Hey dedicated readers! Sorry about no article the last few weeks, I was off being a busy adult with a social life (I know, it shocked me too). This weekend I found myself in the land of my birth, New Jersey, for the birthday of a friend. We went up to NYC on Saturday not for Comic Con, which I didn’t even realize was happening until I saw about a dozen people in elf ears walk by at the train station. So that was neat. Anyways, you didn’t come here for me, it’s time to get back to the (mis)adventures of our intrepid you-know-the-rest!
So the gang travels south, in open defiance of their royal command to escort Tomlain to the desert where he would’ve spent the rest of his days in isolation, protecting the law-abiding normies of the kingdom from his occasionally explosive abilities. Instead, they set their sights on the city of Ellandale, the last bastion for magical trade and scholarship against the rising tide of suspicion surrounding the arcane in Adrium. Perhaps there, they can find some real answers. Or at the very least, better questions.
But first they have to get there.
Thus, when we join them today we find them arriving at a small farming village on the very outskirts of Adrium’s largely halfling-populated heartland, where you can find anything you could ever want as long as anything you ever want is farms or farming-related things. The town is quite sparse, owing its existence to the transport of farming goods rather than their production, which is precisely what brings our heroes.
Trekking into town however, Elessana is strangely uneasy. When they find the station for the wagon train they hope to catch they find it’ll be a while before they’re scheduled to leave. The party decides to wait in the relative comfort of the local tavern, but Elessana requests to remain behind at the station.
“Is something wrong?” Rhai asks her, noting mentally that Elessana had never yet passed up the opportunity to drink literally since they’d met.
“Everything’s fine. I just… Someone should be here if they’re early, right?” Elessana replies.
And so, sans Elessana, they settle into their natural environment (i.e. a tavern booth). Clearly, they realize as they file in, whatever backwoods town they’ve found themselves is not prepared to let seven strangers such as them go by un-stared at. The villagers peer openly and unashamedly as they take a seat, marveling at their sheer outlandishness. Mostly human and halfling, the locals take particular notice of Maghana. Not everyone is as forward-thinking about tieflings as they are even in Northspire, superstition tells them she is here for their souls for the sake of her unholy masters from the Nine Hells. When one of them in particular, a large, bald, and bearded human still sweaty from a day’s work hauling hay-bales and with anger in his eyes approaches them however, it isn’t Maghana who he takes issue with.
“Oi, elf!” He says, narrowing his eyes at Beleg. Beleg looks left, then right, making sure A) that there aren’t any full-blooded elves around that this man could be referring to and B) making sure the things he is seeing and hearing are indeed actually happening, since they aren’t always.
“Um.” He responds, not meeting the man’s gaze.
“What kind of garb would you call that then?” He asks, thrusting a finger down at Beleg’s worn travelling cloak, which despite all intentions to the contrary, look enough like a mage’s attire to draw the ire of your average patriotic bar thug. “Where’d you get them eh? East over the seas I’ll bet? You some kind of fucking spy?”
“I… uh… no?” Beleg sputters, not used to being addressed by strangers. Or just people.
“Just leave.” Comes a black-velvety voice from across the table. Spoken softly, so the man barely seems to hear.
“Cause I think that… What?” The man turns to the one who interrupted him in his attempted rabble-rousing. “You wanna say that again?” He says to her with wild eyes.
“I said just…” Maganna leans back in her chair nonchalantly as she flings back her dark hood, revealing her red skin, horns, and her eyes. “…leave.” Her eyes flash the color of a flickering flame, and as she says that last word, the man feels a tremor pulse through the earth, rattling plates on tables and knocking mugs from the bar. She folds her arms and smiles a smile that says Be a good boy and listen to the lady.
His mouth hangs open for a full ten seconds, agape, fear winning out over any attempt to save face in front of his neighbors. He moves, grumbling, back to his chair.
“Thank you.” Beleg says to Maghana as she takes a deep pull from her tankard.
“You get used to it.” She says, wiping the foam on her sleeve. “Or you learn how to deal with them.” She falls silent, as she often does, though looking more pleased with herself than usual.
“Well, who’s up for another round then?” Rhai says, breaking some of the remaining tension. She gets to her feet and goes up to the bar. The bartender is nowhere to be found so she sticks her head down the corridor into the back room, out of sight from the others, looking for them. Deciding the bartender must have stepped out for a smoke, she turns to go back to the table but finds her path blocked by two humans, one lanky, with greasy light brown hair hanging around his jawline, and the other stout, bald, and somewhat babyish.
They clearly aren’t local. Their leather armor and travelling gear tells them apart from the average bumpkin. So either they’re adventurers like her, or…
“Hey there, half-pint.” One of them grins. The lanky one grabs a length of rope from his belt. Bounty hunters then, Rhai thinks to herself, but why me? Surely not… her internal monologue is interrupted when the bald man lurches forward to grab her– she does a quick somersault to dodge his advance, leaping into the air at the end and delivering a quick kick to the back of his head. She reaches for her frying pan only to realize she’d left her gear with Elessana to load onto the cart. Damn.
The rope in the thin man’s hands funds itself around her neck from behind. She grabs it and is able to lift herself up by it acrobatically and slip from under it, jerking her whole body to one side to knock her assailant’s balance off his axis, slamming him into the wall of the narrow corridor. By then however, the babyish bounty hunter has regained his footing and tackles her to the floor.
“Looks like we’re gonna have ter teach this ‘un some manners, eh?” The lanky one says over her prone figure, gloating. “My mate likes that part the most, doesn’t yeh’s?” The other bounty hunter grunts his assent.
“Then you fucks are gonna love me!” She says as she headbutts the bounty hunter currently restraining her and, from her prone position, twirls around on her hands sweeping the other man’s legs with hers, toppling him on top of his partner, finally making a pirouetting leap onto that man’s back and skipping over him back into the tavern proper.
“Hey Rhai where’re the– wait, what’s wrong!?” Eogred asks when he sees her in her current disheveled state.
“Bounty hunters. Tried to jump me for some reason. In the back.” She pants, regaining her breath. Eogred springs to his feet and joins her to re-enter the fray, but when they get back the bounty hunters seem to have turned tail. Galloping hoof beats are heard thundering away to make camp and re-group, presumably. Eogred goes out to beat the earth for some trail, but it seems they’re better at hiding than they are at kidnapping, and the trail goes cold before too long. He returns to the bar to report back. By now Rhai’s given a full account of what happened, even drawing some attention of the locals who love a fight that doesn’t directly concern them.
“Dunno why they came after me though.” She adds as she recounts the story again to some applause from the steadily drunker public. “Like, I really don’t.”
The bounty hunters on her mind still, the clocks strike time and they make their way back down to the wagon station to catch their train. The gang catches Elessana up on the going’s on in town and, though she covers it well, she doesn’t seem all too surprised. She seems somewhat jumpy over the next hour while their wagon is loaded up and they prepare for departure, but soon their journey is back underway and they leave such concerns behind them.
The journey south to Ellandale takes the better part of a week, during which I gave my players several interpersonal threads to either go with or not as they chose. I kinda wanted to see how certain party members played off together exclusively, either ones who’d not really interacted much yet or ones who had that I wanted to expand on. In quick succession, this is what we ended up with, in no particular order throughout the week:
- Beleg and Tomlain, with Garrick watching from a safe distance, decide to try their first unofficial magic lesson. They slip away from the wagon train one night while they’ve stopped and Beleg pulls three apples from his pocket, placing them on three stumps that he finds inter-spaced around the small wood they found themselves in. “What am I trying to do?” Tomlain asks Beleg, looking from apple to apple. “Just show me what you got, I guess?” Tomlain looks uncertain. “Listen, I’m new to the whole ‘magic’ thing too, and it wasn’t exactly my choice either. At least, I don’t think it was– I can’t exactly remember. What I do remember is when I first discovered I had…powers, it required one thing over all to control them: force of will. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen when you surge, and neither do you, but whatever comes out, I just want you to think, really concentrate, about just making it happen to the apples.” Tomlain nods, looking a little pale, swallows. He screws up his face, closing his eyes, and it’s a minute before Beleg can tell that he’s pushed himself enough. Gently, he lifts from the ground, his eyes flinging open and spilling purple light against the dark forest background. Eyes still glowing, he lands on his feet, gritting his teeth and splaying his fingers before him. From each fingertip comes a streak of purple light, each beam finding one of the apples and hitting it with at barb of solid magic which slices the fruit in two, and then two again (for the two apples that got hit by two projectiles). The light fades from Tomlain’s eyes and the sound of several apple slices falling to the ground is the only sound. “Well.” Beleg says, somewhat in awe. “Did you mean to do that??” Tomlain shrugged. “I think so?” “Then, Tomlain, we might have something here.”
- Eogred and Elessana tend to keep up their skills on their own time, going through their own combat forms and maneuvers, exercises, continuing to hone their respective crafts. One of the workers on the wagon train, having seen them both at it, kind of arranges a practice bout between them at the next stop. The rest of the workmen are excited, there is betting, and they all turn up to watch as Eogred and Elessana square off. They shake hands, grin at each other, and then go back to their corners. Eogred draws his spear while Elessana does some flashy whip-tricks she’s picked up as a distraction from her rapier. She twirls the whip in circles like a lasso, not wanting Eogred to know from which direction the attack will come from. She lashes out with the whip, feinting. Eogred takes the bait and commits himself to blocking it. The next thing he feels is the very tip of her rapier meet his chest. “One point, me!” Elessana smiles up at him. He grins back as they go back to their corners and come out again, Eogred this time wary not to fall for any tricks. He blocks one blow from the whip, the rapier, and thrusts his spear towards her shoulder. She dodges out of the way, rolling to the side and extends her blade to catch Eogred’s side, but misjudges her opponent. He catches her in the forehead behind him with the butt of his spear before spinning around and thrusting, stopping his spear inches from her throat. “One me.” He says, as they make their way back to their corners again to decide the best two out of three. Eogred allows Elessana to cover the ground between them and dodges her blade and whip. By way of response he clenches a fist and holds it in between them as if clutching something that might soon fly away. He whispers an arcane phrase and opens it and soon a cloud of fog is released onto the battlefield, obscuring him from her view. He hefts his spear again and listens carefully for her in the fog. He swings the spear around in careful arcs trying to feel around for her to strike, but before he knows it he feels the whip lash out again wrapping around his neck like a python (the thought giving him the heebie-jeebies cause ew snakes). She pulls him down and, as the fog clears, allowing their spectators to see once more, it clears on the sight of Elessana, with her whip around Eogred’s throat and her rapier at his heart, with him down on his knees. Once the fight is over and all the money is done changing hands, the two combatants clap each other on the back heartily, having thoroughly enjoyed the test they presented each other.
- Maghana is sleeping soundly one night when she’s awoken, being shaken furiously by the shoulder, by Beleg. His face is inches from hers and she thinks for the nth time that someone needs to have a talk with him about personal space. “Um, hello, yes, wake up. We could use some help.” He says, and without explanation helps her to her feet. They leave the tent she’d been in to find Beleg leading her towards Tomlain, hiding himself on one of the wagons. “What’s going on now?” She asks derisively. Tomlain looks up at her and her question’s immediately answered: Tomlain’s face– actually every inch of his skin– is inexplicably blue. “What happened?” She asks, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know! I must have had a surge while I was sleeping– don’t laugh it’s embarrassing! Anyways I woke up and, well, blue!” “What do you need me for? Just turn it off. Stop being blue.” Maghana says flatly. “I can’t. I need a disguise. An well, Beleg thought you seemed like someone who might know a thing or two about disguises. Not trying to make assumptions or anything. I just…” “Yeah don’t worry your little sensibilities, you thought right. Just remind me why this can’t wait till morning?” Maghana answers, thinking fondly of not being bothered in the middle of the night. “Maghana, I don’t think we want anyone to see him like this.” Beleg chimes in. “We shouldn’t draw attentions to his condition– rumors and all. You never know who might follow them.” Maghana rubs her temples. “Ok, ok, get me my kit. Bear in mind this might not be perfect. If you smudge it that’s on you.” She goes to work on the blue princeling, trying her best to pick garments out of his pack that cover as much as possible, obscuring his face and hands with gloves and a her own low hanging hood, and using some of the makeup in her disguise kit to make the blue look as fleshy as possible. “How’s that?” She asks, holding up a mirror. “I don’t really kn–” “Good. Don’t go back to sleep, you’ll smudge it. Good night.” And Maghana makes a beeline back to her tent.
- Magnys and Garrick are taking a load off after a hard day’s travelling. A workman approaches them and begins to ask whether they can help set up camp. “Fuck off, we’re old!” Magnys says. Looking stunned, the workman scurries off. Garrick chuckles appreciatively. They clink glasses.
After their week on the road is up, they see, looming before them in the distance, the great city of Ellandale, a brilliant marble-and-cobblestone anthill rising from the fields around them, holding gods-know-what?