Spoiler: 6. Transit Permit
We were dumped uinceremoniously on the other side of the river and went about finding the road south. There was no telling whether Samath had come up near Dunkelheim to finish the job or not. Certainly, he wouldn't have taken my "if you want me gone that bad, I'll just go" at face value. Inevitably, obviously I was hiding in the shadows somewhere, waiting for him to let his guard down so I could bring my plans forward and usurp his position. I'mm a drow; I certainly wouldn't have been telling the truth to him. How insulting that I'd think him that gulliable. With drows - especially with him - "the truth" was something that the other side wanted you to think, when the reality waas something completely different. Thankfully, we managed to give both him and Dunkelheim a wide enough berth and, as we trekked towards the border with Grumfell, we didn't encounter him.
We were greeted at the border post by a goblin with white-stained chain armour and a look about him that suggested he took far too much pride in his work. After a lengthy questioning - mostly pertaining to "yer gonna stir up trouble?" and "yer sure yer not gonna stir up trouble?" - we were granted a transit permit, which allowed us to three days in the (Grand Democratic Republic of the Nation of) Grumfell on the premise that we'd be crossing it, and no more. We finished Friday in an inn in Inningsford, a small thorp around halfway down through the country.
I'd anticipated it this time, and managed to wake up before Squishy took a nip at my hand. A huge crash followed, wresting Amnestria from her sleep. "What in the--"
A troll lumbered past the window, smashing a hut into pieces. Hurrying downstairs, the scene was no better. Half of the wall of the inn's wall had been torn apart, leaving only the sturdy load-bearing pillars. Glass fragments littered the floor, and the corpse of the owner who had unwisely decided to confront the beast lay mostly unrecognisable across the room. The rest of him hadn't made the journey and had instead impaled themselves on glass shards sticking out from the table. Cautiously, we moved around the destruction and out into the open street. Amnestria gawked at the sight of it, flailing its arms around in a careless melée of destruction as it lumbered steadily on towards the woods. I readied the bronze sights, but stopped.
This wasn't our fight. If I had been locked up like that, well, a little revenge destruction's only healthy for the mind. I went back to (what remained of) the inn to collect our things.
Unsurprisingly, we were contacted later that morning for a retrieval mission. Apparently this troll was property of the thorp which used it for gladiatorial purposes (the troll's regenerative powers meant it could be utilized as an animate punching bag) and to train the soldiers to fight for some goblin king - against other soldiers fighting for some other goblin king. Politics!
After a nondescript breakfast we set off with a cohort of four of the most trained goblins in the direction of the troll. Even with Amnestria's amazing(ly horrible) observation skills, it was hard to miss the trail of destruction in the form of upturned cairns, broken trees and the occasional splatter of troll blood. We found it lying in a clearing a few miles out from the thorp, scratching at its belly, blissfully unaware of the six forms slowly advancing on it. It had hundreds of pounds on us, but we at least had tactics and the element of sur
"Oh my god it's hideous!" shrieked Amnestria with all the tact of a small mentally retarded lemming.
Spoiler: 7. There And Back Again
The troll lumbered towards us, probably unaware it had just been complimented. I raised the gun (it clearly was our business now) and fired. The reset of the battle was a blur of shouting, flashes of light and the ever-present roar of the injured troll. The next thing that comes easily to mind is us heading back to the thorp with an unconscious troll being dragged unceremoniously behind us. Periodically, one of the goblin soldiers would gingerly stab at it with his halberd, to keep their regenerative powers from suddenly becoming useful and necessitating that we fight the battle once more. In no mood to use up any more of my ever-decreasing spell slots, I nodded my approval and went about clearing my mind of the accumulated cobwebs and trying to figure out what had happened. Nothing came, so I set my gaze back on the horizon where some rather helpless-looking shacks were slowly drawing closer.
The troll had taken more out of the thorp than I had first seen – around half the houses had been damaged in some way by the troll and two had completely collapsed. For their sakes, I hoped they had figured out a better way to secure it. In thanks, we were gifted with a strange artefact that had come into the hands of the villagers a while back – a sword that caused sickness in those it touched. I looked at Amnestria, knowingly. This was – since it was impossible that the swords from Stahltor had gotten from all the way over there to all the way over here – yet another of these swords, so at the very least, there were four in total. Yes, that's right, four overwhelmingly necromantic swords of doom – and there very well might be many more. After all, it's not like we had somehow come across the only four in existence; if we had, then the laws of probability would just give up and we'd both be struck by lightning. Perhaps it had been steered this way by Nevakin – but of course, there was Amnestria. Even if she wasn't an elf, she was absent-minded to the tune of impaired, and I was a runaway nobleman without an evil alignment. Surely there must have been someone, anyone more qualified for gathering overwhelmingly necromantic swords of doom than us.
Thankfully, she had the sense to keep quiet about our previous adventures with the swords – who knows what might have happened if she'd opened her mouth once more. I graciously accepted the award and, as we had been completely spent, worked on rebuilding what we could of the inn so we could safely stay the night there without having it crash down upon us (or, given the stability of the lower walls, having us crash down upon it). A sufficient number of hours later, we (as well as around twenty goblins, which seemed to be the entire population of the thorp) had jury-rigged the walls of the inn so that we could be reasonably comfortable with staying the night in it. The next day, we set out, and were promptly approached by – of course – another group of goblins with another side-quest for us.
Apparently everybody wore the colours of the house they supported around these parts – the troll had some blue-stained loincloth – which dictated which village things belonged to. Weaponry and wares traded between the two, if they were at all, would be hastily re-stained upon purchase. They hadn't gotten around to re-staining the troll's loincloth, which meant that the troll was still officially property of the blue faction, as opposed to the green one that had gifted us the sword. We were to – of course – jury-rig the chains holding the troll (which had done such a good job so far) so that the troll could escape and meet back with its owners further south down the road.
Before I could poke any holes in the system of “it's my colour therefore it's mine”, Amnestria, who was clearly picking up the strategies of the neutral alignment, demanded: “And what would our reward be for releasing this troll?”
The lead (or at least, the one who seemed to be in the lead) grunted, “We have weaponry. A nice little enchanted sword for yous if we get our troll back.”
There were five of them, weren't there.
Spoiler: 8. Troll Wrangling (Part II)
So of course we decided to go through with the plan. The overt heel face turn we were to pull regarding the troll hardly seemed to matter (and I, for one, wasn't about to complain about getting more of these swords), and it's not like we ever held any allegiance to either side, green or blue. We turned around and headed back towards Inningsford.
At this point, most narrators would detail something about how the town had changed since the protagonists had been and went, but it was only a matter of hours and it was completely unchanged, except for a small detail of general builders who were cutting timber for a new wall for one of the houses. From a distance, behind the cover of a shrubbery, we discussed tactics.
“If at all possible,” I began, “we should avoid being seen. I'd rather get the troll out as quickly as possible and avoid any confilct that could see mys–” I stalled slightly, and rephrased my argument as to not seem as self-centered, “that could see any of us harmed. Calming a troll ought to be difficult enough, and there's no way we could do it if we had dozens of goblins breathing down our necks.”
The majority of the goblins agreed to this – with the frankly pitiful amounts of experience they had managed to obtain before having their animate punching bag stolen, none of them would come out of any scuffle with the locals unscathed, and there was a serious posibility of one of them dying. As for myself, I had a wand I could use (hopefully without it attempting to forcibly rejoin the tree it was hewn from) to cure any light wounds incurred, and Amnestria, being a druid, had multitudes of spells I would have to assume she had prepared and could use if the need arose. But even so, obtaining the wounds in the first place would hurt, and despite there being magic to cure them, I'd rather not have to cure anything in the first place.
“Any objections?” I ventured, sure that nobody would suggest otherwise.
“You sure we couldn't rough 'em up a bit, teach 'em a bit of a lesson?” came an arrogant voice from the left. “Theys were the ones what stole our troll, theys should be the ones what get our blades!” He was quickly shushed by one of the older goblins, who was thankfully aware that there were green-aligned goblins only a hundred or so feet away.
“You'd likely get their blades in return, which I'm sure you wouldn't want,” I warned, and before he could object with more gratuitous bravado, the conversation concluded. “Let's go. And remember: no witnesses.”
Confident that my instructions would be heeded, I motioned towards the arena in the centre of town. The builders were all focused around a blueprint laid out on a table, and didn't even notice the clanking of Squishy's armour as they argued with each other on the specifics of the task.
The arena wasn't really an arena per se, as a rough circle of cobbled stone wall about thirty feet in radius centred about a ten-foot pillar, to which there were rusted iron shackles attached by some similarly rusted pegs, to which there was a rather irritated troll attached by virtue of having its hands trapped in the shackles. Using some prestidigitation, I managed to loosen the pegs, which hadn't been securely fastened to the pillar any further than being allowed to rust into it. It was a testament to the troll's (lack of) intelligence that he hadn't figured out he could have escaped any time since being brought back that morning by just tugging on the shackles and walking out. It's not like twenty mostly untrained goblins would have been able to provide significant opposition.
Alerted by the sound (and also by the drow and elf beside it) but unable to recognise us through the mystical power of not having enough brain cells to store the events of yesterday in any detail more than “rampaged, slept, knocked unconscious, in arena”, it grunted quizzically: what were these silly creatures doing?
In response, I pointed to a spot on the ground a dozen feet or so in front of it. “Stand there,” I said, recalling Samath's way with the rothe back in Drohungard (it feels so far away now, like a dream fading into the ether). He never acted like he was telling the beast that he was clearly better than it, he acted like both of them already knew that and it was obvious anyway, and this all could be over much quicker if you'd just obey this instruction. I wouldn't hurt you, you're a valuable resource and they're a pain to replace. Go on.
The troll attempted to step forward, oblivious to the fact he was tethered by thick iron chains to the pillar. He halted, surprised, then furrowed his brow to the extent that troll brows can be furrowed, and attempted to walk forward one more time. Again, he was stopped by the shackles.
“Stand there,” I repeated, more emphatically this time. Gosh, it's not so hard, it's just standing in a place, for the love of Nevakin. It's not like I'm asking you to scale the peaks of western Grumfell or master a complicated spell, it's just standing there. Don't make this harder than it really needs to be, I thought you were better than that.
The troll glared at the spot I had motioned to, as if he could somehow teleport himself there by examining it closely. He took stronger steps this time, more determined. The pegs tore themselves out of their former home in the pillar, and the troll stumbled forwards. It was free. It scratched its belly nonchalantly, then began to walk towards the exit.
Where, alerted by the noise, five green-aligned goblin soldiers had suddenly appeared, infurated that the troll should escape two days in a row.
Spoiler: 9. Nobody Will Notice
There wasn't much for it, so full-blown combat ensued. With all the agility I could muster, I leaped up and whispered into the troll's left ear something I hoped a creature such as him could understand - “get them” - and hoped for the best. To my delight, he grunted, and trudged into the fray, sending one of the green goblins flying into the air and, quite quickly, the arena wall, where he slumped to the ground, unconscious. Amnestria decided to unelash a barrage of arrows into the fray; all that could be said about it was that at least a fifth of the arrows hit some form of goblin. Of course, it seemed they were rather too busy to take issue with any pretense of friendly fire. The blue goblin youth who had spoken up previously seemed to be taking more joy in this than was strictly healthy, but he was at least getting the job done. I readied a sleep spell but realised that – with my aim, at least – I'd only hit the ones on my side. Instead, I climbed up onto the wall and took my station near the entrance, watching to see if any others would intrude on the battle.
And of course others would – others couldn't exactly ignore the commotion going on. In fairness, I had neglected to tell the troll to be quiet, but I wouldn't want him to obey at the expense of forgetting the first instruction. I lowered the kobold contraption and fired a shot, hitting one of the squad square in the chest. He crumpled and I attempted to hide behind a crude parapet the goblins had decided to put on the arena walls. The thunk of a crossbow bolt being rudely interrupted by a boulder came barely a second later. I jumped up again and cast a sleep spell on the lot before they could fire again, and another two fell, leaving just the crossbowman, who let off another shot just before my ducking behind the parapet again – but he was too fast, and the bolt lodged in my shoulder. Pain shot across my body, and spots began to appear. With the seconds I had to take to recover, I looked back at the battle in the arena – two of the blues had fallen in battle, the upstart searching both their pockets and the pockets of the six defeated greens. The troll was looking around nonchalantly, and decided to scratch itself again. Amnestria was missing, though, and I tried to call out for her. But as I was calling, I had twisted my shoulder, sending fresh new waves of pain rippling through my body. I knew what had to be done in the circumstances, and tore the bolt out. Collapse was near, red white and black spots lined my vision and it seemed I was falling, falling–
But I landed, and the shock sent a second wave of adrenaline to my limbs, which shot instinctively for the wand. I uttered the words as best I could, concentrating on the intonations and accents. A flash of light, and I felt the flesh of my shoulder knitting itself back together, the pain reached a crescendo and then faded altogether, and I slumped against the wall, nearly spent. Stumbling to my feet, I peeked round the corner, but the three goblins who hadn't died yet certainly had now, with arrows poking through each of their chests, vermillion blood seeping into an ever-widening circle. Amnestria's work, evidently. But she was still nowhere to be seen.
I glanced back at the troupe of green goblins, who were passing around a philter of some unidentifyable brownish liquid which seemed to be doing them a world of good. I sat down by them, motioning for the bottle. They passed it round to me and I took a swig – it tasted sweet, like the candy spiders you'd find at any Drohungard fair ever, but also had a hint of the most magical bean in any plane of existence. I held the drink out in front of me, scrutinizing its milky depths.
“This...” I stuttered a little. “This is a latte.”
The lead goblin nodded in approval. “Who needs ale when you've got a light roast?”
Truly, this trip was turning my expectations on their head. I had expected a full meat feast, based on the goblins I had seen at Drohungard. But one of them had taken out a box and was admiring a sandwich on whole wheat bread with what seemed to be salad leaves and hummus.
I stood up and walked to the arena's exit – if they were going to whip out the kale I didn't want to be there. The town seemed so tranquil, so peaceful and still, if you ignored the festering corpses in the streets, which was extremely hard to do. “Where has that blasted elf got to?” I muttered aloud.
“Trust me, yer better off without 'er,” the upstart opined, walking up to me. “Them sorts o' girls be nuffin' but trouble. I should know,” he winked, “I married one!”
Pleased with what semblance of a reaction he could infer from my usual poker face, he held out a sword to me. “This be yers now. Ye earned it.” I gazed at its adamantine glow, and offered some generic thanks, before re-sheathing it and tucking it in my bag.
The birds called in the trees, although if they were vultures I wouldn't be surprised. Couldn't tell though, I'd have to ask Amnestria.
Speaking of which, there she was, coming out of one of the houses with more blood on her face than Nevakin herself and holding her shortsword in her hands, the blood that still stained it steaming and turning a sickly brown. “Hi Verg!” she said, the completely uncalled for abbreviation grating my ears. “How's it gone? Did we win?”
I motioned to the pile of green goblin bodies and nodded. “I think so, they seem pretty dead to me.” It hit me then what had happened. “Where were you?”
“Oh, just mopping up the witnesses,” she shrugged. “It's ok, they're all dead now.”
“...all?” I choked. “What 'all'?”
“Every last one of them, just like you said! They won't be sleeping sound in their beds tonight – because they won't be alive to sleep!” Pleased with what I can only guess was supposed to be a joke, she sheathed her sword and wiped some errant hair out of her mouth.
Spoiler: 10. (If there's) Nobody to Notice
“But you said!” she protested, incredulous at our shocked stares. “You said no witnesses! I distinctly remember the words no witnesses coming out of your mouth!”
I slapped my palm to my face, indulging in the thought that it would be hers next time. “I meant that we should try to stay hidden, not massacre everybody in the village!”
“Well why didn't you say that then?” Because, of course, it was my fault the dozens of innocent goblins were dead, wasn't it. If only I hadn't worded my instructions that way. Alternatively if only the elf hadn't gone on a murder spree rampage!
“I've never–” I caught myself just in time, because I had, really. “Apart from Samath, I've never been in the company of anyone who would use that sentence to get to that conclusion!”
“You've clearly been in the wrong company, then!” she retorted, with only slightly less sense than usual.
I sighed, and brought my palm up to my face once more. Thank you oh so very much Amnestria, now I have even more variables to think through. I remained silent for a few seconds, formulating what would hopefully turn out to be a plan in my head. A semblance of one appeared, and a smile came to my mouth. Information travels by speed of the fastest thing that wants to carry it. All we had to do was beat it.
“Okay maybe this won't be a complete and utter failure,” I began, inspiring hope in the elf– oh wait no she's just left to talk with the other goblins. “This is a complete and utter failure.” Resigned, I trudged back to the campfire where she was already giving word of her quote unquote heroic exploits to the blue soldiers. Apparently at some point during the ten-minute chaos she had found time to duel the mayor of the town in a climatic face-off. I recalled the innkeeper (by Nevakin, it's ex-inkeeper now, isn't it) muttering about the mayor's nocturnal habits. More likely, the elf had chanced upon him while he was still sleeping and/or hungover from the previous night's exploits – having been around nobility I know just how much one person can get done in one night – and decided he'd make a rather nice temporary shortsword sheath. The blues, however, were just lapping this up. I walked over to Amnestria and whisphered in her ear: “we have to go now,” before dragging her away from the group (and prying eyes) and out of the arena.
“Ugh, are you going to lecture me on morals? A drow, of all people? And a nobility drow–” I cut her off mid-tangent.
“We don't have time to discuss morals. How long do you think it'll be until someone finds this?”
“Cecil and his guys have already found it. They made it!” she answered, missing the point as usual.
“They're not exactly going to report us. What they – with our help – did isn't the kind of thing you tell the local constable about. But how long do you think it will be before someone else finds this Nevakin-blasted horror show?” She shrugged. “And how suspicious do you think the border guards will be of adventureres if it turns out one of them has massacred an entire town?”
The elf swept a blood-stained strand of hair out of her mouth and sighed. “Stop talking in italics, Vergil. It won't do you any good.”
My turn to sigh. “So we have to get out of the country as soon as humanly possible. Get through to Freuegard before word gets to the southern wall about the Inningsford Massacre. The dwarves won't give a drider's last leg about what happened here, hell, they'll probably give you a Nevakin-blasted medal! But that won't happen unless we leave. Right. Now.”
She looked lost in thought for several moments, although probably it would be more accurate to say that she was trying to find one. There aren't many that survive long in that head. I glanced around nervously, in case any errant travellers were to chance upon us now. None came in the aeons it took for a coherent thought to form in Amnestria's head. She smiled. “I kinda want a medal... It'd look cute, right?”
Stoic. No emotions. Poker face no matter how harebrained what she just said was.
“Yeah okay sure let's just go.”
Several uneventful hours later (there was nothing more to say on the subject of the morning's slaughter, and at the very least there wouldn't be any witnesses for a short while), we came to a border wall with a small opening, next to which a goblin sat in a chair reading some sort of broadsheet. At the sight of us, he jumped up and barked for our permits. “You travellers, traders or adventurers?”
“Why?” I ventured. We had both a transit permit and an adventurer's permit valid, although the former expired the next day. I had to be sure to present the one that would keep us out of trouble.
“Well,” the guard helpfully explained, “there's word of a pair of adventurers who completely wiped out a small thorp called Inningsford,” (stoic, no emotions, poker face) “so we're to arrest any who come up here with an adventurer's permit.” I neglected, rather wisely, to mention just how well telling people of this rule before checking permits was working to catch the perpetrators.
“Well,” I responded, making sure to hold out the transit permit, “neither of us have those. We just got transit permits for passing through.” Somehow, Amnestria didn't make a hash of the situation by correcting me – maybe she'd figured out what subterfuge was – and the guard checked our papers and let us through. We made our way across the hundred-metre innaccurately named “de-militarized zone” that separated Grumfell and Freuegard, sidestepping caltrops, barricades and wards alike, and officially entered the dwarven federation of Freuegard–
“Halt!” decried a guard, using the universal panacea of a greeting. “Who goes there?”
I gave an aside glance at Amnestria, who was evidently having a similar strain of deja vu. “I swear if you get us conscripted into another local guard force...”
Spoiler: 11. Distract With Wolf
He looked to be a paladin, and had no particularly distinguishing features other than having all his distinguishing features obscured by his gleaming armour, in which he held himself highly (as possible for a dwarf) with clear respect and joy for doing his duty. I sighed inwardly. He was going to be one of those, wasn't he.
Back in Drohungard, there was a family of nobility (around 40th or something) that took honour incredibly seriously to the point of being outright divas. It took at most a year or so for the phrase “worse than the Ki'wallahs” to become a mainstream (I believe that is what the young whipper-snappers call it these days) idiom for having a sickening amount of honour, ego and general stiff-upper-lip. The Ki'wallahs would never say “Hi, I'm Tu'raka,” they'd enter to a trumpet fanfare, do either a flurry present and bow or a condescending nod of mild approval, depending on where exactly you were on the Drohungard house heirarchy, and then announce themselves as something along the lines of “The Right Honourable Tusala Rakane (whatever whatever – these guys had hundreds of middle names) Kitora Wallah of the 42nd Great House of Drohungard And Surrounding Areas, Slayer of Traitors, Pledged to the Cause (all honour great and small to our lady Nevakin), Fighter for Dignity, Pious in Faith (all honour great and small to our lady Nevakin),” and so forth and so forth and by the time they'd finished the meeting had ended half an hour ago and they'd all left and the only person left was the janitor mopping up a spilt beer or two. Frankly it was a miracle they found time to breathe during all that.
But when I told Amnestria “look out, he looks like he could be worse than the Ki'wallahs” she had no idea. It's all well and good (although it isn't) berating me about knowing next to nothing about the surface world but where I do have specialised knowledge it's passed over?
There was no time to do any berating of her, though, since the paladin in shining armour was already upon us. “We thought they would never be recovered,” he announced, apparently coming to the assumption that we knew exactly what these swords were and why we were recovering them. “Many thanks to you, your wife, and your wolven companion,” he continued. I resisted slapping him upside his bearded face purely for diplomatic reasons and decided to wait until later before explaining how we weren't the people he was looking for and emphatically weren't married. “If you hand them over quickly we can get them to the temple and get them destroyed and this'll all be sorted out by supper.”
An aside glance at Amnestria – I wasn't particularly willing to give up these swords, given that they could reportedly sell for up to five thousand gold each (and extra gold's always a nice thing). She had that incredibly rare “thoughtful” face on, where she was, hopefully, weighing up options on the future of our swords, rather than weighing up which dwarf would be the cutest to present her with the medal. “What if,” she opined aloud, “we don't want that to happen?” And with that any pretense of her being anything other than completely absent-minded vanished in a puff of undiplomatic smoke. She apparently thought it could do with elaboration: “I mean we can sell these for a lot – hell, we almost did before Verg killed 'em, so maybe just we don't destroy them and sell them?”
Ten decades of sitting through the most blatant lies, veiled truths and utter stupidity in the Chambers of Drohungard had still not prepared me for what some of the surface elves could muster. It took all my willpower to not shout her down or slap her in the face – although it looked like the paladin was having the same thoughts. He rested his hand on the hilt of his greatsword: “You can hand them over or we'll hand them from you,” he declared. It took a while for me to figure out he was speaking in Common and not some grammatically retardant dialect of Dwarvish.
At the sight of the threat, Squishy, who had been strangely quiet ever since the Inningsford incident, growled and stepped in front of the both of us – was he larger now? I couldn't tell. He and the paladin stared each other in the eye for a good minute, no words being exchanged on either side. I started to slip away back towards Grumfell (who knows maybe going back to Drohungard or, failing that, Dunkelheim, wouldn't be such a bad idea, maybe Samath's calmed down) and, at the outraged “Hey!” from the paladin, started off at a sprint. It was six, maybe seven seconds, and then the phrase “angel on my shoulder” got a whole lot more literal as one tackled me from the air to the ground.
“Since when–” I interrupted myself to spit some dirt out of my mouth, “Since when did you have wings?”
“It comes with the job,” came the celestial voice with the same dwarven accent as before, “To take out any who decide to turn their backs and run away from the light of justice. Although more literally, this time.” He lifted me to my feet and dragged me towards the guard post where another three dwarves were restraining the elf and wolf.
“What made you think fighting such a powerful dwarf was a good idea?” she screeched, as if I had planned to duel to the death or something.
“Well I was thinking more along the lines of “distract him with a large wolf while I run away as fast as possible” and how was I to know that was going to happen?”
The paladin took a glance at his comrades and nodded, prompting them to start going through our packs. There was just the general adventuring equipment, and, rather thankfully, they found the swords before they found anything else that might be incriminating in either of our packs. He took a shortsword in each hand and strode off towards the guard tower.
“At least he's wearing gloves.”
- End of Session Two[/spoiler]