The party has an hour to rest before dinner, and spent the time in idle chit-chat.
Dinner was served to the unit, with Vladimir and Diego attending. When the porters conveniently neglected to serve dinner to Snot, Vlad got up and read the following from a parchment loud enough that everyone in the house could hear:
My name is Starry Night Over Trees, Stra’Chik of The People of Mud and Night.
Forty-five years ago, when the Waygate opened, my people were enslaved. It was as if our hearts were gripped by an invisible hand and white-hot rage was poured into our veins. We went mad. With others of the deeps, the Orcs, the elves of the night, the deep dwarves, who all, for their own reasons I do not understand, were filled with hate as well, we invaded the places of the Dwarves and killed. We drove upward, this invisible slaver lashing our backs with whips of fire. Some were made so mad they did not eat or sleep until they fell. Some turned on their kin. The Deep Things used us as chattel in their battles. We were as animals. All was dark. Many of us who survived remember little.
When the Waygate closed, we were released in an instant. Our minds were muddled and our hearts were filled with sadness. We were broken, but we were of the Mud and Night again and not of a Dark Lady of Hate. But then He came. He Who Kills With Stone marched ahead of his peoples and lay upon us with a dark vengeance. He slew entire clans with a wave of his hand, encasing them in hard stone to choke and die in dark and fear. His people murdered in their rage and raised the heads of The People on pikes by the hundreds.
We pleaded. We sent envoys and messengers. We left marks on the stone.
But in their sadness and rage, the Dwarves could not listen. The stone could not hear.
Thus we fled. Like the Halflings, my people have scattered across the world to become diffuse. To make it so The People can survive, in some way.
I have come to plead for our lives. To prove to the People of The Sun that while we live in dark places, we are not of darkness. My people are nimble, and clever. We see but are unseen. We work hard, and with precision. We have come from the deep and are just out of sight. In that hollow, beneath those rocks, in those places of shadow.
I came to beseech your Emperor, but he is slain. So I sought out Mengst: The Hero of Westergarde, but he is slain. So I come to help raise his kin, so I may beseech him for The People. We will work. We will serve.
And we will help you fight, in what small ways we are able. Because the Dark Lady has broken The People. And those who have fallen will be avenged.
Vladimir placed his dinner in front of Snot, and the rest of the dinner proceeded and the party retired early.
The party was awakened in the dead of night by a corporal who conveyed Smoot’s orders to assemble “quick, quiet, dark, and ready to travel”. They pack out their gear and meet Smoot at the farmhouse. He tells the unit that Jacob and Kagdir are in charge, and that Nimue is a superb NCO, and that they will be known to the Imperial army as Special Unit 3. A company of Tyr’s troops are approaching Harrowburg, and their outriders are advancing into the woods around the farmhouse ahead of them.
He reiterated that they need make all haste to Baron Giles’ estate, where, on the West end of his lands, sits an old Imperial watchtower. The team is to travel in secret, leavinig no witnesses as to their destintion, then check in with Giles and secure the tower until Smoot can arrive with his command.
Vladimir gifts Syl with a long rifle, previously owned by Alton. It was the weapon used in the legendary defense of High Guard fortress. He tells her it’s to ensure she accomplishes her mission.
The party departs the farm under cover of darkness, and within a few miles encounter a patrol in the night.
It is quite the group I have ended up in.
There are some humans; so far, they have not really stood out much.
One of them, someone named Jacob, is supposedly in charge, together
with a dwarf. So far, though, I have not been able to figure out much
about him, apart from him being an Archmage.
There is a halfling as well, named Sanorin. I have not had the time
to learn anything about him yet either, though hopefully, there will
be plenty of time to get to know everyone.
There is a batshit crazy elf calling himself Dan Strait, who seems to
think he is a god or something, and that dancing is how he prays to
himself. I was unable to quite figure that out; I have to admit I did
not try very hard. I do not doubt for a moment that I will learn
more, whether I want to or not.
The dwarf is named Kagdir Frorson. I do not quite know what to think
of him; he seems competent enough, but he is clearly not happy about
another of our merry little band. To the extent that I worry it might
impair his judgement where this one is concerned.
Because we have a goblin as well. Yes, a goblin. His name is Starry
Night Over Trees. I have spoken to him a little bit, and he actually
seems like a decent fellow. I have decided to try to befriend him,
for several reasons.
Volkov and Korgrammssen seem to trust him. That should be reason
enough to accept him, at least.
We need to be able to work as a team. Excluding one because of what
he is is potentially damaging to the whole team. Which is something I
need to take to heart, as I have problems accepting the elf. Granted,
that is not because he is an elf, but because of his behaviour, which
I fear might put us all in danger. Still.
Also, I would prefer to be able to trust these people at my back.
Though I suspect I will be the one watching their backs; it almost
feels like I am out in the field with a bunch of recruits. Though
most of these have no training at all, so it might very well be worse.
Our mission sounds straight forward enough. We are to take and secure
a tower on the estate of a Baron Giles. We will hold it until Smoot’s
forces arrive. It is supposed to be a low-risk mission, as the tower
should be of little interest to anyone, and Baron Giles is supposedly
With luck, this will be pretty much a training mission. If not, well,
then I guess we will see what this group can do.
A friend had told her once, “You know why I hate being a mercenary? No job security. Stuff we do is dangerous and unpredictable. Employers have a habit of dying off on us.”
Syl glanced at Sanorin snoring in his cot. Affection and sadness washed over her. If anyone had been watching, her expression never flickered, but they would’ve heard her sigh. Five years earlier, job security hadn’t meant much to her. If the employer died, you just moved on. Dwelling on it didn’t pay for anything, so you tended to take life as it came.
But now? A hard glint entered her eye. Now, the last member of the only family she’d ever known lay sleeping a few feet away. He technically wasn’t her employer, but she was going to make damn sure that that little Halfling wasn’t the next to die.
The urge to tell him about the strange feeling that had hit her at dinner resurfaced, but she shrugged it off again. She didn’t know a damn thing about the soldiers at this farm, so maybe she’d taken that look the wrong way. Didn’t change what she had to do, did it?
Stowing her blade and gun in easy reach, Syl looked around the room and saw that most of their new acquaintances were already in bed. Grunting quietly to herself, she scooped up two small pebbles and rolled one past the cots of the dwarf and the human warrior in turn. When both twitched awake and hands went to their own weapons, she felt a hell of a lot better. She figured everyone in the room knew their business or they wouldn’t be there. OK, maybe the elf and the wizard still made no sense to her, but frankly, what the hell did she know about wizards and elves? The dwarf and warrior though…. They seemed to be as dangerous as she was. Since the three of them were light sleepers, it was safe enough to grab some shuteye. She might not trust them, but Shara wanted her to work with them, so she’d go with it.
As long as none of them fucked with Sanorin.
Syl dozed off the minute her head hit the pillow, and she snapped awake at the first rap on the door. Rolling to her feet, fully dressed, sword in hand, she eyed the messenger that came in. Hearing the urgent summons, she shook off any grogginess and grabbed her gear. Sleep tended to be a luxury while on the job. She’d make up for it later. Sanorin’s grumble at the early hour brought a brief grin of amusement. She gave his cot a light kick to get him moving. He liked his sleep as much as his food, but there wasn’t time to indulge him. When he grudgingly climbed to his feet, she knew he’d be ready to move relatively quickly.
With the Halfling in tow, she followed the group to the farmhouse. Seeing the activity there brought the first frisson of worry. Something obviously wasn’t right. She listened intently to the gnome’s instructions until he pointed out that the wizard and the dwarf would be in charge of their weird group. Considering that briefly, Syl decided she could live with it. Her attention shifted to the gear that had been left for their use. The leaders would lead, she would keep Sanorin alive (oh, and the others if he was OK), and they’d get to wherever they needed to be next.
When the huge warrior Vladimir called her over, Syl paused. Now that was a fight she’d actually go out of her way to avoid. The man had “danger” written all over him. Shrugging off the thought, she joined him. His question about her gun brought her chin up. Maybe the muzzle-loader didn’t look like much, but it was hers. How could he know she’d killed more than fifty raiders with it over the last two years alone? But then he revealed a beauty of a gun from the bundle in his hands. She loved her gun, but that was a work of art.
He probably didn’t understand the appreciative look she sent his way when she took the weapon from him. Running a hand over the oiled steel, Syl decided she liked the massive man.
Then they were off into the woods, and Syl’s worries grew. She mentally cursed as she stumbled along. She was a caravan guard, damn it, not an assassin. What the hell good could she do in the pitch dark, surrounded by fucking trees?
Knowing she was less noisy than some of her compatriots helped, but having that gorgeous new gun become completely useless annoyed her. Without any other options, her hand stayed on the hilt of her sword. At least Sanorin was mounted on that monster of a pig the goblin had brought along. Now if they could get somewhere she could see….
The whistle of an arrow had her crouching defensively. When the dwarf grunted somewhere ahead of her, Syl knew that their pitiful attempt at stealth had failed. Worry was gone in an instant. It was time to do her job, and blind or not, she’d see the job done.
Dan Strait I Am: The Origin of Dan Strait
Part 1: A Murderous Beat You Can Dance To
A man stumbles through a forest dressed in a simple hooded robe, clutching a tattered book and holding his hand to his head.
“She’s gone, I can’t feel her anymore… where did she go… what’s going on?!” he thinks, as if something vital within his conscience has been ripped away all at once, “Kill them all, it’s their fault. Kill them all, it’s their fault! KILL THEM ALL, IT’S THEIR FAULT!” the same thought overlaps again and again flooding his mind… It’s too much to bear.
“I CAN’T! NOBODY’S HERE!” he shouts at the top of his lungs – to no one in particular, sending the local fauna fleeing for cover.
“Find someone-kill someone-find someone-kill someone-find someone-kill someone…” the voice continues in his head, repeating the message in a maddening chant. There’s no choice but to obey, but how? He chose this place specifically because it’s so far away from civilization and was a chance to commune with nature and his goddess.
The words echo in his mind, forcing the message through him like a knife, cruelly slicing between the bonds between his identity and sanity. He curses himself, if only he had brought just one other – a sacrifice for the voice.
“Anything, just make it stop…” he thinks, desperate to end his torment. His rational thoughts begin to slip away but he knows the way back is a matter of weeks, if not months.
His thoughts turn vile – death and murder drowning his every notion in an agonizing rampage. He is a conductor with no orchestra, a chef with no kitchen and a murderer with no victims. Left to wander the wilderness, he lurches forth in a tortured slump, desperate for the release of a death that is not his own.
There is no sleep – only the hunger and the voice. Such a pretty voice… It’s intoxicating, it has rhythm.
“Find someone, yeah, kill someone, oh. yeah…” he thought. His hips begin to sway. His feet begin to land in time with the words in his head. He doesn’t notice the path he walks is less and less wild; he is returning to civilization.