The Hunter

One day, as Chuffy is hiding among the autumn foliage of a tree in the marsh, perhaps licking his toad Fat Frog to enjoy the psychoactive effects of its toxic secretions, he sees emerging from the river three boggards. They seem to be out hunting but then stop and begin following tracks along the riverbanks. With horror, Chuffy realizes that they must be following the tracks left by Reta and other goblin hunters and that the boggards seem to be about to follow those tracks back to the new goblin village less than a mile away. Chuffy creeps past an area of dense foliage inhabited by a strange horse-like creature with burning eyes that he and the others have only caught glimpses of in the days following the building of their new village. He steels his nerves and hurries quickly past its layer hoping it will scare away the intruders. After that he leaps past some slippery rocks, swings through a thick curtain of vines, and then arrives at the final leg of the trail leading to the new village. Searching in the hollow of a rotted tree he finds the smudge pot he will need. Firing it up and releasing the smoke, Chuffy tries to slip past the narrow gap between some hedges guarded by a bees nest, but despite his efforts he is still stung by some of the annoyed bees. Still, he does get past and finally reaches the village.

Chuffy finds Drubbus in his hut making a chew toy for his new goblin puppy named Scabs. “Drubbusssss, boggardsss coming,” says Chuffy in a whispered hiss. “Me saw them from my tree spot. They be here soon. Where Reta? Where Poog? Where Mog? We need to gather and hide… Or hide then fight sneaky.”

“I dunno.” Drubbus whispers back, “But you’re right. We has to get everyone out a da village. Tell Slorb to round up da womenz and we’ll move off to a good spot. Have everyone grab some foods.”

Drubbus scratches his chin, “You check on Poog. There are sometings I just don’t wanna see, after that warn the womenz. I’ll get Mog & Slorb. Let’s get everyone together in da Village. I wanna hearz what Slorb’s wordz is. I’m thinking your right that wez has to fall back to da white tree and fight sneaky like. We ain’t gots ‘nough for tryin’ ta hold da village.”

Chuffy nods. “Okay, me warn Poog.”

Elsewhere, Reta and three goblin women are out hunting for food along the banks of the Soggy River when they hear a thrashing and crashing from the copse ahead of them. Reta motions for the others to stay where they are while she slowly sneaks up to get a better look.

To Reta’s horror, she sees that it is a troll digging up roots and putting them into a filthy sack. The troll stops, sniffs the air and then looks right at Reta’s hiding place. “Näen sinut, senkin hiipiä! Hei, tiedän!” shouts the troll as he drops his sack and charges Reta. Reta screeches and runs back in the direction of the other women intending to run through them so that maybe the troll will stop and eat them instead.

Reta’s plan seems to work. Reta zips past her comrades and makes her way through the drier patches of a muddy slog. One of the other goblin women is able to keep up, but the two others fall behind. The troll stops to swallow one of these and then chase the other.

Reta sees a bramble patch up ahead. She and the other hunters had no problem crossing it before, but now they’ll have to get through it double-time in order to completely shake the troll. Back in the muddy slog they hear another squeal of terror that is abruptly cut off, followed immediately by the crunching of bones and smacking of enormous lips. Reta and Grizella realize that they will soon be next if they can’t pick their way through the brambles fast enough. Time runs out for Grizella all too soon however, as the troll barrels through the thicket, pushing aside the thorny branches with a hardly a care as the troll’s power of regeneration quickly heals any scratch without so much as a scar or even scab. The troll’s enormous jaws reach out and pluck her off the ground, her legs kicking and thrashing out of the side of his mouth. In only a couple of bites the troll puts a stop to her thrashing and gulps her down. Then he reaches out and grabs Reta before she can scurry away.

Holding Reta out in front of his enormous and now bloody maw, the troll says to her in the Goblin tongue with a thick Giantish accent, “Eha! So you’re-a zee last of zee little-a squeekers. Yoo-a all not more-a then a mouthful und gamey besides. Maybe zere are more of yoo? Tell me now und I’ll eat y00 later. Hurty flurty schnipp schnipp! Don’t tell me-a und I’ll eat yoo now!

Reta thinks for a second then screeches, “I know of better than two dirty goblins… human babies, lots of dem! And dey are with only a couple of stupid farmers. Dey chased me and my mate away but you are way stronger then us! Yooose can kill dem easy and eat all da babies yourself!”

The troll shakes Reta until she’s dizzy and fears that her head will snap off. The troll yells in her face, consequently almost causing Reta to pass out from the stench, “Yoo think I em stooped! Fermers hefe-a fire-a und fire-a arrows! If zey deedn’t ve trolls vould hefe-a oferun zeem years agoo! N,o take-a me-a to zee oozeer goblins. Um gesh dee bork, bork! Maybe-a I’ll even let yoo go. Maybe-a I’ll even joost eat a few of yoo und zee rest can live-a for as long as yoo can bring me-a food und loot!

“Okies, okies,” Reta resigns. I will take you too my mates. Der are quite a few of dem so please let me go when I get you der.”

Reta smiles evilly to herself as a thought crosses her mind. She begins to direct the troll to a known patch of quicksand in the marsh, approaching it from a side which will give him the least chance to recognize what it is before it is too late.

She tries to distract him at the appropriate time by asking him lots of questions in rapid succession. “So big troll, where do youse live? We like to live in huts on stilts above der water. Do you have problem wid water in the swamp? Is your home dry most of der time? How often do have to hunt for food… we hunt almost every day, except maybe when we had lots of luck hunting the day before, or before dat. I Killed a witch once… a really nasty one too. You ever kill a witch?…”

“Vat!? Ven did yoo ever kill a veetch?” asks the scandalized troll. Even as he asks the troll begins sinking into the mire that Reta led him into. It takes a few moments, but then the troll realizes what is happening and is now truly outraged. As he thrashes about he sinks in up to his chest. Fortunately for Reta the troll releases her as he begins trying to swim out of the muck. Unfortunately for Reta he throws her further over the quicksand path. Fortunately for Reta, as she sails through the air she is able to grab a vine hanging down from an overhanging branch. The vine swings as she catches it and she is able to let go and land on the other side of the quicksand patch to troll’s amazement, disgust, and utter fury. “Yoo little-a squeeker! I vill get yoo! Yoo better alvays be-a vatching behind yoo because-a someday I’ll be-a zere-a ven yoo are-a not looking! I’ll grind yoor bones! I’ll mince-a yoor flesh!”

Back in the goblin village, Chuffy approaches the ramshackle hut in which Poog has made his home. From within erupts a cacophony of caterwauling, crying, screaming, grunting, slapping, kicking, thrashing, and the crashing and smashing of various furnishings. This has been going on for several nights, ever since Poog shacked up with Geedra the Gruesome.

“Poog, play time is over,” says Chuffy. “Boggards coming. I barely have time to sneak back and warns you and the others. We needs to find Reta… or run.”

Poog storms out struggling to fasten his pants and shirt but you can clearly see deep scratch marks that are bleeding, “What the dog balls are you yelling about?”

Drubbus, in the meantime, finds Mogmurch and Rempty in their hut engorging themselves, with much gagging, gurgling, and slurping, upon baskets of slugs, worms, and a heady stew made of bitter roots and gourds. The pack of a half dozen goblin dogs troops in after Drubbus, for they sense that something is afoot, and they are also happy to slip into Mogmurch’s hut to beg for scraps as well.

“Pack up grubs for a day or two, we gots ta run.” Drubbus barks. “Chuffy seen Boggardz comin’ ‘n I donna tink dey forgot what weez did.”

Mogmurch doesn’t take time to give this much consideration. He looks to Rempty and says, “Quick! Grab all the food you can carry! We’re leavin’!”

Drubbus races over to Slorb’s hut to find the advisor sleeping the night away. “Slorb!” Drubbus barks, trying to jolt him from sleep. “Boggartz is comin’! Grab whatever you need for a day or two but be quick. We can’t hold da town.”

“Wot?!” cries the alarmed Slorb. “Boggards iz comin! Wait da second. If they’re followin our tracks to da village, thun they’ll just follow us whereva we go. We should set up an ambush an’ get rid hof dem.” Slorb throws on his shirt and pants and hurries out to what passes for the village square – a fire pit surrounded by rotting logs.

Poog screeches, “Lez arm dah femalez too. We can handlez dah boggards! Ambush demz.”

Mogmuch offers a counter proposal. “They won’t follow us if we run far enough. Let’s go someplace else! Far away. Where there’s food an’ not so much stuff that wants to kill us.”

“I say we stays and fights,” says Chuffy. “We can hides in the trees and make pin cushions of ‘em.”

“We’z c’n ambush ‘em.” Drubbus growls. “A half dozen of da womenz can raise a panic when da Boggartz get close. When dey rush in, we hits ‘em from behind.”

Slorb then speaks up. “Aiii, we should set up an ambush. I’ll hide up dere an’ direct da attak.” He points to a vine shrouded tree overlooking the village. Then he points to some of the goblin maidens. “Yous, yous, an’ yous, stay in da village pretendin to tend da stew ova da smokun flames pit. Run whun da boggards chek yous. Da rest hof yous hide dere, dere, dere, an’ dere an’ we’ll turn those boggards into pin cushions.” It looks like a good plan. If the goblins do chase the three goblin maidens they’ll end up in the middle of the village and from the trees and surrounding underbrush the goblins will be able to catch them in a cross fire.”

Poog hides up in a tree overlooking the village as do the others. He prepares to call upon the divine power of Zarongel so he can hurl firebolts down upon the intruders. From his hiding place he sees the three boggards cautiously approach the edge of the village in their boiled leather armor and armed with wicked looking clubs lined with alligator teeth. The toad-men are hiding behind trees and creeping behind bushes, coming in slowly to scout the village now that they have seen the huts. They see the three goblin maidens tending the fire and stew pot in the center of the village, but they also are looking up into the trees where Poog and the other goblins are hiding amidst the foliage and it is certain they can hear the growls of the goblins dogs behind the huts. It seems like they might be about to back away from the village, perhaps to go back and get reinforcements. Poog stifles a giggle and decides to wait and see if they come any closer before doing anything.

Before the boggards can make up their minds as to whether they should investigate further or go back for help, the goblin dogs rush out in a pack from behind the huts, their keen noses guiding them right towards the hidden boggards. The goblin dogs quickly surround the boggards and begin ripping into them with their sharp rat-like teeth. It is clear that within moments they will be torn apart unless they can get away from the vicious pack.

Poog chooses just that moment to hurl a firebolt down upon the closest of the boggards, singing its flesh with a sizzle and eliciting a croak of pain and fear from the frog-man.

“Yip yip! Rip rip!” Yells Mogmurch with a laugh as he watches the dogs tear up the boggards. Not wanting to waste a bomb, he tries a shot with a short bow. His arrow hits one of the boggards but does little more than scratch it.

Chuffy also looses an arrow but it only hits a tree.

The boggards all begin backing away, fending off the dogs. One after another lets loose a terrifying croaking. Within seconds Slorb, the goblin women, Poog, Mogmurch, and Drubbus are clambering out of their perches and fleeing through the underbrush. Chuffy and Drubbus are both shaken to the core.

Before Slorb can get down out of the tree he had been perched on, two arrows fly out from the shadows beyond the boggards and hit him in the throat. Slorb gurgles and then falls off the tree and through the roof of the hut below him.

Drubbus slings a stone at the boggards but it flies wide and disappears into the foliage.

Poog and Mogmurch make it to the ground and scurry away into the underbrush heading west.

Though shaken the goblin dogs continue to press their attack upon the boggards, but now the boggards are using the trees and covering each other to keep the beasts from flanking them and so none of them are bitten again.

Chuffy fires silently from his perch despite his fear of the boggards, this time wounding his target.

The boggards lay into the goblin dogs with their fanged clubs. One of them is put down with a broken leg, but the five others continue their attack.

Two more arrows, one after the other, streak out of the darkness and this time lodge themselves in Chuffy’s chest. He wheezes and then drops out of the tree and onto his head with a horrific crack as his neck breaks.

Seeing this, Drubbus decides its time to run as well. He quickly drops to the ground and uses the trunk of the tree to provide cover from the hidden sniper, and then scampers away after Poog, Mogmurch, and the others.

Elsewhere, Reta whistles a jaunty goblin tune as she heads back to the new goblin village with a sack full of troll loot taken from the troll’s cave that she bee-lined for after leaving the troll to die in the quicksand. Before she comes within sight of the village however, she hears the horrifying chorus of boggard croaking coming from that direction. With a sinking feeling she stops and listens. She can hear the snarling and yipping of goblin dogs and then pitiful howls of pain. Soon after that she hears the sound of many creatures (goblins, boggards, or something else?) heading her way through the underbrush. Reta hides in the underbrush, stashing the loot somewhere safe for her to reclaim later, and unsheathes her Gorge of Gluttons to await whatever is heading towards her. Soon enough she sees that it is Poog, Mogmurch, and Drubbus fleeing the village. They are not running together but more or less in the same direction past where Reta is hiding. In the distance she sees shadows that she assumes are the other goblins females also scurrying through the undergrowth like rats leaving a sinking ship.

Reta begins running as well, screeching to them all, “Group with me, we run together! What is chasing us?”

“No ideazz, and I dun wanna know neyether!,” Poog wheezes as he runs as fast as he can while towing his prize female by the hand.

As he runs past to get Rempty, Mogmurch answers, without stopping, “Maybe ghosts – with arrows!”

“Boggards.” Drubbus coughs out “There’s a group a dem raidin’ followed by a couple archers in hidin’ behind ‘em.”

When the goblins are all finally herded together, Reta takes them to a nearby shallow and rocky stream where she knows there are a nest of water moccasins. Reta leads the others across the stream by jumping from rock to rock. On the other side they hide among the rushes to await their pursuer with arrows drawn.

Reta is the first to see the human sized shadow moving along the other side of the stream. It is so careful and silent in its movements that Reta could almost believe it was a goblin stalker – but then she sees the ears. Worse than a longshanks it is a longears, an elf ranger come to hunt them! Even as she realizes this an arrow embeds itself in her arm and another hits the ground by her feet. Immediately, Reta slips deeper into the underbrush in an attempt to flee.

“Aaagh!” growls Mogmurch as he grabs Rempty and bolts, trying to put as many trees and as much distance between them and the elf as possible!

Poog shoots a firebolt at the elven hunter but the bolt only burns itself out in the tall reeds on the other side of the stream.

The elf hunter fires back at Poog, but both her arrows miss him as he quickly ducks beneath a nearby log. She calls out in the Goblin tongue, “Don’t think you can hide from me you rogues! Know that you have incurred the wrath of Shalelu Andosana! Yes, the famous ranger and goblin hunter! Your depredations are at an end! Say your final prayers and know that before this night is over I will track each and every one of you down and insure that you trouble the good people of Sandpoint no longer!”

Reta thinks, Pompous ruddy elven bitch, and continues to scurry away.

Still running, Mogmurch grunts, “Awww… it speaks normal! Dumb longears!”

Drubbus casts the entangle spell, but Shalelu easily slips past the reeds before they can wrap around her. She is forced to back away from the effected area. Drubbus doesn’t wait for her to return but runs off after Mogmurch and Reta.

Poog, seeing that he is the last on the stream banks also turns and flees.

The remaining goblin females, seeing that their leaders are fleeing and that the elf hunter is momentarily forced away from the stream take the opportunity to run after Reta and Mogmurch.

In his mutated bestial form, Mogmurch easily leaps across the slippery rocks leading down to one of the branches of the Soggy River. Rempty is unable to keep up with him as she takes more cautious hops from rock to rock down to the bank of the river. In fact, Mogmurch even overtakes Reta, but the latter is right on his tail. Poog and Drubbus soon catches up to her and together all make it to the banks of the Soggy River. Behind them they can hear the goblin women cursing and stumbling on the rocks.

The trouble now becomes finding a ford shallow enough for goblins to cross. In their typically uncoordinated way, the goblins scatter along the bank in their efforts to find a crossing. Reta and Drubbus find it first and get across the river to a steep rise beyond, atop of which is the cliff they will have to climb to get up to the Bleaklow Moor, avoided by the humans as it is said to be ghoul haunted. Mogmurch finds the ford just a moment later. Poog is startled to see the other three on the far bank of the river. Seeing where they must have crossed, he heads quickly for it. However, before he can cross he sees Rempty shot down by an elven arrow. Atop a large rock overlooking the river he sees the shadow of the elf hunter, who seems to be taking her time picking off one straggling goblin female after another. After shooting seven, the elf’s quiver is empty, so she draws her shortsword to kill the last two. As she is busy running those two down, Poog finally finds and crosses the shallows of the river. Looking back, he sees that the elf hunter has seen him, but is nevertheless taking her time recovering arrows in order to continue the hunt.

Up ahead, Reta, Drubbus, and Mogmurch hike up the rise and begin climbing up the cliff to reach the stony ground of Bleaklow Moor where hopefully even an elven hunter will not be able to track them. Drubbus feels especially safe since he has cast a spell to cover his tracks. He sniffs and sheds a tear or two for Scabs who he had to leave behind at the base of the cliff. Reta and Drubbus reach the top first and look down at Mogmurch who, a weakling after all, is unable to haul himself up the cliff.

Reta says nonchalantly to Drubbus, “Lets go,” and begins to lead them across the Bleaklow Moor.

Poog finally reaches and cliff and tries to help Mogmurch by casting guidance on him time after time, but Mogmurch sees that even with that help it will take too long for him to get up the cliff. Having no other options Mogmurch picks up Scabs, the goblin pup (thinking he might make a good snack later – if they live long enough) and hoofs it along the cliff, as fast as possible. He knows he needs to get someplace rocky so he can’t be tracked.  As he runs, he imagines meeting up with the others and how he’ll slit Rita’s throat as she sleeps – and maybe not just hers! He and Poog run along the base of the cliff, hoping to find the abandoned Old Fish Trail that leads up a less steep incline to the top of the cliff. Drubbus’ goblin puppy, Scabs, runs along beside them. Fortunately they find the overgrown trail and make their way to the top. Then it is just a matter of backtracking to where the Reta and Drubbus climbed up and letting Scabs sniff them out.

Galduria

Rova 23rd Fireday Equinox

Awaking before dawn, Sandru soon has the caravan on the road. It is a mild day with very little cloud cover. In fact, it is the day of the Autumnal Equinox when the Swallowtail Festival is celebrated in Sandpoint. The Swallowtail Festival is a Desnan celebration marked by feasting, storytelling, and games, culminating in the release of a wagonload of butterflies. Koya remarks that she would have like to have lingered for the festival, but Ameiko is anxious to go. As it is, they rest at noontime and have a feast on the road. Looking back in the direction of Sandpoint they do in fact see a cloud of butterflies drifting over the distant rooftops.

Just as Sandru had said, they travel north on the Lost Coast Road, following the Kaspakari route (as the Varisians have named it) inland towards Galduria, a major trading hub for grain and lumber on the western shore of Ember Lake, though its true claim to fame is its arcane college, the Twilight Academy. The road travels through a wild and desolate country full of lingering fogs, and small woodlands of pine and nettles along a rocky coastline of ragged bluffs and crashing waves.

That night they camp in a barren field under the crescent moon. The horses are corralled within the circle (though more like a square) of the wagons. A chill autumn wind whistles in from the Varisian Gulf, but the supply wagons provide some shelter from it. Before long a campfire is burning at the center of it over which Jethrik is able to prepare a fairly tasty and nourishing stew. After dinner, Sandru assigns three watch shifts. He takes the first watch along with Bevelek, Koya, and Zeyala. He explains that he wants Koya to get enough rest as the caravan’s health and good fortune depends upon the strength of her morning prayers. He tactfully says nothing about her advanced age. The second watch is made up of Henric, Zandu, Toshio, and Keng. Sandru hopes that Keng’s orcish darkvision will help the others during the darkest period of the night, especially since the moon is waning and has become little more than a sliver. The last watch is made up of Vankor, Ameiko, Jethrik, and Jharad.

Rova 24th

Rova 25th

Rova 26th Moonday

The next two days pass by without incident. They pass lone homesteads, thorps, hamlets, and even small villages. Outside of the latter they make camp for the night, as the local taverns are not large enough to accommodate so many travelers at once and would in fact not be much more comfortable than bedding in the wagons. It is only during the pre-dawn hours of the fourth day that their caravan is troubled. It begins with the horses snorting, swishing their tails, and tensing up. They begin milling around and facing south towards Sandru’s covered wagon. Looking to the wagon, Jharad’s keen elvish vision spots familiar shadows around and under the back of it. He points them out to Jehtrik, Ameiko, and Vankor and they too see the silhouettes of four goblins trying to creep into Sandru’s wagon. Jethrik, who was sitting on the seat of Sandru’s wagon, turns and shouts to awaken Sandru and Bevelek who are sleeping inside. At the gnome’s shout, two of the goblins hurtle themselves over the backboard and into the wagon, trying frantically to find things to grab. The other two goblins take cover behind the wagons rear wheels and send a stream of arrows after Jharad, Ameiko, and Vankor who had been sitting by the fire. One of the small arrows pierces Jharad’s chainmail shirt and pricks his side. Ameiko and Vankor shout to awaken the others and dive for cover behind the other wagons. The horses are now stomping, rearing, and squealing. Jharad draws his bow and sprints towards the goblins, putting one down with his first shot. As he races along the north side of the wagon, the other goblin archer looses another arrow at him (that goes wide) and scuttles to the south side of the wagon. Jharad races around the wagon to get a clear shot at the goblin, but both his arrows and the goblins come up too wide or short. In the meantime, Sandru and Bevelek have cast their bedding aside and taken up their weapons. The goblins in the wagon panic and tumble out of the back. They and the archer flee into the surrounding rocks and shrubs. Jharad vainly looses a couple more arrows at them. After that a search of the dead goblin reveals that he was carrying a sack with the goblin’s ill gotten gains from other raids – a bronze flagon engraved with images of Ulfen warriors and a set of six silver dice. Sandru estimates the first to be worth 50 gold, while the second might bring 75 gold. He locks them in the strongbox in his wagon.

“Goblin pests,” mutters Sandru. “I doubt, we’ll see any more of them tonight. Best keep alert though.” Once Sandru assures himself that everyone is accounted for he quickly issues orders. “Vankor! Bevelek! Get those horses calmed down before they break their tethers. Koya, can you see to Jharad’s wound? Damn! I guess, we’re all up now. Jethrik, how about you start on breakfast. We’ll eat by the campfire and then get going. It will be dawn soon anyway.”

They reach Galduria by noon. It is basically a trading hub and college town for aspiring arcanists. There are many pubs, taverns, and inns surrounding the marble Chelaxian inspired spires of the Twilight Academy campus. There is also a fairly sizable dock area on Lake Ember for fishermen and those merchants who travel the circuit of villages and small towns on its shores. Sandru steers the caravan for the central marketplace and informs everyone that while he expects the usual watch shifts to be maintained to protect the caravan from thieves, they are all free to sleep at the Yew Minotaur, the town’s only inn, if they are tired of the wagons. There are also two taverns in town, The Hollow Pig and the Smoking Beaker, of which the former caters more to laborers and fishermen while the latter appeals more to merchants and students of the Twilight Academy. The Smoking Beaker, strangely enough, does not have a sign bearing a smoking glass container such as used by alchemists. Instead, the sign depicts a funny looking man in a white lab coat with a pipe-like head, bulging eyes, a large red knob of a nose, and a shock of red hair sticking straight up like a fire. He is sitting and smoking a long clay pipe but still seems to be startled or upset about something. Sandru explains that the man on the sign is an alchemist’s apprentice whose name was Beaker who apparently blew himself up many years ago and for whom the tavern was named. Sandru also cautions them not to drink too much, with a stern look at Keng and Toshio, as he wants those on watch to be alert and not passing out or vomiting in the town square.

At Sandru’s glance Toshio gives a hurt look, gesturing at himself as if to say “Who, me?”

Talking to Keng, Jharad says, “Care for a look around town?”

Keng replies, “Yes. But I am not leaving my armor or weapons behind this time. Frak them if they don’t like it.”

Together, the elf and half-orc walk off to look over the town.

“I could do for a bath,” says Zeyala. “Anyone mind pointing me in the direction of a suitable inn?”

Sandru replies, “Go to the inn I mentioned, the Yew Minotaur over there. They should be able to fix you up with a hot bath.

Zeyala finds that for a mere 6 coppers, the innkeeper at the Yew Minotaur is more than happy to provide for a hot bath in copper tub kept in a private room just for that purpose. Koya and Ameiko also come over to get a turn in the tub.

Toshio walks over with the women to enjoy the food and drink (in careful moderation) that the inn provides, if only for a change from the caravan fare. Finding out that Ameiko plans to stay at the inn for the night, he arranges to take a nearby room to keep watch over her. She smiles at this but declines to comment. Toshio chats with Koya and Ameiko as they wait their turn for a bath, and then makes his way to the Smoking Beaker. What an odd image, he thinks as he sees the sign.

Sandru spends the rest of the day arranging for the sale of the fine wine and dried fish brought over from Sandpoint and the buying of lumber and silver arrows for sale down the road.

Jethrik, meanwhile, buys a dozen mugs for 24 coppers (or 2.4 silver) and then rolls his barrel of hard cider over to the Twilight Academy campus, where he clambers atop the barrel and begins telling jokes about “finding a place for one’s stuff” to all and sundry that pass by. After a while he manages to gather more than a dozen students who fill his hat with 17 silver pieces. Realizing that he probably wouldn’t be able to charge enough to make a profit from his cider anyway, Jethrik magnanimously decides to just start giving away mugs of cider.

In the early evening at the Smoking Beaker, Jharad and Keng find that that it is lit with permanent magical lights of varying colors and high up on shelves along the walls it is decorated with beakers, alembics, retort stands, crucibles, and a network of glass tubing filled with various colorful and sometimes glowing and even smoking liquids. The back bar is full of all manner of bottles, decanters, and glassware of various shapes and hues. The bartender, a wiry gnome with frizzy blue hair sticking out in all directions who seems to be standing on a platform behind the bar, is loudly explaining to some merchants that he is no mere barkeep but a “mixologist” – whatever that might mean.

Toshio, and Sandru come in right on the heels of Jharad and Keng. Toshio orders wine and a pre-supper snack. He makes casual conversation with the the gnome “mixologist”, but quietly slips in questions about the roads, local conditions, or any bandit activity that might affect the caravan. What he hears is that there doesn’t seem to be much too worry about except the usual odd goblins or bandits who typically leave well armed merchant caravans alone. After her bath, Zeyala makes her way to the Smoking Beaker and joins the others at their table. She orders ale and smokes her pipe. Ameiko and Koya come in as well, now clean and smelling of bath salts and herbs.

Once they are all seated and drinking, a noisy and drunken crowd of students of the arcane burst through the doors. There are more than a dozen of them and they are carrying Jethrik’s cider barrel on their shoulders, with Jethrik perched precariously atop it. The boisterous students are singing and laughing as they stampede for one of the larger tables.

For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow

For he’s a jolly good fellow (pause), and so say all of us

And so say all of us, and so say all of us

For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow

For he’s a jolly good fellow (pause), and so say all of us!

Jharad leans over and says in a low voice to the half-orc, “A pair of gold says you are not able to knock the gnome from his perch before I can count to 10… without weapons.” He then begins counting silently with his fingers, ‘One, two…’

Keng springs to his feet and leaps across the gap, landing in the midst of the students. He grabs Jethirk by the collar with one hand and the barrel in his other hand and returns to Jharad saying with a feral grin, “You said you’re thirsty?”

The students are outraged by the sudden intrusion of a barbarian, and a half-orc besides. “Hey, what the hells!” “Back off Jack!” “Give us our gnome back this instant!” It seems as though if quick action is not taken they might resort to fisticuffs, or even spells, any moment.

For the students’ sake, Toshio hopes they cool off, or (hardly likely) that Keng does something to mollify them.  On that thought, he checks on Ameiko, looks for the exits, and assures himself that he is where he can move so as not to get caught in the fray.

“Well, this looks like fun,” chimes in Zeyala, as she awaits the outcome.

“Quit your bitchin ya bunch of panty waists, retorts Keng. “He’s our gnome. You want a song ya gotta pay fer it.”

“Put them in their place, Keng,” giggles Zeyala. Then to the others at her table she whispers, “Remind me to put on a helmet when we go out in public with Keng. The fallout is becoming quite hazardous.”

“Now, now!” Jethrik laughs and with obscene gestures and a roundly insinuating tone he continues, “I may not look like much but the ladies will attest, what there is of me can make many happy! To my new friends,” he gestures to the students, “I would like you to meet my old friends,” he sweeps his arm to encompass his caravan partners.

“This warrior you see before you is none other than Keng, of whom you have no doubt heard many legends! I would regale you with a handful of his more modest deeds, but you would never believe me. And as for the actions that brought him fame… well the gods themselves shudder!

“His boon companion is Jharad, an elven mage of exceptional power and skill. I am sure he has written half the books you study from.

“Favored by men and gods alike is our priestess Zeyala! I would introduce you, but I am once again taken breathless by her great beauty!

“And finally,” indicating Toshio with a flourish and a broad grin, “is… uhm… oh, he’s not important.

“Toast them all and wish them good fortune! And we shall do the like for you good masters!” Jethrik finishes with as much of a bow as he can muster while hanging from Keng’s fist.

The students are happy to toast to Jethrik and his friends, and the gnome behind the bar is kept quite busy for the rest of the night pouring ales, fine wines, and other more exotic concoctions of many hues that bubble and steam.