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    Hard Lessons

    Kieyotie McDermott
    Kieyotie McDermott

    Posts : 111
    Join date : 2012-03-08
    Age : 39

    Hard Lessons Empty Hard Lessons

    Post  Kieyotie McDermott on Mon Dec 05, 2016 4:56 pm

    Hard Lessons
    A Question of Ethics RPG Module

    Ecanos L’Ordan appeared to be half-elven with the dark tan that comes from a life in the sun. He was taller and stockier than most half elves, dark haired with light grey eyes. He wore black canvas jeans and what looked to be a silk shirt with bone buttons. He had gem-studded gold rings in his ears, tattoos, and wore several unusual weapons sheathed or secured on multiple belts. He wore a wide brimmed, three pointed hat, and had several medallions and charms hanging about his persons. He moved like a seasoned fighter and wore lightweight boots.

    Today he sat at the front of his Tinker’s Wagon coming down out of the mountains, heading towards Andrath, a medium-sized village along a small river that ran out of the Rock Mountains and through the foothills before getting lost in small pools out on the plains. It was time for Andrath’s annual fair.
    The village normally supported around fifteen-hundred people with another five-hundred living in the country-side or regularly passing through. It sat on the trade route for Dwarven goods from the nearest clans. The trade route for the Halfling Kinstons out of the foot hills entered the town through a different gate. The Gnomish Rail did not come through the village, but Andrath was closer than the nearest cities that were. The village sat on the route that led north or south to other, more populated areas and East to the great Elven Ranches out on the plains. The city had a primarily human population, but Dwarves, Halflings and Elves made up half the townsfolk, and most other races were represented in shops that catered to travelers and those that crave the exotic.

    Ecanos was looking for a group of Stone Giant, The G’mlacs he had heard about while trading with the Eagle Ridge Clan. The Giants had visited with the Clan looking for a rare mineral, Tinty-Byuleun. The mineral could be used to protect their cave homes from a group of Destrachans that have migrated away from the mining operations of the Eagle Ridge Clan and into the territory of the G’mlacs. The dwarves traded a few of the pieces they could spare and directed the giants to an area they had noted to contain the ore. The dwarves had given Ecanos an additional map they had located to take to the Stone Giants in order to assist their search.

    Ecanos was also looking forward to trading at the fair. He had heard there would be several skill contests, including an Arcane Challenge. As this was his first time into the area, Ecanos was trying to decide if he wanted to even enter the challenges since he had an unfair advantage over most magi. As he rode along, watching the slow, rhythmic movements of his four horses as they pulled the large wagon, he decided that a display of his skills might get better sales once the anger of the other contestants settled down.

    The sun was just easing down towards the mountains, and the wagon’s shadow stretched out over his horses as he topped a rise and saw the village several miles off. He could hear the sounds of the fair drifting on the breeze all this way, and could see the smoke from a great many cook fires. He horses perked up at the smell of the river.

    Pausing to pull out a map and double check his surroundings, Ecanos sipped his canteen and lit a smoke. He sat with his feet up on the kickboard, settled back in the cushioned seat and tried to figure where he was in relation to the map of the area. In the time it took to finish the smoke, he’d determined approximately where he was compared to where he needed to start looking for the G’mlac. He folded his map away and nudged the horses back into motion. The terrain was too rough off the trail he’d been using even for his wagon. It would be simpler to secure it in town and ride back out in the morning to locate the tribe.

    Most of the town sat on a rise a few hundred yards from the river. A few fishing huts on stilts and the floating docks attested to the overflow that came during the winter-melt season. The fair grounds were between the river and the town, in an open grassy field that had about a dozen trees. The few trees each had several carts, wagons and booths set up under their meager shade. The main area of the fair was a double row of tents with a trampled road between them that led to the village. Beyond that the vendors were haphazard and disorganized.

    Ecanos turned the wagon and eased down the central avenue of the town, noting the businesses and tradesmen available. There were many horses tied to the rails, and the saloons, hotels and eateries doing a brisk business. Music and voices flowed from these establishments. Most people seemed to be in good humor, walking as couples; waving to people they knew as children ran about with colored cloth streamers tied to sticks chasing dogs. An old gnome pushed a cart selling small cloth bags or roasted nuts and seeds, while a woman with about fourteen children on her porch was selling grilled vegetables on sticks.

    Ecanos paused when he saw a familiar banner flying from the porch of one of the larger homes. A grey rock on a black field that had been enspelled to glow. Ecanos had heard about the Company of the Shining Stone. They were the local adventuring heroes in the area. They had come west from across the plains, exploring abandoned tombs, delving into old ruins, and fighting various bandit clans in the mountains. He had heard Andrath had granted them a charter house after they returned with most of a group of children that had been carried off by ogres from some surrounding farms.
    Rumor was the group leader was hot-headed and arrogant, but that his followers were loyal to a fault. The saw themselves as the ultimate good, especially against those they saw as evil. Ecanos had heard that the ogre band had only come out of the mountains and attacked after the Shiners had killed off half their tribe while exploring an abandoned castle the Orcs had claimed and were rebuilding. The Shiners had a reputation of fighting the good fight, so long as you were human.
    Verrek was a large, hairy, brute out of the Min’Soda northlands. Many claimed he had orcish blood, but never in his presence. His battle rages were famous and his story included a claim of being able to throw a goblin fifty feet. He wore heavy furs in the winter or leather in the summer over polished half plate and ring mail. His axe is told to chill the bones of his opponents, slowing them and making them easier to kill.
    Murt was a short, rotund monstrosity that clanked around in poorly fitted plate mail with a heavy iron shield. When not wearing his great helm, Murt had a squashed looking, bulbous head and eyes that seemed to always squint. He spoke poorly, mostly curses, in a high pitched falsetto that had caused many an idiot to die after hearing it and laughing. Murt avoids conversation, but has a keen mind.
    Gastronal is an arrogant human raised in a half-elven community when his father met and ‘bred’ with an elf maiden. He dislikes elves, but has learned bow craft, swordsmanship and magic from them. He takes special pleasure in raiding the tombs and crypts of elves looking for their treasure. Tales are that while he carries a quarterstaff, it is enspelled to become any bow, longsword, or rapier weapon he might need. This allows him to carry his weapon into places where they would not normally be allowed and maintain an element of surprise when in a conflict.
    Taranga is a petite, attractive maiden with ashen blonde hair and grey eyes. Some say she has six sisters who are just as pretty, and just as crafty. As much as she enjoys having treasures and coin, she claims to work with the group for the challenges the places they go present. And often, surviving with a group like this is a challenge in itself.
    Ecanos had forgotten about the Shiners until he saw their banner. Several local ladies lounged nearby, trying to look busy as they waited for their chance to meet the heroes. Up on the porch, Taranga sat in a rocking chair, her feet up on the rail, with a drink in one hand. She looked to be working on a puzzle box, poking at it with a piece of wire in her free hand. She looked up as his wagon passed, and after a moment made a sign. Ecanos returned the appropriate greeting. She nodded and went back to work poking at the box.

    Ecanos stopped at the town hall structure and parked the wagon out of the way. There were a few vendors standing on the steps milling, and some coming or going from the building. He waited a moment to get a feel of the fair from their conversations.

    “…..Wish they had more trees out in that field. Bleedin’ ‘ot it tis out there….”

    “….Want to stay away from the river. It floods easy and my bones are calling for rain…”

    “….McGringle got here two days before me! If I hadn’t had to replace that wheel...! My shells are twice as nice as his, but he was here first and got the coin…”

    “…. You keep your boys working the river side, and mine will work the town side…”

    “… Still not sure if I’d rather pay a straight fee or the percentage tax…”

    Ecanos continued inside, passing a large man in ring mail trying not to look bored as he watched over the exterior of the town hall for trouble. Inside was a hall full of people going from one of the rooms that lined either side of the hall, to another. The town, sitting on several trade routes, had tried to set up its town hall to accommodate the various things that passed through, especially during the week of the Fair. Ecanos felt they honestly did better than most.

    A fat little gnome sat at a desk that blocked most of the hall ten feet inside the double doors. On his desk was a large ledger and several boxes of wooden coins, numbered and color coded. Ecanos stepped into line and watched as the prospective vendors stepped up, told what they wanted to sell, had their name and product marked down and were given a wooden coin and allowed to go past the desk to one of the rooms. Ecanos saw that the rooms had larger wooden markers above the door that were numbered and painted. Along the wall from the door to the desk were several postings explaining what items would not be allowed to be sold in or around Andrath, General Rules and Laws for the town, a large map of the town and principal businesses, and the primary groupings of vendors out on the fairgrounds. All were in the trade tongue, the common tongue, and done in pictograph.

    Most everyone understood the process, but to one side a large fat vendor was arguing with a slender Elven clerk who was backed by a larger half-orc guard. “Why can I no sell my food!? Is very tasty. Grumblin is delicacy. Very tasty.”
    “Good sir, as my under clerk explained, and as I have explained, we do not allow the selling of roast puppies on a stick. We do not care about what you put in your soups, or what your cuts of meat are, but we do not allow the identifiable selling of certain animals.”
    “But is tradition. You do not cut up delicacy into soup!”
    “Sir, we would appreciate your business, but cannot allow….”

    Ecanos turned his attention back to the Gnome at the desk, who had gone stiff and was sitting back in his seat as if to avoid the cloaked person standing head and shoulders above the front edge of the desk. Sitting in the middle of the ledger was a box with the lid opened.

    The person in the cloak was gesturing for the Gnome to take the box, and speaking goblinoids. Those behind the cloaked figure were looking nervous and backing away. The elf and guard had not noticed.

    “Take box. We have many man to sell. This give for you. Very good. Very much dead making. Very good to protect treasures.” Ecanos heard the creature, probably a small goblin, saying in his native tongue, which luckily no one understood. Ecanos quickly stepped up, placed his hand on the goblin’s shoulder and flipped the lid shut on the box. The goblin stiffened, but the gnome relaxed. Ecanos could see the gnome and voided his bladder upon seeing the void spider in the box.

    “I buy these,” Ecanos told the goblin, “Buy all. Big money. You sell me all.”

    “We want make trade all people. Show not bad. Show want be good. Want come back again. Make more trade.”

    “I trade good for you. Me take this. We talk with food tonight. Good gift this. They no understand good gift. Think bad. Think attack. Think want make harm. Is ok. I will make good. Make good trade for you. They no talk goblin. You have other trade? I talk them for you and make much trade.”

    The goblin thought about this a moment, “Is good. You talk them. You keep gift. We trade you. We have more trade they think good maybe.” He pointed to the gnome and back at Ecanos, “You tell him what trade we have?”

    You are the reason I cuss so much!
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    Kieyotie McDermott
    Kieyotie McDermott

    Posts : 111
    Join date : 2012-03-08
    Age : 39

    Hard Lessons Empty Re: Hard Lessons

    Post  Kieyotie McDermott on Mon Dec 05, 2016 4:57 pm

    Ecanos nodded and looked to the gnome who still hadn’t moved from the chair. “I’m sorry, sir.” He turned to the others in like who still were not sure what was going on, “I’m going to translate, then return to where I was in the line.”
    To the gnome he said, “This little guy thought he was bringing you a gift. They apparently have brought quite a few of these to town,” the gnome paled even more, “But I have agreed to purchase them. This little guy has some other things to trade he would like to talk to you about. I can translate for him, but have trade of my own to do here.”
    “Yes. Let me…” He turned towards the Elf, still trying to get the fat merchant to agree not to sell roasted puppies on a stick, “Eleroy, I… I could use some help here.”
    The Elf held up his hand to the merchant, interrupting him, “No. That is my final word. You can agree to our customs or you can take your trade elsewhere.” He turned and walked to the desk, leaving the guard to usher the merchant outside. When he saw the gnome’s condition, he frowned. He frowned more so when he saw the cloaked goblin. “What is going on here?”
    Looking at Ecanos the under clerk said in gnomish, “This goblin has brought some items to trade. In the box that man is holding is a live void spider. The creature gave it to me as a gift. Apparently he has many more.” The elf stiffened and fingered a wand secured on his belt, “This man can speak with the goblin for us, and has agreed to buy the void spiders from them, although I do not know yet to what purpose. He says the goblins want to trade and have other items. I need to step away from the desk. For the rest of the day. May I leave them with you? I will ask Remand to send someone else up.”
    “Yes. Go. I will handle this until someone comes. Ask Remand to send up Carlise, please. Tell him I gave you the rest of the day.”
    Eleroy looked at the goblin and then asked Ecanos in Elven, “Is there truly a void spider in that box?”
    “Yes. If you have use for it, you may have it. The goblin brought it as a gift. I did not want it going for a walk around here. I plan to purchase any others he may have, as the gnome mentioned.”
    “We have never had goblins coming to trade as a group. Do you think it might be a trap?”
    “I just arrived to town and observed the situation occurring from my place further back in line. I know no more of the goblins’ plans than you. He seems straightforward and genuine. Especially for a goblin.”
    “Where is he from? And what do they have to trade?”
    At this time, a female Halfling in a clerk’s uniform made it to the desk and asked Eleroy where she needed to pick up. Eleroy asked the next person in line to step up and motioned Ecanos and the Goblin out of the way, taking them down the hall, through a door into another hallway lined with room to the office at the end. Inside he offered chairs and drinks.
    The little goblin was nervous and took a glass of water. Ecanos declined and explained to the goblin what was going on now, surprised by the little creature’s patience through this.

    “Elf ask where you live? What things you want trade? What you have? What you want? What you name? Me, Ecanos, Resperg of Chief Goblin King Ferro.”

    The little goblin nodded, “Me Berg, Big Talker for Derna Tribe. We orcs slaves long time. No more. People killed orcs. Took their new castle home. Many die bad. We escape. When all orc dead gone and all people steal gone, we go back. Live happy. No slaves.”
    Eleroy sat down while Ecanos translated for the Goblin, “We mine for orcs. Do much work. We find many spiders. Many pretty rocks. Good money metal. Want make trade for good tools. Good food. Make peace so no people come kill us.”

    Eleroy nodded, “I will have to discuss this with the mayor and the council. We would like to see some of the items. The advantages to having them as allies in the area of that castle ruin are great. Tell him that once my clerk looks over their goods and reports back, we will decide if they can set up a booth or if we need to trade directly. Many will not like the idea, but I do not want to see these goblins cheated or injured. Ask him to take my clerk back with him and let him know I will wind a way to better communicate with him before their return.”

    Ecanos relayed this while the elf called in a human clerk and assigned him to the goblin with detailed instructions. When he stood to leave behind the goblin, the elf held him back.

    “You are here to trade also?”

    “Yes, I have a wide range of minor magical items I’ve collected I might be able to sell. Some tools of unique design. Simple potions and salves, too. Standard Tinkerfare as it has often been called.
    “I am also in search of a group of stone giants that should be in the area. I have something for them, but their business is not mine to share, although I have been assured they are not a threat.”

    “I have some information about the giants. But first. What do you plan to do with the void spiders? I appreciate your assistance with the goblin, but your actions are not typical.”

    “They may not be typical for this area, but in some places those that are able to prevent accident and injured are thought well of. I know many used for the spiders and their parts, and a few people that would pay well for one alive and well cared for; I have a secure place to keep them out of harm’s way.”

    The elf nodded. “You understand that the risk is your own and that any accident or injury they cause in our realm will fall on yourself?” When Ecanos nodded, the elf continued, “The Company of the Shining Stone has encountered a band of giants in the mountains about a day’s ride from here. They have been stirring up the people, trying to gather a group to eliminate the threat. They are well respected and there are many in town that would join them simply to have a heroic story to share. Now, I feel I must ask what you know about the giants as the village has considered assisting the Company in their endeavor.”

    “I see.” He sat back down as the elf walked back around the desk and did the same, “The giants are looking for an ore in the area that will protect their home caves from a certain intruder that is plaguing them recently. The Eagle Ridge Clan has given me something to assist them so they can return to their home caves as soon as they can. The giants are not looking to cause any harm and will be trying to get out of the area as soon as possible.”

    “The company claims these creatures are violent and have attacked them once already. They plan to march on the encampment the day the day before the end of the fair. They are planning a feast afterwards. They are gathering sponsors rather quickly. Many feel giants are monsters and are looking forward to the event.” The elf sat back and steepled his fingers. “If you had presented this matter to many others on the council, or in these offices, you would be hampered when dealing with the giants and against the Company.” Eleroy smiled, “Personally, and between us, I do not care for the wishes of the Shiners. They are not all bad, but their leader and their magician are xenophobic to a fault. They have frustrated me more than once in their business.”
    He sat forward quickly and pulled a slate tablet, bound with a leather cover out of his desk. With a piece of chalk, he wrote a quick note and secured the cover before handing it over. “Take this to Varunca. She is our local sorceress. She has a modest home on the north edge of town. It will be stone and covered in blue ivy. I would like her to join you tomorrow when you go assist the giants. She knows the foothills and lower ranges well. Her great-grandfather had a workshop and tower out there somewhere that they turned into a tomb after his passing. If there are any unique mineral deposits she would have the best idea where to find them. When you get back, find me and we will see if we need to stop the actions of the Company. OF course, if they eat you, they will try to avenge you, even if unknowingly.”

    Ecanos took the tablet and thanked him. When he stood, the elf asked, “You said you also wanted to trade. If you have assistants, or want to have the evening for trade I can make your permit for today. Tomorrow, you may store your wagon at my manor until you return. Just tell Mauvine to stable your horses and note your next of kin. My home is three streets behind the Town Hall here. Go around the back and follow the street to the end. You will come to a wooded lot behind a hedge row. The gate is there at the end of the street.”

    Ecanos thanked him again and quickly returned to his wagon. The sun had moved behind the mountains, but it was still light enough. He saw the goblin hiding out of sight in an alley with a small covered wagon pulled by a donkey. He detoured to the alley and slipped into the shadows with the goblin. He saw a couple more hiding in the back of the little wagon. They were obviously frightened and smelled better than most of their kind. After a few minutes of looking over their trade goods, he agreed to meet them just outside of town in the area he had asked to be permitted to use. When he climbed up on his wagon and headed out, he saw the little goblin cart followed.
    It took him a few minutes to get set up once he reached his place. Ecanos had wanted to be farther from the others, on a point equal from the fair, the river, and the town. He parked the wagon and set his horses to graze inside several stakes that were connected with a fine string. Two lovely ladies and three large men came out of the wagon to assist the set up. They went about setting poles for the tent over and around the wagon and setting up tables. The large wagon quickly became a large, brightly patterned, open sided tent. In less than an hour, food was cooking, the tables were full of items wondrous and amazing, many in glass cases, and the helpers were ready to meet the customers that were already idling around waiting to see what was being offered.
    As the sun set and others worked, Ecanos took the goblins through a door on the side of the wagon into a shop that was much larger than the wagon could have contained. The goblins were frightened until Ecanos explained that he was a powerful magus and genuinely wanted to trade with them. The shop they stood in seemed to cater to goblinoids. The armor, weapons, tools, and gear were sized for their kind. The seeds, jarred foods, and magical items were also for use by their race. Ecanos traded with them fairly, getting the group the supplies they would need to start building a peaceable community, while still being able to defend themselves. He stored the void spiders and many of the other items they had brought and made sure to get directions to their home. He gave their leader a token in case they had need of him and acquired a ring to prove to the other goblins he was a friend to their clan.

    Once the goblins had left, he looked everything over and opened this booth to those waiting outside of his rope barrier. Ecanos watched the first dozen or so, gauging what they took interest in and what they weren’t. He spoke to his people, so the goods could be better suited the next day, and asked them to continue watching. Then he changed out of his traveling clothes into a grey suit with a rapier and dueling dagger. He tucked the letter to Varunca into an inner pocket, untied his riding horse from where it waited and headed over to the fair grounds to look around. Not many rode, but there were a few on horseback, and a couple of small hansoms. Lanterns had been hung from poles throughout the fair, so the walkways and booths were well lit.

    It had been a warm day, but clear and the night quickly cooled, especially by the river. As he rode, Ecanos saw children with colorful wooden toys. Someone was also selling molded knights and soldiers. Many people had food; roast turkey legs, grilled vegetables on a stick, and sausages. The air smelled of hickory, Applewood, and other aromatic smoke. Most of the men touted oversized, carved flagons of ale or wine and they walked with their women or families.
    Tumblers, jesters, minstrels, jugglers and acrobats cavorted through the crowd. Ecanos saw very little pickpocketing, and noticed that the entertainers also policed the crowd, quickly restraining those they found with their hands in someone else’s purse.
    The booths contained everything from farmers to goldsmiths, cobblers to glassblowers. Tailors, coopers, wainwrights, artists, and craftsmen from hundreds of miles around were here to sell their goods. Poets stood atop stumps every hundred feet reciting their work for offered coin. Two different troupes of actors and players were set up on opposite ends of the main fairway.
    Throughout all were food and drink, games of skill and chance, and the cheap trinkets of a fair. At the end of the fairway, down by the river was a large dining pavilion where the various local eateries in town offered samples of their wares for a low cost and plenty of tables for those who needed a rest, or wanted a place to sit and talk. Here was a large painted canvas that drew many eyes, proclaiming the Arcane Challenge to be held in three days. Ecanos also found the mouth piece for the Shiners.
    Verrek sat in a large, throne-like chair at the head of a table painted with their banner. Set behind his head was one of the glowing stones for which the group was named. It gave him a bright halo as he sat back speaking to a group of young men sitting with tankards. Ecanos sat atop his horse outside the pavilion, centered between two lanterns in the darkness. Out of the way, but where he could hear the large man spinning his tale.

    Verrek was in polished half plate with bronze scale. His sword lay sheathed on the table beside his hawk-faced, plumed helmet. He was a big man, heavily muscled, and looked to have been oiled. Ecanos knew that despite his appearances, the man believed in himself and justified his every action in the name of the greater good.
    “Should an entire war band of these dangerous giants… Creatures that only live for pillage, murder and rape be allowed to come so close to our village? To our HOMES!?”
    There was a general muttering.
    “I have seen these brutes with my own eyes. They stand eight, Ten, TWELVE! Feet tall! With horrible faces lacking of any intelligence, humility or humanity. They carry clubs, because they are so ignorant, but trust me, men; those clubs can smash your bones to pulp!”
    Another pause to let that soak into the muttering.
    “My friends and I, people you know to have the town’s best interests at heart, feel they are only so close so they can raid our village and steal all the valuables. Their coming during our great fair and festival, when so many have brought their labor from a year of toil here for trade… A time when most of our communal wealth is in one area, can NOT be a coincidence!”
    More muttering and a few thumps of tankards on the table.
    “We have seen this group. There are no females. They are not here to trade peaceable. There are no young of a traveling band. I say it is a war party! I say our village’s heroes should band together and attack these monsters before they slaughter innocents and steal livestock! When we are ready to leave at the end of the week, who will JOIN me!?”
    That brought a cheer from most of the young men.
    “Who will return with us to the HERO’S FEAST we will be having!?”
    More, louder cheers.
    “Who will help me slay monsters and SAVE our loved ones!?”
    More cheers. Just then as Verrek was taking another breath, when Gastronal, their wizard interrupted, leaning over the back of the chair to whisper in Verrek’s ear.
    Both men looked up to where Ecanos sat his horse. He nodded back to both as Gastronal, wearing flashy robes and cape, continued to whisper. A few of the young men, stunned by the sudden silence turned to look. Verrek caught himself reaching for his sword and shifted to his tankard as he listened.
    Verrek nodded to his wizard his cold eyes; never leaving Ecanos then stood and said, “Gentlemen, I must go. But remember my words.”
    He looked at each of the young men, and then pointedly at Ecanos, “Also be wary of those who come to our village that take action and speak words against the greater good. Be cautious of those who would see the likes of goblins walk amongst us as equals. Be wary of those who do trade with the monsters that plague us.”
    He finished his ale, setting it back to the table, picking up his sword and helm, ”I will be back later this evening with our contract for this adventure for those who wish to sign on and join us. Until then, watch the hills…” He looked to Ecanos again and strode of into the darkness, followed by his wizard.

    It's taking a lot longer for my leg to grow back than I thought it would.
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    Re: Hard Lessons on Sun Jun 28, 2015 11:43 am
    KT McDermott

    Posts : 241
    Join date : 2010-06-19
    Age : 37
    Location : South Arkansas
    Ecanos continued through the fair, noting booths he would like to visit himself and then headed into town to find the home of Varunca. He circled around to the north end of town, looking over the wall and the village’s defenses. They kept the trees and brush cut back beyond arrow reach. The outside of the wall did not have any structures built against it and was patrolled irregularly. He paused at the gate to ask for directions. The guardsman pointed out a small stone cottage with a large yard full of trees, flowers, and herbs. The home’s walls were indeed covered in blue ivy. The little front gate pointed towards the wall, and despite the closeness of the neighboring homes, the little cottage felt secluded.
    The walkway was lined with colored glass jars that were full of lightning bugs even though there were no lids on the jars. The pathway was lit with a diffuse glow from the bugs that filled the jars and flitted about. The blooms from a thousand different plants added their perfume to the air and the garden felt peaceful.
    Ecanos pulled the letter of introduction from his pocket and stepped up onto the vines screened porch. He spotted a small gnomish woman rocking in a chair to his left. The door was cracked, letting a sliver of light out and the windows glowed with the flicker from a fireplace.

    “Varunca? Eleroy advised me bid your assistance with a task I have.”
    She looked him over and stopped petting the tawny cat on her lap and reached for the letter.
    She was grey haired, with the wrinkles and color of a raisin. She wore a light summer weight dress embroidered with flowers and vines, and sandals. She pushed back so the light from the window behind her could illuminate the letter.
    “I see, boy. Did you bring the maps the Dwarves gave you?” her face was shadowed and her voice soft.
    Ecanos handed them over and waited. “This is not good. Can you show me where you think the giant clan may be on this map?”
    Ecanos came to her side and pointed out how he had come down from the dwarven fortress mines, where the giant’s trail had separated from his, and where the dwarves had initially instructed them to look for the Tinty-Byuleun.
    “It is good the elven boy sent you to me. What would you offer for my help?”
    Ecanos reached into his suitcoat pocket and removed a small canary construct. It was made of yellow gold with black diamonds for eyes. It had a key hole under each wing. He produced the key from another pocket and showed her how one keyhole wound the music box that allowed the bird to sing, and the other allowed it to flutter and prance.
    He handed her the bird and from an inner pocket he removed a copy of Egerd’s Cornucopia which was an herbal encyclopedia masterfully illustrated with many of the realm’s medicinal and magical plants.
    “If you can lead me to the giants, showing me how to avoid areas of danger so I can help them find what they are looking for and get back to their home caves before the Company of the Shining Stone can lead a march against them, I will give you these items and complete a small task for you as repayment.”

    The old gnome rocked for a few minutes then said, “I believe I can help you. In doing so, I feel you will be able to help me.” She brushed the cat off her lap and stood. She was small, even for an elderly gnome, but as she stood, she began to shrink further, sprouting hair all over her body. The cat jumped up onto the railing and sat down, beginning to grow and expand. In a few moments, an old dark tawny cat sat on the slippers partially covered by the embroidered dress. On the rail sat a much younger gnomish woman wearing nothing at all. She hopped down and shooed the cat, slipping the dress on over her head and her feet into the sandals.

    “I like a good rub, and have yet to find a man that can get it right. Cats understand a good scratch and rub.” Her voice was the same as she gathered the canary and the book. The cat ducked through the open door and she motioned Ecanos to follow.
    Inside she offered him a chilled glass of mint tea and pear slices with sugar icing after seating him in the once chair that would fit his larger size. She bustled about for a few minutes gathering a few things, setting them on a table beside him.

    She pulled up her own chair and began, “I know of the mineral the giants are looking for. My great grandfather, Harseth, worked in those hills and mountains. Eleroy was right in sending you to me.” She laid out a map much like the one Ecanos had given her, “Harseth added his tomb into his workshop up in those hills and my grandfather, father and I hid its entrance. Over the years we have returned there occasionally to work or use his library in our research. Last year, I felt I was followed into the hills, but could never prove it. Recently, the Company has been doing quite a bit of research of their own, spending quite a bit of time in those hills. I’m afraid they may have found Harseth’s Tomb. I’m also afraid the giants are in the same area and the Company wants to build a force to kill these giants and remove them, so they can loot my grandfather’s tomb.”

    Ecanos looked over the map showing the tomb’s location and the markings where the Tinty-Byuleun and other minerals were. Varunca’s theory made sense.
    “I’d like to head out early in the morning to warn the G’mlac and help them gather what they need. We have a few days to get them out of there before the Shiners lead their recruits in. I would hate for the G’mlac to be attacked when they are trying to help their own people. From what I heard Verrek boasting, I’m afraid they may have already been attacked.”
    “I have heard the same. He and Gastronal have been rousing the rabble in their favor for days now.”

    They discussed preparations for a couple hours and agreed to meet back at Varunca’s house before daybreak. She had allowed him to make notations on his own maps from hers.

    On his ride back to the wagon, Ecanos swung by the Charter house for the Shiners. Taranga was leaning against a post next to the steps up to the porch. When she recognized Ecanos, she came down and out to the street. She moved like she was half panther and half dancer. Her hair was pulled back in a braid and she wore boots, jeans, and a loose blouse. She had half a dozen daggers at her belt.
    Ecanos moved his horse to the rail in front of a restaurant across from their charter house and climbed down, tying his mount.

    “Meet me out back.” She said as she passed him, not slowing as she continued on.

    He went inside and ordered a drink at the bar before asking for the necessary. He finished the drink, paid and went through the room, noting the faces, and into the hall that led out back to the outhouses.

    She was sitting on the trough by the well pump, “I didn’t think you would come.” She was playing in the water, the moonlight turning her hair to silver.
    “I was in the area.”

    She jumped up and ran to him. “I’m in trouble,” she said after pulling back from her kiss and embrace, “I thought these were good guys, but they aren’t.”
    “Few ‘Adventurers’ are.”
    “I heard you were in Phoenixia, how did you get here so quickly?” She led him away from the hotel into an alley and then up onto the rooftops.
    “Easily. I’d have been here sooner, but I had to pack and talk with the Eagle Ridge Clan. You know how they are, I was lucky to get here as soon as I did.”
    “You’re cutting it close.”
    “I know.” He sat with her beside a warm chimney, looking her over, “You look great. I’ve missed you.”
    “Yeah, and every other damsel in distress you’ve encountered since we parted in Dodge.”
    “How many of those amulets do you think I pack around?”
    “Enough.” She was pouty, but not serious.
    “I see how it is. Give a girl a magical trinket that allows her to call on you anytime, anywhere, and then actually show up when she uses it, and I’m still a cad.”
    “That’s about right,” she smiled and then moved closer.
    “Fill me in on what I don’t know.”

    You are the reason I cuss so much!
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    Kieyotie McDermott
    Kieyotie McDermott

    Posts : 111
    Join date : 2012-03-08
    Age : 39

    Hard Lessons Empty Re: Hard Lessons

    Post  Kieyotie McDermott on Mon Dec 05, 2016 4:58 pm

    The restaurant had closed by the time they climbed down. Things were worse than Ecanos had thought, but he assured Taranga that the Company of the Shining Stone would not have a hold upon her for much longer.

    He spent the rest of the night making what arrangements he could and was back at Varunca’s as the moon was setting. Since the trails were not horse friendly, they left her garden with their packs and arrived at the trail split Ecanos had mentioned earlier. Even though Varunca knew where they were headed, she did not have the skills to get them there, and he could only travel magically to places he had been or could see. At least without risk. He was still able to save them most of a day’s travel.
    He followed Varunca off the wagon trail onto a goat path that led them higher up and deeper into the hills.
    She was a talker, pointing out various plants, minerals, animals, tracks, and naming just about everything she saw. When she wasn’t being informative, she was explaining what she knew of the Company of the Shining Stone, their adventures, and the darker rumors surrounding them. And when she wasn’t doing that, she talked about her great-grandfather, his work in the hills, and how even though he was a gnome and liked to tinker, he had true magical talent that he had passed along to her.
    Her chatter passed the time nicely and her information helped to detail the plan Ecanos was working on for dealing with the Shiners.

    Even with Varunca’s near incessant chattering, Ecanos could hear the giants long before they could see them. The group must have been done for the day, as he could hear drums and their deep voiced singing. He had been told the tracking party was mostly men, with 2 younger males, and while they were shy around strangers, the giants were an active and friendly bunch.

    Not knowing how they would react, or what problems the Shiners had already caused, Ecanos didn’t want to simply walk into their camp and startle them.
    Varunca was a little nervous herself, once he let her know why they were stopping, as they were nearing the workshop/ tomb of her great grandfather.
    “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shiners are trying to run off the giants simply so they can loot my ancestor’s tomb!” She pointed to where a slab of the mountain had shorn off to form a rugged hill, “It sounds like they are not too far from where the entrance is hidden.”

    Ecanos called out to the giant in their native tongue and in dwarven to attempt to get their attention. He continued as Varunca led him into the canyons formed by the broken mountain slab, moving closer to the cliff face. After about a half-hour the drums stopped and a few minutes later there was a rumbling response. Ecanos paused to identify himself and his companion before moving deeper into the canyon. They came to the cliff wall to a place where the canyon doubled back on itself, leaving a cave eroded into the wall from water flow. Here the G’mlac elder waited with four warriors.

    Ecanos went through the ritual for greeting the Chief, introduced himself and Varunca, and showed the elder giant the new documents the dwarves had sent with him. The elder, R’tik-rik, was large even for a giant. He stood nearly fifteen feet tall, proportioned like a human, and heavily muscled. He carried a polished club made of petrified wood set with amber.
    The giant’s companions were all about twelve feet tall with heavy club-like mauls and carry sacks of rocks. They had arrayed themselves so they could protect their elder from partial cover. Ecanos had seen the others above the canyon wall on the slab, hiding in crevices with large boulders. All relaxed visibly when Ecanos told them of his visit with the dwarves.
    After looking over the new maps, R’tiki-rik invited both back to their camp, which Varunca confirmed was in the clearing outside of the hidden entrance to her ancestor’s tomb. In camp, the others came down, making eight males of fighting age, two younger males and R’tik-rik. Their camp was clean and orderly. Their tents were conical teepees made of dozens of large hides sewn together. They had set wooden barriers and brush around their camp with an inner fence that created a run for several large wolves they had captured for additional protection. They stepped over their barrier into the run and lifted Ecanos and Varunca over into the camp. Their large stone and hide drums had been set up between their fire built at the cliff face and their tents. A cauldron that would have served as a boat was filling the campsite with the smell of stewed meat with vegetables. The giants pulled up boulders to sit on and a couple smaller rocks set on one of the drums for their guests. They laid out their map and showed where they had hunted already. The new map showed that the deposit they needed was close to their camp and Varunca agreed that the deposit may actually be inside her great-grandfather’s tomb.
    This brought up the issue of the Shiners, which set the giants into a frustrated argument.
    They had been attacked in the night. One giant still bore wounds that were mostly healed. Instead of asking for assistance from the giantkin, they snuck in like thieves, taking what they could and attacking once they were noticed. The giants did not want trouble with the townsfolk, but had some items they wanted returned. They had been discussing the best way to deal with the problem once they had found the Tinty-Byuleun they needed.

    Ecanos listened, and took note of the items the giants wanted back. He explained his plan for dealing with the band of looters and got the giants to agree to remain patient just a little longer. They agreed the townsfolk were innocent as far as the attack, and wanted to see if what he had in mind for the Shiners would work.
    Varunca was not overly pleased with the plan, but agreed that it might be the best way to deal with the tomb raiders, showing their leader for the fraud he was. Ecanos’ plan would only harm those who pushed things too far, which would definitely trap Verrek and Gastronal. It would also give Murt and Taranga a chance to show their true colors in this mess.

    As the giants finished preparing dinner, Varunca took Ecanos into the tomb. They verified that her grandfather had found the mineral deposits and had worked them into the design of the room containing his personal treasures. If they moved the room’s contents to another area, the giants would be able to harvest the ore they needed. The only problem was the giant’s size. As Varunca’s ancestor was a gnome, the ceiling of most of the tunnels and rooms was only ten feet.
    Ecanos and R’tik-rik discussed the problem and determined that between their magics, the giants could harvest what they needed, carefully preserving the work done to the wall, even adding to it as they worked, as a gift for allowing them to gather the ore they needed. They offered to come back and add to the tomb for her when she was ready to make her own preparations for after she was gone. Varunca agreed after seeing some of the trinkets they carried that showed they were master stone crafters.

    That night Ecanos helped her clear the room and corridors to it. The next morning, while she slept deeper in the tomb, in the workshop area, he worked with the giants. R’tik-rik, and three of the elder giants had the ability to literally melt and reshape stone with their bare hands by focusing their innate abilities. Ecanos was able to shrink the giants down so they could fit into the tomb to work. Despite their smaller size, they retained their amazing strength and though cramped, they were able to work quickly. By mid-afternoon, the giants had what they needed, plus a little extra and were working on the decorative aspects of the room. They had a hearty dinner, using much of the meat and better food they had been saving towards a celebration and R’tik-rik went back in with Varunca and Ecanos to help set things up for the adventuring company. The next morning, Ecanos, Varunca and the giants said their farewells and exchanged plans for each party to visit the other. Once the giants had lumbered off, dragging their litters of ore and supplies, Varunca headed back to town to share the good news of their departure. Ecanos still wanted to work his trade and participate in some of the special events planned. He would know when the Shiners left town to try and break into the tomb, and he figured they would wait until the fair was over once they verified their planned killing spree would have to wait for another day.
    They knew this would upset the Adventurer’s plans of a massacre, but it would also entice them to return to the tomb once they could verify the giants were indeed gone. Varunca worried they would try to follow or ambush the giants, but Ecanos explained it would take her a day to get back to town, and the giants were fast travelers through the mountains. They would be a week farther along than a human would be by the end of the night, and the giants would be using trails nearly inaccessible to the shorter limbed humans.

    Once back in Andrath, Ecanos returned to his wagon to find he was doing a rather fine trade. He spent the evening talking over his plans with his assistants. By the next morning, word of the giants having left had spread through the fair. Those who thrived on hate mongering, fear, and violence still wanted to hunt the giants down, spreading word that it was a trick and the giants were already on their way. Many who had signed on with the Companions of the Shining Stone were waiting in the street when Verrek stepped out on the porch, wanting repayment for supplies bought, or simply to be taken off the Giant’s Folly List, as it was being called. He went back inside, telling everyone that he would discuss the matter at the evening feast.
    Murt put his helmet on, sat in front of the down, and lowered his visor, ignoring everyone.
    Despite his being a judge for the Arcane Challenge, Gastronal was nowhere to be found.
    Taranga was seen wandering the fairgrounds playing at various games of skill and chance, but had no word for anyone as Verrek was their commander and made all the decisions. Many were not happy about this, but a sharp reminder of who she was ended their argument.

    The next morning Ecanos woke early and made his second round through the fair grounds. This time afoot. As much as Ecanos distrusted and disliked people in general, he enjoyed gatherings of people and their enjoyment of events like this. He watched couples walking hand in hand, children laughing and playing, even the merchants seemed excited and content. He made small purchases, tasted various treats, and tried his hand at some of the challenges.
    He went into town to have his lunch in the busiest eatery. He wanted to hear what rumors were traveling around the village now that the expedition into the mountains had been cancelled.

    “…why those monsters are on the move. How long before they come down out of those mountains?”
    “At least we should be able to see them coming!? He he he!...”

    “What are we going to do with all these people who came in for the Giant hunt?”
    “I’m going to set up a booth to buy used arms and gear! I’ll take all of it down river and make a fortune!”
    “That sounds good, let me help fund you. I’ve even got a decent wagon we can use.”
    “As soon as the Arcane Challenge is over I’ll bring the wagon and we’ll get started. I want to see if Old Eznorb tries the Needle in a Haystack again. He loves that old trick and I like watching those high and mighty wizards lose their minds over a little pin!”

    “I say those Adventurers are going to get our entire town burnt to the ground. They’ll find a group of so-called monsters and get themselves killed and the beasts will fall on us for sponsoring those looters.”
    “I agree. If some group of creatures came and attacked us and stole our valuables, we’d raise an army. But when ‘adventures’ go into some creatures’ lair and kill off their families and bring back their treasures, they are considered heroes. Crying shame…”

    “Have you seen that tower they’re building out there?”
    “Is that what that skinny pile of sticks is? For the Challenge?”
    “My Aunt’s cousin is shagging Dahl’s apprentice. She said they’re going to put something on top of it, a certain coin, which the wizards have to get.”
    “A magical coin?”
    “She thinks so. She said he let her see it. It’s got a feather on one side and a boat on the other. Solid gold and twice as thick as standard gold coin. It’s worth a fortune to someone like us.”
    “I’ve seen your Aunt’s cousin, she ain’t worth no fortune!”
    “You’ve got that right! But that apprentice thinks she is! He’s always using his spells to impress her. Last week he…”

    “I’m going to gather some of the better men around here that are ready for a fight and hunt those giants down. Verrek has a little job to do first, but he’s looking for a few who still stand by what they said.”
    “You know my boys are in. Those giants had to have come out of the mountains after something. If they would come this far for whatever it was… What else have they packed back to their caves…?”

    “You see those Dwarves over there? They brought in a dozen wagons loaded with big boulders. Hauled them to the top of Greggor’s hill. Won’t let no one out there.”
    “Too bad those Giants wandered off. They could have had one of those rock tossing contests I’ve heard they have! I hear they can toss a wagon’s weight back and forth like a little kid with a ball.”
    “That would be something to see, but I wonder why they hauled all those boulders to the top of Greggor’s Hill, and what they plan to do with them. My farm runs into that valley at the bottom and I don’t want to have to plow around a bunch of rocks…”

    “Can you believe what those goblins are selling?”
    “I saw! Pickled lizard tails? I bought a jar and they are surprisingly good!”
    “I bought a length of that rope they make out of spider silk webs. I thought it would be sticky, but it’s not, and it’s stronger than anything I’ve ever seen. I’m going back later today to pick up another hundred foot. Those little buggers have no idea what they have there. You’d better get yourself some before it’s all gone.”
    “I’ll do that. You should pick up some of those lizard tails, too…”

    Ecanos listened. Throughout the meal of roast lamb, fresh greens, and a sweet pie with honey and pears, he listened.

    The Arcane Challenge would start once the judges gathered after their midday meal.
    Old Eznorb was seated at the covered judging booth set on a platform two thirds of the way down Greggor’s Hill. He was a wizened, wrinkled old human. He wore loose trousers and an embroidered shirt under a vest covered in pockets. He sat eating olives after using his wand to pit the seeds.
    Dahl and his apprentice, both younger men, stood talking with a group of younger, wealthy townsfolk, mostly attractive young women. The two wizards were using simple spells and sleight of hand to awe and amaze while they waited. Both young men wore well fitted suits of pale blue and carried engraved walking sticks that held their wands.
    Gastronal, Verrek, Tarrunca and Murt arrived as a group, riding through the gathering crowd of participants and observers to the judges’ podium. A few cheered the group, a few called insults, but all let them pass through.
    Gastronal wore embroidered and bejeweled robes with a feathered cap. He looked much like a bantam rooster as he strutted his way to his seat on the podium. The others spread through the crowd. Verrek was gathering hot-headed warriors off to one side while Murt found a food vendor. Tarrunca passed Ecanos and spoke a moment with him, leaving with a laugh and a smile.

    The judges spoke to each other on the podium a few minutes then sat themselves with Old Eznorb in the middle. There was an obvious tension between Gastronal and Dahl as Dahl’s apprentice came to the front of the judges’ table and used a bit of magic to amplify his voice.

    “Attention! Please, quiet! Everyone, please! Quiet, we are about to begin!” AS everyone settled, he continued, “Would the contestants in this first event of the seventy-second Antrath Arcane Challenge please come forward and gather here to the left of the podium.” Again it took a few minutes for everyone to settle down and get them sorted.
    “In this first round of the Arcane Challenge, each contestant must destroy a boulder that will be rolled down Greggor’s Hill here. Contestants will be judged on methodology, skill, showmanship, and how thoroughly the boulder is destroyed. All contestants have already drawn lots and will compete in four rounds. With a finalist from each round competing against the others for the event champion.”
    The contestants began to sort themselves again, lining up for their round. Ecanos took note of who had ended up in each heat. The older, wealthier wizards would compete in round four, after watching how the others competed.
    Ecanos competed in the first round and took his place spaced twenty feet from those on either side of him. At the top of the two hundred foot gentle grade stood a line of boulders. They each measured close to twelve feet across and had been worked by the dwarves to be as close to round as possible. Once everyone had lined up and acknowledged they were ready, the boulders were levered over the lip of the hill.

    As the boulders began rolling, the competitors looked at each other, the boulders bouncing down the hill, and got to work. The first man, a small dour elf, cast his spell and a large hand formed up the hill, catching the boulder. Next to him a small Halfling woman opened a large glowing portal on the grassy slope ahead of where her boulder was rolling. The human man standing next in line started waving his arms wildly in a dance. The breeze picked up and gathered into a wind. Ecanos walked slowly up the hill towards his rock. Today he was wearing a black silk suit and polished shoes. He carried nothing as he walked up to the five ton boulder coming towards him.
    The elf was struggling with the boulder grasped in the magical hand. The rock had several stress fractures, but was still rolling down the hill, although slowly. He had a nose bleed, but was not giving up.
    The human was using the wind funnel he had created to push his boulder towards the portal the Halfling had created, bumping her boulder out of line as it fell out of sight to who knew where. The Halfling cancelled her spell with a curse and began working on another portal, forming it under her opponent who was already turned to the crowd’s cheers. He disappeared even as the Halfling’s boulder bounced to the bottom of the hill and stopped against the iron wall that had been magically constructed there.
    The human’s scream was silenced when the portal closed over his head. As two soldiers came out of the crowd, the Halfling cursed again and vanished.
    Ecanos continued walking up the hill as the elf crushed the boulder into pebbles and then collapsed, blood leaking from his ears and nose. Ecanos side-stepped the boulder, brushing his fingers across its surface as it passed. The giant rock began to shrink, getting smaller and smaller until it bounced against Ecanos’ foot where he now stood at the bottom of the hill. He bent over and picked it up, crushing it between his fingers into dust. He then walked over to the elf and bent down. In a moment he was sitting up, rubbing his temples, using a handkerchief to clean up his blood. Ecanos helped him to his feet and led him to the podium. As he passed the Halfling’s boulder, he shrank it down, putting the small rock into his pocket.
    It took a few minutes to get the crowd quieted down. Ecanos was given the round as the next group went to the line. An extra rule was enacted banning spell use on the other competitors. Ecanos helped the Elf to his tent to rest, returning for the final participant in the third round, after a small detour.

    As the boulder came crashing down the half-elven mage began to dance. She moved in such a way that she was able to focus his moves and throw a bolt of lightning at the boulder. The first blast split the great rock. Her movements increased in speed as she fired more and more bolts of devastating electricity, blasting the chunks of rock into smaller pieces, until she was a whirlwind of electricity turning the boulder bits to char and dust. She had even taken to effort to color his lightning bolts so they were a kaleidoscope of color.
    She took the round for his showmanship and crowd appeal.

    The elder and wiser wizards had been able to watch what had worked in the other rounds.
    After a third round accident that crushed one of the contestants, the rocks were rolled down singly. The first to step forward was a younger orcish blooded man in leather ring mail. As the boulder came down towards him, he combined a spell with a ring and focused on the stone. After a moment it slowed and then burst into a ball f slick, wet mud that flowed down the hill like a river. The orc dodged out of the way as the river of mud nearly overwhelmed him.
    The second was the local Enchanter, a human named Thorquas. He stepped to the line, pulling a scroll from one of the pockets of his robe. In moments a creature was crawling up out of the hillside, a massive monster that looked like a cross between a shark and a caterpillar. It reared up out of the ground in front of the boulder and fell towards it, grasping the rock in its mandibles. It took a few minutes, and was slightly horrifying to watch the creature eat to boulder. When it was done consuming the rock, the creature burrowed back into the hillside, out of sight. The Enchanter bowed to the crowd and returned to the sidelines.
    Ecanos was distracted from the next contestant when the winner from the second round walked up, “These four paid quite a bit to be last, just so they could watch. I felt it would be better to work against the weaker opponents. I paid to have the worst three in my round. Those idiots just ensured that three of the best competitors would no longer remain.” He patted Ecanos on the back, “See you next game, and good luck.”

    The crowd cheered and Ecanos saw the last competitor step forward. A local Elven mage, come here to retire and win various arcane competitions in the area these humans so loved.
    Instead of facing the rock crashing down behind him, the mage turned to the judges and began to sing. He had a beautiful voice, but his words were the magic. Ecanos heard the spell and blocked its effects on himself, but he listened. The elf sang of a time when there was a boulder bouncing down a mountain and how that boulder was utterly destroyed. He sang of its destruction, his words convincing everyone that heard of this, even as the rock rolled past to settle against the wall. He sang for nearly five minutes, and by the end, everyone in the crowd could have laid hands on the boulder sitting before them and still believe it had been destroyed.
    Ecanos smiled. It was a great use of magic for a simple contest. He decided he would need to keep an eye on this wizard in the future. As the round was given to Sylvan Silvereyes, Ecanos walked over to the boulder and added another pebble to his pocket.

    The second contest the whole group was directed to look towards the distance, across the fairgrounds to where the tower had been erected. The winners of the previous rounds, Ecanos, Sylvan Silvereyes, the fellow who had greeted Ecanos earlier- Tom Tall-Talker, a Halfling raised human, and the winner of the second round, a female elf named Elona, were all brought forward.

    “Upon that tower has been placed two coins!” shouted Dahl’s apprentice, “The first two wizards to return with the coins shall move forward to the next competition! Are you ready!?”
    Once everyone agreed they were, he shouted, “Begin!”

    Tom Tall-Talker sat on the ground and began chanting quietly. Ecanos recognized the spell and started walking towards the judge’s booth, not sure if he would still be the first to return a coin or not. The spell the mage had started would take a minute or two to complete, but once it was, the man would have all the time in the world.

    Sylvan Silvereyes took a great leap and jumped into the air, flying towards the tower like an arrow. The crowd cheered and began to separate in order to watch the flight.

    Elona blinked out of sight, appearing a few hundred yards away, then blinked again.

    By the time Ecanos reached the judges’ podium, she was at the tower. As he reached up to lay the coin in his hand to Old Eznorb, another hand dropped a coin on their table.

    Tom Tall-Talker was now standing beside him. In an instant, the man had moved from sitting in the dirt to dropping the coin he had returned with.

    Ecanos smiled as he handed over his coin and nodded to Tom, “You look a bit older, my friend.”

    “Aye, I gave myself plenty of time. Too bad I could not have seen the look on their faces when they reached an empty podium.” He leaned closer and whispered, “I admit I was surprised to find only a single coin, myself.”

    The judges looked the two coins over, making sure they were the proper coins before handing them back. “You may keep these Tokens. We will proceed to the next round,” Old Eznorb said with a smile.

    Two large wagons were brought forward, pulled by four draft horses each. Upon each was a small mountain of hay.

    “In each wagon has been hidden a needle. The first to return with it shall be named the contest winner,” the apprentice yelled. When he determined they were ready, he continued, “Pick your wagons! Go!”

    Tom walked over to his hay wagon and disconnected it from the horses, releasing them to their handlers. Then he stepped back and used a spell to set the whole mess ablaze, fanning the flames with his spell until he had a roaring blaze.

    Ecanos walked to his wagon, reached into the hay, flinched, and walked back to the judges while Tom looked at him in awed horror. Ecanos held his hand up to the judges to see the needle stuck firmly in the pad of his index finger. The crowd watching erupted in cheers. Old Eznorb pulled the needle from Ecanos’ finger and enlarged it. Engraved in the steel were the words, “Eznorb’s Needle of the Haystack”, verifying that Ecanos indeed found the correct needle.

    Tom’s fire was still a roaring blaze since the wagon had caught fire too, but he bowed graciously and moved into the crowd where his friends waited with a mug of ale, taking a woman under his arm.

    Ecanos was brought onto the judge’s podium and given a small golden statue of a wizard that had been animated as if casting a spell. It was of such quality that it could be easily enchanted further. There was also a wand that would inform the user of magical properties of other objects. Ecanos took his prizes as the crowd cheered and then stepped down as the crowd dispersed. He quickly caught up with Tom Tall-Talker, who was now surrounded by his friends and their women. Tom cheered Ecanos, and doubly so when he was given the wand. Ecanos politely explained that he had unfair advantages, but was still had use of the statue. He spent about an hour carousing with Tom, and Elona as she joined them. As dusk fell, he excused himself and returned to town to have his evening meal with Varunca.

    Early the next day Verrek stood in the clearing that once housed the Giant’s camp. He was poking through the ashes of their fire, thinking.
    Gastronal was examining the cliff face, casting various spells to unravel the magics the hide the tomb entrance.
    It was Murt who found it however. He had noticed the tracks of the giants and how they had moved about their camp. He found where they disappeared into the cliff face. After that, Gastronal was able to dispel the magic that kept the entrance hidden from sight.
    Tarrunca sat back sharpening her daggers, watching her companions. It was nearly noon before Gastronal had the entrance unmasked and the door open, letting light into the tunnel that led deeper into the cave. As soon as the doors swung open, her three companions looked to Tarrunca. She finished with her dagger and stood. She stretched and shook out her muscles.

    Tarrunca stepped into the cool dark interior of the tomb. She moved carefully down the corridor, moving light and quick, testing each step before she made it. In a few minutes she was down the corridor and looking into the first room.
    A statue of a gnomish man, carved of white marble, stood upon a large pedestal in the hexagonal room. The room was not lit, but there were torch holders in each corner. Tarrunca backed out carefully, double checking everything to make sure she had not missed anything.
    When she returned to the light of day, she beckoned to her companions and moved back inside. Back at the entrance to the first room, Gastronal cast a spell that sent a glowing orb of light into the room. The Gnome’s robes were faceted, like a jewel. The man held a spell book in his right hand and a scepter in the other. There was a tunnel entrance in both the left and right hand walls.
    With the orb hovering above the statue, Tarrunca carefully moved into the room and began searching the floor and walls for traps. The others waited impatiently as she moved around the room, poking and testing the stones. On the backside of the statue she found the marks left for her. They were on the back side of the pedestal where she could pause and read them out of sight of the door. She read the signs and sat back a moment to think. She could continue on with her companions, and to wealth and riches. Or she could not.
    She reread the words left for her and erased the marks. As she touched the last, Tarrunca screamed in terror and vanished.

    Gastronal felt the magic erupt in the room and cursed whatever clumsy mistake the woman had made. He had told Verrek that it was long past time to replace the rogue. He looked to Verrek and saw the anger. The larger man looked angry. He had been trying to win the girl’s affection since he picked her up out on the plains. He looked to Murt, standing solid in his armor and beckoned him forward as he stepped into the room, casting spells. The stolid warrior drew his sword and followed, the noise of his armor echoing throughout the tomb. Verrek was but a step behind.
    Searching the room, all he found was some residual magic on the statue and a smoldering mark left on the base of the pedestal. The room appeared to be clear of any danger. He looked into each hall, sending his magic ahead. He paused a moment, sniffing the air, and then Gastronal directed the others to the corridor to the left, stating that it led deeper into the mountain and they could return to search the other direction once they had found the treasure, nothing lived in that direction.
    So the trio moved to the left, Murt bringing up the rear, guarding the others. They were spread out about twenty feet apart, testing their movements, Verrek in the lead.
    They were spread out when the trap was tripped. Verrek was a decent leader, but not one to have a care for traps. He knew he had made a mistake when the stone under his foot shifted and gave way as if on a spring. His startled shout brought Gastronal forward, stepping on another stone trigger. Murt turned to see what was going on as the door at the end of the corridor pivoted, as if pinned at the top, allowing the bottom to swing forward releasing a large cylindrical stone, quickly followed by a second.
    Verrek ran farther into the hall, and tumbled sideways into a branching corridor, just as the first stone rolled past. Gastronal jumped and used his magic to cling to the ceiling, barely escaping the rolling stones. Murt turned to retreat back into first room, but was too heavy and slow. He was only clipped by the stone as turned the corner, but in but a moment his flesh was turned to stone, frozen mid stride. His momentum sent him sliding across the floor, but not out of the way of the second stone. The second cylinder only weighted about a thousand pounds, but it was more than enough to cause the magically altered warrior to explode when it hit him. Armor and crushed stone scattered all over the octagonal room.
    Gastronal dropped back to the floor and looked up the corridor to where Verrek was peeking into the hall and back to where Murt lay destroyed. He ran up the hall to Verrek.

    They were at the end of a thirty foot hallway, much like the one they just came from. Verrek asked if they needed to search the room the stones had come from, and Gastronal figured the space was empty, just a trap, or they would have been attacked already. It also meant the rest of the tomb was likely devoid of living creatures. At the end of the hall, they found a locked door. Gastronal was trying to learn what the magic on the door was when Verrek simply kicked the door in. It split at the jamb and twisted a hinge as it opened. As it swung away, the door grew bright and turned blue, filling the space with ozone before erupting in a lightning bolt that hit Verrek in the center of his plated chest, knocking him down the hall and bounced him into the other corridor, smoking and burnt. AS Verrek flew down
    the hall, a deep, booming voice filled the hallway, “Return from whence you came, or face the wrath of the Archmage Neverlost!”
    Gastronal had ducked, but still had a line of flame and a burn across his back. He checks the room and sees a sarcophagus and some bronze urns. There were two hallways out of the room. He paused to listen, but only heard the meat frying sizzle of his former leader. After a hundred count, Gastronal went back to find Verrek burnt, and addled, but still alive. Gastronal checked him over and decided to Verrek might still have some use. With a couple potions, Verrek looked more like a person and less like a piece of charred pork. The mage used a scroll and soon had Verrek up and coherent. The large man’s armor was badly damaged, both his weapons and armor had been magnetized, and he had been knocked out of his boots, which had to be found.
    Back in the ten by fifteen room, Gastronal looked through the urns while Verrek examined the sarcophagus. The room had a strong magic aura, but Gastronal could not find why. Each urn was a little stronger than the room itself. Each urn was made of a precious metal: Copper, silver, gold, and platinum, each filled with ancient coins and a ring of the same material buried in the coins. The sarcophagus had a stronger aura, too, but it was over the entire room, making his mind itch.
    Inside the sarcophagus, which was much smaller than normal, lay the bones of a gnome. He lay in a dress robe with a ring on one finger and a wand in hand. In a small coffer at the gnome’s feet was a platinum necklace, two sapphire rings, and a pearl bracelet.
    Verrek pocket the box of jewels inside his broken breast plate and let Gastronal look into the opened grave box. The mage quickly stripped the robe and ring from the bones, looking over each a moment before putting the robe on. When he slid the ring on his finger and held the wand, Gastronal felt a sharp pain through his body.
    A deep, booming voice filled the room again, “You were warned to leave! Now face the wrath of the Neverlost!!!”

    The magic that overlay the room went into effect and the room changed. The sarcophagus melted into a spray of sand. The walls disappeared; leaving Verrek and Gastronel in a deep, wooded valley that was narrow and branched at both ends. Behind them was the door they came through, now locked and barred behind a portcullis.
    The canyon walls were high and riddled with large holes, as if something monstrous had burrowed through them. The valley floor sloped down, away from them and they could see where a waterfall made a deep pool at the far end. The trees covered the valley, leaving it dark and shaded.
    They could hear a great many birds and beast calling out in those woods.
    As they paused to listen, they also heard drums, deep booming drums. They looked to the sound and saw creatures moving about in the holes of the canyon walls, caves. They looked from the creatures in the caves to the nearest cave and realized they had found themselves in one of the giant enclaves.
    Both were in mild shock as they looked about. Both were naked and unarmed. Gastronal still had the ring on, but he could feel it draining his magic, leeching it from him slowly. It might take days, or maybe weeks, but the ring, which he could not remove, would drain all of his magical abilities. He thought about cutting the finger off, but he would have to relearn how to cast almost every spell that required the use of that hand.
    If he hurried, he might find a way to remove the ring, and could take care of the issue of weapons and clothing with a couple spells, and maybe get out of this alive.
    Lord knew he didn’t want to see any more of Verrek than necessary. As he looked about, he saw something sitting on a rock, something golden. He checked to make sure Verrek hadn’t noticed, but the brute was trying to shake open the portcullis. Gastronal walked over and saw a familiar statue.

    A small wizard moving slowly as if casting a spell.

    You are the reason I cuss so much!
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