The Heroes stood perplexed with three dead Dwarfs cooling quietly on the ground. A crow cawed. They followed his coarse cry to the source. Ominously, the black bird perched on the peak of a roof, leering at the lovely corpses. The crow was joined by a cousin and then another. Quarrell squatted and set to unbuckling armor. Quality stuff. Masterful craftsmanship and dutifully maintained by Dwarfs who understood the importance of good armor. Ja collected weapons. A pair of urgroshes, a trio of crossbows, an earthbreaker, and something special.
Only the day before, the barbarian cleric had pumped the bellows while his industrious friend shaped steel into an implement of war. The experience struck a chord. Unnatural dreams dominated Ja’s sleep. Taking a page from Lewis Carrol, Ja lived a guided tour through “The Dummy’s Guide to Forging Glaives”. However, in the brilliant light of day, Ja held something like a glaive, but it wasn’t quite right. The blade at the end was too short and hooked. Thomniel, Chosen of Droskar, Redeemer of the Temple Made Forge furrowed his thick brow. “A glaive’s blade is long and straight,” mumbled the Bastion of Orthodoxy, and it was so. Pope Ja performed his first miracle. And Quarrell noticed.
“What’s that you’ve got there?” inquired the amateur armorer.
“A gift from Droskar,” is almost certainly what Ja meant to say and was exactly what Quarrell heard. In short order, Thomniel followed his first miracle with an act of proselytization. Should Quarrell agree to attend vespers with Ja, his piety would certainly earn Divine Favor in the form of a +2 Vicious Glaive. Longing to dedicate himself to the Dwarf God of Endless Toil, Quarrell enthusiastically accepted the invitation and claimed the incentive.
Meanwhile, Sam stood to the side, her gaze fixed on the home of Seibei Kreed and her mind calculating factors of delay, cowardice, and wealth to reach an unwelcome conclusion. “Why would he wait, trapped in there, while we gear up, heal up, and plan his downfall?” she pondered. “He wouldn’t.” She scowled. From Quarrell’s descriptions of the dead men buried under Jabb’s coral, the ranger knew vengeance had been dealt in full on her earlier attackers. Still, it was Seibei who gave the order. A quick check indicated the preoccupation of her companions. Sam slipped away.
With a sigh, Starsha cast her last healing spell and wiped her brow. “I have done for you what I may,” stated the elf. “Three dooms have I helped evade, but I will not participate in your battle against Jurin’s father. Mr. Jabb has generously offered a place on his wagons for Jurin and me. My debt to you is paid; no more aid will I grant. Have a care when next we meet.” Starsha began to walk away but paused after a few steps. Her shoulders slumped, and she spoke, “It seems that I must remind you that Falcons Hollow has an apothecary.” Her final message given, the Oracle returned to Momma Crandal’s and the boy waiting there.
Spirits lifted at the recollection of potions and their marvelous qualities. Whereas the last two mornings were marked by unwelcome delays, the promise of an insulating agent, a means of lowering the price of vigilantism, put the band in a cheerful mood. Liquid magic would guaranty triumph over the aged Seibei Kreed, his squad of emaciated cowards, and the women who compromised his household. Bold was the stride of the Heroes in opposite direction of their goal.
The door to Vade’s Apothecary hung crookedly from its one good hinge. As the Heroes approached, a potent chemical odor filled the air. Once inside the small shop, shattered glass crunched under foot. Shavaros emerged from the back. His lips were split and bloody; an eye was swollen shut. In his austere manner, the man explained that Jinjo Kreed had brought a handful of strangers around. Seibei’s son demanded potions, and his rough friends had stripped the shelves, pocketing anything that looked useful and smashing the rest. Wearily, Shavaros reached for a broom then Savram entered. In his thin arms, the boy clutched a dozen bottles of various sizes. Blood trickled from a fresh cut across his scalp. His jaw was clenched and rage danced in his dark eyes.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Savram growled.
While potions were passed around, Toska noted just how thin Savram and Shavaros were. She looked once more at the empty shelves. The Druid’s discerning eyes recognized the recipe for starvation. The shop had only just kept the pair alive. With their inventory slowly seeping through the floorboards, these two would be dead by Spring. Quietly, Toska took Quarrell aside. Before leaving, the fighter pressed a plump purse into Savram’s reluctant hands.
One errand led to others. More suits of armor were deposited at Colbin Jabb’s lot. Savram and Shavaros were escorted to Mama Crandal’s for a much needed meal. The Glyntaxe brothers were stacked on the coffin maker’s doorstep with the assumption that the gold in their teeth would be adequate payment for proper burial. It was during the course of these inconvenient, though necessary, activities that Toska noticed Sam’s absence. She commented on the fact, but neither Quarrell nor Ja had seen the ranger leave.
Thus, it was a trio of grimly determined Heroes that set out a third time to enact frontier justice upon Seibei Kreed. As they approached the den of their quarry, warning calls sounded from voice to voice within. Feet stamped. Doors banged. Dozens of men snatched up gear and scrambled to appointed positions. When the cacophony died, the iron bound front door swung open, and a line of people strode out. A strikingly beautiful woman in a fashionable robe led the way. Behind her came a massively muscled man in exotic armor, and four bald, supremely athletic younger men followed him. From the roof of Kreed’s fortress, a lean figure in expensive leathers looked down on the Heroes. He sneered and asked, “Can I help you?”
A throng of Kreed’s goons spilled from the gap in the wall of buildings left by the burning of the Red House. Ja looked around. His personal store of numbers was exhausted long before he assigned one to each of the foes looking back at him. Annoyed by the disparity, the barbarian did his best to rectify the situation. With a blood chilling, bone shaking roar, Ja vented his dismay. A particularly feeble fellow in the rear ranks collapsed stone dead, clutching at his overtaxed heart. Several of his neighbors sidled away and kept sidling right out of the street. Others who could not so easily slip away suffered the indignity of fright-induced incontinence.
It was Quarrell who answered the man’s question with the directness and clarity of purpose that typified his nature. “We’re here to kill Seibei Kreed and anyone who fights for him. The rest of you should leave now.”
Amused, the rogue on the roof smirked. “That’s going to be a problem. You see, I’m Jinjo Kreed, and my guests here have come a long way to enjoy my father’s hospitality. I’d like to say that you two can leave town. That’d be the gallant thing. But you can’t,” he told Quarrell and Ja then he looked at Toska. “We’re down to two whores though, so you don’t have to die in the street like these two,” he offered with a wink.
Quarrell attacked. The sweep of his glaive left a line of crimson from Procas’s shoulder to the opposite hip. The fight had begun, and fighting is what Amycus did best. In sizing up the trio of vigilantes, the pit fighter took special note of the Varisian in armor. The giant might be a problem, but he doubted it. Oversized barbarians tend to have glass jaws. But give a soldier the chance to manage a battle, and things could go downhill fast. Amycus charged. He had learned that a good soldier fights with his mind. A smile curled the corner of the big man’s lips as his overhand right connected solidly with Quarrell’s temple; the soldier’s mind wobbled.
Four monks, apprentices that Amycus personally selected for skill and aggression, found themselves facing a Titan towering in wrath. Atys and Copys launched precise attacks at nerve centers, seeking to stun the inhuman mountain of muscle before them. Their efforts were fruitless. Wounded though he was, Procas launched a barrage, planting his shin in the meat of Ja’ thigh, his fist in the barbarian’s kidneys, and his elbow in the monster’s ribs. Aventius struck with a kick to the inner thigh and another to the liver. Ja was no stranger to such abuse. What worried him profoundly was the sight of Quarrell pinned against a wall eating hammer fist after hammer fist until his head lolled and his body sagged to the ground. A berserker’s fury propelled the barbarian’s axe into the joint of Amycus’s neck and shoulder. The blade parted sinew and spine. The pit fighter fell with his back to the foe.
It was the Grasp of Droskar that crushed Capys’s orbital socket. The monk left his feet and landed with every muscle in his body rigid, arms outstretched, knees locked. Somewhere in the red haze that filled Ja’s remaining moments of consciousness, the wounded Procas fell, and the enemies lay side by side in the dust.
The combat survivor is an unusual creature. What critical combination of courage and self-preservation, what magical balance of prowess and evasion, what trick of timing, what unerring sense of the moment sets the survivor apart? In the days of myth and legend, Odysseus and Diamedes were the heralded favorites of Athena. Wisdom illuminated their path, guided their hands, and glorified their names. Toska was not without wisdom.
The witch’s discerning eye marked the mercenary sorceress for the true threat and put her most valuable asset to work on the problem. Talla wove through the melee on a mission to mangle a mage. While the cat hunted, the prey was wielding light as a weapon. Blistering rays shot from Medea’s outstretched hands to lance both Quarrell and Ja before the lioness reached her. But the menace of Talla’s fangs and claws kept the powerful sorceress from working greater destruction.
When Toska breathed a summons to the wind, a spirit of air obeyed. Atop his father’s roof, Jinjo Kreed surveyed the battle from safety, taking pot shots at his leisure… until the elemental marred his aim. Reduced to trading barbs with the Druid, Jinjo’s fury mounted to comical proportions. However, the collapse of Quarrell ended Toska’s option to avoid close combat. She rushed to her comrade’s side, and at last, Jinjo’s bolts found their mark. Atys and Aventius dashed across the body strewn street to interdict Toska’s healing mission. Pierced and pounded, the Druid fought on.
Two strangers entered the town and spotted the trouble brewing at the far end of the street. With an exchange of glances, the pair headed in the opposite direction. Row Ander had come to meet a legend, the hero of fireside tales recounted by his grandfather. Three generations of Riddleport Anders worshiped the Final Defender of Varisia, and Row was moments away from seeing with his own eyes and hearing with his own ears none other than General Hoodrun Belle.
“Nicto” knew none of that. The rakish sorcerer understood well the commerce of piracy. What’s more, he understood that smuggling was lucrative and in no way impinged on piratical opportunities. Nicto wasn’t especially excited about the backwater of Falcons Hollow, but he trusted Row’s unerring nose for gold coins and high adventure.
Had you arrived at your local bookstore to find Homer autographing copies of the Illiad, you could understand how Ronaldo Vitrix Ander XIII felt when he beheld the truncated limbs and hawk like eye of Colbin Jabb.
“Leftenant Ander,” roared the General, spotting a face he had not seen in forty hears. “Take your man…” Belle hobbled hurriedly forward to join the “Leftenant” at the gate. Raising his crutch, he pointed to the rising dust beyond the wall of ragged backs. “We have allies in that fracas. They need your help. One’s appointed in plate. He’s a good fighter, reliable. And there’s a big fellow. Wears rotting furs. Not too bright. Watch out for him. A savage is with them too. Her name’s Toska. A capable creature. Now, get down there!” he ordered, hurrying the startled sailors into action.
We use the term star-struck in the age of media, but that is precisely what reduced one of the most cunning pirates of the Lost Coast to a green junior officer in the service of phantom general. Scimitar in hand, Row ran with a smile on his face straight toward twenty armed men. Now, even a casual observer could discern that the wall of goons wished only to be spectators, but still, the newcomers were an unknown element.
Did I mention that “Nicto” was a sorcerer? That’s a really important fact about him, a fact that Nicto forgot when he tried to skirt the band of idle ruffians. One of the goons stepped into an impressive backswing that brought his club into contact with the sorcerer’s head. Encouraged by the demonstration, another goon clubbed Nicto as well. By the time, the part-time mage made it into the battle proper, where combatants were bleeding and dying, so was he. Staggering steps carried him to where Toska stood. The sharp-eyed Druid did not slay her battered ally; instead the pair stood back to back with a wall guarding their left side.
Row had other, though related, problems. The clubbing of Nicto had broken the ice for the bystanding goon squad. None of Kreed’s men cared to tangle with the interlopers from Sand Point, but the newcomers were a different story. They rushed Row Ander in their ignorance and paid dearly for the mistake. The bright edge of the pirate’s scimitar separated arms from shoulders, severed legs at the knee, and divided the quick from the dead.
Perhaps the moment that wisdom has the greatest impact on survival is when the time comes to risk all. Bleeding from bolt wounds and bruised from powerful blows, Toska faced a pair of skilled strikers eager to test her toughness with their fists. The Druid had but one healing spell left. Murmuring her petition to the life giving forces of nature, Toska crouched and laid a hand on Quarrell’s shoulder. Life flowed into the soldier. Up he rose. With the hand axe he still gripped, Quarrell chopped. Atys fell. Aventius looked at his crumpling companion, but what he saw was Ja standing upright, lifting a potion to his mouth and draining the bottle. In the span of a blink, the monk realized that he was alone against enemies that grew stronger by the moment. Aventius turned to run. Row’s blade clove him from crown to pelvis.
Quarrell admired the deft stroke, and introduced himself. Row explained the circumstances of his presence… then a sixteen foot tall barbarian ran past them and climbed to the roof.
Jinjo Kreed was terrified by the monster mounting his perch. It was the correct emotion to employ. Ja was on the rogue at once. Massive arms encircled Jinjo as the barbarian bore him to the ground. The years spent among the Orks had presented Ja with an encyclopedic knowledge of shocking social conduct. He chose to draw upon this reference material and reenact a particularly offensive spectacle. Baring his huge teeth, the barbarian took a bite of Jinjo Kreed, followed by another and another. How can one quantify the hysteria that overcame Jinjo? A man he had not known that morning was chewing and swallowing his flesh. Being eaten is too rare an experience for an adequate lexicon to have been developed for it. This was horrific madness. An hour earlier, Ja was only marginally aware of the Jinjo Kreed’s existence; he hadn’t even heard the name.
What made the barbarian end his revolting meal, who can say? But rather than finish his grisly repast, Ja lifted, upended, and leaping, drove Jinjo through the roof and second story of the dwelling below. An intervening bed spared the plummeting pair much of the expected damage. Stumbling about in the dust and debris, the scion of house Kreed headed for the door. Ja’s dagger, enlarged to the size of a broadsword, took his foot off at the ankle. The stump would not support Jinjo’s weight. He toppled, never to rise again.
A scream from the basement drew the Heroes in from the street. In the gloom below, five ragged ruffians who had abandoned the fight in the street held Ralla, Hollis, and the other whore from the Red House. Quarrell and Row were on them in a flash. The deadly duo made swift work of the goons, painting the walls with arterial. Toska hurried downstairs to tend wounds and give what comfort she might.
Nicto’s hand shook as he downed potion after potion. His life had passed before his eyes, and the young sorcerer was confident that he wanted a good deal more life than he had. Cautiously, he too entered the Kreed home. He heard footsteps upstairs, and Quarrell went to investigate. A last, desperate minion was pillaging his master’s hoard. Quarrell offered the human cockroach a way of escape, but he could not bear to abandon his loot. It cost him his life.
During the affray in the street, Talla had driven Medea from the battle. The dismayed spellcaster retreated into the house, but she was not to be found there. In fact, in the course of his search, Row passed the front door. Something was wrong in the street. Only one mercenary’s corpse remained with the bodies of the goons. It would seem that the enemy had fled to fight another day. Worse still, Seibei Kreed was nowhere to be found.
By the time Colbin Jabb and his men arrived, frustration led Quarrell to borrow some of Ja’s temperament. The fighter and the barbarian were pulling down the remaining roof timbers. Creaking preceded crashing. Debris burst from the front door peppering the novice demolishers.
“Well, I guess you didn’t take him alive,” surmised Jabb.
“He escaped, and he still has Kitani Eaveswalker,” replied Quarrell. “Ralla says he fled last night with a wagon load of valuables and a large chest that the goons had trouble manipulating.”
Belle caught Quarrell’s arm and led him away from the others. “Look, Son, you know things that will get you killed by people with the best intentions. You must be extremely careful what you say and to whom. you’re life isn’t the only one at stake.”
“Kreed has connections that can make trouble. I’ve kept my operation small to avoid attracting attention, but Kreed made a great deal of money for people. The mill owners in Magnimar will not be pleased to see him gone, not to mention the Lord who owns these lands.”
The General hesitated before continuing. “Seibei is Lord Grobaras’s brother in law.”
The name was familiar to Quarrell. “Grobaras is the Lord Mayor of Sand Point.”
Belle nodded. “The Lady Precious Grobaras Kreed never steps foot out of Korvosa, but she does bind the Lord Mayor to Kreed. If Seibei is seeking protection, he’ll go to Grobaras.”
Quarrell was silent, but the General read the set of his jaw and the tension in his posture. “You should know that Grabaros is an honorable man and the real power in Sand Point no matter who the popularly elected mayor happens to be. You know Sherriff Hemlocke, correct? Hemlocke is Grabaros’s man; he’s honest and loyal to the death. If you pursue Seibei to Sand Point, keep your head. They have law there. Security. It’s a peaceful town, and people want to keep it that way.”
“Now, these two fellas…” he nods toward Row and Nicto “they’ve got a ship waiting at the docks. We’ll be carting the timber to the ship. They’ll take it to Korvosa. Korvosa is big enough for you to get rid of all that armor piling up in my lot without attracting too much attention. And, if you care to head that way, I could use your help. A bladesmith has a saw for me, and I’ve secured a buyer for the timber. Someone needs to take the money from one to the other and bring that blade back here without the millers in Magnamar knowing it. My men are capable but not well travelled, and none handle themselves as well as you and your companions. With that saw, I can cart lumber, finished lumber, to Sand Point and ship it anywhere on the Lost Coast. Grabaras wouldn’t need Kreed for money, and the revenue we generate could fund training, arms, and armor. Falcons Hollow is so isolated, we could have an army ready to meet Cheliax the moment those bastards cross the border.”
“Can you do this for me?” Belle looked into Quarrell’s face with all the gravity of legend.