13 Calistril – 16 Calistril, 44NC
Snot returns from a constitutional convinced that the party is being followed. The group finds a suitable ambush point and hunkers down to wait. Snot scouts their backtrail and finds evidence that a party of 6-8 people, with at least one horse, one elf-kin, and two halflings are pursuing them – but the trail vanishes mysteriously shortly north of the party’s previous camp. The party waits out the remainder of the day but nothing happens, so they proceed North the next morning.
The next night, the party literally stumbles into a very well-hidden trapper camp and it’s lone attendant, a wiry old man calling himself Billy Bones. His story, that he was doing some late winter trapping out of Giles’ estate (including the provenance of his two horses, which he claims he won from Giles’ stable-master in a game of cards) is thin but not clearly disprovable. The party is suspicious, and asks if Billy will escort them the rest of the way to Giles’ estate for a small sum of money – he agrees.
Billy is incredibly curious about the party (they are a curious lot), and is very interested in why Volkov would be raising an army again after the Emperor Severin was killed, and he presses at every opportunity. There is some verbal fencing, but nothing clear from either party.
The night before arriving at the estate, Snot attempts to drug Billy with a truth serum, and it appears to work, but he doesn’t talk about much but his wife he lost back in Teribain during the invasion – which triggers a vague memory in Jacob. Before passing out, Billy seems to come to a revelation:
“Joseph Altair had a daughter…” he exclaims before passing out, “whatever happened to Anastasia Altair?”
The party gathers a short way away from the camp to discuss what they should do about Billy – at one point Matten suggests they may have to kill him to keep the secret of their mission. At one point, Jacob becomes incredibly agitated, having discovered that not only is Billy not drugged but may not even be asleep, and he leaves the camp in an attempt to warn the party.
Somehow, during the distraction, Billy vanishes completely. Horses, gear, everything.
In a panic, the party pushes through the night the rest of the way to Baron Giles’ keep. They come to a rise and discover it in a shallow valley, an ancient Elven longhouse attached to a more modern humble northern keep. The keep is lit by the watch-fires from dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers’ tents. The banners of Westergarde flutter in the breeze.
Late one day, about ten days after we set out, we realised we were being followed. Or rather, Starry Night did. According to him, we were followed by a group of people, including two halfings and an elf, with a horse. Not very likely, I would have said, but until we get evidence of anything else, I am willing to believe that Starry Night actually knows how to read tracks.
Also, Jacob Dain talks to bushes.
We tried to set up an ambush, but they did not show. In fact, their tracks suddenly disappeared. It seemed like they figured out we were trying to ambush them.
After waiting an entire day, we continued towards our destination. We had travelled for less than a day, when we stumbled across a well-hidden camp. It’s inhabitant was an old man who called himself Billy, and two horses. Oddly enough, they were riding horses, rather than packhorses, but he claimed he won it in a cardgame with Baron Giles’ stablemaster.
He was a rather curious man; he kept asking what we were doing here, and about Volkov. Too many questions, and I fear we gave him more than we should have, and more than we intended. He was especially curious as to why Volkov would raise an army; if he was so hungry for vengenace for the death of his friend. And for an old trapper, he certainly knew a lot about a lot of things. Obviously, he had not always been a trapper. I suspect he might be a lot closer to the baron than he claimed, and, though he said the last time he served was before the invasion, I am not sure I believe that either.
He agreed to guide us to the baron’s estate, along hidden paths. For a price, of course, but that was much as expected. We set off, him bringing his horses.
That evening, Starry Night decided to drug this Billy character. I do not know whether it was his own decision or if he was told to do it by, say, the dwarf. Not that it matters; Kagdir is in charge, and it is up to him to deal with it, if he believes it a mistake.
The problem, though, was that we did not get much useful information from Billy. But after he apparently fell asleep, we were distracted by Jacob. It was just a few moments, but in those few moments, Billy, his gear and his horses disappeared. If nothing else, it proved that he was more than he claimed to be.
Whether he disappeared because we drugged him, and he considered it hostile action, or for some other reason, I do not know, but we decided it would be unwise to remain at our current campsite. So we continued in the direction of the baron’s estate.
We did find the estate. The problem was that someone else had found it too. I don’t know if they were laying siege to the place, or there at the baron’s invitation, but there were hundreds, possibly even thousands of tents there. Soldiers. Flying Westergarde’s banner.
A friend told her once, “You know what makes it hard to be a mercenary? Trust issues. We don’t buy into whatever bullshit people hire us for, so they assume we can’t be trusted. Shame really. Most can’t understand that for a merc, politics are like quicksand – might look green and pleasant from the outside, but they’ll suck you in and typically kill you. Get the job done, get paid, get out. Can’t afford politics in our line of work. Not if you want to keep breathing.”
Lounging on her bedding, Syl did her best to ignore the random chatter of the group around her. That Billy Bones fellow still struck her as off, so she kept an ear open, but so far, he hadn’t done anything directly that threatened them. Neither she nor Sanorin had been poisoned by the food he’d made, and he genuinely was leading them toward the Giles estate. She’d just keep that ear open until they arrived.
Later in the evening, whatever the goblin had slipped to Billy laid the man out. But the wizard’s last comment before he’d passed out bugged her. She still was ticked that the dwarf’d mentioned anything about why they were out there. The last thing any of them needed was word getting back to the bastards that would kill them – or this kid if they knew what he was.
With a low grumble, Syl tried to settle down. Not a damn thing she could do about it just then, though Matten’s suggestion that they kill Billy wasn’t a bad one in her opinion.
When she heard Jacob’s yell from the bushes (something about falling down – likely with his ass hanging out), Syl did her level best to appear asleep. That was the last thing she wanted to see. Some of the others rushed off, and she cracked an eye briefly when she heard Sanorin scuttle off with them. But they weren’t too far away, and her eye slid back shut. That Matten fellow was moving around nearby, which was reassuring in its way, and Billy hadn’t moved, so Syl let herself slip into a light doze.
She wasn’t sure what it was, but something prodded her back to wakefulness. The second she opened her eyes, Syl realized Billy was gone. Swearing loudly, she scrambled to her feet. The swearing grew more violent when she noted that his horses were gone too. Matten looked dumbfounded, and she scowled at him darkly. Hand on her sword hilt, she scoured the area. The dirt and grass clearly showed where Billy had lain, but the horses may as well have never existed. There were no hoofprints, no dung – no trace they’d traveled with the group all day.
Her swearing brought the others out of the woods quickly, and after a quick debate, they gathered their things and hurried on. If Billy had anything to do with the wizard that Snot mentioned earlier in the day – and how the hell hadn’t the poison affected him?? – they were in danger as long as they stayed at the camp.
Syl kept her rifle ready and Sanorin in sight as they hurried through the dark. Then they crested the rise and saw the campfires below. The elf-god whistled quietly over the numbers, but Syl just gripped the gun tighter. Whatever role Giles was playing in this whole mess, she and Sanorin had just been sucked in a little deeper.