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Dark Sun: Revised and Expanded: Mystery of the Ancients 2012-02-04

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

(After playing the Dark Sun Revised and Expanded (2nd Edition AD&D) scenario “Mystery of the Ancients” Friday in High Point with Jeff Smith, and Ken Woody, Steve Turner, and Erik Huffine from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

A group of four adventurers awoke in the city of Tyr in the Year of Desert’s Fury in the 190th King’s Age, also known as Free Year 11 in the free city. They had been in Tyr for some months and their funds were running low. The four had fallen in together and found that they were not bad companions, and so had found shelter together in the city of Tyr.

Orin was a half-giant warrior who stood over 11 feet tall and weighed more than 1500 pounds. His weapons were as large as he, and included a giant-sized datchi club, an arena weapon with a five-foot-long head made of dried insect hive and embedded with teeth and claws attached to a three-foot-long bone handle; a lotulis, crescent blades with barbed spikes near the points mounted at either end of a long shaft; and a sling. He wore little more than hide armor and carried a great shield, the latter constructed of layers of hardened leather stretched over a bone frame.

Ran Ger was a human ranger who carried a longbow; a master’s whip made of leather with a carved bone handle inlaid with decorative elements; three cahulaks, each consisting of a pair of four-bladed bone heads tied to either end of a 12-foot length of rope; and five alhulaks, each consisting of a five-foot length of rope with a four-bladed grappling hook at one end, the other end being secured to a two-foot-long handle. He wore leather armor.

Varthir Markorum was an elf with disheveled hair. A preserver by trade, he wore no armor and carried only a staff to defend himself with. However, he also was well-versed in the use of magic. His heart was as black as night.

Aeoleus was a half-elf druid who wore studded leather armor and carried a small shield for protection. He used a composite short bow and carried a spear, but his most prized possession was a ceramic flute. He rarely spoke.

With the advent of the great earthquake, other things had changed on Athas. Great rainstorms roared in from the Silt Sea and laid waste to various parts of the land, sometimes destroying whole villages. Other things had also inspired panic. The dragon of Athas had recently been killed, though such rumor was met with skepticism and then elation by Tyr’s citizens, resulting in a minor riot which started when five dwarf herders and their half-giant companion decided that the return of Durgonis was imminent. Though the dwarf-god Drugonis had few followers in those days, those who kept the faith were fervently devoted. Hordes of monsters frightened out of the mountains by the continuing tremors had flooded the valley in search of stable ground. This, in turn, had caused those who lived in the client villages surrounding the city to seek shelter within the city gates.

The four had been in Tyr when the great earthquake struck. Though the city was not destroyed, streets, buildings, and other structures had been damaged by the quake and continued aftershocks. Rumors persisted of some great opening to the lands to the west and a great thri-kreen empire that would soon attack the tablelands.

The recent earthquake hadn’t changed Tyr very much though. The crowds were still as thick as ock’n on a mekillot, and the chaos of freedom still reverberated off every wall. There were signs that the disaster touched the Free City, however. Cracks decorated buildings and walls, and a few structures had collapsed entirely. There were also more refugees than before – people from the client villages who had sought safety behind the city walls. The fugitives had the look of poverty about them, for they hadn’t been able to find work within the city, nor had they mustered the courage to return to their lives in the villages.

The four had decided to spend the morning at their favorite tavern. Vendors were everywhere in the city streets, hawking their wares and trying to get passers-by to sample them. There was everything from fruits and vegetables to clothing and exotic trinkets from faraway lands. As they passed one particularly burley street hawker who stood beside a cart that overflowed with bizarre items that defied identification, he called to Ran.

“You aren’t thinking of passing my cart by without even giving it a look, are you, my friend?” called the human man with the flowing beard and a bald, sun-burned head. “Where else can you find genuine tools and lucky charms from the forests of the Ringing Mountains? This lucky dart, for example, was crafted by a halfling maiden with feathers from a kes’trekel. I have lots of things you need. Take a look. My prices are exceedingly reasonable. Have you hard coin or something to trade?”

Ran looked at the man.

“Sure,” he said. “I have hard coin or something to trade.”

“Always like to hear that,” the man said. “Come look at my wares.”

“Do you have a moment?” he asked the others.

“Well, they can all look!” the merchant said. “Even the half-giant.”

“You sure about that?”

“Even though he may not find anything to his liking. Little hats. Little hats.”

“I’m giving you a chance. If you want him to come over, he’ll come over.”

“I’ve got charms to ward off earthquakes. Polished stones to repel undead!”

He also had tools of the trade and a various assortment of items. He claimed he got everything from the Forest Ridge.

“How, exactly, do your earthquake warding charms work?” Varthir asked.

“They protect you,” the man said. “If you get caught in an earthquake, it won’t kill you.”

The elf seemed doubtful.

“Only five ceramic pieces,” the merchant went on.

“What a deal,” the elf said dryly.

“It is a great deal!” the merchant said.

Ran said he would merely hide under Orin but the merchant asked what would happen if the giant tripped. Ran assured him that the giant would not trip as he had a pocketful of earthquake warding stones.

The only item that stood out amongst the man’s wares, however, was a halfling dagger made of bone and carved with runes that none of them recognized. Ran picked it up and looked over the weapon more closely. There was probably some tooling on it at one point but it appeared to have been worn down with repeated sharpening.

“How much do you want for this?” Ran asked.

“Why, this rare piece was a rare find indeed,” the merchant said. “It’s not often you find halfling daggers made of bone like this. They like to use wooden weapons, don’t they? So, I’m asking a mere pittance, a mere eight silver coins. And that’s a bargain.”

Ran offered the man a pound of raisins, which the merchant refused.

“You insult me sir,” he said. “Look at the craftsmanship on this blade. I would not be surprised if it was enchanted.”

Ran tried to show off the juiciness of his raisins, but the man was not interested. He demanded a real offer as opposed to a joke. Ran offered him five pounds of raisins, which he called a tiny portion of the dagger’s value. He noted that he would have to offer at least 50 pounds of raisins for him to even consider it. Ran noted that he didn’t usually carry around 50 pounds of raisins. The man nodded towards Orin.

“I’m telling you, eight silver is cheap for an enchanted weapon,” the merchant said.

“Enchanted with what?” Varthir asked.

“Only the halflings could tell you for sure,” the man said.

“It’s not very useful then,” Varthir said. “You should be selling it for half price. You don’t even know what it does.”

“Half price? Are you trying to break me?”

“No, I’m trying to be reasonable.”

“Do you know what it took to get this out of the Ringing Mountains?”

Ran offered the man 10 ceramic pieces and he told the ranger he was killing him. However, he lowered the price to 75 ceramic pieces.

“It could be cursed,” Varthir suggested.

“Halflings don’t curse things like this!” the merchant said.

“How do you know?” the elf asked.

“Look at the age on this,” the merchant said. “It could go back to the green age!”

The elf looked doubtful.

“Maybe even further than that,” the merchant went on.

Varthir said that he doubted the man even knew any halflings.

“I know a few halflings,” the man said.

“Really?” Varthir replied.

“They can be really nice when they’re not trying to bite you,” the man said.

“Of course,” Varthir said dryly.

“Have they spent any time not trying to bite you?” Ran asked.

“If you get them drunk enough,” the merchant admitted. “Fermented erdlu milk.”

Ran noted that the use of fermented fruit juice would do the same thing, holding up his bag of raisins again.

“In any case, it’s still a valuable item,” the merchant said.

“How do you know?” Varthir persisted. “How do you know it’s not cursed?”

“Look at it,” the merchant said.

“Look at my life,” the merchant said. “I have a great life. If it was cursed, wouldn’t that curse have fallen on me by now?”

“I don’t know, you need earthquake protection charms,” Varthir said. “It doesn’t speak well.”

“No, I don’t,” the man said. “That’s why I sell them!”

“How do they make those, by the way?” Varthir asked.

“It’s a very complicated process,” the merchant said. “I don’t know, exactly, how they make them.”

“Who would ‘they’ be?”

“They live in a far away, exotic, distant land.”

“A far away land plagued by earthquakes?”

“Some say water is common there!”

“Hmm. Yeah, right. Apparently, so are earthquakes.”

“Maybe that’s why they are exporting them. Because they don’t need them.”

“Could be.”

Orin looked over the wares without touching anything.

“Well, I have found your story amusing,” Ran said to the merchant. “So much so, that I’m willing to offer you 20 ceramics and a pound of raisins.”

The merchant looked pained.

“You should make him pay you for making you stand here and listen to that drivel!” Varthir said.

“But my friend, it’s not drivel!” the merchant said. “I may be able to come down to ... six and a half silver.”

“How about you pay us six and a half silver, we don’t tell the halflings that you stole one of their knives?” Varthir said. “Or you can just give us the knife and then we won’t tell anybody.”

“If you wish to go to the mountains and talk to the halflings, you are free to do so,” the merchant said.

“Maybe I know them,” Varthir said.

“I highly doubt a ragged elf would know many halflings,” the merchant said.

Varthir sighed.

“He could be right,” he muttered. “But then again, he could be wrong.”

“He did get the ragged part down,” Ran quipped.

“Come, we’ve wasted enough time,” Orin said. “Let’s go to the drinking.”

Ran again offered 20 ceramic coins and a pound of raisins. The merchant would not go lower, however.

“Let’s go,” Orin said again. “I am buying today.”

“Done!” Ran said.

They left the merchant.

On the way to the tavern, they passed through an alley. The ragged crowd that filled it consisted of destitute men, women and children who appeared as hungry and thirsty as they were dusty and weary. Normally, such a crowd would press towards them, begging for a bit or two with sad eyes and outstretched palms. That didn’t happen that day, however. Instead, a gang of street toughs rampaged through the refugees. One brought a bone club down on the head of a man trying to protect his family. Another slapped a young girl as he scooped the lone bit out of her begging bowl. The toughs taunted an elderly fellow, laughing as they pushed him to the ground. Apparently, they gained as much amusement from their acts as they did items of worth.

“Orin,” Ran said.

“We’re about to stop this,” Orin simply said.

“Orin, twist that one’s head off,” Ran suggested.

Orin drew his datchi club and strode forward.

“Stop!” he yelled.

The toughs all turned his way. At first they looked alarmed, but then some of them grinned at each other. The largest of them, probably the leader, laughed.

“One half-giant?” he called. “Bring it! Get him!”

He moved back while several of the toughs drew bone clubs and moved towards Orin. Ran had pulled his bow from his back and fitted an arrow into it, shooting at one of the men who approached Orin. The arrow missed but actually struck another of the toughs approaching. The man he’d hit howled in pain. Ran cursed and then fitted another arrow and fired it at the same man he’d missed before. He missed him again, but struck the man he’d already shot yet again. The man cursed.

Varthir leaned against the wall of the alley and watched. He didn’t want to get involved. Aeoleus also merely stood there, leaning on his spear and watching the battle.

Ran fired another shot at the man in the front, hitting him but not, apparently hurting him. He fired another arrow that missed his target again, but struck that same man in the second rank.

“He really hates Hak!” someone yelled.

“Kill ‘em!” the leader yelled. “Kill ‘em all!”

Orin growled over his shoulder at Ran and then slashed at one of the men threatening him. Only one of the men fighting Orin was able to hurt the half-giant, and then only a little bit.

“We’re not going to get any action,” one of the toughs furthest away called. “Our men are going to kill them so quick.”

The man Ran had hit with several arrows rushed him, screaming profanities and curses at the ranger. He struck Ran a telling blow. Another of the toughs joined the angry man and struck the ranger as well.

Then Aeoleus said words of power and gestured at Ran, blowing air out of his mouth. Swirling wind surrounded Ran and the men who were attacking him. Then one of them seemed to move slowly against the wind and froze in place, his bone club held over his head. The other man didn’t seem to notice.

“Hey! That half-elf’s casting spells!” one of the toughs not yet engaged in combat yelled.

One of the toughs injured Orin but the half-half giant held the other two off effortlessly.

“We’re going to take out a half-giant!” yelled the man who had landed the blow.

Two men charged through the battle, avoiding both the half-giant and the ranger, and headed for Aeoleus. Ran dropped his bow and drew his alhulak, swinging it ineffectively at the man with three arrows still stuck in him.

“You don’t do this very much, do you?” the man said to him conversationally.

Orin dropped his datchi club and drew his lotulis, bringing it down on the man who had cut him with devastating effect. The man screamed and fled the battle, running back towards the leader, who stood watching the entire battle. Orin tried to slash at the man but just missed him.

“Get back in there, you wus!” the leader shouted at him.

“Hey you!” one of the man who charged Aeoleus shouted. “You want to cast spells? See how you cast with a club in your face!”

Both of the men struck the priest with their bone clubs, but he was only slightly injured. Orin easily parried the blows of the men who were still fighting him. Ran was again injured by the man who he’d shot several times. He was beginning to wonder about the wisdom of shooting the man. Ran’s blow bounced off the man’s armor but then he slashed the man across the chest, cutting through his leather and opening a deep wound. Orin swung his lotulis around and struck both of the men he faced, hurting them both badly.

The leader swaggered to Orin, drawing his weapon.

“Now you’ll see the master at work,” he muttered.

One of his men struck Orin as he did so and then the leader swung his own datchi club at the half-giant, missing him completely. Ran was also injured again.

Varthir had drawn a bit of kank rind from his pouch. He muttered words of power and flicked his fingers gently. The rind disappeared and suddenly, one of the men slipped and fell. He tried, unsuccessfully, to get to his feet several times without luck. The other man had stepped out of the area that the grease spell had affected.

Aeoleus shook the cloth that covered his steel spearhead loose and then tried to stab the man he faced.

“Back away boys,” Orin said, “your boss wants to play.”

The two men looked at each other and then obligingly took a step back. The half-giant brought his datchi club down on the leader, hurting him badly. He looked surprised and shocked at the blood that spewed out of his mangled shoulder. Behind the half-giant, Ran finally cut down the man filled with arrows.

The man Aeoleus faced struck him a glancing blow even as his friend slipped and fell again. Varthir moved around behind Aeoleus and then starting striking the man who kept slipping with his staff.

“Who are you!?!” the man screamed at him. “Who are you!?!”

Ran ran towards Aeoleus, slashing the throat of the frozen man and taking off his head on the way. Blood sprayed all over the ranger.

The leader of the toughs had only struck Orin a blow on his armor. The giant looked down at him with disdain.

“You shouldn’t hit people who can’t hit back,” he growled.

He tore into the leader with his lotulis, skewering the man and lifting him over his head. The man’s legs and arms went straight out as he gasped and then died. Blood poured down over the half-giant and then he tossed the body away.

“They killed Ged!” one of the toughs screamed.

All of the toughs fled. The one trapped in the slippery area slipped and fell again, even as he tried to get away. Aeoleus stabbed the man who’d fought him even as Ran slashed at him with his alhulak. The man screamed and limped away, barely able to walk. The two men who had been fighting Orin fled as well. Only the man trapped in the greased area was unable to get away. Varthir continued to beat the man with his staff. Ran joined the man and cut into him. They finished off the man, beating him to death.

Aeoleus dismissed the spell that still held the dead body of one of the toughs in place. The corpse fell next to the dead man’s head. He wrapped the metal head of his spear back up.

The alley was deserted. The refugees had fled as soon as the fight had started. They quickly searched the bodies and found half a dozen ceramic bits. There was some discussion of hacking off the legs of their assailants and making more bone clubs out of their femurs, but Ran complained that he had two that were already made.

“There are 10 more right here,” Varthir said.

“You go make them, and I’ll sell them,” Ran told him.

“Help me carry the bodies. I can’t carry all of them.”

“I can’t either. I let them beat on me.”

“We can probably find a butcher around here somewhere who’s not too scrupulous about where he gets his meat from.”

“Well, ask him - he’ll carry the bodies. We’ll sell the bodies for meat.”

“Chop their heads off so they can’t be identified.”

“There’s only one with his head chopped off.”

In the end, they continued on their way towards the tavern, passing through a more affluent part of town.

“Did you hear?” Aeoleus heard someone say. “The Council has called for volunteers to find a path through the Ringing Mountains to the Hinterlands. They say that there are settlements to trade with on the other side, and that Tyr needs new allies now more than ever. Are you going to sign up?”

It was only shortly later that they spotted an official-looking man coming down the street. He stopped on the corner of an intersection, drew forward a scroll, and read from it.

“Let the word go forth!” he said. “The Council of Advisers needs able-bodied adventurers for a special mission. This trial is not without danger, but a healthy purse is included for those willing to provide this service to the Free City.

“We have recently received visitors from the west. It seems that villages we never knew existed lie on the other side of the Ringing Mountains, past the Forest Ridge and well into the Hinterlands beyond. These villages are populated by civilized pterrans who sincerely desire to establish trade routes between our communities. Unfortunately, the path the pterrans took was sealed by another of the tremors that have followed in the wake of the Great Earthquake. A new path must be forged, and for that we need brave people willing to make the trip and then return with a detailed map of the route.

“For this great service, the Council offers two pieces of silver to each member of the party upon acceptance of the mission. Upon the party’s successful return, an additional silver piece will be paid to each member of the party for every month or portion thereof that the trip there and back lasted.

“The Council needs you. The Free City needs you. Come to the Council Hall and offer your services immediately.”

He rolled up his scroll and he headed down the street.

Ran guessed that it would probably take them at least 10 months to do the job. Someone nearby said something about it being a pterran trick and that the creatures were bloodthirsty killers.

“How do we know these traders are any different?” the man asked.

A young male elf called out to Ran.

“I bet you toughs could handle the job,” he said. “You look mean enough to wrestle a tribe of braxats to me. So, what do you say? Are you going to accept the Council’s offer? I think you’d be fools not to. But that’s only an honest elf’s opinion.”

“How much will you give me for a club?” Ran asked him.

“I don’t know,” the elf replied. “What do you want for it? I do like fine clubs.”

“What’s the value of a club?” Ran asked Orin quietly.

“To some people, a lot,” Orin muttered. “To those without a club, it’s worth more than to those who have two.”

Orin noticed an elf girl had walked right up behind Ran, snatched his money pouch, and then walked away.

“One moment,” Orin said.

He lunged at the elf girl, who fled at the speed that only elves go.

“Well, no thanks,” the male elf said, backing away.

“Stop!” Orin said to him. “Stop him!”

Orin lunged at the man, grabbing him by the left arm and twisting it behind the elf.

“No!” the elf yelled. “Let me go! Let me go!”

“His friend stole your wallet,” Orin calmly said to Ran.

Varthir moved his own money pouch to a more secure position.

“No!” the elf screamed. “This half-giant’s going to kill me!”

He drew his bone sword and tried, ineffectually, to stab at the half-giant who stood behind him. The sword was deflected by Orin’s armor.

“Stop,” the half-giant said.

Ran grabbed the man’s sword arm and then Orin spun the elf around and slammed him into a nearby wall several times.

“Stop,” Orin said.

“Get off me!” the elf screamed. “Get off me!”

Ran got the elf’s sword from him as he struggled.

“Okay!” the elf said. “I give up! I give up! I give up!”

Ran slammed his club into the elf’s head. The elf started shrieking.

“I’m being killed!” he screamed. “They’re murderers!”

“Would shut up already?” Ran said.

“Where did your friend go?” Orin asked.

“I don’t know!” the elf screamed.

“You shouldn’t have robbed me,” Ran said.

“I didn’t rob you!” the elf said. “I was just trying to buy a club from you!”

“Where did your friend go?” Orin asked again.

“It hits really well,” the elf muttered to Ran.

“Where. Did. Your. Friend. Go?” Orin asked again, twisting the elf’s arm.

“She’s probably at the safe house,” he said.

“Take us there,” Orin said.

“I don’t wanna,” the elf whimpered. “But don’t hit me anymore and I will.”

The elf told them where to go. He would have led them but Orin wouldn’t let him down. He led them from the Merchant District through the Noble Quarter to the Warrens, not taking them through the Elven Market. As he walked, Ran managed to sell the clubs and the bone long sword while they were en route. He only got about eight ceramic pieces.

A long way to make up 83, Ran thought.

He had searched the elf but found nothing on him aside from his leather armor.

“Where’s she at?” Orin asked the elf again.

“I’m taking you there, but we were just trying to get money because we were hungry,” the elf said. “We came from the outlying areas and didn’t have any money. We’re poor.”

“But yet you could afford to buy a bone sword? I think your priorities are a little bit off.”

“That was my father’s. He gave that to me. It was my only possession.”

“Well, it now belongs to Achmed,” Ran said.

Orin shook the elf as they walked.

He eventually led them to a run-down shack that Orin guessed he could push over with one hand. He used the elf to open the door, shoving him into the wood.

“Teryra!” the elf called. “Teryra! They’re going to kill me! Give him his money back! The bloody guy! Are you here? Please, elements, be here.”

The door scraped open under the pressure Orin exerted on the elf. He called out the girl’s name again but there was no reply from the hovel. The elf started crying.

There was no one in the shack, which was composed of merely a front and back room and a door in the back. The sandstone walls had only a few windows that were covered with torn cloth. A couple of waterskins hung on the wall near a ceramic jug with a wide stopper. Some dried meat also hung on the wall.

“You got any money in here?” Ran asked.

“No!” the elf said. Then he seemed to think better of it. “Okay. Over there!”

He nodded towards the fire pit on one side of the front room. It sat beneath a small hole in the ceiling.

Varthir walked over and scraped around in the ashes with his staff but found nothing. Ran looked under the reed mats in the back room but there was nothing there either.

“It’s buried underneath,” the elf said. “Under the ground.”

Ran looked angry.

“If I get ash all over me and I don’t find the ceramic pieces, it’s really going to go bad,” Ran said.

“They’re under there,” the elf said. “There’s not much, though.”

“There better be 83,” Ran said.

“There’s maybe a dozen,” the elf said.

Aeoleus went to the back door of the hovel and waited there in the shadows. Varthir took the waterskins from the wall.

Ran dug up a small sack with 18 ceramic pieces.

“What’s that divided by four?” Varthir asked.

“Not enough,” Aeoleus said.

“We’re just here to return his money,” Orin said, nodding at Ran.

“His money’s not here,” Varthir noted. “It’s with the elf girl and she ran off.”

“This will be a down payment,” Orin said. “She only owes now ...”

Math was not his strong suit.

“I’ll have his share,” Varthir said, pointing at Ran. “We’ll split it three ways.”

“No. You don’t understand.”

“I understand perfectly. You’re dividing your share. We can split it three ways.”

“No. There’s no shares. We’re just reclaiming the money he lost.”

“That’s all we want,” Ran said.

He tucked the pouch into his belt.

“He now owes us 65 ceramic pieces,” Orin said.

“You have 65 ceramic pieces somewhere?” Ran asked the elf.

“No,” the creature replied. “You sold the sword. Didn’t you make some money there?”

“Yeah, eight,” Ran said.

Orin did the math.

“Sixty Two,” he finally said.

“I need 62 more ceramic pieces from you,” Ran said.

“I don’t have it,” the elf said.

“Too bad they abolished slavery,” Varthir said. “We could sell him.”

“Let’s go find it,” Orin said.

“I could make bone clubs out of your shins,” Ran said.

“Let’s go find your girlfriend,” Orin said.

“Actually, he can,” Ran continued, pointing at Varthir.

“Okay, she likes to go to a tavern that serves cactus wine,” the elf said.

“Let’s hope she’s not spent too much,” Orin said. “Lead the way.”

“Okay, I’ll try to find it,” the elf said.

“You’d better try real hard,” Ran said.

He led them back through the Noble Quarter back to the Merchant District.

“You’re really going to make us carry you all over the city looking for her?” Ran asked at one point.

“I don’t have any more money!” the elf replied. “You got it all.”

“All right,” Ran said. “If I were you I’d let him make clubs out of your shins.”

“You see, the only mistake you made was–” Varthir said.

“Getting caught?” the elf replied.

“–picking the two most single-minded people in the city to steal from,” Varthir continued, ignoring the interruption.

“Yeah, that was a mistake,” the elf replied.

“It was a big mistake,” Varthir said. “You realize you’re going to pay for this all day.”

“I did not realize this when I saw them,” the elf replied. “Or I would not have done it.”

“Perhaps you should consider a new profession,” Aeoleus said.

“Maybe,” Varthir agreed.

“It’s good that you feel remorse,” Orin growled. “Now lead the way.”

“You don’t need to hire an entrepreneur, do you?” the elf asked.

“If you know of one,” Orin said.

“A legless entrepreneur is not of much use to us,” Ran said.

“True,” the elf replied.

“Lead the way,” Orin said again.

Later, as they passed near the tavern they regularly frequented, Ran glared at the elf.

“You know, all we were going to do was buy some cactus wine,” he said. “And now you’ve gone and screwed up our entire morning. You’ve slowed down our entire drinking for the day.”

“I know of a good place to drink,” the elf said.

“You don’t understand,” Ran said. “You’ve slowed down our drinking for the day and now, here we are, having to rip your arms off.”

The elf cried out in pain as Orin tightened his grip.

Ran spotted an elf girl.

“Is that her?” he asked, pointing.

Orin recognized the girl, who spotted them just about that time. She cursed, turned, and ran down the street.

“You should tell her to stop,” Orin said to the elf.

“Teryra! Teryra!” the elf screamed. “They’re going to kill me! They’re going to kill me! They’re going to cut off my legs!”

The girl didn’t even slow down.

“Damned *****!” the elf muttered.

Orin lurched to a run and headed after the girl. Ran took off after him.

Aeoleus turned to Varthir.

“Cactus wine?” he asked.

The elf nodded and they turned and walked to the tavern they regularly frequented only a few doors down.

* * *

Orin used his elf prisoner to knock people out of the way as he barreled down the street. Ran tried to fight the crowd as well, at first, but then merely fell in behind the half-giant and ran behind him.

“Move out of my way!” Orin bellowed.

They continued to crash through the crowd. People yelled at them and some folks even threw things at the two after they crashed by. The elf girl looked over her shoulder. She looked scared. She probably hadn’t expected the two to keep up with her. She pulled out a small money pouch from her vest.

“If you throw it, I will chase you down and I will kill you!” Ran yelled.

They could now hear people were chasing them down the street, still yelling at them. Some old woman whose cart they had knocked over had thrown broken crockery at them but they could still hear her voice behind them, as if she, too, were running after them.

Teryra yelled something and tossed the money bag at a child with a topknot who was standing on the side of the street, poking a dead thing that lay there. He looked up as soon as she yelled and tried to catch the pouch but it fell through his hands to the ground.

Orin skidded to a stop near the child. Ran continued chasing the elf girl.

The child had picked up the money pouch and looked confused. The half-giant looked down at him.

“That doesn’t belong to you,” Orin said.

The child looked at him defiantly.

“Who’s it belong to?” he said.

“My friend who is chasing after that thief,” Orin said.

“How much will you give me for it?”

“Hand it over first and I’ll give you money for it.”

“No! My brother tries the same thing.”

Orin reached down and picked up the child by the topknot. With a cry, the child dropped the pouch. Orin put him back down.

“How much are you going to give me for it!” the child said.

Orin counted out five ceramic pieces and dropped them on the ground in front of the child.

“Thank you!” the little boy said.

He collected his ceramic pieces and went back to poking the dead thing on the ground. Orin, meanwhile, turned to the crowd that had stopped mere yards from him.

“You, half-giant!” one man yelled. “You can’t just tear through the city like that, you know! What’s the matter with you!?!”

“We were going after a thief,” Orin replied.

“Well, just throw something at her!” another man said. “Like that elf you got.”

“I didn’t want to throw him,” Orin said. “I just caught him. Why throw him back?”

“You smashed up my cart!” the wiry old woman shrieked at him. She had a piece of broken crockery in each hand.

“How much damage did we cause?” Orin asked.

“I sell these for a bit each and you destroyed at least 20 of them!” the old woman said.

Orin dropped the elf and dug five ceramic pieces out of the pouch, handing it to the old woman.

“Here’s five,” the half-giant said. He gestured at the elf. “And he will stay and help you clean it up.”

He looked down at the elf.

“Won’t you?” he said.

“Yes,” the elf said.

“Hey! What about my cart?” another man said.

Many of the crowd were dispersing, apparently having second thoughts about being angry with a half-giant for shoving them out of the way in the street.

“Where’s your cart?” Orin asked the man.

The man pointed back up the street to a cart, toppled on its side, that had fruit upon it. Some of the fruit was lying in the street while some of it had gotten smashed by the fallen cart. The man demanded five ceramic pieces for the damage.

“I’m a free citizen,” he said. “You can’t just push us around!”

“They were honest with their expectations and money,” Orin said. “You are overcharging. You can still sell that fruit. Here is three.”

He handed over three ceramic pieces.

“Fine!” the man said.

He turned and stalked away.

Orin headed back for the tavern.

* * *

Ran continued to chase the elf girl, somehow closing the distance between them. The girl looked over her shoulder and she ducked into an alley. When Ran arrived at the end of the dark, narrow alley, the girl had stopped some 15 feet from the street. She had turned back towards him and was breathing heavily. She glared at him.

Ran, fearing an ambush, looked around himself carefully.

“You got your money!” she said. “Leave me alone!”

“You still owe me,” he replied.

“What do I owe you? You got plenty of good exercise.”

She slowly backed away. Ran drew out one of his cahulaks.

“Take another step and I put this between your eyes,” he said.

“Well, what do you want then?” she asked.

“My money.”

“Back there with that kid.”

“I told you not to drop it.”

“You were going to kill me anyway.”

“No, I said I’d kill you if you dropped it.”

“You were going to kill me anyway. Look at you! You’re a killer! I can see it in your eyes. Not to mention all the blood all over you.”

“What about your friend? You obviously don’t like him or you would have come back with the money.”

She just glared at him.

“Give me my money,” he said again.

“It’s back there in the street with that kid,” she said.

“Well then give me the like amount in value.”

She gestured to herself. All she wore was leather armor, a loincloth, and sandals. A bone long sword was tucked into her belt.

“Drop the long sword,” he said.

She glared at him.

“Do it,” he said.

She drew the weapon, held it at arm’s length, and dropped it to the ground.

“By the next time I find you, and I’ll find you again, you’d better have the rest of my money,” he said.

She just glared at him without speaking.

“I can find anyone and anything,” he went on.

She continued to glare at him.

“Now, git,” he said.

She backed away until she reached a corner of the alley and then bolted out of sight. Ran waited for the ambush that never came. He was certain he would be attacked when he went forward to get the long sword, but nothing happened. He tucked it into his belt.

He headed back to the tavern, using a different route than the one that he had taken.

* * *

Orin arrived at the tavern after only a short time. Varthir and Aeoleus were sitting at their regular table and Orin sat down on the huge cushion on the corner that he always sat on. He called for a mug.

“That was tiring,” he said.

He dropped eight ceramic coins onto the table.

“And I have a big thirst now,” he went on.

He dropped the small pouch that jingled of ceramic on the table as well.

“What’s that?” Varthir asked.

“That’s Ran’s money pouch,” Orin said.

“You got it?”

“She dropped it.”

“Do me a favor. Hold onto it for a minute. Just don’t say anything about it. C’mon, just play along.”

Orin picked up the pouch and stuck it into his own, larger pouch.

Ran arrived a few moments later.

“Thanks for the help,” Ran said as he sat down at their table.

“I don’t run through the streets chasing after elves,” Varthir said.

“You are an elf!”

“Which is why I don’t do it. Did you get your money back?”


“Another reason why I don’t do it.”

“Because you don’t get your money back?”


“I lost about 80 ceramic.”

Ran noticed, for the first time, the six ceramic coins that lay on the table.

“We can get a lot of food for six ceramics,” Varthir said.

He had slipped two of the coins into his hand when no one was looking.

Orin frowned. Ran laid a bone long sword on the table.

Kai, the wench that usually served them, arrived at the table again. She looked over the bloody group and asked if they wanted the usual. When they nodded, she left, returning a few moments later with a pitcher of cactus wine, a cup for Ran, and a bucket for Orin. She also had a boiled erdlu egg and some roasted erdlu meat on a platter.

“How much more meat could we get for the coins?” Varthir asked as the girl picked up a single ceramic piece.

Varthir slid another coin towards Kai. She took the coins and left.

“What did you do with the kid?” Ran asked Orin about the child the girl had thrown his pouch to.

“I couldn’t hurt the kid,” Orin said.

“Did you get the money?”

“You probably spent just as much money with the sweat of chasing her down,” Varthir said.

“At least I got her,” Ran said.

“Then where is she?”

“She didn’t have any money. All she had was this sword.”

“You let her go!?!”

He looked at the man, amazed.

“Okay,” he said.

Kai returned with two more platters of roasted erdlu meat.

“He caught an elf?” Aeoleus said.

“My guess is she just gave up or she ran out of road,” Varthir said.

“Perhaps her wind was not strong,” Aeoleus said.

“More meat,” Kai said as she put down two more platters of roast erdlu.

The table creaked under the weight of the now five platters of meat.

“This whole story has taken on a surreal feeling,” Ran said.

“Giant,” Kai said. “Don’t break another table.”

“Well, I’ll pay for anything I have to,” Orin said, taking out Ran’s money pouch and dropping it on the table.

“Wait,” Varthir said. “Where’d you get that?”

“The little boy gave it to me,” Orin said.

“That’s party treasure,” Varthir said. “We should divide it between us.”

“More meat,” Kai said as she put down yet another platter.

“How much is in there?” Varthir asked.

“You want more erdlu eggs?” Kai asked.

“We’re good,” Varthir said.

“That’s less than half the money you gave me,” she replied.

He glared at her and she left.

There was some talk of the money. Aeoleus, bored at the joke, took out his pipe. It was a ceramic device that was shaped like a ring, a hole in one end for the mouth and a hole in the other where the music came out. He covered the holes in either side with his fingers and began to play a tune. He played very well.

“Thank you,” Ran finally said to Orin.

Orin suggested giving the girl back the ceramic pieces he’d found in their home.

“If I could find her,” the ranger said.

“If you hadn’t let her go, you wouldn’t have to go find her,” Varthir said.

“We will go find her.”

“I’m not going to go find her. It’s too hot. If she’s smart, she’ll be gone and never be found again. If she’s not smart, and we find her, than she’s not interesting enough to find. Because she’s stupid.”

“She’s pretty.”

“More wine,” Kai said as she put four more carafes on the table.

She left again.

There were still four ceramic coins on the table. Orin started to look around suspiciously but Varthir pointed out how much food and drink were on the table.

“Kai!” the half-giant called.

“What?” she said.

“How much was the meat?”


“How much was the meat?”

“Each platter was a bit!”

There were five platters on the table, as well as five carafes of wine, and the boiled erdlu egg.

“Okay, that’s two,” the giant said.

“No, it’s not,” the elf replied. Then he lowered his voice and whispered that the girl had obviously given them more food than she should have.

“I’ll take those four and put them in front of me,” the half-giant said. “Just to make sure no one steals them.”

He took the coins as Varthir noted that Tyr was full of thieves.

“Apparently only the elves,” Ran said.

“Not necessarily,” Varthir said.

“They’re just the ones that get caught,” Orin said.

“If you chase them through half the city,” Ran said.

“More wine,” Kai said, putting three more carafes on the table.

Varthir told her that was enough.

“What about the rest of the money?” she asked.

“You can bring us our change any time,” Varthir said.

She glared at the elf and then walked away.

“She’s going to knife you,” Ran said.

“That’s okay,” the elf replied. “It’s a small knife.”

The girl had already threatened Varthir once with the knife, pressing it into the small of his back one night, which rubbing his chest with the other hand and telling him he was so fine she would hate to damage him.

“Well, it’s getting boring here,” Orin said.

“No, we have to eat all of this,” Varthir said.

“I mean the town in general,” Orin said.

“Well, apparently, there is a job where we can hire out our services and I’m thinking it’s at least a 10-month job,” Ran went on.

Kai put five ceramic bits on the table.

“Keep it,” Orin said.

She sighed again, glared at all of them, and took the money. A mournful, descending note came out of Aeoleus’ pipe.

“That would be 10 silver,” Ran pointed out, ignoring the serving girl as he always did.

“Eleven, because it’s two up front,” Orin said.

“I figured it would cost us two to walk to–”

“Walking’s free,” Varthir said.

“Buying the supplies–” Ran started to say.

“You can pay me the two,” Varthir said. “For your walk.”

“Buying the supplies that we’re going to need for getting from here to yonder,” Ran finally finished.

“What supplies do we need to get from here to yonder? Could you actually point to yonder for me please.”

The ranger pointed.

“You sure yonder’s not that way?” Varthir said, pointing in another direction. “Yonder’s a pretty vague term.”

“Well, we’re supposed to get to the other side of the rift,” Ran said.

“That’s more specific. It’s not so much of a generalization.”

“We have to go through the halfling-infested jungle and find the city of peaceful traders. We’re going to need tanned hides to draw a map, food, and water.”

“Why do we get 10 silver?”

“It’s a silver a month and it’s at least 10 months.”

“I’m not walking for 10 months.”

“No, we’re not going to walk for 10 months.”

“We’re going to walk for a week and relax for nine months,” Orin said.

“And then walk back,” Ran said. “Making it 10 months. Giving us 10 silver.”

“Provided that we survive the cannibals,” Aeoleus said.

“There is that,” Varthir said.

“But, see, I, by far, am the most scrawny in this crew, so I was thinking, you’re the long meat,” Ran said to Varthir.

“That’s what she said,” the elf quipped.

“Maybe we rest tonight and tomorrow morning go in and see what they offer us,” Orin said.

Just then, four burley men wearing badges of Tyr entered the tavern. They looked around a moment and then walked to the table.

“Gentlemen, sit,” Orin said.

“Are you the ones that thrashed those thugs in the alley?” one man asked.

“Yes,” Orin said.

“And attacked the thieves?”


“Rikus would like to extend a personal invitation to the Council Chamber for you to compete for the mission outside of Tyr.”

“Could we wait until after breakfast?” Ran asked.

“Of course,” the man said. “I wouldn’t wait too long though. You might miss out on this opportunity.”

The men turned and left.

“Kai?” Varthir called.

The girl came over. He asked for something to carry the meat away in.

“I hate you so much,” she muttered.

“You do not,” he replied.

She walked away and returned with a large, wicker basket. He thanked her and she returned with a smaller, wicker basket that had six separate compartments, each large enough for a carafe of wine. They loaded up the food and drink and headed out of the tavern. Varthir sold some of the meat on the way and they ate the rest of the meat and drank the rest of the wine as they walked to the palace.

The Council chambers were located in the Golden Tower. When they arrived, they were directed to the meeting hall of the OverCouncil. There, they met with three members of the Council: the mul gladiator Rikus, the half-elf preserver Sadira, and the dwarf warrior Gar Bonehammer. The mission was fairly simple to outline but, they admitted, potentially impossible to complete. The Council wanted to set up a trade route between the pterran village of Lost Scale and the city-state of Tyr. To do that, someone had to find a route that could be used over and over again. The route needed to be direct and easy to negotiate so that cargo could be transported as expeditiously as possible. The group would take the pterran trader Ptellacc along on the mission. A secondary mission was to find the lost members of Ptellacc’s original expedition, but they were told they shouldn’t go out of their way to do it over the original goal. As part of the mission, the group was to make a map of the route from Tyr to Lost Scale, noting all relative landmarks and dangers so that future travelers could prepare themselves for the trip. Additionally, the map would be used by whichever merchant house, presumably House Vorden, got the contract to maintain the trade route so that it could set up outposts and forts at various locations.

The Council had narrowed down the mission to two groups. Their own group was one. To obtain the mission contract, they had to win a simple three-part contest against the other group. The other band featured a burley collection of warriors, a psionicist, a cleric, and a rogue. The contest would consist of a test of strength, a test of psionics, and a test of skill.

“Can I get sewn up first?” Ran asked.

“Rub some dirt in it and shut up,” Varthir said.

“There is a cleric in your party,” Rikus said.

“But he doesn’t actually heal anybody,” Ran said.

“He healed me once,” Varthir said.

“Words are wind,” Aeoleus said. “You must speak to be healed. You know that Ran.”

“I would be healed,” Orin said.

Aeoleus spoke magical words and blew a fragrant powder at the half-giant. Some of his wounds magically healed.

“Would you please heal me?” Ran asked.

The priest cast his spell on the man, though not many of his wounds healed.

“That’s what happens when you don’t ask very sincerely,” Varthir noted.

Ran thought about just killing the other group, and suggested it to his friends. Varthir countered by suggesting all of the warriors get into a big pit and fight to the death; whoever came out would rejoin him and Aeoleus and go. Orin put his hand on Ran’s shoulder.

“I wish you good health,” he said.

He tried to use his own psionic powers to transfer some of his own life to the man. Nothing happened, however.

Rikus, Sadira, and Gar Bonehammer oversaw the competitions and asked them to break into groups for the competition. For each competition, each side could assign at least one person and at most three persons.

The Test of Strength saw Orin, Ran, and Aeoleus against a big mul, a woman, and a man from the other team. It was a simple tug of war and each team received one end of a giant-hair rope. The test only lasted a few minutes with the three opposing warriors eventually pulling the rope further than they did. The other team won the first test.

The Test of Psionics put Orin, Ran, and Varthir against the other group’s psionicist and one of their warriors. Gar Bonehammer produced an obsidian egg carved from the smoothest, blackest glass. He noted that the egg had been prepared to react to mental ability and placed it on a line drawn in the floor, telling them that the test was of psionic strength, not power. He motioned for each group to stand 10 feet away and then will the egg to move towards their opponents. Whoever could move it closest to their opponent would be the winner.

“Let me clarify this,” Varthir said. “Whomever gets the egg closest to the other team wins?”

“It’s not about using psionic powers,” Gar reminded him. “But psionic strength.”

Varthir cast invisibility, then crossed to the egg, picked it up, dropped it in front of the other team and returned to his group. He turned visible again.

“We won,” he said.

“No,” Rikus said. “You must move it without touching it.”

“That wasn’t stated,” Varthir said. “You said it was a battle of the brains. I outsmarted the other team.”

“It isn’t about who is the smartest, but who has the most power,” Rikus went on. “We’re sending the best that we can. No.”

When told, those in each group stared at the egg. It rolled towards them a couple of feet, then back in their opponent’s direction, over the line and within five feet of them. It rolled two feet towards them again and then back almost to their opponents, finally rolling past them. Orin, Ran, and Varthir were declared them the winners.

The final test was the Test of Skill. That test consisted of each team working to complete a puzzle in the shortest time possible. Each team was given a set of carefully balanced blocks which they were then expected to discern the shape hidden within and the order in which to lay them, and then pile them in the proper order. Orin, Ran, and Varthir would be competing against the rogue and cleric of the other team.

Orin, Ran, and Varthir started off slowly, Orin dropping the blocks immediately. However, the other team ended up dropping their blocks when they were nearly finished and had to start all over. In the time that it took them to try to reset the blocks, Orin, Ran, and Varthir were able to finish their structure.

They received the contract to take the pterran ambassador and seek the route to Lost Scale.

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