Day 2. (2.20.15)
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.
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.
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.
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—