‘Bring us another one, would you darling?’ without turning around Vuvu waved her hand in the air towards the barkeep. Grash was recounting another of the adventures he’d been on to Vuvu, telling her of the siege of Dharma. The tavern keeper, clearing a table behind them, stared at the pair and reluctantly made his way back to the bar to pour more drinks.
Vuvu and Grash were enjoying a well deserved drink in the only tavern of Mallac’s Rest. Fresh from their adventure to the north in the caves where they found the lone Drow plotting and reworking the flesh of Orc and Gnoll. They did not discuss this however, as they wanted to have a little time to reminisce of times long past.
Jalana was outside looking about town and, as the evening came about, she turned into a bat (even though bats usually awake at night) and she hung on a tree near the centre of town and tried to get some well earned rest.
As the hours passed she slumbered with dreams of tearing flesh and smiling Drow.
After a few restless hours her bat ears twitched. She thought she heard a scream, like metal nails being dragged across rust but amplified beyond reason. She kept her eyes closed, attuning her ears; she could hear the towns folk beginning their nightly activities. Shops closing, some opening, the sound of mothers calling their children home.
Again the screech. This time like it was curdling from a bubbling swamp, the death wail of some dying beast.
She opened her bat eyes. Looking about she saw Leaf, the halfling, atop his badger-wolf running at full speed towards the centre of the town.
‘Everyone flee!’ he yelled in Elvish, as he did not speak the Common tongue, ‘Run for your lives!’
Some people stopped to see the semi-familiar form of the little humanoid, some a little fearful, but all knowing that he has a strange bond with the town. Jalana, understanding his panic if not exactly his words, turned her eyes from his and swept the surroundings.
In the distance, and approaching very very quickly, was a massive shape that could be nothing but a-
‘Dragon!’ yelled Leaf in his best attempt at common, coming out at more of a ‘Daa-boon!’
As he was yelling and just before Jalana could think to warn the others, the Dragon swept down, plummeting faster that she could have thought , folding it’s wings in behind it and as it came to within 100 yards of the village its wings unfolded arresting some of its speed and, as it strafed across the eastern part of the village the people of Mallac’s Rest began to scream, however the sounds were drowned out by the bellowing of the massive green Dragon and it’s fiery green breathe that came from its maw.
Most of the eastern part of the village disappeared in the green flames and the poor souls that were engulfed were either incinerated immediately or lay about, some running for a few seconds, and being consumed by the fire. As the fire burned she saw a green fog making it’s way out from the destruction, with many of the unburned towns people running in panic and not noticing it, they gasped and fell to their knees holding their throats as if they couldn’t breathe. The mist was the same green as the scales on the dragon.
Jalana dropped her bat form and immediately put her finger to her ear ‘DRAGON!’ she bellowed.
Grash and Vuvu were already on their feet, having knocked over and forgotten about their drinks after the second, closer screech sounded, knowing there was trouble afoot. As Jalanas warning came through their earpieces they both whipped out their weapons and ran outside, ready to face the danger head on.
They came out to a scene of horror, people ran screaming through the streets, some, in a panic, huddled and covered their heads with their arms, as if that could stop the flames. They found Jalana, standing with her lighting spear crackling in her hand and followed her gaze to the skies with Patrick standing next to her, sword and shield in hand.
The mighty beast was circling a few miles to the north, readying itself for another pass. Leaf ran past them all, with the badger-wolf taking giant strides and leaps up barrels and smaller roofs until he was atop the town hall, next to the single bell that the town could afford. He took out his mighty long bow and strung an arrow with vicious barbs on it and held it to the dragon, tracking it flight across the sky.
‘We have to get out of here, there is no heroic end to this except in death.’ Vuvu said, not out of fear but of calm certainty and began her run to the forests edge. Grash, looking at the village and then the relative safety of the forests edge, knew instantly that he had no allegiance to this pitiful nest of smelly humans and started off after Vuvu.
As they ran, they saw the Dragon again swooping down and as they just made the safety of the forests edge they saw it again lay waste to large parts of the town. Jalana and Patrick stood side by side, with his massive and time-tested shield raised they both took cover behind it and were spared most of the flames.
Patrick, standing and shaking off some embers and coughing through the mist that was slowly forming, saw about him many of the townsfolk looking for direction. Jalana, stood and yelled ‘Get to the forest! It is attacking the town!’ and began running, picking stragglers off their feet and helping some of the elderly. Patrick took her lead and began hurriedly getting people out of the town. Many people not in their immediate vicinity did not run to the forest but hid in their homes, some were consumed by the next strafing run of the dragon, some were saved by dumb luck.
As many of the towns folk watched the fires consume much of the village from the flimsy safety of the forest Grash stood transfixed, watching the scene with wide eyes and a smile on his face. The dragon again swooped down but this time it was not alone, it had a master, on it’s back a dread form commanded it. He told the dragon where to strike, where to lay it’s terrible fire. Grash was smiling manically now, the flames reflecting in his eyes, and he felt a hand take his own, and too transfixed in the moment he did not shirk it. He heard a familiar voice, in his ears or his mind he did not know.
this is why you are here
this is what you are for
Grash, come and find me, come home
He felt the hands grip lessen, and he looked down to catch a glance of Michi’ini knowing it would be her. But she was not there, and neither was his entire arm. He laughed, and coughed up blood, feeling a loss inside his body and, with an incredible pain, he toppled to the ground, still seeing their fire and smoke in his mind he lost consciousness.
Jalana, slightly distracted with helping the few villagers that made it with them, caught a glance of Grash toppling to the floor. She yelled and ran to him, catching Vuvu’s attention who followed her to Grash. ‘Grash! Your arm!’ yelled Jalana helpfully. Vuvu stood beside them weapon in hand, not sure where the attacker was, but keeping the rabble of villagers away from her old friend.
Grash awoke in a panic, having only lost consciousness for a few moments. He looked down to his arm and yelped, his mage hand appearing and in the same instance creating a ball of flame, he then took the flame to the bleeding stump of his arm, trying to cauterise the wound in his panic but only managed to burn himself.
‘Stop’ said Vuvu, realising there was something else afoot here, with Jalana not panicking as much as she would if there had been an enemy nearby. ‘Hold him down’ she directed Jalana who complied. Vuvu kneeled down beside him and lay her hands on his wound, letting the blood run over her fingers, the sound of it dripping onto the wet earth and the anti-rhythm of his ragged breaths. The wound stopped bleeding, but did not heal completely, it’s the best she could do at the moment. When her magic was seeping through him she felt an emptiness inside where his organs were, and advised him of such.
Grash looked up at Vuvu then down at his arm, ‘Thanks’, he mumbled, still not completely coherent and quite out of breath.
‘That’s okay, after all, we’re like family.’
A sudden gasp brought all of their attention to Patrick who was standing nearby.
‘Family…’ he whispered to himself, dropped his sword and started running back to the village.
The three of them though maybe he was still concussed from this several very hard hits to the head, it was the only explanation for him to have forgotten about his wife and child. As Jalana tended to Grash as best she could Vuvu looked about at the milling folk and realised that there were many many other injured people. She began to rally them, setting up a triage system and creating some semblance of order. As she looked she saw several of the guards watching her, awe in their eyes at her finesse, brazen good looks and her magical ability to heal wounds. One guard in particular did not seem as impressed as the others, and stood looking at her quizzically. The way he stood seemed to be at odds with their surroundings, he was not dirty and panicked like the rest, but calm and studying.
‘What’s your deal, then? Why aren’t you wandering about like a witless calf like the rest of them? Or are you addled in the brain?’ she asked him as she made her way over to him. Grash and Jalana came behind, as they saw that something interesting has caught Vuvu’s attention.
The guard tilted his head slightly to the side, and moving his hand across his face the charm was washed away and in front of them stood an Elf clad in flowing clean blue robes. A large tome strapped in golden linked chains to his waist, and a runed and heavy looking staff in his hands replaced the old broken spear that was there a moment ago.
‘Hello.’ he said without addition.
‘Well now, that was some trick.’ exclaimed Vuvu, looking him up and down. ‘You going to help us with this or are you just going to play tricks on everyone? What’s your name?’
The Elf looked from Vuvu to Grash to Jalana, then off in the distance to the village.
‘I have not had a name for over a decade.’ he replied in the Common tongue. ‘And no, I will not be helping these…people’ he said, with a shadow of a sneer on his face, looking at the villagers.
‘We’ll call you Shun, then.’ said Grash from the back.
‘If you like.’ said the Elf serenely. ‘I’m looking for someone and I’m wondering if you’ve seen him. His name is Hemmit.’
‘He died.’ said Jalana with no preamble. ‘Was he…your brother?’ she asked, seeing a resemblance in his face.
‘Only in the strictest sense can an impure being such as Hemmit have been called my brother.’ the Elf replied, gaze returning from the burning village back to the trio. ‘So he is dead? That simplifies matters.’
As they concluded their introductions a primal scream ripped through Mallac’s Rest. A sound of rage and loss so feral and powerful that no a single soul that heard it was unaffected. The villagers thought there was another threat on the way, a threat seemingly more terrifying. The three of them knew that it was something else, that it was Patrick, and he’d probably found something.
‘I will go to him, there might be something I can do.’ said Jalana to the group and hurried off towards Patrick’s hut, guessing that’s where he was.
As she approached she saw on the mantle a man holding the charred remains of his wife. In his grief he did not notice her coming and his tears flowed freely onto her body. He shook with pain and rage, and in that most intimate and sacred of moments of grief he felt a hand on his shoulder. ‘It’s okay Patrick’. said Jalana.
Through the mists of rage and primal anger his mind, soaked in blood and fire and scales and gnashing teeth, he surfaced, if only for a moment, and saw her dark face. He looked through the haze at her, her innocent face, daring to disturb him in this moment of abject horror. His fractured and tormented mind only allowed him to mutter ‘get…away…from…me…’
Jalana shrugged and took her hand off him, wondering why he was so upset, people died all the time, it was the way of the world. Anyhow, she decided to go into his house to have a look around. Maybe his daughter was still inside.
As she entered the saw that half the house was destroyed and the entrance to his cellar was half covered in rubble. She moved some of the stones and made her way down the steps to the relatively unscathed cellar. As her eyes adjusted to the dark she saw regular cellar items, such as barrels, tools and winter clothes. She also saw a table with items strewn on it, such as the wooden piece that Esmerelda was working on when they first met. Also a small doll and other children’s items. She saw a note, laid carefully among the items, which she picked up and read.
Our precious girl, we miss you so much, please come home to us, it’s dangerous out there.
As she finished reading she looked up and saw a portrait, old and stained with the years, of the young girl that she has seen in the shop when they first arrived. The few memories of the girl she had came back to her, never seeing her with anyone but Patrick, never seeing her but in the dark of night.
She exited the cellar and the hut, passing by Patrick.
‘Well I’m off back to the others then, I didn’t know your daughter was dead Patrick! That’s something maybe you should tell people, sheesh.’ she said as she passed, giving him a friendly tap on the shoulder as she went by.
Racing through the fog and pain his mind snapped back to attention and hurled itself back to the present. ‘This..is…all..your…fault…’ he snarled quietly.
‘What’s that?’ said Jalana, turning around to see what he was on about.
Patrick laid his wife’s body down, and stood, snarling like an animal, he took out a long vicious blade and leapt at Jalana who immediately went on the back foot, using her hands and agility to dodge most of the blows.
‘Patrick! This isn’t you! Stop! We are not the ones to blame!’ she yelled, and seeing that he wasn’t going to let up she turned and fled towards the tree line to the others. He let out another gut curdling roar and went after her, like a feral beast.
Vuvu and Grash heard the roar and Jalana over the ear piece telling him to stop and knew something bad was happening. Just before they turned to run Grash turned to Shun ‘Are you coming, friend? Might be a nice fight ahead!’
The Elf stood, silent and implacable like his dead brother. ‘This is not my fight.’
Grash raised one brow and shrugged, his mage hand flaring into being and gripping a dagger and running as best he could to catch up to Vuvu who was running across the field towards Jalana. They both saw her running towards them and in what seemed like a flash they saw her falling, her face in pain and surprise. Behind her was Patrick, like a beast leapt onto her back he had plunged his knife down between her collar bone and shoulder, Jalana felt the blade enter her lung and she saw only blackness.
Grash ran at the man, Patrick saw his next victim and charged at Grash. Grash muttered under his breath a few syllables and his form twisted and blurred, seeming to go in every direction at once. Patrick in his reduced ability to thin clearly tried in vain to follow Grash’s movements, but could not, and with the distraction Grash made his way unknown around Patrick to Jalanas side where he dropped his knife and used his hand to staunch the bleeding.
Patrick, giving up on chasing shadows, saw Vuvu. She stood in the moonlight, taking in the surrounds and the picture blazed itself onto her mind, ‘This’ll make one helluva story.’ she said to herself. Then Patrick charged at her, full of blood and fury.
‘Oh shush’ she said as she waved her hand at him and he toppled forwards at full speed, sliding along the grass to stop, face down, at her feet. She looked down at him and could hear him snoring lightly.
Happy that he wouldn’t be hurting anyone else she made her way to Jalana, and, pulling from the dwindling chorus that welled up inside her, lay her hands on the girls’ wounds and the chords of healing knitted the wounds closed.
‘Let’s get them both back to the others, Grash, tie him up or something. But don’t hurt him.’ Vuvu added.
With a restrained Patrick over Grash’s shoulder and an unconscious but stable Jalana in Vuvu’s arms they both made their way back to the tree line, dumping their respective hauls under a large oak. Grash was looking out at the town, imagining if there was a way that strange little halfling could have survived. He thought it likely that he was dead, and dead people always had loot. Grash asked around for anyone that wanted to come with him, Shun advised that he had little else to do so chose to accompany him.
They were in the town, ignoring some of the survivors, when Grash saw a familiar boot sticking out of some of the rubble. Moving some of the larger pieces with Shuns help, he found some of the remains of an obviously dead halfling. only the legs and lower abdomen were able to be found, his expensive looking bow was nowhere to be found. Grash, likely still recovering from the loss of an arm and potentially a lung, hacked off one of the Halflings legs and, using the peg leg as a kind of shish-kebab, skewered the leg onto the peg. Shun looked on in silence with a raised eyebrow.
They made their way back to the make-shift camp, Vuvu was still directing the efforts when she noticed a very striking guard following some of her orders. She made her way to him. ‘Why hello there, young man. You are the very least the second most beautiful person here.’ she flattered him, as he was helping to bandage a small childs leg. He looked up, all dark eyes and stubble and sharp jaw. ‘And you, at the very least, would have to be the most beautiful.’ he replied with a smile.
‘Welp, that’ll do!’ she said, taking him by the hand and leaving the child to finish the bandage themselves. She led him off to a secluded part not too far from the camp and had her way with him. Before they began she looked to the sky, imagining Correllon watching her and said ‘I’m thinking of you…’.
She made her way back to the camp, with her newly inspired Second-most-beautiful-guard-in-the-city and watched as he took charge of the relief efforts like no man had done before. People followed his orders and the camp was busy with everyone but the rag-tag group of adventurers who stood together watching the villagers try to get their lief back on track. Whilst they stood they saw a few of the villagers talking, then eventually begin walking towards them.
‘Ah’ said Grash, ‘here they come to finally thank us for everything we’ve done for them.’
As the group got closer they seemed to elect a very reluctant spokesman who they pushed forwards ahead of them like a calf. The man took off his simple woven hat and put it to his chest in mild obeisance. He looked about at the other townspeople, pleading in his eyes. They encouraged him with frowns and waving gestures.
‘Ah, um. Hello.’ he began, and faltered. DragunShip Suddenly! just looked at him, Grash with his arm folded in front of him, Vuvu hand on her hip and Jalana playing with a small and very poisonous looking scorpion. The Elf, Shun, stood slightly off to the side, watching the scene.
‘Yes, so. We were all thinking and, then we thought, we all thought, that it would be best if you left now.’
The mans words were met with silence from the adventurers. Vuvu frowned, Grash also frowned. Jalana looked confused.
‘Why would you want us to leave, after all we’ve done for you? After all our help?’ Jalana asked with not a little pain on her face.
The man, taking some strength from his anger, looked behind him at the village, and then to the now awake and crazed Patrick, who was restrained and gagged under a tree, eyes rolling and with muffled yells.
‘Your help? Your HELP? I’m sorry but ever since you got here there has been nothing but trouble and we would prefer that you left immediately. I don’t think we can take any more of your ‘help’’. The man exclaimed, with furious head bobbing by his compatriots at his back.
The team looked at each other in shock, how could these people not see all the good they’d done for them? What was he talking about? They would rebuild their village, they would make more babies. How was this their fault? They didn’t bring the dragon here or make Patrick go crazy. They didn’t kill Feena and break Damien’s heart.These really were the simple farming folk that they thought they were.
‘Well, we can’t go anywhere anyway, our ship won’t make it.’ said Vuvu ‘it’s filling with water and we need to get it fixed.’
The villagers had a really quick huddle, in shushed voices. The defacto-leader of this little rebellion came back to them and advised that they would be able to fix their boat and make it sea-worthy in a matter of hours. They all agreed and decided to do it right there and then, no time like the present and all that. They got to the end of the jetty, with many of the townspeople looking about the the boat, and some swearing that they saw it disappear the night before.
Grash moved to the end of the jetty, and very calmly threw the small figurine in his hand into the water and muttered melon. The ship materialised with a bang! and water was splashed on everyone as the boat plopped into the water. Many gasps and a few screams accompanied this display.
The villagers immediately got to work, some with pumps to keep the ship afloat and some with wood. The wood didn’t match the ship, but it was enough that it would stay afloat until they could get real repairs. When the villagers were done and the team were ready to go they realised again that they had no crew.
‘We’ll have to take a few as slaves.’ said Grash, in full hearing of the townspeople, at which point several dropped their tools and ran back towards the village.
‘We are not taking slaves, Grash!’ yelled Jalana at him, fists bunched at her sides and ready for a fight.
One of the villagers that was cleaning up their work area and carrying away tools spoke as he walked by ‘You could just ask for volunteers you know.’ and he plodded to the end of the jetty, put his tools in a pile with the others, dusted off his hands and crossed his arms. he stood with maybe the two dozen villagers that had accompanied them here, either to fix the boat or watch the spectacle.
‘Uh..does..anyone want to come with us and be a slave?’ asked Vuvu to the crowd.
None of the villagers replied, looking at each other confusedly. ‘We won’t have slaves, you will work for me and you will be paid.’ added Grash in a rare moment of charity.
Seven of the people gathered raised their arms. One in particular was the one that had organised the fixing of the ship and he seemed to be quite knowledgeable of ship life. ‘We have nothing left here for us, a job crewing a ship and promise of adventure sounds like a good deal now.’ he said, and introduced himself as Fabian. ‘But I must ask, as we fixed the ship many of us saw signs of old stale blood. What happened to your last crew?’
Jalana, Grash and Vuvu looked at each other, trying to keep their faces passive. ‘They asked too many questions.’ replied Grash.
Vuvu laughed, and taking out her loot, began to sing a song of their heroic last crew and how they slew mightily many enemies that tried to get onto the boat, and after making a lot of money and winning the hearts of many fair maidens decided to retire peacefully in an unnamed village somewhere.
The people listening cheered and nodded to each other, happy with the inspiring story. They went and got their few meagre possessions and got themselves onto the boat, Fabian taking charge and organising the crew.
‘So, friend, will you be joining us. You obviously are a man, sorry, Elf of high import and we’d be more than happy to see you in our ranks as we fight whatever enemies come at us in Datura.’ Grash asked Shun.
‘i’d be very happy to join you, as long as I don’t have to share a room with one of those humans.’
‘Fair enough!’ exclaimed Grash and clapped him on the back with his stump and made his way up the gang-plank.
The ship took off, with the townspeople on the shore cheering off their departing friends and thanking the heavens that these newcomers were finally gone. Giving Fabian some gold and promising more, and threatening other things if there were any slip-ups, Grash left the sailing to Fabian and his new crew, departing to his cabin.
That night, after a few hours of sailing down river to the west, Grash Vuvu and Jalana were in the cabin discussing the recent events and Grash’s missing limbs when Shun entered the room. They all got to know each other a little more and they asked him about the scroll they found in the Drow’s nest. Shun explained that it was instructions on how to use a specific potion to transfer the mind and spirit of someone into another persons body. He advised that this was very powerful necromancy and shouldn’t be used lightly. Vuvu didn’t tell him that they also had the potion.
As the days passed they noticed the terrain changing from spruces, oaks and ferns to mangrove trees. After some time the river stopped meeting the sand and rock of the edges and began to be obscured by the trees roots. The forest was much thicker here and almost impassable. After 10 nights Fabian approached Grash, always with a glance at the now rotting Halflings leg impaled below Grash’s knee.
‘M’lord, we believe that we have officially entered Datura. What are your orders?’
The others heard this and came together to look at the dense trees and occasional very strange tree-dwelling animal going slowly by as they slid down the river further to the west.
‘Steady as she goes.’