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“So there we were. Our entire platoon had been wiped out. No one left but me and Georgie here,” recounted one of the strangers. It had taken several rounds of ale to loosen their tongues. General suspicions had been allayed by the groups retelling their own war stories, with some creative revisions. The two were former soldiers from the now defunct army of Pyttzberg. When the kingdom fell, the army was disbanded along with the remnants of their unit. Many of their former comrades in arms turned mercenary or outlaw to survive.
“So what happened next,” asked Gimm starting to bore of from their constant stories of battles and the glory of the former kingdom. Tycus had slipped out earlier to check the wanted posters posed outside the Sheriffs office.
“Well that was close to the end of the war. We were recalled back to the capital to reform shortly before the fall. It was a dark time,” lamented Georgie into his mug. He set it down and picked up his cards again peering at the others.
“Yes it was,” sympathized Tyllyn. The group played cards in silence for a while.
“Your buddy is taking a long time in the john,” remarked Georgie standing up. “Or he went home. I need to do a little business myself. I’ll be right back.” Gimm shared look with his companions as Georgie left. Rickie winked back which make Gimm even more nervous.
“Your deal,” Gimm slid the cards over to Georgie’s companion. He began shuffling and stopped. With a flash of speed he grabbed Rickie’s wrist and held him aloft by his arm.
“Thought you could pick my pocket huh?” he fumed through clenched teeth pointing a dagger at him. Rickie simply shrugged, or the closest equivalent he could attempt.
Tyllyn chimed in, “Give him a break, he didn’t mean anything by it. Gnomes are just curious by nature. He goes through our pockets all the time.”
“Honest, he really didn’t mean anything,” added Arris. “Remember that time he took Gimm’s canteen. And then he put it back full of water.”
“Waste of good ale if you ask me,” remembered Gimm. “What about the time he stole your boot straps. You had to walk around barefoot the rest of the day.”
“Theft is for commoners,” remarked Comm. “I say you teach him a lesson.”
“Really Comm? In case you hadn’t noticed, we are all ‘commoners’,” replied Tyllyn. Comm remained silent.
“Look, I dont care what he does to you, but you tell your friend here…” Georgie’s companion began, turning his blade back to Rickie who was mumbling something with his eyes closed. The mumbling stopped and Ricky’s eyes popped open. Immediately the angry expression washed away. “… that I love him!” He gave Ricky a huge bear hug.
The gnome, relieve that he wouldn’t be eviscerated now worried he would be crushed to death.
“I love you too. You can put me down now,” he managed to whisper.
“Oh of course,” he carefully placed Ricky back on the his chair. “Did I hurt you? Im so sorry. I just get so excited sometimes.”
“No I’m fine,” Ricky straightened his jacket and checking the spoons.
“So, my friend, tell us what you two have been up to lately and what you were talking about earlier when one of you said 50,000 gold.” requested Gimm. The man didn’t reply, his eyes narrowed a bit and the angry expression returned to his face.
“Thats not how charm spells work,” whispered Arris to him. “He will only do what Ricky asks him.”
“I know, I know,” he whispered back then spoke up. “I meant to say, Ricky here loves to hear stories of adventure and would enjoy hearing the real excitement you two have been up to.”
“I do?” Ricky asked still looking at his spoons. The man turned to him expectantly. “Oh yeah, that’s right. I love em. Tell me about that thing that he said.”
He began to explain how after the war they joined the resistance movement trying to restore Pyttzberg. They had spent the last few years recruiting sympathizers and gathering funds to raise and army. He was here with Georgie tonight to discuss and plan a rather lucrative heist involving the Wickle army payroll. The payroll for each of the various outpost were normally transported in secret, however Georgie found out when a sizable transfer was to take place and the approximate route they would take.
Outside the sheriff’s office, Tycus scanned the wall of wanted posters once more. He was still catching his breath from his sprint here. The light outside the office was dim but Tycus was able to find what he was looking for, two bounties fitting the description of the recent visitor to the Sleepy Whale. He tore the posters from the wall and run back towards the inn.
As he rounded the last bend he nearly collided with someone in the street. “Wooa! Slow down there friend,” said Georgie, catching him is before he fell backwards. “Oh, its you. Where have you been?”
“Umm, I was just using the out house.”
“The john is that way,” replied Georgie suspiciously, pointing in the other direction.
“Well I umm, I prefer the one back that way.”
“Right.” Georgie grabbed Tycus and spun him around, holding him in a choke hold. Tycus struggled in vane for a moment or two but his grip held firm. Georgie quickly rifled through Tycus’ pockets stopping when he found the posters. “What is this? Fancy yourself a bounty hunter?”
“Its not what you think.”
“I’ll bet. Lets just have a chat with your friends,” he said stuffing the posters into his pocket. He released Tycus at the same time poking a dagger into the small of his back. “No quick moves or they will be your last, now walk!”
“So thats it. Georgie knows the rest. He’s the one who found out about the payroll to begin with. We were planning to round up a little muscle and ambush them at the Coal Creek crossroads. 50 thousand gold will be a huge help to the cause. Oh here’s Georgie now.”
Tycus and Georgie stood in the doorway. Georgie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What are you doing you idiot? You don’t know these people!” he shouted.
“Yea, but they are friends of Rickie. We can trust them.”
“Who in dragon’s name is Rickie?” asked Georgie. Rickie waved is hand with a smile. “The gnome! You simple minded fool, he must have cast a charm on you or something.”
“No, not Rickie,” with a puzzled look, he turned from Georgie to Rickie who shrugged but didn’t say anything.
Georgie push Tycus to the floor and charged headlong at the gnome. The thrust of his dagger was deflected by his companion who immediately wrestled him to the ground. The two exchanged punches on the floor knocking over chairs and tables.
Gimm helped Tycus from the ground. The rest of the group gathered around the two combatants. John rushed over to break up the fight.
Georgie got to his feet, “Snap out of it!” he shouted slapping his companion across the face. His companions blinked for a moment or two then dropped his fists.
“Sorry Georgie, I don’t know what came over me.”
“I do, its this lot here. They got it in for us. I caught that one with these,” he said pushing a pair of crumpled paged into hand and picking up his dagger. His companion looked at the familiar tattered pages for a moment.
“I still say they got my eyes wrong,” he tossed aside the posters and drew a short sword from under his cloak. They faced the assembled group.
“Your move,” warned Georgie. John took a look at the weapons and fled out the front door in the direction of the sheriffs office.
“They’re both wanted men, 500 each,” Tycus said to the group.
After a quick exchange of glances, Gimm positioned himself between them and the doorway. Arris, Tyllyn and Rickie stepped forward, weapons drawn. With a scream, Georgie charged towards the door. His companion swung his sword at Arris. She stepped back quickly, raising her hands. Sparks danced across her fingers as she chanted her spell. A column of rippling air shot from her hands just as her assailant dive for the floor. With a clap of thunder main window of the inn blew out onto the street. Gimm shielded his eyes from the flying glass just as Georgie reached him. He spun sideways attempting to parry, but the dagger plunged deep in his side. Gimm screamed in pain and bashed Georgie across the temple sending him stumbling backwards with his bloody dagger in his hand.
“Submit or perish!” thundered Comm his eyes blazing with a red glow. He towered over the two men scrambled backwards across the floor. Comm growled loudly. The two stared in fear, tossing their weapons down in front of the demonic apparition.
“Tie them up,” said Gimm, holding his side, blood dripping between his finger. Tyllyn approached him reciting a spell while holding out his hands. A blue halo flows over his fingers as he touched Gimm’s side. He took a deep breath then looked down to see smooth skin through the gory hole in his shirt.
“Thanks… again.” he said.
“No problem,” replied Tyllyn.
It was shortly after that John reappeared with Sheriff in tow. He stared at the wreckage. “Look at this place! I’m ruined!”
The town of Homeville lay at the end of a stretch of pastures and fields along Rouge road where it crossed the border. It had been nearly three years since the conclusion of the war and only now were there signs of recovery. Most of the surrounding countryside had been devastated by one army or another. They came and went like locusts, devouring any food stocks and carrying off anything of value. In the past year the overgrown fields were one by one being reclaimed by tall stalks of waving grain.
Most residents simply left during the war out of desperation and hunger, never returning. The remaining inhabitants were a collection of gritty, stubborn, opportunistic irregulars and transients in need of a quiet place to remain anonymous. Although the town was part of the Kingdom of Bogg its citizens felt deserted. Short of demands for taxes, the towns folk rarely received anything from Bogg. Now that commerce was flowing between Bogg and Wickle to the north, there were travelers on Rouge road once more. Strangers have always been a common site to the townsfolk, but most have learned to mind their own business.
Midway through town sits a small tavern, its windows lit with a warm, inviting glow to anyone in the chilly fall air. Above the door swings half a sign. In tall letters can be read the word “Sleepy” below a picture of a large tail fin rising from the waves of an ocean scene. John the owner had struggled to keep the place going during the war. Fixing the sign was a low priority to him despite the need to explain it to those passing through. Everyone else knew it as the tavern as the Sleepy Whale.
He stood behind the long oak bar reminding himself to mind his own business. He was a tall, lean, clean shaven man with long white hair tied behind his head.
“Another friend?” he asked the hooded figure at the end of the bar. The figure looked up as if he hadn’t heard the question. John waggled an empty mug while pointing in the direction of the taps. The figure nodded, sliding his mug forward.
As he poured an empty mug slid in front of him from the other end of the bar.
“Another for me too John”, came a familiar voice. He looked over at Pugmorn with a raised eyebrow. The gnome let out a small hiccup and broad smile in response.
“He’s a regular, John,” he reminded himself quietly with a sigh and smiled back. “Coming right up Master Pugmorn.”
He filled and returned each mug before returning to the table of card playing patrons. They had been there for over an hour. It warmed his heart to hear cheerful banter fill his inn, not to mention the good it was doing for his coffers. They had already gone through four rounds.
“Another round gentlemen?” he asked. A dwarven lass across the table set down her cards and cleared her throat. He blushed. She scowled at him, her face framed in long dark braids that contrasted her gray leather armor.
“Oh, I beg your pardon Miss. I didn’t… I mean I…”, he struggled a moment before gathering his wits. “I’ll bring you a mug of my best ale to show no hard feelings”, her expression remained unchanged. “On the house of course. Do you care for Mossy Rock?”
“Mossy Rock!” exclaimed her companion, interrupting her response. “You have Mossy Rock?” A pair of eyes sparkled behind a full red beard.
“Aye sir, a full cask”, he replied to the dwarf on her left.
“Well bring it on man. A round of my father’s best for everyone!”
“Sir?” he asked.
“Yes, yes, the best ale in the land. Crafted by my family for generations. I’m Gimm Bismuthchisler”, Gimm said expectantly.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance sir,” said the inns keeper.
Gimm stared a moment then replied, “You’ve not heard of the Bismuthchisler brewery?”
Without missing a beat John replied, “Oh you’re THAT Gimm Bismuthchisler. I never dreamed of meeting a dwarf of such renowned and in my humble tavern too. You do me a great honor sir.”
The toothy grin parted the mass of red hair covering the dwarf’s puffed chest. A quiet chuckle went through the group at the table. Gimm ignored them all, stroking his beard.
“A round of Mossy Rock then?” asked John, beginning to walk away, happy to finally be rid of it.
“None for me,” said the lady in gray armor. “I had enough of that piss water in my youth. Give me something with kick.”
“Piss water?!” blurted Gimm, turning to her, his eyes blazing. He strained to utter another word as his companions burst into laughter.
“Relax Gimm,” she smiled broadly. “I’m just pulling your beard, it’s not really piss water.”
“Oh?” Gimm gazed back at her.
“Of course not. Piss would improve the taste,” she laughed, joining a fresh outburst from those at the table. John bit his lip and tried not to smile.
“Arris, so help me,” muttered Gimm, his face as red as his beard. His face suddenly softened and he smiled once more in John’s direction. “My good bar keep. Bring me a full measure of that fine ale and a round of piss water for my so called friends.”
“Yes sir,” he replied happy to leave the group once more.
Back at the bar Pugmorn had finished his mug. He was short for a gnome with a pudgy wrinkled face and short blond hair peppered with black streaks. He was quietly eyeing the hooded man at the other end of the bar. The man looked like trouble.
“Just in time,” he said as John rounded the bar. Pugmorn slid his mug forward. “Another if you please.” John refilled the mug, placing it back in front of him.
“There you go Master Pugmorn. Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes actually,” he slurred a bit. “What’s his story?”
John followed the gnomes gaze. “Many years of tending bar have taught me to be cautious of asking too many questions,”
“Hmmm,” replied the gnome taking a long pull from his drink. “Well now the mystery has deepened.” John turned to see a new shape at the door. The new figure approached the one at the bar. They exchanged a few words then moved to a quiet table.
John began to follow to take their order when the gnome spoke up once more. “Good night John,” he said holding out several coins. “You’ll have to tell me their secrets tomorrow.”
“Good night Master Pugmorn,” he watched the gnome climb down from his stool and make his way towards the door. He stopped half way. For a moment John thought Pugmorn would be sick. Instead he let out a loud belch then continued on his way. “Good night you silly drunk,” he said to himself and made his way over to the newly occupied table.
“I’ll see your five and raise you another five,” Tycus said, staring across the table at Arris. He had been playing most of the night and based on her tells was pretty sure she was bluffing.
“Call,” she said, throwing a handful of coins into the pot.
“How about you Comm?” Tycus asked the leather clad tiefling sitting next to him.
Comm thumped his tail on the ground. “This game is for peasants,” he muttered, throwing his cards on the table.
“Looks like its just you and me Tycus,” spoke Arris. “Three dragons, beat that.”
Tycus frowned for a moment. He was sure she was bluffing. Better even the odds. He began to stretch and then reached into his sleeve. The was nothing there.
“Looking for this?” Arris held up a card. Tycus sighed, he needed more practice. If a dwarf could best him what would the guild think. Arris scooped up her coins while Gimm began to shuffle the cards.
“Sure you wont join us Tyllyn?” he asked the tall half-elf.
“No I prefer to watch thank you,” he quietly replied.
He began dealing another hand when a voice cried out, “50 thousand in gold!” He stopped mid deal and slowly peeked in the direction of a table with two men. One stared intently at the other who was looking around nervously.
“Did you guys hear that?” Gimm asked.
Tycus licked his lips. “I did,” he replied.
“Those guys must be loaded,” said Arris.
“Shhh,” warned Gimm.
“Dont shush me!” she glared back at him.
“Fine, but keep it down.”
“I play for glory, not something as common as money,” dismissed Comm.
“You can have my glory if I can have your money.” quipped Tycus. The tiefling snorted in response.
“Let’s invite them over,” said Arris getting up.
“Where are you going? Where is she going?” asked Gimm.
“She’s going to talk to those guys over there,” said a new unseen voice matter of factly.
“Ricky!” exclaimed Tyllyn. “Where have you been?”
“Collecting a few bobbles,” said a gnome with bright green hair climbing onto Arris’ empty chair. He stood up and opened his coat revealing an assortment of spoons. “Anyone want to buy a spoon?”
Everyone except Gimm chuckled. He was busy concentrating on Arris’ quietly mumbling something.
“I don’t see whats so funny,” Arris said to the two laughing men. At least that’s what she thought she said. What they actually heard was “cluck, cluck, cluck”. The more she protested, the more they laughed. She finally turned and left in disgust.
“Those guys are jerks,” said Arris returning to the table. “Get out of my chair Ricky.” The gnome jumped down.
“No luck, huh?” asked Gimm.
“No, they just laughed at me.”
“They must think chickens are funny,” said Ricky.
“What did you just say?” she stared at him gritting her teeth.
“You were making chicken sounds. I guess they think chickens are funny.”
“I wasn’t… “ Arris stopped mid sentence and looked at Gimms’ snickering face. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” protested Gimm, trying to keep a straight face.
“Ugh, you ass,” she crossed her arms across sat down in a huff and glared at him.
“Ill give it a try,” said Tycus. “No help please,” he pointed a finger at Gimm who was now laughing openly. Tycus left to try his luck.
(To Be Continued)
Music lilted over the crowd largely ignored. Only a few dancing guests and a scruffy man near the bar belting out lyrics seemed to be paying any attention. The tiefling playing the mandolin on stage in his formal blue tunic grimaced in the direction of the human. The man sang all the louder in response. A gnome in monk attire looked up from his drink at the change in acoustics. He slowly blinked at the source then emptied his goblet and wondered off to find a refill.
By the buffet table a pair of dwarves were quietly arguing, their spilling tankards punctuating each exchange.
Their discussion abruptly ended with the lady yelling “For the last time, I don’t shave my beard!”
The nearby guests stared curiously in their direction. A flash of red colored her cheeks before she crossed her arms, gave a big huff and walked away with her head held high.
A halfling dressed in a variety of furs paused to witness the ruckus. He returned to his detailed explanation of broad swords with a tall half-elf cleric who, realizing he missed his chance to escape, sighed and continued to nod politely. Their discussion was again briefly interrupted when a dancing drabonborn in a full length ball gown nearly tripped over the halfling.
She stared down at the halfling, “Sorry” she smiled, showing a row of sharp teeth.
The halfling smiled back nervously. “Quite alright I’m sure.” he blurted back. The cleric quietly turned and walked through the crowd in the direction of the bar.
The chamberlain surveyed the spring festival. His unease was abating. Despite a few outbursts by this crowd of commoners, the festival was turning out to be a success. He had of course already taken precautions, directing the attendants to begin watering down the wine and ale.
The Baron himself had yet to make an appearance but the chamberlain wasn’t surprised. The tradition of the spring festival dates back nearly a century to the Baron’s grandfather Eldon Peck the Third. He was considered a man of the people however Eldon Peck the Fifth was not and rarely attended the festival. He did at least continue the tradition.
Tradition was suddenly interrupted by the sounds of shouts and a clatter of metal. The crowd turned in unison as a massive ogre in full plate armor stormed into the ballroom.
“Why wasn’t I invited!”, he bellowed at the shocked faces. No one moved or spoke. “Well!” he demanded. With a snarl he bolted towards the crowd which quickly parted. He continued through the crowd pausing slightly to knock aside the red velvet rope that blocked the hallway to the residence.
A murmur ran through the crowd to be silenced once more by a pair of guards running into the ballroom. They stopped long enough to survey the scene before following the ogres path. A guard stopped at the entry of the hallway to prop back up the velvet rope, a small silver sign swinging at its center. The crowded began to murmur again.
“Whats going on?” came a voice from the buffet table. The dwarf was hopping up and down, his red beard popping to the rhythm. He stopped long enough to growl in frustration.
“Can you see whats happening?” asked his former companion. She was doing her own hopping dance.
“Get on my shoulders and tell me.”, he said.
“I see some guards by the door. They are setting up a rope.”, she said a few moments later from her new vantage point.
“A rope? What for?”, he asked.
“Beats me.”, she said. “Wait, there is a halfling headed that way.”
The fur covered halfling approached the sign. He squinted at it, “Fuuurr…. Fuurrrbb… Furrb..”.
“Forbidden”, said a voice behind him. The halfling spun around to see the face of the half-elf he was speaking to earlier.
“It says, Forbidden”, replied the cleric.
A grin spread across his face. “Forbidden means fun, right?”.
“Well actually…”, The half-elf began but the fur covered man was already ducking under the rope. A few moments later he glanced towards the good many guests looking in his direction. With a nervous smile he cleared his throat and gracefully stepped over the rope disappearing from view.
“He just went down the hallway too.”, narrated the lady dwarf.
“I still don’t know what happening!”, replied her companion. “But is sounds like the really party is headed in that direction. Lets go.”
The pair unstacked and made their own departure from the ballroom followed shortly by a curious dragonborn, her gown fluttering behind her.
Across the room the scruffy human, taking advantage of the distraction, slipped into the cloak room. Quietly he riffled through the coats, finding couple of coin purses and a dagger that someone snuck into the festival. He was about to leave when a fine blue coat with gold piping caught his eye. With a smirk he tried it on for size.
Just outside the cloak room the gnome monk was still looking for a refill. With all the racket and the waiters pouring watered drinks the gnome decided to seek better options. Ensuring that no one was looking, he quietly slipped into the kitchen. Once there he began sipping any jug or decanter that looked promising. A minute or two later he found what he was after, a large jug of wine that hadn’t yet been watered down. For a moment he looked at his goblet, shrugged and tossed it away. He grabbed the jug with both hands and began to drink deeply.
Meanwhile in the residence hallway the halfling and half-elf were cautiously looking for the guards or ogre.
“Do you think they went this way?” Asked the halfling.
Just then a scream echoed through the hallway.
“Definitely.” said the half-elf.
The halfling looked across the hallway at a suit of armor whose hands rested upon a sword. The halfling pulled free the longsword from the posing armor and frowned at its poor condition. Still he felt better now that he was armed. With a glance back at the tall half-elf he motioned him to follow. The two proceed to a door at the end of the hallway. Through the partially open door a set of book shelves covering the wall and surrounding a large desk could be seen.
The halfling took a deep breath before kicking open the door and rushing in. Inside the halfling stopped short at the sight in front of him. The baron was standing upon small stool while a seamstress with a large pincushion was hemming his cuffs.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?”, he demanded. “Go back to the party before I have you thrown out of here!”
The two bowed slightly then backed out of the room. In the hallway they two were joined by a pair of dwarfs.
“Hey, whats going on?”, asked the duo.
“Nothing that way,” replied the halfling.
The group began walking back towards the ballroom in time to see a dragonborn lady coming from the direction of the ballroom ascend the grand staircase. They briefly looked at each other before deciding to follow.
From behind them the Tiefling bard with the mandolin asked, “What did I miss?”
“Not much.” replied the dwarf with the red beard.
Up stairs the dragonborn was busy opening doors, performing her own search. She was just about to close the door to an empty room when she heard a noise. Cautiously she approached the banging and bumping coming from within a small paneled door set in the wall. Abruptly the noise stopped. She waited a moment before throwing open the door. She jumped back as a gnome in a monk’s robes tumbled out of the dumb waiter.
“Whats going on in here?” asked a voice behind her. She spun around to an odd assortment of party guests.
“Nothing.” she replied showing her smile.
“Looking for a little refreshment.” said the monk behind her sitting up and holding out an empty mug to emphasize his point.
“Any sign of the ogre?” asked a halfing.
As if in response, there came a soft creak from within the chifferobe by the wall. They group turned towards the sound.
“Do you think he could be in there?” asked the tiefling.
“Are you kidding? I wouldnt fit in there.” replied the halfling.
“Sssshhhh!” warned the dragonborn as she prepared to open the doors.
In the ballroom the scruffy man poked his head out from the cloak room. Sensing that the coast was clear he made his exit trying to look inconspicuous while wearing three stylish coats and a cape. He made his way to the front door, thanking the other guests and servants along the way. As he reached for the door he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked back to see a guard standing over him.
“Oh hello there.” he smiled. The guard smiled back.
“Is there something I can do for you officer?”
“You look rather warm.” he replied.
“Oh no sir, I’m fine. Its a cold evening.” said the scruffy man convincingly.
“Uh huh.” replied the guard suspiciously.
“Officer I wonder if you can help me.”
“Oh, hows that?” he asked.
“I found ten gold coins on the floor in the ballroom this evening. I would hate for the owner to be missing them. Could you see them to their rightful owner?” said the scruffy man holding out the coins.
“I seem to recall a guest who said they had lost some money. Yes I think I can help you. But I seem to recall the guest saying that they lost 20 gold coins. You didn’t happen to find more than just these did you?” he said holding out his hand as if waiting for a tip.
The scruffy man narrowed his eyes at the guard. He reached into his pocket to pull out more coins when he felt the edge of the dagger he found earlier. Gritting his teeth he gripped the hilt and in a single motion stabbed the guard in the eye, turned and fled through the front door. Screams from the guard and terrified guests filled the hall.
[Real Time: 20 min, Game Time: 1 hr]