Starvale Advenutres: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 4

Following the directions the Weaver gave them, they make their way to an abandoned barn on the northern outskirts of Starvale. It is a nervous twenty minute walk to the meeting place.  In an attempt to defuse the tension, Vellk looks at his friends with a grin as he strolls down the cobblestones, apparently the very image of calm.

He looks at the others with a heartfelt smile, feeling almost at home with these souls. Thankfully his one true friend from the army just happened to be there in the inn. Could it be fate? “Does anybody have any preparations before we arrive?”

His calm demeanor spreads to the rest of the group, and by the time they reach the rendezvous point they are all feeling strong and confident.  The sellers are already waiting at the abandoned barn, a simple, large structure with old rusty farming implements leaning against the wall.  A ladder at the end of the barn opposite the open doorway leads to a hay loft ten feet above the barn floor.

As they enter the barn, a voice calls out to them, “Halt!  That’s close enough!”

A sinewy elf in gray clothes smiles at three humans behind her. “I told you they would come. A dragon egg is much too valuable to pass up.” The elf turns back to the party, “Now, let’s do this quickly. Here is what you asked for.” She holds a very large hide backpack toward them. “You throw the payment over to me, and we will leave the egg here. We will exit the barn, and then you can leave after five minutes have passed. No fuss, no muss.”

She pauses and looks at them more closely. “Hold on… Something is not right here… I was told the merchant was a man of girth, not muscled and fit. And I thought there would be less of you. Explain yourselves” she says, instinctively putting the hide backpack, bulging with its hidden cargo, behind her back and looking around warily.

Hajima’s sharp eyes see that the figures standing opposite you are lightly armed and armored.  Tuskor’s eyes can easily pierce the darkness and he catches a glimpse of the contents of the elf’s hide pack, and he can see a large dark red and earthen brown egg, nearly hidden within the bag.

Tuskor studies the elf and her team’s behavior, wondering if his party’s ruse has been discovered so quickly or if there’s still time to salvage it. He decides that they aren’t immediate threatening and subtly motions for the others to stand back and allow the flame haired Bard to talk their way out of the pickle.

“Now, now, let’s not be hasty”, Rowan says, hands held out, clearly showing that she’s unarmed. “Tyrnan was unable to come tonight, so he sent us in his stead. With all the troubles about lately, we were nervous carrying such precious diamonds without a large party of bodyguards. I apologize if we’ve disturbed you.”

She nods at Hajima and Tuskor, gesturing for them to back away. “We’ll just send a few of them off and carry on our transaction, shall we? I know that Tyrnan will be very disappointed in me if I don’t complete our business for him.”

The buyers visibly relax, taking hands off weapon hilts and the elf leans forward, greed shining in her eyes.  “The payment? Let’s see it.” she demands.

Sebastian will scan the guards to see who would be the easiest to hide the harper pin on.  His sharp eyes spot one of the guards who seems to be more interested in ogling the female elf’s curves than in keeping watch.  His magical servant slips up behind the guard and waits for the opportune moment to strike.

“Now,” says the sly, female elf. “Throw the payment over to us, and we drop the egg. Then we all leave and go to our beds. No fuss, no muss.”

Hajima stayed back at first to calm the wary elf. At this point he moves slowly forward to stand next to Rowan and Sebastian. He reaches into his coat and pulls out the pouch of diamonds. The pouch clinks slightly with the distinct sound of gemstones. “Worry not, master elf. Your payment is here.”

He tosses the diamond pouch to the elf, but it intentionally falls short and lands a step or two in front of him. The elf snickers and eyes the pouch with obvious greed. When she bounds forward and bends down to pick up the fake diamonds, the distraction provides the Sebastian with the perfect opportunity to direct the unseen servant in the placement of the tracking pin.

Rowan watches as the elven woman leans over and picks up the sack of ‘diamonds.’ She stays calm and lets her voice sound as confident and persuasive as she can … “And now the egg, and we shall be on our way.”

Sebastian stifles a smile as senses his servant place the magical pin on the guards’ dark grey cloak. She places the hide bag containing the egg on the ground and cautiously steps back.  She and her guards swiftly retreat from the barn.

Rowan walks over to the egg, and says, looking nervously around. “We’d better go.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “I wouldn’t want to still be here when they find out the diamonds are … you know.” Sebastian quickly checks the egg, then nods and helps Rowan carefully pack it in her knapsack.

“Let’s go….quickly!” Sebastian makes sure everyone else moves and he helps cover the rear with shield spell ready and mage armor cast.

Hajima helps Sebastian cover their retreat, scanning the surroundings for any sign of ambush or pursuit.  His keen vision, or perhaps his paranoia, reveals three roguish figures, stealthily hidden in the loft and a fourth figure, hidden behind a wagon wheel with a burlap sack draped across it.  As he goes to point this out to the group a voice interrupts him, and a tough-looking half-orc male brandishing a mace appears in the doorway of the barn.

“The toll for passage out of this barn is the egg. I’m sure you will hand it over peacefully so I don’t have to take your lives instead.”  He is flanked by two men, equally thuggish.  One of them has a missing left ear.

Hajima takes a step back to make a little more space between him and the speaker. He sets his long wooden case on the ground and kicks a button with his boot. The case opens and a metallic sound can be heard from within. Suddenly a massive heavy crossbow springs into the air. Hajima catches it with practiced ease. He presses another button on the crossbow itself and the arms lock into position, cocked and already loaded with a deadly bolt. Hajima then glares at the half-orc and responds grimly, “The fate of this egg is no concern of yours. Stand aside, or you will lose more than an ear this night.”

“And what say the rest of you? Do you wish to die like this fool?” The half orc spits menacingly, drool dripping from his jaws.

Tuskor pulls his long staff from the sheath on his back and they all can now see it is carved from a mammoth tusk.  The Dwarf takes a step toward the thug and snarls. “Stand aside or pay the price.”  The thugs take a faltering step backward, however the half-orc simply grins, his jutting tusks making the expression gruesome.

Vellk mutters something derisive about orcs and their heritage with disgust in his eyes and frees the snap on his battle axe.  “Shall we redden the floor with this filth?”

Sebastian readies a spell and an aura of cold surrounded his right fist, glowing with a harsh white light. He moves to ensure he is providing cover for Rowan to stay hidden.  His face is set in the flat, emotionless glare of a combat veteran.

The half orc thug stand menacingly at the doorway brandishing a mace. He is flanked by two thugs, one wielding a mace and sporting a buckler, another hoisting a heavy crossbow.  “Give us the egg and we won’t have to paint the walls with your blood.” He says in a guttural growl.

Hajima yells out, “There are three in the roof above!” His eyes trained along the sight on his crossbow, pointed at the head of the leader.

The swirling globe of white light concentrates around Sebastian’s hand, icy blue-white crystals spinning rapidly inside as the ray of icy energy leaps forth, striking the half orc thug.  He grunts in pain and then curses Sebastian as a thick layer of frost partially restricts his movement.  As though this was a signal, two nets fly out from the loft above as the hidden bandits above trying to ensnare the party below.

A creak on the floorboards above alerts Tuskor at the last moment. Thrusting his staff into the ground he pushes himself backward and out of the way of the net, turning a neat shoulder roll and coming back up to his feet, staff at the ready.

Vellk bloodies the half orc, shearing through his slowed parry and cutting him deeply. The half orc howls in pain as chaos erupts. Another net is thrown from the loft above towards Vellk, all three bandits above now visible.  The big warrior steps casually to one side and the net falls harmlessly to the ground.

Tuskor stares up at the half-orc and begins to mutter in an ancient tongue. He jolts forward closing the gap between them in an instant. As he charges the spell he is whispering takes effect. The mammoth tusk quarterstaff begins to splinter and twist.  Fang-like protrusions pierce through its surface and pulsing veins crawl from the cracks and wrap around it, morphing the once smooth tusk into a brutal looking spiked weapon.

By the time Tuskor is in the half-orc’s area the transformation is complete and the Dwarf swings the staff up over his head and brings it crashing down onto the top of his foes’ skull.  The half orc sways on his feet, cracking his left eye socket and making him sway on his feet.  Blood drips from the ruined eye

“There’s still time to walk away from this my friend” Tuskor says solemnly as he sees the damage he has inflicted.

“The half orc is not walking away, unless you have a very good reason my friend.” Vellk snarls, his hatred of the orc race is almost unreasonable, as if something in his past affects him every time he sees one.

A thug hefts his crossbow and, at a grunted order of pained panic from his half-orc leader, fires a bolt point blank at Vellk. The bolt bites deep through his armor and into his side. The other thug spits in the Dwarf’s eye as he runs at Tuskor wildly swinging his mace at his head twice.   Tuskor manages to turn the first with his magically enhanced ivory club but the second swing takes him in the side of the head, leaving his ears ringing.  

The half-orc swings wildly, once each at Tuskor and Vellk, missing both as blood runs into his ruined eye socket. He darts to the side, tucking and rolling to avoid any riposte dropping his mace and un-slinging the crossbow from across his back once he is out of range of their weapons.

Rowan plays a haunting melody on her flute and the orc bruiser drops his crossbow, holding his head in agony as her magic worms its way into his mind.  He turns and begins to flee as her tune changes, becoming jaunty and proud.  Sebastian’s spine straightens with resolve as he readies his next attack.

Hajima pulls the trigger and fires his massive crossbow with a harsh metallic clang of braided cable striking the steel firing plate.  The bolt buries itself in the base of the fleeing half orc’s skull, dropping him into a limp form bleeding on the ground. He doesn’t take kindly to being called a fool, especially not by the likes of these cretins. He then expertly reloads another bolt and prepares to fire on the shooters in the loft.

Knowing Vellk is a hardy fighter who often rallies with when others think he is out of commission, Sebastian moves towards Tuskor using his action to utilize his military healing training to wrap a bandage with a pre-applied unguent around the wound on the Dwarf’s head.

A lithe, figure leaps from the shadows behind a wagon and moves up the ladder without seeming to even use his hands.  As he clears the last rung, he shouts, “That’s quite enough from you three!”  He piles into one of the attackers, driving him against the wall and they go down in a tangle of limbs.

Hajima sees the figure begin to attempt to grapple with one of the assailants in the loft. He adjusts his aim and fires another bolt, but he can’t get a clear shot while they struggle back and forth. The bolt flies wide to land in the rafters with a dull thunk. Hajima quickly loads another bolt and takes aim at the second thug in the loft that is currently not engaged. “You take care of him and I’ll handle the other one.”

As the struggle in the loft continues, their new ally twists suddenly, dodging one attack, but stepping directly into another. The other bandit strikes, slashing deeply into Lanaver’s back.  A wide gash opens and blood sprays across the straw.

The thug, at the front of the barn drops his heavy crossbow, instead drawing a mace and advances on Tuskor.  While the Dwarf is still dazed from the blow to the head, and the thug strikes him once across the left shoulder and once on the right, barely missing a blow that would have crushed his spine.

Rowan plays a haunting melody once again, this time focusing on the enemy who is just drawing his mace back to strike Tuskor down.  Blood begins to run out of his nose and he runs, screaming in terror as she will draws her rapier with a steely rustle and prepares to enter the melee.

Sebastian fires another blast of chill energy at the thug fleeing from Rowan’s magic and it freezes his left arm solid.  He cries out, falling to the ground in shock, the frozen limb shattering on contact.  Another closes in on Sebastian and the sorely wounded Tuskor, murder in his eyes.

Their mysterious ally tosses his opponent over the side of the loft with a smooth shoulder throw.  The man lands badly and struggles to rise.   Before the bandit can rise, his attacker salutes the other two enemies jauntily.

“Enough heroics for tonight lads!” With that, he leaps from the loft aiming to soften his landing with the man he just threw.  The bandit’s breath goes out in a whoosh and he loses consciousness to the tune of several shattering ribs.

Rowan dexterously slips to the side of the man trying to kill her friend Sebastian, and skewers him with her rapier. He cries in pain as her blade stabs him in the calf.

The two bandits in the loft change tactics, pulling light crossbows from where they hang on loops beneath their cloaks and firing into the melee below.  Vellk grunts in pain as a bolt strikes his right bicep, passing all the way through the muscle.  The second missile passes close enough to Sebastian that he can hear the sharp *fsssk* sound of its passing.

The hearty thug below swings at Sebastian and Vellk, smashing the warrior on the arm wounded by the crossbow bolt with a meaty smack, eliciting a grunt of pain from the big man.  Sebastian threw up an arm to block the blow, discovering that it was a bad idea when the mace fractured his forearm.

Rowan stabs the wounded thug through the chest with her rapier, running him clean through.  He clasps the grievous wound but stands his ground somehow, her sword blade missing his vital organs.

Vellk attempts to go and deal with the two crossbow wielding thugs in the hayloft and gets a mace in the back as he turns away from the enemy he was facing.  He cries out, spinning back to bury his axe in the man’s neck with a horrifying crunch.  The big warrior takes a deep breath exerting a supernatural effort of will that seems to close his wounds and stop his bleeding.  He turns to the remaining two bandits with a sinister gleam in his eye, blood dripping from the end of his axe.

The two bandits leap down from the loft, brandishing maces.  One lands next to the body of their comrade, swinging at the man who had come to their aid in such a flamboyant fashion.  The other man ducks the forward and backward strikes before sweeping the legs out from under the thug and stabbing him in the throat with his rapier.

“Stay down cutter!” He shouts in savage satisfaction, diving for cover as Vellk engages the last fighter. “You’ve got this! I believe in you!”

The thug strikes Vellk in the head twice with his mace, knocking him unconscious.  Glancing at his fallen comrades, he seems to suddenly realize how outnumbered he is.  He turns to flee but as he runs, Rowan springs from the darkness.  Using his own momentum against him, she hacks halfway through the bandit’s neck dropping him in a spray of arterial blood.

Sebastian bends over Vellk, cursing silently under his breath as he tended to the warrior’s wounds.  “He’ll make it, but this was too close for comfort.”

Rowan, rapier still in hand, keeps a wary eye out, to make sure another ambush wasn’t lurking in the darkness. Heart pounding from excitement and anticipation, she realizes that she fought well and after a careful inspection of herself, that she wasn’t even hit.  Most importantly, her friends and the egg seem to be ok.  

As Sebastian completes his healing tasks, she whispers, “We’d better go, in case there are reinforcements. Perhaps if we close the doors, the Weavers will have someone who can clean up this mess. For now, I think we must make sure the egg is safely delivered.”

The man who joined the fray late walks from the shadows, a hand pressed to his side.  “Anyone know how to plug this hole in me? I’d be ever so thankful.” he grinned through the pain.

Sebastian comes over and slaps a quick bandage on the large slash on the man’s side. “Rowan is right, we need to get back to town quickly, take what loot you feel we can while I do the quick patch job on all these wounds of ours.”

Rowan wipes her sword with straw to get most of the blood off, and sheaths it.  “Let’s head to the inn, and quickly!”

Their new ally shakes his head, “We can’t go back to the inn they’ll follow and ambush us later. I know a safe house not far from here, we can at least rest there for the time being.”  He holds his bandages tightly and nods, “Thank you. My name is Lanaver, I’ve been tasked by our mutual employer to make sure we all make it home alive. Quickly now, they won’t wait long when they discover they’ve been duped and we killed some of their men.”

As Lanaver leads the way towards his safe house, a group of Starshield Guards approaches at what approximates a marching pace for the notoriously lazy Guardsmen.  After a few turns down side streets to make sure they weren’t being followed, the group makes their way back to the Boiling Kettle.

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