March 29, 2014 - April 7, 2014
Tserdain 13th of Thaumont, 1001AC
Rainy Road Back to Susikyn
It is late. It is raining. Everyone is tired and soaked to the bone. They had spent three days out searching for clues to the possible whereabouts of Stephan and any other captured folk, but then only thing that was found was wanton death and destruction at each of the settlements the group had investigated. The only signs of life were that of the crazed Captain Kalanos who seems to have suffered from some sort of emotional damage. Attempts were made to speak to him and help him, but he was unable to communicate very coherently and fled when he was able to. The only other interesting encounter was with a large black stallion in the rain. Marcel seemed to think this beast was the fabled Fairy King of Horses trying to call the group’s mounts to him.
Bahaznic sullenly leads the way down the dark, muddy track back toward Susikyn.
“I think that the horse was trying to tell us something”, states Marcel out of the blue. “I wonder whether we shouldn’t be dashing to Segenyev to catch fresh trails of the goblins.”
The crew around is very tired and isn’t really paying attention to his ramblings.
“Fairy King of Horses or no, my heart tells me the same thing, Marcel. But my head tells me to regroup first, reprovision, and strike out immediately thereafter. There’s little we could do in our current state to help, and might be throwing more lives into the fire if we did.”
“I hear you loud and clear, friend. But our heads have taken us for a long 3 day trip around the sticks for nothing. Anyway, I agree with you, and certainly doesn’t think that we can help Segenyev as it is probably too late. However, I hate to follow their tails from so far behind that all that’s left are ashes and insane kids.”
Marcel remembers the Captain. He was a good man but is now a lost soul. Having battled goblins for a day job for years, he tries to remember a time where someone was driven over the edge like this before. He can’t. His wandering through memory lane brings him back to the Maiden: a large pint, good company… he sighs.
“I fear for our ability to find any tracks at all, after this storm, even if we’d been there when they left. I wonder - we have a reasonable estimation of where the goblins make camp - might we beat this batch of marauders back, and catch them as they arrive, do you think? Or is that opening us up for more trouble?”
“I think that the jerks’ main base is somewhere South-East, and I think that there is something big coordinating the unusual raids. Without the elf, we’re just a bunch of kids running around. I sure hope that the elves to the East will be able to give us something to work with. Going towards the Goblin’s base sounds to me like a dangerous proposition since we can’t manage to keep track of them outside of their home territory.“, he pauses.
“Maybe we can enlist a good elf guide that knows the area inside out? Without this, I’m not sure that more food is really what we need the most.”
“What this place needs is the civilizing influence of the Church, and the holy warriors that would come with it,” Draven mutters, sotto voce.
Louder, he continues, “Does anyone know the standing of this land? All part of the Duchy, surely, but these small homesteads make me think that it’s still effectively the frontier, and up for grabs if all of the civilized folk can be driven away.”
Griffin, who has been quietly listening up to this point, chimes in. “As far as I know, it’s part of the Duchy. Susikyn will probably grow into a village or even a town given enough time, and if we can figure out what the heck is going on.”
He pauses, as the rain continues to drip off his blanket. Cold and tired, he responds a bit sharply to the soldier’s speculations. “First, Marcel, “the elf’s” name was Eranthil, and I would appreciate it if you would respect his death enough to remember it. Second, this trip around the nearby settlements was not “for nothing.” It confirmed something we’ve been speculating for a while - that the attack on Susikyn and the bandit attack on the river were part of a coordinated effort.” He sighs. “I’d put forth another theory that the enemy is based southeast. We see two goblin tribes there already - if they’re at all territorial, there’s not enough room for the Wolfskulls down that way. I’m thinking maybe up in the hills to the north.”
“But finding them is a crap shoot without more intel. So, we go back, get a good night’s sleep and resupply at Susikyn. Akaios should be back on his feet, so more muscle. Then we head east to the Elves and see what they can tell us, and then circle back south to check out the two gobbo hives that we know of. You like knocking them around for information. That would be a good time to get a shot at doing that.”
Marcel take a glance at Griffin. The man is tired and better left alone for now. “Eranthil was a good man… elf. You know.” His voice trails. Maybe Marcel should just shut up. He kicks the spurs and takes Pepito to a trot, than a gallop, leaving the crew behind. He doesn’t really want to deal with folk at this point and set upon himself to refine his rough riding skills: it looks like he’s going to need it and starts to fancy himself as a cavalryman: wasn’t he touched by the FKoH after all?
Draven lays a hand on Griffin’s shoulder as he trots along beside him. “Don’t take his words too harshly. We’re all stinging from these raids and our inability to make fast work of them.”
Griffin shrugs. “I know, I know. He’s a good man. I just miss my friend. This was supposed to be the beginnings of a grand adventure. I didn’t count on any of us getting killed.”
“None of the tales we took in on our fathers’ knees made much mention of the risk of death, did they?” Draven shakes his head ruefully. “Even the stories of the Immortals are notably silent on the soldiers lost, the homesteads and villages that were lost, in the past - the mudsill upon which we build such civilization as we have today. But take heart, he was a good fellow, and died in the service of good will. He’ll have taken his place at Vanya’s side, to fight in her van against all that stand against those who fight for the right.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that. I don’t know much of the Elven gods, but you’re right. He,” gulp, “ died defending folks for no more reason than it was the right thing to do. That’s got to count with most deities, whatever the flavor.”
He straightens, moving on from something painful to more cerebral. “So, would you agree that there’s something going on here? That this is not just random stuff?
“Two raids by two different tribes at the same time? That could be coincidence. Three tribes in five raids or more over a span of a handful of days speaks entirely of some guiding hand. The goblins have found a heretofore unknown benefactor, or perhaps a fierce new leader.”
“And it’s not just gobbos. I think it extremely unlikely that a purge of the humans in this area and an attack on the riverboat are unconnected. So, bandits who were set up before we ever got on that boat means it’s not us.So, it’s something about this place. When we get back to Susikyn, we need to talk to the old priestess. Why here? Is there anything unique about this region? What could the boss want here? Some hidden treasure? A staging area for an attack on the duchy?”
He stretches, then cracks his neck. “What have I forgotten or overlooked? Do you know anything about the area?”
“Little more than you, I’m afraid, and most of that learned from listening with the local folk, or seeing it for myself these last few days. It does make sense, though, that someone has an ulterior motive for clearing this land of any who might lay claim to it, or otherwise solidify the Duke’s claim to it.”
Griffin sighs as he looks at Marcel’s back slouched on Pepito as he rides out ahead of the group. “Well, interesting thought about the Duke - not sure clearing folk out lessens his claim, but it could be political. Hmmm…” He digs his heels into Lucky’s flanks. “I better go talk to Marcel.”
He gallops ahead and slows as he approaches. “Hey, Marcel. Sorry I snapped at you, tovarisch. You’re a soldier. Maybe you’re more experienced with this sort of thing. My friends and I are just starting out.”
Marcel let out a sigh of relief as Lucky’s hooves clattered on the stony path behind. He slowed down and glanced at Griffin. Griffin’s lips are moving, but he barely pays attention. He wish that he has the words to tell Griffin that he has seen so many good folks die at the hands of goblins that he still is numb to this day. You give them names and it hurts more when they go. He wish that her could tell Griffin that yes, he is a soldier, but a soldier of his stock makes it through by learning to put a foot in front of the other, knowing that there is a friend on either side in case that you fall.
The two friends ride along for a brief moment. Marcel reaches up to the branches with his spear tip and rips leaves off the season’s green growth. “I can only deal with what’s in front of me”, he almost blurts if he could find the words. He can form a line and call the shots when it is time to cross steel. Making decisions beyond the next few minutes are out of his realm, maybe even more than it is for Griffin. Where is the captain when you need one.
“I’m a soldier alright.”, he replies in a half-tone. “I’ve got your back, tovarisch.”
They ride in silence for a bit. Draven catches up ahead of the others.
“I’m tired of battles. I want war. I wish that we could stick it up to the gobbos, fill the place with good folks like Pyotr and Stephan, push them gobs back beyond the mountains. Win that war and do away with them. I think that there is a real bad guy underneath all this.”
“I can deal with gobbos, but I’m at a lost on dealing with evil.”
The path opens up to familiar ground as the winding brook slither on the far end of a clearing. The stone tower of Susikyn stands tall down the vale.
“Hmm… Where you want a war, I want answers. We can fight goblins all day, but that’s just a symptom. You’re right that there’s someone behind all this - cut off the head of the snake and it dies. There’s something about this place, something that someone needs all of us cleared out for. Find out what that is, or who that is, and we can fix this. Two questions. Answer either one and we will be much closer to solving this.”
“I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, Marcel. It may be a small one, but this is turning into a war whether we like it not. I just hope that Griffin is right, and we can figure out who is at the bottom of this new evil and well-coordinated behavior. Could save us a lot of trouble, all around.”
Draven ponders for a moment. “I wonder if we should plan to kit out that wagon of ours for this trek to the east. Might be a more comfortable way to travel, for our recently injured comrades, plus give us the wherewithal to bring more supplies along with us, or stock up when we find patches of civilization.”
“We have just about as much punch as to chop the snake’s head if we get to it quietly.”, replies Marcel. “I think that there is an argument to be made to have a baggage train if we were guaranteed to be road-bound. However, the baggage will weigh us down and make an easy target if we ever get detected.”
Marcel twiddles with his spear some more. “We certainly could use a camp hand to make some chow at some point.”
“I think that the wagon would slow us down if we try and take it through the woods as we explore. We can carry enough supplies to last us for a longer trip next time out.”
He turns up his hands. “Personally, I think the next time we’ll need to move the wagon is when we drive the horses to Rifflian.”
He shrugs, “Well, we need to catch up Pytor and the rest on what little we found. Marcel, you may want to ask Kuzma about the Fairy King of Horses - she seems like a lady who would know.”
Griffin catches up with Bahaznik. “So, Nick, what’s our next move? Head out to the Elves to see what they know, then swing back through the Viper and Redskull camps to clear them out?”
The young man mumbles something, but doesn’t pick up Griffin’s bait. “Hey, look, we didn’t find him. Frustrating, I get it. Still, they took him prisoner for a reason. They’re not going to hurt him. We’ll find him, don’t worry.”
“But speaking of which, can you think of any reason someone might want to take your dad prisoner? Is he unusual in some way? Travels a lot? Knows people? Has he mentioned anything lately that he thought was strange?”
The young man just pulls his hood down over his head. Griffin realizes that Bahaznic may have had unreasonable expectations for this scouting mission. He had hoped to find more himself - troops of goblins running through the woods should have left more of a trail. Again, he feels the pain of Eran’s absence. They could really use him right now.
He ceases his attempts at conversation and rides in silence at the head of the troop as they descend into the vale to the settlement. He smiles and waves as he sees Irina keeping watch from the tower, and makes a “no results” gesture. At least in this case no news is not bad news.
By the time they made their way to the corral entrance, most of the settlement was somewhere nearby. Before Bahaznic could share “bad news”, Griffin spoke up. “We searched Hokol, Sielo, Ilyanka, and Cherkass. The gobbos hit them all.” He nods to Villie and Gregor. “We saw Kalanos at Ilyanka, but I fear he’s gone a bit mad. It’s my hope that he follows us here. He needs help.”
Griffin leads Lucky to a rail and begins removing her tack and gear. “What we didn’t find was any sign of Stephan. For whatever reason, he’s important to the gobbos. They’ll keep him around for a while.” He rubs his horse down well and moves the tack to the shed. “There’s more, but we can do that inside. Let’s get the horses taken care of first. Pytor, we’ll need you there, and Kuzma, too, but we also need to get ready to head out again tomorrow. Probably need supplies for at least two weeks.”
He raises his voice to be heard over the hubbub. “Okay, get the horses settled and meet up in the hall in fifteen! Sooner we get a plan, sooner we can relax and rest up before tomorrow.”
The horses and gear are quickly stowed and everyone hurries back inside before the next wave of storms blows in. Pytor is quite upset with the news that all of the other nearby settlements had been attacked as well. When told of the smoke coming from the east, he concurres that it is probably Segneyev as well and agrees that heading that way to at least look for survivors is the best course of action. He feels that a trip to the east would be well served by trying to find the Vyalia Elves that live near the Lake of Lost Dreams. “Be wary, though, these Elves may not be like other Elves you have know. Your friend Eranthil was a Callarii Elf. They populate the central and western lands. They are hardy and down to earth people. the Vyalia Elves are quite different. They are, um, dreamy. Nice enough, though sometimes it is hard to follow a conversation with them. They seem more interested in the way the dew drops shine in the morning sun off a plant leaf than anything practical. Some say they are aloof, I just think they are not as concerned with the same type of things most folk are concerned with. They are a nice enough bunch. Peaceful and even tempered. I have never had bad dealings with them, though I don’t often have reason to deal with them in the first place.” Pytor gives some descriptions of the things to look for to seek them out past the south-eastern shores of the lake. “While you are there, you may seek out the Seer as well. The Elves may know where to find him or how to contact him. He is a wise soul. A protector of the forest. I have only met him once, many years ago. He is Human, but they say he is long-lived like the Elves. He may be able to shed some light on your search.” In closing he says he will pull together whatever supplies he can for the trip.
As everyone gets settled back in the main hall, Marcel approaches Kuzma and asks her about the Fairy King of Horses. She smiles a wide grin and and beckons everyone to gather around. She is about to tell a story. She tells of a beast that can appear as a mighty black stallion or a large Centaur. He is a Chevall, a magical beast that can speak to and control horses. He is a friend of the Centaurs that roam the moors and hills nearby. He is not a friend of the Humans in the area, as he hopes to have all horses roam with him on the plains. He can be summoned, though and for a price, he has been known to aid those in need. She says that in order to call the Fairy King of Horses, one must go out into the moors, three nights in a row, and stand atop the Crying Rock, on one leg and whistle the Song of Zirchev. She says that after three nights, the Chevall will appear. Then she warns, “Do not take your horses, for he will take them back and set them free!”
Irina and Masha serve the group bowls of warm stew and hard bread while Kuzma tells her story. After feeding the group, Masha heads back to her room above the stables. Akaios follows saying he wants to make sure she is safe out there alone with the baby.
Griffin watches as Irina moves around the dinner, again struck by her simple beauty. Ah well, business before pleasure, right, Dad?
“Pytor, Kuzma, Irina, if I could have you for a few moments more after dinner?” When he gets nodded assents, he finishes his stew and moves to the kitchen, where he strips to the waist and hangs his armor and undershirt in front of the fire. He grabs a rough blanket and wraps it around his shoulders, then makes his way back to the great hall.
“Ah, that’s better. I was feeling like I’d never get dry again.” He smiles at Irina, who has lingered at the long table with Pytor and Kuzma. “Now, we have a plan for tomorrow, but there may be another way you can help us with this. I’m trying to use this,” and he taps his forehead, “to maybe save us some time and effort.”
He leans in closer. “The fate of the other settlements makes it clear that this was not an isolated attack. And the ambush on the river suggests that this is not just goblins on the warpath. The ambush took time to set up, and probably was coordinated by the same person who got the gobbos all riled up.”
“That leads me to two questions. Who? and Why? You say there haven’t been any strangers around, so you probably won’t know who. I’ll keep working on that.
“But why? You three might know why this mysterious figure would have initiated these things? What is there about this area that he could be after? Is this part of the forest of any strategic or political significance? Or could there be something here he want to find? Do you know of any legends of mysterious treasure? A star, perhaps? Or a powerful weapon for the unscrupulous to uncover to grant themselves undeserved power? Or something else? You would know the legends of this area far better than I, an outsider. If we can puzzle out what this foe wants, we stand closer to thwarting him, rescuing Stephan, and getting on with our horse business.”
He looks at the three intently, hoping for some clues to answer the questions that plague him.
Pytor begins to say that he has not heard of any strangers in the area. Winter has just ended and much of the area is closed off to travel during the harsher winter months. Captain Kalanos’ boat was the first such excursion into the area this spring. He does say that he had heard that some folk from Cherkass had come across a stranger wandering in the hills to the north a few weeks ago but he is interrupted by Remar, explaining that it was probably him they were talking about, as he had recently passed through that way over the mountains from Thyatians to the east. He had met up with and traveled with a band from Cherkass at about that time. Dismissing that, Pytor says he knows nothing. As if waiting for her cue, Kuzma launches into a loud and nearly incomprehensible list of possibilities of the evil brewing in the area. Argos the Worrier, the mighty Green Dragon said to lair to the east. The Centaurs of the moors and hills concocting a plan to rid the area of the Homesteaders. The dreaded Witches of Dymrak, a coven of 9 witch sisters said to haunt various parts of the forest. Yuri the Death Knight and his undead Dragon mount. Orcs or Giants from the mountains. Vampire Lords from ages past. Thyatian political machinations.The People of the Night returned. Beastmen of the Goat. Plots of the Church of Karameikos (though she shares this one quietly and with her eyes down as she peers at Draven, clearly her view of the church has changed somewhat slightly in the last week or so). She rambles on and on, listing a good ten to fifteen more possible evils.
Taking notes on a purloined bit of parchment, while he’s not writing up the events of the last few days in a missive to his superiors, Draven looks up at Kuzma on this last thought, looking at her as though over the top of non-existent spectacles, one eyebrow raised sardonically. “I feel comfortable in assuring you that the church has not hired on goblins to cause you grief. Though I might hire one myself to come here and chase you around some, if you persist in such nonsense!” He waits for whatever smattering of laughter he might get for his jibe.
“The most likely of the bunch is that dragon in the east, or I miss my guess. We’ve seen no signs of centaurs, though there was definitely something afoot in the moors across the river from the lumber camp, but they don’t seem the type to be in league with goblins. Your death knight sound proper for the role, but no sign of him just yet, nor these witches or vampires. All conjecture, but for that dragon - if he’s still there in the first place.”
He returns to writing his letter, poised to take further notes from the conclave as it proceeds.
Pytor puts his hand up and stops his mothers ramblings. “Mother, that's enough. You can’t just go blaming every old folktale for our woes. It’s Goblins. Someone or something has prodded them to attack. Happens. These kind and brave folk are trying to help us here, so we need to let them. Don’t confuse them with every story you tell to the children to scare them in the night.” Kuzma puffs out her cheeks at her son and glares at him then hikes up her skirt and heads to the tower.
“As my mother said, there are plenty of culprits for the evil doing in these parts, and then again, it could be something else as well. But as for why, I could not tell you. This is the life I have chosen for myself and my family, as my fathers did before me, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone ELSE would want to choose this life. I see that it is hard. I like it, it works for me, but I can see that it would not be the goal of many others. There are riches in this land, for sure. The trees, the animals, the water, even some mineral wealth under the ground, no doubt, but nothing in enough abundance that it would call for this type of action. At least as far as I know. If someone wanted the animals here, they could come hunt. If someone wanted the trees here, they would come cut, if someone wanted the bounty of the earth, they could come and dig. But that is not the case. Something else is afoot here, but I cannot see it.” He ponders for a minute, the continues, “but if you can find my brother, maybe those who captured him will know more. As I’ve said before, the Goblins are not known to take slaves like this. They kill and steal easily usable goods, but they are not slave takers that I am aware of. Your descriptions of the other homesteads and camps are distressing, because it does not seem as if they wanted to steal either. I give you my word that I will help you in your quest in any way I can, though our stores are threatening to run low. I hope we can finish this business quickly and get on to the sale of these horses and get back to life as usual.”
Griffin leans back, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath. “Of course, I look forward to that as well.” His head is spinning with all the possibilities. And a dragon? Yea, better hope that’s not what’s going on here. Sheesh!
He rubs his neck, trying to dispel the tension that’s been building up there all night. Suddenly he feels soft hands push aside the blanket and begin to massage his shoulders. “Oh my, lass, you are a wonder. Remind me to show you my gratitude, in about fifteen minutes or so.” He hears a giggle behind him. He keeps his eyes closed and lets go of planning and strategizing for a while. Let tonight be tonight, tomorrow would come soon enough.
Moldain 14th of Thaumont, 1001AC
As the sun rises over the homestead, it struggles to find a way through the heavy clouds and rain that continue to fall. The wind can be heard outside and the continuous patter of rain on the roof makes it difficult to wake up in the morning. The cool air outside does its best to seep in through the walls, setting a chill in the air until the fireplaces and stoves are all stoked to chase the cold away.
His morning prayers made, with special attention to the souls of those lost at the various settlements, and the continued protection of the folk of Susikyn. While spooning down his breakfast, he pens a letter to his old mentor, Father Laurek.
In the morning, Marcel gets up and assists the homesteader in preparing a hearty meal. He probes the people in the kitchen for more shreds of information about the Eastern area.
“Would there be any kind of map of these parts?”, asks Marcel. He knows very well that the best strategy when patrolling a new piece of land is to get to know as much as there are about it. He fetches a fresh cup of tea and takes it to Kuzma.
“My bet is that there is not a lot of written documentation on the area. So please, if you can spare the time and the energy to tell me more about fairy tales. I’m most interested about the Dragon this time.”
As it turns out, Masha is from the eastern lands. She came west with her husband and father and found work here at Susikyn. She tells Marcel all she knows of the area. She has known the Elves of the east as well as Goblins and even Orcs and worse that come down from the hills and mountains. She knows of the Lake of Lost Dreams, though has never been there, as it is said to be haunted and full of great magic. Many of the stories the homesteaders tell sound quite familiar to the stories that Marcel heard as a youngster, just with different names and places. The Dragon, however, feels different than the fairy tales and legends. Argos is more real and in the present. Though some of the stories of the Dragon reach back many years, not all the stories are ancient, some are more recent.
Marcel listens to Masha with great interest. “Do you know someone who could be our guide on our way East? It feels like we’re going blind if we’re to leave right now.”
Griffin overhears Marcel’s chat with Masha and tosses a crude map on to the table. “Here, make notes of anything I might have missed and we’ll add them later.”
Masha looks at the map and says it looks about as good as she remembers. She knows that Pytor has probably been out that way, but as for the rest of the homestead, only herself has been there, and she would not be able to travel with the baby. She gives some landmarks and things to look for to help with navigating around the eastern lands. She also warns that the eastern woods are home to more than Elves. She has known stories of the Witches from her youth in Segenyev and other creatures of the fairy realm, some benign and some not so. She also knows of Orcs and other larger brutes (Ogres, Giants?) that would occasionally come down from the mountains in the north.
“Masha, was Sevenyev a large settlement? Well-fortified? And,” he pauses here, trying for words that won’t sting too much, “was there anyone of your kin there that we should be looking for?”
Glancing at the map, he wonders aloud as well, “I don’t see a ford for this river” - he points to the wye near the elves and rumors of dragons - “anywhere. Was there a place to cross when you were living there?”
Griffin passes through the kitchen as Marcel and Draven pore over the map with Masha. “Hey guys, you coming? We’ve got a long way to go to Segenyev. If you can nail that ford, great, but in either case it’s time to hit the trail.” He turns to the exit. “And don’t forget the map.”
Masha gives Draven and Marcel some details on Segenyev. “Segenyev was a good sized settlement. Like Susikyn here. It was two main families living together in a walled compound. Being farther out from the other settlements and nearer the mountains, they had to have good fortifications. Their wall was mostly stone, with some wooden parts. Many of the buildings had stone foundations as well, though all the upper levels were wooden. About 15 or so folk lived there when I left. I had no family there. I had lived and traveled with my father for most of my young life. He as a miner and prospector. We often visited Segenyev and there is where I met my husband, Hakos. He lived at the homestead. My father broke his leg up in the mountains once and by the time we made it back to the homestead, it was too late to do much about it, so he decided it was time to settle down. He arranged for my marriage to Hakos and the three of us left Segenyev and came to Susikyn, for we had heard they were in need of a smith. Hakos had family at Segenyev, though I do not know them well. And as for any fords over that river, I do not know of one, though I am sure there are places to cross it.”
“Hold tight - we’re not likely to make the trek any faster by not knowing where we’re going.” Draven makes final markings on the map and leaves it to Marcel to stow it for the trip. He thanks Masha effusively. “Every little bit helps in our planning. Keep hope alive, it sounds like they had stouter walls to hide behind than many of the outlying camps.”
Gathering up his gear, he makes a point to stop and thank Kuzma again, as that feels right and proper, and then Pytor and his wife. He asks them to take the letter that he’s written and the next chance there is to send it along with someone to the ferry to please do so, in case it’s a while before he makes his return.
“Anything I should know about old Gilgarion, my mighty, but mightily angry, steed?”
Pytor nods to Draven, “No, I think you understand the horse. Mighty and angry. He is a fine horse, headstrong for sure. He appears to be well trained. I would suggest spending some time walking with him before you hop on and ride. I had to stitch two saddle straps together just to properly saddle him up, by the way. He is very barrel chested. Strong. Don’t let him step on you. He will probably break your leg in one shuffle.”
Griffin heads out to the corral to find that the rest of the horses are saddled and ready to go. He smiles as he sees Akaios stands ready to join them. He smiles again to see Irina standing near Lucky, still in the stable, checking his gear over.
“Now, now, I’m sure that everything is fine. Just leave it be.” He pauses, and looks at her quizzically. He reaches out. “You have something in your hair.” She blushes and tries to shy away, but his fingers flick, and suddenly there is a coin in them. He leans in close, “Now, this is not for last night. Which was wonderful, by the way. No, this is because a pretty girl should have something pretty. And I wanted to do this now, in case I don’t come back from this trip.” She starts to say something, but he shushes her. “So take this and buy some ribbons for your hair.”
Griffin hops up into the saddle and looks over the group. Good friends and true.
“Well, sorry about the rain, but a little water never hurt anyone, and we’ve got a mission.” He turns to Pytor. “We’ll be back in a few weeks, sooner if we have news.” He turns back to the company. “Shall we?” and he turns Lucky out to take the trail again.
Draven, with Gilgarion saddled but not ridden, and a tight hold on the reins, ponders his options. “He’ll never take to being a pack animal, but I don’t want to ride him straight away, at Pytor’s advice. Think the going will be slow enough in this wet that I can walk with him a while, get him used to my voice and my scent, before I saddle up?”
Griffin nods. “Sure, it looks like it’ll be slow going for a while at least.” He eyes Gilgarion a bit. “He does seem to want you to take your time, doesn’t he?”
He runs a hand down the horse’s muzzle and narrowly avoids getting nipped. “C’mon now, lad. It’s you and me, off to fight the enemies of the good and the true. I know you’ll like that.” He walks the horse a ways ahead of the gathering and back, trying not to rush things but keen to get ahead of the possible complications of his unruly steed.
Double-checking his gear, Draven gives his club a swing. “I really need to replace this switch with a more robust weapon. You know the mace is our holy symbol?” He shows off the symbol around his neck, in miniature with precious stones. “I feel like I could manage to heft a war mace now, having been given some practice.”
The newly formed Free Company, still as yet unnamed, heads out into the wilderness surrounding Susikyn once again. It has been raining steadily for 3 days now and the dirt track that serves as a road in these parts has become a muddy mess, threatening to mire feet and hooves alike. Whenever possible, walking in the grass next to the road is better than moving on the road. The trip to Segenyev should take 2 and a half days, though after an hour on the road, that estimate seems quite unreasonable.
After about 4 hours, the group realizes that they have not even made it the 5 or so miles to the edge of the forest. Draven is covered from head to feet in mud and Burik’s horse is walking funny. Upon inspection, it looks as if it lost a shoe somewhere in the mud, though several shoe nails are still sticking out. “Dammit!” exclaims Burik. This is never gonna work. I’ll keep you guys forever in getting there. I’m gonna head back and get this fixed before ol’ Hoss here hurts himself. You want me to try to catch back up?” While Burik is waiting for an answer, ol’ Hoss spooks and jumps, coming down on Burik’s foot. The young Traladaran lets out a loud yell and falls to the ground, clutching his leg!
Griffin makes his way over to the swordsman. “Well, hell. Just what we needed. Can you walk on it? Or more important, can you ride? If you can get back to Susikyn without help, we at least won’t lose the mile or so that we’ve made so far. I don’t want to lose more time if we can help it.”
Burik curses for another moment, then looks up at Griffin, “Yea, it’s not that bad really. I can walk on it. Just caught the side. Scared me more than anything. Well it pissed me off more than anything, and scared me almost as much as that.” Burik tries to smile at his attempt at humor. “So you want me to head back and get another horse, Probably be close to dark by the time I get back there, not that its very light out anyway. I’ll let Kuzma check out my foot and then head out in the morning? Maybe the rain will have stopped by then and I can catch up to you all before you make it to Segenyev.”
“Well, sounds like the best plan we have. I just don’t like anyone wandering around alone. Ree, you want to escort Burik here back to base? One more warm night before you have to camp in the rain?”
“Are you kidding? It’s going to take me three days to dry out in the first place,” the Half-Elf girl complains. She gives Burik a sidelong glance then smirks, “But, yea, I’ll take him back to the homestead, keep him out of trouble.”
“What the hell, I don’t need a babysitter, Griffin. I know where I’m going! I don’t need….”, he trails off a Ree wheels her horse around and starts heading back toward Susikyn.
“Come on, or I’ll leave you here,” she calls without even looking back at Burik.
The young Human shrugs and begins trudging through the ankle deep mud, leading his horse behind him.
“Have a nice trip!” He turns to the rest. “Well, I’d say we’re burning daylight, but I think that got put out by the rain. Let’s just keep moving.”
“So, Draven, now that we have a Company, what should we call it? Got any ideas?”
Gingerly mounting his now exhausted but a bit friendlier mount, Draven trots him a few steps. “No, it can’t fall to me to name our merry band.” He pauses and wrings out his cloak. “Perhaps not so merry for a while, yet. Anyway, we would wind up with a name dredged from Thyatian history that nobody would understand.”
“Oh, no, I wasn’t tasking you with that, just asking for ideas. But you’re probably right - we don’t want anything too obscure. Hey, Marcel! What sorts of names of companies have you heard before? Certainly wouldn’t want to duplicate something already out there!”
Akaios shifts in his saddle, pulling the grey blanket up around his shoulders, trying to fold it across his head to keep the rain off, but to no avail. He chuckles and looks around at everyone else trying to do the same with similar grey blankets, all borrowed horse blankets from the Susikyn stables. “What about the Grey Company?” he suggests.
“Hmm, the Grey Company. Nice. Not too ostentatious, hints at a certain moral flexibility.” He looks at Draven. “Not that we are, but for certain situations it can be advantageous to keep our moral leanings to ourselves.”
“I can deal with Grey.”, replies Marcel. “I’d like our herald to be a large, grey warhose on his hind legs. That’d look pretty awesome… or maybe a dragon.” His voice trails off as all ponder the danger in the East.
He really is getting into this horse riding. He stop focussing on riding and drifts into patrol mode. Ever mindful to husband his and his horse’s energy for the long journey.
“No rearing stallions, please. My arse is as sore as I’ve ever imagined. I wasn’t thinking, picking a horse this big. I’ll be as bow-legged as your lady-friends back in Kelvin at this rate.”
“Actually, Marcel, since we’ve got some time to ponder things on this ride, I was wondering if you could put on your soldiering hat and come up with some basic tactics for us. What we should try if we’re up against a band of goblins, or an angry owlbear, or whatever. Let’s tap into that experience of yours - for the good of the company, y’know?”
“Well, tactics in my army days counted into having a bit more swords swinging around. We had the meat-shields which would break goblin formations and allow to pick up stragglers. Everyone here is precious, though. So we’ll need meat-shields or use another approach.”
Everyone looks around, searching for meat-shields.
“I think that we have to work with what we’re good at: like a monster with ten or twelve arms rather than five or six fighters.”
Marcel seems to make plans for an immediate attack. “I beat them down… someone strikes.”, he nods. “Griffin, I say that the best option is to never get caught in the open with a bunch of gobs. Our best tactics is… beheading the leaders first. Goblins love to run.”
The rain picks back up, making conversation difficult and the group trudges on. Though everyone is soaked and in a dismal mood, the hike is not a total waste. Everyone manages to find some sort of edible fare along the way and Remar spots a large beehive hanging from a tree branch and is able to use his magic to get it down. The young mage is also able to bag himself a turkey that he spots running through the forest near the trail, taking it down with a magical bolt.
Eventually the company reaches the edge of the forest proceed out onto the grassy plain. Leaving the forest introduces the additional irritation of the winds to the already miserable day. Pushing against the wind, only another hour of travel is made before it is determined time to stop for camp. The group has not even made it to the cut off trail they followed the other day to the horse traders camp. Setting a camp in the grasslands proves to be quite difficult as there is little to no shelter, no wood, no nothing. Bahaznic takes the lead and proves to be a decent leader, finding a small hollow on the side of a slight rise. “This will provide some protection from the rain, at least for some of our gear and give us a spot to light a fire. We’re going to have to sleep out in the rain, thats just the way it is. Akaios and Remar, can you guys go over to the tree like over there,” he points off into the rainy distance to the south, “and gather as much dry firewood as you can find. Look near the bases of the trees, under thick bushes, dig through the dead leaves, there will be some dry stuff. You can bring some mostly dry stuff too, we can dry that out once we get the fire going.” Remar shrugs and Akaios starts to complain about the 2 mile walk he is about to go on, but quiets himself and listens to the young Traladaran who seems to know what he is talking about. Bahaznic then gets to work having everyone else get to work setting camp.
After nearly 2 hours, everything is set. The rain is still beating down and everyone and nearly everything is soaked. Important gear, and things easily ruined by the water are stowed up in the hollow and a nice little campfire is burning nearby. Bahaznic has a bit of trouble getting the blaze started, and Remar lends his magical assistance.
“While the minor cantrip I know for keeping dry won’t work in rain this heavy, I can at least provide some semblance of warmth now that we’ve settled in.”
Eventually everyone is settled in, watches are set, Remar scrunches himself up into the dry, hollow area to study his spell book, and most of the party heads off to sleep, Draven being the first one to fall asleep.
“Hmm, well, I was going to have Draven team with Akaios, but maybe Remar? Why don’t you two take first watch, Marcel, you take second, then wake Draven and Bahaznic for third. I’ll take fourth.”
The night drags on, the rain starts to slow to a steady drizzle. Remar and Akaios finish their watch and Marcel takes over. The Traladaran soldier makes a quick perimeter check of the camp, then makes a wider sweep of the area before settling in to a spot where he can see most of the camp. About an hour into his watch, Marcel starts to think about the others that got to sit watch with a partner. He thinks back to the old days. He hated being stuck on guard duty alone, and it seemed to happen more often than not. No one to talk to, no one to watch your back. His thoughts get stuck here and he starts to get upset. He spends more time thinking about being alone than thinking about his training. Suddenly, he hears a rustling sound coming from the pile of equipment stacked up in the hollow on the hillside.
Marcel’s mind switches on all of a sudden. At first, he expect some kind of small critter but uses the noise as a doctrinal excuse to rouse Draven who is sleeping next to him. He wake him up, motions to keep an ear for trouble but stay put. He grabs his spear and shield and slips in the dark until he can hear or see something more.
Draven rises as quietly as possible and instinctively reaches for his club. The campfire is dying, not that it ever shed much light to begin with and the moon, which is ¾ full, is completely covered by thick clouds. Marcel moves to the left, nodding his head toward Draven to move right. As Marcel and Draven move in closer for a look, they initially do not see anything out of the ordinary, though both can hear something moving around over the steady sound of rain. Eyes straining in the darkness, all that can be seen is their pile of packs pushed up inside a narrow dry spot under the side of the small rise, some dark blankets draped over them in a feeble attempt to keep the rain out.
Marcel smiles, suspecting that someone in the camp got creative with the shelter concept. He walks to the pile and gently poke with the butt of his spear.
“Hey, who goes there? Keepin’ dry?”
As the the butt of Marcel’s spear pokes the blanket, everything erupts in chaos. The ‘blanket’ rises up and spreads out violently and turns, revealing that it is,in fact, not a blanket at all, but a giant bat that had apparently crawled into the space to escape the rain. It flaps its wings and lunges forward toward Marcel, its white fangs glistening in the darkness. As the creature nears, Marcel’s nostrils are filled with a foul stench, reminding him of the giant bats he had fought off back at Susikyn.
From his vantage point one step to the side, Draven sees the bat lunge toward his companion, but more importantly, he sees a second bat moving amongst the supplies. It turns in the Acolyte’s direction.
Marcel brings up his shield and steps back, easily preventing the nasty beast from biting him. Remembering the last time, Marcel holds his breath as the bat attacks. Marcel has to check himself, though, as he nearly stomps on Bahaznic sleeping nearby.
Draven turns and with a mighty yell, hoping to wake the rest of the company, steps toward the bat that has attacked Marcel. In his panic, he nearly forgot the training Marcel had drilled everyone in, to focus attacks on a single enemy, stick together and provide a unified front. But the barely remembered training comes through, and instead Draven swings hard for the bat with his club.
The rest of the camp wakes up to the sound of Draven’s warcry as his swing goes wide, having misjudged the bat’s position in the darkness. As he follows through on his swing, he feels his feet starting to slip out from under him but the young Acolyte quickly braces himself and remains standing. Draven also recalls the horrid stench of the bats from the previous encounters with them and does his best to hold his breath, avoiding the stench.
The second giant bat waddles out from the supply pile and leaps up at Draven, its teeth on a direct course for Dravens shoulder.
Marcel takes a step back and lines up for a retaliatory strike. The bat flies towards him and he manages a well placed swing of his shield on the beast. Unfortunately, the shield weakly thud on the passing bat.
Draven brings up his club to defend, taking a step away from the bat, but he is not quick enough and the beast makes it past his guard and bites into his shoulder but his heavy mail saves him from harm. He watches as the other bat flaps his wings and drives in for another attack on Marcel. As Draven watches he realizes that he has stepped back on top of Akaios and gets his foot tangled in the other man’s bedroll. Akaios curses and somehow, Draven remains standing.
The first bat presses it’s attack on Marcel, this time taking to the air and trying to latch on to the Traladaran’s spear arm but he turns quickly and deflects the blow with his shield again.
Nearby, Akaios, Griffin and Remar begin scrambling to their feet while Bahaznic seems a bit surprised and struggles getting out of his bedroll.
Marcel takes a step back such that the weak light of the leftover fire interferes with the bat's vision but not his. Thus leaving a bit of breathing air for the bat to fly away if it chooses to.
Griffin scrambles to his feet, dragging his blanket with him. Who knows, this may just work!
Draven, spurred now by logic rather than surprise, turns and makes for the campfire, looking for a burning branch with enough solid wood on it to serve as a makeshift torch, tossing aside his club to free up a hand.
When Marcel and Draven disengage, the foul bats move on to other targets. The first one flops over and lands on the back of Pepito, Marcel’s mount while the other one drops down onto Akaios. The horse begins to snort loudly and hop, trying to shake the large bat from its back.
Griffin makes his way around the campfire towards the bat attacking Akaios. He takes a second to line up on the creature’s flank, and then tosses his blanket over it’s head!
Pepito whinnys loudly and bucks, kicking his back feet out as Griffin, Remar and Akaios all get to their feet, Griffin holding his blanket and Akaios readying his axe. Remar brings his hands up and summons a magical bolt. The bat that had been attacking Akaios is now on the ground on top of Akaios’s bedroll, turning toward it. Draven stands next to it, straddling the low burning fire and holding a burning log, its end glowing red with burning embers.
As the bats continue to harass the party, Bahaznic starts crawling away, trying to get out from under everyone’s feet.
Trying not so much to attack as to to scare off the closest bat, Draven waves his makeshift torch at the bat atop Akaios’ bedroll.
Worried about hitting Pepito on accident, Marcel spins his spear around and uses the butt end to poke at the bat sitting on his horses back. Pepito squeals again as he is bitten again by the bat. Carefully lining up the shot, Marcel nails the dark creature, hitting it solidly. The bat reels and looses its grip on the horses back and falls over the side, landing on the ground in between the 7 tethered horses. The nervous horses begin stamping around, inadvertently destroying the bat in the process.
Draven’s fiery brand startles the bat, sending it flapping into the air and directly toward Griffin. As it flutters past, Remar sends a magical bolt shooting in its direction. The pulsating bluish dart of magical energy hits the bat just as it arrives in Griffin’s reach.
Griffin tosses the blanket up in the air just as the bat gets close, then sweeps it down to the ground. Before he can stop him, Akaios slices clean through blanket and bat with his axe. Akaios comes up grinning, to be met by a stern-faced Griffin. He looks down at the entangled bat corpse, the shredded blanket, and then his axe. Griffin raises an eyebrow. “Really?” Akaios shrugs. “It was in my face, man! It needed killing, so I killed it.” He thinks for a moment. “Uh, sorry about your blanket, though.”
Akaios looks away from Griffin and down to his own blanket then starts cursing. His blanket is also ruined. Completely covered in mud from Draven’s boots as well as having several small holes burnt in it from falling embers from the makeshift torch. “Oh, well, guess that’s that,” the large man mutters.
The bodies of the bats are removed from the camp, the horses are calmed and everyone heads back to bed, knowing that they will be tired in the morning.
Nytdain 15th of Thaumont, 1001AC
Rain Rain Go Away
The morning comes too early for most everyone. The rain is still steadily falling and the sky is only slightly lighter than it was during the night. The wind has picked up a bit and it carries with it a downright cold touch. Camp is broken without a so much as a word and soon enough, the company is back on the road, slogging through the rain and mud toward distant Segenyev.
The morning’s ride is slow, again making only a handful of miles until lunch. It is noted by the group that they have not even yet made it to the trail they followed into the forest when tracking the missing horses a few days ago.
Continued on GDA11 - To the Lake of Lost Dreams
Cast of Characters:
Garrett "Griffin" Constantine, a Thyatian rogue of a gambler from Penhaligon rolled by +Arne Jamtgaard
Remar Umerus, an Alphatian battle mage that escaped forced service in the Thyatian army conjured by +Ben Lipe
Marcel Maas, a down on his luck Traladaran soldier turned mercenary commanded by +Christian Blouin
Draven Rickart, a Thyatian Acolyte of the Church of Karameikos piously played by +Jason Packer
and +Jason Woollard as the DM
Marcel Maas, a down on his luck Traladaran soldier turned mercenary commanded by +Christian Blouin
Draven Rickart, a Thyatian Acolyte of the Church of Karameikos piously played by +Jason Packer
and +Jason Woollard as the DM