By late midday the gates were back up and functional so Vorwulf took a break to go check on something he had arranged for the last time the team was in Merdna. He had paid the Dracorian Brothers (3 Hill-Lander brothers who ran the opposition gang to the Crossed-Staffs in the city) to rebuild the old Blackwing safe-house which had been burned down presumably by the agents of Sawback the dragon. Finding it barely half finished he stormed to the Hopping Rat Tavern, the tavern owned and operated by the Dracorians. There he found the tavern packed to capacity with a morose collection of locals and the eldest Dracorian out front readying a full wagon to depart. He told Vorwulf that they were unable to finish the guild-house due to the onset of the trolls and went on to warn the dragon-slayer that the splinter groups of the broken Crossed-Staff gang will be after them especially him and Bers in order to gain some ‘street cred’. He described the dominant group as being led by a Moorvyr Spearbearer named Arvor Bloodspear. He also told him about a group of ratling adventurers, tat-eyes that were trying to dominate the criminal underground of the whole area as of late as well. As for himself the Dracorian said that he was traveling south while he could to join his brothers in Skullhead far to the south off of the West Trade Road. Vorwulf asked about the tavern and the Hill-Lander gangster offered to sell it cheap waving the deed before him since he was going to ‘gamble it away anyhow’.
After securing the deed for 4 gold talons (gtals) Vorwulf returned to the gate just in time to see 20 warriors in snakeskin warbelts and covered in dirty oiled-hide capes march up lead by a tough looking commander. They were apparently unarmored, had daggers on their belts and armed with axes and unpainted wood shields. The leader announced himself as Gafar and offered himself and his men as sell-swords. A chance breeze moved aside Gafar’s cloak exposing the tattoo on his chest of a coiled green serpent to Vorwulf’s keen eyes.
Vorwulf: “Berserkers! S*!#.” He sighed. “Let ‘em in!”
Vorwulf and the rest of the group invited the berserkers to the Hopping Rat so they could sit and negotiate a price. It didn’t take long and the price of 4 gtals was settled on to keep them in town. A few hours later the slayers and berserkers occupied the tavern along with a few locals. Kyr engaged Gafar in a drinking contest and was surprised as the tavern-keeper Ebor pulled several ‘special’ tankards from behind the bar which were essentially casks with handles. She lost after about an hour of drinking and passed out onto the floor. Gafar strode through the doors with a hardy laugh his men stumbled after. Shortly after a gaggle of ratlings, adventurers by the appearance their expensive and probably magical gear entered the saloon. They were followed by 1 human with strangely rodent-like features and a 5 ft tall ratling whom ordered his drink with a Tanglenese accent. The group noted that each including the human had a tattoo around the left eye.
Vorwulf sat behind the bar drinking from his magic gold chalice careful to monitor the situation. Grom, the shaman, saw that one of the ratlings was also a shaman and decided to talk to his ‘brother’. He tapped the little creature’s shoulder and engaged him in conversation initially courting a good reaction. Bers, drunk, decided to see if she could ‘get her some’ and approached the human adventurer trying to flirt with him. She failed and growing bored she poured a Purification potion down Kyr’s throat which instantly revived her. Vorwulf’s attention was directed back to the doors when a cloaked faun appeared. He was dressed in a green cloak with silver fringing fastened by a silver acorn brooch. He introduced himself as Bard Canohk Sharptongue as he approached Vorwulf and offered his services as chronicler to this branch of the Blackwings. He was told they already had a bard, Jesae btw was sleeping in the wagon in which he had ducked during the earlier battle, but he could ply his trade in the tavern. His skills with his flute, polished redwood panpipes with mother-of-pearl inlay, were impressive. Bers attracted by the sweet music walked over and flirted.
Grom somehow offended the ratling shaman (a roll of a Natural 1 on his Social Aptitude skill) and got a tankard of ale poured out at his feet leading his companions from the tavern. A short while later Vorwulf ‘kicked out the drunks’ and began to shut the place up with the assistance of the bar-wench Stranez the Beautiful, a human with faun and naga bloodlines. Before the doors were bolted for the night Bers left with Canohk to his wagon where she intending to “get some info” had fallen victim to his charms.
The next morning, the Shaman took over cooking duties while Vorwulf set his protégé Drasknor to cleaning the place especially clearing a pile of shattered stools and tables in a far corner. Vorwulf disbanded the surviving teamsters paying each 1 platinum talon. He then took down the Hopping Rat’s slate and gave the bartender, Ebor, all of the ale and booze he could cart off on a wheelbarrow to sell down the street. Vorwulf paid Ebor and Stranez 1 gold talon apiece telling them that their services were ‘no longer required’. He then set up a sign in front of the place notifying the public that the tavern was ‘closed permanently’. Stranez offered additional services and was sure the new guild could find a place for her ‘talents’ so Vorwulf let her stay on the payroll. Vorwulf then found the pigeon keeper of the town and paid him to send a pigeon to Chago with a message written for the Black Wings guild.
While Vorwulf was away and while he was finishing up the preparation of breakfast Grom had a sudden vision. He saw three familiar chests, the ones he, Bers and Vor had buried at Hirok, being dug up by trolls and saw visions of creatures that appeared as half-dragon half-troll. The heraldry of Trollguard and the Hill-Landers mercenaries danced in his head when magic devices called the Gate Stones were revealed to him apparently in the possession of the trolls (Gil rolled a Natural 20 on the vision).
Cris: “That’s how they’re gonna get the treasure out of there!”
The Group decided they needed to get to Hirok as soon as possible. Vorwulf pulled out the map of Hirok-Nor he carried and both he and the shaman poured over it trying to figure out where the forces of Trollguard might have an encampment. The wagons were being loaded by Drasknor and Bers began itemizing their supplies and equipment. Kyr stood by the tavern door. She noticed a young berserker with a shaved head and naked save for a loincloth tucked under a snakeskin warbelt and the gold emerald eyed serpent bracelet on his right wrist. He demanded she get out of the way but she refused telling the place was closed. He became somewhat angry. Drasknor noticed this and alerted Vorwulf to the situation. Vorwulf walked up to the berserker and told him the place was closed but there was a job for him and his ‘buddies’ and the ‘pay would be excellent’. He finished by tossing him a platinum piece which dropped into the street. The berserker scowled at the both of them, Vor and Kyr, and stomped off growling.
A few minutes after that Vorwulf tossed Jesae the bard a Ring of Invisibility from the group gear. When the dragon-slayer turned back to help Bers with the equipment a couple of well-equipped street thugs walked up to Jesae while he was admiring his new ring. The black ‘X’ on each of their throat evident.
Lead Thug: “Nice ring.”
Luckily the bard pointed out the group he was following which was at arm’s length and the pair of gangsters quickly trotted away. After they were finished with the wagons the group went back inside and locked the tavern up tight. They began looking again at the map but then thinking about the plague, the shaman brought it up, so they decided to try to find a living victim of it in order to see if it had any connection to what was going on in the region. Stranis was able to tell them where they might find one, at the charnel house on a low hill by the lake shore. The people of Merdna were laying their sick among the dead in an effort to keep the disease from spreading. Vorwulf, Grom and Kyr were going to check out the charnel house while Bers and Jesae were going to sit about the tavern and drink the remaining ale.
While the trio was leaving the tavern Vorwulf caught sight of a ratling spy whom disappeared with blinding speed when he noticed he had been spotted. Heedless of their being watched they continued to the lake and the charnel house. Drasknor went into the back to take account of what was left in the stores as well as to ‘straighten up the place’. Stranis dismissed herself to wash the dishes for which she had to get a bucket of water from the public well. Jesae followed her on her way out catching up with her in the courtyard where he accidentally seduced her (an attempt to massage some info from her but she rolled a Natural 1 versus the charm check) and wound up with her rolling in the hay of the tavern stables.
Jesae was privy to Stranis’ tattoo which was a slithering black snake with a black star above it on her well-shaped thigh. Later on Stranis would tell the bard that her family name was Ressha and that her tattoo was her family’s “mark”.
Meanwhile the others were reaching the boardwalk which ran along the lakeshore and fishing piers. They could see the hill and the miserable wood building atop it. They had several narrow alleys along one side and the lake waters and small piers on the other. Kyr caught sight of the young berserker that had previously tried to enter the closed tavern with a young boy in one of the narrow alleys. He had the boy by the neck and was apparently squeezing. At the same time both Vorwulf and Grom could see the ratling following them by leaping from roof to roof and a gang of three Crossed-Staffs gang members possibly lying in wait.
Vorwulf (calling out the thugs): “Show yerselves we know you’re there!”
The three thugs stepped onto the boardwalk. Two of them were dressed in leather scale armor with warbelts, bronze bracers on their forearms and armed with iron staffs. They were being led by another who was wearing a yellow Acton over his leather lamellar armor and steel bracers on his arms. He was armed with an iron staff as well but seemed to have more skill than the other two even though he appeared to be less experienced. The black cross tattoos on their necks made it clear that they were crossed-staff gang members looking for revenge.
Grom the shaman: “You guys looking for trouble?”
The thugs charged and Vorwulf was tripped but was able to dodge an opportunistic staff strike leaping onto his feat using his acrobatic skills while Grom attempted to Call Lightning but failed. Grom was able to parry and avoid all staff blows leveled at him. Kyr was nowhere to be seen. Grom was able to back up quickly and let loose with a Primal Scream spell hurting all three thugs somewhat but also causing them to flee in panic. Vorwulf shot the yellow acton in the back wounding him knowing full well that in Westlander warrior culture that shooting a fighter was a deadly insult much more so if in the back.
Cris: “Hell yeah I know it is!”
Gil: “It is?”
Cris: “Hell yeah!”
They heard a scuffle coming from an alleyway further back and found Kyr fighting with the young berserk next to the body of a young boy. Kyr was winning and had hit her foe twice with her sword with the Coiled Serpent Berserk trying to snatch it out of her hands. The shaman and dragon-slayer just stood by watching the brawl as “some crazy berserker honor s%*t was going down”. The young berserk went into a rage foam flecking his lips and was able to snatch and toss away Kyr’s sword and knocked her to the ground on a tackle. The fight went on for two more rounds both warriors gone berserk taking turns reversing their position from under to atop each other and pummeling each other’s faces to bloody messes in the alley-mud. On the third round the shaman foolishly tried to cast a spell on Kyr but fortunately the spell failed and he didn’t extend his hands to touch her. Vorwulf warned him away from the struggling, bleeding pair. The young berserk tried to tear out her throat with his sharpened teeth and the fight turned in her favor. She power punched him in the face spattering his nose everywhere. Four half-naked berserkers walked up with wide sharp-toothed grins on their faces and green coiled serpent tats on their chests. The smiles instantly disappeared when they saw that the shaman was a bit close to the fight. Grom immediately walked towards them attempting to get between them and the fight but they were simply interested in watching the fight and began to cheer their man on.
Vorwulf: “I’ve got 5 gold pieces on the Ferenoi!”
The berserkers took that action. The next and fourth round of the fight was the end with the berserker being beaten unconscious and nearly to death. Barely breathing he was lifted up and taken by his coven brothers while Kyr’s rage ended with the fight and she shot up with a final burst of energy and snatched the berserker’s gold serpent bracelet from his wrist.
Kyr: “This is my trophy!”
The berserkers tossed Vorwulf 20 gp as they walked away. The shaman checked out the young boy and was able to heal him back up though he was very near death. Apparently the name of the berserker was Andracor the Wolf’s Jaw and he had snatched the clothes off of his sister in the streets so he in an attempt to defend her kicked him between the legs and ran off with the angry berserker hot on his heels. Satisfied with that explanation they walked on to the charnel house. Vorwulf and the bruised, muddy and bloody Kyr stayed outside by the door. The shaman cast a protective spell on himself and walked inside finding a few moaning victims of the plague. Using Mystic Diagnosis he was able to find out that the plague was supernatural created by the Plague Carrier spell and it was tinged with a significant amount of negative energy. He was able to cure the sufferers and after emerging with the restored townsfolk he relayed this vital information to his companions.
Back at the tavern Bers was sitting by herself in an empty and dark tavern drinking and by now quite drunk when the door was smashed in and in the doorway stood 3 fighters. The first entered and declared himself to be Arvor Bloodpsear speaking with a heavy accent unknown to her. He was armed with a superior quality fighting spear (the head has barbs on the sides enabling it to hook opponents), a bowie knife on his belt and wearing a yellow Acton over his wood plate armor and steel bracers on his wrists. The other two were wearing similar armor but were armed with iron staffs. All had black ‘X’ tattoos across their throats.
Arvor Bloodspear: “I am here to take revenge for the 3 brothers…” He noticed the empty tavern but recognized Bers.
Bers simply invited them to drink with her and clumsily tried to ‘seduce’ them. Not knowing exactly what they were going to do the three simply backed out saying that they would be back (they rolled a neutral result on their reaction roll). For some reason Bers thought they had said they wanted to duel them the next evening but fortunately when Drasknor rushed into the room from the cellar he couldn’t understand Bers’ drunken babble. The bard cautiously walked back in fifteen minutes after he heard the crash finding all okay save for the smashed door. Drasknor lit the place and started the oven fire. The bard sat with Bers and Stranis set a fresh tankard of ale out just for Jesae who mindlessly began drinking it while conversing with a barely coherent Bers.
Rhiea: “Awwww. F*@k you! Really!?” She failed her saving throw versus the love potion that the barmaid had slipped her character, Jesae.
By the time the others returned it was dark and the tavern was alive with a gaggle of drunks who had wandered into the street, the barkeep was
again behind the bar selling ale and Jesae was singing the best song they ever heard him sing to his love Stranis whose eyes he was intently staring into. They shrugged their shoulders and sat down to get drunk.
To Be Continued…