Things had already looked bad for us at the start of the day, with our commander telling us with a resigned sigh that we “…were probably going to die horribly in the coming battle.” This was before breakfast as well, and things didn’t improve when we realised that they had run out of bacon. Skip forward to the now, and while I am not obviously scribbling notes in my book while the enemy descend upon us from the hills and trees, it is rather imprinted upon my minds eye as I recall the events later, sitting cold and wet hiding in the bushes wanting the moon to go behind the clouds to hide me further.
I suppose I had better start from the beginning – the point in which all able bodied men and women were enlisted to fight for the Emperor. Glorious we would be according to the recruiters, and long would people sing our praises. Turns out that not many people who are dead from a pointless war can actually sing that well funnily enough, and even the live ones know that singing praises about people that have fled from battle is not easily justified.
So after training, well, hitting a straw dummy with a stick for twenty minutes, we are chucked into a full scale battle. Only this is battle number twelve or so, and we have already lost eight of them, with the other four being debatable. Our commanders had ‘pressing engagements’ this day that took them anywhere but near the frontline, and the non-coms had boots and clothing more suited to flight than horseback or combat in the field. Then comes the afore mentioned speech, no breakfast, and our first battle ever, which turned quickly into defeat number nine.
I must admit being rather in awe of everything, and only didn’t run first myself as I was rooted to the spot in fear. Still, orders are orders, and so I ran with the rest of them, ran all day and into the night, and here I am, hiding in a bush.
I must have fallen asleep at some point, and awake with a start – caused by movement nearby that is clearly not animal, and then a friendly voice calls my name softly. Peering from the bushes I can see Idjit and Trixie, and standing up they beckon me over. Idjit calls out in bird song – a lesser crested variety of the marsh bird native to the area, and soon a dozen or so refugees move from deeper in the undergrowth to mill around us.
Trixie had her head screwed on properly by using Idjit has a bodyguard and tracker rolled into one, and I greeted her warmly. All three of us had been stuck next to each other in the front rank – the warriors used up long ago in previous defeats. A fearsome sight would have greeted the enemy had they reached us as Trixie, a Dwarven Enchantress, myself – Tenpast the Druid, and Idjit the Ranger stood together with peasants armed with cudgels, not 24 hrs ago on a thankfully now distant plain.
Idjit continues to track, and by nightfall we have grouped with a larger force of ex-army troops and tens times that amount of refugees. We are told that the large city of Cillamar lies some eight days of onwards travel, and so we get going.
We are not troubled during our journey, and our numbers swell, with both ex-army and refugee sizes doubling. There is no sign of any of the other recruits from our unit, and we don’t spend too much time looking them really, as we hardly knew them for a start, or they are bound to end up in the city anyway, or be dead and then it doesn’t matter.
The days of travel passed with no real interest either – the refugees had nothing that we could win during any of our gambling tricks, and the ex-army either ignored us for being new recruits or knew us, sorry, knew Trixie’s disarming practice of keeping extra cards in her bodice, well enough not to participate. I tell a lie – we did spend a whole day debating the advantages of a Wolf over that of a Spider Monkey.
As a compromise, I returned one night from a scout in the woods with a large mottled wolf in tow, and named him Spider Monkey, more from the fact that Spider Monkeys are not native to these parts, and politely ignoring the fact that I cannot climb trees particularly well to find one if they were. Spider Monkey settled in well though, and helped us alienate ourselves from the others even more that we already had managed to accomplish ourselves, which was no mean feat.
By the eight day, we could see the castle walls in the distance, and the hours pass as we close in on them. Pretty soon we are within a stone’s throw of the main gates, but hang back slightly when we see the Cities Guards checking each and every person that tries to enter. A few are let inside, but mostly people are pointed to a large shanty town at the base of the walls, many tents and ramshackle huts built over what looked like a few years.
Now that we see that the officials are not too corrupt, we step up and are informed to pay a 20 percent entry tax based on the amount of gold we are carrying. We come clean, and are thoroughly inspected just to make sure. Although Trixie and I get off lightly as such, poor old Idjit is ‘robbed’ of 36 gold coins! I fear we must find a new way to enter this town, or we will be joining the beggars in the dirty huts below. With a cheery wave to the poor families crying in the mud we are let in, but only after a warning regarding Spider Monkey and its lack of head should it cause any problems.
We are given some friendly advice from the guards, namely stay away from strangers, especially strangers armed and in an area called the Warrens, and that a good inn is not too far away, called the Slumbering Drake.
We head into town, and the directions lead us to the inn, where we are greeted by a pretty innkeeper, named Lady Shontessa. While myself and Trixie manage to persuade Idjit to pay for our lodgings “…as we are so terribly poor….” Then, seeing as how it will end up costing Idjit quite a lot of gold to do this, we do our utmost to get him a job so that he can continue to pay for our board and lodgings. Lady Shontessa tells us that the guard may have openings, and so after a spot of lunch, we decide to head for the market. Bidding farewell to Lady Shontessa, I kiss her hand, while Trixie rubs the ladies hand on her beard to Lady Shontessa’s dismay.
During the market trips, we argue over the exorbitant price of sausages, and I buy a harness for Spider Monkey so that I can keep her on a better leash within town. Oh, and also to prevent sausage related attacks as I do not need to guess very hard at Trixie’s interest in the meat of Pigs combined with the congregation of small children wanting to pat the ‘big doggie’.
We then trot off to the guard house, and despite our best efforts to cause mischief, they were all far too professional, but will still manage to persuade Idjit to take a guards job. Well someone has to pay the bills, and I don’t think we will get much pimping Trixie as a bearded courtesan. We continue to annoy the local guards long enough until they get someone more senior, and finally meet someone called Aurstan, who humours us to allow us all to put our names down for guard’s jobs.
Feeling pleased with ourselves on a job well done, we head back past the beggars and townsfolk and head back to the inn for some well earned supper. When we arrive, Lady Shontessa tells us that we have a job if we want it, and although it does not pay any real coin, we will earn her appreciation, and stay at the inn for free.
Although not the best job, at least Idjit does not have to pay for us anymore, meaning of course we will need other ways to spend his money, but employment is employment. Apparently some children have gone missing while wandering outside the castle walls, and I ask Lady Shontessa for items of clothing to help Spider Monkey track them, but am frowned at when I mention “..underwear would be better.”
We leave some cash with the fine lady so that we will not be taxed again when we re-enter, and soon have Spider Monkey heading off into the hills as he picks up the scent. Idjit shows his tracking skills and points out a large black rock atop a hill, partly in shadow of a copse of trees, and Spider Monkey’s tracking seems to take us on a path to it.
We come over a low rise, and spy a wagon with its wheel off, and a group of robed travellers attempting to fix it on. We are sceptical about them, and stay at shouting distance as they try and get us to help. We shout helpful encouragement, such as “…try unloading the wagon before opening it,” and then have the idea of taxing them as they were heading for the town. We are after all newly appointed members of the Cities Guard, well in our eyes anyway, and so would be doing them a public service to relieve them of the 20% in taxes. A glint in the bushes catches my eye, and as I cry out a warning, the travellers rush into attack us…
Spider Monkey savagely catches one by the leg as it runs in, and I cast Obscuring Mist to confuse the now armed bandits. Trixie causes one to go to sleep with a spell, and Idjit evens the battle up by hitting a bandit twice with his claws, killing him instantly. People including me miss each other in the fog, and I hear another bandit rush in to attack.
The attack in the fog continues - weird echoes of clanging metal and involuntary jumping as something moves into your vision. Another bandit, probably the crossbowman, runs into the fog, and after whacking me with his sword, I run out again. I fail to see a prone bandit at my feet, helpfully tripped up by Spider monkey, while Idjit continues to tear another attacker in half. Trixie falls at some point in this battle, a sword hit flat across her head knocking her unconscious. Spider Monkey trips another to fall at my feet, and between the two of us, we dispatch the last bandit with a cheery “…back to the earth my friends.”
With my vinegar and brown paper, I patch up Trixie enough for her to wake, and we fix the wagon and load up all of the bandits gear. We strip their armour away as well, and dump the bodies in the long grass. We also find the discarded crossbow, which increases our stash of bandit goodies by at least 15gp by anybodies market.
Settling down, we then turn the wagon towards the black rock, and start heading that way. Within a few hours of travelling, night approaches and we settle down in a small hollow offering some shelter while avoiding sky lining ourselves to anyone watching the area. A wolf with scary eyes appears not long after Spider Monkey had alerted us, and within minutes another has appeared. The two red-eyed wolves move back out of the shadows for a period of time long enough for us to think they have gone, but quickly dart in and attack and swiftly kill our faithful steed.
As they rush in again, I get a better look at them, and know that they are Wargs - I try and scare them with a spell, but my scarecrow impression does not work and is shrugged off. Idjit strikes one a fine blow, but is severely weakened by a return blow from the lead Warg. Rather than have two attack us, we all concentrate on one at a time, and with Spider Monkey powerfully biting one on the leg, I cast Crystal Shard into its face, killing it.
The other has bitten Trixie and Idjit once more, and is set on fire by Trixie with a oil flask. The fire merely singes the fur sadly, but with Trixie throwing daggers from her bra, Idjit slamming his claw into its side and the last remaining Warg climbing over its burnt dead mate, it decides to run off.
Thankfully the rest of the night passes without incident, and I bury the horse as best I can.
During our morning travels, I ask Idjit whether his trainers went on and on about the dangers of Owlbears in the same way my tribe elders had. Seeing as how every tracking skill or hunt or scouting mission mentioned them at least three or four times, it’s one of those things that stick in your head as you grow up. Trouble is, I nor anyone else of the tribe had seen one in years, merely pointing at bear like scratches on trees and saying “…mind the Owlbear, its bite is worse that its twit-ter-woo…”. So then, what do we find as we scout onwards?
Owlbear scratches. I soon am spending more time scanning the skyline for flying bears, and trying to appear not to be a mouse, but suffer not in my tracking skills as the tracks could be followed by a blind sloth, leading up to the black rock not a few hundred yards away.
We soon approach the rock, and find it to be at least twenty feet high, and covered in runes, which Trixie says are Gnomish. The obvious tracks in the dust and dirt disappear and we spend quite some time trying to find them again, with Spider Monkey finally finding them once more.
The runes apparently read “Praise the Deep Delver”, and “Secret”. After poking it about a bit, there is movement, and a door opens before us, leading down into the darkness. I cast Light on Idjit’s claw, and he leads us down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs a room is littered with boxes and rubble, and within the rubble a skull can be seen with a bright red gem for an eye. With us all badly wounded and lacking the skills to spot a trap obvious or otherwise, we leave it be, and hope it will be there later when we feel better.
Another corridor leads from the room, and so we move down it, once more with Idjit in the lead. It is not long, and a door can be seen within the distance of our vision. As we approach it, Idjit suddenly drops as the floor beneath him disappears before closing over him. We hear the Ranger call out, and then a splash as he hits a body of water, before the two of us look at each other in the silence.
Idjit has turned his hasty fall into a pretty good dive, and as he drops into the water and begins to swim for the shoreline. Something whizzes past him in the water more than once, and as he climbs out he can see a spiked object hit the ledge as he climbs out. Trixie and I with nowhere to go shrug and step onto the false floor, and I drop like a stone and start to walk along the bottom.
I can see a small spherical object, covered in spikes which looks dangerous enough even if I was not already underwater, and walk as fast as I can away from it. It swells and expands as I watch it, and spiked tips are expelled at force from its centre, one of which catching me in the leg. I manage to drag myself out of the water where Spider Monkey and Trixie are already waiting, helping me out, just in time for us to hear a clattering of noise as someone approaches us from the stairs that disappear around a corner. Brilliant.