The prequel story of Malachai, a Feytouched Satyr wilderness guardian, starring in the on-going GURPS saga of five unlikely companions attempting to unravel the mysteries of Mystara.Mysteries of Mystara
Malachai's Prequel Story
Malachai Leads the Way
Malachai, champion of the natural world, enemy of “civilization” once again found himself taking a job working for “the man.” He had hired himself out as a guide and scout for a small caravan heading east across the hinterlands to a village called Veseya on the Castellan River.
Normally he wouldn't have taken such a job, especially for this price, but he did have some ulterior motives. And he didn't have any idea where Veseya actually was.
It all started a while ago at Thigwhistle's Crossing. Malachai was visiting the strange old Gnome, selling some herbs and buying a few needed supplies when he ran into an old friend...
This friend was a halfling, or Hin, as they like to be called, named Fergus Proudsun. Fergus was a rogue and adventurer, and Malachai had always adored the diminutive character. Fergus had traveled all over the Known World, or at least so he claimed, and despite his loathing of "civilization," Malachai was always eager to hear his stories. The two had gone on a few adventures together off and on in the last few years, but this time, Fergus needed a favor.
"I'm headed to Castellan Keep, up north, out on the borderlands, but I need a favor from someone I can trust; can I count on you, friend?"
The imposing Faetouched smiled slyly at the sound of Fergus’ voice. The little one always knew just the amount of space to give him. Wavy dark locks swayed in the warm light of the day as turned to face his… Friend? Associate? Malachai was always a little too careful how he gauged his relationships with people... Either way he met the Hin’s diminutive gaze with smoldering warmth.
Was this flirty tone intentional? Malachai never cared.
“Little Star, you sure know how to make a girl feel needed.” His voice rumbled like a soothing distant storm on a cool night as he playfully fluttered his lashes. “What can I do for you?”
The smile on Fergus's face was somehow wider than the Hin's cheeks. So I've got some, um, cargo, coming up from the Capital, on the river. The captain is an old friend and he's keeping any eye on things for me. Problem is, it's gotta be offloaded and taken cross country to the east. It's going to the Keep too, but I've got to get there ahead, and I'm taking a different route. So I've arranged for the cargo to be taken overland by a Ylari trader going that way. I've also arranged for you to be hired on as a guide and scout for the expedition. It'll pay 100 Kronas. You're familiar with that stretch right? What am I saying, you know all the best trails and paths, right? I really appreciate this, Malachai," Fergus says, still smiling.
The almost smug calm on Malachai’s face masked a flash of uncertainty, his eyes flickering briefly to the side. “My familiarity with that area is… under ripe. But I’m sure I can MAKE myself familiar." He waved his hand in casual dismissal, "It’ll be a learning experience for all of us!” Malachai was always open to exploring new areas, if not for the sake of inspiration. A new song, a new seed, a new way to help the land reclaim… A plant grows larger and stronger as it’s roots reach, after all.
“Overland?” He smirked as the logistics danced in his head. “Pardon my impertinence, darling, but is there a reason this cargo cannot be transported on the eastern river’s boats?”
Fergus gives Malachai a double take and smiles more, "We'll of course there is, of course. Plus, if it went up the river they would have no need for an experienced guide such as yourself. So, you see, that's that." It is clear that Fergus is dodging the question about the route choice. He continues, giving Malachai no time to press for more clarification. "The merchant you'll be working with is a Ylari named Tsorvano. Good man, a bit full of himself, though I'm sure you'll get along just fine. He used to be the master of quite a large caravan but had some financial trouble a few years back, lost out on some large investments and he's had to scale back his operation quite a bit. Probably still sore about that. What? No! I had nothing to do with that!" Fergus says, crossing his arms at the unspoken accusation. "Anyway, I've got to get back south. I'll meet you in Veseya once you reach the Castellan River. Good? The boat my cargo is coming up on is the Resplendent Gray. Captain Kalanos is an old friend. Meet him at the docks in Stallanford to receive the cargo. One crate. Good?"
He gazed serenely down at Fergus for a bit, his eyes gleaming ominously from atop his frozen smile. “Seems like you’ve got this all figured out, Little Star. And might I just say, I find your utter trust in me most touching.”
Malachai was like a mountain to the halfling, his very presence seemed to thunder, and his eyes were like wolves on a dark cliff as he leaned slightly towards him. ”...That you would so willingly come to *me* for such a task. And your openness is MOST welcoming. You, a trickster and a rogue, and yet I find myself so safe in the knowledge that you would never keep anything pertinent from me.”
"Oh you're so cute when your eyes flare, and you know it," Fergus says playfully as he reaches up and bops Malachai on the nose. "But seriously, you've got this and you know I would never not tell you anything for no reason and that if I did know something and didn't share it with you it wasn't on accident and you'd know for certain there were reasons and you'd trust me until all was revealed. It's like a surprise party and everyone loves surprises. Right? "
Malachai arches an eyebrow then thinks 'who's fast talking who', here. The two had made their way off of Thigwhistle's porch and ended up down by the water. Fergus pushes a small canoe into the water, hops in and gives a good push with his paddle. "See you in Veseya, friend," he calls over his shoulder as he waves then starts paddling downstream.
Malachai’s serene face didn't falter as Fergus hurried away. He enjoyed the small one, but none-the-less he briefly fantasized feeding him to the roots for getting one over on him. Malachi silently accepted his folly of trying to get truth from a Rogue and moved on to make arrangements for his little sojourn to Stallanford.
Malachai knows it will take him at least a full day of hiking, probably a little more, you make it to Bywater, the next village on the Duke's Road. Normally he'd cut across country but here the road made the most direct route, plus he could make, better time on the road. Checking inventory, he sees he has about 4 days worth of food, that should see him to Stallanford and maybe he could supplement on the march, though that would definitely be more difficult from the road.
Malachai hits the road north, heading for Stallanford. He should reach Bywater by midday the following day, as long as there are no issues on the road. It is a relatively nice day, a little warm, but the cool breeze is consistent. That night, as he settles down around a small campfire in a small copse of trees a bit away from the road, he hears some rustling in the underbrush and the growl of wild animals. He sees at least three wolves just outside of the fire’s glow. One paws the ground and growls louder, as if making sure to alert Malachai to his presence. Generally in tune with animals, Malachai is unable to get a sense of these beasts. They do appear aggressive, though.
Malachai passively stared the wolf down, making sure not to make lingering eye contact. As much as he defended nature, he none-the-less understood that she was a neutral force. Malachai was no less immune to her capricious ways than any beast great or small. His senses failed him, so he kept a hand on the hilt of his blade as he attempted to speak to the wolves. “I am but a temporary guest in your territory. I will be gone at the peek of the first sunrays.”
“Yes, you have come into our territory, yes, you will move on in the morning. You will not hunt in our territory, that game is ours. Keep your fire small or we shall eat you while you sleep. You are of the woodlands too, are you not? This should be easy for you,” the wolf growls at Malachai.
His hand eased from his weapon, his voice rumbled low in respect as he inclined his head. “Understood. Moonlight guide your fangs, as well as my steps through Your domain.” With that, he troubled the wolves no longer and went to securing his camp. “Wolfsbane. I KNEW I forgot SOMEthing.” He mumbled internally with a huff. With that, he intended to let the night pass.
The wolves retreat and Malachai is aware they are not far for most of the night though they do not bother him for the rest of the night.
When morning comes, the wolves are gone and after returning his campsite to its natural state, Malachai hits the trail, following the Duke's Road north. There is some light traffic heading south along the road, travelers, farmers, and merchants heading to the larger city of Kelvin to the south, no doubt. Any that Malachai travels near give the common road greeting of a nod and a wave, but no one comes close enough to even talk to. Finally, Malachai begins to see more and more signs of “civilization” and an hour past midday he reaches the small farms on the outskirts of the Bywater community. There appears to be lots of traffic and business going on at this small river community.
The sturdy Fae approached the ever-increasing bustle of Bywater with a soft lingering groan. With each weighty step of his hooves he waffled between going around, or through. The tranquility of solitude was so easy to become addicted to, he asked himself if he was ready to be surrounded by the chattering crowd? He exhaled sharply through his nose in annoyance and decided to press onward through the village. Perhaps he’d stumble across a good deal on fruit. Perhaps he’ll encounter new reasons to justify his lust for isolation. With civilization, it could go either way.
As he approaches the village proper, Malachai can see that the while place has suffered recent damage from a fire by the looks of things. Burn marks are on nearly every still standing building and at least half of the structures have recently been demolished and cleared away. The defensive palisade that should surround the settlement has also been reduced to ashes in many places, including near where the road enters the town.
Malachai sees one of the Duke's Men standing near where the old gate must have been. He sees Malachai and calls out, "Aye there, traveler. You're at Bywater village. Two Krona to enter, please. And what's your name and business, if you please." He seems to be an amiable sort.
Malachai’s eyes continued surveying the damage as he approached the man guarding what he assumed *was* the gate. “Malachai. I’m only-” He furrowed his brows as a nearby pillar of a burned structure clattered noisily to the ground. “...-passing through.” He narrowed his eyes softly, already regretting his words. He turned his head to fully face the guard. Might as well commit.
Malachai’s vibrant eyes gleamed on his ominously rigid smile. “Have you given your village to the flames in tribute to nature’s regrowth, or was this an attack?”
The guard sighs and seems not to notice Malachai’s first comment, “Ahh, you have not heard the news? Pyzem the Flame Queen destroyed the town, but she was vanquished by some brave souls shortly after. It was several days ago, terrible times. I am surprised you had not heard. The word has been out. We are in the process of rebuilding, hence the push to collect gate taxes, though of course, one of those Krona goes to the Duke for maintenance of the road and such.” He smiles and the two talk for a few more moments. As for traveling along the road, the guard, a Traladaran named Laszlo, explains that many of the animals from the Wulfwode Hills on the other side of the river have been run out due to the battle with the dragon and the ensuing hunt for its lair, causing higher than normal encounters. “The dragon was killed, but not in its lair, and everyone wants to find it. Of course the bulk of treasure is claimed by the town but there will be a hefty finder’s fee, of course.” He goes on to explain that they have petitioned both Penhaligon and Kelvin to send some extra troops and builders to help with the rebuilding process. “Are you looking for a job? We could use a set of strong arms such as yours putting things back together.”
Malachai thought of the many vines he could weave into the new structures that would not only keep them strong but also standing so long as the plants were kept alive. All he needed were a few seeds and a sapient sacrifice here or there and-... No. Malachai let out a sigh. “I’m afraid my errand up north is too time-sensitive for me to take on such a project. I best be moving on. But thank you for filling me in on matters.” With a kind farewell gesture, he turned and made his way to the path around the village.
Malachai skirts the rebuilding village and continues north and east toward the larger settlement of Penhaligon. He encounters quite a few wagons full of timber and supplies heading south. The road cuts in closer to the river here and Malachai takes note of much river traffic as well. Lots of small fishing craft and canoes as well as larger craft moving up and down the river as well. The Wulfwode Hills on the far side of the wide channel are much more wooded now and are beginning to spread on this side of the river as well. He begins to see more of the Altan Tepe Mountains to the west and north.
Malachai realizes he has never traveled this far north and looks forward to seeing some new countryside. As he approaches a bend in the road ahead, some trees block the view, but Malachai hears some cries of distress and what might sound like a fight.
He let out a quick exasperated breath. “The forests are… EVENTFUL today.” Malachai took out his flute and began to shift his way through the trees, attempting to stay out of sight.
As Malachai moves through the trees, he sees a small group of people engaged in a struggle on the road. About 20' away, two men dressed in dark clothing and waving clubs wildly in the air seem to be harassing a group of travelers. There is a mule at the edge of the road, its lead being held by an older Human. Two others kneel over what looks like a body laying in the dirt.
Flute in hand, he stepped out casually from the forest’s cover and approached the road, undaunted. He slowed his pace as he got closer to the group and looked on with a mild curiosity.
As Malachai approaches, everyone turns to look at him. "What? Who the hell are you? You can drop your valuables and pack right there and go back into the forest, goat-boy," the taller of the two dark dressed assailants calls out. Before Malachai can make a snappy comeback followed by a thinly veiled threat wrapped in big words these two ruffians couldn't possibly comprehend, another voice calls out from just down the road. "That's far enough, you fae-bastard! I'll drop you where you stand!"
Malachai turns to see a third robber standing about 7 or 8 yards further down and pointing a loaded bow at him. The robber, a young Human woman with bright red hair, holds the bow with a practiced calm.
"Yea, just drop him," one of the others says.
Malachai kept his face neutral. He pointedly flickered his eyes to a point just beyond where the aggressive ones were standing. “I simply came to inform you all that a large and rather ornery pack of wolves is approaching swiftly from the trees. They were ran from their dens and misplaced by the dragonhunt. They seem confused and eager for violence, I’m afraid. I suggest you scatter.”
The two men with the clubs slink back at the threat of wolves. Malachai can hear them mumbling to each other but can't quite make out what they're saying. After another moment they both turn and run. The woman yells and curses at them, calling them cowards and worse. She then turns her gaze back to Malachai, "Whatever, I still bet your human heart is in the same place and I can easily pierce it from here. Why don't you drop that pack, unsheathe that sword, and lay it right at your feet. Then turn around and hoof it out of here," she suggests, giggling slightly when she realizes she's made a joke.
Malachai nearly felt his pupils dilate like a striking predator as the distraction unfolded. This was his chance. He placed the panpipes to his supple lips, focused on the girl, and began to play a soporific melody. Mumbling a curse under his breath as the effect didn't take hold, he instead decided to equip his shield and take up a protective stance while stowing his flute away.
“I would take my chances with you rather than be left defenceless to the approaching onslaught of enraged fangs. Do you truly feel the same?” He made a show of briefly glazing about, as if the wild beasts could burst from the trees at any moment.
The girl gives Mariachi a wry smile, winks at him, then releases her bowstring with a twang. The arrow speeds directly at Malachai!
He let out an annoyed sigh as he heard the all-too-familiar release of sinew. The fae was a fairly large target, so all he could do was hope the hit isn't fatal.
The arrow hits him right in the middle of his chest and thankfully his thick jacket absorbs the brunt of the blow. He barely feels the tip of the arrow prick his thick skin beneath and the arrow falls away doing no harm. The archer's eyes go wide and she turns and runs off as well.
The assailed travelers call out thank-yous as they help their downed companion to his feet. From here, Malachai can see blood caked on the man's head and face, no doubt one of the highwaymen got a bit overzealous with his club.
Malachai wanted to watch the archer’s eyes widen with terror as she was buried alive, but he’ll settle for mildly terrifying her for now. He exhaled slowly, watching a chance at a free set of bow and arrows recede into the forest.
After noticing the downed man’s grievous wound, he scanned over the travellers to see if any of them were his type. No matter. He enjoyed getting stares of wonder equally from the unattractive. Malachai turned and stood like a great oak regarding the wounded man with an appraising eye, his cloak billowing about him like boughs in a storm. “That one wasnt so lucky, I see. Shame.” His steps softly thundered towards the group. “Injured prey only die miserably in these woods. You have ways of tending his wounds, yes?”
The travelers do not have any way to tend the man's wound beyond wrapping it up with some strips bandages. They humbly ask for more assistance with this. They explain that they are traveling to Penhaligon to sell crafts and would not be adverse to traveling with Malachai if he agreed to it.
Malachai had yet to get used to working on other people when it came to applying medicine. Too close for far too long for his liking. He did what he could with their medical kit, and added a little healing magic to cover whatever he missed.
As he worked, he mulled over their offer to travel with them. He had spent most of this trip in blissful solitude, perhaps a leg of the trip guiding these craftspeople could earn him some pocket money.
There was safety in a pack. He exhaled sharply and regarded the group. Would they be stronger together, or would they just be a moveable feast?
“I will travel with you to Penhaligon. I will travel with you at a distance. I need concentration to know where I am going and what is around us.” With that, he stood by and waited for the group to begin moving again.
The wounded man, now a little better off, thanks Malachai for his assistance and the group gets underway, heading north toward Penhaligon. As the sun starts to set, Malachai finds a decent spot for the group to camp near the road. One of the travelers has an extra tarp he gives to Malachai to set up a makeshift tent. The campfire is made and the travelers produce some dried fish they had caught previously to roast for dinner. They happily share with Malachai.
Malachai learns that they are a Thyatian family looking to make a new life in northern Karameikos, maybe in Pehnaligon, maybe further north. They consist of Zeno Laskaris, the older man that had been leading the mule, his daughter, Eirene Branas, her husband Niko, the one with the head wound, and their nearly adult daughter Zoe. They are weavers and textile makers and hope to find a need for their skills in one of the smaller communities to the north. They all seem quite chatty and ready to engage with Malachai in conversation, but they quickly get the idea that he is not that interested in talking to them, at least not on their terms.
Malachai orbited about the campsite as the night went on. Coming and going when he needed to be alone, pretending to be busy with made-up tasks, he would at least develop a comfortable rapport with the group. He could use the practice. He even managed to be amused enough by the family to entertain them with a few songs.
As it got late, Malachai wished them a good night and faded back into the woods where he set up his small camp and planned to turn in.
The night passes uneventfully and the Malachai wakes to rain. He is thankful for the tarp and Zeno tells him to keep it. The group gets underway as quickly as possible, knowing that traveling will be slowed by the weather. While breaking camp, Malachai thinks he notices Zoe, the daughter straying close to him on numerous occasions. He sees her smile at him though the increasing downpour.
The ever so aloof Malachai, despite his instinctive aversion to what he assumed was the girl’s affection, made sure to make a show out of breaking down camp. His muscular chest heaved as he hauled weight. His biceps bulged freely like plump melons. He whipped the water from his hair and let it fall like glistening rivers of shadows across his powerful shoulders.
Malachai was keen on being wanted, but never *had*. He led the travellers onward, stopping occasionally to sensually bend or squat to gather a useful herb or two.
The group makes their way very slowly through the ever-present rain. It takes them most of the day to make it to the outskirts of Penhaligon. This is a much larger settlement than Bywater to the south and the farms and outlying settlements make a much wider ring about the protected town.
Just after the group crests a hill, they are nearly trampled as a group of fast moving riders comes over the hill, spraying mud and muck everywhere. The poor mule, Cookie, cries and brays and tries to run away, but Zeno is able to calm her. Instead of rushing into Penhaligon, the riders turn and spread out, blocking the road ahead. One of the riders, a tall man, is clearly wearing platemail under his soaked, formerly white, now mud-spattered brown and gray, cloak. Malachai catches sight of an interesting symbol on the man’s shield, a rearing lion encircled in red. Three of the other riders are outfitted the same, while the other four riders all wear long, dark robes and cloaks. He sees what looks like a lance or spear with two crossed swords on the backs of their outfits.
The lead rider demands the group show their faces and state their names in a strangely accented but easily understood Thyatian. Cookie continues to bray and stamp her feet while Zeno and his family quickly comply with this unknown authority figure.
The great Fae kept a placid expression over his annoyance. He was silent for a moment, wondering if he had the social fortitude to meet MORE people, and finally spoke. “Malachai.”
He flourished his hand, feigning welcome. He tilted his head and raised a brow, letting a coquettish purr punctuate his next words.“And what reason might such a grand cavalry bother with us? I assure you, we’ve been on our best behavior.”
"Don't get cute, faeborn. We're looking for someone else, but I'd be happy to introduce you to Vanya's Grace all the same," he grumbles, patting the jeweled hilt of his sword. Malachai had heard of Vanya, one of the often worshipped patrons of the Human religions. She's the goddess of mighty slashing or righteous massacre or something like that. "We seek a young man, a boy really, that has, um, taken something that is Vanya's right, a holy implement. He is about 5 and a half feet tall, well built, light hair, pale skin. We believe him to be about 16 summers old. And his skin glows with a golden light. It is Vanya's touch that makes him shine thus. Have you seen such a person or maybe heard of something like this?"
Nearby, poor Cookie continues to cry and bray, clearly uncomfortable just standing there being stared at by eight mean horses. "And shut that annoying creature up before I do!" he demands.
Malachai stepped to place himself between the ass and the increasingly irritated (and, himself, irritating) rider. “Ohh perhaps the poor creature just needs space. We ARE in a forest.” His eyes were locked on the beast as he attempted to calm her while he addressed the armored man.
“No. I have NOT seen any…” Malachai blinked. He genuinely forgot. “...Godfully Glowing Children of Gold. We’ll be sure to send him your way. You must be worried SICK about the poor thing. Only a matter of moments before you find him in the belly of a hag. Time must be of the essence, I’m sure.”
"Curse you and your fairy tongue, faeborn, may you find your end at the tip of the Gray Lady's lance!" he shouts over the din of the falling rain and agitated mule. A nearby lightning strike lights up the area as the knight delivers his curse, accentuating his words and simultaneously frightening poor Cookie even more. The mule rears back and tries kicking Malachai, though misses. Malachai hears the mounted group turn and continue northward on the muddy road to Penhaligon. Malachai senses the growing relief of his traveling companions as the distance to the riders increases.
Malachai stared unimpressed as the cadre rode off. “...Oh, it was no trouble at all. Have yourselves a nice day.” He turned a light playfully dour gaze onto Cookie, putting a hand on his hip. “There. You scared them off. Are you done? May we continue, or did you want to try to walk on my chest again?”
Cookie snorts then leans in and nuzzles in the crook of Malachai's arm. The group gets back on the road to Penhaligon proper. Another hour on the rain soaked road brings the group in sight of the walled settlement. There are numerous houses and buildings outside the walls as well. Zeno and his group plan to look for a healer and lodgings outside the city tonight and will enter the city tomorrow morning. They thank Malachai for traveling with them and tell him he can lodge with them if he wants. It's almost nightfall, though it's been mostly dark all day with the constant rain.
Just then, as Malachai considers their offer, the loud sound of horses approaching one again sends everyone off the road. The same group of riders come thundering past, this time heading back to the south, away from Penhaligon.
He closed his eyes in annoyance as the horses dashed by. “What, did they forget to kick someone’s puppy for good luck?”
He bid the family a warm farewell and set out to seek a good place to camp outside the city for the night.
Before the final farewells are spoken, Zoe gives him a small bundle. Malachai sees that it's a nicely woven cloak of greens and browns. She thanks him and he is sure she winks at him, though with all the rain running down her face he can't be sure. They part and he starts the hike back out of the settled area. He knows he's for at least an hour more to hike, the sun's gone down, he is already exhausted from a long day's travel, he no longer has Cookie to carry some of his extra gear and it's still pouring.
Malachai makes it about halfway around the walled settlement when he starts thinking he's going to need to crash in someone's barn or outbuilding soon. The rain has picked up considerably and he can only see 10-15 feet ahead. He keeps getting sidetracked by fences, low walls and ditches filled with water. Eventually he stumbles across a strange looking wagon. Tall and boxy with many things hanging from its sides, the vehicle is painted with colourful yet faded paint. Several tarps and tents are attached to the wagon creating a nice little area of dryness. The scent of something warm cooking above the sheltered fire hits Malachai right in the stomach. As he stands there in the rain he realizes a tall, gaunt figure is watching him from the edge of the wagon. " Don't just stand there, come in out of the rain," a slow, gravelly voice calls out to him.
Malachai decided it was best to not waste any more energy in the wilderness and took the stranger’s invitation with a gracious nod. He gingerly stepped into the tent, his eyes flickering calmly to every nook and corner. “You are kind for this. Thank you. I am called Malachai.”
“Kind, not a term generally used for me, but you are welcome. I am Eldram, of Darokin. A simple trader that arrived too late to be allowed entrance to the town. I have been caught out in the rain before and remember how it was. I hope that if it happens to me again some day, someone will find a dry patch for me. Here, sit, some stew?” he motions to a pile of burlap to sit on and passes Malachai a battered wooden bowl.
Malachai stared for a bit, numbers and amounts of stored rations dancing in his head, before reaching out to accept the bowl. “Attending what should be a simple job further northeast. I’ll take my rest and be out of your way before first light.” He frowned slightly, his eyes shifting off to the side. “Hopefully things will be a little less… eventful. Between huddled prey at arrow-point and angry religious men with too much power. The forest has its own ways of reminding me why I avoid the cities.”
The Human nods his head in understanding. “I see, and I understand. Unfortunately, the cities are where I make my living, though I wish I could roam the wilds like you do, sounds so much more free. But, being a merchant, I do have to visit the population centers to hawk my wares. I am not sure I have much to offer a traveler such as yourself, I see you have the basics for life on the road, though that tent there looks a bit threadbare, I am sure it works for you just fine. But tell me, in your travels, have you run across any, shall we say, supernatural entities? You know these lands were once infested by lycanthropes. Werewolves, devil swine, wererats, werebears, and worse! But worse than that, do you know what else is know to inhabit these lands? Vampires! Are you suited to battle a vampire, young adventurer? Could you stand toe to toe with a Werewolf?” He pauses dramatically, watching Malachai’s face in the firelight. “I think not. Nor can I, but what I can do is protect myself with Wolfsband and Garlic. Do you have these protections? If not, then you stumbled across the right tent this night, for I have some in my possession for sale to you!” He shows Malachai the objects he is speaking of and offers them, for sale, to him. He asks a mere 5 silver for each.
He kept his face placid through the salesman pitch, almost as if he were appraising it for review. His eyes flickered to the side at the mention of Wolfsbane. He heard a whisper. “The lycans hate it. They are disgusted. They will still kill you. Just with a sour face.”
Malachai tried to re-focus on Eldram. “I’m sure these herbs have provided you with a mobile fortress. But I prefer to pick my own. A suggestion, if I may… Warn any future customers that wolfsbane is deadly if eaten. Even handling too much could have toxic effects. I’m sure you’ll get many sales from the scorned women of the village who’ve had one too many foul encounters with the tavern drunks.”
Malachai sighed the weight of the day away and let his gaze wander off to the side, listening to the rain against the tent.
Seeing that Malachai is not interested in his wares, Eldram backs off and does not push the sale any further. He makes a little small talk then retires to the interior of his wagon. He invites Malachai to rest under the tarps or make a bed underneath the wagon if he likes.
As the smell of a wet dawn clouded the land, Malachai arose with the sun. As thanks for the hospitality, Malachai helped the merchant take down the damp tents they had used for the night and bid him a genuine farewell.
He took a quick inventory of his supplies and made sure he was squared away before he began his trek. He bitterly decided he’d best cut through the town. The encounter with the boorish riders made him curious. Who knows what sort of seeds have sprouted and what earth they have shaken loose.
Begrudgingly, Malachai pays the gate fee to enter Penhaligon. He passes through the eastern gate set into thick stone walls. Once inside, he sees that, though it is still early, the wide, paved earthen streets are full of people of all types. Everyone seems to be going about their business in a friendly and cheerful way. Malachai finds himself the target of many a "good morning!" and "how do you do?"
To his right, Malachai sees a massive and elegant fortress rising up and shining brightly in the morning sun. Up ahead, past a line of merchant stalls and carts selling all manner of items, Malachai sees a large, two story building made of light colored stone. A sign depicting a house surrounded by many swords hangs out front. He can see a pavilion and shades on the roof and can hear sounds of battle coming from up above, though cannot see the combatants. A wide veranda runs along the front and sides. Many chairs and small tables are visible, though mostly empty. A long board to the side of the wide double doors contains numerous bulletins and postings of some sort.
A short, dark-haired Human woman sits in a rocking chair in the nearest corner of the veranda. She flashes a smile and smirk to Malachai as he approaches. A tall, bald, well- muscled Human male leans against a rain barrel nearby. Though he is just standing there, he seems to exude violence and the many visible weapons he possesses backs this up.
"New to town? Never seen you around before," the woman calls.
The socially beleaguered Fae forced himself to turn and politely reply to her, and then his eyes fell onto the human male. Almost by instinct his shoulders relaxed, his broad stalwart chest was up and out like the rough walls of a mountainside. His chin lifted so quickly it caused his hair to tussle invitingly in the warm sunlight and, furthermore, his heaving pecs to briefly bounce.
“Oh, me?” He purred innocently, his eyes heavy-lidded and lips ever so slightly parted. He let out a quick laugh and lifted his hand to brush back a rivulet of hair. “This is my first time passing through.”
He turned to fully face them, placing a hand on his hip and tilting his head coyishly. “Oh dear. Is it that obvious?”
"It is," she replies, laughing lightly. The man curls his lip up in a smirk but doesn't say anything. "Say, you haven't seen anything 'strange' on your recent travels, have you? Like a divinely blessed celestial on the run?" She hops up and saunters toward Malachai. The people moving to and fro on the streets seem to move away as she approaches, giving her a bit of a bubble.
Up close, Malachai sees she's wearing dark leather armor and thigh-high boots and seems to be covered with all manner of knives sheathed and strapped to every part of her. "I'm Mara. That's my friend Bryar over there. He likes killing things. I'm just good at it. Who am I kidding, I like it too. We're on the lookout for a wanted man. Talyn Dilectus Vanyilam is his name. He's a Heldanner from the far north. Apparently stole some powerful artifact of the Knights of Vanya. Haven't seen anything like that have you, cause if you have, I might cut you in instead of cutting you up just for the fun of it." Malachai isn't quite sure if she's being serious.
Malachai casually switched to another good angle, one that better showed off his shapely hind-quarters, and placed a hand thoughtfully on his chin.
“Huh. I’m afraid I haven't seen this Talyn. Shame. He seems to be a very popular person right now. Those thrice-damned knights are practically putting travellers to the rack for information.” His tone darkened. “I’m tempted to find him myself, just so I can take this artifact and show the knights exactly where they can shove it.”
He let out a sigh, relieved to get out that frustration. “But truly, should I encounter this thief on my trails to the north I will be sure and let him know he has quite the fanbase. Who knows, maybe I’ll encounter him in the woods and he’ll latch onto me like a lost cub.” He smirked. “Seems to be MY luck lately.”
A sudden horror flares under his charming mask as, he realized, that is a very real possibility.
The woman continues to glare at Malachai as she walks around him, trailing a finger across his shoulders. She reaches down and gently pats his pocket, making the handful of coins there jingle. She sighs and frowns, clearly disappointed by her quick monetary assessment. "Sadly, you're not my type, fauny, but remember, if you spot this Talyn, let me know right away, got it." Her gaze narrows as she says this and Malachai realizes she's now holding one of her sharp knives and flipping it over in her hands. She turns to walk beck to her seat on the porch of the "House of Swords." The other man watches this exchange closely.
The knife didn't matter. The veiled threats didn't matter. The assertion that he was, indeed, more-or-less financially scant at the moment didn't matter. Even the unwelcome touching didn't matter. No. Malachai was genuinely taken aback at the very idea that this pointy woman thought the presentation of his ample physical assets was for her. The sensual warmth Malachai usually gave off became ominously stone cold. The wind itself that was wafting through his cloak seemed to stop abruptly.
The nerve. The gall. The GUMPTION of this sentient sock-bramble. Malachai took a deep calming breath as she thankfully walked away. He smiled pleasantly through his annoyance. “Will do. Have yourselves a nice day.” He let those words hang in the air like the venomous spray of an enraged cobra as he continued serenely on his way.
Though he did not turn around, Malachai is quite certain the dangerous looking man was watching him closely as he walked away. He could hear his low chuckle over the din of the busy street.
Continuing toward the center of town, Malachai sees, off to his left, a large open-air market anchored by a few permanent structures. Rising up from the center of the market is a large statue of a female Human adventurer or military hero.
To his right, nestled up against the base of the wall surrounding the majestic castle grounds to the north, is a well-maintained, multi-story building that has the look of an inn. The sign hanging out front indicates that it is called The Shield Inn or some such similar name.
Malachai was already eager to get back onto the quieter, emptier road. But another part of him reminded the Fae that this was the last stop to the job’s destination. He had a little more time to be seen and admired, perhaps take a smaller job so he could buy a bow. He decided to make his way to this fine establishment and have a brief sit-down.
The Shield appears to be a fairly high class establishment. The common room is large and decorated in rich, luxurious adornments. A young Human man approaches gingerly and bows. "May I take your jacket and weapons, sir?"
Before Malachai can answer, another Human approaches. He appears a bit perturbed. "Never mind, Geoffrey, move along," he says to the page. He turns to Malachai and speaks in a low, hushed voice, "Good day, sir, I believe you may have visited us quite by accident, were you perhaps looking for The Crossroads Inn across the street, or possibly The Adler over on the Duke's Road?" Malachai can feel the man looking him up and down, examining every detail of his traveling gear. "Our establishment caters to visiting nobles and dignitaries. The elite. There are plenty of raucous taverns and inns that I am sure you'd feel much more comfortable in, don't you agree?" He looks around nervously to make sure the other customers are not being disturbed by their conversation.
Malachai, his face almost threateningly neutral, drew himself up to his full height as he turned to address the bold man. Two rude humans in the course of not even a few hours already left his nerves ragged. He inhaled deeply, his chest expanding like a landslide towards the man and...
“Huh. You know what?” His demeanor was suddenly almost TOO jovial. “You might have a point. Besides, the decor? Doesn't match what I’m going for at all.” He raised his deep velvety voice ever so slightly so that everyone within ear’s range heard him: ”Why… I would stick out in this crowd like a mermaid in a fisherman’s lumpy wet latrine pile. What was I thinking? Forgive my taught busty intrusion. Carry on!” The tall Fae turned with a jaunty flourish, his herbally scented hair brushed luxuriously across the man’s face, and glided in the other direction.
Upon exiting the uppity establishment known as The Shield, Malachai sees what must be The Crossroads Inn just across the street at the corner of the large market area. Though still early in the day, he sees several adventuring types entering the building. Further along to the west, from his vantage point on the raised porch of The Shield, he can see down to the waterfront where an even busier throng of people mill about in narrower, more cramped streets, though three larger buildings catch his eye.
At the north end of the waterfront, Malachai spies an old keep flying the flags of the realm, most likely the main defense from waterborne assaults. At the south end of the waterfront, a narrow tower sticks up above the stone and timber structures of the area. It is an odd, unsettling structure of strange angles and a kind of darkness despite the bright morning sun. The third large structure that catches his eye is closer, just south of the market district directly in front of him.
This structure is another tower of strange proportions, though not as uneasy to look at as the other. There appear to be rooms and additions built on to the tower at various levels above the ground. The windows all glow even in the daylight and it seems that the top-most level seems to slowly spin. Different colored smoke wafts out of several narrow chimneys. This is clearly a wizard's tower.
The sound of a door slamming open followed by the sounds of singing and music draw Malachai's eye back to The Crossroads Inn across the street.
Malachai gazed up at the tower. He admired the eccentricity of its design, noting that it would look better draped in living plants. He found himself reluctantly drawn to the energy of the tavern. Opening the door to The Crossroads, the great Fae glided through like a great horned stormcloud and swayed his hips towards a comfy seat somewhere by the corner.
Malachai receives a much different reception here at The Crossroads than over at The Shield. While quite a few people look at him, mostly they give him a smile, a nod, or a wave. Looking around, he sees a motley assortment of characters of all kinds. Elves, Dwarves, Hin, Humans, and even some Gnomes, a few Half-Orcs, and others he cannot easily identify. The bartender, an attractive Elf fellow of indeterminate age, rushes over smiling. He greets Malachai heartily in Sylvan, the language of the woods. "Well met, my Faetouched friend. I am Erolith Sythandria, but the locals just call me 'Arrow.' You can call me what you will," he says with a smile. "What can I get for you? Food, drink, lodging? I have a special brew you might like. A woodland mushroom brew, normally only the occasional Gnome asks for it, but it's good and hearty."
Malachai smiled sweetly at the Elf, the Sylvan language comforting him. He shifted in his seat so that the rest of the tavern could get a better view. “Arrow. A pleasure. I’m sure I’ll be craving something a little later, but at the moment I’m just here to get off my legs for a bit and take in this energy before I move on to the North.” He raised a muscular but sensually gentle palm. “I am fine for now. Though…” He shifted again, so that OTHER patrons had a clear view of him. “...If you aren't too busy, la’thallan, can you tell me what the nature trails are like on the journey to Stallanford?”
“Well, the Duke’s Road runs north directly to Stallanford, it’s about 15 or 16 miles, a good day’s walk if you keep to it. As for the nature trails, well, yes of course, there are trails. The road does not follow the Shutturga very closely, it is about a mile away. The banks of the river become more steep and rocky, but there are plenty of footpaths and animal tracks that run along that waterway. Unless you are quite fleet of foot, though, that will no doubt cost you an extra day of travel as they are not as direct as the Duke’s Road. There are plenty of travelers along the road, and the garrison from Duke’s Road Keep and Stallanford patrol the road fairly regularly. They don’t call them the Goblin Crushers for nothing, right? Should be a safe enough passage though Orcs are known to prowl to the east and Goblins on the far side of the river, so don’t stray too far. What business do you have in Stallanford, if you don’t mind me asking? Most traffic north is caravans and such trading through the Pass into Selenica in far Darokin. You don’t appear to be a merchant,” he says, leaning down, one elbow on Malachai’s table.
He turned away coyly and laughed softly through his teeth, as though having something to hide made him seem more interesting. “Oh just a… teensy job keeping a caravan out of the forest’s hungry fangs. Nothing more.”
Your dear patron was annoyingly scant on those details, wasn't he.
“Your time and information has been... precious.” Malachai opened his muscular palm to produce an electrum coin which he then slid to the Elf. “You might’ve just saved a life,” he said with a touch of feigned theatrics. “Thank you.”
Malachai finishes his nice conversation with the Elf, Erolith, and departs, deciding to get on the road again, in hopes of making Stallanford by nightfall. The road north of Penhaligon is wide and flat, much wider and flatter than it seems necessary, but then again, civilization does count on trade with neighboring countries. What nonsense. Looking to the north, Malachai can see the land rising up to meet the mountains many miles away. The going is definitely going to get a bit harder from here on out, he thinks to himself as he trudges along. Through his travels, he sees a few lone travelers, mostly mounted, and passes two good sized caravans going the other way. Everyone seems busy enough and intent on their travels that he does not communicate with any of them. The day’s travel is quite long and boring, with nothing really interesting to divert his attention. The sun finally sets, and he is still on the road, and figures he has a handful more miles to travel before he reaches his destination but is already quite exhausted, so he decides to try to find a camping spot, assuming he won’t be allowed in until the morning anyway. And he believes he is still a day or two ahead of schedule to meet the caravan in Stallanford anyway. Unfortunately, he does not make a very good camp and is quite tired and sore in the morning.
A few more hours of hiking in the early morning hours finally brings him to Stallanford. There are fewer farms surrounding this fortified city, but several caravans have made camp outside the city. The River Shutturga to the left, has emerged from its high banked passage and widened to a slow, easily crossable ford. The morning sun shines off the high Altan Tepes to the north and west. Everywhere away from the road and town, tall deciduous trees mingle with a few coniferous trees here and there.
All that socializing must have hit Malachai harder than he thought. His sub-par camping haunted him like the voices in his head. The beleaguered Fae felt like he had room in his mind for very little else during the entire hike. He inhaled sharply when asked about the gate fee. How dare this metal-headed garishly-uniformed… human? (Malachai slightly squinted through his dour exhausted expression, he honestly could not tell) ask him such a thing. “... I will keep my weapons.” He paid the fee and walked through the gate. ...So that I may cut whoever imposed these blasted fees.
Keeping an eye out for any OTHER foul-mannered mercenaries that would like to peacock their blades to strangers, he made his way to the job’s designated meeting area and decided to properly rest around the vicinity.
Malachai gets down to the dock area, which is relatively busy. Apparently Stallanford is the farthest point on the river that any cargo bearing craft can travel, mostly due to the ford that the town gets its name from and due to the fact that the river mostly inhabits a deep, rocky gorge in most northern areas.
After some asking around, Malachai finds the ship he's looking for, The Resplendent Grey and Captain Kalanos directs him to the crate. It's big, easily weighs over 300 lbs. The Captain then hands him a rolled up parchment and a small amber colored crystal. "Instructions for you, friend." he says.
Instructions? Malachai squinted softly as he took them and pocketed the glistening amber. He politely thanked the captain for the petrified tree-blood before unfurling the scroll.
Malachai stares at the script on the parchment and has no idea what it says.
Over two decades of learning 4 languages, internalizing ancient druidic rituals, traveling by road-signs, learning the ins and outs of various types of sapient civilizations and cultures, Malachai finally found the bane of his intellectual achievements: Written instructions.
He stared at the parchment, then up into the blank space ahead of him. He did this back and forth for what would have been uncomfortably long for anyone who happened to be watching (A seagull or two had fallen off-balance trying to follow the Fae’s head movement). His placid gaze, which masterfully masked a rapidly growing frustration, snapped onto the bearded sailor.
He smiled stiffly.
“Excuse? My sir?” Malachai had taken on some sort of crude accent. “I-...uh… I cannot know this writink.” He humbly approached Kalanos. His hands gentle, his eyes warm and lost, R’s rolling like the golden hills of Thalanor. “Please. My sir. Vould you kindly read thees to me? I am uh-... I am steele learning.”
"Oh, of course. It says to not open the crate except in an emergency and then to crush the crystal onto the cargo. Not the crate, but the cargo inside. Emergency only. It says that again here. That's it. Good luck and tell Fergus I'm looking forward to working with him again." The old Human turns to go then comes back, "Tell him I didn't open it. See here. The seal's still intact. I know he doesn't trust easily, that Hin, but I never opened it." He smiles as if proud of himself then returns to his boat leaving Malachai with the large crate at the edge of the docks.
The box has no handles or openings and no markings to indicate what might be in it. Malachai looks around then works to push the very heavy cargo out of the middle of the thoroughfare. Just moving it a few feet nearly tires the young Faetouched out.
Poking around with some of the caravan folk, Malachai eventually finds the caravan master he is looking for, Tsorvano. He is a Ylari trader, dark skinned, attractive, and proud, just like Fergus described. He is happy to have such a well spoken-of scout for this cross-country route. He pays 40 silver up front and promises the rest upon arrival at Veseya 10 days hence, stating he'll throw in a bonus of 10 silver for each day before that. He happily equips Malachai with a bow and arrows from one of his wagons and has his workers put the crate on the back of one of his four small wagons. The caravan itself is four wagons and drivers, three laborers, and three guards. The drivers and laborers are all Ylari while two guards look Karameiken and the third, an older Human in his upper 50s comes trim somewhere else. Definitely not Ylari, but not local either. Malachai learns that his name is Halmaro and comes from the grassy steppes of Ethengar to the north. He is a gruff and sour old man that the other two guards, Roberk and Galen, steer clear of when they can.
The following day the caravan gets on the road, or path really, heading into the wilderness for a 50-mile cross-country trek. It will be Malachai's job to keep the caravan moving on the right path forward. Tsorvano has a map, but it may be outdated. This route doesn't see much traffic and even less caravan traffic. Malachai spends most of his day out ahead of the slower moving caravan making sure the trail is passable and keeping an eye out for danger. He spots some signs of a few small groups of Goblins and he believes what was a gnolls camp, but never actually sees any beings. On the third day, while scouting along a nearby ridge, Malachai comes upon the scene of a Harpy attack. A shepherd and his flock met their end at the sharp talons of some foul harpies. The scene is almost too gruesome and nauseating too stomach due to the violence and disgusting manner in which these beasts defile their kills by defecating all over them. Later that evening, Malachai spots something large flying over some distant trees and hears what he thinks are Harpy screeches. Thankfully he keeps the caravan safe from that winged threat.
Two days later the caravan happens upon a contingent of Duke's soldiers tracking a band of Orcs that had been suspected of raiding merchants along the Duke's Road to the northwest. The soldiers warn the caravan to be wary of these Leagorh Orcs and describe them as strange, pasty white Orcs instead of the typical dark green and gray skinned Orcs. Their home-base is rumored to be in this area but they have evaded detection for years. Malachai and the caravan pledge to keep an eye out for the Leagorh Orcs.
Only once does the caravan get lost, though later Malachai learned it probably saved everyone's lives. The map did not show any diverging trails at one certain point and Malachai was certain the path he chose around a large wooded hill was the better path but the caravan eventually got stuck in a dead- end ravine and had to backtrack the rest of the day.
But while the rerouting was going on, a group of Hill Giants and Ogres came through going the other direction on the other path. Luckily, Malachai spotted them first and was able to get beck and warn the caravan to quietly stop and hold until they had passed by.
Finally, on what should have been the last day of the journey, the emergency situation happens, and also a fortuitous meeting. Once again, Malachai was out scouting ahead of the caravan. He had noticed a ruined structure off to the north along the edge of the ever-nearing mountains. Getting a bad feeling about the ruins, Malachai was off looking for another, possibly lower elevation route so the caravan might not be spotted in the event someone, bandits, monsters, happened to be watching from the ruins.
In the course of his searching, he comes across another denizen of the wilderness. A druid. This wizened old Human woman seemed to step right out of the trunk of a nearby tree. She greets Malachai by name and says the forest told her he was coming. Her name is Robin Graywing and is a member of the local Druid Circle. She confirms his worry about the ruined monastery and says an evil force of Goblins, Bugbears, and other demon worshipping ilk lair there. She then asks if Malachai will do her a favor.
For some reason, Malachai feels inclined to help, no doubt due to her near divine connection with the natural world. She tells Malachai that she has a friend in the direction that he is going. She has not heard from this friend, Lesaro, in some time and just wants to get word to him. She gives him a small wooden feather carved and painted with great detail. “Show this to Lesaro and he will know I sent you,” she says. “For your trouble, here, take these. I see you do not have the proper tools to fully use nature’s bounty.”She gives him a small bundle of objects rolled up in a soft leather covering. Peeking inside he sees the regular kit of a druid with some leaves to use as bandages as well as some common healing herbs. There are also a few tools to harvest and use the gifts of the wilderness. A truly gracious gift, he thinks. As he stows the kit, she giggles a bit, “And this, this is fun,” she smiles as she hands Malachai a small packet made from sewn leaves. “Tear it open and spread it on the ground and it will allow nature to grow to its fullest potential, very quickly.” I greatly appreciate your help and all that you do for the wilderness, though, I will tell you, I have been tending to these plants for many years longer than Human forebear was alive, and I want you to know, they are not all bad, civilization is not evil, just different. It is our job to promote the harmony between ALL living beings.” She smiles and takes her leave by turning into a large gray owl and flying away. Malachai just stands there for a moment looking at the gifts he has just been given. He stows them away and gets back on the job, trying to find a more secluded route past the dangerous ruins in the distance.
As he tracks back he finds himself upon the very path he was looking for at the base of a sharp rise, but after just a few moments of following it back toward the caravan, he realizes that they had almost caught up with him, clearly he had spent too much time listening to Robin Graywing. He hears then sees the caravan moving slowing along the trail up at the top of the rise. Quickly he begins searching for a quick way to get up to them. As he plots out his route up the steep side of the rocky slope, he hears some shouting and braying horses. Throwing caution to the wind, he splashes across a small creek at the base of the slope and begins running and climbing up as fast as he can. Before he can make much progress, he hears a crash above and sees one of the horses and its cart come crashing over the top edge of the cliff. Malachai has to quickly get out of the way as the unfortunate horse and all its cargo come crashing down. Trade goods and supplies are scattered along the rocks on the way down and the majority of it ends up in the river. In horror, he realizes that HIS crate was one of the tumbling pieces of cargo. He rushes to where it ended up, broken and half submerged in the cold water. As he approaches, he sees a strange glow seeming to come from inside the battered crate and when he gets there, he sees that the contents of the box was A PERSON. A glowing person as it were. The body is face down in the water and not moving, though he does not smell the telltale stench of a rotting corpse, nor do dead bodies glow. The figure is wearing scale mail, has a sword and a backpack and has a tattered blanket that smells like fish draped across its shoulders. Believing this is just about as “an emergency” situation as it could be, Malachai retrieves the amber colored crystal and crushes it on the young, glowing Human. Almost immediately, his eyes open and he jumps up, looking around. “What? Where? Who are you? Where is Fergus?”
Malachai steps back, his hands on his hips, “Did you say Fergus, well ain’t that something.”
Malachai learns that the young man is Talyn and is on the run from some Heldannic Knights, the same ones he had met earlier. Turns out he is a friend of Fergus as well and Malachai feels it is only right to at least get this fellow to the next stop. Talyn, who is something of a warrior, agrees to help protect the caravan for the short remainder of the journey. Tsorvano is quite upset at the accident and loss of cargo and horse. Apparently the last horse had stepped on a nest of poisonous snakes and gotten bitten several times before the driver or guards could do anything about it. It was all the driver could do to not be pulled over to his death as well. Some of the cargo is salvaged, the rest of the wagons are led down to the safer trail and Malachai and Talyn share their recent stories together, especially the parts where Fergus was concerned.
Finally, after another extra day on the trail, the caravan reaches Veseya, a quaint little mountain village along the banks of the Castellan River. Tsorvano pays Malachai the rest of what is due to him and says he may need a guide and guards for the next leg of his journey north to Castellan Keep. Both Malachai and Talyn consider the offer as they head into the village to look for their mutual friend, Fergus Proudsun.