open to Lower Lomah and the taverns and docks.

While waiting for Mollie, Edwina ambled over to Goreal, seated in a pile of blankets on the floor and Dinty cleaning his gear from the day.  “The dead, um, undead, lady wants to go into town.  You two want to come along?” Edwina smiled.

Goreal stood from his mountain of blankets, slowly with a great yawn.  “Yes, I would like to see the town.”

Pausing to spit on his leathers for more polish, Dinty replied. "I'll come along as well, Ed."

*****

Before heading back to the common area, Mollie paused and looked at Hal.  “Did Chuck have a family?”

Hal replied.  “I don't know.  Probably.  The caravan master would know if wanted to ask.  Dwarf by the name of Abel Hoster.  He'll be up early to check the team.”

Mollie nodded. Then tossed Hal the small bag of coins containing her pay.  “If he does, send this to them, but don’t tell anyone who it is from.  She has an image to maintain.”

Hal took the bag and shook it.  “That’s very generous of you.  I will speak with Hoster.”

*****

Out of the compound, the streets turned muddy.  Edwina glanced uneasy at the shadows cast by her lantern.  As she stood in the rain with Dinty and Goreal looking for Mollie.  “Any ideas where you want to go?”

“Somewhere with tasty food,” Mollie exclaimed as she stepped out of the shadows. “Does anyone have any favorites?  She’ll eat it.  She’s not picky.” Mollie smiled and waited for her friends to respond.

Edwina shrugged.  “I’ve never been here before.  What are the docks like?”

Mollie replied. “She’s not been her either but probably full of ships, fish, and sailor bars.”

Edwina clapped.  “That sounds exciting.  What do you think Dinty?  Goreal?”

Dinty shrugged. "I'll eat just about anything, some fish sounds tasty and a good dwarven whiskey to wash it down!"

“I like fish.”  Goreal says gruffly, now thinking of what kinds of fish might be available.

*****

As they stomped through the muddy street toward the cliffside, a tired, heavy-set human town guard turned the corner.  Beside him was a halfling woman.  “Whot now who ye be?”

“We’re with the circus,” Mollie chirped and handed the guard an old flyer.

“Well now, bloody yet coggies.  I like the jumping and small dogs,”  replied the human taking the flyer.

“Carnies,”  snared the halfling.  “I guess your lot is off to the wharves.”

Goreal appeared confused and opened his mouth to speak, but Dinty cut him off.

"Circus performers​?" Dinty replied. "And here I thought we were part of a noble calling to help defend the weak and innocent of this land!"

Goreal grinned widely and nods at his Commander.

They stared at the large bear, the goblin, and the girl with purple hair.  Finally, the halfing guard said.  “Well, now that you mention it.  Circus performers, I can see that.”  She shuffled her feet.  “Well, keep out of trouble.  Going to be a rainy night.  Hope you have a destination in mind.”  Waving to the human, the halfling turned to leave.

“Oh!  Where is a place with some good fish?” Dinty called out.

“Depends on where yoose feels squiggy,” the human began.  “The Racket and Chicken is fair but gots plenty of chimeys to bop yerr hogan.  Ole man Berry got his own place out on a Warf.  Foods nice and tasty, but the prices’ll make ye say Bob.”  He thought for a minute.  “Ye can get some cheap chowders out on the Face of Pierre, but watcher yer wallets and  yer kidknees.  End up in a stew pots ye will.”  He whistled and walked along.  The halfing shrugged. “Squiggy,” she chuckled.

Dinty laughed. "I say we go try out ole man berry… I think I feel squiggiest about that one!"

“Be safe now,” the halfling guard called out.

*****

Streets of Lomah
Throughout the town, the residents had begun putting up decorations for an upcoming festival.  Banners with paintings of trees hung from the shops.  A large statue of a human man in one square was covered in ribbons and chopped wood.  The streets were clean and there was an air of expectation hanging over everything.

At the edge of the town, the black sea churned below; salt spray filled the air even as high as the Upper town.  The lifts up the cliffface hauled goods, fish, and those willing to pay.  An old dwarf with a pegleg stood near the cliff, while lights from mounted torches and lanterns just lit him as they flickered in the wind.  He signed off on another load of boxes as a pair of human men hauled it onto a lift.

Nearby, a pair of half-orcs in leather armor watched the scene. 

Seeing the wardens approach, he squinted in the dark. “Going down?  It’ll be ten silver a piece.”

Mollie peered over the edge. “The first step is a doozy. “

Dinty asked. "Good dwarf, is there not some kind of discount for road weary wardens trying to put some food in their bellies? My squad and I have been eating dust as the rearguard of a caravan heading west out of Cymru. We're headed out to the frontier to battle bandits and unnamed monstrositys and would like to partake of a little respit from all the walking."

The dwarf approaches them and looks the motley gang up and down.  “Aye, you can ride down with the boxes here.”  Returning to the lift, he called to the men who lowered it.  “We have a group of Wardens off to the lower docks.”

"Many thanks!" Dinty gestured widely. "Beautiful device you have here." While walking onto the lift, he nudged Mollie,  "You see there's no reason to lie about our purpose. We provide a good service to people and are respected in turn.:

Led into the lift, the wardens waited while the pair of humans finished loading boxes.  The wind buffeted the lift and it rock sharply against the rocks.  The dwarf yelled at the half-orcs to pull the ropes taut. 

Mollie grinned at Dinty.  “It is an old habit, but we do have a crew that looks like a circus.  It’s homey!”

Dinty laughed.  "I'll admit, we do at that. The ruse might even come in handy some day.  Time to get acquainted with the ways of your new crew."

The lift creaked and a voice yelled.  “All clear!”  Suddenly the lift, boxes, and squad began a slow descent down the two hundred foot cliffs.  Edwina grasped a rope and let out a surprise yelp.

Goreal tenses up and takes a fighting stance at the sound of Edwina yelping.  He relaxes when he sees no immediate threats. “Are you alright Edwina?” Goreal asks.

“So long as I don't open my eyes,” she said.  “It’s just so swayie”  In the light of her lantern, she looked ill.  The sea spray dampened their clothing and the wind deafened their ears until finally the lift came to rest with a small crack. 

Mollie leaned over the side giggling as the wind rushed through her hair.  After being warned to stand back from the edge a second time, she moved beside Edwina and put an arm around the poor girl to steady her.

Lower Lomah sat in an indentation in the cliff that sheltered it from the sea.  In the dim lantern light, they could see a pair of dockworkers come forward to unload the lift cargo. "You can open your eyes and let go now Ed," Dinty said as he swaggered off the lift.

An obese halfling, sitting on a stool, drinking from a bottle of wine.  Seeing the squad walk off the lift, he spit wine on his shirt and sat up.  “By my ear, what have we here?  You there!”

Goreal walked over to the halfling, “Yes?” he grunted.

“Aye, I’m recruitin’ for the ship, the Blue Parrot.  Any of you fine folks lookin’ to ship out?”  the halfling took a swig of wine and belched.

“I'm with the Cymru Wardens, I don't think they'd like me shipping out without them," Goreal replied.

“Eh,” replied the hafling, “and I want no troubles with the law.  Where’re ye heading?  Not looking for me?  I done nothing.”  He frowned.

Dinty stomped over. "What's this? You can't go off recruitering them who have already been recruited! We're wardens through and through." He stomped his foot. "Also we're recruiting I'd you're interested. Decent pay, you get to travel and some previous crimes might be overlooked providing you're gods fearing and walk the straight and narrow."

The halfling stared at Dinty bleary-eyed. “Nah.” He took another swig from his bottle.  “Your headin’ over to the Racket and Chicken, I’d gather by the looks of you.  They have a special soup now on accounts of the Festival.”  He leaned back and waved them on.

Mollie took note that Edwina and her skin tone no longer matched once they were off the lift.  She turned to look at the halfling.  “Soup?  What is special about it?”

“Lots’a fishheads,” sputtered the halfling.  “Just watch yourselves that place gets hairy.”

Dinty nodded.  "Well if you have nothing better to add we'll be on our way for a kip and a nip."

The halfling waved to Dinty as he uncorked another bottle of wine.  Few walked the tight packed streets now that the dark fog darkened the sight of even Goreal and Dinty.
 
A few turns and stopping once for directions, and the squad found themselves at Old Berry’s Tavern.  Among the wharf buildings, the tavern looked in good repair.  Inside, a fire drove the cold, wet chill from their bodies. 

The tavern was half full of patrons, many dressed as travelers or Upper Lomahians looking for a late evening drink.

A portly human with a salt and pepper beard approached them.  Dressed in quality though simple work clothes, he said.  “Greetings, I’m Berry.  Welcome.  We have private rooms for dining, but I recommend the common room tonight as we have a rare performance from the half-elf - and not the typical woodland variety - Currien Revhale.  She is said to be the best harpist in the Republic.

Goreal nodded at Berry, “I would like to watch that.  It has been a while since I had seen a musician, and never one described as 'the best' before."

Mollie nodded.  “She would like that too.”  Her eyes darted around the tavern looking for anything more unusual than the group she was with and a place to sit.

Berry took them to an open table near the fireplace.  The walls here seemed made of old boatwood.  A mounted fish stared down at them with its mouth open.  “The benches may be too weak for you, bear.  I can have some pillows you can sit on.” 

“Thank you, that would be nice.” Goreal waited patiently for the pillows.

Edwina sat at the long table and looked around the room.  “Nicer than the places I used to go.”

Most of the patrons seemed well off but conservatively dressed.  A few older men had kept their robe hoods on their heads. One of the coughed and ordered hot toddies.  Another ate roasted chicken and rubbed his fingers on the hood.  A young man stood out.  Seated across the room, his flashy earrings and fine clothes were easy to mark him as new money.  He chatted up the townsman beside him while sizing up the squad.

Dinty joined Edwina at the table and said. "Thanks to you Berry, we wardens would like to partake of your much boasted about fare!"

First, the servers brought them warm mulled wine and plates of small roasted hens.  A murmur went through the crowd that the bard had arrived and would soon play. 

Edwina sipped her wine and pulled a hen apart.  “A whole hen,” she noted with surprise.  “A pretty good meal!”

“Mfss fmury gwud,” Mollie said as she devoured a hen.  “Uf!  Thuw muwsc if stwarten!”

Dinty tutted. "Calm down Mollie either spell or chew, you can't do both at the same time."

Mollie laughed. “Eh, it’s not like she’s going to choke to death.”

As the crowd ate, a pair of strangely dressed persons, wearing loose fitting silk clothing, whose skin seemed almost bronze brought a great harp of ivory and silver out from the back room.  As they set up, the servers brought more mulled wine and bowls of rich lamb and vegetable stew.  Finally, one of the helpers brought out a simple wooden stool.

The old man with the cough stood and walked out of the tavern, coughing the entire way.  As he left, the young man with silks and earrings caught Mollies eye, flashed a coin purse, and drained his wine.

Mollie nudged Edwina as the man flashed the coin purse.  “She’s attracted someone’s attention.”  She waved slightly and batted her eyes at the mark.

A bit tipsy, Edwina said. “I think he took that off the old guy.  See how ratty the purse is.”

Mollie nodded at Edwina.  “Oh, so he’s just dumb then.”

Edwina nodded and finished her stew.  “Oh yeah.”

Currien Revhale
The room went quiet and old man Berry hooded some of the lights.  The half-elf stepped into the lighted area near the harp.  Several people gasps in surprise.  She was unlike anything most everyone had seen.  Thin to the point of unbelievability, her hair glowed as if it were lit by the moons.  Her skin seemed an incandescent pearl and her purple-eyes, half closed like sleeping cat, seemed to see everything and nothing at once.  She smiled.  “And now.  Music.” 

Her fingers plucked each string of the harp like a kiss and then the notes bled into a tune that seemed to drive shivers into the crowd. 

Edwina swayed to the music cupping her wine, her eyes glazed.  Soon the entire room seemed to sway with the notes.  The half-elven woman began to sing in a language unknown to them which sounded of broken glass and moonlight.  Neither Mollie, Dinty, nor Goreal, while they liked the music, seemed overwhelmed by it.

Goreal looks over the crowd with concern, “Edwina are you feeling alright?” he asks quietly.

Edwina smiled dreamily, but did not reply.  The entire tavern, including Berry, seemed lost in the song.

The harpist opened her eyes though she did not cease playing nor singing.  Noticing, Mollie, Dinty, and Goreal, she smiled around her song.  Her voice, speaking dwarvish, spoke in their heads. So, you are not swayed.

Mollie looked around the room and then at Dinty and Goreal.  “Did they hear that too?  Because that is not one of the normal voices that she hears.”

"No we aren't swayed, and I don't like the attempt neither!" Dinty answered out loud.

The harpist continued her song, but spoke to minds of the three again.  They are lost in the song for a time.  They will not be harmed.  But for you three, I will sing to you words you can understand if you like.

“Wait,” Mollie said as she got up and walked over to the flashy pick pocket.  “She is all for professional courtesy and such, but Mr. Silky here just can’t be rewarded for dumb.”  Mollie removed a couple of coin purses from the fancy lad.

Of the four purses, she found one was made of overly embroidered silk with the initials HJ stitched in gold thread.  Two looked well made if plain.  The fourth, the ratty purse, was light of coin, but held and unusual hard shape inside.

Mollie started to walk to the bar with the purses she had retrieved from the fancy lad but paused.  She held the worn coin purse in her hand rubbing her fingers against what was inside. “Hmm, there is a thing…”  She began to pick at the drawstring with her talon like fingers.

The music of the harp had grown louder and the half-elf's song dazzled the crowd.  The purse strings loosened and inside Mollie saw a three inch long black cylinder.

Mollie took the thing out of the purse and looked it over.  Though completely smooth over most of its surface one end held a tiny purple gem.

Not recognizing the object, Mollie closed the bag up and headed back to the bar.  Peering behind it and locating the lost and found box, she dropped the coin purses into the box with a jingling thump and returned to her friends.

The half-elf watched Mollie during the entire exchange.  In their minds they heard, I was going to tell you my song about the painful loss suffered by elven lovers during the War of the Horrors.  But instead, I will speak with you after this.

****

Finishing her song, the room stood silent with the notes gone, only the wind at the shuttered windows heard.  The crowd stirred itself and cheered the harpist.

Edwina blinked and turned to see Goreal holding his paws over his ears.  She laughed.  “Silly, bear.” 

Goreal slowly took his paws from his ears once the musician left.  Looks worried, he said. "That magical music may return."

The other patrons murmured happily as the harpist slipped from the room. Dinty motioned for the others to follow and headed after the bard.  Edwina stood, tipsy with a far away look.  “So beautiful,” she slurred as she followed Dinty.  Goreal followed behind closely, ready to cover his ears at the first sign of more music.

In the room off the tavern common room, the half-elf sat on a simple wooden chair.  On the table in front of sat a clay pitcher and a plate of grapes.  “Sit please,” she said  pointing to the other chairs. “Perhaps you have questions of me before we begin?”

Edwina smiled at sat in one of the chairs.  She looked on dreamily as the two bronze men brought the harp in the room.

Dinty stomped his foot.  "Yeah I do. Who are you? What do you want? Why'd you entranceate them people? And finally no thanks I'll stand!"

She nodded. “I am Currien Revhale, a musician from the Elven cities to the far south.  Called half-elven, though we are our own people now.”  She ate a grape and poured a cup of water.  “In general, I want to play.  I also travel to see the world.  My music entrances because it is elvish.”  Pointing to Edwina, “The girl saw the story as well as heard it.”  Taking a drink she continued.  “Once in awhile I find someone who was not entranced by my music.  Those I wish to talk with.  I owe you a story since you did not hear my song.  You don't look like you want to hear a love story.”

Goreal replied. "I have no care for foolishness like love."

Mollie plopped down in one of the offered chairs and smiled at the harpist.  “He’s just not found the right person yet.  It won’t be foolish once he does.  As for stories, she likes all types as long as they have a little action in them.”

“I don't know much about music, but I'm willing to hear your story.  I'd prefer it without magic though.” Dinty replied.

“Very well, then,” she began.  “What story do you wish to hear?”

Dinty thought. "Do you know any about the evils of mind reading horses?"

She smiled.  “Yes, I do.”

Slapping his leg and taking a seat, "Well now, that's something I'd like to hear about."

****

“Long ago,” she began,” when my elven ancestors still lived in their great trees that traveled the sky between worlds, a race of horses, whose name time has blotted out, found that they could hear the thoughts and soon force others to their will by their minds alone.  Rejecting all gods, as horses do, they did not believe these abilities to be divine or magical, but explainable in what they called ‘Natural Philosophy.’  Theirs was a terrible Reason of no pity, no mercy, no love.

Rational Horses
“At first, the horses enslaved the humans of their world and forced them to farm and build their housing.  Later, after the horses had seen our great trees they decided they too wished to travel the skies.  But, seeing  as they hated boats, as horses do, and they had no song for the trees, the horses learned another way to travel the worlds. 

“With their Natural Philosophy, they discovered their way to the trods.  Like the Araini with their great iron doors that they opened with their little keys and clockwork contraptions of gears and crystals, or the endless rickety stairs of the Bhreith, the horses found they could run between worlds with enough blood sacrifice.

“And everywhere, they went they enslaved and the races of the worlds mixed.  Those who could fly away to the skies on their ships did so.  Others who lived in the skies ignored the horses.

“But one day, the horses found the goblins.  Was there only one kind then or many?  We do not know.  But the horses could not enslave the goblins.  Too wild, too resilient, or too mad, the goblins fought back for generations across the worlds.

“Some say it was the horses that brought the Horrors as they tried to destroy the goblins.  Some say they brought the Fae from the trods, and the Fae brought the Horrors.

“But the Fae came and the Horrors came and the sky-ships stopped flying and the elves planted their trees to hide and the dwarves went underground.  And the horses who knew Natural Philosophy vanished.”

*****

She drank another cup of water.  “There is your story, my dear goblin.”

Dinty nodded. "Yep, that's pretty much the story I heard. You tell it better though."

The harpist laughed.  “I’m sure the other story was also delightful.”  She finished her grapes.  “I hope you enjoyed your story, dear goblin.  And I hope it proves insightful.”  She stood.  “Now it’s time for me to rest.  I hope to leave tomorrow.”

Mollie leaned forward at the mention of travel.  “Oh!  Where is she going next?”

She smiled at Mollie.  “To the frontier, one village at a time.  And the to the deserts and with a caravan to Caer Pragni.”

“Pooh, she’ll be long gone before us then.”

Goreal nodded.  "It was nice of you to bring us backstage to talk," turning to Dinty, "but I'm ready to head back to the camp."  Smiling his toothy maw. "It was a good story even if I don't believe it."

Dinty asked. "So will you be joining our caravan out to the frontier then, Miss Bard?"

She thought and looked at Dinty.  “What caravan is that?”

Dinty replied. "The warden caravan out of Cymru. We're going out to the frontier. We're tasked with keeping the peace and the law of Cymru."

Mollie clapped. “She should come with us.  It would be much safer.”

“Well,” she said.  “You must speak with your superiors and let us know.”  Curtseying, she followed the bronze men from the room.

Mollie stood up from the chair and turned to face Dinty.  “We will have to ask Hal tomorrow, but for now, she is ready to head back.”

Edwina smiled dreamily at the half-elven woman and then stood to follow Mollie.  Back in the main room, the squad returned to their table.  The other patrons chatted happily, ignoring them. Berry’s servants brought another round of wine with a great beef roast per table served with mushrooms, pickles, carrots, and blueberries.  Pitchers of pure water were brought out as well.

Mollie ate again, but picked around the pickles and mushrooms.

Dinty commenced eating as much as he could as fast as he could - as if he hadn't eaten in months.

****

Finishing their meal, Dinty paid the tavern-keeper, Berry, then heading back into the night.  The sun fully set hours before and the seawind blew spray. They set off in the cold damp for the lift to Upper Lomah.  The close, ocean worn buildings of the docktown seemed to press in on them as they walked though no one could be seen on the streets.

Edwina held a lantern for the group, though it barely lit their way.  Goreal and Dinty took positions to watch their trek as they could see further in the darkness.  Finally, they reached the lift only to find a crowd of people searching through crushed boxes.  "Look lively there," a dwarf yelled and seeing Goreal called. "Give us a hand picking up the lift, the rope gave out."

Goreal rushed over to assist, “Is everyone alright?” He asks the dwarf.

Mollie looked around at the mess in an effort to see how bad the damage was and to see what might have been in the boxes.  “Are we trapped in town for the night?”

Dinty shook his head. "Nah, there's a footpath to the top," turning to the dwarf he asked. "Is anyone trapped in the wreckage?"

The dwarf cursed.  “There were a few workers coming down with the boxes.”  He waved at the splintered wood.  “You, bear, try picking the lift straight up.”  To Mollie and Dinty, “Never seen anything like it.  Them ropes're solid.”  He directed a work team of humans and ur-akesh (half-orcs) as they gently picked up each crate.  Inside the crates were various foodstuffs, clothing, and other trade goods.  One crate filled with butter lay against the wall where the halfling had been sitting hours earlier. 

Edwina looked ill.

Mollie looked over at the crate of butter to see if the halfling had been crushed by it.  There she saw crushed glass, splintered wood, and pools of wine.  Without digging through the butter, it would be difficult to find the halfling but from a distance she suspects no whole body lay beneath the mess. As there was no evidence of butter crushed halfings, Mollie moved on to the other wreckage to determine if there were any survivors.

Dinty walked over to have a look at the ropes and pulleys.  On close inspection, he noticed the rope seems to have been nicked in several places though not cut through.

With help ready, especially the strength of Goreal, the dwarf gave the signal, and the crew lifts.  Guiding them to one side, the dwarf ignores the grunts of the humans and growling of the half-orcs.  Despite the weight, Goreal doesn’t seem too phased.  Finally, the drop the lift away from the wreckage.

Looking through the wreckage, the workers and wardens find the passengers and crew who had been on the lift were crushed to death by the fall and the cargo.  They stopped and looked on the scene quietly.

Edwina sat down on a box and shook her head.  Mollie sat down next to Edwina and tried to comfort her.

“I guess I’m going to have to toughen up,” Edwina said.  “When I was with Dinty and the Irregulars at the warehouse, I killed a man.  I told myself he deserved it.  But...”  She paused.  “It’s a hell of a thing.  We were just on that lift.  We could be them.”  Looking at the sky.  “Beats me why the gods did stop this.  Didn't save Aubrey.”  She frowned and stood.  “Nothing more to do here.”

Mollie listened to the girl rant and waited for her to finish before she responded.  “She should not toughen up too much.  Things like this should bother her.  If that stops happening, she has become too detached and should worry.”  Mollie paused a bit and stared at her hand.  “And she has no idea about the gods anymore.”  She popped up from her seat on the box suddenly, “But we need to get home so we can talk to Hal about bringing a musical elf with us!”

Edwina looked around.  “It’s cold and wet and these people are dead.  Let’s get back to the barracks as soon as possible.”

Mollie nodded.  "She prefers being dead somewhere warm and dry."

After some minutes of checking the ropes, Dinty realized they had in fact been weakened by enough cuts to break.

The dwarf shook his head.  “Best get the priest of Manoc.  Look lively, we needs some tarps for the dead.  The boxes can wait.”  Turning to Goreal, he said. "Many thanks for your help, bear.”

Goreal nodded solemnly at the dwarf, “It is sad that we couldn't prevent this accident. Is there someone charged with checking the ropes?”  Goreal asked as he looked up the cliff.

“There is,” the dwarf replied.  “We do every morning.  But we’ve never had it break before.”  The lift crew all looked at each other.  “It shouldn’t’ve done it that easy.  We just replaced the ropes last week.”

Dinty waved. "Good dwarf, come here please."

“Eh?” replied the dwarf, walking over to Dinty.

Looking around to make sure no one was listening, Dinty said. "These ropes appear to have been cut and weakened in places. Does this look like normal wear? I think you need to get the guard involved in this."

Staring at the ropes in the lamplight, the dwarf shivered.  “I will send for them.  There’s a guard station nearby.”  Glancing at Dinty’s tabard with an image of a bearded badger, he added.  “You folks are wardens?”

"Yes, we are," Dinty said. "But this is guard business."

The dwarf simply nodded.  “Jeralt, go get the Guard,” he told one of the human crew.  “A keen eye, goblin.  And thank you, bear.”  He turned back to the wreckage.

The guard arrived, talked with Dinty, examined the ropes, and concluded someone who had been on the lift was wanted dead. 

Dinty asked. "What are the names of the dead?"

A human guardsman looked at Dinty and told him. “The only one anyone knows thus far is Cyrdak Drokkus. He's some travelling human actor.”

Goreal helped finish the cleanup, while Edwina sat under an eve.  Time to time she coughed and shivered in the cold, wet air.

It was very late now.

Dinty approached his squad. "We should be getting back to the barracks and report to the captain! Ed where is your cloak girl! A warden needs to be prepared for bad weather."

One of the guards overheard Dinty and said to him.  “With the lift down, you’ll want the cliffstairs.  You head down the dock.” He pointed to the east. “And you can’t miss them.   I see you only have the one lantern.  Might want some more light, they put out the torches a few hours ago.”

Dinty nodded. "Thank you for the tips, we’ll be fine."

***

The 21th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: late night in the town of Lomah

Collecting their things, the squad headed off down one of the docks, which rocked in the lapping waves.  Edwina held the lantern for them though she looked lost in thought.  Goreal took the rear and Dinty the lead.  Mollie, in the middle behind Edwina, helped keep an eye on things.

Finally, after a chilly ten minute walk, they came to the edge of the dock and a great crack in the granite cliffside.  Though there were torch holders, the torches had been removed.  The wind whistled down the crack, while amply wide steps had been carved into the bottom.   Though a bit damp, the steps were not slick.

Mollie peered up at the flight of stairs and sighed.  She looked back at Goreal.  “She supposes he can’t carry us?  Oh! She knows!  Ed can carry Dinty, she can carry Ed, then he can carry her!  It will be lighter for him!”  Mollie grinned wide in a way that made one wonder if she was joking or seriously thought her idea would work.

Dinty stared at her. "I don't think I'll ever understand your circus people logic, Mollie."

“He needs to study applied acrobatics then it will all make nonsense.”

Edwina coughed again. “I hate the ocean,” she declared, as the squad started up the stairs.  The one small lantern barely lit the dark granite walls.  Flecks of shiny rock shimmered as the lantern light played across them.  Suddenly, the sound of something moving very fast filled the air and then thud against the wall beside Goreal.  Looking down, he realized it was an arrow.

Goreal stepped towards cover along the rocky wall.. As he did so, he smelled a group of human up the stairs and a halfling nearby.

Mollie slipped into the shadow caused by the rushing bear and grabbed onto a rock outcropping.

Dinty turned and knocked the lantern from Edwina's grasp and drug her to cover.

The lantern flew down the stairs of the crack and broke on the rocks.  The drizzle quickly extinguished the flame.

Untethering his mace, Goreal tried to pinpoint the attackers.  "Up the stairs and one up higher," he sniffed and whispered.

Pulling herself up the wall of the crack, Mollie scanning for the archer.

Goreal and Dinty’s eyes adjusted the soonest as they saw the sky above them was now brighter than the walls and the silhouettes of three humans could be seen up the stairs.

Three arrows bounched off the rocks near Goreal.  An arrow shot past Dinty where Edwina had been standing.

Edwina gasped confused as he stared into the dark.  "Oh, no, she said."

Without the lantern, the stairs behind him were pitch black, Goreal waited sniffing the air.

In the dim glow of a light above the crack, Mollie saw the outline of an archer perched on the rocks above them.  Carefully she flung herself at the rock face along the wall as she closed in on the archer.

Dinty unslung his crossbow.  "Ed, stay close and keep to the wall.  Goreal, up and at 'em.  I'm with you."

Goreal bellowed and charged up the stairs toward the silhouettes.  Hurdling toward the humans, his feet slammed loudy into the rain soaked ground.  As he reached three dim-lit humans, he heard them drop their bows.

Edwina took a deep breath and glanced up the stairs.  Her head swum from the heat on her face and she blinked in the darkness.

From high above them an arrow flew into the dark place where Dinty and Edwina had been.

Mollie swings herself up from the ledge below and stabbed at the archer’s foot as she landed.
“This little piggy…” Mollie’s shortsword bit into the right foot of the archer and cut to the bone, severing his hamstring.  The man screamed and fell forward in a faint, tumbling to the stairs below.

Dinty heard the limp human hit the stairs in a wet thud.

Goreal swung his Sun mace with his weight behind it into the human in the middle, landing his blow squarely in the human's ribs and tossing him like a ragdoll.  The human landed hard and his head bounced off the stairs.

Mollie looked at the bow laying on the ledge.  “She is calling dibs!”
Halfing wizard

A voice from somewhere in the dark chanted something in an unknown language; Goreal’s leather armor began to glow in a purple light.  The two in front of the giant bear, though surprised by the violence against their companion, pulled swords and attacked him.  The first swung high, but was surprised to find Goreal swat away his sword with his mace.  The smhkia then easily side-stepped the next attack.

Edwina stared at the granite wall across from her as it was now lit by purple light.  In an indention in the rock, she spotted movement.  With one quick motion, she slide one of her knives from her sleeve and threw it quickly.  Suddenly a high pitched scream came from the darkness.

In an alcove across from Edwina, Dinty spotted a halfling with a dagger in his shoulder. He aimed his crossbow at his leg and let loose the bolt (Critical success), shattering his knee and leg.  The halfling fell to the ground screaming.

Mollie picked up the bow and looked for the chanter in the dark. Seeing him screaming, she pulled an arrow from the quiver propped against the cliff.

One of the humans fighting Goreal, yelled “We have to go!” and backed away.

Goreal grappled the closest human by head with his free hand, lifted, and d then slams him to the ground, holding him there.

The human moving to flee looked at the scene of screaming and violence, dropped his sword, and put hsi hands behind his head.   screaming and carnage, then dropped his sword and put his hands behind his head.  “I surrender.”  He said loudly.

Dinty rushed the standing human. "Try and kill my squad will you! You're lucky you don't get worse. Now help carry your halfling friend!"

The human shook his head. “That little shit’s no friend of ours.  He just hired us to subdue you not get killed.”  Listening to the halfling screaming, he smiled.

Dinty spat. "Save it for the cap'n you and your friend go pick him up."

The human.  “What about the guy that got hit in the chest by the giant bear’s mace?”

Goreal has begun tying up the remaining unconscious attackers and tossing then over his shoulders, “It seems attacking others for a few coins isn't the safest work.”  Goreal said dryly.

The human looked at Goreal and nodded. “Yeah, good point, bear.  Good point.”  He walked down the stairs grasping his way for the halfling.

Edwina sits down beside the human who had fallen from the cliff. “His face his mushy,” she said then fell over.

Mollie hops down from the ledge with the bow and quiver.  Seeing Edwina, she dashed over to checker her out the best she can.  “Eddie?  Are you okay?”

Edwina’s face was hot and her breathing ragged.  She murmured but had fallen unconscious.

Mollie raised her voice above the arguing wardens and prisoners.  “Something is wrong with Edwina.  She has passed out!”

Goreal’s purple lit armor began to fade and the crack darkened considerably.  He rushed to Mollie and Edwina, calling Dinty over,  “Commander!”.

Dinty swore.  "Alright we're heading back to camp fast as we can. I'll take lead Goreal bring up the rear. Mollie in the middle and keep an eye on these three."

 Goreal tied one of the humans onto his back and picked up Edwina.

Mollie pokes the dead guy.  “What about him and do we have a place to keep prisoners in the camp?”

Dinty replied. We have to get Ed back to the healers now.  I'll send someone to collect the body.":

With the purple light from Goreal’s armor dying, the stairs were plunged into blackness.  Suddenly, a spark and a torch lit from the side of the stairs.  The human called out.  “Well, I’ve bound the halfling’s leg so he doesn’t bleed out and his hands and mouth so he doesn’t cast any whammy’s on us.”  Standing up with the little body.  “Where to?”

Dinty called. "We're going to the camp, you human you're in front."

“Your Wardens?” the human asked.  “I know the way to your barracks.”  He turned and began walking up the stairs with the torch and halfling.  “This little guy’s goin’ to lose his leg.”

Mollie grumbles and gets in line.  "No one ever listens to her."

Late now, Goreal and Dinty began to walk tired.  The human at the lead was whistling as he carried the halfling, while Mollie seemed as awake as ever.  After a half an hour of slogging through muddy streets, the human led them to the barracks.  Once the guards spotted the squad, they were led inside. 

Several local wardens arrived to take the carried prisoners.  The halfling they took to the infirmary.  Once, one of them saw Edwina, the dwarf warden told them “She’s sick.  We have a ward setup.”  And he pointed to a building lit up despite the darkness.

Goreal carefully carries Edwina over to the ward.

A familiar figure, the blue skinned samsaran, Otso, walked out the door to meet him. “Ah, poor dear, Edwina, is sick as well.  Bring her in Goreal.”  Walking inside, Goreal found himself in a large hall with a dozen sick wardens.  Otso ordered a pair of blankets to be set around one bed for Edwina.  “She has this sickness too.  I will do what I can for her.”  Otso had Goreal set the girl on the bed and began checking her symptoms. 

“Hal,” Otso said, “told me to tell you to get rest.  He needs you refreshed in the morning.  The town has been quarantined.”

Mollie snuck in behind Goreal.  Edwina was her best friend ever, and she needed to know what was wrong.  After Otso finished explaining the quarantine, she popped out from behind the bear.  “It is not because of her is it?  She did not make Edwina sick?  Can she help?”

Otso stared at Mollie confused.  “Is your condition a sickness?” He looked thoughtful, then shook his head.  “Later, later.  No, the paladins and I have diagnosed this as a disease called Nergul’s Embrace.”  He waved to an assistant.  “She needs water,” he said pointing to Edwina.  “Get her some.”  Otso turned to Mollie.  “This kind of disease only comes from the sickened bodies of the priests of Nergul.  They must have been in the town spreading this for some reason.”  Placing his hand on Edwina’s head.  “She is now in ague.  She must have been infected by an exposure during your night out.” 

Pointing around the room. “Others are worse.  And the paladins, the priests, and some wardens are looking for these priests of Nergul.”  Looking back at Edwina.  “In about a day, her fever will increase, her body will swell, and she will begin bleeding from the eyes.  A day after that she will begin bleeding everywhere.  Once that starts she has a few hours to live.”

Otso looked at Goreal and Mollie.  “Hal is leading a team to hunt for them, but he has a mission for your team.  He said get some rest if you can, but it seems the Church of Grumbar the Stone had a chalice we could have used to heal the sick.  But it was stolen just a day before.”  Otso took the water pitcher from the assistant and dipped a rag in it.  “He wants you to talk to the priests of the Stone and see if you can find this chalice.” 

Dripping water in Edwina’s mouth, Otso said.  “You can take Arlin, Meepo if you can find him.  Hal will be back in the morning.”

Mollie nodded at at Otso and looked around the ward. She straightened herself up and addressed him.  “She is sorry about her outburst.  She worries about her nature sometimes, but it is not a disease.  We will find the chalice, but for now, he looks shorted handed, and she doesn’t need much sleep.”

Nodding to himself grimly, Dinty asks Otso. "Do you know any prayers that will help with our tiredness?"

“I’m afraid not,” Otso replied tiredly.  “Sleep, the black coca tea the dwarves drink.”

Dinty swore. "Well then, for Ed and the wardens we'll make do. Everyone get some rest if you can we head out at six chimes."

Goreal looks very tired as he stumbles off to his waiting blanket-bed.

***

The human captive, Tav handed off the injured halfling to one of the wardens, then stepped back as Goreal gave his captured companions another pair.  He watched from the edge of the yard as the bear, the goblin, and the odd girl rushed off to the hospital with their sick friend. 

Tav
Glancing around the barracks, he debated slipping out, but instead went to find a mess hall.  Despite his ratty, dirty clothes he walked in and asked for a plate.  Seated at one table, he ate his first full meal in days.  There was a hush over the room full of half-ocs, gnomes, dwarvs, and a few other races.  He was the only human. 

Finally, a dwarf with some rank insignia entered, eyed him, and approached his table.  “What’re you doing here?” the dwarf barked.

Tav stood up.  “Umm, I’m a new recruit.  I came in with Dinty the goblin’s group.”

The dwarf frowned, then nodded.  “Ah, ye’ll be with Hal Saldana’s outfit.”  Looking him up and down.  “Yer filthy.  Go get a wash and a set of clothes.”  He coughed.  “And are ye any good with a weapon?”

Tav nodded. “Bow, ser.”

The dwarf seemed pleased. “At least yer not a damn bird.  Finish yer food and head over to the quartermaster and bath.”

****

The 21st day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers:

Dawn came on in a gray light in the barracks.  Tav had bathed, obtained some warden gear, and even managed to sleep a few hours.  “Better find the goblin,” he thought. “If I’m going to make this good.”

*****

Our next combat.  This one went much smoother than the first.

The story continues in Fragments of the Last War 2.5.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.2

Session played: March 10, 2017

Continued from the previous section, we were still down some (though different) members, so after some personal stories, the team followed up on a different lead.

***

Wednesday, June 15, 1916 - MI 18 research station, Oxford, England

Having remained at Oxford to continue his research, McKinley intended to come down to London on Friday.  However, Wednesday morning he received a telegram from his father, George, a retired physician still residing in York.

The telegram asked him to come quickly, and so Thomas McKinley packed a bag and did so.

Arriving at his parents home later that day, his father explained that Thomas' younger brother, Richard, had for several months been a guest at a sanatorium outside of York because of nerves and that they had not wanted to bother him about it.  However, he recently began asking to speak with Thomas.

Arriving at the sanatorium, McKinley met his brother, Russell, in his room.  Well, dressed, good-mannered, Russell asked after McKinley's health and work.

Then, he took a graphite pencil and began writing: I could not speak, I could not see, I knew nothing

Turning to Thomas, he said.  “His chair was like a burnished throne of glowing marble.”

When Thomas asked whose chair, he replied.  "Why the King, Thomas. I remember the pearls that were his eyes.  I remember his tattered cloak.”

He then wrote: I will show you fear in a handful of dust

Afterwards, McKinley stayed with his parents.

****

Thursday, June 16, 1916 - MI 18 research station, Oxford,  and MI 18 Headquarters, London, England

The next morning, Dr. Thomas McKinley took the early train to London at the request of Dr. Watson, where he met with Alaard Vick and Bertrand Merriweather - the latter having arrived the night before from his home in Shropshire.

There they met with Lady Margaret Jameson for a morning update regarding open issues.  Alaard filled them in on the Silver Gate.  After some debate, they decided to travel for the day to Colchester and follow up on the two missing agents who had investigated the Bourchier family estate.

Alaard's contact informed him that Barnaby Pritcher still lived in West Barnes.  Vick called and made arrangements for a meeting the next day.

A copy of The Daemonic Kultes of London by Herbert Grobenach of Paddinton written in 1735 arrived for Vick from the Oxford Library.  The book discussed different cults of early eighteenth century London and Lady Margaret noted she would have the book copied before returning it.  The information about the Knights of the Silver Gate was slim, but a mention of the Clyde Whipple Narrative.

Regarding Dick Donovan's files, they were stored at Scotland Yard, and Lady Margaret had not been able to obtain them.

Alaard's daughter Viola sent a post saying she and her friend Susan had decided to go interview anyone who might remember the incidents regarding A.L. and the Oxford Hole.

They also had received correspondence from the sanatorium where Fedora Philander had been staying.

  To Whom it may concern,

I regret to inform you that patient Fedora Philander took his on life in a fit of rage last night after many months of delusional psychosis.  He was a difficult case.  And it is to my deep sorrow I was not able to help.  Please contact our office regarding what is to be done with his remains.

  Dr. Ambrose Morven

They decided to put off responding for a few days.


****

Thursday, June 16, 1916 - London to Colchester to Fingrinhoe, England

The trip to Colchester was uneventful and blessedly short.  There they rented a wagon to take them on the short trip to Fingrinhoe.  On hearing their destination, the driver recommended they stop at the The Whalebone for lunch and to speak with the proprietor, Mr. Harry Chapel.

Chapel brought up the issue of the Bourchier estate, as he had seen so many government men from London in these parts lately.  When Vick pried, he learned that the last of the Bourchiers, not counting the new owner living in Bristol, had been seen twenty years ago.

He recommended Vick visit Father George Ketley at the local parish church for more information.   The Father proved helpful and brought out the rolls along with tea and cake.

There they learned that the Bourchiers - an Anglo-Norman family - built the estate in 1712 when they migrated from Clun in Shropshire.  Betrand expressed surprise as his farm was outside Clun.

The last record at the Church was the birth of one Jason Bourchier twenty-two years ago to Priscilla Boucher.  She died three days later from severe lacerations due to dog bites.

***

The estate was an half an hour walk outside of the village.  Though the Bourchiers had arrived in the area two centuries before, it was soon apparent to Allard that the current house was an updated Regency home.  Finding the rusted gate open, the entered the grounds - overgrown to shoulder height brambles from decades of neglect.  They could see the roof of a small stone building through the brambles.

The path to the house had a fresh cut look to it, which - considering the owner, police, and MI-5 had all been to the property recently - was no surprise.

Also, of little surprise, they found the front door to the house unlocked.  The steps up creaked wildly as they mounted the porch.  Bertrand noticed some white powder on the steps, which McKinley declared dried fecal matter.

Rather than entering the house right away, Bertrand decided to follow the trail of fecal matter into the underbrush.  Materializing the sword, he cut his way through the underbrush. The sword whispered to him, it wanted blood, but he ignored the demands.

Soon he found himself at a large hole in the ground that stank of old filth and, despite McKinley's warning, slid into the underground cavern.  Both the Doctor and Alaard held pistols ready and shook their heads.

Underground, Merriweather held his electric torch and sword and glanced about the layers. He saw piles of old bones - dogs, birds, livestock, human - and after some minutes decided to leave.  The sword wailed in his head.

Back inside the house, they split up and searched rooms.  Alaard went upstairs, while Bertrand and Thomas explored the rooms immediately downstairs.  Soon, Alaard called them to a library he had found.  Inside were moldering books and a surprisingly intact painting.  He recognized the artist - one Sabine Landau - as a member of a morbid decadent movement he had witnessed in Paris during the 1890s.

The scene of the painting was one of a woman dressed in an stylized medieval gown and standing in a cold moonlit stone room before an open window where she looked down on a blue countryside.

Touching the painting, Vick fell face first into it.

The woman turned to look at him. He thought she looked French, but when she spoke it was in Afrikaans.  She asked him to bring her art.  And turned back to look out the window.

On the wall behind, he saw a painting of the library he had just left.  Touching that picture, he quickly returned to the Bourchier estate and went to find his companions.

Bertrand and Thomas helped Alaard collected and cover the painting.  As they turned to leave, they were attacked by a strange ape creature.  Bertrand killed it in a lucky hit.  At this point, they decided to go back to town for transportation.  Outside the gate, they found a private car and a man who identified himself as Richard Donovan of Scotland yard.  Showing their MI credentials they had Donovan help with the painting and the ape body.

As they left, they heard loud growling from under the house and fled quickly.  Calling headquarters from the inn in town, they were directed to a farmhouse further east of Colchester.

****

Thursday, June 16, 1916 - Farmhouse in Colchester, early evening

Donovan drove them to a nicely maintained farm in rural England to the east of Colchester.  It appeared to have been a dairy farm at one point, but now the fields only seemed to grow hay.

Packing the car, Donovan prepared to sweep the house when they were greeted by an elderly man who acknowledged their codeword and told them this was Watson's new training facility for MI-18 agents.

McKinley setup in the old milking room and began dissecting the dead ape-man body.  He determined that the creature was actually mostly human with some unknown structural features.

They rested their for the evening.

****

The party is hesitant to enter any kind of combat as injury is possible.  Since Merriweather obtained the Sword Ally he has been more aggressive.  It is a megalomaniac with the ability to take over Merriweather's body if he loses control.  Things will probably go poorly for Bertrand.

The story continues with Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.3







Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.3 - A Camp by Night

Played 3/14 to 3/27

Continued from Part 2, this section introduced a new PC, saw one PC on his own (Nikala), and we ran our first combat.  It went fair. 

Finishing a programming project, so I'm behind on my blog.

Things to do:
  1. Compile summaries of all the characters' disadvantages with explanations for easier gameplay.
  2. Finish putting together my GM notebook for both this game and the tabletop. 

***

The 18th day of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers:  early morning at the workgang camp near the village of Hygom, two days west of Cymru

Hours before sunrise and the hanging of Walt Durgman, Nikala woke from a crook in one of the tallest cedar trees, stretched his wings, and began to scale to the top. Once he’d gotten high enough for a decent view, he took in the landscape, his eyes attuned for movement: at this height, they would likely only be other scouts.

A thin plume of smoke, some five miles to the north, emerged from the cedar forest, then flattened as it meet the cool air above.  Scanning, Nikala spotted something shiny near the fire.

No doubt the quarry he’d been tracking these past few days...a messy, noisy bunch, whoever they were. He clawed his way around the tree, putting as many branches as possible between himself and the flash. Sometimes, the groundwalkers had far-seers, and sometimes a forward scout would be discovered when he was careless.

Nikala let his senses, his instincts lead the way. Allowing the breeze to drift into his nostrils, he narrowed his eyes at the smoke and the flash, trying to discern what might have caused it. Was the flash a far-seer that had already spotted him?  He shifted his weight to his legs, ready to take off and fly low over the treetops.

The distance was too great, even for his eyes and he would need fly closer, if he was to get an idea of what kind opposition he was facing.

The Night Flier, the voice of pure wisdom, taught in his works that the best way to approach an enemy was from the flanks, never the front. Nikala peered to the east, looking for landscape that would hide him. Though he intended to fly just above the treetops, a keen pair of eyes would pick him out all the same.

The cedar forest covered the land for some twenty miles until the foothills that marked beginning of the forested hill country.  To the east the sun slowly rose. The line of smoke slowly lessened as if a fire had died. 

Nikala pushed off with his legs, his wings beating the air. There wouldn’t be much time if the fire was dying, it meant they were striking camp or getting ready to strike it. He pushed out toward the foothills, not flying in a straight line, but in a wide circle, as the Great Hunter taught, moving in the direction of the rising sun, which might blind his enemies to his presence. As he passed over the forest, his eye spied a rabbit nibbling on a blade of grass, a deer drinking from a stream, and a strange large rodent he’d never seen standing on its hindquarters and stuffing horse apples in its mouth.

The forest was full of prey, including his. He leaned, banking around a little tighter. The sun would not be at the horizon for much longer, and it was essential he put it between himself and the camp if he were to gain a better view undetected.

Nikala quickly flew east of his target toward the foothills beyond. The smoke had all but disappeared in the dawn.  As of yet there was no sign of his prey.  The foot hills were also covered in the high cedars, many thirty feet high.  The air was cool that morning and a chill wind blew in from the ocean.  Not unusual weather from Nikala’s birthlands.

He began to circle higher, gaining altitude until he had a better view, as well as the cover of height to protect him from any arrows or stones the ground walkers might throw. He spread his wings and soared on thermal currents, looking for any trace of the quarry, circling outward from where their camp had been.

Soaring along the foothills, watching for a sign, Nikala did not see the launched net slung towards him.  At the last minute, he turned his head only to see it hit and wrap around his body.

***

The 19th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: a waystation on the West Road

The second day out out from the workgang camp, the caravan stopped for the night at a waystation.  The night came on them quickly, with an unseasonable damp fog, as they made their camps (each wagon setting a watch and camp.)

Arlin the half-orc had mostly healed from his flogging thanks to Otso and was placed in the watch.  The kobold Meepo proved skittish and kept quiet. Edwina sat on her haunches finishing her supper before bed and watches began.
Dinty sings of halfling ladies

Dinty broke into a terrific song while staring into the campfire.

There once was a lass from Maiden Mist
She had not a leg and one eye was amiss
She’d handle any comers with a wink and a kiss
I had many a roll with her in total darkness
The best I’ve had but oh what a mess
She broke me heart and now I could-naa care less
Oh oh I'll never miss
That halfling wench from Maiden Mist

Once the goblin finished his lusty song, Edwina stuck out her tongue.  “I see you’ve still got that charm, Dinty,” she smirked and slipped into the darkness under the trees.

“That was wonderful,” cried Meepo, the kobold, clapping for Dinty, while Arlin, the half-orc just chuckled.

Goreal joins in clapping with Meepo, while grinning with a mouth full of pointed teeth.

Otso, seated with his eyes closed, seemed to be talking with someone.  “Of course, the Lady of Fate favors us, but in serving the Wheel I ….?”

Meepo asked.  “Where did you learn so many beautiful songs, Dinty?

Dinty shrugged, "Oh here and there mostly. I've done a bit of traveling and met a fair number of different folk. They all have different songs and I like to sing. I don't always remember the words but I get by."

The human wagon driver, Chuck, who had travelled with the new wardens the past few days said little on the trip.  Not a warden himself, he tended to ignore them.  However, seated on the wagon, eating his plate of beans and rabbit, he frowned and his face soured.  “That sound was awful, goblin.  Just awful.  No wonder you became a warden, you certainly wouldn’t make it as a bard.”  He grunted and ate another spoon of beans

Dinty agreed. "Aye, that's true. I wouldn't have made it as a bard. That's why holy Desna saw fit to point me towards a more Noble profession. It could be worse… I could have been a wagon driver. A fate I hope to never suffer."

The driver tossed his empty plate onto the wagon.  “To hell with all you freaks.”  He jumped down from the wagon and stormed off toward the trees.

*****

Edwina
Edwina moved quietly through the forest.  Though the night was dark enough moonlight lit the forest floor for her to see.  In the distance, she could smell cooking meat.  Climbing an embankment, she found herself staring into a forest ravine.

In the middle of the ravine was the remains of a caravan. Five wagons had been pulled into a circle around a central fire.  Even the leads to the oxen were still tied to a nearby tree.  The wagons themselves had seen better days. The damage from some sort of attack was still evident, the weather had done a fair share of damage, and one wagon appeared to have been set on fire.

One wagon, though, was still in good shape.  The side appeared to fold out into a stage and  was covered in bright paint that exclaimed “Professor James Hawkins’ Miracle Medicine.” It looked fresh. Scattered near it was what appeared to be pieces of a broken door.  The back of the wagon had a door that obviously did not match the paint or wood of the rest of the wagon. Across from the wagons were several graves. Most were older, but a few appeared to be newer.  The new graves had a crude banner of green and purple cloth staked at their heads.

Mollie had spent some time going through the wagons looking for anything that might be useful or sentimental.  Anything of value had long been stripped from the wagons by whatever scavengers had wandered by.  Even some of the secret drawers had been found and pried open.  She had gathered what she could and had set to repairing her uncle’s wagon.  She had taken to staying in the wagon when she needed rest.  The town folk were not openly hostile to her, but she could tell that she wasn’t entirely welcome.  It was easier to be out here and not put up with that.

Seeing the wagons, Edwina ducked her head and crept toward the circle.  The shadows danced around her, and she attempted to stay within them as best as possible.  As she crept, the light caught her red hair for a moment before she sank behind another shadow. Unobserved, Edwina slide quietly between a wagon and watched.

Mollie stepped out of the wagon and headed to the piece of meat that she was cooking on the fire.  In her hands,  she had a pouch of spices, a plate, and some utensils.  She threw several pinches of spice on the meat then flipped it in the pan and seasoned the other side. After a few moments, she took the meat from the pan to the plate and began to eat.  She was armed, but did not seem to be on alert.  Her clothing was in the same purples and greens as the markers on the graves.

Edwina watched the young woman a moment, then decided she would speak to her.  Creeping back to the tree line, she stood and approached the campsite visibly and with her hands out and facing upwards.

Mollie turned to face the girl that had just walked into her camp.  From Edwina’s actions, Mollie quickly decided that she meant no harm. What if she’s a bandit?  Mollie grimaced and quickly scanned the perimeter of the camp. Ignoring the voice and the paranoia it caused, she decided to call out to her new friend.  “Hello!  Who is she?”  Mollie’s voice, while audible and friendly enough, sounded strangely hollow as if it was coming from somewhere farther away.

Taking a deep breath, the girl moved into the firelight.  From the look of her, she was a wispy red-headed teenager dressed in some kind of brown uniform with the crest of Cymru on one sleeve.  “Umm, hi,”  she began.  “I’m Edwina,” she stopped and looked at her clothes.  “Private Edwina of the Cymru Wardens.  I saw the wagons and the fire.  My squad is camped nearby.”

Mollie stood up and did an exaggerated bow.  “Her name is Mollie and she was an acrobat for Copperbolt and Hawkin’s Mechanimazement Show.”  Mollie looked around the campsite.  “But she thinks the bandits stole all the ‘mazement with everything else.”

Mollie could be easily seen in the fire.  She looked a few years older than Edwina, standing at average height but thin bordering on frail.  Her hair had a purple sheen to it, and her skin was a  sickly green.  She’s going to see what you are. Again, Mollie ignored the voice.  Of course Edwina was going to see.  Besides, she couldn’t keep secrets from her best friend!  Mollie popped up from the bow and extended a hand to Edwina.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Edwina!”
Mollie Hawkins

Edwina stood staring with her mouth open.  “Umm, hi,” she sputtered.  “I’m not sure if I am amazed by you or just terrified.”  She held out her hand.  “Is this a carnival show?”

Mollie grabbed Edwina’s hand with both of hers and shook it heartily.  “She is probably both!”  Mollie’s face lit up at the mention of the carnival.  “It was! Her Uncle’s friend Cogswell built the rides and games, and her Uncle sold medicines and cures.  Not fake ones like other shows though!”

Mollie let go of Edwina’s hand and somersaulted backwards.  “She was an acrobat, and they were training her on the tightrope and the trapeze!”  Mollie’s shoulders slumped, “Then the bandits came…”  And before she could finish, from the south, a dull buzzing rose from the trees and a scream pierced the silent night. Mollie spun to face the sound and drew her short sword.  She called back to Edwina, “Did that sound like her people?”

*****

A few minutes later, from the direction Chuck had gone, a dull buzzing rose in the forest, followed by a scream.

Dinty grabbed his weapon and headed towards the scream at a wary pace calling out "To arms."

Goreal took on a serious demeanor  and joined closely behind Dinty - his great mace of Atgur
ready.

Otso stood surprised and watched Dinty and Goreal run off, while Arlin grabbed his axe and shield then rushed after.  Meepo hid under the wagon. “I will guard the wagon!”

***

Mollie and Edwina rushed into a small clearing in the woods from the north.  Everything was lit blue from the moonlight.  Across the clearing, they saw at least a half dozen black, dog-sized things flying around a broken tree.  The screams came from that direction.  Soon after, on the southside of the clearing came Dinty, Goreal, and Arlin.

Mollie frowned at the dog-sized wasps.  "Of course, it had to be them,"  Hoping to move in before they noticed, Mollie tumbled out of the brush on the north side of the clearing and removes the head from one of the wasps as it flew by her.  “Why is it always bees!?!”

Goreal charged at the nearest wasp and tried to swat it out of the air with his mace. With an audible crunch the wasp smeared on the mace head; it's mandibles chittering in reaction.  It's mangled body dropped to the ground leaving a pool of ichor, as Goreal finished his swing.

The giant wasps, angrier, flew about Chuck, continuing to sting him. The wagon driver cried and then was silent.   One wasp flew at Mollie flying too high to hit her, while another dove at Goreal.

Dinty aimed his crossbow and fired off a shot.  The bolt slipped through the night air and impacted into the body of the wasp that had just flown past Goreal.  The exoskeleton crunched, and the wasp dropped the ground. 

Arlin rushed toward the driver Chuck, shoving a wasp away with his shield, injuring and angering one.  While Edwina, pulled her knife and ran up beside Mollie.

As a wasp attempts to sting her,  Mollie ducked and rolled, lashing at at the wasp that had just buzzed Goreal and been shot by Dinty, cutting it in half.

Goreal attempted to place himself in a position to protect the wagon driver by attacking the nearest the man.  He missed, and it turned to dive at Goreal.  The wasp's stinger plunged deep into Goreal’s chest.  Blood welled up from the wound and covered his fur and leather armor.  He felt the wasps venom enter his body and dissipate.

The wasp on Chuck’s face stung him again and the man gurgled blood, covering his chest.  Arlin swore and slashed at it with his axe cutting vermin in two.  The injured wasp buzzed the half-orc and stung him in the arm.

Hanging back Dinty pulls out his flail. Assessing the situation and ready to attack at any opportunity.

Edwina rushed forward with Dinty.

Dinty move in to attack the wasp on Arlin with his flail.  Carefully swing his flail at Arlin’s arm, Dinty launched a partially crushed wasp toward Mollie.

After a brief flashback to the last time she tried the knife throwing act, Mollie decides not to toss a knife at the wasp on the bear and opted for the one still buzzing around. Turning towards the fallen human, Mollie saw a wasp flying right at her and decapitated it.

Goreal gasped from the sting and dropped his weapon, which landed with a  thud on the dirt, kicking up dust.  He grabbed the wasp, ripping it from his chest, and held it immobilized in his hand.  Goreal, bewildered, crushed the wasp with great effort.

Arlin leaned over the human driver, Chuck, and shook his head.   “Looks like this one’s dead.”  At that time, Otso came running into the clearing.  “Is anyone hurt he asked,” out of breath.

Dinty said. "Aye a couple of us and it looks like we're short one teamster."

Mollie quietly attempted to hide behind Edwina as soon as the fight was over.

Otso attended Goreal, examining the pierce in his armor and the stinger wound.  “You seem to have escaped poisoning,” he said and closed his eyes.   Motioning the bear closer, he touched the bloody wound with his fingers.  Then wiping his hands he pulled a handful of flowers from his satchel and sprinkled them on Goreal.

Goreal was stung by a Giant Wasp
The smkia’s wound closed and the bleeding stopped.  “You will require further treatment,” he told him, wiping his head.  “Let me see the driver.”  Walking to Arlin, he saw the half-orc’s arm had been stung though he was wrapping it.  Kneeling he examined the driver, Chuck, he shook his head.  “The poison killed him.”  Instead he prayed for Arlin and covered the half-orc in lilacs.  Now visibly tired, the samsaran sits on nearby rock.  “We’ll have to tell Hal we need a driver.”  Glancing at Edwina and the girl behind, he added.  “Dinty, looks like we’ve met someone.”

Dinty said.  "Well now that Goreal is done playing with that overgrown mosquito and the healings done. Who's that you got with you Ed?"

Edwina turned and looked behind her.  “Umm, this is Mollie.” She stares at the girl’s purplish hair.  “I met her over the ridge at the remains of some wagons.”

Dinty asked. "So what are you about Mollie? Where are your people?"
 
Mollie replied. "They are all gone. Except for her and Uncle.  Uncle is somewhere.”  Mollie gestured as if to indicate that somewhere is very far away.  “She is all that is left.”

Dinty asked. "Do you or your uncle need help?"

Mollie shook her head. "Oh, no!  They are fine. Uncle is off getting some rest, and she has been out finding bandits and friends!”  Mollie patted Edwin on the head.

Edwina smiled.  “I do seem to make friends easy, Dinty.”

Otso nodded and spoke with Arlin, then walked across the clearing.  “And you, Mollie, any injuries?” 

Mollie took a step back from the priest.  “She is perfectly fine and healthy!  He shouldn’t bother himself!”

Otso stopped and turned away.  “May Morrit bless and guide us on our journey on the Wheel.  We cannot guess what the Lady of Fate has prepared.”

Crashing through the brush came a tall human with the symbol of Desna visibly around his neck, followed by a kobold.  “What is going in here?”  the human asked?  The kobold wandered over to Goreal.  “Is that a new pet?” he asked pointing toward the wasp.

“That would be a terrible pet.  They are stingy," Goreal observed.

Meepo poked the squirming wasp.

Dinty said. "Cap’n, old Chuck here got huffy and stumbled into a pack o hornets. We came to rescue him when we heard the noise. We killed em all but they got Chuck. It's a shame, he was the best teamster we had."

Mollie continues to keep Edwina between her and the priest and the holy human.

Hal approached Edwina and Mollie.  “You seem to have picked up a stray, Ed.  Where's the young lady from and how about we escort her back there?”

Edwina turned, looked at Mollie, then pointed to the ridge.  “She was living in some wrecked wagons over the ridge.  I think she’s touched.”

Mollie sighed, “She is not touched. Also, she can hear you.”

Edwina blushed. “Sorry.”

Hal eyed Mollie, walked over to Goreal, and put his sword through the wasp.  “Arlin, Meepo, Otso, I want you to take Chuck’s remains back to camp.  The rest come with me, I want to see these wagons.”

Mollie pointed over the ridge. “Over this way. She wasn’t really living in the wagons.  She was just staying there for sentimental reasons until she decided what to do with herself.”

Goreal looks perplexed by the captain's actions, and he starts to worry he didn't do a good enough job killing the wasp.  He looks at attention and follows, while working through his confusion.

“Better a dead wasp than not, Goreal,”  Hal eyed Mollie.  “Dinty, keep an eye out behind.  Move out.” Hal stomped toward the rise and Mollie's wagons.  Edwina turned and rushed after.

Dinty said. "Aye cap’n Goreal you and I are on the rear guard. Everyone else on your toes and watch for ambush."

Hal Saldana questions Mollie
Hal gazed into the ravine at the five ruined wagons.  “Edwina,” he said. “Run back to camp and get Otso.  Quick.”  Edwina nodded and rushed away.  “Loose soil yes, but this is an old battle.”  He turned to look for Mollie.  “Dinty, you and Goreal go further down and flank the wagons.  You two can see better in the dark.  I will wait then go in here.”  He looked through the moonlight.  “Where is Nikala?”

Mollie sighed and continued on into the ravine.  “There wasn’t much of a battle.  The bandits attacked in the night and killed almost everyone.  When she came back, the scavengers picked everything clean and all she had left were graves to dig.”  Mollie motioned to the row of graves on the far side of the camp.  “She supposes she should give him these before she gets smited.”  Mollie produced a folded parchment from a small satchel attached to her belt and handed them back to Hal.

Climbing into the ravine behind, Hal took the parchment from Mollie, then unfolded it.  He read for a moment and frowned.  Returning the parchment, he said.  “I see.”  Calling to Dinty and Goreal.  Search the wagons for any sign of bandits.”  Hal refolded the parchment and handed it back to Mollie.  “I will ask Otso’s wisdom.”

Dinty and Goreal started to search the wagons.

Hal watched Dinty and Goreal poke around the ruined wagons.  Before long, Dinty spotted something branded into the side of one of the wrecks.  Lighting a torch, he identified the brand as a tied bunch of arrows.

Hal stood near what he assumed to be Mollie’s wagon.  He watched the ridge for Edwina and Otso as well as eyes Mollie.  “Your case must be a strange one,” he finally told her.

Mollie replied. “Well, it fits in with the rest of her life, and it beats the alternative she thinks.” Mollie balanced on one leg while she talked.  She pretended to fall only to go into a cartwheel that placed her standing next to Hal.  “She has found her condition to be a bit liberating.  She no longer has a lot of her old fears and anxieties, she can eat all the candy she wants, and she doesn’t have to watch her figure .  It’s not for everyone though. The food is so-so, and it can be lonely.  Also, she still gets weird looks in town even after she helped with the bandits.”

Hal nodded.  “If you’d met a paladin of the Stone today, you might have had a different night.  As it is, I am less particular or well Desna has bigger problems.”  He faced her full on now.  “Otso, will be back soon.  He is a priest of Morrit, Lord of the Dead.  So you know, I will seek his advice as to what is to be done with you.  Your papers there though are surprising and yet knowing the dwarves not so much.”

At this moment, Edwina, now holding a torch, and Otso climbed over the raise and into the ravine. Otso approached Hal and Mollie with Edwina in tow.  “You wished to see me?” he asked.

“Not sure how it is for you, but the goddess blesses me with the sense of the Other.” He nodded at Mollie.  “I want your wisdom in her case.”

Otso blinked.  “Well….”

Doing an obviously bad impersonation of Otso, Mollie says, “He thinks they should let her go.”
Mollie let loose with a laugh.  “She doesn’t know what is worse, that voice she made or that he thinks he gets to decide anything about her.”

Otso turns to one side.  “Odd after effects, of course, but not unprecedented.”  He shakes his head.  “Yet we do recall that well.”  Now to Hal.  “I haven't been granted, by the Piper of Bones, your gift to sense the Other.”  Looking Mollie up and down.  “The Lord of Death wishes for each of us to turn on the Lady Fate’s wheel.  This one I suspected, and you confirmed, has been halted.”  Raising his hands, “Yet with herself intact it is likely we would do more harm than good to push her along the Wheel.  The Lady Fortuna will decide, not us.”

Hal laughed.  “The priest of the Lord of Death is a pacifist, Mollie.  But he wouldn't have hesitated against the mindless.  Your papers maybe valid, but the priests of Grumbar won't care.”

Edwina looked nervous trying to figure out what was going on.  She glanced at Dinty and Goreal.

“Dinty, Goreal, I have a question for you.” Hal called.  Looking around he continued. “Mollie it looks like the Red Arrows hit your caravan here.  Sometime in the recent past.  And as for what has happened to you, well, I’m a bit surprised to see the dwarves granted you the rights they did.”  Turning to Dinty and Goreal.  “It seems Mollie here is one of the Risen, though I can just detect the Horror-taint on her from undeath.  What do you two think?  I’m tempted to offer her a place in the Wardens, since she likes killing bandits so much. Frankly, I don’t know what Desna would think about this, but I will pray.  But Otso’s wisdom from his lives, I do know.”  He faced Dinty and Goreal and waited on their input.

Dinty shrugged. "I find it a lucky thing that she was given the chance to avenge her kin. Besides the goddess might look favorably on us if we are able to help a lost soul travel from this place to a new destination. I say she's a bit touched in the head but we could use the help."

Hal said.  “Dinty is faithful and also a pragmatist.”  He turned to the shmkia. “And what would the Eternal Sun say, Goreal?

Goreal shrugs, “Atgur’s never spoken to me, but I would judge her by her actions.   She fought to save our wagon driver, that says enough for me.”

Hal nodded. “When it comes down to it Mollie, those papers give you rights to go anywhere,” he stopped.  “But this band of Wardens is an eclectic bunch, which I believe will serve us well.   I invite you to sign on and help us clear out bandits and any other threats.  You’ll be stationed at the last village on the north road of the Republic, just before the frontier and as the forests give way to the grasslands and then the deserts.”

The moon had begun to set and Mollie’s fire burned low.  “It’s getting too dark out here for me.  Think it over.  You’d sign on for a year and renew if you liked it.  Dinty and Goreal have done the same.”  Clambering up the side of the ravine, followed by Otso and Edwina, he said. “We can always use someone of ability and if the Carbona family vouches for you, that’s good enough for me.”

Mollie grumbled a bit when the goblin called her touched.  “It’s like she’s not even here! Gosh!
She was happy that the wee fuzzy bear liked her. It only took her a few seconds to answer after Hal spoke.  She looked over at the ruined wagons.  “Give her a little time to pack and say some goodbyes.  She will meet them in the morning.”

Dinty shrugged. "Do as you will Mollie, the caravan heads out at first light. We'll see you there at the rear wagon."

Otso stopped Hal as they walked. “Any particular reason you are recruiting every misfit along the way?”

Hal squinted in the darkening forest at the samsaran.  “The frontier will be unforgiving.  We will need any help we can.  Though I have a feeling, Desna has something in mind.  Especially for Dinty.  He may need options.”

Otso asked.  “How do you know you can trust them?”

Hal said quietly. “You and Dinty will get to figure that out.”

Goreal overhears the Captain and Otso, and is visibly relieved that the new members won't be his responsibly.

*****

The 20th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: arriving at the town of Lonah - five days on the road

The morning was unseasonably cool and damp.  The caravaneers packed the wagons for the day’s journey to the town of Lonah, the last town before the frontier.  Hal told them that they would stay a full day in Lonah to recuperate.  He also sent a spare cart driver, a human called Jorg, and told them not to lose this one.

Edwina watched the forest as they packed trying to pick out in the fog some sign of Mollie.

Mollie had spent the night gathering up what she could from the wagons.  Most items of value had been taken long ago, but she knew of a few secret cubbyholes and hiding spots.  She had put together what she thought was a fairly decent adventuring outfit from what she scavenged and had previously taken from some bandits.  She changed out of her old tattered clothing into her old acrobat costume.  The purple and green costume was a bit loose on her now, but it was still wearable.  It also gave her room to hide a few things if needed.  Mollie surprised herself with a yawn.  She didn’t sleep much anymore.  In fact, she had used that to her advantage when chasing down some bandits like the one that used to own the pretty set of black leather armor she had been wearing.

After donning the armor, she slipped over it her most prized possession. It was a hooded tabard she had scavenged from the show.  It was purple and green like her old costume, but it had the show’s heraldry on the front.  She also liked the hood, because she could flip it up and hide when needed.  After securing her sword and her assorted knives and daggers, Mollie filled a small pack with the rest of her belongings.

She thought about taking her sack of rations, but while the smell didn’t bother her anymore, she was sure the condition of the meat would not be to the liking of her new friends.  Just before morning, she knelt down before each of the graves whispering a goodbye while crying the best her undead eyes would allow.  “Are you sure about this?  You don’t know them, and there’s a paladin and a priest,” the voice said.  “No, if they were going to hurt her, they wouldn’t have talked to her, and they are heading to the frontier. She has made her mind up,” Mollie said out loud.  She grabbed her pack and headed where the other caravan slept.

It was Meepo who spotted her first, approaching the campsite as the squad packed.  Poking Arlin, he nodded in her direction.

Arlin said aloud.  “Here she comes.”

Mollie spies Edwina as she comes out of the fog and waves enthusiastically at the other girl as she approaches.  “Hello!”

Edwina smiled and waved awkwardly.  “Umm, hi,” she stuttered.  “Glad you came.”

Otso watched with detachment as he positioned Chuck’s corpse on the wagon.

Edwina continued.  “We need to see where Dinty wants us.  Meepo and Otso usually ride in the wagon.  Meepo, he’s the kobold, has short legs and Otso’s kind of old.”  She pointed to the samsaran.  He smiled quietly.

Edwina continued.  “Five days walking and my feet are tired.”  She stopped.  “Do your feet get tired?”

Mollie shrugged at Edwina “Sort of, but it’s not her body that gets tired..  She can take her spot walking if she wants.” 

Edwina smiled.  “Nah, I’m getting use to it.  Besides, Dinty sets our places.  Like how Goreal is at the rear.  Not sure where Arlin’s gonna be now.”  She looked at the sky.  “Then there's the crazy birdman who just shows up and mutilates small animals.” <>

Mollie peered up in the sky to catch a glimpse, but alas there was no birdman to be seen.  She peered back at the wagon that held poor, dead Chuck.  She paused for a moment then walked over.  “She is sorry she was too late to save your friend,” she said equally to Otso and Edwina.

Dinty called. "Alright you two, less talking and more readyin' the caravan for travel. We'll be coming up on a town soon and will have a wee bit of down time before we head out to the frontier.  Otso, what is the status of the wounded? Is everyone fit for marching?"

Otso blinked tiredly.  “Everyone but Goreal is completely healed.  The bear has a healing puncture wound on his chest.  Fortunately, he has no ill effects of poison.  He’s hardy, but still an injury is an injury.  I am tired and intend to rest the day in the wagon in case my healing is needed.”

Dinty. "That's a good idea, we need you rested. Okay marching orders. Goreal, are you up for walking today?  Ed and Molly I want you on either side of the wagon keeping an eye on our flanks. Arlin you have rear guard with me Meepo I want you on top of the wagon as lookout

Goreal has a grim look on his face,”Yes Commander, I can walk today.”

Dinty nodded. "Glad to hear it Goreal, you'll be between me and the wagon."

Mollie snapped to attention and gave Dinty a salute.  “Yessir, sir!”  She place her pack in the wagon with Otso.  “She’ll just leave this here for now,” she said and sprung to the other side of the wagon.

Dinty replied. "That's the spirit Mollie. This will be everyone's position until I or the cap’n says other. Meepo, run over to the cap’n and tell him we're ready to move out when he is." Looking to the sky, he asked. "Where is that blasted bird person?"

Meepo eeked at Dinty’s shouts and scampered off.  Arlin grabbed his gear and headed back to the rear position.  Edwina leaned against the side of the wagon waiting.  Otso sat praying, burning a stick of incense.  Suddenly he stopped and looked at the sky.  “The Lord of Bones weighs heavy on the town of Lomah.  Many may be taken to the wheel before their time.”  He leaned back and closed his eyes.

Mollie leaned against the wagon waiting for it to move.  She looked behind her to see if the bear was seeing what he could see, the she peeked under it to see if Edwina was there.  After that, she decided to scan the edge of the forest for anything interesting.  If it was going to stay foggy, spotting anything would be difficult.

Soon word came down the wagon train that they were moving, and finally the last wagon rolled out as well.  The day was grey and drizzly.  The cedars seemed to shimmer in the rain.

Walking was long and tedious, especially with the slow moving wagons.  With the rain growing heavier, there were few chances to talk.

By mid-day, the caravan stopped at a new post station with its corrals.  Each wagon threw up a canvass tarp between some trees so they could eat in peace.  “What is a post station,” Meepo finally asked.

Otso added. “The Council is looking for ways to get news to and from every town or village in the Republic.  In addition to the waystations, every half days travel between is a new station with horses for the couriers.”

Goreal walks up to one of the tied up horses and strokes it along the mane.  He thinks wistfully about how nice it would be to ride a horse, with the wind blowing past him.  He wonders if there are bigger horses out there that could handle his weight.

Carrying a few apples from the wagons, the kobold, Meepo, approached the horses with happy chitter.  Seeing  Goreal, he stopped.  “Hello there, shmkia.  You like the horse?”  Feeding an apple, he spoke low to one.

Goreal is slightly startled, too deep in thought to notice the kobold approach.  “Yes, it is a fine horse.  Do you know much about horses Meepo?”

“Meepo, know there's horses farms near the village we will live,” the kobold began.  “and they takes the horses north of the dwarf lands to Baktara.  Maybe they know great horses there.”

“Great Horses?” Goreal asks, trying to hide his excitement at this prospect.

Meepo seemed excited.  “Yes.  May we can visit Baktara.  Ask the human-boss, Hal.  Baktara is nice but scary.  Meepo safe with Goreal.”  He jumped up and down.  “See the horses, see the fight pits, lots to eat from all over,  see the Pragni traders!”  He bounced off to feed more apples to the horses.

Goreal walks over to Meepo and crouches  down to continue petting the house, “That sounds like fun Meepo.”  He says with a friendly grin.

Meepo nods his small reptilian face and smiles with his little pointy teeth.

After a meal and a break, the caravan began again.  Tired from days of walking, the wardens slowly marched to the the new barracks on the eastern edge of Lomah.  Peering out into the rain off the ocean, Otso said.  “There is rarely any rain like this in Equos especially this far north.”

By evening, they had stopped at one of the newly built and now empty barracks.  The wagons unloaded, Hal Saldana told Dinty to take the squad in and grab a bunk.  He also distributed some pay to each of the them. 

***

The barracks were wooden structures, still smelling of sawdust and drafty.  In the center of the room was a brick fireplace with a stack of logs nearby.  “Cosy,” said Otso.  Hal stepped in as everyone was finding a bed or a pile of blankets for Goreal.  “Alright, squad.  We will be in town tonight, tomorrow, and leaving the next day.  Make sure to check in and let me know you are alive and try not to go to jail.”  He laughed.  “Other than that enjoy the town.”

Lomah itself sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  A small town compared to Cymru, it still had several thousand residents and a variety of shops.  Lower Lomah was down the cliffside, reachable by lift or stairs, and housed the docks and wharves. 

Mollie stowed her gear near one of the bunks and turned to face the group.  “Well, she wants to go to see the town.  Who’s with her?”

Edwina counting her silver, smiled and raised her hand.  “Sure, where are we going?”

Mollie shrugged.  “She hasn’t thought that far ahead.  Maybe somewhere they can eat something besides trail food?  Even she’s tired of it.”

Edwina smiled and looked around the bunkhouse.  Otso was deep in prayer.  Arlin cleaned his gear and declined.  Meepo had disappeared as soon as they arrived, in search of snacks, he’d said.  “Well, Dinty and Goreal might be busy.  I guess leave word with where we’re going.”

Mollie nodded then pointed to herself then Edwina.  “She will go tell Hal, and she can check with the others.”  With that, she pranced off to find the paladin.

She found the paladin, after asking a few uneasy wardens, in a small room overlooking the Warden compound.  His door open, he sat cleaning his weapons and armor from the grim of the road.   A small candle burned over a purple medallion of the Goddess Desna, but nothing from it hinted at malice towards her.

Mollie peeked around the door frame and knocked.  “Hello!  She and Edwina and maybe some others are going into town.  Does he feel like coming along and eating some real food?”


Hal shook his head.  “No, you go on.  I need to take care of Chuck and report to the base Commander.”  Staring into the flame,  “Desna’s grace has been troubled tonight.  An ill wind from somewhere, she says, but what ill and what wind.”  He finished cleaning his gear and blew out the flame.

“Hmm, maybe she’ll see if there is any gossip in town.  Sometimes there’s something worth listening to.”

***

First combat.  A bit clunky with room to improve.

The story continues in Fragments of the Last War 2.4.