Chapter 6 - South to Saerloon
With their numbers now significantly bolstered, the group sets it sights on Saerloon, one of the largest trading ports in Sembia. It is there that the Order had originally meant for them to go, their outpost there under attack by Sigphan's rival group. Fate had provided a different path for the party, however, and though they had found, interrogated, and eliminated Sigphan, their mission to support the Order's efforts in Saerloon had been set aside.
Now, they were back on the right path, with additional strength, knowledge, and information to help in their efforts. Sigphan's former employers were a group of Bane-worshippers, led by a man named Jon, headquartered somewhere in Saerloon. As well, numerous signs suggest that the Wizard's Council, of which Andrej and Zetroc were a part, also has interests in Saerloon, such that visiting the city might prove useful in a number of ways.
Glancing around, you wonder how your new companions will fare in the coming days. They came with a message from the sorceress Ara, detailing their recent arrival at the Order's compound in Hlaungadath and their directives to assist your dwindling group, but beyond that you know little about them. And though the message seemed authentic enough, with the sorts of people they had crossed recently, anything was possible...
Joachim was a tall and well build man, his body covered in a polished suit of full plated armor, including a helmet he mostly neglected and instead carried bound to his belt. Diagonally over his back a greatsword was ready for when he needed it. To his left a shield seemed to be somehow secured to his arm, but closer inspection showed it was actually not, but rather hovered not far from him. On his right side a lance rested secured under his armpit and resting on his forearm, while both hands held reins of the horse he was mounted on, a brown featureless horse. But returning to the man himself. There where not to many features visible under so much armor, but his facial hair seemed to try to regain a the surface it had lost to the last shaving. In similar fashion his hair seemed to be recovering from an almost bold state. In both cases the blond nature saved the armored man from a unclean appearance. His face aged through adventures and unexpected turns of events seemed that of a man in his forties, but was clearly that of a younger man as one would notice from the idealistic look in his blue eyes. His face seemed grim and serious, but no less he seemed to emanate a feeling of innocence and pure goodness.
He had been riding in silence, on a horse borrowed from the city they had last been in. Well the kind of borrowed, where you are not really expected to return it, but are given it willingly all the same. Behind him his wife. The paladin had after all refused a second horse, there was only so much he could impose on the already overly giving city.
The silence was mostly due to his grim mood. The loss of the election had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. It was on one side part the defeat, he had convinced himself that he ought to win that election for the good of the people. On the other side he had a iffy feeling about Gillaume, he had seen him at the AAGP, the association for goblinoid people, and guessed he had some strange shady business going on in the background of the city. Not that Joachim distrusted the AAGP, he considered himself a friend of them. No it was more the lack of transparency on Gillaume's parts that left him suspicious. All in all it was the best option that the people could have opted for, taken him of course, or so Joachim hoped. There where many loose ends and he might not want to break his head over this matter, but still it went forth and back in his mind.
Then there was the matter of the Order, he recalled little of why he had joined them by now. The gods had little play in the life of the mortals, of late at least they had seemed overly absent and it seemed to him more and more as if they where confronting an imaginary foe than anything concrete, and Joachim was a man of the actual, here and now, as some of his former companion might be able to vouch for. Perhaps to much in some senses.
Now there were these new comers. This small group that he knew nothing about, just that they where there to aid them. Well even that he wasn't completely sure about any longer. He had accepted them no less, no further questions, no doubt, if they were to ride with them, they might as well do so. The paladin had little to oppose to some more in numbers, then again he had little to speak in favour of such as well, but in his current mood it mattered little.
Gerwin was the paladins wife. She too had been in silence so far. Not due to a grim mood, although that of her husband transpired over to her, but rather because she new none of the group excepting Garak, and that fellow in particular wasn't the kind of person she would approach in conversation, as his presence itself seemed to wish her some kind of harm. The fact that she was the only female in the group, excepting eventually Ara, who she had a strange relation to since the forest that almost drove her mad.
She was a woman by far younger looking than her husband, she seemed to be in the late twenties of her life. Although one wouldn't see in her what one would in a high born woman of charismatic nature and appeal, she had her charms. Unlike the paladin she rode behind she wore no armor at all rather a dark brown dress and lighter brown trousers, she had acquired for travel as she had lost any other belongings in a fire a while back. She wore her long dark brown hair bound together falling over her back. Her posture was that of a commoner, unconcerned by any etiquette and used to hardship of daily life. Accordingly her body seemed fairly natural, nether fat nor overly thin, not exactly wasp curve shaped, but no less feminine. Overall it was easier to describe her for what she was not, for her appearance was overall very neutral, but as many a feminine one a pleasant one to sight.
Her look was more concerned with the newcomers. She observed them attentively and when caught smiled at them almost motherly, but with a certain shy and on another level critic nature behind it. Eventually it was she who spoke "So ... how come you ended up in the order?" It wasn't meant as any particular question, rather to break the silence and perhaps start some small talk.
Lucifer rode towards those with whom he was to be joining. He had taken the job with the Order as a means to an end. He sought to become more worldly, to find new masters when those he had long trained under went into the realms of death and beyond. He was one of the few sane practitioners of the necromantic arts, one who saw the craft for what it truly was, a tool. For many, it was a dark art, but magic had two sides. While he walked the line, he had dipped into both.
The horse he rode upon, a black charger by the name of Dusk Taker, pulled behind it a fairly loaded cart. On the cart were several sacks of feed, for the horse, and the four guard dogs that pranced at his heels. There were two barrels, those who got close could hear them slosh about with their liquid content. It seemed, aside from the man on the horse, to be a merchant's cart that was traversing the roads.
The man however, Lucifer by name, was tall, gaunt, and clad in black. He wore a dark cloak, with the hood pulled up, hiding the sallow skin of his face, and his near dead eyes. His hair, some of which hung out of the hood, was greasy, and inky in color. If death itself had a physical form, this man looked like death itself.
The truly amazing thing, however, was that despite the aura of fear that hung over him like a swarm of flies on manure, was that the horse he rode, and the dogs that followed seemed completely unaffected. Perhaps it was due to magic, or perhaps it was due to having traveled with him for so long that they'd developed an immunity to it. Whatever the case, it was a thing of wonder in and of itself.
face would seem to form over his covered head, a face of terror and death. It seemed fleshy, but not quite there, and the man on the horse paid it no mind.
He glanced first to the Paladin. He knew that of all those here, that one would be the most difficult to deal with, if for no other reason than his craft. Lucifer was not an evil man, but the dark arts he practiced were feared by many, especially those who considered themselves holy men. The irony was that it was the man's wife who spoke first, presumably to Lucifer himself. "I came to the order seeking an opportunity to travel the world and seek masters of my craft. I was given this mission because the Order believes that I may be useful to you."
His eyes lowered on Joachim, and he gave a faint smile. "You and I, I believe, will have to have a talk soon. If we are to travel together and get along, it is a necessity."
Joachim glanced sideways not turning his head however, his mind was otherwise occupied and in any case he had little to observe that he had not noticed already. There was this odd thing that popped up now and then over the man's head and he seemed to treasure the contents of this cart a lot or else he would not have acquired so many guarding dogs. His major remark right now perhaps was however on the man's hygiene, that greasy oiled hair seemed in dire need of some sort of washing and, but this might just be his imagination, there was a smell of pestilence that surrounded the man and his mount. Again this might just be his imagination when the other rode up closer to him. Also he seemed fairly unhealthy, perhaps some sickness was eating at him from inside. The pale skin that lay very nearly onto his bones, or was that too a trick on the eyes of the paladin. In any case the knight of good and virtue had not really taken a closer look onto the other yet...
"I do not force you to travel with me, but if you desire to speak, I do not hinder you." Joachim says coldly turning his eyes back towards the road. His words however provoke a reaction of his wife. For an instance it seemed as if she was going to hit him on his side, however the full plate left little room for a frail fist as that of his wife to do any real harm and even give the paladin notice his wife was trying to get his attention. Instead she decided to slap him onto the back of his head. The clapping sound of hand against neck beats that of the horses hooves. "Show some manners! Poor guy is trying to get something of his soul and you can't even be moved to face him." Gerwin says in a imperative tone keeping her voice however calm, not falling into the shrieking sound one could find in some other women.
The slapped one, twists his nose in irritation, does however not react to his wife's words.
Gerwin turns to Lucifer. "So, Lucifer, was it ... what's on your mind? Does this impetus of conversation relate to your craft?"
"Something of my soul? A delicious choice of words," he said with a faint ghost of a smile, directing his words to Gerwin. "And so perceptive too. Were it that more were like you. Yes, this is indeed about my craft." He then motioned over his shoulder to the cart and the pair of barrels. "Pay no mind to the dogs, or the barrels, I carry few things of real value, only a barrel of fine wine and a barrel of amber ale. My father is an innkeeper, I one day intend to settle into that line as well. Feel free to tap my kegs if you desire, I am more than willing to share with those I can call comrade."
He gave a moment's pause as he dismounted from Dusk Taker, and went to check the horse's coat and hooves. The ghostly face peeked from his shoulder, watching the Paladin warily while Lucifer worked. When he was done, he moved to the cart and fetched an apple from one of the large sacks. He returned to the horse and held it for Dusk Taker to eat. The face on his shoulder would again fade.
"It is true, sir, that you do not force me to travel with you, however, the Order does. I am contracted to them, and their orders are mine to follow. So, whether I am comfortable or not, and whether you like it or not, I am to ride with you as an ally. Your kind typically does not tolerate those who practice my art. I am not like those power hungry fools. He paused briefly to give the Paladin an appraising glance, then jumped back into Dusk Taker's saddle. He scratched behind the horse's hear, eliciting a winny of pleasure from the magnificent black charger.
Satisfied that the horse was tended to, he once again spoke to the Paladin, "Magic is neither good nor evil, the intent behind it is. I walk the fine line between the paths of good and evil, as my mother did before me. If you cannot tolerate that, say so now. However, be forewarned, I have sworn an oath of service to the Order, and I will complete the mission they have given to me, or die in the process. That said, my friends call me Lucifer the Bone Caller. I can either be your strongest of allies, or your deadliest of foes. I would much prefer the former to the latter."
Striding along behind the mounted group ahead, the quiet man with the large bow kept his peace for the nonce. It seemed rude to intrude upon the conversation, particularly when he had nothing to contribute. Instead, he withdrew deep within his mind, allowing his body to do the subconscious task of walking while he meditated on the Way of the Bow.
Those looking upon him will see nothing remarkable about his attire, as the man was simply dressed in greens and browns with a silvery metal cap for head armor. With his graying brown hair, he looked much like any other woodsman or hunter. Only the bow and the three quivers of arrows on his back marked him for an adventurer, as the weapon was much finer than what was typically owned by kings and lords, and the arrows varied for any circumstance or encounter. A light, tinkling sound also accompanied every step, betraying the fact that he wore armor crafted of mithril, for only mithril made that pleasant and musical tinkle. He also wore hand-crafted and dark wooden buckler on his left arm and a dusky-grey cloak on his back.
As Martin walked along the path, his senses became more acute and he allowed his mind to take in the surroundings easily. A flash of scarlet above marked the passage of a tanager, a rustle in the bushes denoted the movements of some hidden small animal. His dreamy, half-closed eyes made him look weary and close to sleep, but if one were to take a closer look, the pale gray sharpness of them showed that he was fully alert and observing his surroundings.
Suddenly his right hand moved with a blurry speed as Martin reached back and grasped at an arrow. Lifting his bow and drawing it in less time than it took to draw a breath, the archer fired three arrows into the underbrush. The arrows crackled with arcane energies as it left the bow and flew into the brush near the path. Martin moved as the last arrow left his fingers, running towards where he had shot at.
A half-minute later he emerged, carrying three Coney rabbits with arrows in them. "Dinner," he stated quietly.
The time in Saerb had finally come to a close. At one time, there had been many more in the party than there was when Joachim, Garak, and Kohl left the town. Sure, Gerwin was still with them, but the assassin didn't really count her as a worthy member of the party...at least not while she was still breathing. A tragic end could not come soon enough, and many long moments passed as he pondered the variety of methods to assist her with a painful and violent end.
Several others had joined them from the Order, but Garak had yet to even make an introduction. Instead, he kept to the side of the path, riding along on the horse he had stolen from the stables behind the tavern. Little did Joachim know that Garak had disguised himself as the paladin and told the owner that he only needed to borrow the animal for a short while. Being the savior of the city, the man had gladly allowed Garak to take the animal. It would be a fun surprise for Joachim should they ever return to Saerb. Just the thought alone made Garak almost break into laughter. He managed to keep his composure and instead only allowed a faint smile to briefly cross his usually expressionless face.
As his horse plodded along, the shadows offered by the trees overhead created a curious effect on the assassin. In the light, his form was visible, yet when shadows passed over him, the parts of his body touched by shadow seemed to almost disappear. It was an odd spectacle; a silent narration of Garak's own balance between the world of the living and that of the shadows.
When he was visible, dull black leather armor could be seen under a fine black robe covered with embroidered smoke grey runes. His skin appeared like that of a corpse...lifeless and ashen. His eyes were dull black orbs, much like a snake, which made it difficult to know where they were focused. Though the robes offered a great amount of cover for whatever was beneath them, no weapons were outright visible other than a single quiver of arrows on his back.
He largely seemed to ignore the conversation between Joachim and the man with the cart, however he did his best to subtlely listen in on their conversation. Ironically, Joachim was one of the few that Garak had come to trust. It wasn't that he trusted the paladin to help him or even keep him safe, but rather a trust based on the predictable nature of Joachim. These new people, even if they actually had been recruited into the Order and instructed to join the party's efforts, had yet to prove they were anything other than fodder for the next battle and pack mules for the treasure they carried.
Garak's thoughts turned occasionally to Kohl, as he saw the dog darting in and out of the trees slightly in front of his horse. While the assassin had purposefully killed the animal while in Saerb, he had done so in order to make the animal even more powerful. As a shade, Kohl could do more than he had ever been able to do as a living dog. The solid outline of the enchanted leather barding was a stark contrast to the smoky outline of the shade's body. As he watched Kohl running, Garak attempted to reach out to the animal with his mind, as he had read about some mages being able to form such a connection with their animal companions. He felt slight tingles at times, but he wasn't ever able to fully connect. With time, Garak hoped the means would come.
About then, one of the two archers began to fire rapidly into the woods. Garak figured it was not an ambush, for his sharp eyes surely would not betray him. But, a particularly nasty appearing kukri suddenly appeared in his hand where nothing had been in it just an instant before. As the archer stated that he had just killed a few rabbits, the assassin turned back to face the path in front of them again, the weapon seemed to vanish from his hand without explanation for where it went.
Garak silently wondered which of the newcomers he would have to kill first. So far, he was betting on the archer...for no particular reason other than the profit he would get for selling the man's obviously enchanted bow.
Another odd figure completed the already peculiar group of quasi-strangers traveling together. Compared to the others, a gnome with the typical grey-ish skin complexion of his race, bright blue eyes and a blonde goatee seemed even too normal.
It was hard to get a good look at the gnome, mainly due to the fact that he was clearly uncomfortable riding his huge horse even if he was steadily secured to a nice riding saddle.. While the horse's pace was very steady, the gnome seemed to continuously lose his balance and catch himself right before falling. The odd assortment of bags, scrolls and books that was his baggage was clearly a hindrance in that situation, forcing him to catch and put away odd objects only for them to find another way out from his oversize backpack.
A passerby would have most likely ignored the gnome to concentrate his attention on more mysterious travelers like the kukri-wielding shadow or the pale, gaunt human on his cart. Still, while the gnome himself might not have been that exceptional, he was surrounded by notable phenomena.
The large black stallion he was so uncomfortably riding seemed at times almost insubstantial, its hooves barely touching the ground, no noise coming from his graceful trot. If that had been the only oddity, our hypothetical passerby would still have moved on quite quickly to observing someone else, but it didn't end there. An insubstantial creature, no bigger than a halfling, floated a few feet ahead of the gnome as if to lead the way for him. While insubstantial, that form was definitively material but it seemed as if it was made just by air and nothing else. An observant onlooker would have noticed that every few minutes the gnome concentrated briefly and seemed almost to talk to the elements, as if he was asking for something.
A very observant onlooker would have noticed something else as well. Some 20' above him a medium sized whirlwind seemed to have formed but was oddly keeping pace with the mounted gnome, neither changing course or dissipating. It seemed almost as if it was keeping an eye on the group and especially the gnome, which instead was ignoring it completely.
When the gaunt human leading the cart asked to talk to the paladin, Khel's natural curiosity won handily the battle against his shyness. Without any explicit direction the black stallion noiselessly accelerated to bring the gnome within earshot of the interaction between the gaunt human and the interesting couple leading the group. The odd horse's presence seemed to spook Lucifer's dogs, who started whining and whimpering as if deadly scared. Lucifer... an odd fellow... Khel thought but not the only one he quickly corrected himself as he glanced at the spectral human.
As Lucifer stops to unmounts and go back to his cart, Joachim just carries on. They were all moving why stop just because one fell behind. In ether case it was him who wanted to talk to Joachim and not the other way around. In return another slap of his wife. The paladin rolled his eyes and brought his horse to a standstill. His eyes travelled to the man with the bow who had just fired his bow into the wild. Nothing important for certain. The paladin spurred his horse gently and forced it to turn around only to see Garak perform his little trick ... that man had grown paranoid for sure, it crossed his mind for a brief moment, but he paid him little more attention. Instead he rode towards the necromancer he stopped 20 feet short of him his spear pointing naturally towards the other man's chest.
The man started to speak and seemed not to get to the motive of this conversation. For a moment Joachim thought just to turn around and carry on their journey, but somehow the whole caravan had seemed to stop as well. The gnome had grown close, interested in the conversation, and Garak was sure not to let any useful information slip and the hunter had just found some game close by. He might as well hold for a moment.
Once the pale man, that was not Garak, was done speaking the paladin left the silence in the air. For a moment his horse moved nervously up and down and it might have seemed as if the man would just straight out charge upon the other on foot.
Instead Joachim just fell into laughter. He dropped his lance so hard he laughed and even had to unmount himself to secure himself upon his knees. Now and then he would just bring forth words like "Bone ... ckn ... er". His wife looking at him concerned of his mental well faring. Eventually Joachim, just before running short of air calmed himself down. He pointed at the other about the height of his groin,"Please just tell me that you are no friend of Raz's". A tear ran down his cheek of so much laughter while his lips still formed a remnant smile of his laughter before. Likely only Garak would understand why he had laughed, if anyone at all. It was not that Joachim had not understood the essence of the others craft, he could imagine something although he was not familiar with any magic, it was just that the second thought had overpowered his posture.
As he regained posture and his face grew more serious again he picked up his lance and reached it to Gerwin for her to hold for when he'd sit on the horse once more. "Don't take this the wrong way, but just because the order is my employer it does not mean I have to act according to their wishes. Such an act itself would be contradictory to their ambitions for instead of following some godly entity you would be replacing such with another's, which can not be of virtuous acting. You seem to hold yourself highly, I can but advice you not to fall prone to such considerations, as you might end up doing mistakes based on assumptions that are not true. But it matters little to me what arts you wield. Be warned though that I will make it my business should I find you to cross that line, you have just mentioned, to the sides of evil. I might not be the worst or the best, but I am resilient, be assured." He pauses for a moment then remembers something else the other had said. "Lucifer ... I would like to know what you consider to be my kind, it is hard to classify and generalize, but you should take into consideration who we work for ... oh and if by chance you happen to become my foe, I believe they have their own guild." Joachim was smiling again.
Ignoring the long palaver the mage and the knight were having, Martin took advantage of the stop and started to dress his kills. Rabbit stew was always a nice dish for supper. As he worked, he kept an eye on his strange companions.
How had he ended up here? Travelling with adventurers was one thing, but at least two of the company were deeply sinister. Inwardly sighing, Martin shook his head. The demands of the Order (of the Bow, not Sunset) were simple... travel, and hone your skills. They did not say whom or what he should travel with, only that he improve himself.
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