On any other day, this would be a pleasant walk through a grassy plain, skirting the edge of a forest, the chattery Halfling going on about her ideas for a new lure. Today though, the rancid smoke from a burning city still fills my nostrils, further agitated by the need for a full out run away from a giant driving it deep into my lungs to ensure its lingering presence all the longer. Why did I ever leave my grove? I never had to deal with burning human flesh and the vomitous stench of laboring giants over the century while I was there.
Why did I leave that grove? I could say it was the Halfling, Seiya’s banter and light heart drawing me out of my self imposed seclusion. Too long doing the same thing? Perhaps. Something is happening in the world though. I can feel it deep in the roots of trees, in the creatures of the surrounding forest shying away from me, when they would nest in my hand if I were still enough. Something is stirring, and the maliciousness of it lays heavy on the wind.
A grunt from behind snaps me out of my reverie. The human. He’s been following us since shortly after the giant gave up the chase. He’s trying to be quiet, but between a bundle in his hands, and the shine from over-polished armor, he’s about as stealthy as a bull in heat in a ceramics shop. I noticed him long before Seiya, and could only smile when she excitedly pointed him out in whispers. We took a couple minor steps off the path, yet he still persists. He doesn’t seem to be a threat, so we press onward.
I can’t rightly say where we’re going, but an odd stick in Seiya’s pack, and a faint feeling of meeting up with one Lord Tyrexus is our current motivation. Neither Seiya nor I know rightly what this means, but I’ve dealt with stranger reasons to go on an adventure. At least it’s more of a goal than to find yet another fishing hole. I remember watching her fish from a log, and pulling in something that glinted as it broke the water. Probably another fish for her to giggle about and exaggerate how hard it was to pull in, but there’s no sign of it now. Even more odd, we came to our senses on a beach with the water to the west of us, when it was to our south.
Thankfully, I was able to piece our location together from a rough map in her pack, granting it holds any accuracy. The woods we’re following, and the rising hills in the far distance lead to confirm it. Perhaps our human shadow has information on this.
I motion to Seiya to duck into cover, and continue on for another minute or better, then turn, directly watching our clamorous companion. He hesitates for a minute, looking for the now hidden Halfling, and stops short, hailing me.
The exchange is brief, but his self identification as a Paladin serving this Lord Tyrexus we are searching for moves things along quickly. His formal introduction is as one Sir Aldon Ruggedsloth, and we are told his companions call him Sloth, but as Seiya starts dancing around him singing “Clank, clank, clank, goes the Paladin!”, I dub him Sir Clank, which evolves as time progresses to Sir Clankypants as I sense the annoyance it fosters in his stoic demeanor. The same sense driving us to the also mockingly dubbed “Lord T-Rex” flares when Sloth mentioned his pseudonym. The source of destiny driving us seems to be tied to him as well, though I can not place my proverbial finger on it.
We press on. The bundle Sloth carries is quite the active little thing. A dragon! Things truly must be awry in the world for such a magnificent creature to be evident with this young man. A fact soon doubled-down upon in my mind as we approach the city Sloth calls Pitchfork. Above the city, in long loping patrol, flies a second magnificent beast. I feign fear to ease the apprehension so evident in Seiya. She is in awe of the creature, and afraid it could be inclined to make her an hors d’oeuvres before dining upon an elven entrée featuring me.
Sir Clankypants assuages her fears, winning her over with a natural charm and fearlessness, and leads us into the city. It is evident people are on edge. Boarded up windows, patrols overly large for the area they are in, and twice as frequent rush to and fro. On seeing our metal-clad friend, one of the guards welcomes him home, and informs him his presence is required by the Captain of the Guard and Lord of the City themselves.
Unsure of our status in the city, and seeing it as a way to find answers, Seiya and I follow Sloth to a barracks of a sort. I admit, my attention doesn’t last in the face of a delicious spread of cheeses and bread, amongst other choice tastes laid out for the Officers. We are invited to partake and I do, while Seiya plants herself on the corner of the table and follows suite.
A few small pleasantries are exchanged between Sir Aldon and the officer on duty, and our revelry is cut short as he waves for us to follow him again, this time heading for the main keep. As we move into the street, I tense as I see an elf being dragged through the street by quite the large Bengal tiger. Large cats are always unpredictable, and the behavior of this one is even farther removed from anything resembling normal. The elf could have passed for her cub being dragged by the scruff, or the armor in this case, but he is unconscious at best, dead at worst as she brings him into range.
Sloth is clearly shocked to see him, be it in this state, or at all, I am not sure. A cry rings out for a medic, and soon we are surrounded by a gaggle of humans fluttering about. The elf is revived, though obviously still weak from some intense ordeal. I catch a glimpse of something metallic glinting from his pocket, and a hilt bundled in the pack carried on his back.
Sir Clank and the elf obviously know each other, and the common area is filled with the commotion of their argument. Watching the two go back and forth is amusing at first, but I sense it turn deadly serious as the tones grow more hushed, and the elf steals glances to his hands and pocket. It seems something was stolen, and the oh so righteous one wishes to place the elf under arrest. He nearly does before Seiya steps in, arguing on behalf of the elf, as slavery was involved. Her own charms are as powerful as the metal-bound warrior’s, and her reasoning seems sound to all around.
The musical sounds of my own language floats through the air, and I turn to the elf. He pleads for my help should things turn out for the worse for him, confirming the fact whatever was taken, was done so from a group of slavers, who hold some of our own as their property. I agree to assist in whatever way I can, but find it is unneeded, as Seiya wins through to touch the heart of our escort in the city, and he acquiesces on the topic. The elf is clearly relieved, and introduces himself as Hunter before being surrounded and escorted into the keep. Sloth follows him, so Seiya and I follow Sloth.
We enter a council chamber of sorts, though only two people are present at the time. The smaller of the two has a yellowish tinge to his skin, with a streak of a metallic hue through otherwise dark hair. He is in no way a small man, but is dwarfed by the larger man in the room, who can only be Lord Tyrexus. His armor is a second skin, and bearing is cold precision. He dismisses the escort after a quick explanation to their presence from Sloth.
I sit back and watch as the Tin Man is promoted by Lord T-Rex, and given his orders. Something about an Orc King, a Dark Lord, armies, troops, and a bunch of ballyhoo about recruiting more into this army. With a sweep of his hand to the provisions at the table, and a curt nod, Lord Tyrexus leaves us alone with the newly upraised General Marcus.
The General’s attention is finally drawn to the strangers in the room. Not wanting to reveal too much of ourselves until gleaning insight into the mindset of these people, we start with our recount of the destroyed town we recently left. I never did rightly catch the name of it as Seiya handled those negotiations. The intel we provide seems to trouble the General, and talk is turned to a “Remnant” which was housed in the town. After the kerfuffle between Hunter and Sloth over an item of similar rarity outside, we remain hushed on what we found. Seiya decries her inability to free the golden cudgel from it’s sconce before we had to flee from a giant, while a true event, was not quite the only thing we found there. Thankfully he believes the story, so much so he orders now Major Clankypants to lead a force to the city to reclaim this Cudgel of St. Cuthbert, and deliver it to the Matrons of Greyhawk, where I now understand him to have been ordered to go by Lord T-Rex.
We press for more information on the Cudgel, only to learn it has an inspiring effect upon the populace to defend the area it is housed. I take this as a form of compulsion which the people have no voice to resist or agree to, and a revulsion of the stick builds in my gut. The sense of the misuse which could come of its possession cements my intent to not yield the artifact into the hands of the General or Lord T-Rex, but the current order stands as a challenge we must overcome, as it’s not worth returning to face the giants for no reason.
With orders set and Seiya and myself found to be a recruited contractor of sorts, the General leaves us to make preparations.
Sloth and Hunter debate on the disposistion of the troops for the march to Greyhawk, while Seiya and I confer on how to handle the Cudgel before we reach the Neireth? Something like that. The burned town. We agree to bring Hunter in on the secret when we get a chance to speak with him privately, which comes sooner rather than later. It seems his duties have placed him in charge of the outriders, which would leave me the charge of their contingent of beastly warriors as part of this little adventure. As we overlook the “troops”, I break the news to him. His reaction is one of bewilderment at first, until he pulls out the item of contention earlier in the day. It seems to be a magical compass, instead of pointing north, it leads in a straight line to one’s heart’s greatest desire. At this point in time, it seems it is the Cudgel, as it points directly to Seiya. Barring some deep seeded romantic notions my kindred elf may have towards halflings, it seems the deceptions would have been uncovered sooner than expected.
Hunter quickly asserts that we need to deliver the Cudgel unto Sir Clankypants, in some way as to not incriminate ourselves. His earnestness is shocking, but from the way he entered the town, and seemed to have been nearly incarcerated, I take it as an honest fear of reprisal. I let him know I’ll distract oh shiny one, and leave it to him and Seiya to handle the artifact.
In polite conversation over lunch, Sloth had inquired into my particular talents of shape-shifting. I use this to start up a conversation with him. He invites me to join him at a pool and show off my abilities as a fish, or other such, which I politely refuse. Things turn to a debate over what is considered natural smelling, of which I stand by my thoughts that anything which is processed and in a bottle is unnatural by simple definition.
Thankfully I am saved from further pushes towards a tub by Sloth deciding he wishes to check in on his dragon. The poor thing has been treated with some unwholesome concoction, which is accelerating its growth by months in a day. The pain he is under is palpable. There seems to be some sort of conversation between the two which I can not hear, but Sloth seems content this is not an ongoing condition.
We head back towards the keep, where we meet with Seiya and Hunter. Sloth needs to return to his room to gather his armor and shield, and Hunter offers to go with him to assist, and go over more plans for the troops. Seiya tells me know the Cudgel was successfully planted, but there is no mention of it when Sloth and Hunter return to let us know we’re delaying heading out until tomorrow. The army will push ahead on their own to Greyhawk, and we shall use the time of their march to perform some side missions, and recruitment.
The morning arrives bright and clear after an uneventful rest of the day. At breakfast many ideas are tossed around, with no one sure on where to head out to next. We are joined by conscript from the army to tend to us. After some more discussion and no real decision Hunter consults his compass, which points us Northwest, so off we go.
A couple of days out, after crossing a small range of hilly terrain, we spot a river, with an eclectic mix of creatures at the ford. Two worgs are on the near side drinking from the stream, an owl-bear and a deva on the far side. They are not openly hostile to start, and hailed by the guy from the army. I never did catch his name properly. An insult is tossed back our way, and battle is joined.
The fight is brutal and one sided. The only fallacy on our end comes with Hunter bumbling a shot, and sending it who knows where into the distance. Perhaps he saw something we failed to? The deva is given a chance to surrender, but fails to acquiesce, and is cut down in the end.
We set camp by the river, Seiya is overjoyed and immediately begins to throw her line into the water. As the sun sets and our campfire is burning bright, we are joined by an interesting fellow who flies in on a Pegasus. I sit back, still contemplating the days we’ve experienced recently, trying to piece together how I ended up here. A fish is tossed around and ends up on a spit over the fire to roast, when suddenly the fire blooms to life. I could sense no primal forces at work, and Sloth jumps to his feet, accusing the strange new fellow of profaning the laws, and placing him under arrest. As Sloth approaches, the gentleman waves his hands, and the earth turns to mush under the plated warrior. Questions fly back and forth, chaos ensues, and the last I remember is waters of the river rising over the bank and coming for me, and the ground under foot turns to muck.
By the time I am calmed down, the stranger is long gone, and we settle into an uncomfortable night, awaiting what the morrow will bring.