We rejoin our group of dragon-slayers Bers the fighter (played by Jen), Dead-Eye the ranger/dragon-slayer and his protégé Vorwulf the ranger/archer (both played by Cris) pushing their wagon with Vor pulling, a part of his training according to Cris, just four days out from the mountain pass from the Falmark. Wentum the human mage, Grik the Arborean pugilist and Rrhga the sentient wolf hired by the dragon-slayers before the pass following. They had lost their oxen in the pass.
A few days previously they had made it to the center point of the deep cut pass which sunk deep between the mountains and narrowed with high sheer cliffs on two sides. This is where a small group of Yellow Reapers (middle weight dragons with black scything talons on their rear feet like a velociraptor in place of a breath weapon or venom). The battle was quick as the dragons only wanted to snatch up a quick meal targeting their oxen. The group consisted of 3 young dragons and 1 adult. During the battle the wolf ran under the cover of the wagon, Grik tried to protect the wagon but wound taking a claw and being forced into a recovery check to not die. Bers tried to participate with her crossbow getting off two shots in four turns/attacks but not hitting anything. Wentum let loose with a lightning bolt at the adult but it had no effect as his magic simply wasn’t strong enough to cause damage to it. While Dead-Eye and Vorwulf shot at them wounding two of the younger dragons one of whom ripped an oxen free of the wagon and retreated immediately. Another tried to pull off a dive attack on Dead-Eye and rolled a natural 1 to pull out of it when Dead-Eye dodged the initial strike causing it to crash into the ground killing itself with a thundering crunch. The adult fled at the end of the round with the second oxen dead in its talons.
After emerging from the pass they had found themselves in a thick wood, the Southern Forest and came to a deforested clearing near the end of the fourth day. They were given permission to camp close to the lumber-jack’s camp and found out that they were about 1 mile south of a city called Achoran on the banks of the River Nirix, “just follow the road.” They also found out that there was another forester’s camp on the other side of the river referred to as the North Camp and where they currently were was called the South Camp as well as about 3 and half miles down the river banks from Achoran there was a ruin which the dragon-slayers were interested in but they wanted to get into the city first.
By late morning they came to the gates of Achoran long banners bearing a black silhouette of ram against a split field of yellow and green hanging from the palisades on either side of the gate. Standing at the gate were small group of guards collecting a gate toll and just past them a stalky man with a yellow waist sash, a falchion on his side and a black’X’ tattooed on his throat turning a critical eye to all newcomers sometimes stopping folks and extracting a ‘tax’ as well as asking questions. He had no other arms displayed as the guards had the arms of the city painted on their shields and bore the black rams head on the chests of their leather cuirasses. He was surrounded by a handful of other thuggish looking guys and a few rogue types were hovering around them as well all wearing a yellow sash. Of course they stopped our heroes.
Yellow-Sash: “You there! Yeah, you! There’s a Wagon Wheel Tax before you can enter.”
Dead-Eye: “How much?” He grumbled under his breath.
Yellow-Sash (looking them up and down): “Hmmm. Four gold pieces, 1 for each wheel.” He grinned.
Bers: “Hehe, that’s nothing!”
Dead-Eye: “We’re not paying him, we’re not paying YOU!”
The gang of thugs and rogues started creep around the wagon putting the entire group on guard.
Dead-Eye: “You’re not guards so get out of our way!” His hand went to his sword and Vor immediately nocked an arrow.
Yellow-Sash: “Alright, now you’re gonna have to pay the Goods Protection Insurance fee. Ya’ know just in case sumthin happens to your goods.”
The gate guards began to eyeball the situation and the toothy grin on the lead thug fell away for the first time.
Yellow-Sash: “Suit yerself. What’s yer names again?”
Dead-Eye: “F@*& you!”
They entered and paid the three they hired the other half of the promised gold before the pass and they took their leave saying that they’d be in the Prancing Pig tavern and probably “abouts elsewheres” if there was more work. The three dragon-slayers decided to find some accommodations in an inn, a two-story plaster-walled structure found at the docks called the Hammered Helm its shingle displaying a picture of a hammer and a helmet. After paying for the best room in the place Bers and Dead-Eye left Vor to set-up the room and secure their booty as they went out to the main street carrying dragon hides and some bones as well as full purses. They saw a shop with a small flag flying the white star on a blue-field, the White Star healer’s guild, and found the beerhall which flew a white wooly rams head with golden horns on a field of green, the heraldry of Fertum Vorahd a Fertum a few miles to the north and the other side of the river. They went to a fletcher to commission some dragon-bone crossbow bolts (for Bers) and 2 quivers of dragon-bone arrows. Then took the green hides to the armorer and ordered 2 full suits of dragon-hide armor as well as 2 potion bandoliers. They paid half of the money asked at once and were told that it would take around 10 days to be finished. They then got directions to the local alchemist in order to stock up on some potions as well as to sell off any they didn’t see a need for from their hoard. While there they asked after the guy at the gate and the others they had seen with the yellow sashes. They were told that those were the members of the Crossed Staff Gang the local mafia and part time highway men. They were being led by 3 hill-giant brothers. The guy at the gate was a high-ranking captain in the gang. They completed their business and thanked the alchemist. They talked ot various guards and fellow travelers and amongst the information they collected they found that there was another large town further west on the north bank of the river and could take a ferry there for 1 copper piece (cp) per person and 1 cp per bit of luggage. They also found that the Merchant’s Guild of Achoran was the big dog in the Hirok-Nor region and was at odds with the Merchant’s Guild of Asternor often involving plots and pacts with criminals and river-pirates. They were also told of the river dragon which had been terrorizing the ferries and river boats but decided they couldn’t do much against an aquatic dragon, at least not right then. They were also told the farmers in the Varidna Plain (located in the far northwestern corner of Hirok-Nor) were having some dragon problems. After checking back in with Vorwulf for a few minutes they departed once again for some well-deserved “rest” and headed along the docks towards where they were told a tavern was supposed to be.
They found the tavern, the Prancing Pig in the apparently poor quarter of Achoran and seeing a couple of shiesty looking fellows hanging outside with yellow rags on their heads they decided against drinking there. They did however catch a glimpse of a Hill-Giant clad entirely in a yellow robe with a wrapped oblong object strapped to his back entering the substantially large saloon-doored entrance accompanied by a muscular and very beautiful 8 ft tall woman, a ferenoi by all appearances (an amazon from the Feren culture). So they decided the beerhall would be fine.
The beerhall was enormous as compared to those that they were used to. It was filled with both long plank tables and small round ones most were crowded with travelers and locals alike with a bar at one far end the entrance being at the opposite end allowing patrons to enter directly from the street. They picked a small round table near the saloon-doors and ordered a couple of large pitchers of the “best stuff in the house” along with a platter of food. Dead-Eye immediately noticed that a cloaked figure that had been following them after they left the alchemist’s shop walked in a few minutes after them and sat at a table near them. He didn’t recognize the man. He was young and strong looking with blood-red hair and beard and grey eyes wrapped in a grey cloak and wearing a powder grey chain shirt underneath. When he walked up to the bar later on he found a loud but laughing man surrounded by a few ratlings celebrating something or other. Bers eventually joined the guy and found he had probably ripped someone off and was wearing a “mystical disguise”. During the course of the evening they observed a large group of Ivorans all wearing identical red silk robes bearing a black symbol of flaming spiral on their backs and chest. As the day melted into dusk they left the tavern for their room at the Hammered Helmet suitably hammered Dead-Eye caught eye of a kid trying to nick a bauble in the marketplace across from the beerhall. The merchant snatched at him and he tried to run past the heroic duo bumping into Dead-Eye a dagger dropping from the rags he wore. Dead-Eye and Bers immediately recognized the marking on its blade; the mark of the Blackwings guild. Dead-Eye snatched the kid and after forcing him to give back the bauble asked where he had gotten that dagger.
The Kid: “From a corpse when those 5 strangers got their throats slit. Hey!”
Dead-Eye: “Where at!”
The Kid: “The Rat Quarter [poor quarter where the Prancing Pig was located].”
They released him and he disappeared into an alleyway. When they checked out the story they found a two-story residence which had been reduced to a smoldering pile of ash. They figured this is from where the messenger (see Pt. 20) had been dispatched, probably. They stumbled back to their room all the while aware they were being followed by the grey-cloaked red-bearded guy.
To Be Continued…