pathfinder: beyond the vale
Part 4: Kobolds and Spiders and Bears! (oh my)
Deldrin led Cirice to a small house near the Palisade, west of the gate. They were greeted by two… men, who took them inside the house. The house was twice as big as Cirice’s house had been and she thought it was rather decadent, although Deldrin seemed to regard the interior with a somewhat disdainful eye. She looked at the strangers. One was about a head shorter than she, and the smaller of the two was a head shorter even than him. She looked curiously between Deldrin, who was a head taller than Cirice, and the two strangers noting their difference in heights.
The taller was perhaps a dwarf, he was broad and quite stocky but rather than being heavily bearded and covered in coal dust as she might have expected from her reading, his beard was neatly trimmed and had pretty braids in it, his hair was clean and brushed and his clothes were… nice, with complimentary colours and a floral brocade pattern. He gently took her hand and when he smiled, she saw a glint in his eye. “Duriel” he said with a softer voice than she expected.
The other, smaller man wore a leaf for a hat and was dressed all in green. His voice was a little high pitched and she had to bend down to look into his face as she shook his hand. His handshake was firm for such a little hand. “Garren” he said, “pleased to meet you”.
“Are you a gnome?” she asked. He looked a little hurt but brightened quickly. “No! I’m a halfling”.
“Oh! Sorry.” She said, her hand covering her mouth. “No offence intended” Apparently none was taken.
She heard a huff from the corner of the room and realised that a young bear was nestled there among the Halflings belongings. She immediately charged over to greet the creature. Ruffling its hair and scratching it behind the ears as Deldrin’s alarm grew. Eventually she hugged the great perplexed beast but couldn’t get her arms all the way around its great furry body.
“Don’t worry, Deldrin” said Garren brightly. “He only hurts people when I tell him to.”
Cirice finally joined the others at the kitchen table, breathlessly brushing fur from her clothes and trying to tidy her messy hair. She related the events of the previous night, the attack by sprites, the blue crystalline one that was more malevolent and spoke of a mistress who wished the humans gone, or killed, Gorvo, the horned creature with a lower half like the back legs and tail of a horse who had led her to safety at the edge of the forest (the consensus was that he must be a Satyr).
Apparently, the aftermath of the attack that Gorvo and she had come upon had been a terrible massacre and many men, woodcutters, had been killed by the sprites. Duriel had been working as an enforcer, protecting the woodcutters in case of attack. He had fought valiantly but had been forced to play dead and hide under the wagon until the fey had departed.
When he emerged, he said, he had seen Gorvo’s hoof prints and so Cirice realised he must have been hiding there when she and Gorvo had been there. Bravely, Duriel had returned alone, to Falcon’s Hollow to report what had happened to the men of the woodcutter’s camp.
Deldrin stood. “I’ll go and speak to Payden. He’ll want to know about all of this. I’ll be in touch.” He headed for the door and gave a friendly little wave as he passed out into the street outside.
“I’m hungry” said Cirice, thinking out loud. She was almost surprised when Garren and Duriel indicated that they were too.
“There’s a tavern that serves flapjacks I’m told”. Said Garren. “What’s flapjacks?” replied Cirice.
They decided to go and find out.
The Tavern was called the Jak’o’Napes and they were welcomed by Jak the proprietor. Jak was an enormous bear of a man whose stature was matched only by his friendliness. He led them to a table. “Flapjacks please” said Cirice eagerly. “…and Beer. Do you have beer? I’m very thirsty” he looked at her quizzically and said “Of course! Your wish is my command!” Cirice sat at the chair Jak pulled out for her and she gripped the edge of the table with growing excitement.
Much to her dismay, the men engaged Jak in conversation. He had little to say about fairies but suggested that they speak to the druids of Greenfire Circle if they wished to know more. The conversation stretched interminably, and she huffed impatiently and leant heavily against the back of her chair. Eventually she could take the chatter no more and she addressed Jak a little tersely “Is this conversation getting in the way of our flapjacks and beer?”
Jak laughed. “I’ll be right back!” he went to the kitchen and came back with a tray of three huge flapjacks balanced on the flat of one hand and in the other he held the handles of three wooden mugs filled to brimming with golden coloured ale. Placing them expertly on the table.
Cirice took a tiny bite from the corner of one flapjack and chewed it slowly. The flavours exploded on her tongue. Honey, oats, and spices. She had never tasted anything so delicious in her life. Her eyes went as wide a saucers and she immediately stuffed the whole flapjack into her mouth at once. Her cheeks were full, as she slowly chewed through the delicious treat. She gulped it down, at last, and took up her mug with both hands, washing the flapjack down with the beer, which was light and surprisingly sweet. She drained it to the last drop and banged the empty vessel down on the tabletop.
“More of this please,” she gasped, looking over at the bar and pointing to the mug “and more flapjacks!”
“How many?” Jak questioned in reply. She thought for a second.
“Better make it three!” she said. Jak laughed and disappeared into the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Garren and Duriel who had been talking amongst themselves, were looking at her with amused surprise. Duriel hadn’t touched his flapjack yet and had only taken the merest delicate sip from his mug and Garren was slowly eating his flapjack which, to a man of his stature, represented a substantial meal.
She looked back to Duriel’s untouched flapjack. “Are you going to eat that?”
After Cirice had eaten a grand total of 5 flapjacks and nearly as many mugs of ale they made their way back to the house by the palisade wall, Cirice a little unsteadily.
A nervous looking man was waiting for them upon their return. “Payday wants to see you – now.” He said to Duriel.
After some debate as to who had been summoned and whether they should all go. Further confused by Cirice’s difficulty in stringing sentences together without descending into fits of giggles, the group went to see “Boss Payday” who was some sort of notary.
He turned out to be a hulking brute of a man with a belligerent disposition. “The way we see it” he intoned in a way that implied that he didn’t expect to be disagreed with. “… you owe us” he poked at Duriel with an enormous finger. “You failed to protect the lumber party and so the consortium has lost labour, tools and productivity.”
“If you want to make good then you need to go and retrieve the lumber party’s tools, and if you can’t do that, you’d better not come back at all…”
Duriel was indignant. “I didn’t have to come back last time, but I risked my life to bring you news of your lost lumber party!”
Payday wasn’t used to having his authority challenged and looked at Duriel with Murder in his eyes. Cirice, who was more than a little drunk and full of artificial courage stood between the two men “You are not a very nice man!” she emphasised each word with a stab of her finger into his chest which made him flinch, more from surprise than pain.
“Don’t worry Duriel, Garren and I will help you find this man’s stupid tools” she said unsteadily.
Deldrin looked very worried, as if he expected Payden to backhand her and he knew that there was very little he could do about it if he did. Instead, Payday looked to him “Who is this screeching waif?” he said. Half amused and half enraged.
Deldrin explained that Cirice had come from the woods and had also been attack by the Fey. He looked at her thoughtfully for a second and said “Yes, she and Garren can go with you, Duriel. Your burden is now theirs too. So be it!”
They went back to the house and Cirice tried to curl up in the corner with the bear as a blanket and Trick trapped in her arms, hugged tightly to her breast. Luckily, the great patient beast did not take this amiss and Trick merely waited for her to drift off before freeing himself from her clutches.
The next morning, Cirice awoke feeling terribly thirsty, her head aching and with a profound feeling of nausea. She opened one bloodshot eye and saw that she was looking into the nostril of the young bear which continued to snore. She wiped drool from her chin with the back of her sleeve and crept out from under the bear’s great arm.
Garren was sitting at the kitchen table, and Duriel was nowhere to be seen. “Good morning!” chirped the halfling. “Do you want some tea?” she fought the urge to vomit and went outside for fresh air.
Duriel appeared from behind the house. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Must be time for breakfast!”
After a dry biscuit and a cup of black tea which Cirice barely held down they set out for the lumber camp, led by Duriel. Garren’s bear followed behind and Trick ran ahead as if to scout.
They inspected the site and saw Gorvo’s tracks in the damp earth. They found signs of battle and the bodies of men which had since been chewed upon by local predators. The woodsmen’s tools were nowhere to be seen. Nor were their horses in evidence.
Some tracks led away from the camp which they quickly identified as belonging to Kobolds. They followed the tracks into the forest where the found a cleft in some boulders on a hill.
Duriel could see in the dark but the cave was pitch black to Garren and Cirice despite her feral eyes. Garren summoned some floating lights with an elaborate gesture of his hand which pushed back the shadows allowing them to penetrate further within. The bear growled softly and followed them inside as if under duress. Garren spoke comfortingly to the animal.
They came upon a group of what Cirice learned to be Kobolds. A few of the short lizard men stood brandishing their spears and hissed as the group came into view. Their eyes glowed yellow in the dim light. Cirice noticed that a number of the creatures lay dead on the ground. One kobold spoke aloud in the ancient tongue of Dragons; guttural throat sounds mixed with hisses and clicks created echoes in the cavern.
“They trick us and now they come to finish us! We must kill them while we still can!” Cirice heard.
“Does anyone speak kobold?” said Duriel hopefully. Cirice shushed him with a gesture and spoke back to the lizard in his own language.
“Who tricked you?” she said in slightly rusty draconic. The kobolds cocked their heads in unison, surprised to hear her utter words in their own tongue. Duriel and Garren were likewise surprised.
“It knows our speech! It knows what we says!” Duriel and Garren couldn’t follow the conversation but were seized between admiration for the strange girl and fear at what this mysterious dialogue might mean.
“Answer me!” she snapped in Draconic. Her screeching sound made Duriel jump in surprise! “Is she actually talking to them?”
The Kobolds looked at her and began to speak “Humans! Left their cursed tools to trick us! We took their axes and their saws and now we are cursed! Spiders attack us!”
Cirice tried to explain this to Duriel and Garren without breaking eye contact with the Kobold and then she spoke to the Kobold, who she realised was their chief, again, in as reassuring tone as she could manage in the strange language.
“Why don’t we take them away, these tools. Then you would not be cursed anymore. My friend and I could try to heal you if you like.”
“No!” screeched the lizard man. “You no touch us. Only take away boxes!” he pointed to a barricade made of old wooden carts which they had presumably stolen from humans.
A pair of kobolds wheeled one of the carts out of the way while the rest of the kobolds stepped aside allowing them to pass deeper into the cave.
They found many Kobold bodies on the other side of the makeshift barricade, swollen and lumpy and covered with bites as if from a multitude of tiny fangs. “No wonder they thought they were cursed!” whispered Cirice. There were also dead spiders of all sizes including one or two that were nearly a foot across. Some were scorched as is by fire. Garren surmised this was from Kobold magic.
They quickly found a crate of human tools on a ledge above the central chamber and they were about to haul it away when a vast swarm of spiders surged over the edge of a higher ledge towards them…