Rise of the Runelords

Runelord Reflections 1 (Day 2)
Dedication Ceremony

Day 2. (2.20.15)

Festival Interrupted

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The day broke beautifully, the sun’s rays shining through the slatted windows, drawing razor-edged ribbons of light slowly across the walls of the room. I watched them for a bit, slowly realizing where I was.

I sat up, five other bodies laying around the room in various stages of undress. I stared at Zeyara for a moment, petrified upon seeing her dead, blank eyes staring at the ceiling in a disturbingly corpse-like manner. Then she blinked, and turned her head toward me with a questioning look. I swallowed, the fiery spirits that had washed away the fish slime leaving their own unpleasant reminder of their passage down my throat.

I could have done with a few hours more sleep, but the thought of the day that lay ahead got me excited. Competitions and free food awaited me, and neither involving disgusting fish slime.

Grimacing, I got up. Heading to the bath before anyone else could make it out the door, I took a few minutes and made myself as presentable as I could. I was largely unconcerned, but my mother’s well meaning advice came back, nagging, and so I used the thought of Rakonia’s hair to take the time to brush my own. As I returned, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of a dwarven tantrum, a big grin smearing itself across my face.

Bursting in the room, I let her curses wash over me, enjoying the dismayed look in her eyes as she grasped futilely at her head. “What’s that smell? Why do I stink? Where’s my hair?! What happened-”

“It’s actually the smell of not stinking that you’re detecting,” I assured her, while the others hid snickers and tried to come up with something encouraging.

The fact was, if we were going to be around this dwarf any longer and wanted to avoid our own personal infestations of vermin and worse, drastic measures had needed to be taken. My work was done once the body had been tossed into the water, but I made sure they understood what needed to happen. Getting rid of the hair had been the first necessity.

“It looks good on you,” someone said bracingly.

“This way, animals probably won’t smell you from a mile away,” another added.

“Your helmet will fit so much nicer, too,” spoke a third.

Slowly, the panic and rage dissipated from the dwarf’s eyes, and Rakonia adopted a look of resigned acceptance.

“The competitions are starting soon!” I reminded, feeling eagerness and excitement spurring me on. Free meals, and prizes… it promised to be entertaining.

Breakfast was an affair to remember, and as we gorged on honeyed biscuits, jellied fruits and slabs of thick, crispy bacon, the hostess Ameiko encouraged us to attend the cooking competition being held as part of the festival, where everyone got samples from the four major eateries in Sandpoint. Including, it turned out, the Rusty Dragon Inn.

The festival was hours away; originally I’d heard it was to start a few hours before noon, but in truth the festival didn’t begin until noon, and the fun wouldn’t start until after that was underway. Sullenly, I followed the others around town, my armor not drawing the kinds of stares one got in many other places. The naginata I carried got several, but more curious than hostile. The immense hammer that Skalmold had strapped across her back seemed to draw more attention.

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To begin the festival, I think somebody said something. If that was the case, it was no doubt boring.

Anxiously, the minutes ticked by and finally, finally, the events got underway.

The first competition, which I gleefully awaited, was revealed to be a test of agility. I smiled at that; I was pretty light on my feet. Zeyara moved like a ghost, but we’d been told it was more obstacle-course than duel, and I was pretty sure I could handle whatever got thrown at us. A name was called, and the competitors were led to a long, narrow beam suspended by two ropes. It spanned a freshly-dug pit that looked unnaturally muddy and wet. A group of kids lined the sides of the pit, each holding something in their hands.
“That better not be a communal latrine,” I muttered. I fear my voice was more anxious than snide. It didn’t smell like a latrine…

Nonplussed, I watched the first entrant lurch his way across the narrow beam, only to be pelted by a swarm of objects thrown by the children lining the sides. At first I thought they were rocks, but as one bounced off the contestant’s forehead and failed to draw blood, I noticed they appeared to be bundles of cloth. Possibly wrapped around a rock. The crowd cheered as the man plummeted over the side, spinning crazily and coming down head first. The jeers continued even as two burly-looking laborers hustled forward to extract the unmoving form from the mud, cheering as he was carried off to safety and, hopefully, resuscitation.

As the next name was called, I slowly made my way over to the pit. The young men standing there looked at me, eyes widening just as expected, stopping somewhere short of looking at my face. I gave them a friendly smile. “Hello, boys.” They continued to stare. “Looks like you have a fun job, here. My friends and I… have you met them?” I asked innocently, pointing toward where Zeyara and Vega waited, possibly looking nervous or excited. “We’re staying over at the Rusty Dragon Inn; we’ll be there later tonight, if you find yourself in the area.”

They turned to one another, chattering excitedly. “Okay!” was pretty much the response.

“They’re all pretty badass,” I confided. “A bit competitive. You could really make their day if, say, you happened to miss them every throw.” I shrugged. “I’m just saying. I bet they’d be grateful,” I mused, almost to myself. “Anyway, have fun and enjoy the festival. Maybe we’ll see you around!”

And with that I wandered back, watching until the next contestant tried to make his way across the mud pit. As he teetered, arms flailing wildly before falling into the muck, I strode up to the man in charge of the event, proclaiming that I got to go next.

With the eyes of the entire crowd on me, my own narrowed in focus as I tried to concentrate. Striding across the thin, moving beam was slow but steady, and luckily the projectiles thrown from the young men never managed to connect. I hopped off the other end flushed with success, the enthusiasm of the crowd aided by the fact that I’d stripped off my armor, leaving me with little else. I was feeling pretty good about myself, until I watched Zeyara follow with somersaults and handsprings across the narrow beam with cool ease. The crowd that had cheered me appeared not to know how to react to the fetchling’s display, the cheers muted not with fear or suspicion, but awe.

Vega spent a moment to collect before slowly making her way across as well. It made me happy that I’d gone before Zeyara. She was a hard act to follow.

An extremely modest cash prize followed, but mostly this wasn’t about prizes. It was a matter of pride.

The next competition was one of strength. The flask in my pocket seemed to radiate heat, my fingers tingling with the urge to extract it, uncap it, and drain it. Numerous barrels were placed upon the town square, weighted with sand to varying degrees. Rakonia attempted to carry two across the fifteen yard mark, failing. After a quick sip of my secret infrit juice, I grabbed two as well, grappling with the weight heroically only to fail as spectacularly. Roaring with fury, Skalmold lifted two herself, staggering forward only to drop a few steps later.

Things weren’t looking good for the girls. Some comments overheard amongst the thrall of onlookers infuriated me, and I got up to try again. The two impossibly heavy burdens were once again too much, even though I knew I could do it. Furious, I let my body recover for a moment as my companions downgraded their attempts to a single barrel. Both made it across the fifteen yard mark, essentially winning.

If there’s a lesson to be learned there, I wasn’t ready to learn it. Once the competition was finished, I stood and approached the barrels again. There was a tense silence as I lifted up the two weighted casks, growling as I staggered across the grassy square. Halfway across, something shifted and I found myself once again falling to the ground.

I lay there for a moment, panting and dreading the laughter and derision that the crowd would heap upon me. But, to my amazement, there was little of that, and I noticed a nod of approval here and there amongst the spectators. It seemed the effort, at least, had been appreciated.

It wasn’t enough, really.

Finally, the competition that the blonde barbarian Skalmold had been waiting for: dancing. I was at most a fair dancer, but my innate grace and charm went a long way toward turning ordinary into intriguing. I walked away with a small prize, only slightly envious of Skalmold’s elaborate routine that had won her the big award.

I wasn’t rich, but was no longer poor. For the moment. Which, along with the recognition I’d gotten from participating in the events, was good enough for now.

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Following the competitions, we were allowed to sample the various foods served up by the five major eateries in the city. There was seafood and venison and some kind of vegetable stuff that Vega asked for when she noticed I was about to toss it in the trash.

I visited the same places several times before understanding that everyone was only supposed to be taking one sample each; that way everyone could get to try a little bit of everything. After that, and a few possibly judgmental looks, I had the others grab me extra helpings instead.

I came across Rainbow talking up the merits of the Rusty Dragon’s food, drumming up support for our current landlord. Smirking, I got in on it, and with the others’ help, we soon had the crowd buzzing with the name Kaijutsu.

Sated, we followed the crowd to the square before the new cathedral, awaiting what the locals seemed to consider the main event.

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During the dedication ceremony to the newly-built temple, a long-winded affair praising Desna and a bunch of other gods, I tried my best to wait patiently until the promised pyrotechnics got underway. Skalmold expressed disappointment in the fact that Gorum, god of War, hadn’t been included. The halfling shaman had shown interest in the idea of a temple to multiple gods, and sure enough was watching the proceedings with intense focus. I was bored to death and ready for a drink. But then, halfway through, things suddenly got exciting again.

There was a crack of thunder, or a boom, or something, and people began looking around nervously. Without warning, the unmistakable howls of baying wolves erupted within the town, and a harsh cry of inhuman voices rose up, squeaky and terrible. The incomprehensible song was later translated for me, mostly threats and contemplating ways of cooking their enemies.

“Goblins!” Rakonia cursed, her large axe already in one hand as she expertly strapped a shield to her other, the motion obviously well-practiced.

My naginata, which I called Slicer in my head, was of course in my hand. One of the reasons we stood in the back.

It was a good thing, too, because just like that, they were upon us. Dozens of the small, wicked-looking creatures rushed through town, some riding wolves, some carrying torches, some screaming at the top of their lungs. In the seconds that transpired, I watched a building put to the torch by one of the creatures even as another tossed a flaming brand so poorly it landed on the goblin’s own back, setting it alight. Panicked, a horse charged by, eyes rolling with fear as its hooves destroyed the skull and ribcage of a goblin too slow to get out of the way, pulping it against the paved thoroughfare. Seconds later, it fell screaming, its forelegs viciously chopped by one of the green-skinned monsters. Another goblin chased after one of the many fleeing children, brandishing an odd sword and screaming “DIE! DIE! DIE!”

As we stood to assess the threat, the townsfolk reacted more instinctively, clutching loved ones and fleeing back to their homes in a desperate attempt to escape.

Springing into action, I spun my naginata deftly while approaching a large group of goblins making their way towards the priest who lay near the podium, the exact same spot from which the man had addressed the crowd moments ago. Rainbow and Vega began weaving some magic while Zeyara took care of the child-chasing goblin, Rakonia ran forward and Skalmold charged into the creatures.

I was impressed by the assault I hastened to join, noticing the swinging barbarian take a slash from a goblin’s blade. Stepping up behind the furiously flailing axe of Rakonia, I stabbed out with the long, curved blade of my weapon, the razor-sharp steel slicing the diminutive creature neck to groin. “First blood to me!” I roared, watching its guts spill out in fascination. Two of the creatures at my flank abruptly collapsed, by all appearances asleep, and the remainder were quickly dealt with by Rakonia’s dwarven waraxe, Skalmold’s great hammer, Zeyara’s shortsword and my own naginata. Along with a few well placed bolts from Rainbow’s crossbow, almost laughably tiny but undoubtedly effective. Two of the creatures remained slumbering from Rainbow’s spell, and Zeyara crouched down to slit one’s throat, severing the neck all the way to the spine with her enthusiasm. My eyes narrowed, the ugly little creature filling me with hatred. I raised Slicer high, holding it near the very end of its haft, almost like an axe. I brought it down, twisting my torso to get the greatest impact, and was rewarded by cloven lumps of now-dead goblin bursting apart from the ground.

As the world slowed back down to normal, a strangely familiar feeling washed over me, and I saw Rainbow in the act of releasing a powerful wave of healing energy, the cuts and nicks decorating my companions disappearing. A feeling of resonance overcame me, like a glimmering, divine spark. Or possibly its antithesis. Either way, it reaffirmed my sense of destiny.

Unfortunately, before I could ponder any further, there was a terrific explosion and we turned to see the wagon that had held the festival’s pyrotechnics go up in flames. It was devastating, not having them to look forward to. But, at the same time, the huge fire was pretty cool. A few screaming, burning goblins staggered away only to fall, twitching to the ground. That was even cooler. Others began to appear from behind the now-burning wagon, and we heard a foul chanting coming from the group of short, green-skinned monsters.

Rainbow summoned thorny tendrils from the ground, the plants snaring our opponents’ limbs and holding them firm, aside from a couple who broke through. I approached with the other warriors, but one of the chanters began making gestures and suddenly I was overcome with a fit of laughter. Helpless to act amid the hilarity of the situation, I watched first one then another goblin go down in quick succession, the uncontrollable amusement bringing tears to my eyes.

Moments later, though, the effect ended. Most of the other goblins had been slain, and my blade finished off one of the last as I lashed out in delayed frustration. We stood over the corpses of the fallen goblins in victory, some still held by Rainbow’s magical, clinging vines. As the halfling collected her bolts from the corpses of the slain, the rest of us were searching the streets, some for the loot of the fallen and the rest for danger. I couldn’t see any more of the creatures, but the sounds of combat and screaming could still be heard.

The six of us, strangers the previous day, hustled further into town. I rushed ahead first, mostly to keep from being outpaced by my less-armored companions. The sound of cruel laughter and a wild, lupine howl echoed around the corner.

I decided that now was probably the best time to access my ancestral power, legacy of Greatest Grandfather. I allowed the simmering cauldron of molten power that existed deep within me to boil over, releasing the constant tension I’d long grown use to. I felt the fiery energy coursing through my veins, and the world seemed to shift, growing smaller. Calling upon the ancient efreet magic that pulsed through my veins, I grew immense, standing nearly twice as tall as Skalmold.

The barbarian dancer dashed past me without a second glance, throwing herself into battle as soon as the enemy came within sight. Rushing forward, I took in the scene. A man with a small dog were being harried by a group of the goblins, this time led by two fiercer members of their species. These latter, bulkier goblins rode on wolves, and reacted the moment we came into view. They turned to unleashed a pair of arrows but, fortunately for me, neither hit their target.

As the wolf riders broke away from the main group, circling to the sides, the cluster of goblins on foot was engaged. Rakonia followed the large blonde in, squat frame barreling into the enemy with a shouted battlecry that reverberated through the streets.

The man who’d been attacked took the opportunity to scramble away. His fine clothes and subtle but expensive jewelry betrayed his noble heritage, I noted with interest, and he clung to his small dog as he dashed up the road. I rushed towards one of the wolf riders, the immense blade at the end of my weapon whistling through the air.

The naginata is my weapon of choice for its elegance as much as its reach. Essentially a curved sword mounted on a six foot pole, it was good for stabbing and slicing, as well as chopping and scything and even hooking. The best parts of spear and sword, put together. As my size magically doubled, so did the length, and from across the street I lashed out, slicing the armored wolf-riding goblin clean in two.

To my left, the others were engaged in a furious melee. Skalmold’s titanic hammer mashed another gobin into boneless paste, and Zeyara appeared, stabbing one of the creatures from behind with her short, deadly blade. Bolts of arcane energy tore through the air, Vega’s super-charged magic crackling with power.

The now-riderless wolf went berserk, rushing up at me in rabid fury. All awareness of the rest of the battle disappeared as my hasty backhanded slice missed, the snarling face snapping with terrifying viciousness. I staggered back, pulling away from the terrible bite it had inflicted, my thigh bloody and mangled. Damn worthless shitty chainmail, I thought to myself, and then the pain washed over me.

I swayed, the world seeming to fade at the edges. The enraged beast came at me again, and I summoned the last reserves of my energy. It had gotten in too close for my main weapon, so I lashed out with my blade-edged gauntlets-

And the world went dark. Until suddenly I was blinking, looking around in confusion from the ground. How’d I get here? I remember wondering.

“Did… Did I get it?” I asked, looking around hopefully for a smashed lupine corpse.

“No. Vega’s magic killed it.” Zeyara shrugged, getting up from the goblin corpse she’d been looting nearby. “I think the dwarf got the other.”

A pale-looking Rainbow stood nearby, obviously depleted after all of the healing magic. I looked at the piled, grimacing bodies that had apparently been dragged nearby, the citizens groaning but slowly falling silent with wonderment at their freshly healed wounds. It is sometimes all too easy to take for granted, but we must thank the gods for magical healing if nothing else. Imagine having to wait days, weeks, or even months to recover from easily healable injuries. Some people still live like that, but luckily not the people of Sandpoint. Predictably, the cleric who’d given the boring speech and then cowered behind his altar during the battle came around to lend what aid he could.

Invigorated by the battle but now cognizant of the dangers that lay in store, I became more determined than ever to assist the other five warriors in seeing the merit of forming some kind of company. A company of heroes. Heroes for hire, I liked the sound of that.

The mood was somber, but townsfolk began reappearing, and offerings were placed in the temple by thankful or, more rarely, grieving residents. Not everyone had been fortunate enough to have us nearby. Yet enough had a guilty excitement hiding beneath their expressionless faces, that feeling you get when the danger has passed and you realize you’re alive, you survived! It’s even better when your opponents lie dead at your feet._ I survived, and you didn’t!_

But how had I survived was humbling. That wolf had fucked me up; I probably would have been a goner, on my own. If it hadn’t been for the others, all of us working together, things might have gone differently for me. For this whole town, probably. It was a complicated thought, and it made me tired, and I said so. The townsfolk were beginning to press in claustrophobically; besides, it would be better to maintain an aura of mystery. Let those who’d witnessed our deeds do the talking. Let the stories grow a bit.

The others shrugged, and we returned to the Rusty Dragon Inn, our opponents’ weapons and valuables bundled up and weighing down Rakonia, Skalmold and myself. It was the best kind of burden; the kind that was pure profit.

The nobleman who we had rescued from the goblins was there, waiting for us. He introduced himself, and I think he gave us a welcome reward that we graciously accepted. Impressed by our skill and thankful for our intervention, he invited us to his estates to enjoy some boar hunting in the future.

Rakonia returned a short while later, belching unpleasantly and looking mightily pleased with herself. “Guess who’s name is number twenty-nine on the wall of Hagfish Tavern?” I pretended to be proud of her. Or impressed or something. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help wincing at the thought of that filthy slime running down my throat.

Patrons of the inn treated us to round after round of drink, and we enjoyed a nice table nearby the fire for an hour or so. There was a little more talk of histories and philosophies, but mostly reliving events of the day and contemplating what to do next. The goblins had been a diverse lot; going over the corpses, no fewer than five separate tribes appeared to have participated in the raid. Some force seemed to be controlling them, focusing them and making them bold. Several prominent townsfolk had, while delivering us a fresh round, expressed their concerns regarding this strange inter-tribal alliance.

So, goblin hunting seemed in order. But, first things first…

“So,” I asked subtly, “what are we going to call ourselves?” By just stating it like we already were a team, it would hopefully avoid any wishy-washiness of particularly taciturn or antisocial members.

“We could be called the Sisters of Mercy,” I said, chuckling darkly. “Like, our name sounds righteous and trustworthy… which we are,” I affirmed swiftly. “But, well… yeah. Irony, or surprise or something.” A few eyebrows raised quizzically.

“Or… how about the Gynomorphs?” Silence. Possibly stunned silence. “Well, do you have any ideas?”

I waited impatiently for a response from the other members of what would, one day, be known far and wide as—

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Runelord Reflections 1 (Day 1)
In the beginning

Day 1. 2.20.15 (In-Game: Rova, September)

A Somewhat Expected Party

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Night had fallen slowly, the great sea that glittered off to the west swallowing up the last sliver of sun with slow, patient deliberation. It annoyed me; I much preferred the nights back home, when you went from sunlight to shadow in the span of minutes. The mountains devoured the light in moments, and the sudden transition was always amazing. Like the death of the day, colors washing out until there was nothing left but shades of grey. Sudden, and violent. Not this long, lingering affair.

It had been a long trek up the coast from Magnimar. The urge to get away from the stifling population of the city was my main reason for making the nearly sixty mile journey to the isolated town of Sandpoint. I’d heard it mentioned frequently in recent days, and as I suffered under the “suspension” I’d been given following a bout of “overzealousness,” their words not mine… anyway, I was ready for a change of scenery.

Living on the road wasn’t a great deal of fun, however. My keen night vision was only helpful when my eyes were open; sleeping alone under the stars had grown to feel like asking for trouble. This is maybe why I was so startled to notice a small form curled up under a tree, a few dozen feet from the road I grudgingly trode.

Warily, I approached, every clink of the chainmail I wore making me wince. The lone figure looked humanoid… a small child perhaps.

I poked it with a toe.

As the being shifted with a high-pitched exclamation, a small blob of fur darted out from behind it. I stared at the tiny, beady eyes that regarded me calmly, a whiskered nose twitching as its neck craned out, displaying the fearsome rodent incisors that were impressive on even such a tiny creature.

Frowning, I dug around in my backpack and got out some of the disgusting cheese that had come with the meals I’d purchased. Iron rations indeed. Breaking off a nice chunk, I held it out and the rat snapped it up, hurtling across the shifting body and stopping at the tree, its tiny paws grasping the prize, childlike, rotating the piece as it took bite after bite.

The small girlish figure looked up from the ground. “Who’s your friend?” I asked. I’d always been partial to cute, fuzzy pets. If only they hadn’t proved so fragile…

“Mr. Fuzzy Whiskers,” the little girl replied, her voice high but unphased. She looked around curiously.

“Isn’t it a little late for you to be out, little girl?” I asked, feeling obligated. The thought crossed my mind that, perhaps, returning this child safely to her parents would be worth a reward of some kind. “Are you lost?”

“Lost?” She looked even more confused. Something about her face was a little strange, and then her blanket fell away, revealing a chest that had no place on an 8 year old anything. “How can one be lost, when the stars shine above?” She looked up, and the rapturous look on her face gave me a sudden case of the chills. “The stars are here to guide us…”

“Ah, yes… “ I agreed noncommittally.

The womanly girl glanced over, suddenly remembering my presence. “I am Rainbow Stargaze,” she stated. “I’m not a little girl, I’m a halfling. A shaman of the stars.”

“Lucrezia,” I nodded, introducing myself. “I can tell you’re very comfortable out here, Rainbow, but I for one prefer a roof over my head-”

“How can you see the stars, then?” Rainbow inquired, looking perplexed.

“-and I’ve heard there’s good times to be had in the town.” She regarded me blankly. “Like, bars and stuff. And a ceremony for some new church with free food.”

“A church?” The waist-high halfling paused, eyes sparkling with sudden interest. “What kind of food?” Rainbow asked. To me, her tone sounded a little accusatory for my liking.

“Uh, I dunno. Probably game meats, I suppose, lots of fish and lobster-”

“I don’t eat meat,” Rainbow explained, sounding now more condescending than disapproving. “I can use my magic to make old food become as new, safe to eat. The waste of others becomes my bounty.”

“Wait, you eat other people’s… waste?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard that right. Common has so many different dialects and nuances, it can get confusing.

“Yes. From their dumps, when I can,” she elaborated.

Now I was really grossed out. It took a few moments for me to catch on to the fact that Rainbow visited the actual refuse pits of villages and cities, eating old, rotten food. Disgusting, really, but better than what I’d originally thought.

Aside from her eating habits, though, she seemed interesting. And that little rat was perched on her shoulder, looking up with those cute beady black eyes. So I invited Rainbow Stargaze to join me in making the last few miles to Sandpoint before reveling in as much fun as my last two pieces of gold could buy.

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Setting off into the night, we entered a small forest and almost immediately encountered a foul stench. Nose wrinkling, I looked at Rainbow in dismay, but she shook her head. “Wasn’t me.”

“Arrggh.” That’s what I heard, or something like it. A lumpy figure clad in scaled armor stepped out from behind a tree. A tangled nest of ropy tendrils sprouted from her head, and dirt and grime covered every visible inch of its skin. It, in this case, was obviously a dwarf, but the gender was incomprehensible.

“Hello…”

“Who are you?” the creature asked, gruffly.

“I am Rainbow Stargaze, and this is Mister Fuzzy Whiskers-”

“Uhg, a rat!” it exclaimed.

“Lucrezia Firenza,” I said, trying to deflect the look of hatred I imagined in the dwarf’s slitted eyes as it regarded Rainbow’s pet. “And you, uh, sir?”

The furrowed eyes turned to me. “I’m no sir! I am Rakonia Stoneborn.”

“Nice to meet you, Rakonia.” I turned to Rainbow, crouching down and huddling. “That smell…”

“Yes, something will have to be done,” she agreed dreamily. Mister Fuzzy Whiskers wrinkled his nose from his perch on the halfling’s shoulder.

I glanced over at the dwarf, who was staring at us impatiently. I turned back to the huddle. “Is it a man or woman?”

Rainbow shrugged. Mister Fuzzy Whiskers gave a squeak that I could have sworn was a laugh.

“Rakonia, pardon my ignorance,” I began, turning toward the disheveled figure, eyeing the immense axe strapped to her back cautiously. “Are you a woman?” The lack of the beard seemed like a clue, but the state of this creature was so slovenly and mannish I had serious doubts.

“Gender is meaningless,” Rakonia grumbled unhelpfully, arms crossed.

“Yes, but…” I began, trailing off. “Imagine, hypothetically, if I were to be referring to you to a third party. Would I say he did this or she did this? It’s just that ‘it’ has such negative connotations in Common, genderlessness being a sign of-”

“She,” the apparent ‘she’ grunted.

Rainbow Stargaze shook her head sadly.

The rank stink of unwashed dwarf was becoming unbearable, even in the open air. An idea popped into my head. Carefully, one hand reached up inside my backpack, searching for the small glass bottle within. With my other, I pointed out into the woods.

“Hey, what’s that?” I asked, staring into the trees. Rakonia kept her eyes on me, puzzled or maybe suspicious. And quite right to be so. “Who’s that over there behind you?” I tried, trying to sound more urgent.

Rakonia spun around, falling for the ruse and looking off into the night. I stepped forward, reaching out to spray the short but squat figure with a blast of my Magnimar perfume. The dwarf, meanwhile, was calling out into the night. “Who are you?” she challenged, accompanying the question with a startled fart.

I almost chuckled as the dwarf spun back, hands flapping as if to ward away the pleasant and powerful odor I’d doused her with. Instead, I held my breath, only to do a double take as motion caught my eye. Unsettled, I watched a strange figure step out of the woods right around where I had been pointing. Lusterless grey skin seemed to absorb the half-moon’s illumination, a pair of glowing yellow-green eyes bulging hauntingly from her gaunt face. A black suit of leather armor clung to her emaciated frame.

Looking closer, her dark hair gleamed with a deep purple I’d never encountered. And so we met Zeyara, the shadowy skulker.

“Who are you?” someone exclaimed, possibly me. The shadowy, almost wraith-like figure stopped several yards away.

“Zeyara,” she murmured, and although we waited for the surname, it never came. Introductions were made. It seemed to be a night for that kind of thing.

“Do you often wander around alone in the dark during the night?” I couldn’t help asking this new stranger. She nodded absently, and I left it at that.

“What are you?” I continued, as politely as I could. Her bulbous eyes regarded me blankly.

“What are you?!” Rakonia challenged, pointing a finger at me accusingly.

I rolled my eyes, a bad habit, I know. Taking of my helmet, I ran a hand through my hair, pulling the thick, deep red locks back to expose my forehead. “I have horns; what do you think I am?” These initial moments could be fraught with danger if people leapt to conclusions. Humans were likely to, elves less so. Dwarves, though…

“Demon-spawn!” she cursed, or something like it. I shook my head, annoyed. I turned to give the dwarf a clear view of my posterior.

“Does it look like I have a tail?” I asked, slapping myself there to prove a point.

“You’re one of the fire-born!” Rainbow exclaimed in her high-pitched voice. I spun to look at the small shaman, amazed.

“You amaze me!” I admitted, impressed with her perception.

After a brief discussion of our now-mutual destination, Rainbow and Rakonia started swapping life stories, and Zeyara stepped closer. Something was off about her eyes; then I realized the luminous orbs had no pupils. It was eerie, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of staring into the eyes of a blind person. Despite her strange, even unsettling appearance, her concerns were pragmatic. “That smell…” she began, eyeing behind her as we trudged ahead of the shorter pair who followed in our wake.

I could only agree. Rakonia looked fit, but… unkempt would be a nice way to put it. And even with the perfume, the odor was unpleasant.

“Guess she doesn’t bathe much, out in the wild.”

“We should fix that,” the pale woman stated, and I found myself liking her candor. Traveling alone was not only dangerous, it was boring. I was finding myself enjoying the company of Rainbow and Zeyara.

Putting our heads together, we began to hammer out the vague beginning of a plan.

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Getting into town was surprisingly easy, given the darkness. The sun was three hours set, and most folks were preparing for bed, but in the distance we heard the sounds of what could only be alcohol-induced merriment. My step suddenly felt lighter.

The Rusty Dragon Inn was the first place we came upon once inside the city limits, and as some of my companions began to buy drinks, I soon found myself pleasantly relaxed thanks to the free liquor. At some point during the evening, two humans approached us. One, a tall blonde who’d been dancing as we’d walked in, had the accent of the far north, while the other spoke in a more local dialect. They introduced themselves as Skalmold Bangsidotter and Roussane Vega, respectively. The blonde had a savage demeanor, despite her deft footwork, and took her drinking seriously. Vega was more reserved, sitting and drinking only water.

The hostess, or owner, or whatever the operator of this inn was called, came to our table several times during the evening. She was definitely attractive, but in a strange way. Her eyes were different. I’d like to think it was because of the respect our appearance commanded, but in truth she was understaffed considering the nearly-full tavern. She introduced herself as Ameiko Kujutsu, and turned out to be an ex-adventurer herself, something not uncommon in the town from what I’d heard. The meal she served was devoured swiftly by the six of us, and although I decided to thank her for the meal personally and get some face time.

“Who was it that cooked our meal?” I asked innocently after approaching her place at the bar. She looked up from the glasses she’d been wiping down. “We’d like to thank them for the food, it was delicious.” I laid it on, quick and thick, before she could come up with a response.

“Oh, thank you, that was me,” she stated, pleased but not overly so.

“Ameiko? You own this establishment, right?” I was breaking out all my big words tonight. “Nice place,” I commented.

“I enjoy it,” she confided, glancing around the room fondly. “And it keeps me away from my mother, all the better,” she muttered, almost to herself.

“Family issues?” I asked, pretending to sympathize. My family problems ended with a bunch of giants squashed them against the rocky flats, nearly a decade ago.

Instead of taking the bait, she nibbled. “I don’t want to bore you with the details,” she settled on. Her tone had a note of finality that made me decide not to press the issue. I decided to change the subject.

“We’ve heard rumors,” I said softly, lowering my head conspiratorially. She remained upright, refusing to play along. “What happened five years back. I haven’t heard from anyone, well, local, and am worried about bring up old memories. The kind they’d rather forget.” I regarded her frankly. “You seem capable and intelligent; is there anything you could tell me about what happened back then?”

Her obsessive flagon-cleaning stopped as she seemed to gaze into the distance. “The time of troubles. Those were dark days. I was only a kid back then, but… yeah, I remember. The Chopper; it was all anyone talked about, near the end of it. Of course, they only took action once the right kind of people got taken.” Her voice had lowered the moment she’d stated the apparently forbidden name, and I had to lean forward to catch her words. “Luckily, things have been quiet ever sense. Mostly, at least,” she amended, before looking up to address a loud voice that beckoned her from across the crowded room. “Sorry, I have to get back to running an inn,” she smiled.

I tried not to let my annoyance show. “What do you mean the right kind of people?”

As she filled two large mugs, she spoke softly, still staring at the drinks. “The lower classes, they were disappearing left and right. For weeks.”

“The rich,” Zeyara observed, giving me a good start. I hadn’t seen her arrive. Had she been with me the whole time?

“It wasn’t until someone from the founding families got taken that they bothered catching the murderer.” And with that, she disappeared in a whirlwind of motion, refilling drinks and picking up empty plates and other equally uninteresting activities.

Zeyara gave me a mysterious nod and then returned to our table. I followed, taking deep breaths of fresh air while it was available. Fresher air, at least, I amended, the odor of sweat and liquor strong in the air.

Ameiko did offer to rent us a room, one that, with a few additional cots, would fit all six of us. Much of the city’s rooms were rented out due to the festival happening tomorrow.

“I’m sleeping outside,” Rakonia stated firmly, staring at us challengingly from below furrowed brows. Surprisingly, the rough, blotchy cheeks turned a deep crimson as the hostess’s eyes fell upon her.

“Yes, we will of course respect Rakonia’s wishes,” I said agreeably, feeling immensely relieved. I’d seen things crawling around the dwarf’s hair, and had since made a point to sit as far away from her as possible all night. “But as for us, well… what, exactly, are we looking at in terms of cost?”

A sum was stated and agreed upon, my share representing around a quarter of the wealth I had to my name. The coins fairly flew from my purse when she brought up the fact that the inn had its own private bath.

I’m positive my eyes glinted as I exchanged glances with Zeyara and then Rainbow. The halfling rubbed her little hands together eagerly.

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It wasn’t long after that when Rakonia, piss drunk, abruptly challenged the entire tavern to a fight. Taken aback by the sudden outburst, I soon found that nobody had paid her the least attention, or at least were pretending they hadn’t. Her blunt, ruddy face was glowering pugnaciously, and I couldn’t blame them for not staring, or even glancing, her way.

Except for some stupid kid. The milkling was barely old enough to shave, and I felt a stab of alarm at the upcoming confrontation that would no doubt likely ensue. Broken bones, at a minimum. Could even get gory. Heartened, I settled back to watch the show.

They settled on arm-wrestling. Rakonia slammed the boy’s hand into the table with a loud crunch, eliciting a series of amazed but pained screams from the kid. This drew some stares, but he waved off the concerned looks, staring at the dwarf in amazement. “You’re strong!” he said in a dozen different iterations.

And you’re an idiot, I thought to myself. Her arms were as thick as her legs. Which were as thick as my waist! What the hell had he expected? He may have been a foot taller, but unless I missed my guess Rakonia had a few stone’s weight in her favor.

The foolish boy heaped praises upon the dwarf, who had turned back to yet another tankard. Cradling his obviously broken hand, he looked around uncertainly… and then stopped as he noticed Rainbow beckoning him from a corner of the room.

I watched the strange interaction that followed with vision slightly blurred by the quantity of drinks already consumed as well as the increasingly potent stench of Rakonia’s flatulence. The halfling took the boy’s hand in her own, running her tiny fingers over it and eventually wrapping it tightly with a long strip of cloth. The two continued to talk for a while, and then the boy pressed something that glinted unmistakably across the lantern-lit inn before rushing out the door.

Gold.

Eager to get away, I caught up with a conflicted-looking Rainbow as she made her way towards the door, following the boy.

“Hey there-” I began, hoping that transaction I’d seen had been innocent.

“That boy gave me money,” the halfling stated, her eyes asking a question I didn’t quite understand.

“That’s… nice.” I paused. Was Rainbow a closet Calistrian-worshipper? And for a bare handful of coins…

“No, it’s not right. I need to give it back,” Rainbow mused. “Besides, money doesn’t really have any value, anyway.”

This puzzled me, having seen the halfing purchase a round of drinks using coin earlier that evening, but I let it go. “Well, should we-”

“He just left, we’ve got to go catch him,” she insisted. I nodded, and gave an unnecessary “after you” arm-wave, the child-sized shaman already halfway out the door.

We caught up to him a block or so away. The streets were surprisingly empty; in Magnimar, there is always an element that not only survives in the darkness, but thrives in it. Apparently not so in the backwater of Sandpoint. Rainbow was about to give the foolish kid his money back, but I had another idea.

“You want to make sure it gets back to its proper owner, right?” I cajoled Rainbow, and convinced the boy to bring us to his home.

His mother was first relieved to see the young man, and wary of the two strangers outside her door. “Can I… help you?” she inquired, not timid as much as skeptical.

I nodded at Rainbow to take it away. She nodded back amiably. Trying to be clearer, I pointed down, and with a smile she held up the four gold coins the boy had given her. “What is… I don’t-”

“That foolish boy of yours nearly gave away your hard-earned money tonight, lady. There are all sorts of liars and thieves who would seek to take it from the boy, by trickery or force. It is lucky for you that my friend Rainbow Stargaze is not one to take advantage of people!” I waved an arm, indicating the halfling at my side.

A look of dawning understanding crossed her features, and as I detailed the reason why she should be thankful for our helpful intervention and honesty, she came to appreciate those very things. What followed was a short chat about the town, touching briefly on the nature of events that had transpired some five years ago.

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Sandpoint had been beset by a series of unfortunate occurrences, most notable the disappearance of numerous citizens of the town. This time of trouble had seen the burning of the Church of Desna, goddess of travelers and the stars. The celebration that was to be held tomorrow was, in fact, the re-opening of that very church, along with secondary naves dedicated to another five gods inside, serving the spiritual needs of the entire community.

A murderer had run rampant during that time, many of the disappearances blamed upon the mysterious figure behind the brutal acts, known in the town’s lore as the Chopper.

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“But since then, things have been pretty quiet-”

A harsh masculine voice called out to the woman from inside the house, and our discussion was stopped short. Insisting that everything was fine, the lady rushed inside and we shrugged and left, only then noticing that Zeyara had been shadowing us throughout the entire journey. I waved, thinking of walking back together, but she once again disappeared into the darkness, no doubt slinking out of sight in hidden alleyways and along rooftops.

The Rusty Dragon was in a bit of an uproar. As we got back, numerous people were standing near our table, and Rakonia’s eyes were wide with excitement.

Someone had told her about a competition run by one of the inn’s competitors, the Hagfish Tavern, where you can get a tankard full of mucus-like hagfish slime to drink. If you can get it down, there was a cash prize, along with the distinction of having your name etched in the wall of the inn in tribute to the deed.

“I’m gonna do it!” the dwarf shouted gleefully, her grin slightly manic. Shrugging, the rest of us gave ‘what the hell’ looks to each other, and followed the ranger out into the night.

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Imagine a chanting crowd, hooting and clapping and stomping the floor. Rakonia stood amid a wide pile of sawdust, holding the tankard in her hand. I’d seen the mess that the barkeep had lifted, a long slimy snake of mucus that he’d had to cut with a knife in order to separate, the vile, translucent stuff plopping wetly into the mug.

The tankard tilted back, I saw the dwarf’s throat bob as she swallowed once, twice, then-

Now imagine the crowd roaring with laughter and amusement, if anything louder than they were cheering before. The dwarf bent over, a long string of slimy goo hanging from her mouth, eyes bulging as she fought to bring the rest of it up. I chuckled mean-spiritedly, thinking of how tough the ranger had presented herself. Maybe it wasn’t arrogance and disdain for the rest of the world that made her so filthy and uncouth. Perhaps it was all an act, just the mask of a sensitive soul too frightened to seek the acceptance of-

Imagine the laughter dying, first slowly, then with increasing rapidity, until, in the span of five breaths, the room is deathly silent. Clearing her throat unpleasantly, Rakonia bent down, gathering up the semi-liquid contents of her vomit in the tankard. Stunned, everyone watched as she approached the barkeep, holding the vessel out. With undisguised disgust, he waved the tankard away. “No, keep it-”

“Again,” Rakonia stated, clearing her throat and spitting noisily. “Put more on top. I’ll drink it all.” There were gasps from the crowd. Rainbow made a noise and clenched her stomach with both hands while Zeyara, Vega and Skalmold looked on in horrified fascination.

I watched as, once again, the hagfish slime was harvested from an aquarium behind the bar, and the disgusting mixture was raised up by the dwarf, as if in salute. The room remained deathly silent as it tilted back… only to erupt in thunderous glee when, a moment later, the dwarf began projectile vomiting with impressive force.

While the others looked on in dismay, and in Zeyara’s case frank and outright horror, I sensed a different problem. Here we were, standing around supposedly supporting our crazy looking dwarf friend. The laughter, while not cruel, was filled with the sounds of derision. Rakonia had made an impression.

Somewhat mockingly, the barkeep had looked at us with a rueful shake of his head. “Anyone else want to take the challenge?”

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“Why? Why would you do it? Is no one civilized among the bunch of you?” Zeyara looked around in desperation. “You,” she stated, pointing to Rainbow. “You’re the most cultured out of any of them!”

At least I didn’t try to drink my own vomit. I was still gasping for breath at this point. The cheering, the applause, the smell of charred wood as my name had been burnt into the wall of fame… it was all a blur. The twenty-eighth winner in over fifty years of attempts. Even as I choked, I patted the coinpurse tucked underneath my leggings, its weight as reassuring as the looks of admiration, or possibly just novelty, that the townsfolk had worn.

Afterward, I’d stuck around for as long as I could stand, but once outside I’d walked a few blocks and shoved a finger down my throat, forcing up the heavy mass of uncomfortable slime that filled my stomach to its limit. The long stringy mess had taken some work to get out, and I had this horrible image of puking out a tentacle that never ended. I still dream about that.

Better up than out the other end, I suppose. I could hear the dwarf’s explosive stomach problems half a block away. Idly, I hoped that she’d had the sense to find some cover before pulling down her pants. If she remembered that part. I wasn’t too concerned, she wasn’t sleeping in the room with us, and all I could think about was bed.

But upon arriving back, the Rusty Dragon was largely empty. The others decided to close the place down, while I quickly took advantage of the empty bath and washed away the lingering smell of fishy slime.

By the time I returned, Zeyara, Skalmold, Vega and Rainbow were standing around the prone form of Rakonia, who was snoring loudly.

“The bath is open,” I said, and with a matching set of evil grins, the five of us turned back to the dwarf.

“Who’s going to carry her?” Zeyara asked, glancing significantly at me and the blonde barbarian.

“I’ll help,” I stated, grabbing a tablecloth and throwing it over the crumpled, lumpy form. “But that means someone else is scrubbing her.”

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Next time: Wake up with a haircut, competition fruition, and kill and be killed.

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The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

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