Into The Maw Part One: Interlude
We all spent the night back at Oleg’s, which upon doing so brought about a few rumors. One big one that caught the attention of our group was one of a creepy castle to the far south of the outpost near the Tuskwater river. The party wondered that if this could possibly be the spot in which the Stag Lord resides or maybe even a dreaded fey by the name of Narissa which recently has begun to pop up more. I relayed to the party that we should play it by ear and give it a look. I told them that I wanted to search more for this Falgrim Sneed, who was also said to be located to the far south. My belief was that the Stag Lord was rounding up bandits and Sneed was a bandit himself and most likely his family. Maybe that Sneed would know precious information about the Stag Lord. I just wanted something, anything, before laying an assault on a mere whim. It was decided that we would leave the next morning for the trip out.
That night I could not sleep well. Hearing the news about the brewing war to the north was on my mind. The thought of my House and possibly my family were in the latest siege,was causing me to stir endlessly. I got up out of bed and sat in the chair next to it, which slung around it in its scabbard was my trusty sword. I picked up the sheathed, cold iron sword, grasped it in my hands, and knelled forward on it like a cane while still sitting. “Could be worse man. You could be out there with everyone” spoke the voice from my sword. “That is exactly what troubles me. That I am not there with them” I softly spoke back. My friend Darius, well my long expired friend Darius was the voice that was speaking to me from my sword. I won’t get into the strangeness of it or nor do I really know the exact method of how he was doing it. Years ago my friend fell in battle and with his last breath he took his sword, chucked it to my feet and said “Keep it you bastard”. Shortly after taking it, I was still able to hear his voice in my head when I held the weapon. So ever since then, it has been the only sword I have ever used. For many reasons.
“So what, you finish up here, run home, join daddy and your brothers? Oh then you get to throw yourself into that stupid war and just get yourself killed. Oh you should definitely sign up for that.” I pressed my head to the hilt and sighed. “I know that is what it sounds like to you but its more than that. My family could be in trouble. If they are, I have to help them.” Darius grunted and laughed in that condescending laugh he always had. “You noble types, for family this, for our house that. A stupid cause is a stupid cause, no matter how you dress it.” Sadly he had a good point. As much as the thought of my family now possibly being at war worried me, he was right. It was a fight over land, over power. There would be only bloodshed. It was greedy. It was just unfortunate that my family are essentially protectors to the Garress family line. Wherever they go, we serve dutifully. Honorable yes. Though depending on the situation at hand….it didn’t seem right.
“So what, should I just stay here, do my duty and forget of my family then?” My talking was starting have an effect in the room as Morgan was awakened. The little monkey bounced off of Stoney’s bed to mine, promptly landed in my lap and then curled up to sleep.
Darius low, rumbling voice started up again.“Heh, seems there are things and people here that could use you. The monkey and your dwarf buddy are only a few of the examples. Your House has a battalion of soldiers at call. What will one more meat shield mean to them, eh? Out here though…man it sure looks they could use someone decent.” I wanted to argue the point. To make case that even though I never took to my family’s responsibilities, that I should be there. It would mean nothing though, as it begun to dawn on me. Knowing my father and the greater cause of my Goddess, they would want me to stay here. Sword Lords want to prevent an all out possible war of nations, not war of houses. For now my place was here, no mater what.
Stonehands rolled to his side and I could barely make out in the dark that he was opening his eyes. “Hey, Morgan boy, com’er”. Morgan plopped down from my lap and slowly made his way back to Stoney. “So your true woman or your buddy?” Stonehands whispered. I held up the sword and put it aside. “Buddy” I replied. I made my way back to bed and tried my best to get decent sleep before the trip out. “So what did Darius say?” Stonehands knew of Darius. I never hid the whole sort of ever lasting, macabre friendship from him. “He said it would not be prudent to take up arms with my family in a cause, that as a whole, goes against some of my basic tenants and the bigger picture.” Stonehands picked Morgan back up and put him on his chest and took in a deep breath. “Hey kid, I am worried to. Your family is my family. I hope they are alright. I hate to say it, I agree with Darius. You jus listen to da mon dough. He is right. Don getcha selv caught oop in dat mess.” Yes. My friends were right. Besides, I still have a lot here that needs to be dealt with.
The next morning we set out and traveled hard to the south. We picked an inopportune moment to do so, because it was nothing but storms and showering rain. It seemed as if for two days straight, it rained nonstop. “Can’t make much of a trip if it keeps on raining like this for a whole damn week” said Stonehands. “This torrential onslaught is becoming most irritating. I cannot stay crammed back here for another night” grumbled Adra.
Adra had taken to tying up her horse to the wagon to help pull while she resided inside, to remain untouched by the rain. “Well it cannot be that bad. You get all the solitude you want back there” I reply back to her. She crawled up front, just enough to poke her head out, in between Stoney and I. “Heh. Our holy priest does not seem to fair well in this weather” she pointed out to Boris. Boris from the previous night did not seem to be doing well. Today he looked horrible. He was sneezing, pale, coughing, and shivering. The man was not feeling well for some time. I wonder if it was that unpleasant looking rabbit he ate a few nights prior finally catching up on him. He was wavering back and forth on his horse and was not keeping up as fast with Kurgar, who was all the way out in front on his mount. “Boris, here!” I called out. Boris turned sluggishly around on his horse and rode along my side of the wagon.
“Yes?” he said under heavy nasal congestion. “You do not look well there. Do you wish to stop soon? I can take a look at you and maybe help with your ailment.” Boris just shook his head. “I do not require any measures of healing. I can get to this on my own. I must stay vigilant on our ride. I will only hope Balinor will give me aid and I can be free of my sickness.” He turned and rode back off with a bit more gumption but I knew the man was not well. Very prideful.
“Hey uh, Cedric, didn’t you said you could like, uh, target nasty stuff in a person’s body and rid them of it?” said Stonehands. “Yup. Heal wounds. Restore Fatigue. Stuff like that” as I then took a swig from my flask. “Well I would heal him if he just le-..” Damn…holy water, wrong flask. I was looking for my other flask as I heard Adra actually laughing. Not a roaring laugh but a slow, low chuckle. “For as much as he prays, it does not seem that his God honors him, does it not? I mean he cannot rid himself of a simple cold. This gives even more substantial evidence against The Host.” I finally found my actual drinking flask to which only brought disappointment, for it now lacked whiskey. Ensuring I had to make the whole trip completely sober.
“Ya know when I think she is finally starting to turn around, she still manages to slam others in the group. Does it bother you she thinks so little of The Host” said Stoney. I shrugged my shoulders at the question. “I learned long ago not to be rattled by another person’s negative opinions. Plus the fact of the matter is that my religion is not all of who I am. It is merely a part of me.” Stonehands nodded his head at my comment. “You are a better man than I. If someone was bashing something that meant that much to me, I would give them an earful.” I turned and smiled to my friend and glanced to the back of the wagon. “Oh trust me, I am not a better man. Soon as we get a chance I am going to give her a piece of my mind.” He was shaking his head and had the look of restrained laughter. “I think at this point, the lass is so tense and pent up that maybe she could pass on a piece of your mind and give her a piece of well…you. If you get what I mean.” Ha ha the thought has come up on my mind at a few points. When was the last time our dear Inquisitor had some release. “Yes, yes I get what you mean” I replied. “Cause what I mean by giving her a piece” as he gestured to his loins. I playfully punched him in the arm. “Yes, I told you, I got it.”
A few hours later we got settled to make camp for the night, when I saw that Boris was still sniffling and sneezing. I could not stand the sight of this anymore. I slapped him on the back and released on touch, my own form of divine healing. “Buck up” I said to him. He gave me a look of amazement which then became subtle anger. “You mean to tell me you could have done that this whole time?” I walked away from Boris just laughing. “You never asked if I could”.
The next day out, the skies finally cleared and there was no rain. Our travel would become a bit better from there. Going further out, we came across several dead elk and giant tracks. Kurgar looked around the area with disdain. “Trolls.” as he pointed to the tracks. Boris dismounted off his horse Panther and surveyed the area. He paced back and forth looked to were the tracks came from or lead to, the forest. He then found a pile of droppings to which he picked up a little in his hand and took a whiff. “Yes. Without a doubt, these were trolls.” Stoney shuddered watching Boris. “That is just not right.” Boris luckily divined up some cleansing for his hands and started to ask the most perplexing questions to the group. “Well if we come across a troll, do you think we could take it?” he asked. “Ok you see those dead elk bodies there? They use those things on each other like they were pillow fighting” said Kurgar. Boris shot back “So is that a no then? We have superior numbers and intelligence. I wonder also, does anyone know of their hit points?” Kurgar had his first unified group moment, as we all in unison, had a lost, dumbfounded expression. “I don’t know what is wrong with but I have no fucking clue what hit points are and we are not messing with a troll. I mean you guys can, I sure as hell won’t” replied Kurgar. Luckily for us the rest of the day proved uneventful and without any troll encounters.
After spending four days out we finally came to a stretch of river out here. Following it we then came to a rickety bridge. I had enough of rickety bridges so I decided to stay back in the wagon with Stoney while the rest of the group figured out how they wanted to cross to the other side by themselves. Not long after that I noticed Adra slowly walking onto the bridge with her bow out, Boris chanting “Kill it” and Kurgar laughing as he was peeing in the river. “Now what are those jackasses doing” asked Stonehands. I plopped off of the wagon, drew my sword, and just waited there. “I would only imagine they have found themselves something to antagonize. If that is the case, I say we prepare.” Stonehands did not even bother getting off the cart. “I think they are just peeing and shooting at a log” he said. “Boris maybe, Kurgar probably, Adra no. She is to practical to waste her time doing something that mundane” I said while keeping an eye. Adra fired her bow and Boris cheered saying :”You hit it”. Kurgar yelled back at Boris. “Hey I hit it with my piss and you didn’t cheer for me. You have any idea how much pressure you gotta have to launch it out like that, against the wind, make the arc and hit?” Stonehands was grumbling to himself while petting Morgan. “Yea I bet it was just a log”.
We traveled out for a few more days till we found a ford in which to use to finally cross the intersection of rivers. By our map that it would seem that the mysterious place in question would be probably only a few hours ride out if we were to leave early in the morning. The group was tending to their own individual tasks at night when I noticed, like usual, Adra was by the fire, writing in her book. Something was on my mind this whole time, why she seems completely bent out of shape. “Something has been bothering this whole time” I said to Adra as I sat down by her. “Funny because right now you are bothering me” as she shifted a foot over away from me. I shifted closer to her and kept up my words. “From the start, all the way in Brindol, you seem averse to being around us. For being out here. For something. Please just say what is causing this”
She slammed her book, lifted her head and brushed away her hair that hung in her face. Her piercing green eyes remained focused on the fire as she sat staring for a good ten seconds. “My problem. Is many problems. For starters I do no appreciate being out in this filthy, forsaken, barren, heap of land. I am meant to operate within city walls. That is what I do and my church has neglected to take this into account. Which does not surprise me. Nobody takes anything into account.” I tried to console her a tad. “You are here though so it seems important enough that even in your dislike that you are staying. That is good.” She turned and finally looked at me. Though it was not the expressionless hard look I was used to, it did have a slight upset, if I dare not say vulnerable look to it. “I also do not like the fact that I am working alone. There is nobody of my order to work with and instead I am left to work with those who do not share the same methods or goals as I. Not having everyone on the same page will prove to be detrimental to the cause.”
She was finally opening up. Even if it was pent up anger, it was still something. “You have Stonehands here, he is of your order.” She shook her head and pursed her lips. “He is not of my order. He works for my order. He is only a fool who was promised something by a faction of my church that clearly does not understand that they are in the wrong for doing so.” She got up and started to pace around the bonfire. I got up and slowly followed beside her. “Stone truly does mean well and from everything I could tell he appreciates your Silver Flame. As the rest of us I see no big deal in us not having the same God or Goddess. “Your dwarf does not show the purity which the flame requires. The other dwarf seems like an aimless heathen. Our cleric prays to a God that either does not care about him or is impotent all together. Yours…your goddess.” She finally stopped to turn and look at me and now just seemed weary and tired. “Our beliefs will separate us. We are too different.”
“Well I cannot say anything about Kurgar or Boris because that is to their own to defend. However you may find that you and I pretty much serve the exact same cause” I said to her. She just stood there shaking her head, trying to refuse what she was hearing. “See Tira Miron, the voice of your Silver Flame, is a devout follower to my Goddess Dol Arrah. Think about that. We are connected. Though the entirety of what we believe may be different, our goals are the same. In fact you could make the argument that your religion and mine serve each other mutually.” Adra finally looked up at me, this time her expression calm and collected. “I will note that yes, your Goddess Dol Arrah is different from these…others of The Host. It is…similar enough to mine. Like the Flame, your Goddess requires action, does she not?” I put my hand on her shoulder and nodded. “All gods require action from their faithful. It is just…some followers hold to it more than others. Adra looked at me and a worried expression cracked through her usual stone like demeanor. “To bad you are not Silver Flame though. I would feel a tad more comfortable. It is just that…every time I work with those outside my order..” She then shuddered and turned her back to me. “Something bad happens to me” she continued. I took in a breath and shook my head at her. “Well that is not going to happen with me around. I hope you can be alright with me just being me.” We called it a night there as Kurgar said he would take watch. Good thing. I wanted to be well rested if we were to come to find anything tomorrow morning.
In fact it was that very next morning that something finally developed. We were out traveling and decided to take a small break. During this break most of the group heard two men talking nearby and bring up the Stag Lord. I tap on the back of the wagon, to where Kurgar decided to relax, pointed to my sword and outward, indicating it was time for a skirmish. We rounded the corner where we heard the voices and I yelled out to my group to leave a member alive. Two bandits turned to look at us in horror and were paralyzed with shock. Adra took note of it and put an arrow in this one-eyed bandit’s good eye. The other one threw his hands up in the air and screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Whoa whoa hold up, stop stop, I give up, I give up!” he yelped. Adra knocked back an arrow and told the man to drop to his knees. The second bandit obligingly did so to which prompted another action. Boris came running behind us, whipping his sling in the air and fury on his face. “To the holy God Balinor I serve, I shall put you down heathen” as he sailed a rock at the second bandit. The rock hurled through the air and struck the bandit square in the shoulder. “Ow dammit, that kinda hurt! I’m surrendering, don’t hit me” he said. Kurgar shook his head, put down his axes and walked up to the bandit. “Dammit Clarence what the hell are you doing out here?” I stepped forward and asked the second bandit “You two met?”
Kurgar and Clarence told me they encountered each other a month and a half prior. Kurgar said he was supposed to turn over a new leaf so to speak. While this was happening Boris managed to save the arrow—in-eye victim who was named Ranblow, though he now lost his second eye permanently. Basically what went down in that time was the men were coerced so to speak to work for the Stag Lord, who we also found out was working with this fey Narissa we have been hearing so much about. So it was a sure thing though. The Stag Lord’s Fort was only an hour trip south. All we could find out was that the man Sneed we were looking for resided there, the encampment held possibly a dozen men, and near the castle off the path resided undead. The only weakness I could derive from the conversation we all had with the two bandits about the Stag Lord was that he had a strong penchant for booze. Heh, most of us do. Still I guess something was better than nothing. The two gave us the password, one of their amulets so we could look like new recruits, and then were sent on their way to Oleg’s.
Boris pulled out his godawful, horrid bird and spoke to it as it twisted and screamed in pain. “Oleg this is Boris, We found two bandits and they are headed your way. Take care of them for us.” Then the hideous, forsaken thing took flight. “You know that did sound an awful like he should kill the guys” said Stonehands. “What would ever give that impression” Boris obliviously replied.
“So now I am only to assume that we all pose as scoundrels, hand over booze to this murderous lush, try to join their ranks and what? Kill everyone and him in their sleep?” I said. “Heh, that is just about it. Sounds simple and fun to me” said Kurgar. Stonehands sauntered up next to me and gave me a nudge. “You alright with this. Can you uh…look rough enough pretty boy?” I turned on the glamor to my armor, which turned into gypsy garments. I have not shaved in a while so that helped. I took some dirt and spread it on just enough of my scabbard, cheek, a little in my hair, and gave Stoney a look. “Decent enough?” I asked. “Yea, good enough I guess” as he rolled his eyes. I slipped on the amulet while Boris and Adra where dressing up for the part. Well this is not exactly what I wanted. We are going to essentially storm the Stag Lord’s place on a whim with very little information to go on. Got to make the best of it. Kurgar was the first to hop on his steed and bellowed to the group. “Let’s go get us this fucker’s head!”