||Thief level 3
||A young, short and malnourished rogue.
||Thief level 3
||Swarthy, good looking, dark-skinned thief. Sweet opium-like aroma is his fragrance of choice.
||Fighter level 3
||A generic Nordic guy.
||Dwarf level 1
||Stocky, baldy, scimitar-wielding sea knave.
||Magic-user leve 1
||An older gentleman sporting fashionable dark blue robe with purplish overtones. Seeking arcane objects and offensive spell.
||Fighter level 1
||A skinny man with sharp features, curly hair and a sneering smile. He swears that he is friendlier than he looks.
||Elf level 1
||Wears a dark green cloak to hide his bulging muscles and crippling anxiety.
||Fighter level 2
||A former caravan guard with a promise to fulfil.
||Cleric level 1
||Wears a dark green cloak to hide his bulging muscles and crippling anxiety.
||Elf level 1
||Tan skinned wood elf of magnificent physique. Doesn't hide it.
||Thief level 1
||A finely dressed slim fellow of few words. Carries the scar of betrayal.
Warmshade 13th, Earthday
At Bathdawn the adventurers agreed to split into two groups.
Rhovar and sick Blutvarth went towards Antil. Their job was to return the treasure recovered from fungi-men lair, recruit a number of mercenaries, and march to Tenoch as soon as possible.
Rad, Flamthwynn, Taegen Ianlynn, Eccy Throi, Ulster, and Herat rode to Tenoch. There Rad and Flamthwynn were to meet with Minn Almar, an eccentric mage who divulged that a clan of cannibal barbarians will wipe out Tenoch soon.
The scribes have conflicting reports on the exact details of what happened next, but some reports of both expeditions survive. They are presented below.
Rad, Flamthwynn, Taegen Ianlynn, Eccy Throi, Ulster, and Herat
The party reached Tenoch by the late evening. They were once again warmly welcomed by Merinthia and her father. She was disappointed that Taegen didn't make it, until Ulster explained the situation.
Flamthwynn visited Minn's manor, but was left hanging.
Taegen, encouraged by Merinthia's words and his seemingly permanent invisibility, waited for an opportune moment. Such presented itself when a maid went to Merinthia's room to change the bedsheets. He snuck in, just as the maid exited. There he placed a bouquet of flowers on the bed.
Merinthia, surprised and red in cheeks, spoke towards where she thought the invisible elf stood “I have a sweetheart in who is in Viridistan! I will return to him as soon as I recover. But I will always remember how you saved me!”
To that, Taegen said “He is a lucky man. But be certain that visible or not I will always be ready to rescue you from any danger.”
“Should you ever come to Viridistan, make sure to seek Wafim Sana—we'd be happy to show you around the most magnificent city in the world!”
Upon realising how silly Wafim would look offering a tour to an invisible person in the crowded streets of the city a grin escaped elf's lips, luckily one that remained undetected. Brushing aside this comical mental image with a wave of his hand, Taegen offered the young lady another promise:
“I will follow your advice in case I ever find myself there. I will let you rest now.” and he took his leave with intentionally too heavy steps so she can understand he is leaving the room. On his way out he couldn't help but think that he has made too many promises to a human woman which he is unlikely to keep when he will be still young and full of life while she will be old and wrinkled. If he lives that long despite being an adventurer, that is...
Warmshade 14th, Fireday
This was the day. Rad tried to make himself look as professional and proper as possible—albeit with little success. Flamthwynn informed Eccy and Taegen of his plans, just in case.
They travelled to the secret meeting place described by Minn at a steady pace. Indeed, the instructions were good enough, and the duo found the described grove well off the beaten path westwards of Tenoch.
The woods were lush and green, with plenty of wildlife moving around. Taking a few steps in, Rad noticed it god darker and quieter than he'd expect given it is noon and sun is bright.
Flamthwynn found the house—a sturdy looking, circular hut. It had single door, with three horizontal yellow stripes above them. He could see two circular shaped windows. Both framed and glassed.
Careful as always, he waited for some time before approaching the hut. Once he felt safe enough, he went to the doors and knocked once. Then he knocked thrice, but very fast.
As he leaned in for yet another knock, the doors flung open—and red faced Minn Almar whispered angrily:
“What?! What?! You can't do this any louder, can you?!”
“Apologies, esteemed colleague. I was merely trying to throw off any would-be eavesdroppers with a little... magic trick. Fine day for a secret meeting, eh?”
“I thought you were a learned man, Flamthwynn! Were you followed here? Did you speak to anyone of this meeting?”
Thinking for a second, Flamthwynn replied “We were not followed. Only I, and my friend Rad back there, are aware of this meeting.”
“Good, good... Please, come in.”
Rad walked in even before Flamthwynn got the chance to wave him to come forth.
Minn closed the doors behind them. Three audible clacking sounds could be heard—the thief recognised those for what they are: a strong lock.
The insides were as plain as the outsides. Furniture was sturdy and well made. A muscular, red-skinned figure dressed in leather armour was seated at a round table by the hearth. His armour seemed a bit off.
“Don't mind him. All will be clarified soon. Please, take a seat.”
There were three empty stools around the table, one next to the man, and two on the other side. Four wooden cups and two bottles of pale yellow liquid rested on the table.
“Come on, we don't have all day!” Minn sat down opposite the man.
Flamthwynn sat next to the muscular man, and started tapping his fingers on the table, awkwardly waiting. Rad took the stool next to Minn. He tried to find comfortable position, a process accompanied by lots of little squeaks.
“Finally!” and with that, Minn snapped his fingers. A naked, purple-skinned boy crawled from one of the cupboards, promptly approached the table, and poured Rad and Flamthwynn some of the yellow liquid in the cups. The red man sneered at boy.
“Flamthwynn, as I told you at my villa, Tenoch is in grave danger. There is a cannibal tribe that arrived in the area few months ago, and they've been harassing Tenoch since then.”
“They call themselves the Blood Spears. They impale their victims and skin them alive. Deggach here can tell you more. He is one of them.”
The man nodded.
“First I thought that Gof the Old would be smart enough to understand they must be exterminated. But he is too old, and too stupid to realise he cannot just be on the defence!”
“That's when I took matters into my own hands, and tracked them down. They've holed themselves in an abandoned tower just southeast from here. Holtar ap Tarj is the chieftain.”
“If it were just them, I'd have taken care of it weeks ago. But I made a horrible discovery which paralysed me with fear and anguish. I was convinced all is lost—until your boy Rad mentioned that mercenary company.”
“You see, not only are they disgusting cannibals... They also worship Harmakhis, a horrible deity. Deggach, please tell us more.”
The man spoke up “We used to roam the southern jungles, doing as we pleased, when we pleased. Few cowardly tribe came together and forced us out. It took us some years and many bloody battles to find our new home.”
“All was going well until Kruge, the old chieftain, got ill. He was replaced by Holtar. He was strong and savage, like a real leader! But he also listened to that wretched Marik. Suddenly we had to bow to some ridiculous sculpture. Even worse, we had to give a portion of our spoils to Marik. That portion grew bigger and bigger–”
Minn interjected “Yes, yes, and that's why you are working for me now. I did not ask you to tell us your history, but to share more about the tribe. And to answer our questions. Do you understand that?”
The man grunted with a sneer.
“Tell them what you told me—when do you plan to assault Tenoch?”
“One the night of two full moons, the rivers of blood will flow. We will feast on your flesh and curse your souls to eternal torment.”
Minn, turning to the enterprising duo, continued “Now, if my calculations are correct, Howla and Vannis should show themselves in full on Sunstrong 9th or 10th. Do you agree?”
Rad, leaning forward and joining the tips of his finger together, spoke up “Well first of all we need to discuss a few things. For starters, what is your estimate of average size of enemy forces?”
“Our tribe counts two hundred heads. Fifty of those have ate more than twenty hearts, each!” Dendrach grunted pridefully.
“Two hundred!” Rad shouted wide eyed, almost falling off the stool. Regaining his composure, he continued “For an operation like that we will need plenty of coin. At least in the high thousands.”
Flamthwynn join the discussion “Yes, 9th or 10th, that seems about correct. Now of course, we will need more fighters than the half-dozen we currently are. I believe Rhovar and Blutvarth, two of our companions, are already on route to Antil to recruit such a force.”
Minn continued “According to my research, they are very tribal. Killing the chieftain and shaman should throw them into disarray. Isn't it so Dendrach?”
“Without chieftain in place, anyone can take his role, as long as they can beat any other pretender. I had enough of this rotten place! Kill them, and I will rule the clan! I will take them back to the jungles, where we shall rule once more!” the brute explained.
“Would this chieftain in question have any definable features that would make him easy to spot on battle field as well as the shaman?” Rad inquired.
Minn snapped his fingers, and once again a naked slave-boy soon appeared with large parchment. The wizard took it impatiently and shooed the boy away.
“Here, this is the rough lay of the land...”
“Dendrach, tell us more.”
“Holtar spends most of his time on the top of the tower. His harem is there. You cannot miss him—he is the biggest man you have ever seen. He has a necklace made of elven ears, his favourite delicacy.”
“The shaman and his acolytes live in lower levels of the tower. I've never been there because I don't care for their dark magic.”
“Most of the tribe is spread out between four large huts. The weak ones are forced to live outside until they eat a heart of weeping human.”
Minn, talking over Dendrach, “So, Flamthwynn and Rad, tell me, how would you resolve this?”
“Well, just off the top of my head, they seem to rely on that well for water. Perhaps we sneak in there at night, poison water supply, and then after a day or two of them being weakened we launch a full frontal assault.”
Flamthwynn nodded in agreement with Rad's idea.
“Hahahaha!” the red man burst out laughing, throwing his head back. “You? Against the mighty Blood Spears? You and what army, little boy?”
“They will gut you without breaking a sweat. And if you live, your suffering will be legendary!”
Minn interjected “Oh, take it down a notch Dendrach. If you were so freakin' powerful, you would still roam your precious jungles.”
The man sneered, but otherwise remained quiet.
The wizard continued “You are onto something with well there, young man. I'm also confident that the tower has some sort of secret entrance. It predates these barbarians for several hundred years at least. And in absence of those, I've observed two large windows on the second floor.”
“Flamthwynn, you are a learned man. Surely you have some brilliant ideas on how to overcome this brutes through superior intellect?”
“Poisoning their water supplies sounds like it could work. I suspect such barbarians would be easily fooled as well, so distractions and subterfuges are definitely on the table.”
“Cowards...” Dendrach muttered under breath.
Flamthwynn looked at Dendrach intently for a second, then exaggeratedly looked around the room, saying “Or, we could find someone who wants to destroy the tribe, so that we can submit ourselves to their will in the hopes that they will kill the chieftain so we can take his place without a fight? I'm certain that would be a much braver plan of action, wouldn't it?”
The brute exhaled loudly. “Would you like me to open the front doors for you? Let's see how long you last before one of my brothers drinks your eyes with a straw!”
“Behave!” Minn smacked him with a long stick. “This is a man of high arts you are speaking to, barbarian!”
Rad, ignoring the exchange and lost in deep thought—obviously planning the assault and consequent riches—speaks up “If there is a secret entrance perhaps we can send a few of our strongest men to take care of the chieftain and end fighting quickly...”
“Well, that does sound like an interesting idea! Tell us more!” Minn demanded enthusiastically. “Dendrach, do you know of any other entrances than the drawbridge?”
“Well, I guess you could always try to scale the walls to reach the windows on the second floor. The ravine is quite deep, so your death is certain in case you slip. Dendrach, would you be able to let them in from inside?”
“Good! Sounds like a solid plan, if I may say so myself. See Flamthwynn, this is how it's done!”
“I am not used to your ways, esteemed colleague, but I must say you are quite convincing!” Flamthwynn lowered his head and muttered under his breath, absent-mindedly “Gotta get me one of those purple servants, could be quite useful...” He coughed and jerked back to attention “Yes, yes! a good plan indeed!”
Turning the discussion to business “Tell me more about your mercenary company. How many? When do we leave? How much for your services?”
Flamthwynn, appearing to count on his fingers (using his knuckles, base 12 style of course cause he's a wizard), “We are about a dozen at the moment, but more will be needed. Two of our members have gone to recruit more men from Antil, they will be back in a few days. As for payment, I am not well versed in the ways of gold myself, I will let my companions negotiate that element of our... contract.”
“Numbers, do you speak them?”
“What does that mean?” Rad asked, perplexed.
“Oy my, a man has to simplify everything for the young ones today! How much for your services?”
“Oh yes, well considering the large size of the opposition's army and their cannibalistic tendencies making them rather dangerous, I think 5500 gold is a fair price.”
“Hmmm... That might be fair, but I am no Green Emperor. How about a trade? 120 platinum pieces and I'll teach Flamthwynn here a few spells. I can also look over any arcane objects you have and figure out their use.”
“I’m afraid that is far too low for amount of danger involved. How about 4000 and two spells. If you don’t have that amount of gold on you right now it can be done in instalments as well.”
“My knowledge is much more valuable than that! Flamthwynn, please explain to your friend what kind of tribulations does a learned man have to endure to unlock arcane powers!”
Flamthwynn, looking back and forth between Minn and Rad “You are absolutely correct, esteemed colleague, the value of magical knowledge should not be underestimated! However, as much as I wish to be instructed by you, I understand my companion's concerns. For he and those of our company who are not practitioners of the magical arts, magic has little value, certainly they do not weigh it as heavily as I do against the danger of death–” somehow he tripped on his robe while seated and pathetically, slowly fell to the floor, not before being unable to catch himself by the table edge.
Minn, gasping and turning blood red, roars “You have wasted my time! What cruel joke you played on me, to give me hope! Get out! Get out!”
The duo ran out at the speed of light, and rode to Tenoch as fast as they could to report their smashing success. There Taegen and Eccy convinced them they should go to Actun. It is an old elven city; older than Antil. It is well known among elves, for it is still independent of both the Green Emperor and Invincible Overlord.
Rinendirlan Ælasyn, their mentor, gave them a letter “guaranteeing entrance, should they ever need help.” Eccy was convinced that the spellbook recovered from the lair of sinister giant mushroom must be the one Rinendirlan sent them after. Therefore he was quite eager to send it to him as soon as possible. With Actun being the closest know save haven for elves, he lobbied hard to get the party there.
Prior to setting out, they recruited another rogue-like figure. This was Gomm, a sweet talking and sweet smelling fine looking man dressed in leather armour with a long cape. Together they rode towards the Romilion sea, and followed the shore north-west.
Warmshade 15th, Spiritday
Another wonderful and sunny day in Barbarian Altanis. The party galloped alongside the ever narrowing sea as it formed Selget Haven. They kept as far as they could from the notorious Gristly jungle to their left.
Suddenly a troupe of armoured rides, followed by charging footmen, came at them for south-west.
“Whip the horses! Faster!”
Alas, the mounted warriors caught up with party in moments.
“Halt! Identify yourself!” the leading figure yelled in elven.
Eccy turned his horse to greet the figure.
“I'm Eccy Throi, accompanied by the Hydra Company. We are travelling to Actun to return what is the rightful ownership of our Master, Rinendirlan Ælasyn.”
“Thenan of Castle Silvan. We patrol these areas and ensure Actun remains safe for elves. I'm afraid your Master's name is unfamiliar to me.”
“Perhaps this letter will help you.”
Armoured elf read it with great interest.
“Hm, this is sufficient. Just follow the river upstream and you will find Actun soon enough. And make sure these humans cause no trouble.”
“Pssst, ask him if we can sleep at their place instead out here. It's a bit scary with that jungle nearby...” one of the humans whispered to Eccy.
“We are busy enough as it is. Go and ask yourself.” and with those words Thenan and his troupe marched southwards, continuing their patrol.
The party continued their journey.
“I don't understand. It should be just across the river. But where are the bridges? Or any crossings? Eccy, Taegen, these are your people. Tell us more!”
They found themselves at the bank of broad river that empties itself into Selget haven. According to their map, Actun should indeed lie at the other side. But nothing but thick forest could be seen.
“Any axes? Maybe we could make some rafts or canoes?”
But no one took any axes.
Few of the adventurers investigated the river. The edges were shallow enough to walk, but it gradually got deeper and deeper. It was Eccy who had most fascinating discovery—a narrow pathway that remained shallow.
He followed it, finding that it winds left and right, like a spasming worm, but remains shallow. Others soon followed him, in a line. The path was just wide enough for one mounted person. Flamthwynn noticed that there was no solid ground at moments—and yet he was still able to walk without falling into the azure river!
Progressing slowly, following the labyrinthine path, Eccy led the party to the other side of the river. Just in time to be greeted by twenty heavily armoured and armed elves.
“Welcome to Actun. Your identity and reason for visit? And why is he invisible?”
“It was a side effect of a potion he drunk.”
“Your paperwork checks out. You can enter Actun. Aeralyn here will accompany you in, escort you to Kylasrendi Lirielsinger, and help you leave.”
“How about our friends?”
“Humans? They stay out. Nothing will happen to them, as long as they behave. No fires. No loitering. No shouting.”
And so were Eccy and invisible Taegen led into dark forest, while Gomm, Rad, and Flamthwynn were left at the east bank of magnificent river.
“Well, I guess it's time to make camp. At least it's sunny?” The trio engaged in some recreative gambling, with Gomm picking up the lot.
The wood elves found it difficult to orient themselves in these woods. They were nothing like Scarlet Forest in Elephand Lands where they hail from. Some of the trees seemed to repeat themselves.
Suddenly a white-marble stone tower appeared in front of them.
“This is the home of Kylasrendi Lirielsinger. He is ready to welcome you.”
The duo entered into bright antechamber. The sun shone from above, as if there was no ceiling.
“Welcome. I know Rinendirlan Ælasyn quite well. What brings you here?”
“He sent us on a mission to recover stolen spellbook. He instructed us to seek help in Actun once we do so.”
“Can I see the book?”
Eccy passed on the leather-bound book retrieved from the fungi-men cave.
“This isn't your Master's book. Whose is this? Can you tell me more about that place?”
The duo explained everything in great detail.
“I'd like you to bring me the sentient mushroom alive. Could you do so? For four thousand platinum pieces?”
“We can try!” Taegen answered enthusiastically.
“I did not ask you if you can try. Can you bring it alive?”
“Well we can, but we have other matters to attend to first...”
“That's fine. I have time.”
“Now, about the invisible guest. That is rude, but I've been informed it's due to your incompetence. Tell me more.”
Taegen's explanation only lowered his already low status in the host's eyes even further.
“Wood elves... Like children... I can arrange for you to become visible, should you wish so.”
“You will be visited tomorrow morning, and that will be taken care of. Now, I will take care of the book. Aeralyn will show you to your housing.”
And with those words their chilly host left them in the antechamber.
“Can we do some shopping while we are here?”
“Whatever you need will be brought to you.”
The duo was escorted through the woods to a simple stone building. A nourishing dinner and warm beds awaited them, unlike their three human friends who had to sleep without open fire.
Warmshade 16th, Airday
“Are you ready to leave?” Aeralyn was eager to escort Eccy and Taegen out of Actun as soon as possible. The latter was made visible by a disapprovingly looking elf. By now both of them felt quite unwelcome here.
They were quickly led to Gomm, Rad, and Flamthwynn, whose welcome seemed infinitely warmer than whatever it is they just experience in Actun.
“Hey, are there any ships in Actun that could take us to Antil?”
“Yes.” Aeralyn replied, and nothing more.
“Oook. Could you tell us about Stigrix? It's a settlement nearby?”
“Full of disgusting dog-men. Maybe they can give you a ride.”
“Oh, we have a funny guy here?”
“Fine, we will ride back.”
Aeralyn exhaled a sigh of relief, and went back into the dark forest.
Eccy once again led the party over the river, following the shallow pathway.
They reached Tenoch by Warmshade 18th, and decided to stay there until Sunstrong 1st—because that's when the market fair will be!
Sunstrong 1st, Airday
Rad spent his days telling stories of his amazing adventures to whomever wanted to listen—and many did! Villager of Tenoch donated nearly a thousand copper pieces, two sacks of potatoes, two chickens, one pig, one goose, one pheasant, and three days of animal feed. He also turned down seven marriage proposals due to insufficient dowry offered.
Gomm spent days at Bronze Lantern and foraging various herbs. He collected enough henbane to make two salves... Or one dangerous snack.
Flamthwynn and Eccy spent their time attempting to identify bottles the former had recovered from the fungi-men lair. The content of bottles were as follows:
- Blue-black liquid with the consistency of water.
- Chunky liquid.
- Blue liquid, highly viscous, almost a gel.
- This bottle contains an eye suspended in a clear liquid; the eyeball is bigger than the mouth of the bottle.
- The outside is painted with a scene of galloping horses.
- Clear water.
- Clear water; underneath this bottle is a scrap of parchment; stains render most of the note illegible; the few words that can be deciphered read “the finger is the key.”
- The bottle is painted black.
- Oak-brown solid or liquid.
- Brown-yellow; labeled as goblin urine.
- Clear; labeled as poison.
- Birch-brown solid or liquid.
Uncorking the one with chunky liquid had proven rather disastrous. Even a small whiff sent Flamthwynn screaming like a mad-man. He ran around Tenoch, ruining his reputation in the process, while Eccy tried to calm him down. Minn watched with disgust from his villa.
Taegen used the time to train the local militia. He often spared with Thulkor, Gof's adopted son and leader of the militia. He learned that many consider Minn crazy and don't believe in the cannibal clan threat.
On 1st, Tenoch was bustling with more activity than usual. There were elven traders from Actun, miners from Quitzit, merchants from Antil, and all kind of folk from region.
The party used the opportunity to seek new recruits for the Hydra Company. Four individuals stood out:
- Delphina the Spiteful, a titanic female warrior. At least a head bigger than next largest character. So ugly most people flinch when they see her. Loves slaughter.
- Sister Nadia, a halfling female. Came from far far west.
- Rondel the Fighter. Yellow hair, light blue eyes, double pupils. Claimed to be born this way.
- Woodruff Proctor, male cleric, interested in learning about the Antilian peninsula. Scholar on his way to Antil. Fears water and looks like goblin.
Despite her rough (understatement) appearance, everybody was attracted to Delphina. Alas, neither Rad nor Flamthwynn had enough coin to please her. Their offers were welcome as much as Eccy and Taegen were at Actun.
Finally, Taegen the Charming stepped forward and invited her for a friendly sparring session.
She gleefully accepted. Gomm, Rad, and Flamthwynn, experience gamblers they are, quickly started taking bets. 2:1 in favour of the big woman.
Delphina dropped her heavy greatsword to the ground. Taegen walked in and politely approached her. He was rewarded with a rib-shattering blow to the side of his body which sent him flying. He landed on his face and took a long nap.
Eccy observed in disbelief.
The gamblers found themselves in trouble now—only one person bet on Taegen. Sixteen others placed their money on Delphina. Luckily for them, enough money circulated that they walked away with a humble net profit.
Gomm the Entrepreneur made a deal with Delphine to hold more matches during the fair. He also hired her as his muscle. Consequently, he started sweating if he'll be able to pay her on time.
Eccy, being the only responsible character here, tended to downed Taegen. They retreated to bed early.
Rad, Flamthwynn, and Gomm decided to party long into the night, losing everything they've made on previous days. Ah, such is the adventurer's life.
Rhovar and Blutvarth
Warmshade 13th, Earthday
Rhovar and Blutvarth took all the treasure to Antil. They were to gather reinforcements, sell the treasure, and get proper healing for Blutvarth, before joining others in Tenoch.
Five giant wolves surprised them in the woods just after they had crossed the majestic river Highcourse. Two went for Rhovar, and other three for Blutvarth.
One missed Rhovar's horse, but the other managed to bite off its hind legs. Rhovar fell down and rolled, uninjured.
Blutvarth's horse was also ripped to shreds. He fall down, a bit less gracefully than Rhovar, since he was still reeling from the trauma of transforming into and from lizard form.
The wolves circled the duo, ignoring the horses at the moment. They were larger than the wolves any of them have encounter so far. Each had a different mane, and some even had tattoos.
“This is it Rhovar... Death or Glory.” Blutvarth, still reeling from the pain, stood up, unsheathed his sword, and pointed it at the wolves defiantly.
Rhovar says “I'm sorry!” and turns to run away.
Blutvarth gave Rhovar one of his signature grins, though the melancholy was visible through his façade of defiance.
“I've seen too much death. I can't bare face it again” Rhovar utters through tears. But the wolf circle was too tight—there was nowhere to go.
“You cannot run from your own, my friend.” Blutvarth assumed an offensive stance, sword pointed forward.
One of the wolves started... laughing?
“You really know how to pick them, Meza.” the largest one spoke in chaotic.
“I don't want the cowardly one. They always soil themselves.” the smallest added.
“What do you desire beast?” Rhovar blurted “Is it flesh? What about this treasure? Will it please you?”
None of this made sense to Blutvarth. He just heard wolves growl and Rhovar bark. The man had truly lost it.
“Flesh! Treasure! Dominion! All!” the largest one barked back at Rhovar.
“You are terrible masters, take our treasure and the flesh of our horse and leave us be, and I shall leave ye a sack of gold as a toll on the way back here!”
“Silly little thing, what else will you offer before we rip you to pieces?” the smallest one spoke again.
“How about your friend over there. Look at him; look how bravely he stands.”
“Maybe we ask him to join us, and have him feast on your flesh...”
“Not a bad idea, Meza!” the large quipped enthusiastically.
“I bid ye, terrible masters, I will give you two sack of gold and another horse if you let us leave. What name shall I call my new masters, oh loathsome ones!”
Blutvarth, could see the wolves circling him and bark back and forth with Rhovar.
“Where were you heading to?” the small one asked.
“The city of the giant Eagle, where I have much coin stowed away. This here treasure is only a trifle compared to our stores.”
“Oh! The feathery pilgrims! Juicy, juicy, juicy!” the fattest one chipped in.
Blutvarth stood motionless, keeping his guard up, following the wolves with tired eyes. Although he didn't understand what's going on, he's prepared to die and didn't want to lose face at the last minute.
“Here is the deal little one... you bring us five pilgrims, and we let you live.”
“How shall I find ye, oh fearsome ones”
“Come and lounge by the great river; we will find you.”
“What name should I call my new masters?”
“Wormmour Clan.” the largest barks. “Go now! Go and bring us back the feathery delicacies!”
“As you desire, oh mighty Wormmour!”
They allowed Rhovar to step out of the circle. And then they tightened around Blutvarth.
“And my friend masters, he knows the feathered ones, I will need him to trick them! Look at his wounds, he is tired old meat! As I speak your tongue he speaks theirs!”
The smallest wolf spoke once more: “I'm sure you will find a way, o snivelling one. Your friend will stay with us. Depending how fast you come back, we might return him in one piece... or his bones.”
“Six clerics! Let him leave and I shall bring you six!”
The fat wolf gasped!
“Go, go!” and they let both go, despite Meza's protests.
As they hurried away, Rhovar told Blutvarth everything. “By the hair on our chin my lad!”
Horseless, but full of adrenaline, the duo decided to head towards Kestizar, the closest safe settlement.
“A boat, a boat is what we need my lad! A days sail from Antil 'tis all. Then we'll summon up a horde and come back and skin those dogs!”
They reached Kestizar by the end of third watch. It's a large fishing village with wooden palisades. Most of the guards were wounded or bandaged. On their way to it, Rhovar and Blutvarth passed a number of trashed huts and houses. There was a heavy atmosphere in the air, and most of the people avoided them.
“Hail guardsmen! What assails the noble Town of Kestizar?” Rhovar said to the guards “Tell, what aid I can give you?”
Most of them tried to ignore him or just mumbled something.
“We've been harassed by forces of chaos for weeks now. They strike at night with horrible howls and fiery hell. It's been getting worse... Many here have lost their kin just two nights ago...” one of them said quietly.
Another, with bloody bandage running along his leg, chimed in “That limp-dick Karnalt refuses to send any help whatsoever, choosing to hide behind castle walls instead!”
“You want to help us? Seek Elidarth the Elder, she will know best.”
“Thank you brothers. Keep up your chin and your shield. I shall talk to Elidarth to see how I can aid you.”
Blutvarth was paler by the hour. He retched often, and had little strength to move around. Although Rhovar's cowardice shocked him at first, now he's more intrigued by his craftiness than anything.
Rhovar traded in his plate mail for two leather armours. Then he found a safe place to leave Blutvarth to rest while he sought transport to Antil. Alas, most of the locals ignored him.
“You remind them of Skandiks, my friend. Brutal, pillaging lot they are. Blond and pale, just like you. Have you heard what they did in Zothay? Unspeakable horrors.”
“My name is Lenden. I might be able to help you. I usually take advance pay, but if you give your word and promise 150 gold coin, I can fix you up.”
“I am of the North yes, at my birth I was lain on the altar of Grimnir along with the head of a stag, as is the custom of the first born of my tribe. We may seem savage to you southerners, but there is an honesty in the battle lust. Aye, I will take you up on your offer friend, I have a companion who is gravely hurt, we must make Antil with speed so he can be healed.”
“Lady Luck smiles upon you then. We are leaving tonight, when Howla and Vanis are at their highest.”
“Two moons, good omen, may Freya bless our journey. I shall see your fists are stuffed with gold when we make port. I shall collect my companion and meet you at the boardwalk.”
Rhovar informed Blutvarth, and then went to seek Elidarth the Elder. He found her at the recently pillaged part of Kestizar. There a group of people was going through the remains, cleaning up and sorting surviving belongings. Among them was a young woman dressed in simple clothes.
The warrior approached her with a raised hand, and reverberated “Hail from the many headed Hydra Company. Condolences for your loses, Elder. Let us pour out this offering and sing to their passing.” He presented the wine he picked up on the way. “What assails the town of Kestizar? Perhaps our mercenary company could aid you.”
After she finished giving out instructions, she took Rhovar on the walk towards breached palisades. She was courteous, but didn't mince words.
“Brigands and their monstrous servants: goblins and hobgoblins. They are surprisingly well coordinated. Tarrak is certain he shot down a few of them, but we couldn't find their corpses in the aftermath.”
“I'm worried they are merely probing our defences. I've requested help from Antil many times, but they always write to ask Lord Karnalt. And he hasn't offered any help, no matter how much we ask for it.”
“I planned to ride to Antil several days ago, but am afraid Tenoch might fall in my absence. The spirits are low and people are broken.”
“We are fishermen and jewelers, not warriors.”
“Tell me, blond fighter, do you still believe you can crush this villainous horde?”
“A sharp blade will cut. Karnalt has lost his whetstone. You ask me whether I think we can defeat this menace? Two days ago we smashed to pieces the skulls of forty degenerate fungal men in the bowls of the earth. Here I am, Grimnir sees me breath still. See here, the slime of their brains still mires my weapon. My answer then elder, aye, I will kill any foe before me, or die trying. A true warrior never forgets to sharpen his blade, for a blade has but one purpose; Death.”
“Tonight I sail to Antil to gather troops. Tenoch is besieged and I have promised to destroy their enemies. I shall stop here on the way for rest, do you know where the enemy camp? Do you know their numbers?”
“I'm quite confident that I recognised some of them. And If I have, then those were men led by Roenald, a knave and scoundrel who lairs in an abandoned keep south-east from here. But they were always a petty bunch, so I might be wrong...” Elidarth replied.
Rhovar scratched his blonde beard in thought. “You know him? Does he take prisoners? What do you think his reaction would be if you offered him parlay? If you offered him treasure, or slaves, in order to leave the town alone? Would he jump at the chance? I am brewing an idea.”
Elidarth thought for a moment before replying. “Earlier this year, perhaps Dewsnap or later, a group of men got drunk and started causing trouble. They were bragging about how they are unstoppable, and have recently vanquished a party of adventurers. Apparently, they were about to get rich from ransoming a priest of the Sun and a dwarf from some far away clan. When asked to leave they got violent, so we forced them out with clubs and spears. It is then they mentioned this Roenald figure. I thought that'd be the last of them...”
“I can tell you one thing—whomever was attacking us over the last month was not talkative at all... They all seemed... Possessed, in lack of better word.”
She heard out the details of Rhovar's plan, but ultimately hadn't bought it. “Wouldn't you rather garrison here, and then counterattack?”
Looking around, all he could see were recently constructed palisades which look like they'll fall over as soon as someone blows at them.
“How often do they attack? We can counter attack here. I will return as soon as I can with as many men as I can muster.” He offered advice on how to improve the palisade before leaving.
He found Blutvarth where he left him, albeit much paler. The young warrior was dying.
“I do not think I will make it to Antil alive my friend. If I could choose, I would like to die in a prettier place than this...”
“Don't talk that way. You're gonna make it!”
Lenden met them after midnight. He led the duo to a small boat with four hunched figures. A large bald man accompanied him.
“Aegan will accompany you to your home, to collect payment for services rendered.”
Then he looked at Blutvarth.
“You look horrendous boy. What are you suffering from?”
“I wish I knew, friend. I was grievously wounded during a fight, and one of my companions gave me a magical concoction. I underwent some kind of... transformation. Then I felt amazing, strong, renewed. But after a while, I was myself again. My weak, wounded, bloodless self. My companion attempted to give me another concoction, but my body violently reacted to it. I've been feeling worse and worse since.”
Aegan, in his failed attempt to whisper subtly, grunted something like “slit” and “throat” to Lenden.
“Now, now, what these fine men do in private is no concern of ours as long as they pay their dues.” Lenden said.
“My man here, who will also be your captain for the night, is slightly concerned with what you just shared.”
“Will you oblige if he politely asks you to jump out of the boat in case you... Transform again?”
“Whatever magic caused him to transform is long gone, but take my word I will end him if it happens again. Death is the transformation quickly approaching him.” Rhovar said stoically.
After some back and forth both loaded this not suspiciously looking boat at all. They reached Antil by sunrise.
Warmshade 14th, Fireday
They disembarked in the most dubious part of the Servant's Quarters, far outside of the walled portion of the city.
“Done. Pay up!” Aegan demanded forcefully.
“This is not the location. Go up at the docks, we have a warehouse with the coin, as I told your master. I will hold this banner aloft for the guards to see.” Rhovar retorted.
“We are in Antil, are we not? Lead the way.”
“You are already over charging me dog, we'll be landing on my personal jetty for the price I'm paying. Raise sail, dog.”
“The boat stays here, dog! Now walk or I'll gut you myself!”
Blutvarth reflexively put his hand on the pommel of his sword, stood up slowly; and calmly, though with laboured breath, said:
“There is no need to get angry, both of you. Aegan, my good man, there is plenty of gold at the end of this for you, but not if you do not guide us to the exact place we need to go. Even less if you attack us now. Unlike our coffers, our purses are empty; and death would be quite a meager reward for the service you have provided us, wouldn't it? Let us not spill blood here.”
“This is the furthest we get on sea!”
“Why are you so reluctant to go any further. You can be honest, I have fought alongside all kinds.”
“Ask Lenden. Enough of this play, will you lead to your place and pay up, or are we going to carve you up right here, right now?!”
Reluctantly agreeing, the duo made their way through the Servant's Quarters. “Streets” are nothing but packed dirt. Urine, feces, and what not, are stomped into dry canals running alongside the pathways. Most of the houses are simple hovels, with only a few being multi-storied.
There didn't seem to be much life bustling around, except occasional gangs of urchins, begging cripples, and shady looking figures who observe the duo with as much contempt as they had for them. The closer they got to the walls, the better did conditions become.
“Name and reason of visit?” the guards at the Gates of Antil inquired.
“Morean, visiting the Walled Bazaar.” Aegan grunts.
“Rhovar, officer of hydra company, returning to base.”
“Blutvarth, prospective member of hydra company, accompanying my officer.”
“Oh my frog!” Kallahan exclaimed, seeing Blutvarth. “You look gloriously sick! ... Though maybe that's not such a good thing in your case. “Let's get you some help. I'm a poor healer but I might know people who can help you.”
Rhovar spent next five days recruiting mercenaries. He managed to hire eight heavy footmen and twenty two archers who had just landed in Antil port. Death of their lord made them jobless, so they were quite enthused to meet Rhovar. Perhaps they would be of different disposition had they known they are about to meet some cannibal barbarians.
He also signed up new Hydra Company members: Blutvarth, Norwell, Brawley, and Mano Stern.
The pale warrior was dropped off with healers of the most impressive bosoms, per his dying wish.
Just before ending up in the Hydra Company, Norwell had tried all sorts of jobs in Antil: From working occasionally as a waiter in taverns to the really hard work of unloading cargo from ship at the docks.
However, accustomed to the life of the great city he could not part from certain luxuries, such as accommodation in a good inn, fine meals and beverages and flirting. Although that meant that he had a great time he soon could not afford this lifestyle and unfortunately at the same time he agreed to join a gang of smugglers who appreciated the fact that he worked at the docks already.
The plan went all wrong, many of the smugglers slain by an older gang claiming the docks as their own. Norwell barely escaping death and having even lost his money pouch and desperate to leave Antil before losing his life again hurriedly offered his services to Hydra Company hoping he would be send on a mission to the countryside. Current estate: Clothes, tools, sword, sling, a few rations and 41 copper pieces he had somehow forgotten inside his toolbox.
Brawley got very drunk, telling everyone who would listen that he is a favourite son of the sea god, he survived being marooned and came into possession of a magic lantern.
He was so boisterous he started dancing on the bar, that was when a man marched up to him and told him to kindly shut his mouth. Brawley started fist fighting with the man wrecking a large portion of the pub.
Unbeknownst to Brawley the man was an influential figure in the city, and the next morning Brawley found himself waking up in the stocks of Antil's square.
He spent days there, all manner of food thrown at him, animals using him as a urination station. Once he was released he looked for the quickest way out of Antil and happened upon his friends who told him about the advert for the Hydra company. And here he was, his neck and wrists still bruised. He now spits at any mention of Antil.
Little is know of Mano Stern, probably because he was the only lawful member.
Rhovar, Brawley, Norwell, Mano Stern, and their force of thirty mercenaries, set out for Tenoch on Warmshade 18th.
They arrived at noon of Sunstrong 2nd, waving their banners proudly.
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