Ramaih's Mettle

Chapter 1

Xandos-Alonzo couldn’t sleep. He grumbled as he rolled over yet again. Dozens of loud, boisterous voices outside of the wagon banished even the thought of a restful night. Most of the people were clearly drunk, or well on their way, with those poor sober fools left to listen to the fey-tales of the intoxicated. In the distance one could even hear the clattering of bottles and tableware from the makeshift bar. And every few moments, like clockwork, Alonzo heard the sound of a knife being thrown into a thin plank of wood, followed by the nervous yelps of the idiot tied to it.

The drinking games must’ve started already. The man rolled over again in bed on his bedroll, trying to situate the bulging pouch at his waist where it wouldn’t annoy him. While fumbling with the belt, the pouch’s clasp popped open and its contents fell to the wagon’s floorboard with a heavy thud. Xandos lay still and looked down. Thanks to the firelight creeping in through the wall cracks, he spied a glimmer of light down below him. He watched the diamond, halfway expecting the heirloom to do something amazing. In all the years he kept it, he rarely took it out of its case. It was undoubtedly valuable, and his father told him to guard it with his life. Xandos glanced down at it again, realizing that it was the longest time the gem had ever been off of his person. He slipped out of bed and scooped it up, examining it more closely.

“Funny. Never noticed you before.” He tapped the diamond, peering at a tiny red dot just off-center. “Probably worthless now.”

After turning it over a few times to ensure that the blemish was real, Xandos placed the bauble in its pouch and sat on the edge of the bedroll. He took a deep breath and stretched his neck. He looked down again at the pouch. Every year around this time the thing bugged him. He didn’t know why, but he figured it had to do with the Ramaih, another “heirloom” he didn’t fully understand. Historically he knew that the festival had something to do with a distant ancestor, or perhaps a close relation to that ancestor. Apart from that he had no clue. Every year since he could remember, races and people of all types gathered at his small Methwood town and set off to the north in wagons, picking up more and more travelers along the way. The tradition, though historically mysterious, was simple for Xandos to grasp in financial terms; the settlement made more coin during the preparatory tenday of the Ramaih than it did from an entire season’s harvest. On top of this, merchants like himself made even more over the course of the pilgrimage, and the most prolific solely worked the event and took the rest of the year off.

A loud cry woke Xandos from his thoughts and he jumped up to peer out the tiny window. He saw some new faces, and a few familiar ones, but couldn’t catch the source of the outcry. Most of the folk were also merchants or travelers looking for a safe way to travel north, but a few stood out like kobolds in a cabbage patch. Two massive dragonborn warriors joked with a dwarf at the bar, and all three men stood in heavy, durable armor. Across the way the merchant picked out an eladrin and an elf engrossed in conversation. They wore rather foreign clothing, and both looked as if they’d seen their fair share of the world. The elf nodded his head back toward the darkness of the forest. Xandos followed the nod and the eladrin’s gaze back to a genasi, who was apparently drunk and talking to a tree. The two fey watched the woman intently. Finally she very soberly stepped toward the small encampment and made her way to the bar, though the eladrin’s gaze remained fixed upon the forest. Curiously,Xandosgaze returned to the forest. A glimmer rippled at the forest’s edge as a dark, elf-like figure stepped into view.

Drow? That’s a first. Xandos stepped away form the window and threw a long, warm cloak over his shoulders and unlatched the door to his wagon. Let’s see. A drow, an eladrin, and an elf. Two dragonborn and a dwarf. A genasi. Halflings and tieflings. I think I even saw a gnome or two running around out there. Gods know what else. This is going to be an interesting journey, Xandos thought as he rubbed his head.

As Xandos walked past the genasi he heard part of the conversation. “Cynicism isn’t particularly the word for it, Ava. Skepticism maybe.” Lymegloth spoke to the genasi from the forest’s shadows, neatly hidden from most of the pilgrims. Most of them would be too drunk to care about the drow’s presence, but he knew a few would feel naturally repelled by him. He eyed the elf and the eladrin across the camp. They returned the glare.

“Yeah, but you don’t have anything to worry about! It’s not like they’re going to cut you down at first sight.” The genasi’s attention wandered to the bar, specifically to the two dragonborn warriors drinking there. She changed the conversation’s topic on a whim. “Dragonborn. I wonder what they are doing here.” Xandos continued his stroll towards the bar.

“Probably the same thing we are.” Lyme’s words fell on deaf ears, as Ava gravitated to the bar, as if under some charm or compulsion. “Typical genasi.”

The drow stepped into the light, finally acknowledging to himself that he couldn’t hide forever. He presumed that a majority of the travelers were good people, but he kept his guard up. He trusted most people. Unless they were drow of course. He encountered only one drow who had escaped the clutches of Lolth’s matriarchic hell, but he still adopted the cruel practices of his relatives. Lyme was not ashamed to have pride that he shed the hateful, monstrous practices of his former society. Still, people tended to judge on appearance, which usually didn’t work out too well for the drow.

A gruff little man sat near the bar, thumbing through some papers. He signed and stamped every few pages. The drow hadn’t even moved halfway across the camp before the man noticed him. He didn’t seem particularly surprised when the dark elf stopped at the table.

“I’m gonna take a wild guess that you aren’t here as a merchant or a pilgrim,” the man said as he shoved a long list of names in front of the drow. He turned his eyes back to his paperwork. “We’re paying a few silver a day for protection of the caravan. Bonus if you work the whole trip. Numbers are in the paperwork if you’re signing up.”

Lyme just scanned the names, not really paying attention to the job’s pay. He knew it would be enough to cover his expenses. The list was broken down into days of the Ramaih. Most of the guards signed up on the first and second day. Among the names he could clearly pick out a couple of dragonborn, some elves, some [[human|humans], and maybe a dwarf or two. He eyed the first name on the third day’s list. Avandra-Shar. The drow knew she would sign on to protect the caravan, just like he knew he’d have to sign on to make sure she kept out of trouble. He scribbled his name at the bottom of the list. “Looks fine.”

Lymegloth Helvimtor’agh? Where in the Nine Hells do these names come from?” The trailboss chuckled and transferred the information to a different list, stamping it with authority. “Name’s Ozzal. You’ll get some basic stuff from the supply wagon, like a bedroll. Wear this pendant at all times. It lets people know that you’re part of the guard. If you need anything, just ask . . . someone else.”

“Very good.” He left the trailboss to his work, turning just in time to see one of the dragonborn slam his fist down on the bar. He’d been halfway paying attention to the boisterous lizard since perusing the guard list.

“So there we were surrounded by sleeping goblins! I mean do we look sneaky to you?” He sloshed his drink at a dwarf who didn’t seem enthralled with the story, but listened nonetheless. “So out of nowhere Draven here passes the loudest, foulest smelling gas ever! Ha ha! Of course they woke up! And I swear to you, hand to Bahamut, they were too sick to fight! They just swooned around and started puking! Ha!”

The other dragonborn, decidedly named Draven, started laughing as well and slammed his drink down in front of Ava. Lyme found it hard not to laugh. She looked shocked, intrigued, and horrified all at once. The drow sat next to her. “You alright?”

She snapped out of the trance and smiled. “Oh I’m doing great! These fine gentlemen bought me a glass of something here. I haven’t tried it yet, and I forget what it is called. Something about honey. Did you talk to the trailboss?”

“I did. He made fun of my name and basically shut own any chance at a normal conversation. You say I’m antisocial.” The drow prodded the genasi, who chuckled. Oddly enough the dragonborn storyteller started laughing also.

“Heh. Draven, check out this one’s little crossbow.” He pointed to the weapon fastened to Lyme’s back, making it clear that he was laughing at the drow, not with him. “How are you going to protect these good folk with that little thing? Why do you elf-types always have to stay back and shoot things? It’s a lot easier when you’re in front, leading your friends through the front lines, on to victory!” Lyme decided the lizard was a little drunk.

“Look at his armor, Recs! He’s got cute little metal scales all over it. Looks like he wants to be a fish or something.” Draven chimed in, slapping his friend on the back.

The drow rolled his eyes and ordered a drink. Realizing they weren’t going to get a rise out of him, the dragonborn called “Recs” turned his attention back to storytellling. He chuckled to himself at the thought of them poking fun at his gear. It took him years to create and finish the black leather armor. He modified the normal leather suit to be ultra-functional. Indeed it made him a walking armory. The small metallic pieces resembling fish-scales were actually shuriken embedded into special grooves in the leather, he had about 30 within reach at all times. Along his arms, thighs, and calves were longer, much thinner pieces of metal, which could be removed and used as crossbow bolts, assuming his quiver ran dry. Finally, rounding his waist were shorter, almond-shaped daggers, which could be wielded or thrown. The concept was rather simple, as was most of the suit’s design. The challenging part was making the suit flexible enough to retain its dextrous qualities. The drow was usually the most heavily armed person around, and was happy with the fruits of his labor.

Lyme glimpsed the elf who pointed at him earlier near the largest campfire, but there was a new face next to him. A well-dressed human spoke at length. The elf seemed to listen more than anything. The man’s clothes were decidedly of local creation; Lyme could see many similarities in the ruddy, brown fabric that most of the other locals wore. This man was rather well-dressed however, but the thick clothing didn’t effectively hide the large lump on his hip. Seeing a belt, the drow automatically assumed that something of value rested in an attached pouch. He turned to drop a few copper for the bartender and found that the eladrin had made her way to the other side of the two dragonborn. She didn’t have a drink, and her eyes constantly shifted back to the drow. She was keeping an eye on him, and wasn’t at all trying to hide it.

p. “Not very many people that would even know how the Ramaih started are still living, you see? It’s just a tradition that has endured through the hardships of the last century. My father simply told me that it was the way of things, and that it would be for a long, long time.” p. Lucan listened to Xandos intently, taking mental notes during the conversation. The elf knew that this new acquaintance wasn’t fully revealing everything about the Ramaih, but it didn’t seem like he was trying to deceive him either. He assumed the man was probably tired of explaining the event to every outsider he came across. He gestured around the camp and looked toward the bar. “So you’ve been a part of all this for quite a while now?” p. “I’ve been involved for many years now, probably more than I even care to count. But it’s a great opportunity to meet some new faces and make a fairly good living.” p. The question allowed Lucan to scan the area again without appearing to lose interest in the conversation. The drow, the dwarf, and Elle, an eladrin he’d met earlier, were all watching him from the makeshift bar. p. “What brings you here? You don’t seem like the merchant type.” Xandos countered with a question of his own. p. “I’ve traveled all across the continent over the years, learning about bits and pieces of cultures of all types. While passing through the area, I heard about this and couldn’t pass it up. I figured I could offer my services in guarding the caravan for a time. I’m traveling north anyway.” The elf started to gesture toward the large pouch attached to the man’s hip, but his question was cut off by the loud voice of the trailboss. p. “Alright folks, this is our first night out of the protection of a village or city, so we’re going to go over a few ground rules. A few of those signed on for guard duty will keep watch at night, so don’t worry about raiders or thieves. We’ll catch ‘em before they get to us. Now as far as your safety goes, if you go wandering out of the camp, you’re on your own. Lights out is going to start taking effect earlier, and we’re going to need things to be real quiet so people can sleep and the watchmen can do their job. I’m figuring we’ll hit Avemport in about three to four days tops. Anyway, everybody take a few minutes to get situated because we’re going to start having you all settle down and start catching some shut eye for tomorrow. The sun comes up early when you’re on the road. So get some sleep guys, hopefully the bugbears won’t bite.” p. Lucan and Xandos watched people preparing to shut down for the night. A few merchants packed up their wares, and the bartender started packing his makeshift counter into a wagon. The campfires started to go out, save a few to provide light for the night watch. After a few moments the elf looked over to see Xandos passed out on the grass near the large, central fire. He stood and started to walk to the edge of the camp. He’d drawn first half of the night’s watch.

Lymegloth flinched and lost concentration of the passage he was translating in the heavy journal. He felt the slightest tickle on his left calf. A large, ugly spider sat on his leg. It remained still, and almost seemed to watch him from its eight glassy eyes. After a few moments it continued to silently creep up to the drow’s kneecap. He put his hand down and allowed the spider to climb on it. It was just a bit bigger than his palm. Bringing the arachnid up to eye-level, he stared straight at it, not giving any impression of discomfort or nervousness. The two front legs, the “feelers,” reached out a bit, and Lyme allowed the spider to crawl onto his shoulder. The creature scurried almost recklessly down the drow’s back, and scuttled off into the darkness.

“Should I take that as a sign? Anyone with half a brain would’ve crushed that spider the moment they saw it.” The voice behind him had an elvish quality. “Spiders are often dangerous.”

“Fortunately, I have more than half a brain, and thus do not go about killing things on a whim. Spiders may be dangerous, but they aren’t necessarily vicious.”

“But given the chance most would bite you.”

“I suppose one could see it that way if they hadn’t thought about the situation from both sided.”

“They’d certainly attack you without warning.”

“Spiders are natural creatures and predators for survival. Besides, we aren’t talking about spiders anymore, are we?” Lyme caught the shift in tone. The argument was clearly about the drow, though the elf didn’t seem hostile or threatening. He actually seemed a bit interested in the conversation.

“It’s easier to communicate with the more literate races with metaphorical language, an advantage most of us fey are gifted with. I see you picked up on it rather quickly.”p.

“By ‘most of us fey’ you certainly don’t mean the cave-dwelling, rapaciously wicked, and eternally damned drow do you?”

“I prefer to be in harmony with natural creatures.” The elf came around and sat next to Lyme, looking out into the woods, now that both of the men knew the other’s intentions. The drow recognized him from earlier that night. “It must be nice to be able to see in the dark. The name is Lucan, by the way.”

“It must be nice to travel freely without being harassed by guards, drunks, or . . . well, pretty much everyone else.” Lyme grinned a little bit. He thought about a few encounters he’d had, particularly with town guards. He’d been jailed once for eating an apple in public. The guard tried to convince him it was a serious crime, but the fact that his partner kept laughing made it hard to believe. The drow escaped within the first night, relieving the guardhouse of most of its valuables. “But sometimes it’s more fun that way. Name’s Lymegloth.”

The elf chuckled and nodded his head toward the pendant around Lyme’s neck. “You’ve obviously been to the east. That symbol is from old Mulhorand isn’t it?”

The drow tried to keep the golden eagle’s talon under his armor, but he had a bad habit of unconsciously wearing it in the open. “It is. It was a sort of holy symbol, nothing more than an heirloom now. I spent a good deal of time in Mulhor– I mean High Imaskar. It’s an interesting place. I’d like to go back–” The drow stopped, staring past Lucan’s shoulder.

“Something’s out there.” He whispered in elvish. The elf perked up a little bit also, listening rather than looking. Lyme nodded in the affirmative. “I will go back to the camp and alert the others, you should probably fall back toward the protection of the caravan.”

The drow heeded the elf’s advice, and hopped up, taking a few steps back. He snuck back toward one of the wagons and readied his hand crossbow, carefully drawing a knife from the armor with his free hand. He could make out four kobolds in the distance. They seemed to be arguing, probably about how best to ambush the caravan. He caught movement in the corner of his eye, and looked over to see the two dragonborn down on their haunches, followed by Ava, Lucan, and the eladrin.

“What’s the trouble?” The dwarf from the bar snuck around the other side of the wagon, and squatted down next to Lymegloth. He was still in his sleeping-breeches, but had a great warhammer slung over one shoulder. A very large, ornate holy symbol of Torm dangled from the chain around his neck.

Well this isn’t likely that common. A dwarven cleric of Torm running around in his pajamas with his warhammer? Not surprising, I guess, but quite a site. The drow suppressed a laugh. “Well, I’m getting ready to take one of those bastard kobolds down before our comrades go charging out there with torches or sunrods.”

“If you plan on staying back, I’ll head over there and offer Draven and Recs some support.”

“They’ll probably need it. A four kobold raiding party is about as useful as a one-eyed beholder. There have to be more of them out there.” Lyme watched the dwarf scuttle over to the others. Recs and Draven pulled two sunrods, and looked eager to crack them. “Great timing guys.”

He quickly pointed his crossbow at the nearest kobold, taking a few moments to level the sight. The bowstring released and a tiny, metal glint soared through the air, embedding itself right underneath the creature’s clavicle. It fell to the ground, yelping and writhing in pain. Four more burst onto the scene, pulling out slings or shortswords. Lymegloth swiftly drew another bolt from his quiver and slammed it into place.

p. Draven heard a kobold cry out, followed by a few grunts and curses in draconic. He and Recolitus threw the sunrods out as far as they could. Moments later they cracked on the ground and illuminated a good portion of the field between the wagons an the forest. The dragonborn saw shadows just outside of the trees and both charged instinctively. As he neared, he saw most of the goblinoids swinging slings over their heads, he grinned. “I get the one on the left!” p. “That leaves me the other seven, right?” Recs snorted and laughed. p. An arrow whizzed in between the two charging warriors, and struck one of the sling-bearers in the neck. It dropped slowly, twirling the sling until it hit the ground. The kobolds released their bullets, three of which soared over Draven’s head. The last caught him in the shoulder, but didn’t break his charge. He heaved the heavy pick over his head and brought it down hard against the shoulder of his target, driving it deep into the chest of the small creature. The dragonborn put his foot on the kobold’s shoulder and yanked the weapon out of its body. He turned his head and saw Recs pull a similar move with the goblinoid on the other side of the line. They now had the rest of the kobolds pinned between them. p. “For glory!” Recs shouted the command, and Draven unleashed a breath weapon of platinum-blue flame, seeing a burst of green acid coming from his partner. After the smoke and steam cleared the kobolds unfortunate enough to be alive writhed in agony on the ground. Almost instantaneously five much larger kobolds burst out of the woods. Three charged at Draven, but one was interrupted by the blast of the eladrin’s magic missile. p. “Elle’s moved into range,” the dragonborn shouted, wincing as one of the kobolds drove its sword into his outer thigh. He returned the blow, smacking the flat end of his pick against the head of the creature. It started to veer off to the left, but the velocity of an arrow slamming into its side dropped it mid-step. “So has Lucan.” p. “Right!” Recolitus parried the creature in front of him, while trying to avoid the blows from the swordsman behind. He was doing rather well for a creature of his size. p. Draven swung again at the kobold in front of him, but his axe bit into the ground as the kobold almost supernaturally slunk back toward the forest. The dragonborn looked over to see Recs drop his axe and smash his fists into the sides of a kobold’s skull. He laughed as the final creature fled toward the darkness of the woods. p. “Heh, that was over before it began.” Draven stretched his arms out and checked his leg. It needed a bandage, but wasn’t too serious. He patted his long-time friend on the shoulder. “Good show, you old lizard.” p. “Not too bad yourself. Not that good, but not too bad.” He chuckled and picked up his axe. The elf and the eladrin jogged up to the forest’s edge, followed shortly by the dwarf. “The elves even helped out a little bit! Ha!” p. “Anybody injured?” The dwarf asked, already noticing Draven’s leg. “Let me take a look at that.” p. “It’s fine Sjur. It can wait until we get back to the camp.” The dwarf started checking the two dragonborn over anyway. p. “This is odd. Why would they ambush us from so far out? The forest is much closer on the other side of the camp.” Lucan bent down and plucked a silvery crossbow bolt out of the shoulder of one of the corpses. p. Elle bent down too, examining the body. “He’s not very well equipped. They’d have had a greater chance if they’d hit us from the other side.” p. “Unless,” Recs pondered for a moment. “Unless, they wanted us out here for a particular reason.” A cry rose from the camp, which was now quite a distance away. “Great.”



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