After we left, part 6

It’s been a couple of days since I was able to write in this. I need to make a couple quick observations should this work serve others at some point in the future. The desert that feels like it is going to fry you like cheap meat at the local tavern through the day is downright bone chilling at night. And with a general lack of fuel for a campfire it has forced us to stay closer together than the three of us are comfortable with when we make camp for the night. It keeps us warmer than if we didn’t though so nobody really complains. There was a weird conversation about it on the first night and it was just not a thing after that. It’s just what we do.

Gnoman talks in his sleep. Different accents, voices and languages. I’m confident that one night he was speaking something demonic, but not speaking those languages myself I can only guess. I don’t question it or even say anything. I just accept it. He’s Gnoman, just like all the others that are Gnoman. His hair smells like burnt meat and honey. It makes me miss home.
Another thing we don’t talk about is our dependence on the worgs for survival. They patrol/hunt every night. We get their scraps. It’s not enough for us to live on forever, but it’s better than nothing. It’s usually mangled enough that we can’t tell what it was in life and they refuse to tell us. Which is a whole other thing. Apparently if you aren’t strong enough for them to fear you or respect you, they call you food. It’s a joke to them. They constantly insult us for not being dangerous predators. They also talk constantly to each other as though we aren’t there. Every once in awhile Gnoman will laugh at something they say, but when asked what was funny and he explains it doesn’t make sense to Shojin and I.

I was able to get them to call Shojin Jenny so maybe they aren’t that bad. The smell is though. They smell like a wet whorehouse filled with warm fresh shit. It is not a smell I’m getting used to and I fear the day that I do. I attribute most of this to their returning to camp covered in gore nightly from their hunts. They rarely eat in front of us but when they do there is no mistaking that they are wild beasts. It’s both awe inspiring and utterly disgusting. Tearing flesh from… something. Eagerly licking their lips of whatever blood and other juices is left there. I look forward to never having to watch them again.

The best thing I can say about that trio is that they are fiercely loyal. To each other at least. They regard us only slightly better than they do humans which they view as something, according to them, so beneath them that they are only food should nothing else be available. This is apparently the highest insult amongst their kind.

The only thing that lets us know we’re heading in the right direction are the sunrise and sunset. We know we’re heading due south. Every night I pray to the lady and hope that she shows me something, anything that lets me know that we are heading in the right direction but so far if I am having any dreams I don’t remember them when I wake. Shojin has been dreaming about his mom most nights. I think it’s sweet and I’ve tried to talk to him about it but it’s something he’s not really wanting to talk about. I can tell it makes him sad but I don’t press.

Every night when we make camp, Gnoman does something he calls Caw Ta’s. He moves his body like he would in a fight but much slower. It’s all very deliberate and beautiful to watch. He said it helps him keep centered and “stay in tune with me”. I have no idea what that even means, but on the third night of this I asked if he would teach me. The lack of a real scrap was getting me a little squirrely and so I figured I could use the opportunity to stay on task. I talked Shojin into it as well and it felt good for the three of us to do this together.

All in all, it feels like the solitude of the desert is bringing us together.

After we left, part 5

No sooner had we shut the door than there came a scratching upon it. And growls. So initially we decided to just move some of the rubble in front of the massive double doors with the thought being that it should hold until morning at least. And it appeared to. Nothing attempted to force entry into the outside.

There were some noises though from deeper into what we suspected was a tomb. So, you know, cool. I sent one of the birds to check for a source to the noise deeper inside, but there was no light so they couldn’t find anything of note, other than a tunnel that was collapsed, so there wasn’t a whole lot of investigating that could be done deep inside this place which was fine because we didn’t have much time for any sort of a respite before there came a series of three sharp raps on the doors to the outside. Initially we ignored it and nothing came of it.

The darker recesses of the room we were in, upon further inspection were littered with remains. Bodies of various sizes and in various states of decay. Mostly humanoid, but some, the fresher ones had arms that appeared to end in blades.

The knocking on the door again. This time accompanied by a muffled voice none of us could make out. Gnoman moved closer to the door to try and get a better vantage should the voice speak again.

Then came the howling as if from a pack of wolves. Again though, muffled by the doors.

Eventually though, our waiting was rewarded. The voice called out again. It worked out that Gnoman was at the door, he was the only one who could translate what was said.

Apparently a goblin warchief called Bloodtusk was informing us that we were in his territory and our choices were to pay a usage fee for travelling in this part of his domain, or face his wrath.

Being not in the mood for a fight, Jenny and I agreed that we should try and find a nonviolent solution. So negotiations ensued. I heard both Gnoman and a chorus of voices on the outside erupt into laughter at one point so I assumed that everything was going well. When asked what was so funny, Gnoman said it didn’t translate well into the common tongue from Goblin and proceeded to say something about the blood of the innocent and bathing in a puddle of piss. Yeah, I didn’t get it.

When it was all said and done, Gnoman had gotten us mounts for the next fortnight as well as assurances that we would be left unaccosted for the duration of our time in the warchief’s domain.

Completion of the deal did require opening the door though, and this… war band… was a sight to behold.

There were a dozen or so goblins of various sizes and it was clear who the leader was. The goblin in front with the bloody tusk emblazoned upon his leather armor. He stood fully a head shorter than any of the others in his group. Respect for the small.

It turned out that mount was a somewhat loose term and that we would be riding on Worgs. Jenny had a slight frame and I’m not big so we got fairly standard looking ones. Gnoman’s though, was a thing of nightmares, and thing is an accurate descriptor for the trundling and massive beast that seemed to peel itself away from the darkness. It growled from somewhere deep inside it’s chest, and spoke because apparently Worgs can speak.

“Sleep, food. We leave at first light.” The other two laughed at this.

Blood tusk and his group stayed for the remainder of the night and they weren’t so bad once you got to talking with them. Jenny loved his group’s cooking, but it looked like people stew so I politely declined. They did give us a few days worth of food when they finally departed though.

And in the morning we set out south once more, but not until after what felt like hours of watching Gnoman slowly sweep his arms though the air collecting the ambient moisture into canteens for us all, mounts included. He said he’d do this as needed on our journey, for which I was thankful. We’d never bothered to stock up for any kind of actual duration on this journey through the desert. Crap.

After we left, part 4

I woke up in a strange place today. Strange in that I don’t remember getting to where we currently are. The forest is nowhere on any horizon. Gnoman and Shojin seemed pleased that I was finally awake. I came to find out that Shojin had woken up a day prior. The last week is mostly a blurred blank. I can remember bits and pieces of what happened but I had to rely on Shojin and Gnoman to fill in the blanks. So a lot of this is going to be based on what they told me and for some of it I just have to hope they weren’t screwing with me.

The day after my last entry we began towards the forest as we had for the days prior, but as we got closer a few things became clear, the land under and around the forest was barren of any greenery which would make sense if there was no light hitting the ground I guess. At our closest point to the tree a couple things became clear.

There was some kind of weird fruit on the ground that looked safe enough but when I tried to eat one Gnoman moved faster than should have been possible to smack it out of my hand. He didn’t know why we shouldn’t eat it, only that something inside him said it wasn’t safe. I’ve traveled with one Gnoman or another for a while now so I had no reason not to trust him. It looked pretty yum though. I slipped a few into my pack for… further study.

Beyond all that though something was wrong. Wrong with the forest. Wrong with the ground. And soon enough, wrong with me.

The forest wasn’t a forest as much as it first appeared, but was apparently just a single tree, gnarled and so much bigger than simply massive would even begin to describe. It made no sense how a single tree could get this big, but there is so much in this world that I do not understand I just accepted it for what it was.

The ground around the tree looked dry at first glance but it was something more. It was almost blighted in how it looked. Almost as if poisoned by something. It was also so littered with white sticks that it was hard to even see the ground around the base of the canopy. But it was clear that there were no sticks underneath it. As we continued closer it became clear that it wasn’t sticks but rather bones of varying sizes. The most prominent among them looked like some kind of humanoid with a skull that looked very much like a bull, only they were my size. And that was all we saw in both directions around the tree as far as we could see.

At this point we stopped moving closer to the tree. I guess as we’d been advancing Shojin was concerned about my behavior because I just started carrying on full conversations with both my birds and the Raven Queen.

As we started to make our way around the tree now, and I am only guessing at this point, our proximity to whatever malevolence is housed within it and I collapsed as we were making our way towards the seashore to circle around this monolithic tree.

I vaguely remember seeing a boat on the horizon I think. Small and swift as it glided across the waves.

After I was out I guess they initially tried to wake me and when that didn’t work they took turns carrying me. Gnoman seemed to know what needed to happen for us to survive and it appeared that the longer he was near the tree his strength was almost bolstered. That plan worked for a solid day before Shojin started getting weird. He spent most of the day talking to his mom and someone named Michael. It made me sad to hear about that because I wasn’t there for him when he could have used me. He’d never talked about a Michael before. Must have been from his time before we met.

Gnoman seems to be no stranger to loss, though it’s losses he doesn’t talk about, or can’t maybe, but it’s made him kind of wise. He was at least able to keep Shojin going in the right direction and he carried me. As they were making camp on the fourth day is when everything went sideways. Shojin was becoming more and more agitated as the evening wore on and as they were eating he threw his food down and charged toward the tree screaming some incomprehensible gibberish. Gnoman had to tackle him knock him out and tied him up to not have to go through that again. He had some pretty nasty rope burns on his wrists.

Gnoman could have just left us at this point. We were both useless for anything but taking up space at that point. But he didn’t, and I’m grateful for his compassion and tenacity here. He was able to fashion a stretcher of sorts and for a quiet day he drug us behind him.

After being out for all of the fifth day, Shojin started to come back to consciousness but was still out of it a bit at first. With the tree finally somewhat behind them and distance increasing his senses slowly returned throughout the sixth day. And so tree at their back and the southern desert Gnoman ahead of them they pressed on, again taking turns carrying me.

On the sixth night, they heard howls carrying on the cold desert wind but nothing came of it, at least not that night.

They continued travelling south as scrubby grassland gave way to sand. So much sand. And still they travelled on, which was honestly stupid. I was the only one who had any idea where we were heading and I was not conscious at that point. I guess they were just hoping that I’d wake up.

As they worked their way south they came across something in the sand. The sand had a crust of what they believed to be blood in the shape of a tusk. It was easily eight or nine feet long. Having no idea what it was or meant, they just kept moving.

As dusk started to roll in I started to rouse and that brings us back to the present. I don’t remember any of what was happening in the world around me while I was out but I did have a crazy dream. It was probably just a fever dream, but it marks the third time I have dreamt of dinosaurs. But this time the great lizard had a rider. A newborn baby with light projecting from his eyes. I don’t tell the boys about any of this.

And the man. Always the man. Why wouldn’t he just move.

As we took shelter from the night winds behind a large hill we saw something shimmer in the darkness. It looked like gold. After a little digging we found that it was a giant door. It took us several hours to clear enough sand to be able to get either of what were massive doors open. They were so worn by time and windswept sand that it was impossible to see what was carved on their doors but it was probably quite beautiful in its time. I can’t shake the notion that I have seen this place before, but I know I’ve never been here before.

There are howls on the wind which the boys say are the same as the past last night. Prevailing theory is that something is stalking us. We decided to take refuge in whatever this place until at least morning. But I mean hey, if we’re here already, might as well look around.

After we left, part 3

After the last few days I thought that I was prepared for anything. But as I sit here in camp, exhausted from the events of the day I think I was wrong. This morning I was greeted by something I was entirely unprepared for.

As we were preparing to break camp this morning, it seemed strange that Gnoman had not gotten up when Shojin and I did. After checking, it became clear that he wasn’t breathing. That bothered me. I’ve seen Gnoman die before, well a Gnoman anyways, but not one that had travelled with me. I never expected Gnoman to go in his sleep. That seemed almost antithetical to who and what he was. Shojin and I spent most of the rest of the morning digging a shallow grave and finding enough rocks to cover it. We said a few words and as we were gathering our things to leave we heard a noise behind us, turning to find Gnoman.

Now it clearly couldn’t have been the one we’d been with. His dress was different and he had an almost feral quality to him. Like the rage was almost more than his form could contain. His greeting was like that of a madman, sharp and almost a scream.

But as Shojin and I are so wont to do, we just followed our routines that came to Gnoman and we were once again heading south.

We broke for lunch later than normal due to the delays of the morning, but we were hungry so it made sense. As we were about to start back on the road south, we were beset by a raiding party. They were too numerous to count, but the one thing that stood out was that they were all human men. They claimed the reason they were planning to rob us was that we weren’t. Anything we had acquired on our adventures were things we were not fit to own. “Our kind” didn’t deserve them. We weren’t pure enough.

New Gnoman… vehemently and violently disagreed with that assessment. He’d decapitated two before they even knew it was to be a fight and three more just after the fight began proper. After what felt like an hour fighting these racist garbage people I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could fight anyone else if my life depended on it.

Shojin looked like he’d been on the receiving end of a right proper ass whipping, but that was his normal post fight look after all. Gnoman was on his back propped up on one of the decapitated men. His breath had this raspy rattle sound to it and blood was pooling underneath him from some wound we couldn’t see. As we moved to try and help him he stopped us.

“It’s my time”, he said.

It was nearly time for dinner when we’d finished burying him. We may have only known him for part of a day but he died, even if unintentionally, protecting us. By and large, the Gnomans we have met seem to be good men deep down. We left the bandits in a pile by the side of the road. Let the critters feast. At least they would be good for something then.

We’d not made it maybe another hour down the road when we decided to break for dinner. We’d dug two graves and fought for our lives. It had been a pretty full day. As we were setting up what ended up being our camp for the night a person came walking up the hill beside the road. A slow leisurely sort of walk. The sun was at their back so we couldn’t see his face. All we could see as they approached was their somewhat loose clothing, and their hair being blown back over their shoulders in the breeze.

As they grew closer we could begin to hear the notes on the breeze of their playing a flute. It was catchy in its own way. They stopped playing long enough to wave when they were still a hundred or so yards off. So friendly, maybe?

It wasn’t until they were right on us that we were able to see the nearly ear to ear smile on the face of Gnoman. Happy, jovial and friendly. So not like any Gnoman we’ve known before. I was able to get him doing the Jenny thing so there is something to be said for that bit of consistency.

We told him of the day we’d had but left out the pair of Gnoman’s we’d encountered and travelled with. When we spoke of the battle in the afternoon, he got a sad look on his face. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that it always saddened him to hear of things turning to conflict.

Violence should only ever be a last resort he said. Something to be used after all options for a peaceful resolution have passed. It seemed like there was more to this, but it looked painful so we didn’t press.

Before we could even suggest it he had asked if he could travel with us because we seemed “interesting”. We of course accepted.

After the events of the day, I’m left with lots of questions. Why is this one different? Why are the rest of them so filled with rage? Is this one filled with the same rage, but he’s trying to be something else? Would we be burying him tomorrow? I hoped not. This one was weird, but he seemed like our kind of weird.

A peaceful Gnoman? Nope, was totally not prepared for that.

After we left, part 2

Alright, so it’s now been a little over a week since we left our friends. I don’t cry all the time but I still call Shojin Jenny. Something weird happened on the road heading south today. I saw something off the side of the road in the thick brush and trees.

“Jenny, what is that over there in the trees?”
“Please stop calling me that.”
“Jen-nay please.”
“I think it’s no man.”
“Ok, but what do you think it is?”
“Pretty sure it’s no man.”
“Sure, but what could it be?”
“The psychotic, amnesiac, sometimes friend we run around with. Gnoman.”
“Oh yeah, that makes more sense. Cause it totally looked like a man and you kept saying it wasn’t a man, but it really was a man. And it’s like the most murdery, manly man we know.”

We were not surprised when he didn’t know who we were. He was as surprised as he usually was that we knew who he was. As usual, he didn’t have any pressing business elsewhere so it felt good to have him travelling with us. Well maybe not better so much as just safer. He knows how to wreck shit and he never seems happier than in the chaos of battle.

The best part though is that since he didn’t remember us I was able to get him calling Shojin Jenny as well. Shojin is so pissed at me now.

But the mission hasn’t changed. We still think we’re looking for a ruined temple somewhere in the Golden Wastes. At least we think it’s there. It’s the only desert we know of on this continent. We have no idea what we’re going to find there. The dreams aren’t clear on that front.

I didn’t tell Shojin this but I woke up with The Egg in my arms today. I’m a little worried it’s the egg making me hold it, but it might be the lady trying to tell me something. She can be vague like that. Sometimes all I want is a straight damn answer. Did we even do the right thing leaving them? I’m constantly asking myself that.

Shojin made an observation today that really got me thinking. In all the time it took us to travel to Highbreeze from that Inn in Hammerfall we were accosted, distracted, abducted, and pursued over hill and dale at nearly every turn but we’ve made better time and encountered no obstacles since it became just the two, now three of us.

We’ve stayed somewhat clear of the road itself while still trying to keep it in sight since what happened with the horse cart guy. It’s still eating at me and I think it will for some time. I’ve killed before, and it feels like often, but that man wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was just trying to stop some “thieves” and it doesn’t matter that I was just trying to scare him. I killed an unarmed man in the street.

If I make it through what comes ahead, I’ll have to answer for that. I need to answer for it. “Actions have consequences”, my father used to tell me. I don’t know that I ever understood that before I rode off looking like a pickle. But I pushed these thoughts back when they come up. The mission has to come first.

As we moved into the afternoon we saw a shadow start growing on the horizon to fill our entire view in both directions. At first we thought it was a storm moving in from the south, which was weird because storms never came from the south. It wasn’t until we were getting ready to set up camp that we realized it was a massive forest, and by the gods now Shojin won’t shut up about trees.

I wanted to be upset when Gnoman finally punched him on the chin, but the quiet that followed once he’d been knocked out was a welcome relief. Just in case I sent Huginn and Muninn off to get a closer look and report back and now I think the Lady is having some fun with me.

They showed me what they saw and it made no sense. It just simply wasn’t possible. Whatever the forest was it was not nearly as close at it appeared. It was just simply massive. We’d get a better look at things tomorrow and possibly the next day, but something was off about the whole thing.

Gnoman caught me checking on the egg before I bedded down for the night. He said that it looked valuable. I told him simply that beyond measure. It stirred a bit under my touch. I still wasn’t sure what would happen if it hatched, but I hoped that the lady would show me the path forward with it. Maybe it would be a path to redemption, but I’m not sure I deserve it. We’ve talked about it as we walked and Shojin said that everyone deserves a second chance.

But there are some wrongs that can’t be righted. The man was just doing his job. Dammit, I don’t even know his name. He’s just the man that wouldn’t move.

I was awakened by one of the birds just as I started to have a dream that I think came from the Lady. I was dreaming of mountains and the sea and a little island that looked sort of familiar, but somehow also foreign.

I found the following note in Munnin’s beak.


Focus Violet. Focus. The destination may be shrouded in mystery but you cannot lose sight of it. Not until you know just what is at stake. So suck it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself.

It was in my handwriting.

After we left, part 1

From the time we heard the door click behind us and Z asking what was going on until we stopped to have something that could pass for a meal I had trouble stopping myself from crying. I so badly wanted to say goodbye. It felt wrong not being able to say anything to my friends about the Journey Shojin and I would be undertaking, not that it mattered because between the two of us all we really had was a basic geographic direction and a vague idea of a building we were looking for. 

South.

Ancient Temple.

We trusted those guiding us would give us something more to go on as we neared our destination, but we knew it was going to be some time before we reached it on foot. We also replayed the prior days events. I felt really bad about killing the man who owned the cart place and when we were back this way I would try to find some way to make it right. 

It seems like whenever Shojin and I are at our best, we cock up the plan and people die. I don’t think this is what the Lady wants me to do and I doubt whatever it is that Shojin now sees would want that from him. We try to be good people. We really do. Chaos just seems to manifest when we are around. 

Also, Shojin is an ass. Once I was finally able to compose myself I thought of something that would help get me over missing my friends and was only at most a week out of the way from where we were going. Ok, maybe it would have been more like three weeks, but still. He was having none of it. 

I said, “Shojin, it will truly make me feel better.”

And he said, “No time, Payday.”

So I said, “Shojin, it will distract me from missing our friends.”

And he said, “I can appreciate that Payday but we don’t have time.”

So I said, “Shojin, it will only be a short detour.”

And he said, “Payday, I know you. It will be at least a month. We cannot afford that delay.”

So I said, “Shojin, look into your eyes,” (I put on his face) ,”and deny yourself.”

So he looked visibly disturbed and said, “Payday, that’s really creepy, please stop. What you are suggesting now is weird and not even something I’d be into.”

So I said, “Shojin, if you truly cared about my mental health we would do this.”

So he said, “Payday, you are acting like a child now. We do not have the time.”

So I stamped my foot like a proper lady and proceeded to cuss him up one side down the other and called him everything but a half-orc.

But he was right. We didn’t have the time. I would just have to hope that I lived long enough to make it back to Dillard so I could see Clever again someday. 

Shojin wasn’t just an ass but he was a dumbass. For some reason, and he did try to explain the logic as to why, above and beyond the pile of loot we’d come across he left a bunch of his personal stuff behind. Some made sense, like his cloak. The stuff he left in the bag with no instructions or notes for the girls on how to find it, not so much. 

The one thing I refused to leave was egg we’d found when searching for Shojin after he was taken. It was likely near priceless to the right collector, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave it in anyone’s care but my own. It feels deep down like my future and the egg are tied together, but maybe that is wishful thinking. It’s probably just the guilt I feel over destroying all the other probably corrupted ones. 

Damn, I cocked that up without Shojin even being there. I don’t think I’m very good at this whole adventurer thing. But I’m trying. Every day I’m trying. I want to be better. I need to be better. 

And with Shojin at my side maybe I can be. Maybe we can be, but I worry we don’t have enough time. 

Of course I don’t even know if the dragon inside is still alive or what I will do if it hatches, but we’ll figure it out. It’s what we do. Maybe another pet? Maybe we need it to stop what we both fear is coming.

Side note, Shojin hates it when I call him Jenny. So I will only call him that moving forward. At least it helps take my mind off of missing our friends. I think he knows that.

Part 59-61 – A Crossroads

I am so sick of running. All we ever do is run from everything. After a couple hours it became clear that we weren’t being pursued and as the day came to a close but before the darkness overtook us, Fayne and Shojin went off into the woods to hunt something we could eat while Z, Ezrella and I set up a bit of a camp. 

Eventually they came back with a deer and Shojin looked like he got his ass kicked again. I would later find out that the ass kicking came from trees. Not like moving sentient trees or anything, but just regular trees. He is just straight up clumsy.

The night passed uneventfully although when it came time for our watch, Shojin and I exchanged the story of the dreams we’d had before our watch and that’s when it got weird. Aside from some minor trappings, it was essentially the same dream. All hot and sun and sand. It meant something. It had to. We kept it to ourselves because by the time we’d finished talking about it we found that our time on watch was coming to a close and it was nearing time to break camp and be on our way. 

Apparently we’d only needed to travel a little farther to see it. On the edge of our field of view there was what looked like a model town with such detail it was nothing but impressive from where we were. I wondered aloud how small the inhabitants must be. This was when it was pointed out that it was actually quite far away, and must, based on our direction and rate of travel be Highbreeze at last. 

Between where we were and where we were going there was a small village. Well more of a crossroads really that the road passed through. We got some strange looks when we came into town and then we did what we always do and somehow cock things up with a half baked plan. 

Shojin and I would pursue some means of speedy transport while the Elves just kind of meandered about the village. Somehow pursuing transport ended with us effectively horse thieves and meandering about the town ended with Z and Ezrella passed out in the tavern with Fayne throwing them back in the bar while the simple folk were pawing at the bear and calling it a pretty puppy. 

Due to the way we had worked on getting the horses and a wagon I couldn’t show my face in the tavern because there were people who would recognize me. I eventually found myself wearing the face of an elvish child between the kilted legs of the man attempting to pick up Fayne at the bar. I played like I was her kid and spooked the guy off. I let her know that we needed to run and that things had gone the way they do for us, nothing but pear shaped. 

She was not immediately on board with this, but time was a commodity we did not have in abundance so I went to find out what was up with the other two and finding them passed out worked enthusiastically to wake them up. For Ezrella I made something that stank appear in my hand and for Z I just smacked her across the face. Repeatedly. And once for good measure after she started to stir. Had to be sure after all.

I gave them the short version of our garbage horse thief plan and we were about to make our way out to what was apparently a Shojin waiting outside when he came crashing in and I saw them. Three random guys all emblazoned with the same random flaming eye symbol as the men who had taken Shojin and he was engaging them in solo combat. Time to try and save the day. 

After we dispatched the first two the third ran like a punk with Shojin and Fayne giving chase. They lost him in the alley that ran behind the building we were in and I found my way to the cart we were in the process of stealing. As everyone was finally, slowly making their way to the cart, the man who I can only surmise actually owned the horses and cart attempted to block our path. 

I tried to convince him that we had left money and that he could find the horses on the outskirts of Highbreeze proper, but wasn’t having any of that. When negotiating failed I tried to threaten him. How threatening is a child really? In my case, not that much. I cast a spell I was still figuring out just behind him at the ground, but I misjudged the distance. As we rode off I wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead, but I gave a quick prayer to my lady and asked for her to help him, if not to live, than to pass peacefully. He didn’t deserve what had happened to him. 

In my fear of being seen as a killer as we rode out of town, I slid into the look of the first thing that came to mind so I looked like me, but in a pickle costume as we rode out of town. That may not have been the most inconspicuous look we could have gone for, but it worked I guess.

We rode on for a bit and finally abandoned the wagon about two thirds the way to Highbreeze. We walked on and found ourselves outside an inn that also had a tavern. I just wanted a peaceful night not looking over our shoulders so I rented out the tavern for the night and all the rentable rooms for five days. I overpaid for everything but I didn’t care. We may not have earned it, but we definitely needed it. When it was finally time to turn in I asked Shojin to stay up for one more drink and one drink turned into a lot of drinks but it was then that we decided what had to be done. We left a bit of a care package in our room with a note (see below) and we gave the man working the tavern some more gold to ensure that it was all delivered.

I cried as the door to the inn shut behind us, but we had to do it. I just hoped that they wouldn’t hate us for running off in the night. We just couldn’t do the farewells and I knew deep down that we would meet again. Or at least I hoped we would. 

Fayne, 

So the Lady showed me something last night. Shojin saw the same things in his own dream. It has to mean something and we think it’s connected to the bond that we both share with our own mortality. We have something we need to check out. Something old and something likely very dangerous. I’m sorry we left without a proper goodbye and I hope you can forgive me. Just know that this is not the end. We will return but we need answers and it isn’t fair to make you help us literally chase our foolish half dead dreams. We need to do this on our own. We’ll send word to you when and if we can. Just keep following your path. I know there is greatness in you both and I don’t need the lady or her dreams to tell me that. This is going to sound hypocritical in the face of this letter, but there is strength in numbers. Stick together and you can overcome anything in your path. 

Despite her travels from across the world you know more of the world than Ezrella, Please look after her until we return. 

Tell that traitorous possessed bitch Z, if she continues down a path of blind devotion to a jealous god she will lose the only friends she has and die alone in a grave of her own digging. L cannot possibly want her clearly loyal servant to alienate the only people who have tried to help her on her journey. A dead servant is no use to a cause no matter how powerful she seems. Maybe remind her that standing alone on top of a pile of bodies is still standing alone. 

I leave you with a final thought, that there is a strength in friendship and that can help you  through even the darkest times and if our dreams are right then some dark and ugly times are coming for all of us.

So until we meet again… later bitches,

Payday

PS: Remember Loille, my mount deserves better.

Part 56-58 “A home of sorts…”

So as we were sitting down to breakfast Shojin finally stopped being an ass and screwing around with his stupid new bag long enough try and start something with Z. There was food thrown and threats and some spells. It was the usual sort of family crap we would get up to. I enjoyed it more than words can properly express. Except for the fact that Shojin just didn’t seem to care about anything other than being stuffed up to his shoulder into that bag. I got fed up with all the crap by the end of the meal and decided to just walk around the property. If this was going to be our new home, even for a little while, I wanted to have a solid lay of the land. Plus, it only seemed fair that since I made the food someone else could clean up the dishes and stuff.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped outside was that Gnoman was gone. It wasn’t all that surprising. This had been the longest he’d traveled with us and I was really just waiting to see how long it took before we lost him again. I hope he is able to find peace. It seems like all he knows is death.

I wasn’t paying the closest of attention to things as I walked from random feature to random feature on this farm. From the well near the house or the stream still overflowing from all of the recent rain and the pond in the middle of the property to the barn and the high weeds along the forested edge of the property. Well, stream, pond. Well, stream, pond. There was something not right about all of that but it just wasn’t coming into focus. Just seemed like a lot of water.

I decided to make my way across the stream, which for me might as well have been a river since it came up to my waist. It was fast moving and cold, which kinda felt good. I thought I might get swept away, and thought that would be a ridiculous way to meet my end. But then I got to the other side and thought about jumping in, floating away and hoping for the best.

I was just wandering around messing around with a stupid little spell I’m always casting, just trying to test the limits of what I can get it to do and I’d made a hollow metal cylinder that fit in my hand. Curious about how it would hold up, I dropped it to the ground and kicked it. It gave a very satisfying hollow, sound and that’s when I saw them at the edge of the trees, roughly a dozen deer. Well sort of some kind of monster deer. Just big and gross looking. I bet Shojin would eat them raw. As I saw them, they saw me. Awesome.

As some of them moved across the open ground in an attempt to confront me, I made a simple bell like thing to try and distract them away, which did not work. Good to know for future encounters. The stream was too deep for me to easily ford and I was essentially surrounded by either locked outbuildings on this farm or forest I was unfamiliar with. Good thing I’m small.

I achieved a tactically stealthy position in some tall grass and just hoped I was downwind from them, hoping that would help me avoid an unnecessary encounter by myself in the yard. As it happened, I was not downwind so I didn’t have much of a choice.

Eventually Fayne heard the commotion and between the two of us, with some timely intervention from Shojin we dispatched the beasts. Shojin looked like he’d been rolled down and I’d come to find out that there was some sort of basement structure consisting of a tunnel that led to the dry well and stairs leading into the dining room of the home. What weird shit were these people into?

Shojin now had some crazy dream about setting up a smoker and I was well and truly pissed because he didn’t seem to understand anything that I was going through or that his friends had gone through quite a lot to find and recover him safely. We did that right and we don’t do much right.

I followed him down into the underground tunnels and as he was trying to explain his grand plans for a smoker for the meat I tried to punch him in the crotch. I was so mad that my emotions made me miss, but I finally had his undivided attention.

I unloaded on him about what it meant to lose him and my growth while he was gone and what it finally meant to find him again. I get it, dying or at the very least coming so close that there isn’t much of a difference changes you. But I needed to get him to understand and he just wasn’t. So I slipped into his face the way I’ve done so many times now and explained to him that the face he was seeing was the reason I was angry and why I saved those half orcs, and why we slayed that dragon, because dammit we slayed a dragon and why we tracked his lanky ass through hill and glade for days just hoping to get him back. I told him that I love him like a brother and I’ll stand with him until the end, but he has to give me something to work with. And then I gave him a hug and I wasn’t really paying attention to which one of my birds decided to be a jerk and say there were too many feels.

My issue resolved, we decided to explore the cavern and see what we could see. Eventually we came to a corner and just past it was a doorway. We couldn’t get any closer due to the dog guarding the doorway. It was big and ferocious and smoke slowly rolled from its between the teeth in its massive mouth.

Shojin made a noise in the path behind me and the dog charged us and it was around that time that another lady like the one we’d fought earlier in the day came through doorway. Maybe they were sisters? By the gods, but we were so ineffective and the lady and her dog kicked the ever loving hell out of us and that is factoring in that at some Z and Fayne ended up down there trying to help. Ezrella was doing dishes or some crap. She’s just so precious some times.

Eventually it came time to make a judgment call that we were not going to survive if we continued this battle, so I ran. I yelled for everyone to follow me and as I ran through the dining room of the house I set the bookshelves on fire yelled for others to do the same. The hope was that the fire would help deter them from following us.

Whether it was that or something else, we were not pursued as we ran from the burning house. As we ran off into the afternoon sun as we’ve run off so many times before all I could think was that at least it wasn’t raining. That had to be something.

Part 44-47 “Midnight Run”

As the rain was coming down around us harder and harder we made our way to take shelter in what we took to be the officers quarters, even though the fightin had exploded a pretty big chunk of the building. I grabbed the whistle and clipboard from the bitch who caused us problems all that time ago in Dillard. It felt good to know he couldn’t trouble us any longer. As we entered and Shojin was conferring with the old man, I noticed that Gnoman was not with us, but I never really believed he’d be with us for the long haul. I knew he was just with us so long as our interests intersected. And harder and harder the rains fell. A search found nothing worthwhile except some stoves for warmth and as we were getting a fire started to ride out the storm in relative comfort a cry rang out.

“Help, help, I am being oppressed!”

It sounded like Gnoman was in trouble so I didn’t give it a second thought and head out the door in the direction the cry had come from. Across the small footbridge and around the quartermaster building. As we rounded the corner, Gnoman was on the ground and surrounded by four of the guards from the camp who likely came back in an attempt to get out worsening weather themselves.

We engaged with them and it was less than impressive because they were quite strong. The entire event hinged on Fayne firing the one magical arrow in her quiver that never seemed to have any effect at one of the guards with the end result being he was transformed into a falcon. Shojin promptly put it to sleep and threw it into the creek that was swiftly becoming a roaring rain fueled river. Eventually we were victorious and that was about when the small bridge we’d crossed got washed away. So we needed to find alternative shelter, but first The rest of us did a quick search of the quartermaster’s building and found Shojin’s boar hide cloak and some other bits and bobs.

While we were doing that, Shojin went back to the pen he’d been kept in and just threw himself down onto the floor. We were prepared to leave him there for the night but a survey of the sky gave me the thought that this was not going to just blow over and we needed to move, possibly to the tree stands that surrounded the camp. I forced Shojin to get up and move with us returning all of his gear that I was still carrying and before we could make our way to the tree stands we took a brief respite in the nearest building. And that was when we saw her.

A very pretty lady soaking wet and just slowly walking in the rain and it appeared that she was looking for something. As she got closer to where we were hidden it became clear that she wasn’t walking so much as floating just above the water, and something was just off with the whole look of her. Fayne tried to do something thought it wasn’t entirely clear what and the lady changed. Her entire look just changed to that of something withered and word and maybe a little dead and she looked like a right proper hag. And there was something, obscured by the gathering darkness and the intensifying rain, following behind her. Shojin threw another card out into the gathered water and it started to drift away but it was a brief distraction and we used that moment to run as fast and as far as we could.

Into the trees we ran putting more distance between us and them as we went. I chanced a look as we went and could not understand what the thing travelling with the lady was. It looked like one of the guards but also like Gnoman, but the both of them just sort of smashed together into one big, ugly, lumbering thing. And it looked like it could kill us with a minimum of effort. Yeah, definitely part Gnoman. So we ran, and we ran all through the night.

As the light of a new dawn broke so too did the storm and we found ourselves walking up what appeared to be an overgrown walkway or disused path. Somewhere along the way Shojin had acquired another falcon and he was, I don’t know, abusing it maybe. He had the poor thing by the neck just in front of his face and he was whispering some sort of gibberish at it and throwing it to go investigate much as I used my ravens. I couldn’t tell if nearly dying had driven him a little mad, it did when it happened to me, or if he was maybe changed more than I knew. I’d already seen him do some new magic and I’d given him my sword earlier in the evening when I returned his cloak to him.

Exhausted and soaking wet we rounded a bend and found ourselves before a small farmhouse. Shojin offered to scout with his new animal friend and again grabbed that poor bird by its neck shook it threw it into the door of the building after which he very proudly proclaimed that the door was closed. Had his near death experience was making him act stupid.

When we had finally made our way inside we discovered that the place was nice little country cottage and had only recently been lived in. The table was still set and the fireplace had only recently gone out and still had a hint of warmth to it. As we were searching in the vicinity of the table we noticed an overturned chair. Just beyond the chair was the body of what we could only imagine was the homes owner, complete with a hole in his chest where his heart should have been.

Z had a wicked grin as she crouched over the body and growled something out. The man opened milky eyes and began to stir and after a short while was upright again. Z gave him some instructions and told us he’d be watching the door. We were all so bone weary it sounded like a perfectly passable idea. We found some wood and stoked up the fire and made our way to loft above it. We all just crashed out at various places around the room and I took the middle of the big bed. Fayne and Ezrella curled up around me and we slept a much deserved sleep.

Until the undead homeowner woke Z up.

And we learned that there was perhaps another homeowner in the form of the lady that had been pursuing us and the thing that was travelling with her. As we all scrambled to get our gear, the monstrosity was pounding at the door frame trying to get at us. In the lady’s hand was a heart, which explained some things. We scrambled and struggled to deal with the lady and keep the big thing away from us, and eventually the lady got pushed over the edge of the balcony and she proceeded to just float there which added a complexity to the whole thing we’d not anticipated.

Gnoman focused his attention on the thing on the stairs which kept it off the rest of us, while well I don’t know what the others were doing. I was focused on the lady and eventually she fell to the floor below and didn’t move. Once she was dispatched the thing on the stairs just sort of fell apart into a pile of the parts that made it up.

Now my birds don’t eat but this was a big mess and I had an idea so I had them get to work on disposing of the remains while I made a breakfast for everyone. We found a magic bag on the lady and Shojin had the exuberance of a child as he was trying to figure out what was in it. I really wanted a quiet moment to talk with him and tell him how I felt and what he meant to me, but apparently that would have to wait. But it felt like for the first time since we started this journey, we were someplace safe and could finally just catch our breath for a bit.

Part 40-43 – A Friend Found

From where I was finally able to see him we found that we were almost directly beneath a platform in a tree with some competent looking guards. Brought back memories of when we dealt with goblins in trees and rescued the girl. Seemed like a bit of cosmic symmetry. So we backed up as quietly as we could and made our camp a short distance from where Shojin was being held in some weeds and brush that were taller than me, not that that says much. Then we waited. At first light I’d scout the camp from above and from there we would make our rescue plans. Fayne and Z were going to take watches, and coupled with my babies that should have been sufficient for all of us to get a decent night’s rest.

And I think she came to me again in the night. I had a weird dream of darkness and caves but it’s all hazy and I don’t remember much, but when I awoke I knew just how to make use of the pile of stuff we’d picked up in the orc village. It also suddenly occurred to me that we never got anyone’s names from that awful place. I hoped that they were doing alright and had made it home.

Also, Z was back looking like she was brimming over with nothing but darkness. So back to normal I guess. Her hammer looked different but in the best most terrible ways. Now at some point in the night I’d taken her stuff out my pack and I guess I pee’d on her holy symbol. I couldn’t remember why so I didn’t say anything. Just welcomed her back and gave her these gauntlets we’d gotten. I couldn’t rightly say what they did, but I worked my way around the group and had a couple items for everyone. It was always the same. Hand over one or two or in Gnoman’s case three things with some quick instructions. I also took one of the scrolls and asked her what color she wanted the flames, she looked as confused by my asking as I did in the asking. She said what she liked, I used the magics in the scroll and the head of her wicked hammer, that I was a little afraid of took on a sickly glow as they flames, flames I knew didn’t actually burn anything, surround the head and the light played off the big red gemstone that now adorned its top. It almost looked wet, which was weird.

Gnoman was given a sword, a potion and a scroll, but to the best of my knowledge he couldn’t use scrolls. The only thing I could say to him was you’ll know when to use it. For the lute-like thing I gave to Ezrella the instruction was simply play it and it does stuff. I also gave her a pile of gems because I’d heard somewhere that holy types needed those for bringing folks back from the lady’s door.

We’d also found a pack of what looked like playing cards, but I knew they were something much more interesting. At least I hoped they were. I kept those back for Shojin, because I just knew deep inside that maybe they’d work best for him.

I did a quick once over from the air of the camp and relayed everything I saw back to my companions. It was a large clearing with a not quite river cutting the camp almost in half. There were about six buildings but I dared not get closer and compromise our position in the woods. As I was coming back into towards our camp was when I fully caught sight of all the guard towers that surrounded the camp. Well damn, that added a wrinkle to all of this.

Once I was back Ezrella was still just strumming on the thing and with a smile said she had an idea and so she and I headed off closer to the camp to get a closer look at things. I took Shojins want and the tusk he kept tied in his hair along with the cards. I had no idea what if anything I could get to him but I knew I wanted to be prepared. As we moved like liquid shadows closer and closer towards the clearing ahead, it seemed like we narrowly missed a patrol, but try as we might we couldn’t figure out how we missed them. As we were still in the high weeds right at the edge of the clearing and near enough to see that Shojin was being made to chop down trees.

Ezrella strummed on her instrument and let out an audible gasp. Apparently she’d made me invisible. She is about the best thing that has happened to our group. She said she’d meet me back in camp and slipped off through the weeds. Seemed like she was at home amongst the high weeds and trees. I envied her that. I haven’t had a place like that in a really long time. The closest I’ve come in recent memory had nothing to do with the place and everything to do with the people. And then that got broken.

So if I was invisible I was going to make the most effective use of it. I made my way across the clearing, past guards, over, under and around obstacles, until finally I was near enough that I could reach out to touch him. At this point I saw that he was tethered to someone. They were working on the same project and the little guy was fetching stuff that Shojin needed for the next task.

I said something quietly that I hoped would not alert the nearby guards. He chuckled and that did get the guards attention, so he faked a coughing fit. Ok then, it was to be yes or no questions. Through a series of questions I’d learned that they kept him in one of the buildings across the camp. I’d also gotten him set for a jailbreak of sorts to take place in the evening. I also tucked the packet of cards into his waist and that was when the instructions came. Shuffle these as you can and just throw one when you find yourself out of options. He didn’t have any pockets so I couldn’t give him his wand, but I was able toss the tusk up into his open, billowy rags that comprised his shirt.

I made my way back to the group to let them know what I’d found out and we started making our way to the end of the camp with the buildings that would house prisoners. As we were moving through the brush quietly Z’s hammer caught on a dead log and pulled it down into the weeds next to us, which would not have been a problem were it not for the guards in the tree almost on top of us. They made some bird calls that were answered by another of the raised platforms and a group in the camp which proceeded to start heading our way.

As they got closer the guards in the tree shouted down what they heard and I knew I only had a moment to act. I made the invisible hand I’ve used to cause trouble from time to time and put it ground level with the fingers spread out. I moved it in a direction away from us in the hopes that the guards would think it a small animal, when I’d moved it to the edge of its range I just let the magic dissipate. The guards seemed sufficiently satisfied. I smiled. It felt like I was finally figuring myself out.

Time came for the workers in the camp to have dinner or go back to their cells, not sure which. Yes or no questions was maybe not the best idea. It really limited my options for understanding of what was going on. But no matter, as soon as Shojin was across the bridge he saw something that caused him to change the plan we’d worked out. He shrank before my eyes, dropped the bracer things he was wearing and as soon as they were gone, was back to normal size. He threw one of the cards from the pack I’d given him and it was on.

This 2 headed nasty looking ogre just sort of popped into being where the card landed. Clever boy. And that was when everything started popping off. As we hustled to make it to where Shojin was we had a decent distance to cover and he was under fire almost immediately. And then we saw ANOTHER FREAKING GNOMAN. Oh damn, I knew what it was like to have him on our side, but didn’t really want to deal with that. So many questions that I wanted answered, plus questions I didn’t even know how to ask. I’d revisit it later if I remembered.

Our Gnoman was suddenly wreathed in flames, quaffed the potion and stalked off to meet the guy he recognized. So it was to be Gnoman on Gnoman violence. This was going to be interesting, but there were so many people that we needed to deal with I wouldn’t be able to sit back and just enjoy the show.

Shojin was just path a bridge that was a couple hundred yards ahead of us. So we worked out way into the battle as only we can. Fayne was picking off people almost as fast as she could pull the string back on her bow. Ezrella brought out a unicorn to wreak some havoc. Not a real one mind you, but it was the form her spirit weapon took this time. I liked how she was changing it up but kept it on theme with every use.

I took potshots with my little hand crossbow as I closed the distance and had the birds help whoever looked to need it. And then I had an idea. The new trick that let me change my appearance, also changed the appearance of my clothes. I used that to make a pattern like the little bridge and hugged up against it as a bunch of guards came running through. Apparently I missed it when our Gnoman dispatched the other because he came running up covered in blood and fire with death burning in his eyes into the mass of guards. This right here was in line with the story we’d first heard of Gnoman. And by the gods it was the most beautiful and terrible thing that I had ever seen.

Apparently we’d made enough noise to attract attention from what had to be the officers barracks within this camp and a sound rang out that I recognized. A sharp whistled on the cooling air. Oh hell no. Through the doorway of the officers barracks stepped the familiar form from our time in Dillard. Whistle around his neck and clipboard in hand. We locked eyes from across the camp and I yelled out to him that I hoped he remembered my promise. He smiled and started throwing fireballs.

All throughout this there was an old man, the man that caught Shojin’s eye on his way back I would later find out. He was throwing around magick like it was nothing and with each spell he cast there was a golden spectral blade that appeared in his hand for a moment. Fireballs blasting into the various buildings. It was absolute chaos and things seemed to be turning in our favor. I hate it when it feels like we’re winning.

That was when the Dwarf in armor covered in spikes burst through the wall of building the whistle bitch had come out of and he was making for a beaten and bloodied Shojin. Before he got there, for good measure whistle bitch threw a fireball of his own right on top of Shojin, who went down. Ezrella brought him back. This back and forth with Shojin’s life went on for what felt like minutes as Gnoman charged across the open area to get his newest victim. But before he could get there the Dwarf dropped onto an already prone Shojin and proceeded to use the spikes on his armor to just start shredding the flesh of Shojin. I was too far away to do anything useful. I’d come all this way and this was how the rescue would end. With Shojin dead. As the dwarf was standing back up, he was met with Gnoman charging him and pushing him back.

Ezrella had directed some bit of the connection to her god into the Whistle Bitch’s face and he just crumpled to the ground in a heap. Small victory I guess. Felt hollow. But, there was the old man, who didn’t carry himself like an old man striding over to Shojin. From the distance I was I couldn’t hear what he said, but I saw him stick out his hand and Shojin rose back up from his position on the ground healed. I just smiled and cried a little. But that would have to wait as there were more guards coming. And so the battle raged on. Gnoman eventually dispatched the dwarf and set to on the guards while we were just doing what we could not die anymore. We’d had enough death amongst our ranks today. We were together again and this was not how our tale ended. As the dust settled and we saw all the dead all over the camp and the state of ourselves one thing was clear. We won. We saved him. It started to lightly rain, which was a good thing because some of the buildings were still on fire. Where in the hells was Fayne’s bear?