Post by peterpanda on Mar 15, 2017 11:45:18 GMT -5
I am running a Play By Email (PBE) campaign with a friend using the DT&T rules. It is still very early on and, as it so happened, the first sequence of actions seemed to comport nicely into a "Chapter 1" story-line which I present below.
The player is running a 2nd level Warrior and twice rolled TARO on his attributes, thus giving him the 2nd level designation and possessing more combat adds than is typical.
The campaign world is mostly my creation but I do use supplements from time-to-time because I haven't the time to do full world building as I'd like. In the case of both supplements and the DT&T rules, I also make modifications as I see fit (example, when all combatants essentially do no damage because their combat totals are so close, I apply Spite Damage to all, not just the winning party).
Chapter 1 is presented in a fantasy story narrative format; please excuse my amateurish creative writing skills. For those who may be suspicious, I confess to having used Battle School by Ken St. Andre to start things off, as based on the player's choices (with modifications to names and some sequencing of the events).
I hope this proves to be of interest to any reader so inclined to read it. My next post will contain Chapter 1 in its entirety. Future chapters will appear as the PBE turns are completed and logical storytelling points are reached.
Post by peterpanda on Mar 15, 2017 18:19:01 GMT -5
Chapter 1: A Fighting Chance
A new beginning. Just as the overnight rains had washed away the dusty residue on the streets of Neeb, so too Rammstein awoke to a clean slate. His old life had ended. Mustered out of the city guard in a cost-cutting move, he now had to find a new way to support himself. He'd been allowed to stay in the barracks, even after his release, for up to a week; that week had just ended.
After a hearty morning meal Rammstein quietly left the barracks, not wanting to disrupt the daily routine of his former comrades. Walking across the compound courtyard, it was hard not to reflect on what was and what will be. Small puddles spotted the yard, but the air was fresh, a sea breeze coming through, with a rising sun promising it to be another warm day ahead. A quick splash of shadow as he passed underneath the archway separating the compound from the city streets, and then the change was immediate. Despite the early hour, Armoury Way (which goes southwest) was already bustling with merchants setting up their wares, citizens going about their business, and carts full of produce rolling by on the cobblestones - the noise of daily life, only destined to get louder as the day wore on.
Rammstein had a whole day; a whole life ahead of him. What did he want to do? Collecting his thoughts, a few options came to mind. From his time with the city guard, Rammstein had come to know Colastarium, Headmaster of the Shadowhand Brotherhood Fighting School; that had led to an offer for Rammstein to come by at any time and receive one free lesson. Perhaps now was the time to take up that offer? There was always something to be seen, had, or encountered in the city's bazaar; perhaps a stroll over there was the next thing to do. When word got out that the city guard was being reduced, notices were put up in the barracks by the leading Habbiba merchant family looking for hired sword-arms. Perhaps gainful employment made the most sense? These were only a few of the options in front of him. What was Rammstein going to do?
Scanning the street for just a moment, Rammstein made up his mind and set off. He would go see Colastarium and work on a fighting form with his free lesson. When done, he'd check out the job opportunity with the Habbiba family before heading to the bazaar to see if there was anything worth buying that might help him. If time allowed, Rammstein planned to head over to the site of his former home to pay his regards and to sift through the rubble to find anything that might have belonged to his family or provide a clue as to who was responsible for their disappearance.
Heading down Armoury Way, Rammstein passed a growing number of citizens coming out to start their day. After a short distance, he turned right onto Warrior's Way and made for the Shadowhand Brotherhood Fighting School. From the street, the fighting school appeared rather nondescript; just a small arched entrance built into a pockmarked wall about ten feet in height. The iron gate that filled the arch was lifted for normal business hours.
Stepping through the archway, a rough looking guy with scars on his face and arms, came over from a small booth. "Hey, can I help you?" he asked, not very kindly.
"Yeah," Rammestein replied in equal measure of gruffness, "Tell Colastarium that Rammstein is here to take him up on his offer for a free lesson."
"He offered you a free lesson?" the guy replied, with an emphasis on the "you" and using a tone of incredulity.
"Yeah; get going please..."
The guy looked searchingly at Rammstein for a second before grunting and walking away, across a wide courtyard dotted with various small fighting circles. Along the edges were three buildings that Rammstein had seen before on previous visits. The closest building, to his right, was the armoury, containing an ample supply of the most commonly used weapons. To his left, a moderate distance away, was the barracks where the students of the fighting school eat and sleep. Rammstein could see a few of the students near this building doing stretching exercises. Directly across the courtyard from him was the infirmary and office of Colastarium, this was the place where the gruff guy had gone.
Moments later, Rammstein recognized the squat, old fighter ambling toward him wearing his trademark leather studded gloves and utilitarian clothing. He was accompanied by Mr. Personality, walking haughtily a step or two behind him, hand on his sword hilt and watching Rammstein challengingly.
"So you finally decided to drop by, eh?" Colastarium said with a grin on his face and sticking out his now bare hand. "Nice to see you again Rammstein." he continued, shaking his hand.
"Happy to be here. I am no longer in the city guard and thought this might be a good time to refine my fighting ability."
"Yes," Colastarium replied, rubbing the stubble on his face, "I heard about that cut-down...sorry you had to be a part of it. So what did you have in mind for your free lesson?"
Rammstein noticed, as the conversation progressed, that the gruff guy removed his hand from his sword hilt, put his hands behind his back, and ever so slightly relaxed his posture, with his stare going from belligerent to questioningly indifferent.
"There's a few things we could work on." Colastarium continued. "We can focus on your general technique, we can teach you how to use another weapon, or we can go for something more difficult like learning how to parry and disarm your opponent." As he listed the options, Colastarium tapped a new finger on his bare hand for each one he mentioned.
"Oh, yeah, before I forget, a few ground rules. No missile weapons, no magic weapons, err, no magic at all, OK?" Colastarium paused, then looked Rammstein firmly in the eyes, his old warrior demeanour visible once again for a moment, "We train with real weapons, sometimes people get hurt and we try an' fix em' up" he said, pointing over his shoulder at the infirmary, "but sometimes we can't, know what I mean?"
"It means you can get killed..." the gruff guy interjected in both a smug and, well, gruff manner.
"Uh, yeah, Grunggarr, I guess that's right." Colastarium answered in a lowered voice, a twinge of frustration on his face. "So," he continued, in an energetic tone, looking Rammstein excitedly in the eyes, "What be ye preference?"
Rammstein paused only for a moment, "I'd like work some more on my sword" he replied. The long sword was what he'd first learnt to use and it remained the one weapon that he was most comfortable wielding.
"Ah, yes..." Colastarium answered, "A good choice" he continued, eyes narrowing as he glanced at the sheathed sword on Rammstein's belt. "Grunggarr, take our friend's possessions and put them in my office, he's only going to need his sword and armour for the next few hours."
Grunggarr, like a pouty child, shambled over to Rammstein and insolently thrust out his hands waiting for Rammstein to start handing things over.
"Oh, and Grunggarr, when you're done with that, please fetch us some water." Colastarium added, much to the consternation of his employee.
Colastarium had a solid reputation amongst those who live by the sword for his quality of training, honesty, and straightforward manner. Did that trust, however, extend to Grunggarr and his foul disposition? Was Rammstein willing to hand over his possessions to Grunggarr and proceed with his lesson or was it time to come up with an excuse and leave the training for another day?
Rammstein stared defiantly at Grunggarr for a fraction of a second longer than what would be considered uncomfortably awkward before slowly handing over his pack and unbuckling his dagger. As each item exchanged hands, Rammstein called out the item, "One pack...one dagger...one bow..." Meanwhile, Grunggarr stood silently, fuming and glaring at Rammstein, yet unable to do anything but comply.
Finally burdened with all of Rammstein's possessions except his sword, armour, and money pouch, Grunggarr skulked away to put it all in Colastarium's office.
"Well now, what do ya say we get started?" Colastarium asked, an obvious sparkle of pleasure in his eyes.
"Yes, sounds good," Rammstein replied firmly and respectfully, "Let's do this."
For the next several hours, under a strengthening sun, Colastarium instructed Rammstein on new combat moves and fighting forms with his long sword. As the lesson progressed, Rammstein occasionally took notice of happenings around the courtyard, from buckets of water being brought over, to the pealing of bells followed by the procession of other students into their fighting circles for lessons by other instructors.
It was an invigorating lesson and Rammstein could tell that Colastarium knew his business well. Rammstein was in his element and the time passed quickly. Finally, Colastarium stepped back and said, "You pick these things up well, Rammstein. You have the heart and soul of a true warrior."
"Thank you, Colastarium." Rammstein replied between heavy breaths and a swig of cold water.
"Of course, to complete your lesson, you now need to put your new training to good use." Colastarium continued while motioning to several students to come over to him. Rammstein looked to where Colastarium was gesturing and saw a tough looking Dwarven fighter carrying a battleaxe and donning Dwarven plate armour begin walking toward him. Further off, to his right came an Elf dressed in forest green but wearing no visible armour and holding a number of light javelins. Finally, closer at hand, came forward, none other than Mr. Personality himself, Grunggarr, wielding a long sword and wearing lamellar armour just as Rammstein was; he had a Cheshire grin of anticipation showing on his yellowed teeth.
Once the three had assembled, Colastarium turned to Rammstein. "Now, before we call it a full lesson, I need you to pick one of my students here to fight."
"This is the part where you're gonna get hurt." Grunggarr interjected with that unpleasant grin on his face.
Rammstein looked over the three. The Dwarf, sweat evident on his face from his own lesson, leaned on his battleaxe handle, staring at Rammstein in that distinctly Dwarven way. Next was the Elf, standing straight and looking at Rammstein with impassive indifference. Then, there was Grunggarr, smiling and staring challengingly at Rammstein, his itchy fingers dancing on the hilt of his long sword in eager anticipation.
Who did Rammstein prefer to fight? Did he even want to fight at all? It was time to make a decision.
Rammstein made a cursory glance at the three potential opponents before pointing to Grunggarr. "Him" he said, blandly. The smallest crack of a smile on Colastarium's face was enough validation for Rammstein that he had chosen well.
Grunggarr, too, seemed pleased with the decision, his disturbingly unpleasant grin growing to reveal more of his yellowed teeth than Rammstein ever cared to see. "Get ready for a lesson in getting beat up" he said while strutting forward into the fighting ring hand poised over his sword.
Slowly, other students began working their way over to Rammstein and Grunggarr, their curiosity clearly piqued by the pending sparing match. As Colastarium began to step back and out of the fighting circle, Grunggarr, with that hideous grin, began pacing around, sizing up Rammstein and waiting for the official start of the fight, giddy anticipation all over his face.
Rammstein, too, sized up Grunggarr. Despite his obnoxious personality and attitude, Rammstein did see the movements of an experienced fighter.
Rammstein also saw something else. As Grunggarr prowled through the fighting circle awaiting the start of their match, he kept his other hand poised over the dagger hanging on his hip. Rammstein suspected that Grunggarr may attack him using both weapons. If this was to happen, it might create difficulties unless he had a way to deflect at least one of the attacks. Rammstein had to decide quickly if he wanted to allow the fight to take place as is or if he wanted to make a change before the fight began.
With the match about to begin, Rammstein had to act quickly, "Colastarium! What's up with the sword and dagger?" he shouted. "If he's going to be fighting me with two weapons, I should be given the same advantage."
"Halt!" Colastarium bellowed, raising both his arms in the air and stepping back into the fighting circle. Grunggarr seethed with frustration, both hands fidgeting over his hilts, staring at Rammstein with hatred. "Get this man a dagger like what Grunggarr has." Colastarium firmly stated, both hands out to keep Grunggarr and Rammstein separated.
Rammstein was pretty sure this match wasn't to be a fight to the death but a speck of doubt hung ominously in the back of his mind. "Good eye, Rammstein." Colastarium said approvingly while one of the younger students ran over to the armoury to fetch a dagger.
"Let this be a lesson to all of you," Colastarium continued addressing the crowd, "Always pay attention to your opponent before you come to blows because if you fail to see something by then, it's probably too late to do something about it."
Soon the student had returned and handed the dagger to Colastarium who unsheathed it for a moment to look it over before nodding his head approvingly and handing it to Rammstein.
"Won't matter, no how," Grunggarr muttered, "you're gonna lose anyway."
"Alright, enough with the tough talk" Colastarium admonished as he stepped out of fighting ring. Rammstein briefly glanced at Grunggarr with a raised eyebrow before continuing his inspection of the dagger and then strapping it to his waist.
Once he was done, Grunggarr resumed his prowling and sizing up of Rammstein that he had done previously, the same unpleasant grin spreading across his face. Rammstein decided he would put all of his effort into a strong attack to try and put Grunggarr on the defensive or, if he got lucky, knock him out of the match before he got a chance to strike hard at him.
Moments later Colastarium shouted, "Let the match begin!" and Rammstein pounced.
Rammstein charged in a flurry of attacks that initially sent Grunggarr backwards, trying to defend himself from the onslaught. By the time Rammstein eased up, it was apparent that Grunggarr was, at least martially, a worthy opponent. Both he and Grunggarr had managed to do little to the other beyond a few minor nicks.
Grunggarr growled and, with a menacing glare, launched an attack on Rammstein. Rammstein had anticipated the maneuver and was able to land a blow on his armor that made a loud clang but did not appear to slow him down. Now, fully engaged, Rammstein and Grunggarr clashed yet again. This time, Rammstein waited until Grunggarr had committed his swing before swooping low with his dagger, just as he had just be taught to do, and landed a hard blow through the joints in Grunggarr's armour. The attack struck home and Grunggarr, stunned by the blow, fell back, eyes wide in disbelief. Rammstein flipped his Long Sword around to prepare another blow when Colastarium stepped forward, hands raised to separate the two. "That's enough, boys, that's enough," he shouted as he walked between them.
Grunggarr, injured, held his side to prevent blood loss while staring at Rammstein with a look that can only be described as...respect.
"Polymar," Colastarium shouted to a young teenager while eyeing Grunggarr critically, "go get Rasta; Grunggarr needs some healing."
Rammstein watched as the boy ran off at top speed before sheathing his sword. Colastarium then turned to face the crowd that had gathered around the fighting ring. "I declare the winner to be Rammstein!" he announced in a loud voice. The crowd reacted with muted appreciation and murmurs before some started walking away to resume their training. Others in the crowd looked at Rammstein with appreciation and regard.
Moving over to Rammstein while other students tended to Grunggarr, Colastarium reached over and placed a token in his hand. "That's good for another free lesson...you earned it," he said in a low voice so that only Rammstein could hear him. "Now," he continued, "you just stay put and I'll have one of the boys fetch your stuff. Oh, yeah, and don't worry about your wounds, we'll get you fixed up here before you go."
"Thanks, Colastarium" Rammstein answered while accepting a cup of cold water from one of the young students. Colastarium nodded before walking away and was quickly lost to sight in the crowd of students and activity all around the courtyard.
Rammstein waited patiently for his possessions, all of which arrived in due course and fully accounted for. Whilst waiting, a Wizard came over to Grunggarr and placed his hand on the wound. There was a quick glow of blue around his hand and then Grunggarr, smiling, rose up with his wound fully healed, only the gashed armour a testament to the former injury.
Shortly thereafter, the Wizard, a young man with a pointy beard, brown robes with red trim, and a narrow face with piercing eyes, came over to Rammstein. He made Rammstein feel uncomfortable.
"Hello," the Wizard said dryly, "My name is Rastamorian, although most of the folks around here just call me Rasta." he continued in the same, dry, non-emotive voice.
Rammstein eyed him cautiously, his discomfort clearly visible on his face. "Hi," is all he managed to utter.
"Okay," Rasta sighed, resignedly, "I'm going to place my hand on these cuts, you're going to feel a quick burst of cold on that spot and see a blue light; after that, you should be fine."
"Okay..." is all Rammstein could muster. He'd seen Wizards heal people before but he'd never had it done on himself. He had never been comfortable around Wizards and now, letting one touch him? Rammstein watched Rasta closely the whole time, hand on his sword's hilt, ready to attack at the slightest indication. Instead, the healing occurred just as it had been explained. Rammstein felt a brief burst of cold and saw blue glow around the hand of the Wizard and then his cuts closed up and he felt fully himself again.
"Thank you," Rammstein said in a weak voice, still stunned from the effect and trying to overcome his discomfort with a Wizard having touched him.
"Yeah, don't mention it." Rasta replied dismissively as he turned and walked away. Rammstein happily let him go before collecting his belongings and heading for the exit. By now, all of the other students and instructors had gone back to their training and neither Colastarium nor Grunggarr could be found. Shrugging ever so slightly, Rammstein gave the place one last look-over before walking through the stone arch, intent on his next goal.
It was now lunch time and Rammstein was hungry. As he stepped back onto the street, he had decisions to make - get something to eat or look into the Habbiba family job offer? Check out the bazaar, or go to the ruins of his family's house? Or maybe it was time to do something else entirely? As the sun rose to the midpoint in the sky and the heat of the day truly began to set in, Rammstein had to decide what to do next.
Last Edit: Mar 16, 2017 17:30:17 GMT -5 by peterpanda: I stupidly uploaded an incomplete file; this edit includes the entire Chapter 1. Sorry about that!
Post by peterpanda on May 24, 2017 18:09:16 GMT -5
Anyone so interested, here's Chapter 2 of the Endless Isles Play By Email campaign.
Chapter 2: A Shadow On A Sunny Day
Stepping out onto Warrior's Way, the hubbub of daily life hit Rammstein immediately. What had been, a few hours earlier, a mild stirring to life had now become a street crowded with people, carts, and livestock, all in noisy motion toward some destination or another. It was now impossible to set one's course down the street unimpeded; to advance, one would have to zig and zag to avoid running into someone or something.
Slowly making his way down the street, Rammstein pondered his situation. The possibility that he may end up leaving Neeb gave urgency to his desire to take one last look at the ruins of his family's home. It could be many years before he returned, could he really do so without inspecting the ruins for any clues or family possessions that may be hiding amongst the detritus of the building? He could not, in good conscience, leave this stone un-turned before heading off to other parts unknown. His mind made up, Rammstein turned right onto Cross Sectional Boulevard and began making his way toward the quarter where his family's house once stood. Here, in a major thoroughfare, the traffic was even thicker than before. Slowly moving with the tide, Rammstein came closer to the city centre. Here, the crowding became intense, as shopkeepers and street vendors crowded the boulevard with their carts and wares, creating choke-points in the flow of traffic. Before too long, Rammstein was hemmed-in on all sides. Off to his right, a short distance away was a food vendor hawking grilled kabobs and the smoke billowing from his cart immediately reminded Rammstein that he was getting very hungry. Getting to the vendor would require squeezing through the crowd and hoping there are no pickpockets or backstabbers in and amongst them. He could continue onward and find another vendor but knowing the city as well as he did, Rammstein thought it unlikely that there'd be any less a crowd in this area of the city.
His stomach now growling, Rammstein had to decide whether to brave the masses to reach the vendor, carry-on for what might or might not be a less crowded alternative, or skip lunch time altogether and simply forge ahead until he reached the ruins of his former house.
Hunger won out. A rational choice, however, as Rammstein knew that allowing himself to go hungry could only weaken him later, should he find himself in sudden combat. An experienced former city guardsman, he also knew that crowded places in Neeb were also dangerous places. Pickpockets, thieves, backstabbers, criminals, all thrive in the close quarters of a tightly packed crowd. Rammstein was not going to fall victim to such obvious dangers. Making his way through the throng toward the kabob vendor, Rammstein kept his eyes alert, studying the crowd and all of the people nearby for anything unusual or threatening. Meanwhile, he kept one had on his money pouch and the other on his sword hilt, just in case.
As Rammstein approached the now thoroughly packed throng clustered around the kabob street-cart vendor, his eyes landed on an unexpected sight. Farther down the street from whence he'd come, squeezing his way through the masses, and looking around as if trying to find someone in a crowd, was none other than...Grunggarr.
What is he up to? Rammstein thought. Is he following me? Is this coincidence? All these thoughts, and more, rushed through Rammstein's head all at once.
"Three silvah's" the gravelly-voiced vendor said holding out a chicken kabob to Rammstein. "Extra Peekle Berry Sauce, 3 coppahs" he added, shaking the kabob impatiently near Rammstein's face to get his attention. Meanwhile, Grunggarr continued to advance up the street, conspicuously looking around and shoving people out of his way.
Hungry, with a vexed vendor, and a closing-in Grunggarr, all pressing upon him like the crowd he was squeezed into, Rammstein had to decide what to do.
Quickly, and never letting his eyes stray from Grunggarr, Rammstein tossed the change at the kabob vendor, grabbed the Peekle Berry slathered morsels and began to track Grunggarr as surreptitiously as he could. Squeezing out of the throng was challenging without sometimes having to use a little force to edge through an opening. This also made Rammstein's movements more noticeable to anyone watching. His progress was further hampered by the caution employed to detect any thieves, aggressive beggars, or backstabbers before they could reach him.
What is he up to? Rammstein continued to ponder. If he's up to no good, I can get one of my street bums to follow him for me, Rammstein thought, knowing that the cost would be nominal.
Just as Rammstein stepped clear of the most heavily packed part of the crowd, his eyes made contact with Grunggarr's. To his surprise, Grunggarr's face briefly lit-up in a gruesome, but not unfriendly, smile. Now that he had seen Rammstein, Grunggarr picked up his pace and headed straight to him.
Now what? Rammstein thought as Grunggarr rapidly closed the distance between them. Does he wait for Grunggarr to reach him? At least here there was a little room to fight, if it comes to that. Does he try to slip away before Grunggarr gets too close? Does he do something else entirely? Rammstein had only seconds to decide.
"Rammstein!" Grunggarr loudly greeted, "I, uh...sorry for..uh..the...after you left, Colastarium suggested I..uh..see if I could join up with you" he stammered out in obvious discomfort. "You're a really good fighter" he added really quickly, along with his unpleasant smile in an attempt to be complimentary.
"I've been a student at the school for a while and..uh...Colastarium has told me that if I want to get better, I need to go out and get more experience." he continued, clearly getting over his initial uneasiness. "And he knew you were done with the city guard and thought maybe we could work together."
"I..uh..know this is a little awkward but..are you interested?" he finished, with discomfort again on display.
Throughout Grunggarr's monologue, Rammstein slowly and deliberately began consuming his lunch while betraying no reaction whatsoever; this only served to heighten Grunggarr's unease. While listening, however, Rammstein thought, Do I want this guy hanging around me or not?
With the question now posed, Rammstein had to decide how to answer.
Rammstein carefully pondered the situation while trying to assess Grunggarr's demeanour. After all, could Rammstein trust a guy who, just a short time ago, tried to kill him, and would have been happy to have done so? If he could trust his instincts, Grunggarr seemed sincere to Rammstein, although his facial expressions and previous animosity, were unsettling. Still, sincere or not, Rammstein wanted to know more before he made a decision.
"Why did Colastarium feel that you should partner with me?" he asked the fidgety Grunggarr.
"He..uh..has been telling me for some time now that I have to leave his school and get real world experience if I want to get better." Grunggarr answered. "He knew you were out of a job and probably looking for one and suggested I ask you if I could join you. He said you're a good fighter...and you are" he added quickly, with a yellow-toothed grin.
"Why did he think I'd need a partner? What did he think I would be doing?" Rammstein asked, not yet satisfied.
"I..uh..don't think he knew if you did; he just thought I should ask you.." he said trailing off.
"Should we go back and ask him?" Rammstein asked, challengingly.
"Uh..yeah..sure" Grunggarr replied, looking a little confused but turning to go back down the street from whence he came.
He seemed sincere, but was all this enough for Rammstein? Does he follow Grunggarr back to the fighting school or has he seen and heard enough to make up his mind?
"Never mind, let's go." Rammstein said loudly to the departing Grunggarr.
Grunggarr, who hadn't gotten further than a step away, quickly turned back with a huge, disconcerting smile on his face, "You bet! You won't regret this at all!" he declared, straightening up with confidence, "I'll have your back, you'll see." he said.
"Uh huh. Great." Rammstein replied blandly. "Look, I'm going to check out my old house before heading over to the Habbia estate; they have job opportunities. If you're onboard, let's get going, I don't like being in crowds like this." Rammstein continued.
"Uh, yes sir!" Grunggarr firmly stated. "I'll keep this riff-raff away, don't you worry." he said while glaring at the mass of moving people before lightly shoving one of them out of his way. The man looked annoyed but kept on moving, clearly not wanting to tangle with two fighter types.
"Grunggarr," Rammstein said slowly, as if speaking to a child, enunciating each word clearly, "don't push anyone, don't attack anyone unless I tell you to, and for now, just follow me."
"Yes, sir!" Grunggarr said, immediately dropping his tough-guy act with the crowd, which had begun to peel back from them a tad, just in case something turned violent.
With that, and an eye-roll, Rammstein headed off, not bothering to check and see if Grunggarr was actually following him.
Any doubt was soon erased when Rammstein heard Grunggarr asking, "Where's your house?"
"The northeast quadrant. It was ruined during the Sakken attack." Rammstein said grimly, with no further elaboration.
"Oh, I'm sorry. We'll avenge them for that." Grunggarr said, sounding convincingly empathetic and determined.
"Yeah, sure." Rammstein replied, noncommittally.
With that, Grunggarr stopped talking and the two made their way through the city.
For anyone still with me, here's Chapter 3 of my Endless Isles PBE campaign. As some may have already gathered, my style of play is much slower (in character level/power progression) than it is for others.
Chapter 3: A Grating Experience
Now past midday, the heat had become stifling, but as they approached Falboot Nibur-cot Katzum (Glory of Nibur-cot Square) the crowds thinned out in the vast expanse around them. Glory Square (Falboot Katzum), as most of the locals called it, was impressive. The largest square in the city, it contained several fountains, memorials to past military/naval victories, statues to former leaders, small structures and spots for worship, as well as the famous Nibur-cot Dunu Mamashu (Great King of Nibur-cot Statute). The Mamashu (Great King) as locals call it, is renowned throughout the lands not just for its fine craftsmanship but also for its magical properties. Made of hard limestone, the statute will, nonetheless, on occasion, change poses, from sword uplifted in a martial stance to a contemplative, sitting repose; the variations, their timing, and their significance completely endless and unpredictable. But more significantly, the Mamashu always depicts the visage of the current king of Neeb. For now, at least, that is the child Robinul, although many wonder if the statue might change if Pacnex, leader of the Trader's Council or Duke Orap, charged with educating the young boy until the age of ascension, should make a play for the throne. On this day, Mamashu portrayed the boy smiling and holding a toy.
Throughout the vast square, people were engaged in various activities, with clumps of them clustered around certain spots: children playing in the fountains to keep cool, worshipers of Sorva prostrating in front of a stone likeness of the deity, small groups of people talking or eating on benches or under the few trees that provided some shade from the sun. What was not present, were street performers, hawkers, and other commercial activity; all banned in Falboot Katzum. Such things were deemed unbecoming of the greatness and solemnity of the square and so royal decree long ago made them illegal. The positive in this is that Falboot Katzum became a large, quiet, open space for the citizens of Neeb to gather and conduct conversations, contemplation, and ceremony without the expected interruptions and din of a populous city. The negative, all that activity and noise ended up being pushed into the major boulevards, streets, and smaller squares, making passage through the city far more cramped, hectic, and dangerous. But not so here; the city guard frequently patrol Falboot Katzum and that tended to keep criminal activity at bay.
After a lengthy walk through the square, Rammstein and Grunggarr made their way to Main Port Strand, continuing their northwest walk to where Rammstein's family once lived. Exiting Falboot Katzum, the street once again became crowded, this time with a less refined cast to it. There were fewer hawkers, more idlers; fewer people walking with a purpose, more observing for an opportunity. Rammstein knew this neighbourhood well and adjusted his walk posture to one of readiness and deterrence, adopting the gait of an experienced fighter not worth the bother to trouble with; Grunggarr seemed to do the same, although his walk always had a hint of arrogance and challenge to it regardless.
Moving further into the neighbourhood, the faint smell of the ocean now noticeable, the area grew increasingly grim. To his north, Rammstein could already see the charred ruins of the taller buildings destroyed in the Sakken attack. The smell of burnt wood had long since been replaced by the ordours of the city and ocean, but the ugly scars remained. Repairing the damage was taking time and money and so the wound to Neeb remained visible to all. For Rammstein, it was a wound that cut deep indeed.
As Rammstein progressed down the street his trained eyes kept a watch on the assorted people, wary for anything out of the ordinary. As he passed an alleyway, he noticed an old water barrel next to it. Sticking out from underneath the barrel was the hilt to a dagger. It would only take a second or two to get it if he wanted. Rammstein had a choice to make; carry on to where his house once stood or stop to retrieve the dagger?
"Wait" Rammstein said, holding up his hand in a stopping motion to Grunggarr.
Glancing over at the dagger hilt from the street, it was hard to tell much about it other than it looked well-used given the worn marks on it. With a practiced eye, Rammstein surveyed the people in the immediate vicinity. To the left of the alleyway was a roasted nuts salesman. He stood behind a beat-up cart containing the roaster and various nuts; he looked as rough as his cart. To the right of the alley sat two old women; one was weaving a basket and the other was shucking pea pods. Meanwhile, the street contained a moderate number of people, none of whom appeared to be paying Rammstein any mind. Cautiously moving forward, Rammstein could see that the barrel did not have a top and as he approached it, noticed that it had what appeared to be about a foot of liquid in it. Slowly moving the barrel aside revealed that it rested not just on the worn dagger but also on the top of a grate leading down into the sewer system.
With the barrel to the side now, Rammstein could clearly see that the dagger appeared functional although not in the greatest of condition. It could still kill. With Grunggarr still standing in the street watching him, Rammstein had to decide if he wanted to pick up the dagger, look further into the barrel or the sewer grate, interact with any of the people nearby (including Grunggarr), or just forget everything and continue on his way to his old house.
Rammstein sloshed the barrel around to loosen up any sludge at the bottom and allow him to better see if there was anything in it. After a few moments of sloshing and angling the barrel to allow the sediment to slide around, Rammstein concluded that there was nothing obvious residing under the water. Still determined, Rammstein tipped the barrel over and let the water and sediment pour out to the side of the sewer grate. Through the corner of his eye he could see Grunggarr picking at his teeth while watching him search the barrel and its contents. The water and sludge poured out onto the hot cobblestones and soaked into the dirt between them. Glancing at the residue, Rammstein could find nothing beyond water, sludge, and dirt.
Satisfied, Rammstein picked up and placed the dagger in his pack, to be examined more closely later. He then turned back to the sewer grate and looked down through it to see if anything was visible in the downward shaft. Without any light source, the darkness quickly overwhelmed his ability to see more than about ten feet down. Still, two things were readily apparent; first, obvious scuff marks along the sewer shaft walls along with jutting bricks suggested that this grate was used frequently as access to and from the sewers; two, the overpowering stench of human waste coupled with the acrid smell of rodent urine assaulted Rammstein as he peered closer into the abyss.
Turning to Grunggarr who was now back to scowling at the old ladies, Rammstein said, "Grunggarr, I need your help here."
Dropping his tough-guy act with the old women, Grunggarr came strutting over, "Sure boss, what do ya need?," he asked.
"Lift this grate off for me." Rammstein replied while stepping away to give Grunggarr the room he needed to work. "Uh, sure, boss." Grunggarr answered, looking a little perplexed by the request. As Grunggarr squatted down to get a purchase on the edge of the grate, Rammstein looked around. While both of the old women appeared preoccupied with their work, it was clear that they were both keeping an eye on what the two were doing.
"Garrgh" Grunggarr grunted out as he lifted the grating up and off to the side of the opening. Still panting from the effort, Grunggarr asked, "So, what are doing here? The sewers are pretty rancid. You not going to your house anymore?"
Rammstein muttered so that it would be hard to overhear him, "We're going to investigate the sewers."
"Ah, I get it. You're looking to make some cash with the bounty out on rat tails." Grunggarr said, his face suddenly lighting up as he began to understand the situation. "I think it's 5 silvers a tail plus more for the bigger ones."
"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm up to." Rammstein lied. "I want you to lead the way."
"Um," Grunggarr looked worried for a fraction of a second, "Do you have a light source, it looks pretty dark down there."
Rammstein had to decide what to do next. Does he grab one of his torches from his pack and light it for Grunggarr? Should he be concerned that he is being surreptitiously watched by the old women? Does he continue with his plan to enter the sewers and maybe collect a reward with severed rat tails or does he abandon everything and continue on to the ruins of his old home?
Post by peterpanda on Aug 15, 2017 19:26:27 GMT -5
Chapter 4: Tunnels & (Rat) Trolls
While not entirely certain, Rammstein was pretty sure that the old ladies were part of some watch system put in place to keep an eye on this sewer grate...there were certainly many other open places along Main Port Strand where they could have sat down to do their work. Either way, he knew he'd already drawn their attention so there didn't appear to be much point in stopping now. The decision made, Rammstein handed Grunggarr a torch from his pack along with a match to light it.
Showing no outward signs of fear, Grunggarr slung the unlit torch on his back and began lowering himself into the sewer shaft, keeping a large combat dagger clenched in his teeth. He quickly descended out of view into the darkness. Rammstein moved over to the top of the opening and looked down. Moments later, a light flickered to life and then, in a rush of growing flame, the torch itself spread illumination up the shaft toward Rammstein. Grunggarr looked up, shadows dancing off his upturned face, an expectant look on his face.
"What do you see?" Rammstein asked in a loud voice.
"Uh, lots of channels…and it stinks," came Grunggarr's slightly muffled reply. Then, abruptly, a shout came bellowing out followed by a panicky, hastily shouted, "You better get down here! Oh crap!" Rammstein heard the sch-wing of a sword being hastily unsheathed.
Rammstein had seconds to decide what to do. He already knew that if Grunggarr was under attack, he would not be able to reach him before the combat got underway. If he chose to help him, he could try jumping down the sewer shaft which would be the fastest but most dangerous way to reach Grunggarr. Or, he could descend by using the jutting bricks and assorted holes which would be safer but take more time. Were he wishing to rid himself of Grunggarr, this was a perfect, although quite dishonourable, way to do so. A split second decision loomed for Rammstein; what was he going to do?
Glancing down, Rammstein could see Grunggarr drop his torch and grab the dagger from his mouth before he advanced out of sight, a sword in his other hand. Jumping into action, Rammstein leaped into the sewer shaft, gabbing onto the lip of the top before attempting a controlled slide down the wall of the shaft in an effort to reach Grunggarr before he had to face his opponent by himself for too long.
Even after successfully wedging himself against the other wall to control his fall, the descent was bumpy and painful, with jutting bricks banging and bruising him as he went. As he fell he could more clearly hear the sounds of combat including a low pitched squeal of pain coming from below. Finally, after getting scraped and slightly banged-up, Rammstein reached the bottom with a hard thump, yet managed to keep his feet.
Quickly, Rammstein pulled out both his sword and combat dagger and looked over his right shoulder.
Judging from what he expected to be a confined space, Rammstein decided he'd wield both of his weapons; doing so would double his attack options or allow him additional parrying ability in the event he needs the protection. Coming around to face the combat, Rammstein saw a large, grotesque rat-like creature, with muscular arms and legs, wielding a rough-hewn beam like a club. Both the rat-creature and Grunggarr were engaged in heavy combat.
Before he could react, Rammstein saw the huge rat-like creature, with a low pitched squeal of effort, thump Grunggarr hard across his left side with the wooden beam. Grunggarr grunted from the blow but managed to stay upright and engaged - both combatants appeared to be injured.
Without hesitation, Rammstein jumped into the fray, keeping a slight distance between himself and the rat-like creature by using Grunggarr as a blocker. When Rammstein joined the fight, the rat-like creature was unprepared for another attacker and exposed itself too easily to a devastating blow. Attacking together, the rat-like beast was overwhelmed before it could ram it's wooden beam at either of them. Rammstein could feel both of his weapons strike home with a gush of warm blood spilling over the hilt and onto both hands. The rat-like creature let out a frenzied squeal before collapsing; the wooden beam thumping down moments later onto the stone and muck-filled floor.
"That was awesome! We killed that disgusting piece of rat crap!" Grunggarr exclaimed over heavy panting from the exertion of the fight.
Aside from some scrapes and bruises suffered when going down the sewer shaft, Rammstein was unhurt; Grunggarr appeared injured but still moving about without difficulty. While Grunggarr picked up the torch, which had somehow managed to stay lit, Rammstein had to decide what to do next.
As a member of the city guard, Rammstein knew that patrols of the sewers were once conducted fairly frequently in an attempt to prevent their use by the underground guilds and to suppress the amount of vermin that could spread disease throughout the city. Sadly, with city finances in disarray after the attack by the Sakken, sewer patrols were eliminated so that the reduced city guard could focus on street level crime which was considered the priority. Rammstein had gone on some of those sewer patrols in the past and had never before seen a creature like the one he and Grunggarr had just vanquished. It had the bulk and musculature of a troll but with the facial features, fur, and tail of a rat. The only name that Rammstein could come up with that seemed to apply was "Rat Troll." Disturbingly, while not a bestiary expert, Rammstein had never heard of a "Rat Troll" before and the thought of how this creature came into being made him inwardly shudder.
"Check the body to see if it has anything on it." Rammstein ordered Grunggarr.
"Okie dokie," Grunggarr replied nonchalantly before beginning his inspection. Meanwhile, Rammstein stood guard and took in his surroundings.
The "Rat Troll" occupied most of the junction area in which they stood with its still-warm corpse, now prone upon the muck-filled floor, taking up most of the space. The beast had multiple scars across its fur-coated body and wore a coarse cloth covering around its waist. It clearly had lived a rough life.
"Bingo!" Grunggarr loudly exclaimed as he held up a small money pouch he'd pulled off the side of the corpse. Before Rammstein could react, Grunggarr tipped the bag upside down and gold coins fell out. "Uh, nine...no...uh, looks like eleven gilders!" Grunggarr joyously declared, holding out his hand toward Rammstein.
Rammstein and Grunggarr were in a small junction box with waterborne channels of refuse going out in all four directions. The smell was awful, the stonework crumbling and dark, the air humid and thick. Rammstein had to decide what to do next. Take the gold from Grunggarr? Search the junction area more closely? Head down one of the sewer channels? Something else entirely? Rammstein had decisions to make.
"Great," Rammstein replied in a monotone clearly implying his lack of enthusiasm. "Let me have the coins, I'll hold them for safekeeping," he continued whilst sticking out his hand. "We can split evenly later, when we get out of here..." he added.
As Grunggarr handed over the gold, Rammstein told him to keep his eyes and ears sharp until they got out of the sewers. The encounter with the "rat troll" had made Rammstein even more cautious. He speculated that it might have been a sentry but if so, what was he protecting and for whom? Would that make this a major entry point for whatever is going on down here?
Rammstein looked closely at the junction area to determine why the "rat troll" might have been there but nothing looked out of the ordinary. He then scrutinized the four channels to see if any of them showed signs of frequent traffic or activity; he could see no differences, just soiled water and waste.
Having spent time in the sewers before on patrols, Rammstein knew how confusing and disorienting it could be; one could get lost very easily. Rummaging through his pack, he pulled out one of his pieces of chalk and showed it to Grunggarr. "See this?"
"Yeah, it's a piece of chalk."
"Correct! And, to avoid us from getting lost down here, whenever we get to an intersection, I'm going to make two little marks, in the shape of an 'x' to indicate that we'd been there before. Got it?"
Yeah, I get it." Grunggarr replied.
"Good, then let's go."
Rammstein planned to make his markings on the ceilings, about an inch in length, around five feet from each intersection. He figured anyone looking for something out of the ordinary would not look at the ceilings, at least not initially.
"I want you to lead. Try to move quietly and stop when you reach any intersection. I will make a mark, we'll search the junction and then always pick the least travelled tunnel," Rammstein said officiously.
“Okay, got it, boss." Grunggarr answered, trying to sound upbeat.
"Alright, let's go that way," Rammstein said, pointing to the left tunnel since none of them appeared any more or less travelled through than the others. With that, and a final finger in front of his lips to remind Grunggarr to be quiet, the two set off down the left tunnel, Rammstein holding back to around 20' to act as the rear guard. The going was odoriferous and but for his boots, their feet would have been soaked in ankle deep effluvium. As the pair progressed, Rammstein noticed that portions of the tunnel walls were composed of natural caves, not just the stone and mortar he'd seen at the first junction. The further along they went, the more natural cave walls he began to see. Eventually, through the gloom on the outer reaches of the torch, what appeared to be another junction area or room or other such space loomed ahead. Rammstein whispered for Grunggarr to halt.
As they traversed the tunnel, Rammstein internally cringed, as Grunggarr, while not exactly lumbering through the muck, appeared to make no serious effort at walking quietly. When options for stepping onto an upraised stone or circumventing the mire by zig-zagging to drier spots presented themselves, Grunggarr appeared unaware of them and plodded onward in the most direct path possible. Conversely, he wasn't making any greater noise than one would expect such as from stomping, splashing, talking; it was just the average amount of noise created when someone walks through ankle-deep water. Still, he was not as quiet as he could be.
Moving as quietly as he could, Rammstein closed the distance to the standing Grunggarr before addressing him in a whisper. "Try stepping on some of the stones and around some of the deeper water as you go, it makes us quieter."
"Uh, sure thing, boss," Grunggarr replied in voice slightly louder than a whisper.
"Good. Now, it looks like there's something up ahead, so let's move quietly toward it, shall we?"
"Okay, then let's go." Rammstein answered, moving his eyes up tunnel.
Slowly, the pair made their way toward the opening at the end of the tunnel. As they went, Rammstein studied the walls for any signs of activity such as splash marks, etchings, scuffs, and/or physical items. He discovered nothing of note but did observe that the tunnel walls had now become completely stone, such as one would find in a cave.
Nearing the end of the tunnel, it appeared, from the gloom of the torch, as if the effluvium spilled into a cavernous room. From the opening in the tunnel, a large pond of wastewater stretched out amongst a cave with intermittent stalactites and outcroppings hanging from the ceiling whilst stalagmites and rocky islands pockmarked the lake of waste. Coming around a bend in the lake, both Rammstein and Grunggarr saw a rickety raft being piloted by six rat-like beings, one holding a torch. They raft was heading directly toward them and the rat-like creatures were armed.
"Alright!," Grunggarr exclaimed, making no effort to be quiet, his gruesome smile making his yellowed teeth even more unappealing in the flickering light, "Time to get us some rat tails!" he said, unsheathing his sword.
The raft was still a short distance away, giving Rammstein options to flee, attack with ranged weapons, or take some other action. With a brief amount of time at his disposal, Rammstein had to decide what to do.
Post by peterpanda on Sept 20, 2017 21:25:17 GMT -5
Chapter 5: Exercise and a Bath
Rammstein quickly assessed the situation. The rat-like creatures were slender and humanoid, but slightly smaller than the average human male. Despite strong rodent features, such as heads and tails like a rat, these six were bipedal and held weapons in arms very much like a human's. Glinting in the torch light, Rammstein could see that they all carried large curved combat daggers. No other weapons or armour could be seen. Each was clad in rudimentary clothing - not much more than body-length tunics.
"Let's retreat to the tunnel entrance," Rammstein stated to Grunggarr, "that way, they can't swarm all around us."
"Yeah, got it, boss." Grunggarr answered reluctantly, eagerness to fight competing with his commitment to Rammstein. Still, he stepped back to the mouth of the tunnel as the raft drew nearer.
"They're gonna be here real soon, we have enough time for one shot; get your dagger ready to throw," Rammstein shouted whilst getting his bow off his back and slung with an arrow.
As Grunggarr reached for his dagger, Rammstein took aim at one of the rat-like creatures. Flick, swish, arrow and dagger let loose within micro-seconds of each other. Luckily, each struck a different rat-thing and both splashed into Refuse Lake, never to arise alive again. The remaining rat-things leaped from their raft with surprising springiness and came down upon Rammstein and Grunggarr with swinging blades. Both Rammstein and Grunggarr were able, at the last moment, to unsheathe their swords and meet the assault by the snarling rat-like things.
The rodent creatures attacked with rapid ferocity, requiring Rammstein and Grunggarr to swing defensively until an opportunity arose to inflict damage. As the battle raged, Rammstein saw that it was becoming one of attrition. While he and Grunggarr appeared to be hitting the rat-things, they were also getting nicked and cut and their wounds were beginning to hurt. The tactic of backing up to the mouth of the tunnel, however, appeared to prevent the scrambling rodent-folk from completely encircling them and opening up attacks from behind. Slowly, the rat-things got worn down, and after two were felled, Rammstein and Grunggarr quickly took out the last two before they could flee.
But for the heavy breathing of Rammstein and Grunggarr, the cavernous area fell suddenly silent. Scattered around the shoreline were the four bodies of the now dead rat-things; a short distance away was their now empty raft floating a few feet from the edge; further out, now gently bobbing face-down in the undulating water were the corpses of the two rodent-folks struck earlier by the missile weapons. For once, Grunggarr was too winded to noisily shout out his excitement at having killed something.
Now, Rammstein had to decide what next do.
"Keep quiet!" Rammstein ordered to the heavily breathing, but otherwise quiet Grunggarr. Aside from the dripping of moisture into Refuse Lake and the gentle lapping of waves, no other sounds could be heard. Surveying the area, Rammstein saw nothing of note, just the dead rat-thing bodies and the raft.
"OK," Rammstein concluded after a moment of silence and looking around, "let's see what's on these bodies."
"You got it boss." Grunggarr answered as he jolted into action, heading to the nearest corpse to begin searching it. Rammstein, too, moved toward one of the rat-being bodies and began searching it.
Within moments it was clear that the rat-things had no coins or items of value beyond their curved daggers and their now extinguished torch. Rammstein gave thought to burying the bodies but could see of no easy way to do so. Besides lacking any good tools, the "shoreline" of Refuse Lake was comprised mostly of muck and rubbish overlaying a rocky underbelly just a few inches down. All told, Rammstein and Grunggarr collected four curved daggers and one partially used torch; checking the bodies of the two rat-creatures in the water would require paddling out to reach them on the raft.
"Uh, how about the rat tails...for the reward?" Grunggarr asked. "I also kinda want to see if I can get my dagger back from that dead rat-nuts..." Grunggarr said, gesturing to one of the floating corpses, "their daggers can't be thrown."
Rammstein had to decide how to split up the weapons and torch. Would he allow Grunggarr to "de-tail" the rat-things? Would he allow a "detour" so that Grunggarr could try to retrieve his dagger? Rammstein had decisions to make.
"Yeah, go ahead and take the tails," Rammstein answered. "Bring the raft in to shore as well. We'll use it to collect my arrow and your dagger."
"Okie dokie, boss." With that, Grunggarr gleefully hacked off the rat tails and tied them around his belt.
"Oh, and grab the torch, too; we may need that."
"All-righty," Grunggarr replied offhandedly.
Meanwhile, Rammstein looked over the curved daggers with his experienced eye. Two things were immediately apparent: one, they were made with techniques not used in or near Neeb and, two, they were all recently smithed. Rammstein figured they had some monetary value, he just wasn't sure how much. For now, the curved daggers went into his pack. If they got out of here, he could take them to a weapons-seller and hopefully pocket some more coin.
The raft remained just a few feet off from the shoreline as Refuse Lake seemed to have a very weak current; Grunggarr easily leapt onto it without having to step into the water. Rammstein joined him moments later and with a few quick pushes from the "oar" (really just a wooden branch), the raft moved toward the two floating corpses. The raft moved swiftly, with Refuse Lake becoming deeper just a few further feet out from shore. Slowly, the raft pulled aside the first corpse which had been struck by Grunggarr's dagger. Grunggarr reached over, turned the corpse face-up and gave a yellow-toothed smile of satisfaction when he saw his dagger still lodged into the chest of the rat-creature. Quickly, he pulled his dagger out and held it up triumphantly, as if expecting Rammstein to join him in relishing the macabre scene of a dagger dripping brown and red fluid onto the raft. "Yes! My baby's back to kill again!" he exclaimed a tad too loudly.
"Keep it down, will you?" Rammstein hissed in agitation.
"Sorry, boss..." Grunggarr replied softly, his head down in shame.
Rammstein angrily jerked the "oar" away from Grunggarr and piloted the raft over to the second corpse. Using the "oar," he flipped the body over to find the arrow still there but close to coming dislodged. In a way, that was helpful, as it was much easier to remove. With everything now retrieved, Rammstein took a look around with the vantage point of being out on Refuse Lake. From here, he could vaguely see through the gloom a shoreline from whence the rat-things came. Rammstein had to decide on whether to pilot the raft to the rat-creature area, head back to where they started, or set-off in another direction altogether.
Contemplating their situation for a moment, Rammstein decided it was time to heal up and deploy a few more tactics in the event of another fight. With the relative safety of being out on the water, Rammstein opened his pack and took out his flask of I’ve-Got-A-Boo-Boo and uncorked it.
"Do you have anything to help you with those wounds?" Rammstein asked.
"What you see is what I've got." Grunggarr answered, his arms extended to either side. What Rammstein saw wasn't much; his weapons, armor, a belt pouch, a torch, boots, and four rat tails. No backpack and certainly no healing potions.
"OK, hold on," Rammstein said before taking a mouthful of the thick pink liquid. Almost immediately his whole body experienced a moment of coolness which slowly faded away expect in the areas where he had cuts and bruises. There, the coolness persisted for a few moments longer and then he saw his wounds marginally improve. "d**n it," Rammstein muttered under his breath. He had expected to have gotten more healing than he did. Still, he handed the flask over to Grunggarr. "Tale one mouthful only" he ordered.
"Sure thing, boss," Grunggarr answered respectfully before taking a mouthful. After a brief pause, Rammstein saw all of the wounds on Grunggarr close up and disappear. He seemed to have gotten more out of his swig than did Rammstein. "Alright! I feel pretty good!" Grunggarr exclaimed, once again, a tad too loudly.
"Keep quiet!" Rammstein growled, his anger getting the better of him.
"Sorry boss," Grunggarr answered dejectedly. "I'm kinda new to this whole going underground and sneaking around thing. I promise I'll get better."
"Just keep it down, OK?" Rammstein retorted with a little less anger in his voice. "Now listen, I have an idea. If we stack the bodies of those rat-things on one side of this raft, that might give us a little bit of protection from any missile weapons. There might be more of them on the other shore and I don't want to be a sitting duck on this raft."
"Got it, boss"
With that, the raft was piloted back to shore whereupon the rat-thing bodies were loaded on and stacked. The raft lilted a bit to one side as a result, but otherwise appeared to be stable when Rammstein and Grunggarr stood on the other end as a counterbalance. The stacked rat corpses provided cover up to about their knees when standing and to their upper chests when lowered to aim a bow. The work done, the raft again set out for the opposite shore. This time, the going was harder due to the extra weight as the raft dragged through the water, barely clearing the surface of Refuse Lake. Then, abruptly, the raft lurched and cracked down the middle, having gone aground on something large and hard. The impact threw both Rammstein and Grunggarr into the fetid water along with several of the corpses. After a brief flicker, the torch light singed-out and the cavern plunged into darkness.
After some floundering and splashing, both Rammstein and Grunggarr made it back to the original shore, now soaking wet and smelling horribly. While they couldn't see the other in the darkness, they could smell each other. Only good fortune and some quick reflexes had prevented them from losing their possessions or swimming out in the wrong direction.
"What do we do now, boss?" Grunggarr asked in a low and frustrated voice.
Indeed, Rammstein, dripping wet, smelling terribly, and encased in utter darkness had to decide what next to do.
Last Edit: Sept 20, 2017 21:25:43 GMT -5 by peterpanda
Post by peterpanda on Nov 14, 2017 12:01:23 GMT -5
Chapter 6: Appraising A Clean Lead
The situation was bad; injured, soaked, smelly, the possible ruination of some of their equipment; Rammstein had to quickly reassert his authority and leadership. He also knew that if he took much more damage he was going to quaff the last dose of his healing potion, no questions asked. But now, the most immediate need was to get out of the sewers, wash up, recuperate, and come better prepared the next time.
"Let's try to light one of our torches." Rammstein stated. "Sure thing, boss." Grunggarr replied with weak enthusiasm. Rammstein rummaged through his pack until he found the remaining torches. Even though he fell back-first into the fetid water, the leather on the backpack did provide a certain amount of protection against the moisture. Unfortunately, both the matches and torches were too moist to ignite. "d**n it," Rammstein grumbled. "OK, let's try to retrace our steps back to where we started and get out of here."
"Okie dokie," Grunggarr answered, a palpable sound of relief in his voice.
Despite the pitch darkness, by moving slowly along the "beach" and in the general direction from whence they came, Rammstein and Grunggarr were able to find the tunnel opening without incident. From there, the going got progressively easier. As they moved down the tunnel, a dim splash of light from the manhole above provided just enough illumination to allow them to reach the junction containing the deceased large rat-beast.
Once at the manhole opening, Rammstein ordered Grunggarr up to the surface first. As before, Grunggarr clenched his dagger in his teeth and climbed up. Once he'd cleared the immediate rungs, Rammstein ascended as well, not wanting to remain in the sewers any longer than need be.
Upon reaching top-side, even in the fading sunlight, it was much easier now to see how bedraggled they had become. Small pieces of vegetable peels were interspersed throughout their soggy and matted hair, brown liquid dripped unceremoniously from their armor and boots; rank odour emanated from their bodies and possessions. The dour spectacle was abruptly interrupted by cackling laughter. Still sitting nearby shucking peas was the old woman who poked her basket weaving companion on the arm and pointed at Rammstein and Grunggarr whilst cackling with gap-toothed amusement at their disheveled deportment. The other woman turned and started laughing as well; both made quite a racket which drew the attention of passersby on the street who also looked over at them.
Rammstein sensed that the situation could get out of hand pretty quickly, especially as Grunggarr was beginning to seethe with anger and could lash out at any moment. Rammstein had to do something fast; he had decisions to make.
"Grunggarr!" Rammstein called out authoritatively, "Control yourself!"
"Yes, listen to your master, smelly one!" the pea-shucking old woman goaded.
"Arrgh!" Grunggarr growled, drawing further attention to the scene from people in the vicinity. Rammstein could see how twitchy he'd become, ready to attack the old woman at any moment.
"Grunggarr, back-down, we're going to get washed up and regroup. Don't do something you'll regret." he stated firmly and grimly.
"Oh, you wouldn't hurt a fair lady like me, would ya?" the basket weaving old woman loudly asked in feigned horror before she and her companion both broke out in cackling laughter.
"Grunggarr, we're going now!"
There was a notable pause of indecision before he withdrew his hand from his hilt and said ominously "OK, we're going."
"Nothing to see here folks," Rammstein said as he ushered Grunggarr out of the situation with a hand on his back. He knew that he was close to losing Grunggarr’s loyalty and obedience.
He had a plan to get things fixed. They'd go to the public baths and get cleaned up, including paying a clothes washer to get their garments clean again. Next, they'd get their weapons and armour cleaned and repaired. The weapon-smith might be able to give them an idea on the value of the daggers they got from the rat-things. He'd pay for everything out of the loot they'd collected in the sewers. Before the day was over, he also planned to stop by the city guard and warn them about the strange things he'd seen down below.
First order of business was, however, to get out of this situation and to the public baths to clean up. From where they were now, there was a public bath not that far away but it was one of the lesser maintained and dangerous ones. If they were to retrace their steps, they would eventually reach the main baths, many of which catered to those with greater means, but reaching them would be a longer walk. Rammstein had to decide which option was best.
With the situation deteriorating and their physical condition likely to draw unwanted attention, Rammstein opted for the shorter walk to the baths nearby. While located in a dangerous neighbourhood, he and Grunggarr could always take turns bathing so that someone was always with their possessions.
"Head to the right," Rammstein told Grunggarr as he followed him past the old women and the small group of onlookers. Thankfully, no-one came at them or tried to obstruct their way and aside from some more jokes from the old women, before long they had left the area and were back on Main Port Strand. Despite a few strange looks and people giving them a wide berth, the walk to Danacik Bathorium (the People's Baths) was uneventful.
As they approached the white marble domed bath house, a small crowd of people coming and going milled around the entrance and exit. Rammstein stopped Grunggarr, "Here, take this," Rammstein said, handing him two silver pieces. "You go first; this should be more than enough to give you better service and to find someone to clean your clothes. Give me your stuff and I'll guard everything until you're done. When you're done, I'll go in and get cleaned up."
"Okay," Grunggarr replied in a far more subdued manner than before. He then handed over his possessions to Rammstein, until he was down to just his clothing. "I'll be back in a few." he said before disappearing behind the main entrance.
Rammstein remained by the entrance, his hand near his weapon, guarding their possessions whilst people filed in and out of the baths. He kept his trained eye on everyone around him, his back to a wall to prevent anyone from coming up from behind. The wait became somewhat tiresome as Grunggarr appeared to be taking his time. Just as Rammstein was about to stifle a yawn, he noticed his long-time friend Eramak exiting the baths.
"Eramak!" Rammstein called out.
"Rammstein! How ya' doin'?” Eramak asked, grabbing his hand and embracing Rammstein in a quick bear hug. "Ugh! You smell awful, what you have been up to?"
"Yeah, sorry. We've been investigating some weird stuff going on in the sewers. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?" Eramak was not only a good friend, he was also one of those people who always seemed to have heard something or know of someone who could help in a pinch; a “facilitator” is what he called himself.
"Uh, yeah but, let's talk somewhere else and after you've gotten washed up."
"No problem. I'm just waiting on my partner who's washing up. He's a bit of a hot-headed meat-head but he's a pretty good fighter."
"Got it. Why don't I meet you two at Balrog County in two hours? You cover my dinner and I'll tell ya what I know."
"Sounds good. I'll see you then." And, with that, Eramak blended into the crowd and was quickly gone. A short time later, Grunggarr finally emerged looking clean and put together. "About time." Rammstein said, grumpily.
"It took a while and the cleaning lady was slow." Grunggarr answered defensively.
With that, Rammstein handed over his possessions to Grunggarr until all he had left was his clothes and a few silver coins. With a stern admonishment to Grunggarr to not go anywhere, keep a sharp eye out, and to not start any trouble, Rammstein entered the Bathorium. As he rounded the corner, he found himself in a modestly-sized foyer that was rather crowded. People of various sizes and shapes were dressing or undressing for the baths, milling about, or looking for work cleaning clothes. The walls contained storage lockers in a range of disrepair while the white tiled floor had a traces of dirt, water, and, rubbish strewn about.
Rammstein made his way to one of the cleaning ladies. After a short conversation, he'd made a deal for her to clean his clothes for a silver piece. Undressing to his under-garments, Rammstein entered the public bath. In front of him was a large pool with a fountain in the center. The edges of the rectangular pool were lined with benches just below the water. At its deepest, the water came to chest high; throughout the pool people clustered in small groups, chatting quietly whilst washing up. Rammstein could not sense the mystical arts but had been told that strong, ancient magic kept the waters self-cleaning at all times.
Rammstein made his way to one of the towel and soap rental vendors and used his remaining coin to obtain both before he entered the comfortably warm waters. Despite the sketchy reputation of this bath, Rammstein was able to wash away the stench and grime without anyone bothering him; indeed, he found himself completely alone throughout the process.
Upon cleaning up, Rammstein left the humid baths to find the cleaning lady who gave him back his clothing which was nicely dried by means he was not clear about. After dressing, he stepped back outside only to find Grunggarr engaged in an argument with a city guardsman that Rammstein recognized.
“Fulunok! Is there a problem here?”
“Oh, hi Rammstein. Yes, this guy’s been malingering outside the baths making people uncomfortable. I asked him to move along and he refused.”
“Thanks, Fulunok. He’s with me and we’re leaving; sorry for any trouble he caused.” Rammstein answered while looking accusingly at Grunggarr who looked back with a “Who? Me?” expression.
“OK, Rammstein, no problem,” Fulunok replied as he started to back away.
Rammstein had decisions to make. Did he want to warn Fulunok of the rat-thing dangers he encountered in the sewers before he walked away? Or would he rather save that information for his former battalion commander instead? Or, would he like to go to a weaponsmith to have the daggers they got in the sewers appraised? Or, did he want to start heading toward Balrog County to be there in advance of his dinner meeting with Eramak? Or did he want to continue on his way to the ruins of his family’s house to look for clues to their whereabouts? Or, did he want to pursue that job opportunity he’d seen on the bulletin board in his old barracks? Or, did he want to do something else entirely? There were decisions to be made.
Rammstein took note of the setting sun and figured there was just enough time to see a weaponsmith to appraise the daggers they found before they’d have to get to Balrog County for dinner with Eramak. He also noted that they would need to find an inn for the night as neither he nor Grunggarr had beds in their respective barracks anymore. While the next day was still largely unplanned, Rammstein considered going to a Wizard’s Guild Magic Shop to purchase another vial of I’ve Got A Boo-Boo potion.
“Let’s find a weaponsmith who can take a look at those daggers we found.“ Rammstein told Grunggarr. “After that, we’re meeting up with a friend of mine at Balrog County for dinner. He might have information about what’s going on in the sewers.”
“Okie Dokie,” Grunggarr answered, his disposition drastically improved from earlier.
Heading back down Main Port Strand from whence they’d come, the pair turned onto Inner Wall Lane, toward the location of several weaponsmiths. Before long they’d reach the area where the smithies resided in small stalls lined up against an aged fortification that once demarked the outer edge of Neeb. Here, Inner Wall Lane became narrow and crowded, the heat from the fires and the clanging of metal on metal making it a loud and uncomfortable place; black smoke rose from the smithies into the air and over the cityscape. Going up to one of the weaponsmiths that Rammstein vaguely recalled hearing about in the past, he entered the shack-like structure and was greeted by an apprentice. After brief introductions and explanations, the apprentice disappeared out the back to find the master smith. Moments later, a lumbering, overweight Dwarf came inside the shack. His greying hair tied up in a bun, a gnarled face with bulbous nose, and a long braided beard all resided atop a pudgy body clad in a leather apron. While older and overweight, Rammstein noticed he had a mace strapped to his side and suspected that he knew how to use it.
“Hinalot here says you want me look at some daggers,” he said matter-of-factly, with no attempt at a greeting or even a smile on his face. “I do appraisals for common weapons at three gilders an item. You interested?” he asked with a tinge of impatience, as if he could just as easily go back to doing whatever he’d been doing.
Rammstein had to decide whether to proceed or not. This was not an area for which he knew much about prevailing market rates. He’d been told the best weaponsmiths were Dwarven, but beyond that, it was all unknowns. Did he want to go forward with this appraisal or check out one of the other adjacent weaponsmiths? A decision had to be made.
“Yes, we’re interested,” Rammstein answered. “Look,” he continued while taking the weapons out of his pack, “four of the daggers are the same, might there be a discount because of that?”
The Dwarven weaponsmith remained impassive, waiting until all five daggers were in view before he replied. “Well, I can save you a little right away; that dagger,” he said gruffly whilst pointing a pudgy finger at the small bladed one found by the sewer grate, “is barely worth the cost to appraise it. It’s functional but in poor condition. As for those four, I can appraise one for the 3 gilders and you can apply it to the other two if you’re confident they’re all the same.”
“OK, that’s fair.” Rammstein said, handing over 3 gold coins to the weaponsmith master.
“Hmm” the Dwarf let out a breathy sigh, his facial hair blowing in response as he picked up one of the curved daggers and began inspecting it. Soon he was concentrating and squinting at the dagger, moving it around to look at all angles with an occasional humph audibly uttered subconsciously. Abruptly, he stopped, looked up, and said, “Interesting. Both the curving of the blade and the way this hilt is attached is classic southern weaponsmithing. Made recently…I’d say it originated out of the Federation. It’s worth about 20 gilders. Selling it to a weaponer, you’ll get 12-16 gilders for it, probably the same for the other three.”
The old Dwarf looked up again at Rammstein and Grunggarr. “Name’s Gemali,” he said shaking hands with both of them. “I’m not in the market for these…don’t want anything Federation-made sitting around, if you know what I mean…but if you come across other stuff, weapons, armour, scrap, bring it by and I might be interested.”
Time was getting short for when Rammstein was to meet Eramak at Balrog County. He had to decide if he wanted to continue talking to Gemali, head out to the inn for dinner, or do something else entirely. He had decisions to make.
“Would you know anyone who might be willing to take these off my hands?” Rammstein asked.
“Well,” Gemali paused, his face frowning in concentration, “…I suppose you could try selling them to Irahno. He buys pretty much anything, it seems. Hinalot, will you escort these men to Irahno’s place?”
“Yes, Master.” Hinalot answered as he emerged from the shadowy corner of the shack from which he’d politely retired.
“When you’re done, close up shop and go home. Good day, gentlemen,” Gemali said before abruptly turning away and heading back out to his work area.
With that, the three left the weaponsmith shack and headed up Inner Wall Lane a short distance. As they walked along the now shadowy and narrow street, Rammstein pondered the potential implications of what he had learnt. Those rat creatures were carrying weapons made by one of the nations comprising the Sakken Federation – the same group that had attacked Neeb about eight months ago. How did they get here? When did they get here? What are they up to? The lead was both intriguing and frightening. Was the Federation funding a covert invasion of Neeb?
Soon, the trio reached the weaponry stall for Irahno, whereupon Hinalot said his goodbyes and left. Irahno struck Rammstein as the type of person who often skated the thin line between legal and illegal commercial activity but time was short and he wanted to unload these weapons as soon as possible. As it turned out, he was also a strong negotiator and Rammstein wasn’t motivated to press too hard this time around. The negotiation went down quickly with Irahno asking no questions. He even bought the ragged dagger found by the sewer grate. In all, Rammstein pocketed 50 gold coins for the four Federation daggers and the “street dagger.”
As they made their way to Balrog County, Rammstein thought about what he wanted to do with the remains of the day. He decided to hear Eramak out over dinner and then they’d go to his old barracks to find an officer he could trust to inform him of what they’d found out in the sewers. He would also see if they could sleep in the barracks that night – if not, perhaps Colastarium would let them sleep at his fighting school.
The walk to Balrog County was uneventful and soon Rammstein and Grunggarr found themselves in front of the small pub and inn located not too far from where Rammstein used to live. The establishment resided just outside the quadrant that had been burnt by the Sakken, just a block and half away from the charred skeletal remains of buildings that once stood in the northwestern corner of Neeb. Entering the pub, Rammstein immediately felt the comfort of a place well-known and familiar. Despite the relatively early dinner-hour, the place was, as usual, already boisterously full. Amid the hubbub Rammstein could see Eramak sitting at the bar, already nursing a drink.
“Rammstein, buddy! Good to see you again!” Eramak said coming out of his stool and giving Rammstein a firm handshake.
“Hey Eramak. Say, this is my companion, Grunggarr. Grunggarr, this is my buddy Eramak.”
“Hi Grunggarr,” Eramak said, extending a friendly hand.
Grunggarr stared disdainfully at the outstretched hand, as if it were disease-ridden, and replied unenthusiastically, “Hi.”
Eramak, giving Rammstein an upraised “What the…” eyebrow, maintained his composure and said with forced joviality, “Nice to meet you. Let’s get a table and have some dinner.”
Soon, all three were seated and a few drinks in. Grunggarr remained standoffish toward Eramak but otherwise the conversation remained lighthearted and fun, with Eramak recalling stories of him and Rammstein and the trouble they’d gotten into as youths. By the time the main course was half gone, the conversation got more focused. Rammstein told Eramak about their encounters in the sewers whilst Grunggarr listened on with another drink in hand.
“What can you tell me about the sewers, Eramak?” Rammstein asked.
Eramak got suddenly serious, the joviality of before now abruptly gone. “Those Federation fuckers,” he said in a low, angry voice. “My sources say that when they occupied the northwest quadrant, they used it as cover to insert a bunch of nasties into the sewers…Ratlings, they’re called, to run a covert operation at undermining the functioning of the city.”
“Why hasn’t the City Guard gone in and cleaned them out?” Rammstein asked, incredulity and anger in his voice.
“Good question,” Eramak answered grimly. “I don’t understand or get involved in politics, so I don’t really know what the hold-up is; all I hear is there’s no money, cutbacks, reduced roll for the Guard, blah, blah, blah…everything you’ve been hearing too, I’m sure.”
“Tell me about it.” Rammstein answered.
“So, here’s what’s interesting. The Habbiba family is looking for swords-for hire, maybe you’ve already heard?”
“Yeah, there’s a posting in my old barracks.”
“Well, get this; my sources say the call for arms is due to one of the Habbiba family outposts being overrun by rodents. Coincidence?”
“Yeah!” Grunggarr shouted before quaffing another beer. “Let’s go kill some more of them rat-things Rammy!” he boisterously exclaimed, causing a few patrons to briefly glance over at them.
“Shut it, doofus!” Eramak said angrily to a boozy and oafishly grinning Grunggarr.
Rammstein sensed the situation could rapidly deteriorate. Was there anything else he wanted to ask Eramak or was it better to pay-up and get out of the bar before a fight broke out? He still had plans to talk to someone in the City Guard about the Ratlings in the sewers – was it time to go do that? There was also the matter of finding a bed for the night. Rammstein (aka: “Rammy”) had decisions to make.
Post by peterpanda on Feb 15, 2018 11:32:10 GMT -5
Chapter 7: Resisting the Rats Before Bedtime
“Who’re you calling a doofus?” Grunggarr slurred in rising anger.
“Grunggarr!” Rammstein interjected before Eramak could respond. He knew things could easily descend into a full-blown bar-fight if he didn’t stop it immediately. “Settle down, I need your help.”
There was a palpable moment of indecision as Grunggarr’s eyes switched from Eramak to Rammstein and back again, his face an inebriated mix of anger and obedience. Obedience won. “Sure Rammy, what do you need?” he asked in a slurred but subdued voice.
“We’re going to need a room for the night. Look, here’s 25 gold coins. Use 15 of it to pay for our drinks and dinner and to find a room for us tonight. The remaining 10 is for you. You fought well today, so thank you.”
Grunggarr stood still for a moment, a stunned look on his face, before he thrust his chest out triumphantly, a smile spreading across his face. “Sure thing, boss!” he said loudly as he took the coin from Rammstein.
“Meet me at my old barracks in two hours. That’d be the Southeast Station on Armoury Way.”
“You got it, boss!” Grunggarr answered with alcohol injected enthusiasm before loping off.
“Phew, glad he’s gone.” Eramak muttered once Grunggarr was out of earshot.
“He can certainly be a handful.” Rammstein wearily replied. “So, what do you know about these Ratlings or that larger rat creature we killed?”
“Honestly, nothing. Don’t know where they came from, don’t know if they truly infiltrated under the guise of the Sakken attack, don’t know what they’re up to or what their strengths and weaknesses are. Sorry.” He ended glumly.
“Well, why isn’t anything being done about it?” Rammstein asked, frustration in his voice.
“Maybe something is. Maybe they’re just being quiet about it. Maybe the cutbacks are making it difficult. I don’t know, but something doesn’t seem right. What I can tell you is you’d better watch out.”
“Eh? Watch out? Why do you say that?”
“Two reasons,” Eramak answered, pausing to take a drink, “One, you’re no longer with the City Guard so, technically, going down into the sewers is breaking the law. Just keep that in mind if you’re thinking of going back.”
“Okay, and the second reason?”
“Well, just consider that because the response has been so hush-hush or non-existent, every time you go down there, you may not have any allies, or at least some of the people you think are on your side might not be. I don’t know what’s going on but it’s probably not a good idea to expose yourself too much to too many forces that you don’t understand.”
“There’s nowhere to hide in the sewers?”
“Exactly. And, in addition to the Ratlings, you’ll have to contend with whoever is supporting them, any Rogue’s Guilds that use the sewers to move about, the City Guard, and who knows who else. Look, you can do whatever you want, but just be careful down there, there’s too much we don’t know.”
“Thanks for sharing your thoughts,” Rammstein answered. From there the conversation continued for a while longer but did not dredge up anything of import. After some time, Rammstein realized he’d need to leave soon for his old barracks. He planned to tell the highest ranking officer he could find and trust what he had uncovered in the sewers and then he was to meet with Grunggarr and head over to whatever inn he had found. Rammstein thanked Eramak for the information and said his goodbyes before heading back out onto the streets.
The transition to the street was abrupt; as soon as the door closed, the loud, raucous din was muffled to an incoherent mutter as the quiet of the evening took over. It was dark. The air was cooling, aided by a growing sea breeze. The walk to his old barracks would be long and would initially take him through some moderately dangerous areas. He was not afraid, however – up until a day ago, this was what he used to do for a living; he knew these streets well and the dangers they posed.
As he made his way south, Rammstein remained watchful but the few pedestrians he saw seemed intent on getting to their destination and moved along rapidly. As he approached Falboot Katzum, he saw two City Guardsmen sauntering along the road in a leisurely manner. Rammstein did not recognize either of them. As they passed, one of the guardsmen nodded toward him in greeting but otherwise continued on their patrol. The remainder of his walk to his old barracks was uneventful.
Finally at his old barracks and with only a half-hour before Grunggarr would arrive, Rammstein had to decide what next to do. Who did he wish to talk to and what did he want to say? Normally, at this time of the night, the barracks would have a sergeant and a lieutenant on duty. He wasn’t certain, but a normal schedule would have Sgt. Gamboa and Lt. Harahambabi on duty. Both seemed to be decent men even if the lieutenant was a tad young. Rammstein had decisions to make.
Before entering the barracks, Rammstein pondered his options and recalled what he knew of the Sergeant and Lieutenant; he did not want to share this information with the wrong person. He also considered whether going further up the chain of command might make sense. If he did that, Captain Iorium would be the next person in line. The captain was headquartered elsewhere and would likely not take kindly to an interruption at this hour of the evening; still it was something to consider, even if he held off in talking to him until the next day. Captain Iorium was, as best Rammstein could tell, a good man who helped lead several platoons against the Sakken and managed to hold his ground when others could not. A bit standoffish, however, coming from an upper class family where military commissions are expected, not earned.
The Lieutenant was mostly an unknown to Rammstein. He had only assumed his commission a short time ago, after the Sakken attack, and Rammstein had little interaction with him during their brief time together. Still, giving it some more thought he recalled that the lieutenant was very religious, firmly following the Six Gods and all the religious festivals and obligations. He also tended to keep to himself and sometimes displayed a stubbornness about protocol and procedure. He was truly an unknown quantity.
As for Sergeant Gamboa, the two had known each other a long time and Rammstein considered him a mentor when he first got promoted to the same rank. Slightly older than himself, he had helped, in his own cheerful and sarcastic way, to teach Rammstein the fundamentals of leadership and command. Still, Rammstein also knew that Sgt. Gamboa was planning to leave the City Guard and wondered if his rank would be high enough up the chain of command to warrant the attention this issue deserved. Rammstein felt he could trust the Sergeant, but would his remaining time and rank in the guard be worth the risk?
And caution was the order of the day as Rammstein was convinced that there was a fifth column at work within the ranks of the City Guard and, possibly beyond that as well. Whomever he took this information to had to be someone he could trust. Information would have to be shared laterally and only to those who could be trusted. Keeping knowledge and planning at a lower level might make it easier to plan operations such as expeditions to clean out the sewers, Rammstein thought. Something quiet and “off the books” to take on these Ratlings might just be what’s needed to turn the tide. If he could amass a cadre of about 50, that should be enough to finish the job and make an impact, he reasoned.
In thinking about the next day, Rammstein had to decide whether to go back into the sewers, this time with more support, or head out of town, possibly after looking into the Habbiba family job posting and whether it has anything to do with Ratlings. But first things first; Rammstein had to decide if he wanted to share his information with the Lieutenant or the Sergeant or even the Captain. Rammstein had a decision to make.
A moment or two of contemplation had settled the question for Rammstein, he would approach his former peer, Sergeant Gamboa. He could trust him and he might be able to help get some kind of resistance set up within the City Guard before he mustered out. Perhaps this news might cause the Sergeant to delay his departure so that he could do more work before he left.
His mind made up, Rammstein entered his old barracks where he was immediately greeted by Juniot and Karamba who were on guard just inside the archway. After exchanging greetings, Rammstein asked to see Sergeant Gamboa. Moments later the short but burly former colleague came out into the foyer.
“Mr. Schwartzkoff,” he said grimly, “you seem to have a hard time understanding that you’re no longer welcome here.” As the Sergeant approached Rammstein with an unfriendly look on his face, his hand edged toward his sheathed sword.
Taken aback by the cold reception, Rammstein took a defensive posture. Just as the Sergeant came within arm’s reach of him, he broke a smile and hugged Rammstein, “Good to see you, buddy. Not that it’s been a long time.”
Palpably relieved, Rammstein hugged Gamboa back and quietly asked if they could go talk somewhere in private. Soon, the two were in the Sergeant’s quarters where Rammstein told him about his discoveries in the sewers earlier in the day. He then ventured his idea of building up a resistance force within the City Guard. When he was done, there was a moment of silence while Sergeant Gamboa took in what he had just heard. Finally, he spoke. “Well, you’ve been pretty busy for only having been gone one day.” After another expectant pause, he continued, “There’s not much I can do about my leaving the Guard. As you know, I was planning to leave on my own but it looks like our erstwhile new lieutenant has opted to expedite matters. He informed me earlier today that Command is acting on my request and my last day should happen in a week or two. Still, that gives us a little bit of time to start identifying and recruiting a resistance force.”
“Sounds good. Do you have ideas on who might be trusted?”
“A few names come to mind but I’ll need to be careful about who and when I approach them. It might be best if I don’t share any names with you right now; that way, if things go wrong, no-one can connect anything to you.”
“Okay. How do we stay in touch?”
“Let’s meet tomorrow evening at The Juggling Troll and talk again then. Around dinner time. We can decide on future meeting places tomorrow but best to change it up frequently and avoid any kind of pattern.”
As when he first got promoted to Sergeant, Rammstein listened to his former mentor and felt the advice he was getting was solid. “Okay, Comrade, I’ll see you tomorrow. Stay safe.”
With that, Rammstein made his way toward the barracks' exit when he heard some shouting up ahead. As he entered the foyer, he saw Juniot and Karamba arguing with an agitated Grunggarr.
“See? There he is!” Grunggarr shouted with agitation and pointing at Rammstein.
“This guy comes storming in, drunk, demanding to see you, Rammstein.” Karamba said defensively.
“I am on an important assignment!” Grunggarr shouted. “I told you that.”
“It’s alright, Karamba,” Rammstein loudly interjected before anyone else could speak, “he’s with me and we’re leaving – now.” With that, Rammstein directed Grunggarr out of the barracks and onto Armoury Way. “Okay, Grunggarr, take me to the inn you found and otherwise don’t say a word.” Rammstein ordered after getting clear of the barracks.
“Sure, boss” he replied querulously.
In silence, the two made their way back toward the northwestern quadrant. The walk allowed Rammstein time to think out his strategy some more. Knowing what the Fifth Column was up to would be helpful, he reasoned, but finding that out might prove difficult unless he could get intelligence on things happening around the city. One option would be to recruit members of the underground; the criminal element that he’d dealt with as a City Guardsman. He knew, from his experience, that many of them were about as reliable as a Goblin with a throwing dagger, so expecting loyalty and closed lips was a highly risky proposition. Still, there were criminals and members of the underworld he could approach if he felt it was worth the risk.
There was always his long-time friend Eramak to consider as well. Rammstein knew he could trust him and he long suspected that Eramak had connections to organized crime syndicates in Neeb even if he, personally, never crossed that line himself. Ideally, each resistance squad would include at least one roguish-type, but if finding enough of them that could be trusted was a long shot, then building a smaller network, over a longer period of time might be the smarter course of action.
One other thought occurred to Rammstein along the way: the resistance will need access to healing services. Typically, religious orders provided the most comprehensive healing assistance, although the Wizard’s Guild did as well. If a sympathetic religious order could be found, that would be the best situation since the Wizard’s Guild was notoriously expensive and apolitical to a fault. Not being overly religious himself, Rammstein had to think about who he might approach to do this.
After a quiet period of uneventful walking, Grunggarr led Rammstein to The Handmaiden’s House, an inn near the northwestern quadrant notorious for its easy access to ladies of the night but with good security as a result of this connection. Safe, but sleazy.
As they approached the front door, Rammstein had decisions to make. Did he want to sleep here tonight? What did he want to do the next day: check out the ruins of his family’s apartment, keep working on a resistance force, or head over to the Habbiba family’s offices to enquire about their job offer? Or, something else entirely? As the hour became late, Rammstein had to decide his next move.
Rammstein entered the heavily guarded front door of the Handmaiden’s House and was instantly greeted by the overpowering scent of incense merged with the overabundance of lace and exaggerated feminine décor. Approaching them both was the House Lady who recognized Grunggarr and greeted them warmly. She personally escorted them to their room on the third floor and assured them both that if they required companionship, she knew of a few young ladies who liked strong, brave fighters. Rammstein thanked her for her interest in their well-being and assured her that they would seek her out if they grew weary of each other’s company. After she closed the door behind her Grunggarr proudly stated that he purposefully didn’t make any arrangements for a lady to visit with Rammstein because he got the impression that Rammstein wouldn’t have appreciated the gesture, what with Rammstein being in a bad mood all day and barking orders at him.
“Even a broken clock is correct twice a day…” Rammstein muttered under his breath. Grunggarr quizzically scowled in response, appearing to not understand the comment.
As he settled down to rest, Rammstein thought ahead to what he wanted to accomplish the next day. Still motivated to check out his family’s former residence, he decided that would be the first thing he’d do. After that, he considered returning to the sewers if he could find another accessible sewer grate to let him in. He also intended to make his meeting with Sergeant Gamboa that evening to continue planning-out the resistance force. He wanted to help get it off the ground but did not want to be tied too closely to it as it might restrict his options. With these thoughts in mind, Rammstein fell asleep.
The night passed uneventfully and after a brief breakfast at the Handmaiden’s House, Grunggarr and Rammstein were, once again, out on the streets, heading toward Rammstein’s former residence. Even at the early hour, Rammstein could tell it was going to be yet another hot day; not that this was surprising, what with it being a short time after the mid-summer festival, but knowing that the weather was normal for the time of year didn’t make it any easier to tolerate.
Together, the two made their way toward the burnt-out quadrant. With the sun just peeking over the shadowed and charred hulks, the walk went uneventfully, with few people around. As he approached the final block of un-disturbed city, Rammstein could see a city guard checkpoint up ahead. Ostensibly positioned to protect the citizens of Neeb from being injured whilst walking around the unsteady remains of buildings, the presence of the checkpoint took on an a more sinister meaning in light of his recent discoveries in the sewers. Was it there to protect the citizenry or was it covering up something more disquieting?
Based on his time in the City Guard, Rammstein knew that the size of the burnt-out quadrant was too large and uneven to make these checkpoints an effective method for keeping out anyone determined to get in. Still, he had decisions to make before he got too close to the checkpoint. Did he want to talk (or fight) his way past the checkpoint or instead scout the edge of the ruined quadrant for another, more surreptitious way into it? Did he want to abandon the idea altogether and do something else? It was time to decide.
Post by peterpanda on May 30, 2018 21:01:40 GMT -5
Chapter 8: A Ruinous Encounter
Rammstein stared down the road at the checkpoint. He and Grunggarr were still a couple of blocks away, which gave him the opportunity to unobtrusively observe the city guardsmen staffing the roadblock without being recognized. While the three guardsmen appeared bored and disinterested, Rammstein thought it hard to believe that he and Grunggarr weren’t noticed when they first rounded the corner onto this street. At this hour of the morning, there just weren’t any other people around to make themselves less conspicuous, few people came this close to the burnt-out quadrant anyway because there was nothing left to make them go there in the first place and, lastly, neither he nor Grunggarr had initially approached the checkpoint with any degree of stealth. While approaching unseen was now off the table, Rammstein thought he could still watch the checkpoint without raising suspicions by pretending to be engaging in conversation with Grunggarr.
With Grunggarr convincingly playing along, because he thought Rammstein was simply feeling chatty, Rammstein positioned himself to take a sustained but surreptitious look at the City Guard’s roadblock. The roadblock itself was effectively designed, but the City Guardsmen staffing it appeared inattentive, bored, and unprofessional. While viewing the three guardsmen from a distance, he felt fairly certain that he recognized only one of them; the other two were possibly new recruits. He could not recall the name of the guardsman he vaguely recognized but felt certain that all three were garrisoned in a different barracks than the one he was, until recently, assigned to. Further watching of the guardsmen failed to provide any further insights while the risk of raising suspicions increased the longer he persisted, so Rammstein abruptly ceased his small-talk with Grunggarr (who appeared perplexed by the volte-face) and walked back from whence they’d come.
Safely around the corner once again, Rammstein turned to Grunggarr. “I still want to try to reach my old home in the burnt-out quadrant. But,” Rammstein nodded in the direction of the checkpoint, “we’re not going to be able to just stroll in there. We’re going to have to sneak in and avoid any patrols along the way, got it?”
“Okay, so to do this, you’re going to have to be quiet and stealthy,” Rammstein continued in his most patronizing voice. “Do you think you can do it?”
“Sure, boss” Grunggarr repeated.
“Alright, then, we’re going to start skirting the edge of the northwest quadrant until we find a place that looks less guarded, and we’ll try to get in from there, got it?”
“Sure, boss,” came the now anticipated reply.
Soon, the two began working their way westward, along the jagged edge of the burnt-out quadrant. The walk forced them to move a block or two in or out of the edge of the quadrant as the fires did not burn uniformly. Their pace was further slowed by Rammstein’s careful observation of their surroundings as he looked for a viable way into the quadrant where they wouldn’t be seen. Fortunately, the areas of the city they were in were less frequented so their passage appeared to go by largely unnoticed.
As they traversed along the fringes, Rammstein noted that city guard checkpoints were established at all of the major roads that led into the northwest quadrant, but that none of the lesser roads or alleyways had any such presence. Furthermore, the carcasses of the burnt-out buildings ruined any line-of-sight between checkpoints whilst providing cover for anyone attempting to move around unseen. There was always the danger of being spotted by one of the ongoing patrols inside the quadrant, but to the best of Rammstein’s reckoning, getting inside the quadrant itself didn’t look all that challenging.
Eventually, they reached a spot that Rammstein felt would make a good crossing point. It was a wider alleyway than normal, but narrower than an actual road; if they had to fight here, they could do so side-by-side. Pausing to ensure that no-one was around, Rammstein then pointed Grunggarr forward and the two easily crossed into the ruins. Quickly, they found the refuge of a burnt-out building to hide themselves from obvious observation. From there, they began to make their way toward where Rammstein’s apartment once resided. As they progressed through the ruins, the sounds of the city slowly faded away, to be replaced by an eerie silence. Still, the quiet afforded them the advantage of being able to hear any other movement more clearly; hopefully, Rammstein thought, they’d be able to avoid and seek cover from any oncoming patrols as a result.
The landscape was unsettling. Neighbourhoods that were once very familiar to Rammstein now looked unrecognizable; charred wood and stone, crumbled walls, debris, and detritus abounded; the colours and vibrancy once in these locations now literally burned away. Some buildings were nothing more than cluttered foundations whilst others looked like broken, jagged teeth along the skyline. The entire tableau was disorienting and depressing for Rammstein; he kept his emotions in check but was not unaffected by what he saw.
Working their way through the rubble, Rammstein noted that despite the attack having taken place months ago, no serious attempt at clean-up and restoration appeared evident. Despite that lack of activity, the soot-strewn ground still had the presence of many footprints so either City Guard patrols or others were still traversing this area fairly frequently.
As they moved along, attempting to use stealth and the remains of buildings for cover, Rammstein ruminated on their previous day’s adventures in the sewers. That underground lake intrigued him and he pondered as to where underneath the city it was located. Based on the best reasoning he could make for how far they travelled in the sewer tunnels and in what directions they went, Rammstein thought that the subterranean lake stretched from the northern edge of Falboot Katzum all the way to the northwest quadrant. Still, this was only a guess; he was not entirely certain.
Coming close to where his family’s residence once stood, Grunggarr put up his hand and said he saw someone. Almost simultaneously, a short human, wearing black leather armour poked his head around the opposite street corner and gave a quick wave with his hand. He appeared to be indicating something along the lines of, “I’m not going to attack you” or “Come on over, it’s safe here,” although Rammstein could not be totally sure. Grunggarr turned to Rammstein and asked, “What do you want me to do, boss?” Rammstein had a decision to make.
Rammstein gave Grunggarr the “stop” sign with his hand. He was leery of walking into an ambush and wanted time to assess the environment before deciding on whether to approach the stranger. They stood alongside a burnt-out building and next to what was once a four way intersection, now lined by destroyed buildings along with considerable amounts of debris in the roadways. Conceivably, someone (or someone’s) could be hiding behind any of the skeletal walls or, if crouched down low, amongst the rubble in the roads. With both of them paused, Rammstein peered around him but saw no movement, aside from the frantic arm waving from the stranger, and heard no sounds indicating movement or the presence of anyone else. Grunggarr, picking up on the obvious, also looked around but eventually shrugged his shoulders.
Satisfied that there was no-one else around, Rammstein indicated that they should make their way toward the stranger. Perhaps out of impatience, the figure popped his head back around the corner to see where they were at and then began waving his arm more vigourously to get them to hurry up. Partially exposed now, Rammstein was able to get a better look at him. While only his upper body protruded from around the building corner, Rammstein saw a 30-something human with round shoulders, brown eyes, a flat nose, and black hair. In all, not a very attractive tableau. He appeared to be wearing well-worn leather armour.
Together, Rammstein and Grunggarr carefully made their way across the intersection, prepared at any moment to retreat into a defensive position, until they reached the stranger at the opposite corner. “About time you got over here,” the stranger said in a lowered voice before quickly adding, “name’s Duster; what brings you to this scenic part of the city?”
Rammstein had to decide how much to share with this person and what his next move should be. He had decisions to make.
Rammstein quickly assessed this “Duster” character; his years as a City Guardsman informing his view. His instincts told him that this person was most likely part of the underworld, a thief or other criminal element. Why he was in the burnt-out quadrant, whether he could be trusted and/or be of any value were still open questions. Was this a set-up? Rammstein wasn’t sure, but he opted to engage Duster in conversation to, at the very least, buy himself some more time to evaluate the situation.
“I used to live around here,” Rammstein replied, looking up at the scarred ruins, “and I’m planning to leave the city soon but wanted to check out my old residence before I go.”
“Feelin’ nostalgic are ya?” Duster replied with a wink that suggested he wasn’t entirely sold on Rammstein’s story but was willing to ignore the deception. “Well, if you twos haven’t come ‘round here since the remodeling, ya might think about gettin’ a tour guide, know what I mean?”
Grunggarr let out a derisive snort and grabbed the hilt of his sword.
“Easy does it,” Duster responded, while flinching and stepping back. “I’m just sayin’ ya might need some help from someone who kinda knows the place, get ya to where ya want to go without any of the locals botherin’ ya.”
“From a street rat like you? Grunggarr growled, his voice getting louder.
“Hey! Shh…” Duster, with panicky, bulging pupils, responded in a muted voice. “Keep it down, will ya? In case ya don’t know, there’s quite a few unfriendlies around these parts. I knows their patterns and where’s to hide. If ya wants to get there ‘n’ back, talk to me.”
“How much would that cost?” Rammstein asked.
Swinging his head eagerly around to Rammstein, Duster answered, “Just three gilders will get ya there an back. A bargain if ya ask me!”
“Come on, Rammy, you can’t be seriously thinking of hiring this scum?” Grunggarr vented in frustration.
“Ah, but he can cuz he knows a deal when he hears it,” Duster answered, looking searchingly into Rammstein’s face for any sign that he might accept his offer.
“Come on! This trash is just going to lead us into a trap, let’s kill him and help clean up the streets of Neeb!” Grunggarr growled with increasing volume.
The situation was getting loud and dangerous. Rammstein had to decide what to do.
“Keep it down, Grunggarr.” Rammstein hissed before turning back to Duster. “Look, Duster,” Rammstein said with mild derisiveness in his voice, “3 gilders is highway robbery. I’ll give you 10 sils to get us there and back. If there’s no funny business along the way, I’ll give you another 10 sils when we leave this area; final offer, take it or leave it.”
Duster looked like he was about to object and continue to negotiate when, suddenly, he smiled and said, “What are ya, half-Uruk? Okay, ya got yerself a deal,” he answered joyously with an expectant outstretched hand.
Rammstein was most interested in asking Duster questions; that’s where the value in this exchange resided. As he handed over the 10 silvers, he asked, “So why are you here?”
“Eh, just keepin’ an eye on my old neighbourhood, ya know?” Duster replied unconvincingly. “We should get movin’…” he added evasively, ...“we be standin’ still too long; them patrols will catch us if we don’t go.” With that, he set off with a practiced stealthy gait in the direction of Rammstein’s former residence.
As they progressed through more of the rubble, Rammstein ventured another question. “Do you live here?”
“Here?,” Duster replied with a quizzical look. “Nah, I lives on the streets of Neeb; ya know, I got my haunts, my connections.”
Again, Rammstein felt he was getting uninformative answers but didn’t know how to make Duster more forthcoming. As they progressed closer to where Rammstein once lived, Duster appeared to be getting more cautious. The fires must have burned particularly strongly here for the ruins were smaller, more charred, less left standing, and a sodden dust covered everything. In addition to reduced cover, there appeared to be more footprints and tracks in this area than where they had previously been.
“Well, in that case,” Rammstein started up again, “you must work with others; have you ever heard of Cross Eyes?”
“The boss of thieves; yeah, I’ve heard of him; who hasn’t?,” he answered with annoyance.
When Duster failed to say anything else and instead put his attention toward looking around for anything dangerous, Rammstein realized he wasn’t going to get anything more out of him.
“You know, Duster, it’s kind of odd that you’d just be hanging around in this area. I didn’t realize tour guides had such good business around here.”
“You ask too many d**n questions.” Duster responded before scooting across another intersection then waving for Rammstein and Grunggarr to follow him.
“Well, everything just seems so strange to me, I mean, why the heck is this area still locked off from the public?,” Rammstein asked after rejoining Duster.
“Finally, ya ask a good question,” Duster replied, looking at Rammstein with a serious look on his face. “All’s I knows is that them city guards come around here quite a bits and if they catches ya, ya disappear for good. An there’s way too many rats ‘round here; nasty ones.”
“What the heck is going on here?” Rammstein asked in exasperation.
“Can’t say as though I knows,” Duster answered, “but methinks they’s is tryin’ to cover somethin’ up. I mean, they’s is patrollin’ it like crazy but nuthin’ is being done ‘bout fixin’ it back up.”
“It seems really strange,” Rammstein answered.
“Duz to me, too,” Duster replied scrunching up his face in exaggerated confusion. “From what I’ve seen, them rats are runnin’ all over the place ‘n’ goin’ down into the sewers but our city guard don’t see nuthin.’”
“Have you gone down to look?”
“What? Down in the sewers? I ain’t that crazy.”
As the sun rose a bit further into the early morning sky, the three came upon the remains of the building where Rammstein once lived. For all intents and purposes, the exterior of the structure looked no different than those around it; crumbled stone, charred wood, collapsed roof, soot everywhere.
“Well, that’s interestin’,” Duster said as he crouched over a crumbled wall across from Rammstein’s former home. “Haven’t seen that before,” he continued, pointing at a structure a couple of building carcasses away. It appeared to have been partially, albeit poorly, rebuilt. Random stones from nearby buildings had been placed atop the remains of its walls, much like a stone wall, and various charred timbers crossed these walls to form a rudimentary roof. It was clear that someone or somebodies had rebuilt it and were using this location; there were well trodden paths all around the entrance to the building.
“Yeah, right,” Grunggarr whispered to Rammstein, “looks more like where he and his buddies plan to ambush us. Just give me the word and I’ll cut him down right here and now.”
Deep inside the burnt-out quadrant, Rammstein had decisions to make. Did he want to ask more questions of Duster or follow-up on some that he’d already asked? Now that he was across the street from his former home, did he want to go check it out? There was also that poorly reconstructed building that might warrant further investigation. How did he care to address Grungarr’s growing animosity toward Duster; ignore it, address it, some other option? Or, was Rammstein inclined to do something altogether different; he had decisions to make.
Rammstein ignored Grunggarr for the moment and peered over at the poorly reconstructed building. Before the fire, that had been Ianar’s Butcher’s Shoppe on the ground floor and with apartments on the second and third floors. There was nothing unusual about the building when it was still standing but it was possible, Rammstein mused, that it probably had access to the sewers for the flushing of offal. He wanted to know more.
“How long have you been seeing all these rats, Duster?,” Rammstein asked.
“Eh, at least three weeks, now.”
“Well, why haven’t the patrols seen them?”
“I dunno,” he answered with shrugged shoulders. “S ’pose it has sumthin’ to do with them patrols always goin’ to the same places at the same times. Kinda makes it predictible.”
“Look,” Rammstein continued, “I’m prepared to give you another 5 sils if you can scout that building out and tell me what you find. I’d like to know if there’s anyone in it and what it’s being used for.”
“Eh…” Duster responded, his eyes looking around the area with a look of worry mixed with desire for the extra coins, “you’ s got a deal if we makes it 10 sils. What you’ s askin’ is kinda dangerous. Ya gotta make it worth it.”
“Fine,” Rammstein answered in frustration. “Just get to it. Grunggarr and I will be looking around in what’s left of my building while you’re doing that.”
With that, Rammstein pointed to his old building and then, in a crouch, crossed over the last street to reach it before turning back and signaling Grunggarr to follow him. Soon, the two were leaning against the outside walls to Rammstein’s former home. After that, they quickly and easily leaped over the crumpled walls and were inside the ruined structure. With a little bit of cover now to hide behind, Rammstein turned to Grunggarr and said, “Look, I don’t trust Duster either, ok? But right now, he’s got skills that we don’t and we need him, so play nice, got it?”
“Got it, boss,” he answered dejectedly.
“Ok, so, now, let’s look around in this rubble and let me know if you find anything interesting.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
Together, they began searching through the ruins of his former home. Two things were immediately apparent to Rammstein: one, either the fires thoroughly destroyed much of what had been or someone had come by and looted the place; two, the preponderance of rat tracks suggested, at the very least, an infestation had taken root. Still, the two persisted in their search. After several minutes of searching in silence, Grunggarr grunted out, “Found something, boss.”
In the dim light of the mostly collapsed wreckage, Grunggarr held up a glass teacup that appeared to somehow be in pristine condition. He had found it half-buried in the dirt and cinders. Just as Rammstein took the glass teacup from Grunggarr, he heard a shout and the sound of running. Peering over the edge of the broken wall, he saw Duster sprinting toward them, two Ratlings close behind and a third pulling out a bow and arrow from the doorway to the poorly reconstructed building.
Rammstein had only seconds to decide what to do before Duster and his two pursuers reached him.
“Stay quiet!” Rammstein hissed at Grunggarr as he pulled out his bow. As he took aim at the Ratling in the doorway, Grunggarr, without instruction, unsheathed his sword in anticipation of the oncoming attack. Before letting his arrow go, Rammstein saw Duster rapidly closing the distance between them and heard him shriek in panic, “Hey! Get these things offa me!”
In a flicker, Rammstein unleashed his arrow but it was fractionally after the Ratling let his go. The results were immediate and obvious. Duster staggered a step or two more before falling to the ground, an arrowhead protruding from his chest; the two pursuing Ratlings simply continued their charge toward Rammstein and Grunggarr. The third Ratling, however, crumpled in a heap by the building’s doorway, an arrow firmly embedded in its neck. Neither Duster nor the Ratling moved again.
Rammstein had no time to admire his marksmanship. The speedy Ratlings were upon him and Grunggarr, with only the crumpled building wall separating them. With those same curved swords they’d seen in the sewers, the Ratlings agilely jumped on the wall and attacked with speedy ferocity. More prepared for the onslaught this time, Rammstein and Grunggarr managed to fend off the initial assault but not before sustaining a few cuts along the way. Together, they pressed their advantage and succeeded in forcing the Ratlings off the ruined wall, inflicting serious damage to them as they fell. Then, before they could fully recover their balance, Rammstein and Grunggarr finished off the Ratlings who only managed to nick them before they died.
Rammstein quickly surveyed the area. He could see no movement. Behind him were the ruins of his home, the glass teacup laying on the ground once again. In front of him were the two dead Ratlings; a short distance beyond them was the unmoving body of Duster and, beyond him, at the entrance to the makeshift building, was the body of the third Ratling. To his sides, nothing appeared to have changed. He had decisions to make and, given their situation, making those decisions quickly was likely the best bet.
Post by peterpanda on Jan 30, 2019 18:00:51 GMT -5
Chapter 9: A Sewer Skewer
Rammstein rushed over to the inert body of Duster and checked his eyes and pulse; he appeared to be dead. “Grunggarr, if that teacup is still in one piece, hide it in the rubble and then stand guard while I clean up the bodies.”
As he started to drag Duster’s body into the ruins of his former residence, Rammstein quickly added, “And be quiet.”
After placing Duster’s body behind the building wall, Rammstein checked on the two Ratling bodies and dragged them behind it after confirming that they too were dead. He then went over to the last Ratling body, slumped in the doorway of the makeshift building, and checked it for vital signs but found none. From where he crouched over the Ratling’s body, he could see into the former butcher’s shop. His vantage point allowed him to notice that the doorway opened into what was once the customer area of the shop; the floor appeared to have been cleared of debris and a wall of charred timbers blocked his view of the area beyond. The ground was replete with footprints, both rodent and booted. Not wanting to be exposed to an attack any longer than need be, Rammstein then took the remaining Ratling body to the others.
Once safely behind the walls of his former residence, Rammstein searched the bodies of the recently deceased. Duster’s coin pouch contained 23 silvers, 8 coppers, and 3 gold coins. He also wore a gold necklace with a small emerald. In a stroke of good fortune, Rammstein discovered a hidden pocket containing another 7-gold coin. He also wore leather boots, hard leather armour, and carried a short sword and skinning knife.
Turning his attention to the three Ratling bodies, Rammstein found that, like their counterparts from the sewers, these three had those curved short swords on them. The third Ratling also had a small light bow with nine arrows. None had anything else of value on them.
“I want to check out that reconstructed building.” Rammstein told Grunggarr.
“Okay, boss,” Grunggarr replied, his eyes taking on a look of enthusiasm for the potential for more fighting.
Moving quickly and as quietly as they could, Rammstein and Grunggarr reached the makeshift building entrance, one on either side of the door. After a brief pause to scan the area and listen for sounds of movement, Rammstein slid into the building. Moments later, Grunggarr joined him. Now protected from observation by the walls of the reconstructed building, Rammstein could relax a little bit and looked around. He found himself in the space that was once the customer area of the old butcher’s shop. It now bore little resemblance; what the fires hadn’t destroyed, someone had come along and removed. He could see three piles of shredded fabrics and padding that appeared to be used for sleeping. These piles were in the opposite corner from where he’d entered. They were also across from an opening into another room beyond. From where he stood, Rammstein could not see into that other room.
With everything seemingly quiet, Rammstein took the respite as an opportunity to drink his last bit of I’ve Got A Boo-Boo potion. Unlike the last time he drank the potion, he felt an immediate boost of healing coolness throughout his body and all his cuts healed up in seconds, leaving him feeling whole once again.
Feeling revitalized, he turned to Grunggarr and signaled him to take a position on the opposite side of the doorway leading to the backroom. Soon in place, Rammstein looked around the door-frame and saw a mid-sized room with a large hole in the centre of the floor. All around it was dirt, rock, rubble, and twisted pieces of seared metal, possibly the remains of tools used in the butcher’s shop damaged by the fire. Speckles of sunlight filtered through the makeshift roof creating spots of illumination over the room. Even from the doorway, Rammstein could smell a warm, sweaty, sewer odor wafting up through the hole. He could also see the upper portion of a roughly hewn, but ostensibly large and study ladder heading down. Well-worn paths from the front room to the ladder in the backroom were suggestive of frequent humanoid traffic.
“Keep an eye on that hole while I search the front room,” Rammstein commanded.
“You got it, boss,” Grunggarr answered, his sword drawn, his face eager for another fight.
Rammstein then rummaged through the sleeping mats and quickly scanned the room for anything unusual. While the room itself yielded nothing further of value or interest, interlaced throughout the torn fabrics, stuffing, and other unidentified materials comprising the sleeping mats, he managed to uncover pieces of half eaten cheese, nuts, dried bread, a water-skin containing some kind of fluid, and a small gold rat statue. Rammstein put the water-skin and rat statue in his pack before turning his attention to the backroom.
“Cover me while I search this room”
“Okie dokie.” Grunggarr answered, apparently in a good mood.
Searching the room took a while given the large piles of excavated and ruined materials lumped about the space. It was easy to uncover something metal, that looked like it might be noteworthy, only to discover upon removing the dirt coating it, that it was nothing more than a twisted, broken and seared knife blade, probably used when this was still a butcher’s shop. After an extended period of time, Rammstein found a small glass vial containing a rose coloured liquid inside. The vial was dirty but intact, the cork still holding firm. He put the vial in his backpack.
Turning his attention to the large hole in the ground, Rammstein and Grunggarr looked down into the depths but saw only darkness. Aside from a very slight breeze of rank air emanating from below, no sounds could be heard either. “Let’s go investigate,” Rammstein told Grunggarr in hushed tones. “You go down first, and I will cover you with my bow.”
“Sure, boss.” He answered, slinging his legs around and onto the ladder to begin his descent. The ladder was made with roughly hewn but sturdy looking wood, wide enough to accommodate two humans at the same time or one much larger humanoid by themselves. Slowly, Grunggarr disappeared into the darkness until Rammstein could no longer see him. It was not an insignificant descent.
With a last look around him, Rammstein began his descent into the darkness. The wide ladder continued downward and soon he could no longer clearly make out much of anything, the little spots of illumination from the poorly constructed roof far above providing the only source of light. At some point in his descent, Rammstein heard a loud cracking noise underfoot, the rung he was putting his weight upon gave out, and the next thing he knew, he was falling and banging against the ladder. A frantic grab in the dark made purchase upon a ladder rung that arrested his fall but not before he managed to bang and bruise himself. The accident also caused a little bit of noise and prompted Grunggarr to call out, much too loudly for Rammstein’s liking, “Are you okay boos?”
“Quiet!” Rammstein hissed as he finally made it down to where Grunggarr was. Wherever they were in the sewers, Rammstein could not tell. It was too dark to see. He had torches but also matches that might not work after getting soaked the previous day. The air was hot, humid, and smelly. Sounds of dripping moisture could be heard but, otherwise, things appeared quiet.
Rammstein had decisions to make. Did he continue his search in the sewers? Did he try to get his torches to work? Did he retreat to the surface? Grunggarr waited patiently for a decision to be made.
In the enveloping darkness, Rammstein rummaged by touch through his pack until he found his matches. Using his flint stone, he then attempted to strike the matches to produce a flame. Match after match failed to ignite, not even producing the smallest of sparks.
As the rank, humid air surrounded them, and with only the occasional sound of dripping moisture to break the cloistered silence, Rammstein had a decision to make; carry-on without illumination or head back up the ladder and into the ruins.
Looking around, there was no other source of illumination; the only logical choice, Rammstein thought, was a strategic retreat. Still, he wanted to do something that might alert the authorities and lead to a proper investigation. To trigger a response, the idea of placing the bodies of the deceased Ratlings in the street leading up to the Butcher’s Shoppe came to him. He would put Duster’s body near the hole leading down to the sewers to make it look like the fight stretched from the streets to the clandestine opening.
Rammstein also figured that he and Grunggarr needed to get out of this area as quickly as possible, before something beyond their abilities discovered them. This meant staging the bodies and then working their way out of the burnt-out quadrant with as much haste as they dared to take.
Rammstein needed more information about the sewers; to gain that knowledge, he needed to find people who had experience with them. He immediately thought of the sanitation and maintenance teams that occasionally go into the sewers to make sure everything is working properly. Once safely back into inhabited parts of Neeb, Rammstein figured a visit to the sanitation department was in order.
“Alright, Grunggarr, without light, this is a no-go,” he said with frustration, “so let’s head back up.”
Just as Grunggarr turned to begin climbing the ladder, there was a high-pitched squeak and Rammstein felt the sting of a bite on his lower right ankle. His leather boot helped reduce some of the damage, but it still hurt. In the darkness, Rammstein could not see where the creature had gone but a light splashing sound up-tunnel indicated that it was fleeing. Moments later, both Rammstein and Grunggarr noticed a small portion of the left-hand side of the sewer wall shimmered, causing the stone surface in a ten by five-foot rectangle to warble ever so slightly.
The situation had changed abruptly. Rammstein had decisions to make. He was injured and without a light source deep in “enemy” territory but now with an oddity that might warrant further investigation despite their situation. Aside from the distraction of dripping water, he could not hear anything.
His ankle still smarting from the bite, Rammstein took a moment to inspect the wound, ever aware of the danger for an infection. In the near total darkness, he really couldn’t make out anything meaningful, but his fingers could easily locate the punctures in his boots and they found bloody wetness when he rubbed across the area. Rammstein squeezed the wound to let it bleed out any virally infected blood.
Convinced that he’d done all that he could for the moment, Rammstein then told Grunggarr that they were going to check out the odd part of the sewer wall. Approaching the mysterious part of the wall, Rammstein signaled for Grunggarr to remain silent and then, leaning close to the “wall,” he listened as intently as he could for any sounds emanating from the other side; he heard nothing. Before taking any further action, Rammstein then scouted the immediate area around the weird wall. In the near total darkness, Rammstein could not find anything.
Not willing to just burst through this seemingly magical wall section and potentially into a situation that left him flatfooted, Rammstein notched an arrow, aimed it at the oddity and fired it while Grunggarr stood in a battle-ready posture, sword drawn. The arrow slipped silently through the wall, leaving behind concentric ripples emanating from the point of contact that briefly undulated the wall before it settled down again and appeared to be just a wall. The two stood combat-ready in the sewer tunnel but heard only the dripping of water.
After an awkward period of time, with nothing happening, Rammstein finally spoke. “okay, Grunggarr, you lead the way; I’ll guard the rear.”
“You got it boss,” he replied before resolutely stepping through the magical wall section. As he went through, the “wall” warbled and jiggled like jelly. Meanwhile, Rammstein remained at the ready in the sewer tunnel. Again, after another awkward pause listening to the dripping water, Rammstein opted to follow Grunggarr through the wall.
Stepping through the wall elicited a slight tingling feeling, not unpleasant, but odd. Emerging on the other side, the first thing he noticed was the overpowering stench of bodily waste. In fact, whether it was the smell or perhaps that bite on his ankle, Rammstein suddenly felt ill and staggered for a moment.
“Hey boss, you alright?”
“Uh, yeah,” Rammstein responded a little uncertainly. Looking around, Rammstein found himself in a small room containing a few inches of fetid water topped with excrement. Visible on the far side of the room was a large pipe running upward at an angle. It looked wide enough for a person to traverse, provided they didn’t mind being confined into a space containing urine and feces. Prominent chew marks around the edge of the pipe suggested that rodents traversed this area with some degree of regularity.
Feeling ill, enduring an awful stench, and deep underground, Rammstein had decisions to make. Did he want to search this room further? Did he want to crawl up the sewer line? Or did he just want to get the heck out of this place? Rammstein had decisions to make.
The sudden bout of fugue concerned Rammstein. Worried that he could continue to worsen, Rammstein removed his undershirt and wrapped it around the ankle wound to prevent it from exposure to sewage floating all around him. “No matter what,” Rammstein thought, “I’m seeing a healer as soon as we get out of here.”
Rammstein was also feeling cautious so he ordered that they both remain alert, quiet, and with weapons drawn. He also kept an eye on that odd doorway, not wanting to be surprised by something coming through it. “Let’s search this room,” he stated bluntly to Grunggarr.
“Uh, okay, boss.,” he answered without enthusiasm before half-heartedly looking around the stench filled room.
Rammstein also checked the area, including the walls for any other oddities, secret doors or compartments, or anything out of the ordinary. Aside from the nauseating stench, floating feces, urine, and the occasional scrap of rubbish, nothing of interest was found.
“How about us going up that sewer pipe and see where it takes us?”
“How about we get out of here instead?” Grunggarr replied, a tinge of anger in his voice. “This place is disgusting.”
Rammstein could sense a stiffening of resolve in Grunggarr. Did he want to handle that matter and try to ascend the sewer pipe or leave this area altogether or do something else entirely? Rammstein had decisions to make.
Sensing that Grunggarr’s mood was becoming volatile, Rammstein decided it was time to leave the sewers before things got out of hand. After exiting, they’d pick up the weapons and items left in the ruins and then leave the burnt-out quadrant, hopefully without being seen.
“Alright, let’s get out of here and regroup,” Rammstein said resignedly.
As the two exited the fouled room through the weird “door,” Rammstein consciously started making mental notes of the direction and bearings they were in so that he could better map-out their location relative to the surface. Being honest with himself, Rammstein did welcome the thought of a warm bath and getting healed back to health. Still, a small piece of him felt conflicted; he wanted to get to the bottom of this infestation and felt as if they had been making some progress before Grunggarr lost his cool.
The walk back to the opening went uneventfully and before long, Rammstein was ascending the lengthy, makeshift ladder to the top. The climb was long and slow; about a third of the way up, Rammstein came across the broken rung that had caused him to fall on the way down – he navigated past it without incident this time. As he approached the top of the opening, however, Rammstein could clearly hear movement and muffled voices. Stuck on the makeshift ladder as he and Grunggarr were, put them at a strategic disadvantage should any fighting break out.
With the prospect of being discovered at any moment, Rammstein had only seconds to decide on what to do.
Rammstein wanted no part of a fight while trapped on the ladder. With a silent hand-signal to Grunggarr, they both began dropping down, back to the sewer floor. The descent began without incident despite the need for haste and stealth; soon, however, a head appeared over the rim of the opening.
“Halt! Who goes there?” the person asked in a commanding, authoritative voice.
Now spotted, Rammstein had to decide what to do next.
Rammstein had no intention of engaging in a fruitless conversation with his interlocutor and wanted off the ladder as quickly as possible. Both he and Grunggarr accelerated their rates of descent, neither responding to the person up above.
“Hey!” the voice shouted, “stop where you are!”
Next, Rammstein heard the all-too-familiar blowing of a city guardsman’s whistle, indicating trouble and alerting others that help is needed. He also heard the shouting of the patrol leader, “Don’t just stand there, go after them!”
Rammstein was almost three-quarters of the way back down the ladder when he felt a sharp piercing pain in his right shoulder. Luckily, his lamellar shoulder brace absorbed most of the blow, but Rammstein could still see an arrow sticking out of him, where it had pierced his armour. Thankfully, the blow did not cause him to lose his grip on the ladder and he quickened his pace to avoid making himself an easy target.
Just as he neared the end of the ladder, Rammstein felt another arrow pierce his lamellar with a sickening clink. The arrow bore deep into his neck and blood from a major artery began squirting out. “Hey, Boss, that don’t look good!” Grunggarr shouted, but Rammstein was only dimly aware of him. Remotely, he sensed hitting the sewer floor and his hand releasing from the ladder and flopping onto his lap; his eyes seeing but not comprehending a shouting Grunggarr who’s voice was becoming more and more distant. Before darkness overcame him, he saw Grunggarr running away, down the sewer tunnel.
Darkness and nothingness.
Rammstein felt movement vibrating from his back. Dimly aware, slumped on a wet floor, sharp pain coming from his neck and right shoulder, agonizingly, he opened an eye. Someone was coming down the ladder he was leaning against. As his mind began to focus, he assessed the situation; it was grim. He knew he was near death, in fact the arrows in him had knocked him unconscious and any further injury would likely kill him. He could sense that whomever was coming down the ladder was almost upon him; he had to decide what to do – run, surrender, fight? He had only seconds to decide.
Fleeing, fighting; neither option seemed like a good idea. Trying to talk his way out of the situation seemed the only viable option. Playing upon his condition to pretend he was slipping in and out of consciousness might also gain him some sympathy and speed up the conversation. He also decided to intermingle truths with falsehoods to any questions he was asked; this might help make his “story” sound true if fact-checked and would make it easier for him to stay consistent in his answers.
Moments later, Rammstein found himself confronted with the tip of a sword to his neck; vibrations on the ladder suggested that more city guardsmen were going to arrive soon. “Stay as you are, intruder!” the guardsman shouted authoritatively.
“Does it look like I could go anywhere, even if I wanted to?” he replied, a strained pain in his tone.
“Well…” the guardsman was momentarily diverted from his commanding voice, “…what are you doing down here?” he recovered in the same decisive tone.
Feigning a weak hold on his consciousness, Rammstein took a few moments to respond, playing things up with a head roll and blinking eyes before fixing his sight back on the guardsman. “I saw a…rat-like creature on the streets…and followed it into the sewers.”
Before another question could be asked, three more guardsmen came off the ladder and surrounded Rammstein with their swords drawn. Above Rammstein a voice shouted out, “Hey you dummies, he ain’t goin’ no-where, one of you keep an eye on the tunnels, don’t need to be surprised by no-one.” Dutifully, all three guardsmen turned their backs and peered around in the gloom. Rammstein heard a frustrated grumble from above.
Again, momentarily knocked off track, Rammstein’s interrogator finally got back to his task at hand. “Why didn’t you stop when I told you to?” he demanded.
“Look,” Rammstein answered in a pained but resigned voice, “we’ve been down here a long time, our torch burnt out, and everything we ran into has wanted to kill us; we couldn’t tell who you were and just wanted to get away.”
“What’s your name?” he asked, with a little less command to his voice.
“My name is Rammstein…I just mustered out of the city guard; six-one-ten...” he answered, repeating the City Guard’s motto (the Six Gods, the One King, and the Ten Guardsman’s Quidra, the jurisdictional regions of the guard who all protect Neeb).
“Six-one-ten.” the guardsman responded, reverently. “What was your Quidra?”
“And who was that guy that ran away?”
“He is my associate. We entered the sewers far from here and have been feeling our way through, hunted and under attack. He probably fled when he heard you yelling, thinking you were another rat-thing. That’s all we’ve been doing, running for our lives; could I get some medical attention?” Rammstein added, a pained, frustrated tone to his voice.
“Here,” came the voice from above, and seconds later he saw the guardsman catch a medical box. “Do what you can to get him capable of lifting out of here and no more.” The voice from above ordered.
Soon thereafter, Rammstein found that some of his wounds were cleaned up and bandaged but the two arrows still stuck ominously out of his lower neck and right shoulder.
“What’s your “associate’s” name?” the voice from above broke out challengingly.
“I forget his name…G-something…” Rammstein answered in a strained and slow voice. “I only met him yesterday at Shadowhand Fighting School…” Rammstein added, his voice tapering to a whisper before he pretended to lose consciousness. This time, he decided to stay “under;” getting out of the sewers was his priority.
From there, Rammstein experienced a flurry of activity as the guardsmen tried to “revive” him before giving up and being ordered to lift him up and out of the sewers by their grumpy Sergeant. With his injuries, the rope harness they tied him into was uncomfortable and aggravated his wounds.
Eventually, however, Rammstein found himself, once again top-side, in the ruined butcher’s shop. There, with a peek of his eyes, he took-in the patrol leader whose voice he’d only heard previously. The patrol leader was very short but muscular, with a hooked nose and dark brown hair. Despite his short stature, Rammstein felt the patrol leader’s suspicious grey eyes boring into him despite his feigned unconsciousness. Rammstein did not recognize him.
“I don’t know if I believe his story and I don’t trust him but if he’s former guard, we’ll put on the Gorgon and be done with him,” he said gruffly to the guardsmen around him. “Wrap him up and let’s get back to base, Tunia can make the final decision,” he added.
Rammstein felt rough hands disarming him and then tying him up further and his wrists cuffed. Bound completely, he was then placed in the back of a wagon with guards around him. As the wagon began its jolting ride forward, Rammstein had a moment to ponder his situation. How did he care to prepare for what might be coming next? Continue to play possum? Try to escape? Contemplate what he had overheard? Rammstein, despite being immobilized, still had decisions to make.
As he was lifted onto the back of a horse-drawn cart, Rammstein quickly reasoned that attempting to flee his current situation would be suicidal. Instead, he opted to “regain consciousness” so that he could get a better look at the guardsmen to see if he recognized any of them. He did not. All the Privates looked young and inexperienced. The Patrol Leader did not; he moved with an authority and experience that suggested he was a veteran, if not of the city guard, then possibly from the navy or some other group that saw action during the Sakken siege. Rammstein thought it both ominous and odd that he could not recognize any members of this patrol.
Soon, the cart began its jolting ride toward the northeast, away from the border of the burnt-out quadrant and in the direction of docks that had been heavily damaged during the attack. Each jerking movement of the cart brought sharp pain to Rammstein as he was watched closely by two guardsmen, one on either side; trailing farther behind was a final guardsman bringing up the rear. Despite his discomfort, Rammstein used the undisturbed time to think over what he had heard. The name Tunia meant nothing to him but he was passingly aware of a ship called the Gorgon. As the wagon progressed northward through the ruins, the fire damage became more pronounced; where before partial buildings still stood, here, whole blocks were obliterated, with only an occasional wall still standing. Looking over his shoulder, Rammstein could see the cart approaching a cleared-out area, not far from the destroyed northern docks where a few ramshackle structures had been set up and the rubble pushed to the side. The place was also swarming with guardsmen.
Shortly, the cart came to an abrupt halt. “Stay where you are!” commanded one of the guardsmen to Rammstein. Moments later Rammstein saw a woman, dressed in the six coloured robes worn only by an Ulanate (a legal authority with power to adjudicate as granted by the Six Gods and the state), coming toward him. As the middle-aged woman passed beyond one of the makeshift buildings, she was joined by the Patrol Sergeant and another man wearing the shoulder bars of a lieutenant in the city guard. From the edges of the clearing, additional city guardsmen came toward him, forming an encirclement, about a dozen in all.
As the Ulanate drew closer, Rammstein could clearly hear their conversation which they were making no attempt to cover up. “So, this is the one you were telling me about?” the Ulanate asked the Sergeant in a level, authoritative voice.
“Yes, Ulanator,” the Sergeant replied respectfully.
“Okay, let’s do him first then; he’s a former city guardsman you said?”
“That’s what he told us, and it seems to check out.”
“Interesting that he’d get himself wrapped up in this, very well, let’s get this over with.” The Ulanate had reached Rammstein at this time and looked him over critically, an imperious look on her face, coupled with a slight degree of surprise.
Rammstein, as he knew the custom, remained silent unless spoken to by the Ulanate; to speak out of turn would only result in a bad outcome.
The lieutenant now spoke up, “Ulanator, present here today is a man calling himself Rammstein. He is charged with criminal trespass and engaging in suspicious activity. He was discovered in the sewers by a patrol, well inside the forbidden zone. A companion of his escaped and is currently still on the loose.”
“Has the charged been questioned?” the Ulanator officiously asked.
“He has,” replied the Sergeant. “The charged claims to have been recently discharged from the city guard and took his accomplice into the sewers to collect rat tails for monetary reward and instead was overwhelmed by antagonists causing both to flee, unintentionally, into the sewers beneath the forbidden zone.”
“Does the charged have any comments to make on their behalf before I proceed?” the Ulanator asked, staring intently at Rammstein. Rammstein knew that he had to make his statement short and as factual as he could; this was his sole opportunity to speak without the threat of negative consequences. With the Ulanator sternly watching him, Rammstein had to decide if he wanted to speak and, if he did, what he would say.
Rammstein knew he was in a rough way; barely alive, arrows still protruding, only a field bandage keeping him together. The wagon ride hadn’t done him any favours either. At this point, he didn’t need to fake anything – his speech was haltingly delivered between spouts of fading consciousness. “Left the City Guard yesterday…met a fighter at Shadowhand school…decided to collect rat tails for bounty…ran into dangerous creatures and fled…didn’t know we were in forbidden zone…just looking for easy money…then go to Habibba family for work…caravan guard…Sergeant Gamboa can vouch for me…”
When he stopped his muttered ramble, the Ulanator drew her hand into an interior pocket of her cloak and pulled out her Volnyx (a round object the size of a grapefruit made of a glass-like substance and containing a moving smoky interior with occasional flashing lights that correspond to the lights that represent each of the Six Gods). While everyone around her watched in silence, the Ulanate stared into the Volnyx with a steely gaze, eyes wide open, her face locked in concentration. Moments passed with only slight changes of expression and nods of her head as if she was understanding some unspoken language no-one else could hear. Finally, she let out an audible sigh before raising her eyes and looking at everyone around her.
“The Six Gods have spoken!” she declared imperiously so that all could easily hear. Turning her eyes to Rammstein with a combined look of defiance and curiosity, she continued, “It turns out our recently discharged Sergeant hasn’t been entirely truthful with us.” There was a pregnant pause during which Rammstein’s heart fell into his gut and the guards around him shifted their postures, ready for a confrontation. “But he’s been mostly truthful…” she finally added before pausing again; the assembled relaxed their stances.
“The Six Gods feel you should pay for having knowingly intruded upon the forbidden zone but also believe you have the potential for an important future,” again with that mixed stare in her eyes. “You do know that you’ve contracted a disease?”
“Uh, I suspected something was wrong.”
“Do you know that if you’re not healed, you will eventually die from this disease?’
“No.” Rammstein admitted, feeling simultaneously dejected and stunned.
“You are also seriously injured.” She continued dispassionately. “The Six Gods have determined that your punishment will be one month of hard labour to cover the costs you caused us to heal you and for your willful encroachment into the forbidden zone. Sergeant, please get him fixed up and then take him to Tunia for processing.” Abruptly, the Ulanator put away her Volnyx and began walking back toward the structure from whence she came, the lieutenant beside her, this time engaged in a conversation too low to be overheard.
The patrol Sergeant waited for a respectful period before he pivoted in an unfriendly manner toward Rammstein and ordered him to his feet. As Rammstein tried to groggily get upright, the Sergeant ordered the attending guardsmen to help him and soon the group began moving toward the waterfront. The “assistance” was not gentle and by the time Rammstein had reached a tent set up right at the edge of the largely ruined docks, he was losing consciousness.
Dimly aware of his surroundings, Rammstein had flashes of being set down inside the tent, his remaining possessions being taken away, shackles being placed on his wrists and ankles, and a Wizard saying something to him before casting spells. He felt extreme cold and then fell asleep as exhaustion overcame him.
“Wake up!” Rammstein groggily awoke to a loud voice and an unkind shaking. “Wake up sleepyhead, nap time is over!” Slowly, his eyes focused on the face of a young guardsman; as he became more aware of his surroundings, he felt shackles on his ankles and wrists. He was on the floor of the tent, clad only in a loincloth. Behind the guardsman stood a one-eyed Hobbit, armed with an axe and sword at his sides; his scarred face suggested he’d seen combat before, and won.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” the Hobbit said in exaggerated formality while approaching Rammstein. “My name is Tunia. I am the Captain of the Gorgon which will be your home for the next three days. You are now remanded to me as a convict duly sentenced under the Godly Laws as administered by the Royalty of Nibur-cot who has commissioned me with this authority. My job is to safely transport you to Yanapool Island. Whilst onboard my ship, you will be under my command and authority. After that, your someone else’s problem. In the meantime, stay out of my way and follow all orders. You’re doing something seriously wrong if I ever have to address you again. Do you understand everything I have said?”
“Yes.” Rammstein answered. Despite his confinement, Rammstein was pleased to discover that he felt healthy and refreshed.
“Good,” he replied curtly before turning his attention to the guardsmen around Rammstein, “take him to the others, we shove off this afternoon.”
“Aye, Captain,” they snappily replied.
Shortly thereafter, and with a few shoves from one of the guardsmen for motivation, Rammstein found himself next to what remained of the docks. He was lined-up as the last person in a row of likewise shackled prisoners. Moored to the fire-scarred dock was a mid-sized sailing ship with “The Gorgon” clearly carved into its bow. In front of Rammstein stood five other prisoners. Coming down the gangplank was a half Uruk. Shirtless and barefoot, but armed with a sword, he approached the prisoners. “Prisoners listen up! As soon as the crew finishes provisioning the ship, we are shoving-off. Remain here until we’re ready. Anyone who attempts to leave will be killed.” And, with that ominous ending, he walked away.
Now only lightly guarded, Rammstein had a moment to look around and assess his situation. The five other prisoners also took the opportunity to glance at each other; with no guards immediately near them, it also appeared possible to talk, if anyone so desired. Rammstein noted that all the other prisoners were humans. All were clad just in loin cloths and looked filthy. Two had muscular builds; all were of varying heights.
As he sat amongst them in the harsh sun, Rammstein had time to think and act on his next move; the only question being, what did he want to do?
Rammstein looked searchingly at the five other prisoners; he saw desperation, fear, anxiety, resignation, and, from a few, a flicker of defiance – but some couldn’t even return his look. He felt it was time to seize the initiative. Speaking quietly but firmly, he addressed the other prisoners. “Hey, our situation sucks, but if we stand together, we all have a better chance of coming out of this alive than if we let them wear us down and pick us off, one by one.”
At first, there was little to no reaction, just feet shifting or furtive glances at him or to the nearest guardsmen. Eventually, the prisoner directly next to Rammstein spoke up. “And how do you propose we do that, smart ass?” he asked challengingly. “We’re better off putting our faith and strength into Sorva.”
“Can we not do both?” Rammstein answered.
“You waste your breath, Zanov; he’s not a believer,” responded the man sitting on the other side the first man. As he spoke, turning to face Rammstein; his visage was stunning. While he had grey hair, his face suggested of youth and his eyes were almost purely white.
A large, very young man tentatively turned toward Rammstein, a look of fear on his face. In a subdued voice that contrasted with his size, he muttered, “I’ll listen; anything to survive this.” To Rammstein, the kid looked scared out of his wits; he was tall but overweight with piercing hazel eyes.
“Well, what’s you have in mind, young-in” an old, husky man said as turned to face Rammstein. The man had chaotically grey hair with streaks of black, a flat nose and piercing brown eyes. “We’s in quite a pickle” he added before cackling at his own words; the others remained silent.
As the cackling subsided, the final prisoner turned to look at Rammstein and the others. There was a pregnant pause. This final prisoner was an elderly man, portly, with greying hair and brown eyes, unremarkable in many ways. “If we do anything,” he stated in a practiced tone, “it’ll have to go through me first.”
As the heat bore down around the docks, Rammstein saw himself the focus of his fellow prisoners’ attention. Did he have anything more to say? Was it best just to wait for when they would board the boat? Or, was it better to do something else? Rammstein had decisions to make.
Survival in a situation like this depended on everyone trusting each other and working together. Despite the indifferent to hostile reception, Rammstein forged on; building a relationship with the other prisoners was a critical first step. “Hey, look, I get it,” Rammstein said quietly but firmly, “we don’t trust each other, the situation sucks, and who knows what other motivations are here,” he added looking at the last man in the group. “But, there’s no harm in getting to know each other and discovering what we’re good at.” He still had their attention, “so far, so good,” he thought.
“Let me start,” he said before any of the more unfriendly ones could say anything. “My name is Rammstein and I know how to wield a sword.”
“You’re not going to get anywhere with Zanov and me if you’re not a follower of Sorva,” the white-eyed man said challengingly.
“Ha!” The husky, wild-haired man exclaimed defiantly. “What he says makes sense to me,” he continued in a louder than normal voice, unapologetically glaring at white-eyed man next to him. “Name’s Daanamaru and I has a bit o’ skill with them magical arts or...eh...I had a skill ‘till theys put these on,” he replied in a more subdued manner while lifting his shackled wrists. It was only then that Rammstein noticed these shackles had a very subtle aquamarine colorization to them.
“I’m Coori,” the frightened lad interjected.
“Hello, Coori,” Rammstein replied in a reassuring tone. “You good at anything?”
“Just a street fighter, ya know?”
“Yeah” Rammstein replied.
Throughout the exchange, the old man glared at Rammstein with an unfriendly disposition. Rammstein pretended not to notice and instead looked at him and asked, “How about you?”
“You stupid or something?” he answered caustically. “I ain’t with you,” he added firmly. “We’re the ones running this show,” he said, pointing to the two closest to Rammstein.
Wild haired Daanamaru started cackling at these words while Coori defensively collapsed into himself. Rammstein chose not to reply; there would be plenty of time to keep working on getting everyone’s cooperation; doing so now in the face of such hostility seemed doomed to failure. Most important to Rammstein was winning over the wizard, Daanamaru, who already seemed to be somewhat onboard. As for Coori, Rammstein was confident that he could steer him to do what he wanted. Rammstein feared an “us” versus “them” situation; such an outcome would make it harder to overcome obstacles that threaten the whole group.
“Okay, girls, time to go!” growled the half-Uruk, breaking the tense silence in the group. Reluctantly, everyone rose and lined up to board the Gorgon, the half-Uruk throwing insults constantly. The gangplank was short and steep and soon Rammstein found himself on deck, the feeling of motion unmistakable as the ship eddied against the dock.
Before long, the call came out from Tunia to break anchor, and slowly, the Gorgon began its separation from the docks. Leaning against the railing, Rammstein watched as the shoreline pulled away. Here was a perspective on Neeb that Rammstein had never seen before. From the vantage of the ship’s deck, the receding coastline showed the extent of the devastation. Charred and misshapen spires, like tortured and grotesque dancers, frozen in motion, lifeless, black, in stark relief against the bright sun. As the ship gained distance, the detail was lost but the visage of catastrophe was not; the silent hulks stood out next to the buildings and signs of life just a short distance to the south.
Well out beyond the breakers now, Rammstein couldn’t miss the rolling of the ship as it took up full sail, a flock of seabirds following it out into open sea. Now, with a salty breeze on his face, Neeb felt far away despite being so close.
Turning his attention from the receding city, Rammstein took in the ship. In addition to the captain and his half-Uruk first mate, Rammstein counted a crew of five and one cabin boy. None of the sailors appeared to be armed, although any of them could have a concealed dagger on them; meanwhile, the first mate remained armed and alert. For now, the crew appeared preoccupied with getting underway, with Tunia focused at the ship’s wheel. Around him were the other prisoners, most looking distressed. That did not, however, include the old man; he glared at Rammstein with malevolence.
Furtively glancing around to ensure no-one was looking, the old man sidled over to Rammstein. In a low voice and a fake smile plastered on his face to make it appear to be but a friendly chat, he threatened, “The way I see it, either you convert to Sorva and follow my lead or me and my boys will take you out at our first opportunity. Think you can take all three of us, tough guy? Why don’t ya stew on that for a while, eh?” he said before preparing to leave.
Rammstein had an opportunity to reply or respond in some way. Rammstein had a decision to make.