I was dragged out of bed, almost literally so, at an ungodly hour the following morning. My midnight encounter with the lovely Katherine--who I must keep remembering to call Keith as per her wishes--still drifted through my mind like a fragrance. My assorted companions were determined to pursue the ridiculous quest to rescue orphans and fight goblins despite the obvious risk to life and limb with no promise of gain whatsoever. And so it was that I found myself awake, out of bed, and fully dressed well before noon despite the presence of a delightful feather bed located in a reasonably impressive mansion with a servant on call. I consoled myself with a brief exploration of the manse's wine inventory. I had, after all, rescued and delivered the young heir Broderick to the ancestral home and thus was quite entitled to at least a bottle or two of the vintner's handiwork.
Now you are probably wondering why I would leave behind the aforementioned mansion equipped as it was with wines, antiques, beds, and a servant. Why indeed? The thought of settling in and taking young Broderick under my wing was indeed enticing. And particularly when the alternative was trudging about the endless peasant-infested mud-puddle commonly referred to as "the countryside". The main problem was that the ruling council had been aware of the death of my previous prospective employer, Broderick's father, even before we'd reached Adan with the news. That suggested that we were indeed involved in something which we should very much avoid. And the council had also taken the other family members away and sealed up the mansion. Thus to be discovered in the creaky old pile would entail fleeing to the countryside anyway.
Having selected both a red and a white of promising lineage I rejoined the company. We said our goodbyes to the scruffy young heir and set off. As repairs to the broken wheel of my carriage were not possible, not to mention cleaning and fumigation after having carried a load of runny-nosed road urchins, we perforce must ride. With six of us and only the four carriage horses I ended up on Morris my faithful donkey again. He's quite the trouper but riding him comes with a side-serving of public humiliation which I am determined to eliminate from my social diet. I was determined to exchange him for more suitable transport at the first opportunity.
On our way across the city, the greasy little gnome who had posed as one of the orphan children had the gall to present himself and ask "Keith" about joining the Church of Light--and joining our so-called adventure to boot. His agenda was quite transparent, particularly in regards to "Keith", and I put him off immediately. "I'm afraid it's quite out of the question old chap. It's far too dangerous, you see." To my great relief the mention of danger combined with my resolute stance on the question sent him packing.
Departing Adan, glorious bastion of civilization, we retraced our path to the depressingly rustic traveler's way station which a few days earlier I was happy I would never need to see again. Upon entering the taproom we were accosted by some drunken sod with breath that would fell an ogre. He rambled on about strange happenings in the area and made a pathetic attempt to cadge a free lunch off of us with the promise of useful news in return. Naturally we ignored his amateurish ploy. Soon after we discovered that the foul stench on his breath was due to some ghastly beverage he was swilling. I made a mental note not to order any of the house ales. Kull later helpfully slipped outside with the offending tankard and long-armed it several fields away.
We moved on, continuing along the road in the direction of that farcical attempt at civilization called Turner's Luck, and eventually camped for the night at a typically nondescript bit of scenery. Some time during the night a dream came upon me. It involved me being in a cave of gold, then tossing a sack into a river which contained our gnome. I awoke with a start and was quite taken aback to find the gnome perched in a tree staring wide-eyed at me like a madman. Unblinking and unmoving, his gaze was unnerving.
On the morn we continued our wearying trudge towards Turner's Luck and the crossroad where we could turn north on the road which most likely would lead to our untimely demises. We encountered assorted rural types in various states of uncleanliness. Several regaled us of tales of a band of knights in shining armor who had defended Turner's Luck just recently from a small army of ogres. Apparently our exploits of a few days before had already grown into local legend.
Later in the afternoon our little sojourn took a jarring turn for the worst. We espied a small band of armed travelers coming our way escorting a cart. The had the general look of ruffians about them (a look with which I am all too acquainted) and the cart had a tarpaulin covering the contents. As we drew nearer the gnome whispered that he recognized one particularly evil-looking specimen with a long scar across his face and ruined eye. The little chap assured us he'd seen the scar-face commit murders. Then, with a shock, I also recognized a face in the group. A face I'd hoped never to see again. The bald pate and heavy set of his frame was unmistakable--we had best avoid this one as well.
I edged Morris to the side as a precaution as our two groups began to pass. The contents of the wagon were impossible to identify beyond a metallic jingling but the demeanor of the escorts, seven men and a woman festooned with daggers, was hard as a rock. Keith hailed them with a friendly query on whence they'd come. Before an exchange could develop Kull, to my horror, glanced into the cart and exclaimed "Look at pretty gold". The desperadoes immediately drew weapons and we were in for it.
Naturally, I had prepared mentally for just such an eventually and deftly cast the old colorspray in a rather spectacular fashion:
|[Just found this great pic of Autolycus on the net; if it's copyrighted or something let me know and I'll take it down.]|
As I surveyed the battlefield with great relief, I spotted the gnome already in the cart and pocketing something. Cheeky blighter! I had already taken one belt pouch, being quite entitled to certain proceeds from the two I personally felled with my arcane expertise, but the little weasel was clearly determined to take his share of the cart off the top. I was not alone in my timely observance and we convinced him to cease and desist, at least while there was someone still watching him.
The tarp was thrown back and the contents of the rough cart were revealed as an assortment of valuables. There were items of gold, silver, and copper as well as a painting and numerous other household items. Clearly this was not the stock of a company of traveling merchants. I'd seen smaller similar piles presented to fences for disposal. This was obviously the accumulated results of numerous burglaries and robberies. We were dismayed to see a monstrously tacky painting of an elephant. We had last had the misfortune to view it in the inn at Turner's Luck and there could not possibly be more than one such ghastly bit of paintwork. Apparently the inn and possibly the rest of the rude little place had been ransacked.
As I took the other of my well-earned pouches of round clinky spendables a discussion ensued amongst my traveling companions as the the fate of the defeated. Brute, however, had already taken the matter in hand and begun sensibly dispatching the ruffians. Soon there was only one of them left. I was mildly surprised to find Keith and Omri insisting that he be handed over for some sort of trial or something. As the natural leader of our little band I was called upon for a ruling as to his fate. A few references to the two types recognized by the gnome and myself and the cart full of evidence, particularly the painting, was all it took to decide the case. The final bandit was put down like a rabid mutt. Keith called upon the Light and healed our injured persons, proof that it was indeed good to have a Shiny amongst us.
We returned to the way station with the cart and horses. A bit of bargaining and we got over 60 lovely golden disks for the pile of loot. Meanwhile, the gnome got himself literally tossed into the street for attempting to lift a purse which didn't belong to him yet. I finally sent my faithful Morris on to a new owner and claimed one of our new horses. Kull took pains to purchase a length of decent quality cloth with which to finally gird his considerable nether parts, which was a pleasant surprise to us all.
We pushed on again and eventually camped for the night. The gnome took up his watchpost in the cart, eyes staring wide and unblinking into the darkness. I had never heard of gnomes having such an ability but it certainly made him the perfect sentry. I had barely laid my head down, or so it seemed, when I was jolted awake by a massive roar from Kull. At first I thought perhaps he had had enough of the gnome staring at him like that but alas danger was upon us. A pack of rangy wolves had entered our camp in search of prey. Kull rushed at them but tripped on Brute. Taking my cue from the canine nature of our opponents I cast illusionary hounds, which had always been a favorite at the old carnival. Their ferocious appearance sent three of the rude canis lupus fleeing into the night.
Onri dashed up, knocked one wolf aside and again displayed remarkable skill in grappling another which was menacing the downed Kull. Kull injured one with a blow of his axe and Brute brought one down with a single shot from his bow. Now low on arcane capacity I resorted to one of my precious hand-crafted darts. Happily I scored a solid hit. Meanwhile the gnome, who had sat impressively still and unblinking through this entire sequence of affairs, got a wolf tail wagged across his face and screamed like a banshee. Reacting suddenly he yanked on the tail and got an angry set of fangs in his face instead. Keith waded into the fight, swinging at this wolf and that. Onri put a brutal-looking crushing hold on his wolf and the two struggled mightily, fangs versus muscle. Kull cut one furry leg off while Brute downed another with his bow. For a hulking sort he really seems to have a deft touch with the old stick-and-string. The gnome sensibly dealt with his attacker by becoming invisible.
The battle continued with bow, axe, muscle, fang, and dart until I decided that it was time to really put on a show for my furry new audience. A few well-practiced movements later and a very nice dragon image manifested about me. Unfortunately, in the excitement I had neglected to inform my companions of my plan. The gout of imaginary flame from my new shape burned one of the wolves but then Brute loosed one of his deadly arrows at the sudden draconic menace. Luckily the shot went into one of the false hind legs rather than into me.
A bit more combat, including a particularly intense struggle for Onri to render his opponent unconscious, finally saw the end of the pack. Onri had some very unpleasant wounds but he bore them with little regret. Apparently he's quite unwilling to kill if he can avoid it--a very agreeable trait in a traveling companion.