My name is Tamn, and, apparently I am once again an outlaw, on the lamb, and hunted by everyone. I started as a slave. Escaped slavery to become an adventurer. Had my party killed by creepy shadow things. Became a bandit. Ratted out the bandtis to get 'captured' and 'reformed' by a local baron. And now that baron has been outlawed himself and his former subjects are out to kill those of us that worked for him. So…yeah…need to find a new line of work soon…
Let me back up.
We stood on the battlements of Kryptgarten keep, watching the angry villagers massing. The previous day had brought quite a shock. Squire Grimnir and his companions had left early in the morning, trekking north through the snows to find the source of the Barren River's pollution before the the spring floods could ruin our fields. Shortly after they left, a group of lovely ladies had shown up asking strange questions about the squire. Shortly after the ladies left, a crier from Phlan arrived to deliver a writ of outlawry against the Squire and his pals for crimes against the state, and claimed all of Kryptgarten as forfeit. Then one of the farmers found the hacked, burned, and very dead body of Pooky, the Squire's giant, six-legged, albino crocodile-demon pet (yeah, he's a weird guy), near the edge of the keep's lands. That, of course, was sufficient sign for those of us at least somewhat loyal to the Squire to hole up in the keep, shut the doors, and try to figure out what to do since he was gone.
Now, I use the term 'loyal' loosely here. With the exception of Grinkle, who worships the squire as a god, and a few tattooed kooks from Hillsfar who did likewise, most of us served him out of debt, fear, or both. Not that we feared him, which we did, but that doesn't matter, but rather fear of the settlers in and around Kryptgarten, all of whom were from Hillsfar and had similar views on non-humans to that infamous city. The squire, scary as he was, had served as a buffer between the few of us who were not human and the potentially murderous xenophobia of the locals. Which leads us to the battlements.
As I said, by the end of the previous day, Grinkle had ordered all 'cleanly and faithful servants of our lord Grimnir' to withdraw into Kryptgarten Keep and shut the doors. This morning we had been awakened by the crashing, banging, gonging sounds of a giant black-iron bell falling from a great height. We rushed up to the battlements to see that the church which Grimnir had erected, dedicated to himself and run by Grinkle, was on fire. The sound must have been the bell falling from the tower, which had already collapsed. All of the settlers, some two hundred of them, were gathered around the gates. Everyone was armed with a torch, and most also had bows, spears, polearms, swords, shields, and armor (sometimes its not such a good idea to require 100% of your population to train with the militia).
With the peasantry up in arms, the church destroyed, our lord outlawed, and our monstrous defender killed, our position seemed untenable. There was only one thing to do: sneak out the back door.
Grinkle gave a little speech to the gathered 'priests', most of whom were heavily pierced and tattooed former chaos-bubo-cultists from Hillsfar and not particularly reliable. He told them we (Isti, Yury, Grinkle, and I) were leaving, and that as high-priest he was basically disbanding the church. Any of them who wanted to go with us could, the rest should divest themselves of their holy soap (yeah it was a weird church anyways), go dirty up their faces, and then let the villagers in once we were gone. Unsurprisingly we only had one taker on the going with us part, a real wacko (but a very talented wacko and a tough SOB) named Zander Payne.
We ran down from the walls and into the subterranean living quarters of the keep, grabbed all the gear and provisions we could carry, and were out the secret, back, entrance tunnel in under an hour. Isti dropped some kind of invisible wyvern trap spell in the passage in case we were followed. We watched from the woods as the 'faithless wretches' (as Zander called them) opened the gates and let the Kryptgardians charge into the keep. Then we booked it into the woods.
Now, the Quivering Forest is not a fun place to hang out, in any season, but in mid-winter its downright miserable. Grinkle, the tallest of us, was up to his knees in snow, which meant Isti and I were up to our chests. We were cold, wet, and homeless. Then, of course, there were the navigational issues in the forest, the fact that trees and landmarks tended to move around. We decided to head due-south and get out of the forest ASAP, as best we could determine on a cold, overcast winter day in a forest that wouldn't stand still.
Then, of course, there are the creatures that live in the forest that were just as cold as we were, and considerably more hungry. It should come as no surprise that, just when we saw the edge of the woods, two big (and I mean BIG) cats with tentacles sprouting from their backs appeared, one blocking out path ahead, and one creeping up behind. Grinkle, who's former tribe used to live in the forest, called them 'bèt deplase' or 'displacer beasts', and said they were almost impossible to hit. Of course, they also looked faster than any of us (especially me and my short legs) so it seemed like we had no choice but to try to hit them.
Just as I made the decision to charge the one in front of us, they pounced. It was at this point that I noticed that they had 6 legs, each with very sharp claws, but it was not the claws they attacked with, it was the flailing tentacles, each ending in a spiked pad. The one ahead leaped at me. I managed to dodge one tentacle, but took a rough hit from the second. The second took Zander, one tentacle hitting his left hand with enough force to splinter his shield and tear most of the flesh down to the bone.
Zander wailed in pain and lashed out with his flail, hammering the spiked weapon into the beast's side. Grinkle, surprisingly quick for his size, stepped into the thing's blind-spot as it attacked Zander and hacked at its backside, cutting it's tail clean off and causing it to let out a roar of pain. Isti rushed up, keeping Zander between herself and the beast, and, taking a handful of snow, channeled the power of the elements into Zander to heal some of the damage inflicting by the beast's strike.
Yury tossed a trio of knives in rapid succession into the one that had struck me, and I followed up by plunging my swords into either side of its neck, severing its main artery. It turns out they were not so hard to hit as Grinkle believed, especially if you can gang up on them and know some basic anatomy.
Of course, the other one was still standing and quite angry. It roared, spun, and tore into Grinkle with everything it had: two tentacles, four fore-claws, and a powerful set of jaws. The creature tore him apart, shredding his robes and sending blood flying everywhere. His body went limp. It's a miracle he survived.
Zander swung at the thing's exposed backside, but missed, striking air where he thought the thing's rump should be, but Yury came through with his knives again, two shots sinking up to the hilt into the thing's flank and dropping the beast like a stone. Zander knelt and rubbed a pumice stone over Grinkle's wounds (I shudder just thinking about how much that must have hurt) and they miraculously closed. Grinkle got to his feet and we hurried the hell out of there.
We needed a place to live, luckily Isti new just the place.
We left the forest and headed south as fast as we could travel through the snow, reaching the outskirts of Phlan just before dusk. We slipped through the slums unnoticed (because really, hobgoblins, kobolds, mohawked madmen, and half-demons were perfectly commonplace in that shit-hole) and reached Kuto's well by nightfall.
The place was cleaned out. It had clearly been looted and picked over, murder-hobo style, but no one new had moved in in the nearly two months since we left (not even the other thieves' guilds). So we made ourselves as comfortable as we could, treated everyone's remaining wounds, and got some sleep.
There was some discussion the next morning. While all of us had criminal backgrounds, none of us were currently known or wanted in Phlan, no one outside of Kryptgarten knew that we were associated with the Squire, and we even had the old letters of marque from my previous adventuring group. Kuto's Well was plenty suitable as a hideout, but we still needed to live. We discussed the possibility of taking up thievery or adventuring for the Council (despite Grinkle and Zander's dislike of their treatment of Squire Grimnir), or both. Both won out.
We considered making contact with some of the other more established criminal gangs in town--Swipe's gang in the sewers near Podol Plaza, which Tvoja used to be a member of, the pirates out on Stormy Bay, or even the gang operating out of Koval Mansion over on the orc-infested north side of town--but decided that if criminal enterprises were our goal, we'd be better off setting up a new gang with ourselves in charge, rather than letting someone else push us around.
We decided that we'd work, in the immediate future, on getting the well catacombs set up as a proper hideout again. We needed furniture and supplies if we were going to stay there for any length of time. We also decided that, if we could get into the city proper, we should get the Bitter Blades' charter updated--since I was the last surviving member I could do that--in case we happened upon any bounties that we could take advantage of (because really, no matter how much some of us disliked the Council, there was no reason we shouldn't deprive them of some gems).
So, with a plan, we snuck out of the well around noon, when most of the local monsters who used the well for water would be sleeping, and headed through the slums towards 'Civilized Phlan'.
Only a couple blocks from the gates, we heard a high-pitched scream coming from a side alley. Now, I'm not exactly soft-hearted fellow, and my friends are not the nicest folk in the world, but I'm not one to leave a lady in distress, especially with so many orcs about. You know how orcs are. So I ran towards the sound and the others followed, after some brief hesitation.
We rounded a corner to see a young human girl, of an age with little Martha who I used to run with, or perhaps a little younger, dressed in a ragged brown dress with her back to a wall. She was screaming frantically and beating a stick at a pack of dog-sized rats swarming around her. Two mangy rat-sized dogs (you got that right, big rats, small dogs) stood by her feet, yapping and snapping at the rats trying to keep them off the girl. I gave out a sigh of relief on seeing that, at least it was not orcs raping someone again (you of course would not be surprised by how often that happens out here).
I drew my club and rushed the rats, sure that my friends would have my back (or not so sure, but not caring at least). The rats, apparently much braver even than is typical for giant rats, turned en masse and came at me head on. Even given the fights I've been in, seeing all of those teeth, I could understand why the girl was screaming. And those teeth were quick too. Ten of them were on me before I could get a swing in. I took several bites and one of them latched onto my right calf, biting so deep that I could feel its teeth grinding on the bone. I caved in the grinder's head with my club, but by then even more were on me. Again there were lots of bites, and another one actually got its teeth into the same leg, which was bleeding very badly by this point, and knocked me to the ground.
Luckily Yury was there with his knives--three throws impaled three rats, knocking them off of me. I took one more bite before the other three laggards caught up. Isti drew her sword and swung at one of the big ones, but overbalanced and nearly impaled herself when she fell. Grinkle and Zander, clean-freaks that they are, actually had spells granted from their "god" expressly for the purpose of exterminating vermin. One spell from Grinkle snuffed out six of the big rodents, and Zander took out four more, leaving only the three biggest standing.
I didn't have time to think much more as the rats swarmed over me and Isti where we lay on the ground. I felt a lot of bites, and then felt very cold, then passed out completely, having lost a lot of blood in a very short time.
Luckily I'm tough and a fast healer, so the others were able to fill me in later. For started, one rat nearly disemboweled Isti, and a second broke her leg with a bite. Grinkle and Zander were able to do their extermination spell thing again, and Yury's knives took down one of the big ones. Of course, their sensibly keeping their distance just meant that the remaining rats had more time to gnaw on Isti and me.
Zander finally decided we'd been sufficiently and stepped in, crushing one of the big rats with his flail, and then impaling one of the smaller rats with the handle-spike on the backswing. Grinkle grabbed me and Yuri and dragged us back away from the gnashing teeth of the giant rats, casting a spell of regeneration on me to slow the bleeding. Yury then showed that he was apparently able to speak with animals, threatening the last two remaining rats with Grinkle's extermination if they did not withdraw. Wise little blighters that they are, they complied.
It's a miracle that Isti and I didn't both bleed to death, as severe as our injuries were. None of our friends were trained healers, though they did have some magic to help. Once the rats were gone, Zander and Grinkle applied all the healing magic they had available just to stop the bleeding, and were quite unable to wake us back up.
Yury, who, like me, is not such a bad guy, ran down the alley to try to find the girl and see if she was alright (I having not had the chance to explain that I suspected she was a were-rat). He reported seeing the two little dogs running out into another street yapping, but no sign of the girl.
With nothing else for it, they dragged our asses back to the hideout to recover.
I faded in and out of consciousness several times, then finally woke up two days later. My leg hurt like a bitch, but I otherwise felt functional. Our priest friends had expended A LOT of magical healing on me and Isti to get us back in functional shape. Between watching us and healing us, they had been out getting the basics. They had managed to buy, beg, borrow, or steal (mostly steal) bedrolls and blankets for the five of us, a good supply of wood for fires, stores of food, mess gear, and even a stuffed sofa for the 'lair'.
It would be some time before Isti and I were fully recovered, but we could at least move around the hideout enough to help cook, clean up a bit, and care for ourselves, freeing the others to go about their business.
Actually, I was glad to have a couple of days to recover. Grinkle, Zander, and Yury were out a lot, trying to get a better lay of the land and plan for our new life here, which left me and Isti with a lot of alone time. It turns out we were healed enough to fuck like bunnies, and we did, a lot. Before I met Isti, I never would have thought that I'd be into kobolds, but we're all mammels, and she's pretty darn cute, and the fur feels kindof nice against my bare skin, especially since we went to Kryptgarten and had Grinkle making all of us bathe so...
A couple days after we woke up, Zander came back late in the evening (after some heavy carousing in 'Civilized Phlan') to tell us about some rich muckity-muck who was had been dumb enough to build his house outside the walls of 'New Phlan'. A guy named Poppof, some king of merchant-wizard from up north, who had built a big two-story town house on the wrong side of the wall. Now this alone was not particularly newsworthy (space in New Phlan was getting really cramped and the Council had not approved expansion of the wall yet), until Zander told us that Poppof and most of his guards had been seen locking up the house, hauling out some goods, and hopping on a boat the day before. If they were going on a trade mission, they wouldn't be back for weeks, and a big house like that was sure to have plenty of nice furniture and things to dress out our hideout in style.
Isti and I, being small and inconspicuous, agreed to go stake the place out and case the joint for the rest of the day. If this Poppof fellow was a wizard, he was sure to have some magical traps and the like, but even that should not be too much of a problem for a pack of skilled thieves with plenty of magical training. Right?
The two of us found the house easy enough, a nice two-story townhouse, locked up tight. The second floor overhung the ground floor in the front by about five feet. Poppof had had the rubble, muck, and snow cleared away around the house and had installed a couple of cute planters with shrubberies along the front, under the overhang, and cleaned out most of the street so that people in the house would not be looking out at piles of shit like everywhere else in the slums. Hooray for gentrification.
All the windows were shuttered, save for a single round pane of glass over the front double doors. The front door was too obviously trapped, radiating all kinds of hostile magic and showing more mechanisms than was at all reasonable. Isti suggested that it was probably a leomund's trap (an illusion to make the door look more trapped than it was). The place had two chimneys, both on the Wall side of the house. There was also a back door, locked and barred from within.
The street was pretty busy, and there were no good hiding places near the house, so we just casually scoped it out, circled once, and then went to the far side of the street and perched on top of a ruined old hovel to watch. No one came in or out all day, but it was clear the place was being watched. We spotted a couple of orcish toughs standing on the street not far away and giving the stink-eye to anyone who seemed too curious about the place, us included. It seemed Poppof must be up-to-date on his protection money.
When it got dark, we made one more circuit of the house. The alley by the back door was narrow and dark. Making it less likely we'd be seen going in that way. Curious about the chimneys, I kept watch while Isti scrambled up to the steepled roof. She came back down quickly, reporting that the chimneys were open, but narrow, probably easy enough for the two of us to go in that way, but not the others, and not hauling anything out.
We went back to the hideout and reported our findings. The others agreed that we should hit the place tomorrow night, before any of the other, more established gangs got the same idea.
To be continued...