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.

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