Ramaih's Mettle

Prologue

Aoth shifted in his seat a little. There were more important matters requiring his attention than waiting in a cold, silent office. His eyes searched the room in boredom. The tapestries that had been rushed from Skuld covered a large portion of the extraordinarily ugly, brown walls of the temple. A particularly large one hung behind the desk, and depicted Horus-Re smiting his evil uncle Set. The others, all a good deal smaller, bore images of Horus as a wise and powerful ruler. The rest of the small room was rather plain, which pleased Aoth, for it meant that the church wasn’t squandering his donations on trinkets. Still, every time he donated money to the church of Horus-Re, the high priest always had to be summoned to greet him and give him thanks. Aoth was a natural business man and hated to lose the time, but the church came first, for he was, first and foremost, a paladin of Horus-Re.
The door handle clicked.

p. “Sir Aoth Ramaih, my Lord.“ The simply dressed scribe escorted Cadras Reodemi into the office. He backed out of the room and quietly closed the doors, after the high priest reached his desk. The small man was probably no taller than an elf, though he could have easily outweighed three. He seated himself, wearing his typical priestly accouterments, with a large grin upon his cherry red face. Many considered him an unusual sight, especially for a high priest of Horus-Re, but Aoth knew the man was as honest and faithful as any.
Aoth rose and bowed his head. “Well met, high priest. I hope my coming has not disturbed your studies.”

p. “Not in the least, dearest Aoth!” The High Priest was always known refer to a select few as his “dearest,” which mostly comprised those who gave faithfully to the church of Horus-Re, particularly to his own temple. “I had just finished sermonizing on the rightful authority of Horus-Re to a few younger initiates, when I heard of your generous donation. You know, with such grand gestures of esteem it is no wonder we have seen a massive influx of Untherite citizens wanting to join the ranks of our temple!”

p. “That is good to hear, the more the Church plays a role in this adoption of the Untherite state into Mulhorand, the better. I would still remind you to keep an eye out for those who you admit into the temple. There are a great number of natives opposed to our presence here.”

p. The portly man shrugged this off with a look of complete triumph, as if he himself had trumped the Untherite people’s attempts to remove the Mulhorandi presence in Unthalass. He raised a finger, shaking it a little. “Yes, they have tried many a time to infiltrate the church, but every attempted entry by one of these violent renegades has been prevented by our mark of justice, which is a requirement to join. You see a mark of justice is . . . .”

p. Aoth was quite familiar with the magical technique, probably because Cadras had explained it to him nearly every time he visited the temple. Though his eyes were fixed on the priest, Aoth’s mind began to wander. The clergy used them on inductees of the many different temples, as well as criminals, to help keep their actions honorable and good. The inscription, cast on the head or the right arm, acted as a safeguard against acts of evil, keeping the members of the clergy honest and faithful to the temple that they served. As Priest Reodemi mentioned, Aoth knew of a few attempts to infiltrate the temple, though the mark prevented such incursions.

p. “Yes, but be careful just the same,” Aoth warned the small, rotund man with true concern in his voice. “There have been many more instances in the Undercity since Mulhorand’s arrival in Unthalass. I fear it may be more than just rebels this time.”

p. Cadras shrugged and walked over to the window, narrowing his eyes a little. He peered at the bustling crowd outside. “Yes, I understand. I noticed as well, and will mention that you should take care too. Not only are the temples in danger, but so are those who support them.” He paused for a moment his eyes became downcast and he bit his lower lip, as if to reflect on his previous statement. He quickly straightened himself, regaining his naturally jolly demeanor. “Anyway, I suppose you have business to take care of. I confess that the temple has been such a busy place lately I hardly find time to sleep, not too mention eat and preach.”

p. Aoth chuckled at the statement, trying to picture Cadras forgoing food for sleep. He was also glad that the church was busy, for it meant that he would be able to leave the temple earlier than planned and possibly get a bite to eat on the way to his newest business venture. The paladin rose and smiled at the priest, who had found some sort of smoked meat to satisfy his hunger.

p. “Yes, then I’ll see you on tenth-day?” The little priest said in between a bite of the meat.

p. “I can guarantee it. Take care high priest.” Aoth said excusing himself from the small foyer, with a quiet chuckle and a slight nod.

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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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Chapter 2

Dust clouds formed outside of the city’s massive walls, which had clearly lost much of their majesty through continual raids by pirates, rebels, the Mulhorandi army, and a foul presence from the Undercity. This foul presence attracted Darasthyr to Unthalass, a presence that drove him mad with anger every time he thought about it. Rumors of undead, lamias, and other evil creatures in the Undercity of Unthalass crept all the way to the Mulhorandi capitol. The mere thought of undead creatures made Darasthyr growl. He often boasted that his scowl would scare the barbs off of a manticore. After a few more steps he found himself at the city gate, where a rather young guard stood idly reading some sort of local publication. The man did not look up as he addressed Darasthyr, apparently too busy to bother.

“May I see your papers, please?”

A scaly, clawed hand, big enough to encompass the guard’s entire head, jutted forth with a neat stack of Mulhorandi citizenship papers. The guard jumped back and immediately looked up when he saw the massive hand. He stopped and stared in fascinated horror at Darasthyr. He stood about nine feet tall, and weighed at least 800 pounds, with thick green and silver scales covering his entire body. Long wings stuck out of his back, and a long tale dragged on the ground behind him. Darasthyr forced the papers into the guard’s hands taking little offense. He understood that most men who encountered a dragonkin didn‘t live to speak about it. His confusion must have been compounded by the fact that the creature possessed Mulhorandi citizenship papers. After perusing the documents for a moment, the sweating guard handed the papers back and called for the gate to be opened.

“Anything unusual going on in the city?” Darasthyr made small talk while he waited for the gate.

The guard regained a little composure. “Just the usual. Crime seems to be up, but the bureaucrats tell us it’s all normal.”

“You don’t believe that. Obviously.”

“Rumor has it that recent robberies and kidnappings have been caused by something in the Undercity. Deep in the Undercity. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the bureaucracy will always hide the truth for control.”

“Sometimes deception is necessary. Boring but necessary.” The guard half-laughed at the dragonkin’s joke, clearly calmer and more casual than a few moments prior. The gate squealed open. “Blessings of Osiris,” said the dragonkin, flicking the guard a silver.

From the city’s dilapidated entrance, Darasthyr could see the remains of a guard tower, which had been probably overrun in one of the many raids on the city. He paused for a moment to glance around, noting the overwhelming population of beggars on the streets, and then slowly continued his somber walk. He glanced around for any sort of inn or tavern that looked half way respectable, passing by many that had been badly damaged, or even destroyed, in previous raids.

After a few moments, and a few coin spared to a particularly destitute family, Darasthyr came to a relatively new building. The sign hanging above the door depicted a dwarf leaning back in a sturdy chair with a long pipe and a welcoming look on his face. Appropriately enough “The Lazy Dwarf” was lettered just below the picture, in both Untheric and Common script. The place was in better condition than any he had seen, so Darasthyr entered the narrow doorway.

The dragonkin was greeted with the usual odd stares and gasps from barmaids and the womenfolk, while the men gave him an uneasy look. He saw more than a few thrust a hand into their shirts and coats. He didn’t pay too much attention to the patrons of the bar, as his mind was instinctually focused on something else. He felt a few distinct pulls, like small magnetic forces, coming from certain people in the room. He slowly approached the bar and found a large seat in front of the non-surprisingly, dwarven barkeep, who was polishing some kind of tankard. The keep looked intently at the giant who had just entered the room, but remained calm and collected. In fact, he seemed to be unsurprised at the dragonkin‘s appearance.

“So what’ll it be? Ale? Beer? What you see is what we got.” He indicated to a large shelf of local and imported brews, none of which caught Darasthyr’s fancy.

Darasthyr was about to answer the dwarf when he caught the wiry man next to him staring, either out of sheer amazement or ignorant fear. He looked at the staring fool for a moment and glanced at the barkeep once again. “Wyvern’s blood, piping hot!” The dragonkin roared, then quickly turned and grinned at his neighbor, who jumped up from his chair with a short gasp. The man ran out of the building as if he had just seen Set himself.

Darasthyr smiled at the barkeep, who let out a hardy laugh, slamming a large mug of ale on the counter, one perfectly matched for the creature‘s large size. Taking a sip, he noted the local ale wasn‘t half bad. “I’m looking for accommodations for a larger creature.”

The [[dwarf] reached under the counter and flipped a key to the dragonkin. “Rent is one standard per night, paid full in advance. You’ll get some bread and water in your room, but we also offer supper in the bar for an extra four silver.”

Darasthyr nodded and laid down a few gold coins to cover his room, a meal, and his ale, as well as one to pay for the drink of the man who had fled the building. After a few lighthearted words and a joke or two from the keep, Darasthyr made his way to an empty table, where he awaited his food. He watched the various folk enter and exit the bar, though they all seemed to be common people, and the majority were citizens of Unther, though a Mulhorandi walked in every once in a while. Just as the barmaid was bringing a platter of fresh bread, butter, cheese, and what looked like swine, to his table, someone caught his eye in the doorway. A man not over twenty paused at the door to look around the tavern, and, though the room was shadowy, his features seemed to radiate throughout the place. He appeared to be quite sturdy and muscular. Darasthyr also noticed that the man was dressed more stately than most of the peasants who frequented the bar, though he was not clothed as a gaudy noble. He seemed to wear clothes that had much more of a practical purpose, while not being stained and worn as many common clothes were.

The man passed, and the two exchanged glances and nodded respectfully to one another, recognizing that each was not a typical customer of The Lazy Dwarf. After watching the man at the bar for a few minutes, Darasthyr came to the conclusion that this new arrival and the barkeep must’ve known each other, due to their loose greetings and jovial actions. After the man had said a few words to the keep, he yelled some greeting back at an older man who seemed to be concocting the tavern’s daily supper items. Then the man in white left the bar, without paying, and started to walk toward his table. The man stopped a few feet in front of Darasthyr with an intelligent and unwavering look on his face. “Is this seat taken?”

Darasthyr gestured to the empty seat, “No, by all means sit. I have had an interesting time trying to find anyone to converse with, and the company would be greatly appreciated.” Moments later the older man brought out a plate for the man and patted his shoulder, heading back to his post in the kitchen.

As the man sat down he indicated to the circles painted on Darasthyr’s forehead. “Mulhorandi citizen, I see. Tell me, what brings you to this agitated society, where danger is rumored to grow tenfold daily?”

“Rumor spreads even to Skuld that something evil is festering in the city. I’m here to help stop it.”

“I see. “ It appeared as if the man were sizing Darasthyr up, though there was also some sort of clear intention behind his crystal blue eyes. “Perhaps you would be interested in a little side work, in the meantime that is. I am a merchant here in Unther, though as you could probably tell I am a Mulhorandi citizen. I too want to help ease the transition of Unther to Mulhorand. My business has helped Mulhorand communicate with Unthalass, but I also help the mother country in other ways.” The man indicated to the holy symbol around his neck, which Darasthyr immediately recognized as that of Horus-Re. “But all that aside, I have much work lined up in the next few weeks if you need some coin, or if you just need something to bide the time.”

Darasthyr considered this for a moment. “Well, I will need some coin, and I don‘t really feel like scaring it off the locals. When does the job start?”

Taking the last bites of his breakfast, Darasthyr noticed that the man ate more quickly than he did. “Let’s see, I have a little business to attend to today, but tomorrow I should have some work lined up in the harbor. I suppose we could meet for breakfast, though it would probably be better to meet closer to the harbor. What say we meet at morning in the Green Sphinx. It’s a tavern just down this main road by the docks. There is a large statue of a sphinx in front of it, you can’t miss it.” He rose and bowed a little. “By the way, my name is Aoth Ramaih, merchant and herbalist of Unthalass.”

Darasthyr nodded a little. “And I am Darasthyr, adventurer and devotee of the great god Osiris. I look forward to meeting you in the morning, until then safe journey.”

“Yes, you too.” Aoth departed the tavern, and Darasthyr left the dining hall to rest for the remainder of the day.

-

Aoth continued down the main thoroughfare of Unthalass until he came to a newer looking building, obviously constructed in the wake of the recent destruction in Unthalass. Stepping in he noticed Mulhorandi fashions and decorative elements were strewn about, still waiting to be hung in the cool, blue building. A young man stood behind the makeshift counter, looking over invoices and receipts. He paused a minute and looked Aoth over. He set his papers down and placed his hands on the counter. “Good day, may I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for Thingold, I am Aoth Ramaih. I contacted him last ten-day about a shipment of iron he was trying to export to Chessenta.”

The young one called back into a storage room. “Father, this man is here about the iron shipment to Cimbar.” The call was immediately followed by the appearance of a much older and more experienced looking man. Aoth knew he was a merchant of some renown in Skuld, and he had been looking forward to doing business with him since he learned of his coming to Unthalass. The man reached the counter and rested on an elbow.

“So you are the merchant who has been so interested in my exports to Chessenta?”

“Yes, I was hoping that I could talk you out of a few shipments, as compensation for a bit of advice and a load of ceramic tile that I have been trying to get rid of for a little while.”

The boy interjected. “What information could possibly be worth even one shipment of iron, ceramics aside!?” Upon hearing this, the boy’s father turned red in the face and apologized for his son’s outburst. He scolded the boy and sent him to check some inventory.

“I apologize, my son doesn’t fully understand the ways of merchants yet, but he is learning quickly.”

“Yes, I’m sure that he will be a fine merchant.”

“Anyway what advice could you offer me to help with my iron exports, Chessenta has been slowly dulling down their need for iron, especially with all of the chaos in Luthcheq and Soorenar.”

“I was thinking the same thing, and have heard rumors that the Chessentan people have discovered many iron mines of their own, thereby driving imported iron even further down on their import needs. This is why I have done a little research and decided that the best place to ship iron in these days is Mulhorand.”

The man gave him a look of uncertainty. “Mulhorand? The mother country has never been in short supply of iron in the past, why would they begin to need it now?”

“Well, the army is clearly the largest buyer of iron in Mulhorand, and they have a near monopoly on our country’s mines. Meanwhile, the churches and great houses have had to buy from the north and east, which, for all we know, funds our enemies. If you were to undercut currently imported iron by ten percent, you would still be making a hefty profit. Aside from that, those in the mother country would be much more willing to pay a citizen of the empire, especially over the rabble to the north.”

Scratching his beard, with an intent gaze on the new marble floor, the man pondered this course of action. “It seems that you have done some research indeed. Though I am unaccustomed to Unther and its ways, I will trust a fellow Mulhorandi and listen to what you say. How does a shipment of iron and a shipment of finely crafted Mulhorandi spell books sound?”

“That would be more than sufficient.”

“Good. They should arrive in port tomorrow morning, though you will probably need some help unloading the cargo from the ship. They are fairly large orders.”

“No problem. I have already made the arrangements, and I shall see to it that the shipment of ceramic tile shall be delivered here on seventh-day.”

The two men talked about current trends in trade for a bit longer, until the sun started to dip in the sky. They said their goodbyes and Aoth returned to his home, resting for the big day ahead.

The next morning Darasthyr rose early, leaving the large full blade in his room, but taking his heavy flail, just in case. He exited the tavern and breathed in the dusty air from the inner city. Unthalass was nothing like Skuld. After a walk up the main road of Unthalass, he stopped short in front of the temple of Osiris. The dragonkin decided to pay homage for his safe journey to the city before going on and meeting Aoth at the Green Sphinx.

Upon entering the building, he could tell that it had been recently renovated into a temple, probably from some sort of gathering hall. The temple’s main worship comprised most of the structure. Mulhorandi drawings, paintings, and tapestries were everywhere, and scattered on top of them were books belonging to the temple. Darasthyr stopped short in front of a particular piece of art, depicting two women standing over a mummified corpse with wide, glaring eyes.

Nepthys and Isis restoring life to the Harvester, Osiris. They mummified his corpse and gifted him with the rod and flail, to symbolize his authority.” A woman of the temple appeared behind Darasthyr.

The story was one of the first that Darasthyr learned in his early life in the temple, long after his brutal childhood among the other dragonkin. The woman spoke in serious, though slightly nervous tone.

“May I help you?”

Darasthyr turned to face the woman, who stood approximately to his lower chest. She had long auburn hair and wore the vestments of a high priestess of Osiris. Her skin was pale, yet bright, and her eyes reminded the dragonkin of the green coast off of the Yeb peninsula. Again she cleared her throat, this time a little less nervously.

“Well met. My name is Darasthyr, and I come from Skuld. I would just like to donate a little money to thank Osiris for my safe journey. I just hope I have come to the city for good reason.” He held out his large hand and offered the woman a small sack of gold standards.

The thin woman took the bag carefully, and closed her eyes. She raised two fingers and placed them on Darasthyr’s forehead, though she had to stand on her toes. Two passing servant girls chuckled at the sight. “Praise be to those who hold dear the teachings of Maat, and even more so to those who follow them in the footsteps of the great harvester of souls, Osiris. May he bless your journeys and keep you true to yourself and your companions. By Justice, Righteousness, Honor, and Order, I pray that Osiris watch over you always.”

The customary prayer was like music to Darasthyr’s ears, for he had not heard the blessing since leaving Skuld for Unthalass. “Thank you, priestess.” “You are most welcome, Darasthyr.”

The dragonkin nodded and turned to leave, but before he took a step he felt a hand on his arm. He turned back to the woman. Her eyes glowed bright green, as she looked at his holy symbol. “You will do good things here, dragonkin. The harvester of souls has told me this. Remain true in your beliefs.” The priestess’s eyes stopped glowing, and she glanced up to the dragonkin’s face. “My name is Ayda, and I am the high priestess here in Unthalass. If you ever need advice, please ask for me.”

He thanked the woman and departed the temple, heading further down the road until he came to a large building with a great, green statue representing a sphinx in front of it.

-

Aoth had just sat down to his breakfast when he noticed Darasthyr’s large frame entering the small tavern door. The dragonkin skipped the bar and immediately walked over to where Aoth was sitting.

“Sorry I’m late, do I still have time to grab a bite to eat?”

Aoth wasn’t the least bothered by his tardiness. “No problem. The shipment is to be delivered just after high sun, which gives us plenty of time.”

Darasthyr walked up to the counter and ordered some breakfast, returning with it to Aoth’s table. They talked of Unther and how the native citizens would be better treated by the Mulhorandi government than the one being proposed by the rebel leaders trying to drive them out. Both seemed to agree that Mulhorand was much better suited to control Unther, since Unther would surely fall to more dangerous nations if the Mulhorandi forces were not present.

“Yes this adoption of Unther will be beneficial for both sides, the locals just have a hard time seeing that. But I feel that once the transition is complete, the people will realize what good things Mulhorand has to offer Unther.”

A bowl crashed behind Darasthyr, followed by a gruff voice with a deep Untheric accent. “Listen to you! How dare you come in here and talk about such things! You use words like adoption and transition, when all that is happening here is a hostile takeover of our land when it is unable to defend itself. I suggest you quiet down if you know what’s good for you.”

Aoth stood. “We mean no offense. Please sit and go about your business.”

Two other men stood behind the first. “Why don’t you quit running your mouth, Mulhorandi scum?”

Darasthyr turned and rose, his eyes narrowed angrily. “My friend asked you to go about your business. Now I’m telling you to.”

“And perhaps you should stay out of it, you savage beast. Where I come from a creature like you wouldn’t stand a dire rat’s chance, but you Mulhorandi ruffians have only one way of doing things: through force.”

Aoth was clearly offended by the man’s remarks. “Now see here, we have tried to reason with you, and you have shown nothing but aggression toward me and my friend here. Please leave us alone.”

“Perhaps you and your friend should be the ones leaving,” the man said, while motioning to the door, “or perhaps we will have to show you the way out?”

Darasthyr put his hand up to where he normally sheathed his fullblade, only to realize that he had left it in his room. He grabbed the hilt of his flail. The men at the table, as now stood four in total, began to get up and taunt the dragonkin and the man. Then they noticed the larger one’s weapon.

“Hey now, that’s not fair. Typical of a Mulhorandi, always eager to get a one up on the weaker man. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so tough if you didn’t have that weapon? We aren’t allowed to use them, why should you be able to?”

“You don’t consider the dagger in your jacket a weapon?” The dragonkin chuckled to himself, and unclipped the flail from his belt, allowing it to drop to the floor. “Even that enchanted hunk of junk won’t help you. But at least yours is magic, right? You’re a bit luckier than your friends here.” Darasthyr assumed the other three had hidden non-magical weapons, but he couldn’t be positive.

Aoth put a hand on the dragonkin’s shoulder and cautioned him. “Remember, Darasthyr, we don’t want to harm these men, better to subdue them and turn them in to the proper authorities.”

Darasthyr pulled a bit of wool out of a pouch and pinched it together in his hand. After muttering an incomprehensible sentence he gestured to the ceiling. There was an eerie silence. Then it started, first as a low moan, but soon a multitude screams and wails that sounded as if the dead were descending upon the tavern. Many of the patrons panicked and ran for the door, but the four thugs and the bartender were not phased by the ghastly screams.

A man at the bar leapt from his stool, eager to join in on the situation. “Get him, he’s possessed!” The four remaining men whipped out concealed rapiers and advanced on the two.

The man on the left rushed at Aoth first, thrusting at him with his rapier, while screaming Untheric curses. The man’s attempt was cut short however, as Aoth twisted and disarmed the clumsy man, following up with a swift blow to the back of the head. He crumpled down into an unconscious state and Aoth checked to make sure he was not seriously hurt.

Two more men rushed at Darasthyr, one driving his sword against the dragonkin’s hard scales. The blow bounced off Darasthyr’s hide and he caught the man by the neck, tossing him back into the other man. The last man looked at Darasthyr, then at Aoth, and ran out of the tavern, dropping his rapier in fear. Aoth stood and confirmed that the fallen man was still alive.

Darasthyr, stay here and watch over these scoundrels while I go and get the attention of the local guard.”

“Very well,” he said to the paladin, placing his foot on top of the two men who were stacked on top of each other. “I’ll make sure they stay put.”

The bartender, furious at the destruction called after Aoth. “You just take your friend here, and get out. You’ve caused enough trouble as it is!”

The dragonkin grinned at him. “There’s always room for one more.” He tapped the two downed men with his foot. The barkeep glared, but shut his mouth.

A few minutes later, Aoth returned with four Mulhorandi guards, who took the stories of Darasthyr, Aoth, and the barkeep, though he was reluctant at first. When all of the commotion was settled Darasthyr and Aoth were allowed to leave. Aoth noticed that the sun was high set in the sky.

“Well the shipment should be ready at the harbor, maybe we should head down there and see how things are coming along.”

Darasthyr nodded and the two headed down to the docks.

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Chapter 3

The tide swayed in and out. Xandos-Alonzo stood on the beach, calmed by the rush of the water and the cool breeze. He walked in the sand, down by the water until he reached a great rock. The rock stood about twice his height, and was as wide as a small house. He turned around and rested against it, suddenly feeling tired. Off in the distance he saw movement. Three figures mounted on large horses moved slowly toward him.

The creature on the right looked like a dragonborn, but certainly belonged to some much larger race. A large staff jutted up from behind him, topped with a huge diamond.

Next to him, in the center, rode a man in white, who bore almost elfin features. Around his neck dangled an eagle’s talon.

The man on the left was clad head-to-toe in white robes, his face covered with a platinum mask. He carried a heavy, leather-bound book under his arm. A shadow covered them, emanating from the sea.

A large ship, bearing a familiar standard floated in the shallows of the ocean. The crew hustled and bustled around, heeding the orders of a bald-headed captain.

Feeling compelled to turn around, Xandos fell back on his rear. The rock behind him was no longer normal stone, but clear, gem-like. He noticed the red dot just off-center, and realized it was his diamond. The red dot pulsed rhythmically. Then someone screamed.


Xandos opened his eyes, staring straight at the caravan’s main campfire. He rolled over. A woman yelped as three small kobolds latched on to her and started to drag her away. He rolled on his stomach and looked ahead of him. He saw the dark elf roll out from under a wagon and pluck some metallic objects from his leather armor. The drow threw a shuriken at one of the kobolds in mid-charge, striking it in the small of the back. Upon reaching the woman, he spun around and kicked one of the creatures in the head, and followed up by slamming a dagger into its throat. Before he could get any further, the other two kobolds dragged the woman into the darkness of the woods. Xandos heard some chattering behind him, and flipped over to see three kobolds with javelins pointed at him. He froze. A dagger stuck into one of the creature’s eyes, and the other two hurled their javelins instinctively.

The drow grunted somewhere behind him, as Xandos reached over and grabbed a large piece of tinder from the fire. He flung it at the two kobolds, which gave him plenty of time to spring to his feet and draw his rapier. The two creatures fled in confusion, as he looked over to see the camp nearly overrun with kobolds. Moments later, reinforcements arrived, with the two dragonborn leading the charge.

“Nice moves.” The drow tapped his arm and swiftly ran ahead. He watched the dark elf tumble a few paces in front of a rather nasty looking beast. When he stopped he already had his crossbow aimed point blank at the creature’s stomach. The result looked painful.

Very roguish, Xandos noted. He shifted his weight back, unsure whether to charge in, or let those who signed on for guard duty to handle the fight.

Crack!

He barely felt the butt of the javelin slam into the back of his head, and felt the three pairs of kobold hands dragging him across the ground even less. In a few moments everything was dark.


“I say we follow.” Recs winced as one of the few medics patched up a gash on his forearm. He looked around at the other members of the caravan guard, then to the trailboss. “If we wait until morning they’ll be dead.”

“Damn dragon-worshiping scum. They’ve never been brave enough to raid us in the first tenday.” The trailboss seemed to not care too much for kobolds. “We’ve got nine heads missing, that’s not really too many.”

“I say we press onward. The few who were careless enough to get abducted are probably goblin-food by now anyway. We’re better off getting on down the road before they catch back up to us.”

Kobolds are territorial. They won’t follow us too far.” Lucan stated the facts, but refrained from adding any opinion. He kept his distance from the central fire, standing a few paces from where Elle had perched herself on a log. The drow stood even further back, looking out into the darkness.

“We can’t say for sure how long they’ll be alive, but their chances are getting worse by the minute.” Recolitus, who had a weapon in one hand, clearly intended on leaving immediately. “Besides, it’d help stop the bastards from trying it again in the future.”

“I’m inclined to agree with your fellow dragonborn over there. Kobolds aren’t known for letting up when things look rough. They’ll be back if we hang around too long. Even before I was a trailboss I saw it. Just usually happens further down the road.”

“Then let those of us who wish to return the captives to the caravan track them down, while you take the rest of the guard and head to the next village. It’s only a few days further. Give us three days. If we’re not back, you’ll have added enough travelers to replace us as guards. If we do make it back, then the better for the Ramaih.” Lyme didn’t take his eyes off the forest as he spoke. “Those kobolds should pay, and those held captive still deserve our protection. They are still members of this caravan so long as they live.”

“I’m in agreement.” Recs lofted the massive sword over his shoulder. “Give us three days.”

The trailboss seemed to be weighing his options, but Recs could see that the man didn’t really have a choice. He knew that a rescue would not only prove good for the current members in the caravan, but it might draw some of the more timid townsfolk in future settlements. “Agreed. A small, well-protected troupe is much better than a huge one that constantly bleeds members. Take up to six with you, if you can find that many willing. You have until the end of the tenday.”

The eladrin finally spoke up. “So the question is now obvious: who can track kobolds?”


The pungent fumes of decay and waste filled Xandos-Alonzo’s nostrils as he cocked his head up to get a better glimpse of his surroundings. The room he had been carelessly tossed in was little more than an angled pit dug into the mud and covered with shoddily-crafted bars. The back wall of the cell reeked of excrement, and the merchant spotted a few angular bones jutting up out of the piles of refuse. Sitting up, he noticed immediately that the familiar lump at his waist was gone, along with all of his outer clothing and gear. He shuffled over to the grate, which he found to be made of bone and sturdy wood. Pressing his face up to the bars, he could see walls, and assumed he was in a rather large, unroofed enclosure. He reached an arm up through the grate and tried pushing it upward with this back and shoulders.

“It ain’t gonna work. Tried it already.” The voice resounded from the merchant’s right, as an arm jutted up into his sight. “Good to see you’re up and about though.”

Xandos began to see the bigger picture. He had been taken captive by the kobolds and thrown into some sort of jail or makeshift dungeon. “Did you see anything that might help us get out of here? Are there any others that were taken?”

“I was one of the lucky, or unlucky, ones to be awake when they brought us to this compost heap. We’re in some sort of kobold village. There were five or six others. I saw them hauled off somewhere else, but those damned kobolds don’t speak a lick of any civilized language. Damned things took my knife, or we’d be outta here faster’n a troll at a firework show.”

“They took most of my stuff too. My weapons, my clothes, my money. I have to get it– I mean them– back.”

“You’s talking about that fancy diamond that was around your waist. Yeah, I saw ‘em when they realized what it was. Their eyes got real wide like coins and they almost knocked me upside the head just for trying to get a better look. How’d you come by something like that? Never seen nothing like it that big.”

“It’s a family heirloom. It’s been passed down for generations. This is the first time it’s been out of my sight since I can remember.”

“That thing’d certainly bring in a nice chunk of gold if you could find someone with enough to pay for it. How much do you reckon it’s worth?”

“I don’t know. I follow the Ramaih every four years, but this year I intended on getting it appraised once we hit (city). Looks like that won’t be happening any time soon.” A glint of light caught Xandos-Alonzo’s eye. He crept back to the rear of the cell to discover that the kobolds had taken everything of value, but merely tossed his clothes and boots to the side. He picked up his left boot removed one of the laces. Holding it toward the light from the grating, he plucked a small end of wire from the shoelace and pulled it from fabric. He crawled back over and tested it on an inconspicuous knob from one of the bones. After a few passes it cut cleanly through. He shoved the wire into one of his undergarment pockets waited for the sky to turn dark. “Then again, you never know.”

“You thinking rescue?”

“That’s one possibility. Let’s just say I like to be hopeful. The name is Xandos, by the way.”

“Name’s Tairsioc.”

“That comes from an odd dialect. Are you Chessentan?”

“Seeing how I ain’t a halfling, I sure as hell ain’t standin’!”

Alonzo shook his head and held back a chuckle, the prospect of escape lightening his mood slightly.


“Here.” Lucan squatted down over a patch of disturbed soil. “We’re getting fairly close. Kobolds are very clumsy. They always leave plenty of hints.”

“Yeah, maybe they’re too stupid to care.” Recs followed the elf, his hand constantly fastened to the sword’s pommel at his pelt. He looked back and saw Ava, Elle, and Draven following from a short distance. “Don’t get too close guys. Lucan says we’re getting there and we want to get the drop on them.”

“I think we should assess the situation before we go around trying to get the ‘drop’ on anybody.” Eluriel’s tone was sharp. “I’m not sure we want to go charging into a cave we think is filled with kobolds, only to find it filled with trolls or drakes or the like.”

“Well, I’d still say it’s best to keep the element of surprise at our disposal. Best to try to strategically eliminate a group of kobolds than needlessly stave off an entire village.” The dragonborn spoke with a tone of finality. He turned his head back toward Lucan, then gave a sweeping glance around the other direction. “Where’d the drow go?”

“Last I saw him, he was about thirty paces to the east, but I stopped paying too much attention when I saw the trail.” Lucan slowly started advancing through the brush.

“He probably went back to cower in his hole,” Draven chuckled. “The night up here is too bright for the likes of him!”

“On the contrary, I like the night up here so well, I decided to go up.” Lyme’s voice echoed quietly from a tree above them.

“You need to stay in sight, if not for your own protection, then so we can keep tabs on you.” Elle’s instinctually condescending tone seemed to go unnoticed.

“All due respect, I’ve been within your sight since we left the caravan, you just haven’t seen me. Perhaps if you paid more attention–”

“Paid more attention?!”

The drow interrupted Elle, his tone turning sterile and serious. “A cave sits about 150 paces to the northwest. I can see torchlight around its mouth from up here. Seems to be the most logical destination.”

“I’ll keep on this trail. You scout ahead and see what you find at the cave entrance. If the path seems to stray a different direction, I’ll make a Longtooth call.”

“And don’t pull anything foolish,” the eladrin warned, impulsively prestidigitating her spellbook’s clasp open and closed. She received no reply.

“What does a longtooth sound like? I’ve never heard one make a call before.” Ava piped up, the excitement perking up her curiosity.

Lucan chuckled. “They don’t. I just wanted him to get out of here before he and Elle killed each other . . . or got us all killed by giving away our position.” His laugh was joined by the two dragonborns and Ava, though Elle found little to laugh at.

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