The Better Part of Valor
Octorum 12, 887 Af.
With night upon them, the party tried to rest in what they hoped was a safe place. Kasret grabbed the large bed, focusing on comfort and sleep while it was available. Durdeg and Sif focused on making a comfortable place that would protect them and keep the hag in check. Meanwhile, Carta and Sharlot stayed up for a short time, worried that their place of safety would not hold.
When the war drums started, Sharlot and Carta were proven right. Sif sent the owl to scout and see what was going on, and it quickly came back with bad news. Marching south on the main road were two mobile piles of rock, pounding on the war drums they had attached to slings around what seemed to be their necks. About a mile behind them, the giant and ogres had finally moved on from their camp and were moving in the party's direction. Once everyone was made aware of the threat, Kasret headed out to let the horses go free. He opened the barn door and flushed them out, and they promptly scattered. Three headed generally south, while the fourth headed straight towards the moving rocks. Realizing this could be bad, Sif sent the owl back out. The horse made it to the road and swiftly turned to the south - the rocks ignored it, but did decide to follow their back trail. At the same time, Sif decided t search the cellar, looking for anything that would be helpful, while Carta started to build barricades out of the furniture, hoping to slow anything down. Sif discovered a secret door in the basement, and quickly determined that it was an escape route, with both a chamber to hide in and an exit near the river. If they had to, they had a way out.
When the rock creatures arrived, Sif, Carta, and Sharlot were able to identify them as Rock Trolls. While they knew the creatures existed, they had never interacted with any, and so were not sure of what to make of them. The two stood short of 100 feet from the house and continued to pound on the drums, wrecking any true possibility of sleep. All but Durdeg went to watch them and see what was happening - Durdeg kept focused on the hag, making sure there was no opportunity for it to escape. As they watched, they knew the giant was coming, and realized that they had to make a decision, soon.
With the rest of the band approaching, the party decided that they would have a better chance of survival by taking the trolls down now, simply to reduce the amount of danger they would be in later. They considered the escape route, but wanted to attempt to make a stand here. Sharlot, Kasret, and Sif all took to the roof, while V7 and Carta went to the door to block the entry. Sif started the attack, calling fire down upon the creatures, immediately followed by crossbow bolts from Kasret. The flames fell short, and the trolls ignored it, but the bolts hit one of them. Even though they bounced of the hard skin of the creature, it got their attention. The drumming stopped as the creatures moved forward. Durdeg knew that they would have to focus on the fight, and made the hard decision that had been coming all day. He snapped the hags neck, putting an end to its deals, and stuffed it in the bag of holding. He then made his way out to join the fight at the door.
The two split up, and the locals remembered that rock trolls ate stone, and they were sitting in a building made of stone. They called on what magic they still had remaining in an attempt to slow them down, hoping they could still fight them off with some concentrated effort. As one troll reached the doorway, the other reached the window near the master bedroom. That one started to pound on the stone wall, and cracks quickly formed. The other lifted one foot high and brought it down with terrible force. Those standing near the door were thrown back, flung to the ground and hurting from the impact. They got up again, ready for the attack. V7 was centered in the door, putting its existence on the line for its creator at less than a day old.
The brave construct did what it could, but as the troll swung its enormous, rocky fist, it was unable to stand up to the blow. Carta was able to retaliate against it, but V7 was nothing more than broken bits on the ground. At this point, the others realized that they were not going to win this one, and it was time to exit through the escape tunnel. Carta told them to go, and he would hold the door as long as he could. Sif tasked his owl with providing what help it could, and headed down the ladder. The others followed quickly, with Sharlot yelling for Carta to come with them. He held the line and the others fled. They made their way out, having no idea what would happen to Carta, but thankful for his stand allowing them to get away. When they finally stumbled out of the cave exit, they found themselves alone, having evaded their foes. That they had left without the hag dawned on the others, until Durdeg told them that he took care of it. While it may not have been what they had planned, they all agreed with Durdeg that it had to be done. They decided to head back to town, and hope that Carta could make it out. If nothing else, Sif's owl would eventually return with the tale of what had happened.
Carta's Stand, Flight, and Return
As the others fled, Carta knew he had to hold on for just a few more moments to make sure that his companions were safe. He held the doorway, standing over the remains of V7 and blocking the troll from entering. The two exchanged blows, and Carta gave as good as he got, although it became clear that the rock skin of the creature was just too hard for his current weapon to penetrate. He had already begun to feel the tug to go before the Gods in Uborum, and this made it all the more acute. As the two exchanged blows, Carta heard a crashing sound from the master bedroom - the other rock troll had breached the wall and was soon going to be able to come at him from behind. He had done all he could, and it was time to escape.
Even as the owl watched, Carta knew that his time of hiding his ancestry was over. He was born from the divine, which came with obligations and boons in equal measure. It was time to tap into his radiant soul to escape from what would otherwise be sure death. As his eyes began to glimmer, his back shifted, and he spread two luminous wings into the night. With a mighty push, he flung himself into the air and rose up as quickly as he could. Below him, the rock trolls watched as he disappeared, then turned back to the house and started to eat.
Carta flew as quickly as he could, angling away from the house towards the river. He skirted to the south, avoiding the giants coming towards them. As his soul energy began to wane, he started to look for a landing place. Adalci must have been with him that night, as he happened to see the horse that had fled to the road, plodding along towards Bandar Philia. It was Kasret's horse, and Carta knew he would be happy to have it back, so he landed nearby and approached. The horse knew him, and bathed in the last of Carta's radiance, accepted him as a rider. Carta swiftly made his way to the city - he did not know where the others would be, but they would have to return there.
As dawn was breaking, Carta reached the city. His first thought was of Orchid, and how they were responsible for the destruction of her cabin. While he was not sure where she lived, her was sure that he could reach her by going to the gambling house owned by her family. He arrived, and was quickly recognized. While he was not their favorite person, neither was he an enemy, and the Tiefling working the bar let him know that Orchid would be in later. He decided to wait, and found one of the many homeless children in the district to take a message from him to where he hoped the others would regroup.
After a few hours, where Carta tried to stay awake after the unending day, Orchid arrived. Carta looked at her, and she was as stunning as ever. Her mahogany skin practically glowed, as did her auburn hair that flowed around her horns and down her back. She was dressed to distract others at the card table, and it did the job well. She saw Carta and smiled, sliding up to him and beginning to flirt as though they had just seen each other yesterday. Carta attempted to tell her about the destruction of her house, but she immediately tried to talk him in to joining her in whatever job she was up to next. Carta got through to her that it was important, and the two took a walk to talk, headed toward the Lake District where Orchid kept an impressive home near the water.
As Carta explained what had happened, Orchid surprised him by laughing. It seemed she didn't care much about the building, but was fascinated by the fact that he knew Kasret. The two talked about how she met the Bugbear, and what the two of them had gotten up to while he was away from the rest of the group. Most of it did not surprise the paladin, as he knew just who she was and what she did - he always wanted to show her a different way, but had never quite gotten through. After she explained her and Kasret's relationship, she pivoted to asking if Carta would be willing to help her out with a problem. No big deal, she said - she just needed someone to cover her while she dug up some information on her brother. While Carta dissembled, they both knew that it was unlikely that he would ever tell her no. She left him, telling him she would find him the next day. Carta headed to the Knights Celestial's club, where he found out that the others had made it back, and had an important meeting lined up. He would have to get cleaned up and head to the meeting - sleep could wait until tonight.
Meeting the Duke
Octorum 13, 887 Af.
The other members of the party trudged back to the city. They came across Durdeg's horse on the way, which helped to ease the burdens slightly, but it was still a long night making it back. When they stumbled back across the bridge, the sun was just rising over the city. Kasret and Sharlot headed directly to the inn, and went to bed. Sif and Durdeg headed to Venfaren's tower to report on the hags and the giants, and finally rest. Venfaren listened, and told them that he would arrange for them to meet the Duke that evening to explain what they had seen. They turned in themselves, and slept the morning away.
When they awoke, they sent a message to the inn, and went next door to the Mysterium to let them know the hags had been dealt with. Durdeg showed the professor the proof, and after they tried to get away with paying a gold bounty, they honored the original deal and provided a handy haversack for their trouble. Durdeg showed Sif to the Knights Celestial, where they were ready to drink with them, or to take a message to Carta. Briefly speaking with Anders Nielas, they passed on a day of drinking and returned to the tower to await the arrival of the others.
The rest arrived at 6 pm, where Venfaren gave them a quick tutorial on how to behave at the ball. Feeling ready, they set out. They had time to mingle before the dinner - Carta danced, and danced well, but Sharlot and Durdeg took the floor and drew all eyes to them. Kasret watched from the bar, and ran into Anders, who ended up joining him. Sif stuck with Venfaren, learning what she could - mostly, she learned that the ball was for the lowest strata of nobles in the city, but they were to have a private audience at the end.
The dinner commenced, and the party was impressed by the food. They discussed some events from the day while eating, but did not speak of the questions hanging over their heads. They watched the Duke, and he showed that the nobility there were at the bottom of those he acknowledges. He clearly wanted out, and was drinking rather heavily. The dinner ended swiftly, and the heroes were escorted back to the Duke's study.
There, they met the Duke's advisors - the Nelwyn Vizier, Vortio; the Dwarven Master of Coin, Brundi Brentenson; and the Human general, Helmen Pycey. They introduced themselves as they waited for the Duke. When he finally arrived, he walked unsteadily into the room and quickly took a seat. He motioned for someone to explain, and held out his glass for a refill.
While telling the tale, Carta reached out to him. Taking the Duke's hand, Carta channeled Adalci's light, and removed the fog of drink. The Duke was instantly sharper, and asked a series of insightful questions. This didn't last long, as his Master of Coin shared a bottle with him. As the Duke sank away again, the three advisers discussed what to do.
They questioned the party, wondering if they were truly up to the task of dealing with the invading force. When Durdeg assured them that with the help of a seasoned ranger to guide them, they stopped to discuss. The General waved to a servant, and sent for someone. He then turned to the companions, and told them that he had the right person for the job, and they were willing to hire them. They would pay 500 gp, and would be willing to discuss land grants near the frontier, if they could either drive off the invaders or provide a full accounting of their strength. The party had heard the advisers give their true opinion of the worth of the frontier lands, and didn't think land grants were a great idea, but they were willing to talk.
Before they could explore further, the servant returned, and with him a tall man in a green cloak. The man lowered his hood, revealing a long, drawn face with caramel colored skin, dark hair slicked back into a small pony tail, and a short scruff of a goatee. The Gneral told the group that he would be their best choice for a ranger, at which point the man introduced himself. "I... am Sancho."
Sancho told them that he would lead them on their quest, and bring to them fortune and glory, because he is Sancho. This rubbed several of the companions, especially Durdeg, the wrong way. Durdeg made sure that Sancho had no illusions about who would be in charge. Sancho quickly ignored him, introducing himself to Kasret with an offer to drink together at the first opportunity. As Kasret responded the best of the group, Sancho gave him a smile, then moved on to speaking to Carta and Sif. He repeatedly referenced the "cute one", while giving no real indication as to who that was. They both rebuffed any advances that might have been there, and Sancho turned away to speak with Sharlot. He knew she was a musician on sight, and kept asking about playing a "gitar" and making music together. When Sharlot pulled away and told him, "I'm fine, thanks", Sancho smiled and gave a slight bow. He told the group that he looked forward to working with them, and told them he would contact Venfaren as to where he would be available.
Slightly shell shocked by the pushy ranger, and wondering if they couldn't find someone better, they left the advisers to their plotting, and returned to their lodgings. Sif and Durdeg returned to the tower with Venfaren, while Kasret and Sharlot returned to their inn. Carta returned to Orchid, and moved his retainers to her lake house. She gave him just enough information that he was willing to help convince the group of her needs, and they turned in for the night.
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