A little R&R

Tabitha and the girls left in a flash. Tired and terrified, they rode south and disappeared over the horizon just as the sun was beginning to set. Left alone in the Mandrake Inn, the three stashed their traveling gear and set to evaluating the town for resources.

Exiting out of the inn and past the stables they could see a few more ramshackle homes to the north and fields further beyond. A large pointed temple in the middle sat silent stoic. “Probably to Avaya,” Rustiver had said. “Goddess of the Harvest.” Closer but to the south was a fortified barracks and then a lodge with a mangled fence.

“If they’re coming again tonight, we’ll need traps.” Jerold stated flatly.

“Could help to thin the numbers,” Rustiver agreed. “I’d like to see what’s inside the barracks, though.”

The group moved toward the stone and mortar structure. Above, the parapets seemed deserted and the cold stone paid them little attention. They circled to the south-facing entrance and called out a “hullo!”

A diminutive head poked over the side. Encased in a helm many sizes too big, the young boy study the three for a moment.

“Who are you?” he asked brusquely despite the voice break of puberty.

“My dear boy,” Rustiver stepped forward. “I am a former adjudicator of Eston, a meter of law and justice in the land. I’ve come on a quest to this town and now plan to aid it against these bandits that plague you so.”

“I didn’t hear a name.”

“Rustiver,” he exhaled his irritation.

The boy disappeared back over the wall and a long silent followed. As they were turning to leave the portcullis budged and a small void was created.

“Alright, then. One at a time,” shouted from inside.

Rustiver looked at the Jerold and smiled. Jerold sighed and squeezed into the opening. Rustiver entered behind and lastly a extremely paranoid Aelen.

Hallick Adelache stood inside the barracks. A grizzled veteran of war, he had seen more than his share of violence. A savage adversary he was known to have a powerful swing but he had been originally assigned to Berylbrown as a cushy career end. Before [i]they[/i] came, before the pillaging, roving, ruthless bastards squeezed the life from the town.

His large red beard jutted out from his armor like an outcropping of a mountain. His board shoulders and chest carried a heavy cuirass and a two-handed sword planted before him, ready to be swung at a moment’s notice.

Yet, Hallick felt a tinge of fear when Jerold fully entered. Jerold and Hallick locked eyes for a moment and the two measured each other. Rustiver entered in and Hallick sneered at his obvious privilege. Neither did the hyvalim Aelen do much to assuage his contempt.

“Yeah? What’s this about then?” Hallick nearly shouting.

“We came here on a quest. We’re looking for a young girl taken by the bandits.” Rustiver explained to the large man.

“Lots of people around here lookin’ for someone,” Hallick returned.

“We killed Snake and his boys,” Aelen shot back.

“Yeah? Anyone of them get away?”


“That’s the stupidest thing you could have done.” Hallick admonished.

“They’re due back tonight, we’re trying to gather resources to help defend the town.” Rustiver began.

“Oh, you’ve doomed us all and you want to talk about helping?” Hallick roared. “Things weren’t great before you showed up but you’ve managed to ruin everything very quickly. Why don’t you get the fuck out of here and we’ll manage our own defense.”

Jerold looked at Hallick and his hand twinged. The two locked eyes again but Aelen cleared his throat.

“It’s not worth it,” he added before turning and leaving.

Jerold returned an indifferent look to Hallick and departed behind the elf. Rustiver sneered and cursed under his breathe; then, left to join the others.

“Friendly bunch,” Rustiver said as they regrouped.

Jerold’s eyes caught hold of the fences of the lodger and started to move purposefully toward it.

“I want to see what’s in there,” he spoke absently. Aelen spied further in the fenced areas were shackles and chains that looked like apparatus for holding slaves, though a bit smaller than human-sized he thought.

Jerold thundered on the door. “Anybody home?”

“…no, go away,” came a gruff voice.

The slave chains flashed in Jerold’s mind and he kicked viciously at the door.

Rustiver had split from the two and selected a room upstairs. Closing the door behind him he knelt in the middle of the floor and placed his holy book in front of him. He placed one of his palms flap on top and began to pray to Iustia.

Without the sharp eye or knife of Tabitha nearby, Aelen set to sneering at the accumulated debris. Human craftsmanship never withstood the ages and all the hyvalim could find was corroborating evidence to that notion. As he walked through the mess he would tepidly kick this piece or that. Flimsy chairs and tables were crafted from gorgeous, strong wood; wood worked to death by human ineptitude.

Even before Tabitha had left Jerold had began a desperate search for more hajjak. He had tasted what was as close to home and family as he had in a long time and he was determined to find any more. But now that the firebrand woman was gone, he loudly smashed as much as he could.

Time passed slowly. Rustiver eventually rejoined the group but they spoke little to each other. Each acted very busy and focused on their preoccupations, but each also kept the threat of tonight’s retaliation in the back of their mind.

“I suppose we could discuss watch,” Rustiver said as he stretched.

...take another stab at it.

Tabitha had a knife this time when the three adventures with their unconscious load entered back into the Mandrake. She pointed it seriously at them but watched as Jerold tossed Snake to the floor, just a few feet from her.

She lunged immediately. Seizing the opportunity she drove the knife into his throat. And then again. And then again.

Rustiver, Aelen and Jerold each held a look of surprise at the woman and her violence.

“Well I guess,” Jerold began before Tabitha slashed at him. She kept the blade pointed at them and slowly backed away.

“Now go,” her eyes sharp.

“We need a place to sleep for the night,” Rustiver stated.

“We’ve got some extra horses,” Jerold offered into the conversation.

“Horses for beds.” Rustiver concluded. Tabitha looked at him for a moment.

“How many horses do you have?” She asked quickly. They both looked to Jerold.

“Six but,” He began to return.

“All the horses,” she said interrupting. “If you give us all the horses, I’ll get the girls out of here, and you can use this place however you like.”

The three turned together to decide. Aelen scanned around the place and shrugged. Jerold and Rustiver spoke briefly about traveling to the bandit camp but deciding on resting first.

“Fine,” Rustiver extended a hand to shake. “Take the horses.” She grabbed it and gave a shake “But tell us where the camp is.”

“I don’t know where it is,” she said. “North. And west. That’s how they always come here.”

The New Deal

The three of them surrounded him. They found him alive but unconscious and, readying their grim faces, Jerold firmly grappled Snake. He turned so the limp, fat body faced Rustiver and Aelen. In his black silk outfit the bandit looked like a fancy sack of potatoes hanging off Jerold.

The door of the Mandrake Inn burst open. Tabitha was already on her turn back out of the bar, the hateful words forming in the back of her throat, and fists loaded.

“I thought I told you,” was all she managed in the same breathe. The sight of seeing a firmly thrashed Snake. Hauled in like a load of firewood, Jerold easily held the broken bandit.

“Get. Him. Out. Of. Here.” Her words came slow and threatening.

“Can you just start explaining what’s going on, woman?” Rustiver quipped back.

Tabitha looked at the Eston for a long moment. Her rage visibly dissolved and she turned her attention to the ruined bar next to her. She walked over and bent low to a recover a large jar. She pulled the cork, took a long drink, and approached the group with it.

“Here,” she said as she handed it over. “Take this.”

“And use it to wake Snake up and ask him about their group and their ‘New Deal.’ Ask him what he did to my son and my husband. Then come back in here and explain to me why the fuck you get to act this way.”

Rustiver took the large jug and both he and Aelen rolled their eyes as she spewed her rage. They turned and walked out of the Inn and Jerold, still carrying Snake followed behind.

Rustiver sniffed the jug and recognized a hit of alcohol if not a strong, strange aroma. In a bit of curiosity, he tossed it back and took a pull. He held it in his mouth, getting a firm taste, and handed the jug to Aelen. Swallowing the intense smell seemed to only grow and a powerful warmth coated his throat and stomach.

The hyvalim put his nose over the top and cringed and set it to the side. From a pocket Rustiver produced his flask and removed the top all in one motion. He took a liberal swig and then threw a splash of it into Snake’s face. The man opened his eyes languidly and grunted. Rustiver noticed Snake’s fat cheeks flapped the way the sheets his mother hung out to dry would during the Verdanture.

Rustiver placed his gauntlet around Snake’s neck and mouth a prayer. A faint, white glow emanated from his palm and the beaten man felt a warm sensation spread through his neck, chest, and face.

“Where are they and how many,” Rustiver asked flatly.

“There up north, west a bit. It doesn’t matter how many, they’ll ALL be here by tonight. My brothers are riding back to camp and are going to gather everyone.” He spit.

Jerold wrested Snake’s hand out and grabbed a firm hold of his thumb. “How many of them, or I will rip your thumb off. And each of your fingers. And then we can start on your toes.”

Aelen sighed and folded his arms. Calculating the efficiency and success rate of torture and interrogation every way came up fruitlessness.

“Yes, I’m sure ALL of his answers are going to be true and so useful,” the mage quipped at them but neither of them heard.

“What’s this ‘New Deal’” Tabitha mentioned?" Rustiver ordered from Snake. Compelled by Iustia to the truth Snake blurted the information.

“Those torches mark the houses,” he seemed to choke the words out, resisting the magic. “When we come into town we know we can take whatever we want.” He grinned despite his discomfort, “anything we want. Because they’re paying us to protect them.”

“Protect them from what?” Jerold asked.

“You know, all kinds of stuff,” Snake smirked at his own humor. But it doesn’t matter," he choked. “You’re all going to be dead by the end of the night. My brothers have ridden back to camp and they’ll bring back everyone!” he finally managed to forced through his gritted teeth. His head dropped limp and he lost consciousness. Aelen and Rustiver looked at each other and then the inn.

Jerold looked up from the limp body and looked back out to Berylbrown behind them; and then to the horses peacefully eating or standing around.

“On the positive side I think we have more horses than we started with.”

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.

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.

Arrival in Berylbrown

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?”

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.

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…

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.

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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