From across the road, I saw the dwarf charge toward the undead beast. His hammer pumped wildly in front of him as he beelined between the retreating pedestrians, shouting, “Out of the way, before ye accidentally get hurt. Move! Clear a path!”
Deciding that I needed to help, I looked around for high ground so I could hit the monster better. I leapt up and grabbed the awning over the inn door, then climbed the rest of the way to the top. By the time I readied my bow and peered down, the dwarf had reached the ghoul, and several towns guardsmen surrounded it.
The dwarf swiped with his hammer, but the thing moved unbelievably fast, dodging out of the path of the blunt strike. Leaping onto a guard and biting him in the face, the monster tipped the guard over and pinned him to the ground. My advantage was temporarily hampered by the group surrounding the prone figures. Not wanting to accidentally hit the wrong target, I continued to wait.
The dwarf swung his hammer, aiming for the ghoul’s head, but it lifted its arm and blocked the brunt of the blow. A loud crack filled the air, and the beast rolled off the fallen guard, leaping to its feet, it’s arm hanging limply at its side. It opened its mouth and released a terrifying roar, as if in challenge to its attackers. This provided me with a clear shot, and my arrow plunged into the back of the foul creature.
The guards came forward, jabbing the monster with their spears, but the undead thing seemed impervious to the injuries. It darted under a lunge from one of the guards and grabbed his leg, knocking him backward. The beast lunged for the prone guard’s throat. Its teeth sank into the exposed flesh, and the guard’s death cry carried over the din. The remaining four guards surrounded the ghoul, with the dwarf squeezing into the circle.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the first downed guard twitch. My attention switched over to him. I watched him arch his back and then flail on the ground before standing. His back was now hunched, and his face leaked blood at an alarming rate. For a brief second, I felt relieved that the man had lived through his attack, but when he advanced jerkily toward the circle of town guards, I had a feeling something was wrong.
In retrospect, I should have trusted my instincts, but I had never encountered anything like this, and I didn’t know what to expect. The re-risen guard lunged at the back of one of his compatriots and bit him on the back of his neck. A startled cry of pain and shock escaped the guard’s lips as the new attacker ripped off flesh with his teeth.
From below me, I heard Jerry shout something and three rays of magic shot toward the . . . the what? Zombie? I had no idea what it was, but it took the blasts directly into the back of its head and let go of the guard.
The injured guard shuffled away, screaming in pain and holding his wounded neck, which gave me the opportunity to land an arrow through the mouth of the one that had bit him. It twisted from the impact, then fell to the ground and didn’t move again.
The dwarf had just finished crushing the head of the first undead thing with his hammer when the other guards went to the aid of their bitten compatriot. The dwarf turned to follow. While they were fussing over the injured guard, I watched as the second guard that had died stood up and lumbered toward the group. I let an arrow loose at it, but it only stumbled. “Watch out!” I shouted.
The dwarf turned and swiped his hammer across the knees of the beast, knocking it to the ground. He continued swinging after that and crushed the monster’s head.
“What a disaster!” the captain of the guard said. “Get that man to a healer, quick. Send help to get this cleaned up.” The other guards scrambled away, acting on their captain’s orders, carrying away their screaming companion.
Leaping off of the roof, I landed near the captain and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
The captain rubbed his hands through his hair and let out his breath, surveying the deceased guards. “What am I going to tell their families?” he moaned. Then he looked up at me, his eyes wide with stress. “You?” he asked, then pointed at one of my arrows, “You? Are these your arrows?”
Leaning on the bar, I said, “You surprised me with that dazzling smile.”
“Oh no ye don’t, darlin’,” she said, smiling despite her protest. “Ol’ Chrissy’s been around long enough to ken a scoundrel when she sees one.”
“A scoundrel?” I protested, feigning indignation.
Pointing an accusing, thick finger and jabbing it toward me, she said, “Aye, that’s right. You’ve broken many hearts in yer recent past. I can tell.”
Shrugging, I said, “I hope not.”
“Now that, I’m sure is true,” she responded. “Now tell me. What did you name those darlin’ kittens?”
“Er,” I turned to Jerry, who shrugged. “No names.” I smiled again. “We left that honor for you.”
Chrissy let out a bellowing laugh. “Oh, ye are such a liar.” She moved over to some mugs. “Now what can I get ye, darlin’s.”
“I’ll take a mug of your best ale, and whatever dinner you’re serving this evening,” Fred said.
“Me too,” Jerry chimed in.
Fred grabbed the mug she proffered. “This scoundrel found us on the road and helped us rid the gorge of some goblins. His name is Elohel, by the way.” He turned toward me. “Hey Elohel, can I get you some ale and dinner?”
“Sure, but no ale, I’ll take some tea if you have it,” I responded, then sat next to him at the bar. “You’re very charitable, Fred. Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. I like helping people, but I especially like helping people that can help me. I knew when I saw the bow on your back that you could probably help us. Now I know that our dwarf is slow to trust people, but I’ve got a real knack for it.” At this point, Fred ran out of breath and paused briefly to suck in some air. “I don’t just give stuff to anybody; they have to have a vibe about them.” He finished with a deep-throated laugh.
He was one of those talkers who could go on and on before needing to come up for air. I’ve met a few, so I tuned him out a bit.
I had finally made it to Nicodranas, and now I had to figure out what I could do here. The group I came in with already accepted me to travel with them on a job here and there, but I wanted to make Nicodranas my home. I knew eventually I would have to live somewhere other than at an inn, but I had never bought a house before and had no idea where to start. Nor did I have the funds for it. My coin bag had enough gold to keep me at the inn for some time, especially with Fred’s contribution.
Running through an inventory in my head of what I might need to help Jerry, Fred, and the dwarf, I decided that I needed to use some of my gold to purchase some supplies, like some armor. Probably a supply of dry rations for the road, as well.
However, the most important order of business, I realized, was getting to know people, and building some connections.
I was just about to jump out of my seat to go wander around the city when Chrissy slipped through the kitchen doors and dropped a plate of roast in front of me. “Here ye go, darlin’s.” She had two more plates balanced on her arm and deftly passed those out to Jerry and Fred. The food smelled absolutely delicious, so I delayed my exploration to dine with my new friends.
Fred finally stopped talking in favor of the food. “I think I’m going to go explore the city after this,” I said, between bites of food.
Jerry lit up. “You need to see Bearty Bahts. She carries everything!”
“That sounds perfect. Will you show me?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, while biting into a chunk of beef.
I had almost finished as much as I could of my roast when we heard several screams mingled with shouts and shuffling feet, followed by a monstrous snarl. I leapt out of my seat, and charged to the door, Jerry and Fred on my heels. I reached the streets to observe a corpse charging closer from down the road.
His arms flying up in exasperation, Fedrel says, “He attacked you? What a reprobate!”
Fyre considers him, her smile fleeting, her brows knit. “He didn’t attack me.” She smiles again. “He caught the blade and showed off his shiny dagger.”
“Oh,” he says, relaxing back into his chair, looking abashed for interrupting. “I apologize, please continue.”
“It’s quite alright,” she says, turning back to the fire. She waves her hands, making the motions of a simple spell, and the fire dances across the embers, forming into three figures sitting in a circle. Fedrel leans in and observes a younger Fyre in tatters sitting across from two other figures on an uneven stone floor. One of the figures tosses a little orange dagger into the air; it flickers and comes back down. The figure hands it to the little effigy of Fyre, and then the real Fyre continues her story:
Sornin treated me well after that, but he was not a good person. He treated others poorly and bullied many of them. If any of them tried to retaliate, Marthus was an imposing presence. None of the other children matched Marthus’s size, and many feared him.
I really liked Marthus. He was very nice to me, and made sure that I received the best treatment. Sometimes I wish I knew what happened to him.
Our little trio survived the captivity in this cave, despite the poor conditions. Sornin’s older brother provided us with food and protection when he could. This lasted for almost a year.
It all ended one day when Sornin’s brother (Vuzyrd) chose the wrong time to provide us with his contraband. The heavy, wooden door swung open that day and Vuzyrd slipped in quickly and quietly to meet Sornin at the appointed corner, not too far from the door. Marthus and I watched from a distance, but couldn’t hear him over the din of the other children in the cell. The two drow exchanged a parcel and then they parted. Sornin made his way toward us, and Vuzyrd made for the exit.
When the older drow opened the door, a boot shot out and kicked Vuzyrd backward onto the ground, sending begging children scrambling out of the way. Three other drow raced in, holding swords at the ready. Vuzyrd scrambled to his feet and drew his own sword, too late. Before Sornin’s brother could bring his sword to the ready, the drow that had kicked him impaled Vuzyrd with his blade.
When I gasped, Sornin turned around, and a low cry of anguish escaped my friend’s throat as we watched Vuzyrd slowly sink to the ground. Sornin charged the three adult drow, screaming at the top of his lungs. His dagger out, he flailed madly at the aggressors. Poor Sornin had no chance. The grown drow easily dodged his angry swings, then trapped his wrist in a death grip.
Something inside me snapped, and I ran forward, grabbed Sornin’s dagger, and stabbed the drow holding Sornin right in the buttocks. He arched his back and skittered away. Unfortunately, the best my strike did was surprise him, as his armor kept the point from breaking his skin. Although the other two drow laughed at their companion, the one I had stabbed turned toward me, anger distorting his face in a deadly sneer.
The guard stepped around us and said, incredulously, “That isn’t what was harassing people in the gorge was it? Surely not.”
“Eh, no.” Reaching for one of his many bags, the dwarf tossed him the smelly bag of goblin ears.
Squealing, the guard recoiled from the grisly bag, and it landed on the ground where the guard had been standing. “I don’t want that,” he said, his voice pitched an octave too high. “Take that to the captain.”
“Aye, I intend to,” the dwarf responded, snatching up the bag as he passed and chuckling the entire time.
Inside the gate, the city was every bit as grand as the view outside had been. We had stopped just inside the city when the dwarf turned toward us. “I’m going to take this cat to the tanners, and then turn in our goblin ears. I’ll meet ye all back at the inn later and split our reward.” With that, he turned on his heel and dragged the feline down the road, people dodging out of the stalwart fellow’s path as he went.
“Hey, Elohel,” Fred said, “you want to go to the inn with us?”
“Sure,” I responded, and followed the duo through the crowds. The tabaxi towered over everyone, so keeping up was not difficult, despite the press of citizens.
The kittens mewled in distress as we traversed the streets. I imagined that they were probably hungry, not having eaten since we found them.
Finally, my new companions turned and headed into The Evening Nip inn. The tabaxi pushed open the massive wooden door that marked the entrance. We stepped into a simple, common-looking tavern. A hearth split the back wall of the room with a couple of comfortable looking chairs and a small table between them. Four round tables lined the left side of the room, and a bar with ten stools lined the right wall.
A stout dwarven woman stood behind the bar, wiping down some mugs. Her ruddy complexion and laugh lines revealed a pleasant demeanor. The shelves behind her housed many bottles of different alcoholic beverages, and a swinging door led to the kitchens in the back.
She looked up at us, and her eyes brightened. “Good evenin’, Fred and Jerry. Will it be the usual? Oh, who’s this that ye bring?” she asked as she leaned to her right to peer past Jerry.
At this point, I stepped forward, flashing her my most dazzling smile. “My name is El . . .” I started to say, but her squeal interrupted me.
“What in Moradin’s blessed mug do we have here?” she exalted, rushing around the bar toward me. I’d had girls chase me before, but never in this manner, so naturally, I was shocked by this brash charge toward me, and I took a step back, recoiling from her outstretched arms. Then she snatched the tiger kittens from me and turned, with them mewling in her arms. “What a bundle o’ joy!” she exclaimed, cradling the kittens to her bosom. “Ye sweet little things seem hungry. Let Chrissy get you some food.” With that, she carried them away, behind the bar and past the swinging door, raising a finger for us to wait as she disappeared into the kitchen.
I stared after her, a little flabbergasted, and quite a bit more embarrassed due to my misunderstanding. “Well, that’s taken care of,” I said. Fred was sniggering, and the tabaxi rewarded me with a half-smile. “What?”
“I don’t think you’re her type,” the tabaxi said.
“Was it that obvious?” I asked, incredulously.
Fred laughed. “Your eyes were as big as an owl’s. Did you really think she was going to kiss you?” His shoulders shook with more laughter.
Smiling, I said, “It’s a perfectly understandable misunderstanding. After all, I’m used to a fair amount of flirtation. She just surprised me is all.”
“Surprised ye how, darlin’?” she asked as she stepped back behind the bar.