Ephemeris

Meetings Perchance
Good things come in threes...

Before daybreak, in the early morning, the dry, cold wind chilled him to the bone. Rustiver pulled his tunic tight to himself and swore under his breath. The faster they rode the colder he felt but he couldn’t risk slowing his escape. Though the road leading west from Mhavo wouldn’t be guarded, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his departure had been too easy.

Grophen had said very little when he had divulged his intention to leave. Rustiver had learned a great deal in the years they had spent together but the recent developments had put a strain on event the most devout. Benitum’s orders at Mhavo were the ravings of a lunatic, a man gone mad with power and obsession, and Rustiver could no longer tolerate being a tool of oppression.

The grave resignation on the dwarf’s faced hung in his mind. Rustiver extracted his flask and took a deep pull from it. The intoxicant sent the familiar warm sensations through his increasingly numb body. Not as potent a feeling as it usually was, he took another swallow to compensate.

Stars were already fading from the sky as the cursory rays of light poked up from the horizon. Judging his distance traveled he estimated he was a few leagues from the accursed city. The chaos caused by Benitum’s mandates would provide enough cover for him to disappear completely, he thought to himself. Perhaps he’d open a tavern or apprentice as a smith, even selling goods was a possibility. No more suffering, sacrifice, or pain in his life sounded increasingly promising the more he thought of it.

Distracted with his thoughts, Rustiver paid very little attention to the treeline beside the road. The chill of the wind racing past him had drained him and he held the reigns loosely in his hands. Likewise, the horse’s gait had also slowed considerably and had his attention not been elsewhere the former Eston adjudicator would have roused the creature back to a swift gallop. Yet, he didn’t and the horse loped slowly.

The forceful hit came at once and cleanly extruded him from the saddle. He fell to the ground immediately and slammed against the cold, hard earth. Instinctively he raced to his feet but another blow knocked him back down. His eyes opened and with one last look at his horse, continuing to canter down the road, the boots and legs swarmed him; then, total blindness.

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Meetings Perchance: Part 2
Bound over blood

Although Jerold didn’t think about it when he decided to leave his brother and the other barbarians to pursue his revenge it was the first time he had been alone in years. The quiet of nature was oddly reassuring to him. As dusk descended on empty road Jerold decided to make a camp just out of sight from the path. Sleeping alone in the wild should have concerned him more than it did but, with the few supplies he had, he did what he could before drifting off to the sound of nearby branches swaying gently in the night breeze.

Eyes still shut Jerold could hear the footsteps of something approaching. He lay perfectly still hoping it was just some local game. He cursed to himself under his breath when he heard their voices. “He should sell well at market.” Fitting last thoughts Jerold thought. He grabbed his flambard and rose from his makeshift bed just as an arrow flew from one of the bandits striking his arm. This did little to quell the rage that those words had instigated. Before he could notch a second arrow Jerold had already closed the distance and skewered the archer.

As the body of the first man was falling to the ground Jerold turned to the second bandit. If that man had any intention of engaging Jerold it melted away when he saw the unfiltered anger in his eyes. He ran.

If there was ever joy to be found in killing it was at the slaughter of those in the slave trade. The laughter of the gargantuan barbarian spurred him on even faster. He only had it make it a few hundred yards and he would be within sight of the camp.

The men on watch initially started laughing when they saw their scout sprinting at full speed towards the camp. Thinking he had been startled by the wind. When he saw Jerold closing the gap he gathered the other men by his post thinking that they might be lucky enough to have a slave come to them for a change. They all figured that he would turn around when he saw the 5 of them standing at the ready for him. By the time they had realized their mistake their friend had been run down. They just managed to sound the alarm when Jerold reached them. It was the last thing they did. With one mighty swing Jerold had collected three of their heads and the counter swing from the fourth seem to have little effect glancing off the side of Jerold. He then brought his flambard down slicing from shoulder to groin leaving the man in bloody heap on the ground.

The last man saw wisdom in retreating back to camp. No longer in the mood for running Jerold used the severed head of one of his fallen foes to slow the retreat of the last man. There was a loud crack as skull collided with skull and the bandit fell, his comrades head landing next to his own. He was able to get up to a knee before the blade pinned him back to the ground.

There was no solid defense inside the camp, although they had heard the alarm no one know exactly where it had come from and there was no sizable group of intruders anywhere in site. One by one bandits fell as they came across him, some prepared, most not. It had been less than five minutes since he was awoken by the scavenging party and the bandit camp had been reduced to chaos.

With the fatigue of battle beginning to set in Jerold came across a bit of a rundown looking man. As soon as he had engaged him it was clear that he was no ordinary bandit. It was Rustiver’s reluctance to return swings that allowed him to convince Jerold of his true purpose of being in the camp that night. After a short conversation as they gathered what they could carry from the camp. Jerold discovered they were both headed in the same direction. He would have to be careful until he could discover his true intentions but Rustiver could make a fair travel companion.

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Meetings Perchance: Part 3
Simple Luck

The night had brought little sleep. Hands and feet bound there was little ability to situate comfortably. Rustiver looked over at his captors, most tending to camp and beginning to bed down for the night.

Slavers by trade, they had surprised and ambushed him as he traveled along the path west of Mhavo. When pressed, with punches and kicks, Rustiver gave them a false name and their greed delayed further questions. The price they’d get for a strong slave was sufficient enough that they would let him live but his book, sword, and flask were confiscated.

Traveling south, he walked bound and tethered to a specific captor. The bandits would trade off shifts of supervising and cursing at him. He said very little back to their insults but their incessant jeering had begun to wear on him by the end of the third day. Feet aching he slumped next to a fallen log and tried to get some sleep before attempting his escape.

An explosion of yelling and activity roused him from his slumber. Groggily he looked over to the source of the commotion. The camp had emptied of the bandits who were collected around a hulking body some distance off. Glinting steel swung and flew in the air and Rustiver immediately began to search for his gear.

Scooting and inching, he checked a pile of cloth and burlap but found nothing. A scream, a whimper, and steel falling to the ground redirected his attention to the melee. Considerably less bodies were left standing and a frightened bandit surged past him. Rustiver shrunk himself into a ball and muted his breathing.

The hulking man stomped after the fleeing bandit and Rustiver caught sight of the gigantic sword he carried. The former adjudicator hastily fumbled with his bindings.

Finally the bonds gave and Rustiver heard the familiar sound of a blade puncturing flesh. Looking up he saw approaching him was the lone combatant, walking slow and purposefully. Having emptied the camp of bandits the man now looked at Rustiver and likely considered him apart of the ruffians.

“How’s your night going?” Rustiver asked, narrowly dodging the response.

Again the blade came around. He moved but was sure it wasn’t enough, he closed his eyes and waited for the contact that never came. Quickly realizing his luck he dove away from the man and toward a nearby body. Hoping for a sword, or shield, or anything to defend himself he reached the corpse and frantically searched.

The flambard impacted onto the corpse just as Rustiver’s hands gripped hilt. He pulled hard as he rolled out and immediately rose up to a knee. Extending his weapon, an unusually short dagger, he looked the warrior in the eyes.

The man laughed. Rustiver pursed his lips and waited a moment. The delight took hold of the savage warrior and he relaxed. Rustiver stood calmly but kept his gaze on him.

“Slavers,” Rustiver nodded to the bodies scattered around.

“I know,” the response came.

“They ambushed me on the road and took everything.”

No answer returned.

“You certainly did me a favor, cleaning up the camp as you did.” Rustiver thought he saw a sign of pride or possibly amusement peak through the man’s serious countenance. “Seems we have mutual feelings towards bandits. Two is better odds than one, I’m Rustiver.”

“Jerold,” the man returned and, bored of the conversation, began to eye the camp.

“If you see a big tome on a chain, let me know. It’s,” Rustiver paused. “It’s important to me.”

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Meetings Perchance: Part 4

In disbelief of what had happened, the screaming Aelen heard gave way to a grand silence. The magic was still there, but it was less. Those around him at the Ephemeris College felt the disturbance, too, but nobody either knew or seemed to not want to say. For days, Aelen would go to the library and sit with his, now-unremarkable spellbook. No whispers. No insights. Just the wind against the glass and the opening and closing of the library doors. Eventually, Aelen woke up in acquiescence. Just as in his home College, whatever innate magic was there was not going to help him excel. It was the failure that led him to the grimoire, he thought, it would be this failure that would propel him further.

On a walk of the grounds, planning his next move, he saw a Battlemage who wore a tabard of the Eston Knights exiting the central tower. The human was gaunt and weathered, his tanned skin pockmarked and adorned with scars. His hair was shaved to the skin, completing the practical adornments of a soldier. Aelen had never seen the Battlemages at the College look so haggard or serious. The man also had a constant look of purpose, like someone who stared in the face of their own death. The pageantry of the College must fade when accustomed to such darkness.

Aelen approached and hailed the mage, his stare broke and he scanned Aelen tentatively. Aelen, not wanting to overplay his hand, introduced himself cordially and feigned ignorance in asking if the man was from Eston. He nodded and curtly affirmed. Aelen bluffed and mentioned a fellow had told him Eston had a great many arcane libraries. In particular, he wanted to get his hands on a tome about planar portals.

The man’s disinterested look sharpened and cut the silence that hung in the air. After a beat, his look softened and he cleared his throat. “Try Tao. Eston’s a place of functional magic. Plus, the way is fraught with war. Be wary, no Barbarians will cleave you, but plenty will jump to cut your throat for your coinpurse in that wretched bog.” Aelen thanked him and excused himself. Confirmed by the reaction, he immediately fetched the College cartographer to get a map of the way to Tao.

About a week later, as Aelen’s approach neared Tao, he had a vantage over the city’s walls, which were, at one point, complete like its government, but now filled with holes and patched with wood, mud, and debris. Aelen had grabbed a book from the library about the town. Each night he studied it intently:

Tao was originally a kingdom whose bloodline died out. When conflicts rose to determine the successor, a group of merchants who owned many of the docks banded together to create their own government. Initially pitched as the “Marketplace Solution” to the lack of royal edict, power was traded for gold and sealed with blood. Indeed, many groups laid siege to the walls, some of the merchant lords were poisoned, shot, and stabbed but without the ability to restrict the naval trade, the town subsisted. As the surviving merchants became more paranoid and controlling, their margins, shrinking with every siege, the city of capital they envisioned quickly became autocratic. Ruling was equal parts iron and gold. Eventually, the competitors docks were burned, unfortunate fires seemed to plague all who tried to deviate from the controlling houses. Eventually, through marriage and integration, the houses melded into one: The House of Tao.

Ever since then, Tao had maintained a sort of tepid peace. The merchant lords had their enforcers ensure that commerce was not impeded, and indeed they offered what the other cities did not, a free marketplace. Free, of course, being in terms of restrictions, not the cut the merchants paid for the privilege.

As Aelen entered the town, a man who, presumably was a guard, wearing armor emblazoned with the same coat of arms as the gates, hassled the mage.

“Oi! You there, goldy. What business have you in our fair city?”
Aelen bristled at the slur, his hands clenched. He muttered an elven curse under his tongue.
“My business is my own, knave.” the elf shot back.
“Well any business is Tao is my business, you understand? If you want to keep that business and your head, to yourself, you better start speaking or start walking.”
“I am looking to find a trader of arcane tomes. Planar…things. It’s probably above your understanding.”

The man paused, confused looking, then his face snapped into a smile.
“Oi, well why didn’t you just say so!? ‘Course, Tao has the finest arcane tradeshops. We love us mages and elfkin! In fact, on behalf of House Tao, I’ll save you time by telling you the best one in the whole city. Good friend of mine by the name of Dorund. Always collecting trinkets, that Dorund.”
He gave Aelen the directions and patted him on the back as the elf proceeded by. “Oi be careful goldy, just cuz us guards are here, doesn’t mean you still can’t get a dagger slipped in your slender ribs.”

As Aelen followed the directions through crowded markets. Living up to its namesake, even in the open air, everything was for sale in Tao. Exotic creatures in cages were next to slave stalls with humanoids of all sizes. Outside bars and drug dens, smoke pouring out every crack and window, barely clad women dance and heckle passer-by’s. Aelen arrived at the alley the gaurd had described. Walking down the alley, Aelen squinted to translate the poorly handwritten signs. An elf’s stone throw ahead, he heard a door bang against its frame. A halfling sprung out from the portal, two men in leather armor, swords out, in tow. One wore an eyepatch and a bandana. The other was bald, with a necklace of bones draped about his head.

HELP!” He screamed as he dashed around Aelen.

The men slowed as Aelen stayed within the walkway, eyeing them.

“Yer in our way, Elven trash.” the bandana’d cyclops barked. They both held their swords out to the ready.

Aelen’s brow furrowed, “I think it is you who is in my way, Iantha.”

“We dont’ have time for this, Durgo, let’s gut this one and find that runt.” the other said, lunging at Aelen and although Aelen dodged his strike, he had thrown his body weight at the elf, and they came crashing to the ground.

Hitting the muddy stones, the elf struggled against the weight of the bandit, as he grappled on, having the upperhand. The bone-necklace bandit ended up kneeling upon the elf’s chest and hoisted his sword in the air, a dramatic finish for the mage. Aelen clenched his eyes, his every muscle taut at the impending impact.

A voice called out “Stop right there, brigand! Drop that sword.” Aelen’s eyes snapped open, acutely aware of the magic that coursed around him as the bandit, wide-eyed, dropped his sword. As it clattered to the cobblestones, the man’s expression turned from confusion to wide-eyed fear and stood up. Aelen flipped onto his stomach in time to see a hulking barbarian sprinting down the alley and grab the man into the air. The man kicked at the barbarian’s chest to no avail, the giant threw him against a wall. His body fell limp to the stones.

The one-eyed bandit, took a step back.
“Th—this doesn’t concern you, mountain man. Back off.”
The barbarian stood, planted and moved one hand to the large sword hanging across his back.
“I’m warning you! I know people! People that’ll gu-”

He was cutshort as he was lifted off the ground and thrown back a good 5 feet onto his back. The air rippled beyond where it had carried the man. Gasping from the air being knocked out of him, the bandit scrambled to his feet. The barbarian turned around to see the elf’s eyes lightly glowing, his hand pointing out at where the air had burst out.

“You…” the man coughed and inhaled sharply “You’ll pay for this!” as he turned and ran, leaving his friend behind, crumpled amongst the refuse that lined the alley.

Behind Aelen, a man in armor sauntered up. Aelen scanned him, fixating quickly on the book tethered to his hip, bound in chains. They locked eyes. The serious look of the man melted into soft worry.

“Are you alright, brother?” Rustiver asked as he smiled, his hand rising to offer a handshake.

“I was fine. I did not need your help.” The elf quipped, his pride surfacing.

“You were about 5 seconds from being fine.” The Barbarian quipped, relaxing as he watched for movement from the unconcious brigand.

“My name is Rustiver, this is Jerold. We heard the halfling’s call for helps and thought we should check it out. Are you a mage? What is your name?”

“Aelen. I should ask you the same thing, making him drop his sword like that. Do not try any mind tricks on me, you’ll find your feeble race can’t manipulate the minds of my kin.”

Rustiver and Jerold both chuckled at the dig.

“Nonsense, brother. I am…a priest of the battlefield, I can command men to fight or to peace. I am no mindflayer. You didn’t answer my question.”

Jerold muttered under his breath “You should be more concerned with bodyflayers…”

Aelen shot daggers at the large man, who received it with a smirk. He turned back to Rustiver “I am a mage. I am a visiting scholar at the Mage’s College of Ephemeris. I’ve come to this wretched place in search of arcanic tomes.”

Rustiver laughed, “Arcanic tomes? In Tao!? Where did you get that idea? This is a den of slavers, traders, and profiteers. Perhaps such a place exists, but I can’t imagine who would suggest such a thing.”

Aelen’s face drooped upon hearing this, before resuming a skeptic stoic facade.

Rustiver continued, patting the hyvalim on the shoulder. “Y’know, we’re heading South, these bandits may have short attention spans, but their grudges run long. We could use a mage with your talents to come with us. My cohort and I have already helped each other out of a few incidences with brigands.”

Aelen paused and stared at the man. His eyes twitched as though carrying on a conversation inside his mind. He perceived sincerity and in his ear, he swore he heard the quietest of whispers, sending his heart a flutter.

“Alright, but only because I owe you two. I am not some commonoid, I repay my debts.” He huffed.

Rustiver and Jerold glanced at each other, smirking and nodding affirmatively.

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Humble Beginnings
More like Bumbled Beginnings, mirite?

Dunhollow Inn
Following the group’s formation, the adventurers settled down in a small crossroads area known as Dunhollow. With a river trickling steadily behind it, the large inn rose amongst the steppes that surround it. Situated along what could be called a highway, if it was either high or more a way than down-trodden grasses, the Dunhollow Inn was a welcome sight.

Congregated outside along the hitching rail, horses of no particular pedigree were gathered. Tails swatting lazily at flies, their heads bowed refreshing themselves with the cold mountain runoff water placed in their trough. Inside, the scene was largely the same, common men refreshing themselves after a day’s labor. There were a few buildings that had been built around the inn, mostly houses or storage buildings. If Dunhollow were noted on a map, it was after a lazy cartographer realized he had dripped ink when drawing the Tao marketplace.

The adventurer’s had originally come south from Tao encountering small bandit raiding parties, an unfortunate aspect of the areas peripheral to the barbarian war path. Although they became friends with the innkeeper (in no short part due to their love of revelry), the regulars eyed them with trepidation. One day ago, Jerold traded words and drinks with a boisterous shepherd’s son, resulting in at least one broken arm. Aelen himself, half bored, half manic, began playing with a fire spell and lit a portion of what he believed was an abandoned building’s roof on fire. The resident peasants were neither amused nor thrilled with his explanation.

Given their desire to rest and remunerate for their devious nature, the adventurers traveled to a nearby farm to train the owner’s sons in combat. He had seen the work Jerold and Aelen did on Dunhollow and figured it was the best his boys were going to get outside of bandits. On their return, the party noticed more horses than usual, odd for the sleepy pass-by.

Inside the Inn, there was banter and clanking. Immediately out of place were two young men standing against the bar, talking to Padar, the owner. Padar’s face was grim, and focused. Rustiver notes the younger boy has been coughing, but likely is shying his face away as he chokes up and wipes his tears away. To try and ligthen the mood, Rustiver offers to buy the elder one a drink. Although the boy ignores Rustiver, Padar’s face softens and he advises the boys to tell the adventurer’s their story.

Jack and Jeff, the lone survivors of their trade caravan had ridden away from onslaught and massacre outside the village of Berylbrown. They were asking Padar for help in getting their sister back, she was taken by the bandits. Aelen deftly asks the boys about their parents, his mystical nature and voice off-setting the otherwise outrageously awkward question. The boys relayed the horrors they witnessed, men and women who fought cut down, the weaker women convinced by their elder, Mona, to cut their throats to avoid capture and an the uncertain future. Before their sister, Jemma, was cut, hands reached into the wagon and threw Mona to the ground. A lone bandit, rode up and eyed her tentatively. He pointed and turned. The men grabbed Jemma, threw her, kicking and screaming, across a saddle and began riding off. At this point, the boys must’ve fleed.

After a night of rest, the adventurer’s set out along the path the boys provided. Worried about missing the bandits simply following the trail through the steppes to Berylbrown, the party decided to venture straight north, however the noon sun provided no guidance and they found themselves heading northwestern that afternoon. Although they corrected their path to head North, they felt unease as they saw a large circle of birds in the distant sky. Floating above something out of sight…
Mongolian_steppes.jpg

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To Berylbrown
Bumble in the Ju-FIELDS

They had left at first light and traced back the route the boys had taken. Atop horses they followed the road, twisted along the rocky, arid hills. It was evident the received little rain, brush and pointed plants scattered around. The sun continued its climb.

Parched, Rustiver’s hand shakily moved toward his flask. It was instinctual but he stopped himself at the last moment. Casually glancing over to Aelen he found the hyvalim preoccupied, lost in contemplation. Jerold too hadn’t noticed, his eyes focused on the landscape and his head turned frequently.

They followed the bend in the road and slowed their beasts. Ahead the path carved deep into a hill and the shoulders of the road formed tight walls all along. The three paused for a moment.

“If we’re intending to find some bandits around here, that path could be a deathtrap,” he said flatly.

“It’s certainly a chokepoint,” Rustiver added. “I’ve been surprised on the road before.”

“If we keep the sun over our shoulder we can fall off the road and still keep West,’ followed Jerold.

“I’d prefer to take caution before promenading into town,’” Aelen said.

Rustiver nodded and Jerold led them from the road. The marched directly along the red dirt and avoided this plant and that. They swapped stories, a couple of times bursting into uproarious laughter, but well past midday they hadn’t encountered Berylbrown.

“The horses are thirsty,” Jerold finally spoke.

“Let’s stop,” Rustiver said. He dismounted and moved to the head of the beast. He cupped his hands together and held before the horse’s mouth. Rustiver closed his eyes and mouthed a pray.

Water pooled in his hands. The horse sniffed and immediately lapped it. Though it drank copiously, the water level stayed, never overflowing or depleting. Rustiver watered the other two beasts and watched Jerold return with an armful of the brush.

“This will work,” he said and offered it to the horses. They ate it greedily, despite the red scrapes and inflammation on Jerold’s arms and chest.

Aelen stared up at the sky, watching an unusual number of birds circling over a far hill. Jerold then Rustiver spotted the birds and again they looked at each other.

“It’s odd,” Rustiver muttered. “It might be the bandits.”

“We’re already off from Berylbrown, " Aelen snorted. “We should get there first and then think about worrying over birds.” Jerold nodded and Rustiver relented.

“Alright, to Berylbrown.”

Horses fed and watered, the three remounted and striding toward the setting sun they made for Berylbrown.

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Arrival in Berylbrown
SNAAAAKKKEEEEEE!

The three crested the hill to Berylbrown and looked at the buildings scattered around some fields. Modest, dilapidated homes stood just before them as the fields sprawled out, arranged around a central, spired building. Behind the homes, sat a tavern and beyond that a pentagonal outpost. As they approached they noted the lack of any apparent activity and closer inspection of the homes revealed extensive damage.

Already the sun had begun it’s descent as their horses strode in. From the corner of his eyes Aelen saw that many of the homes had torches burning just to the left or right of the front doors. His curiosity won out and he steered his mount toward the closet home. Flames licked and danced in the air but gave off no additional light in the daytime. As the elf neared he dismounted and walked toward, eyes enamored.

Rustiver and Jerold shrugged at each other as Aelen took his time inspecting and examining. Some vague magic fueled the torches, he knew, though the purpose and oddity completely occupied his mind. Two men further away on horseback began to comprehend the morbid silence when the quietude was violently interrupted. As Aelen peered closer to the torch a nocked arrow emerged from a smashed window; pointed tip not far from his face. Aelen jumped and raised his hands into the air slowly.

“Go away!” An unconvincing voice cracked from inside. Aelen took a small, tentative step backwards.

Rustiver starrted the situation, hands likewise held in the air. “Easy, we’re travelers looking for a kidnapped girl, Jemma.”

“Go away, can’t you see the torch?” The same voice shouted.

“Why isn’t it working?” Aelen heard from another voice inside, then louder. “They said they would take care of the halfings!”

“Who told you-” Aelen attempted.

“Go away or I’ll shoot,” the first voice ordered. “Go away!”

Aelen began walking backwards away from the home, obeying the voice. He very slowly turned to take up his horses reigns and led the animal to his two companions. Rustiver watched Aelen return to the group and it wasn’t until the three had traveled some distance from the house did the loaded arrow disappear back inside.

Reflexively the group rode toward the tavern. All three of the dismounted and after tying their reigns to the hitching posts they walked to the door. It opened suddenly and three rough-looking men emerged, laughing with each other.

They wore dark leather vests with various daggers and short swords sheathed at their waists. Each was tattooed in elaborate, swirling designs that curled around their arms and legs. Upon seeing Rustiver, Jerold, and Aelen the largest of the group sneered and spit on the ground.

“What do we have here,” his mouth carved into a mischievous grin. He wore a red bandanna and another red sash around his torso.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Jerold returned.

“We’re new in town, just going in for a drink. You wouldn’t happen to know about a kidnapped girl, would you? Rustiver questioned, locking a stare on Snake.

“Lots of girls gone missing around here,” he chuckled. The other two joined in with him. Snake’s hand moved to the hilt of a sheathed sword and he patted it obviously.

“That’s a nice sword you’ve got there, pudgy,” Jerold goaded back.

“The name’s Snake and if we’re lucky you’ll be more familiar with them by the end of the night,” Snake laughed again. Aelen rolled his eyes at the posturing. He folded his arms across his chest and waited for the measuring contest to finish. They all exchanged a tense moment of glares, save the elf, but Snake and his men passed by without incident, heading back the way Jerold, Aelen and Rustiver had come.

So near to a tavern, and thirsty from travel, Rustiver and Jerold let the jeering go and both hurried inside with Aelen behind.

As they entered they found the place completely disheveled. Chairs broken and tables overturned, bottles smashed about and various pieces of splintered wood. Void of patrons the empty room had an almost haunted quality to it. Rustiver looked around the immediate area, finding a couple fresh blood stains, as Jerold strode toward the bar.

He slide his large frame over and began rummaging. Finding a bottle he exclaimed in delight and yanked the cork out. Immediately he began draining it as a smaller framed body exploded from the backroom. Bursting from behind the door the person barreled into Jerold and toppled him. As the three turned to see the commotion an angry woman, knife in hand, stood over the downed barbarian. Deep hatred in her eyes, the woman pointed the blade perilously close to Jerold.

“I told you all to get out and never come back,” she spoke slow and bitter.

“I don’t know that you told us specifically-” Jerold started. She interrupted and thrust the blade forward, inserting the blade. It caused him to a exhale in surprise and pain and Jerold immediately began moving. As he managed to his feet she got in another slash across his stomach.

“Easy, whoa!” Rustiver called out. His hands held in the air he moved toward the two, trying diffuse the violence. “We’re not bandits.”

“You were trespassing here and STEALING my liquor. I don’t care what you call yourselves but you need to go,” she glared, knife still pointed at Jerold. Almost twice and a half times her size the blood pouring from his wounds was evident but he showed no real signs of serious discomfort.

“We’re trying to help traders, two boys who were part of a caravan traveling here. They were ambushed by bandits, their parents killed and their sister was taken.” Rustiver explained.

“We’ve all lost family,” she replied cold. “Now, you thieves need to go.”

“Look, we’re trying help-” Rustiver began again.

“Helping yourself to my bar! Go!”

Jerold eyed the woman, and stepped backward a few feet. As he rejoined them Rustiver placed his hand on Jerold’s shoulder. The former adjudicator closed his eyes and mumbled a short prayer. A dull, white light emanated from under his hands and almost instantaneously the stab wound closed.

“You,” she stammered as she watched. “You’re a healer?”

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The Mandrake Inn
What, are you a girl or something?

“I’ve been known to heal,” Rustiver sighed.

“Hold on,” she said, turning and walking back into the room she had rushed from. The three heard faint whispers and rustlings before Tabitha returned with several young girls, all worse for the wear. One girl in particular, much more pale than the others, wore a blood-soaked bandage around her arm.

A resigned look came over Rustiver and his hand reached for his book. He opened the clasp, pulled it up and immediately flipped to a familiar passage. Rustiver closed his eyes and prayed as he had countless times before. A faint white light began to emanate in a radius around everyone.

But it quickly faded.

Jerold, Aelen, and indeed most of the girls felt a power of some kind but it was faint and the wounded girl remained gravely injured. Realizing his failure, Rustiver closed the book and looked over to the girl’s arm.

Slowly he raised a hand, palm up, motioning her closer. She looked over to Tabitha who hesitantly nodded her approval. Weakly the girl stepped forward and diffidently giving her arm to the stranger.

They approached each other and Rustiver took her small arm in his hand. He found the end of the bandage and gingerly pulled it back. As he worked to unwrap the wound the telltale sickly smell wafted up to him, and finally removing it confirmed his theory. The grave, by itself serious, had become infected and the girl was succumbing.

“We need to drain the wound,” Rustiver said as he looked at Tabitha. Again without speaking she nodded but couldn’t bring herself to look at the poor girl.

The elf huffed and looked around before finding a haggard table and buried himself with his tomes. He flipped through several pages, cross referenced, double checked, and hurriedly scribbled something important. Jerold , almost as disinterested as Aelen, exited the bar to enjoy the cool night air.

Rustiver lead the girl to the ruined fireplace of the inn and they both knelt down. He carefully drew his sword and smiled at the girl as a worried look came across her face.

“It’ll be ok. I’m just going to drain the wound, your body is getting poisoned with this stuff,” he poked the white-yellow wound, “and we need to get it out. I know you’re pretty tough, It may actually feel better than you think, but I need a favor. Can you be tough for just a little bit longer?”

Resigned more than eager to help, she nodded and bit her lip. He slid the blade into the wound and then back out. He held her arm over the threshold of the fireplace and squeezed her arm.

He dressed the wound and put his hand over it. Again he prayed. Without the book he closed his eyes and shouted the verse in his head. The white light from before again emanated from under his hand and this time Iustia listened and the wound healed substantially.

He applied a fresh bandage from a tore cloth Tabitha had found. Rustiver stood and offered his hand to the girl. She stood up and already color had returned to her face and she moved more smoothly.

“Thank you,” Tabitha relented, her bitterness toward the strangers thawing somewhat.

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Berylbrown's Peacekeeprs
"That's the worse thing you could've done..."

Jerold stepped out into the night air and enjoyed the breeze for a moment. He opened his eyes and looked to the hitching posts where the horses had been.

He looked twice to make sure. The horses had vanished, reigns and all. Stepping around the tavern to investigate, out of the corner of his eye he saw a blur of motion. Riding off with the reigns in their hands were two bandits dressed similarly as the ones from before.

Jerold raced around the posts and caught a further look downward. As the two bandits sauntered down the road leading out of Berylbrown, Snake and four others waited atop horseback. They laughed and jawed with each other, paying no mind behind them.

Without glancing back, Jerold took his grappling hook in his hand. The silver steel glinted in the light. He twirled the hook as he walked into position, the rough rope tugging on his flesh. Stepping broadly into view, had the bandits been looking, he lined up his shot and threw the hook.

The trailing bandit, lazily sauntering to his comrades held the reigns of two horses. Snake had given the order to gather the horses with a bit of insult and the bandit did little to hasten back to the group. The next instant a tremendous release of pressure in his neck startled him. He tried to cry out but only a gurgling sound came out.

Slashed clean with the barb of Jerold’s hook, blood spurted forth from the neck of the bandit. It soaked the horse’s mane and his body relaxed. The body toppled to the dirt with a thud. Jerold roared loudly.

From inside the Mandrake Inn, Rustiver and Aelen immediately met eyes.

“Jerold,” they said in unison. The others, startled by the noise, moved for the backroom and closed the door. Together the two raced out of the inn and around the corner, finding Jerold encircled in bandits.

Turning the corner first, Aelen bent his fingers and weaved his hands together. A ray of energy shot from his extended palm and connected with one of the bandits on horseback. It startled the man and caused him a moments hesitation, enough to receive the blade of Jerold’s halberd.

Snake noticed the elf’s spell and whipped his horse furiously. It made double time and had nearly closed upon Aelen when Rustiver spoke out.

“Prone,” the word hung in the air like a ringing bell. It was loud but Rustiver hadn’t shouted. Nonetheless, Snake was compelled violently from his horse and slammed into the ground. Using the pause to catch up, Rustiver drew his sword and ran to intercept.

Aelen looked at the now-riderless horse and made several quick steps away. Turning his gaze back to Snake he cast again. A large sphere of fire grew in his hands and by the time the elf finished the fireball it was nearly the size of him. Again he extended his arm and Snake, flat on the ground, took the entirety of the spell.

Jerold cleaved another bandit in half. Left alone with one remaining ruffian, Jerold readied a swing. Despite being atop a horse, the bandit, only a foot or two taller than the barbarian, felt extremely nervous. Jerold jabbed slightly, causing the anxious bandit to block it swiftly and much too hard. Exposed on his side, Jerold impaled the rider and ripped him from the saddle.

Wounded, yet entirely still alive, Snake rose to his feet. Arriving as the man got his feet, Rustiver casually stepped between his ally and enemy.

Snake looked at the elf and chuckled. He pulled a small bottle, a red-tinted potion, and guzzled it. Whipping his stringy hair back, he laughed again, harder, as he drew his two swords. Twirling them in a deadly kata he slid them over the gourd-container on his back and a black slime coated onto the blades. Striking them against stones the blades caught aflame and Snake spun them about himself.

Rustiver blocked the strikes as Snake went on the offensive, spinning the blazing swords about. Catching an opening, Rustiver spiked his sword down onto Snake’s foot, pinning him down. Snake screamed in pain but, in the next instant, was ripped away.

Having dispatched most of the bandits, Jerold had rushed at the pinned Snake. Held in place, Snake had received the full force of the barbarian’s charge. Torn from the blade, Snake’s foot was in tatters as his body dropped to the ground several feet away.

Rustiver looked back at Aelen. They nodded to each other and moved over to Jerold, standing above a duly thrashed Snake.

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