After following the lead of the Hand, they had been traveling for days and now ended up in hills that rolled in and out of a fetid swamp. Rain was falling in a dismal drizzle and the cold water was beginning to soak through the seams of their thick woolen cloaks. It fit Callindra’s mood perfectly.
“That god rotting thing is broken isn’t it?” She said, glaring at Tryst as he was looking at the Hand where it sat on his palm.
“It is possible that what we seek has been lost out here.” Tryst replied, although he didn’t sound convinced himself. “Or maybe the rumors of a city of treasure hunters somewhere out here are real. All we can do is keep following it.”
“Is the sun going down or coming up?” Cronos grumbled, squinting at the sky.
“Going down.” Vilhylm said, “We should find a place to camp for the night.”
They came to the top of a small hill overlooking a valley. Swamp fire glowed sickly green in pools of fetid water. There were other lights as well; torches surrounding a low stone building and a large bonfire surrounded by a semi-circle of wagons. The flickers of swamp fire began to move forward, encroaching on the circle of wagons and they realized it wasn’t just glowing fungus, it was the light of abyssal fire in the eyes of a pack of hunched creatures charging the bonfire.
As one, the tired group found new strength and ran down the incline. Calling up arcane power, Callindra easily outdistanced the others as the Winds gathered beneath her allowing her to leap dozens of paces over pools of stagnant water. Her braid trailed after her like a banner as she landed in the middle of the fray, Brightfang slashing down on one of the creatures with brutal force. The man who had been retreating from deadly claws and fangs blinked in surprise as the monster he had been facing fell, its body nearly cloven in twain.
Callindra was already kicking it off her blade and engaging another foe. A gout of flames announced Cronos’s arrival to the fight, crisping three of the creatures where they stood and Tryst’s hammer mashed the skull of another into an unrecognizable mass of brains and bone. Vilhylm methodically used the point and edge of his spear to stab and slice, leaving dead and wounded spawn behind him. As quickly as it had begun, the battle was over; the few remaining monsters leaping into pools and swimming into the depths.
With a practiced flick of her left wrist, Callindra shed the blood from Brightfang and slid him into the sheath over her shoulder. The others were looking at her and her brothers warily and Tryst stepped forward to speak with them.
“Greetings friends.” He said, his voice smooth and confident. “It seems we helped you out of a spot of trouble, could you perhaps allow us to share your fire for the night?”
“Them things is just what comes before The Ravenger most times.” A grizzled man with a short hafted double bladed ax says, looking them each over carefully. “They ain’t letting anyone into The Drunken Thief until they’re sure that pus bucket ain’t showing up.” He spat to one side with a sour look on his face.
“Why won’t they let anyone else inside?” Tryst asked, noticing children with wide serious eyes staring at them from beneath the wagons. “Surely there’s room for everyone.”
“Room fer paying customers maybe.” He said, “We ain’t hit it rich enough to pay their prices yet.”
“Shut er gob Milt, they don’t need ta know nothin.” Another, less savory looking man said, looking suspiciously at Tryst and his companions in turn.
“You’re being a tad uncharitable friend.” Callindra said, her ire beginning to rise as she too noticed the children with creepy adult eyes. “I’m pretty sure we just saved your lives. I’m not used to people whose lives I just saved being so rude.”
“I ain’t used ta little girls who can’t keep their mouths shut.” He snarled, putting his hand on the well-worn hilt of a short sword at his hip.
“Dax, knock it off. There’s more’n enough out there, no need to get tetchy.” Milt said, spitting on the ground again. “He’s just on edge about this Ravenger business and we lost a couple good men out there yesterday, not to mention a good haul.”
“A haul?” Callindra asked, keeping an eye on Dax as the man glared at her.
“Yeah. Found a good stash of gold and even a suit of armor that wasn’t rusted so it must a been magic.” Milt paused to spit. “Damn boggers busted out a one of them pools and dragged ‘em under fore we could even pull steel.”
“You expect us to believe that there’s treasure out here?” Cronos asked, his voice dubious. “In this gods forsaken swamp?”
“Ha! Believe what ya want kiddo, but I seen more gold in a month in this shit hole then I seen in my life.” Milt spit again and Callindra could see now that he was rolling a quid of tobacco around in his mouth. “You all seem capable enough. Wanna make some coin?”
Before any of them could answer, the door of the tavern swung open and all heads turned to watch a beautiful woman with well-muscled arms and a stout cudgel at her hip stood in the doorway. She brushed her hands on her apron, an action that emphasized the swell of her breasts against her dress.
“Danger’s over, come on in and have a drink if you want.” She called out with a welcoming smile. “The ale’s warm and it’s strong and the food’s as good as you’ll find in a hundred leagues.”
With a grin, Callindra sauntered into the tavern, noting the name on the sign above the door. ‘The Drunken Thief’ seemed more like a fortress than an inn, thick stone walls and iron bound doors. A man stood on either side of the door, their biceps as big around as her waist, looking at her with impassive suspicion.
“Relax boys, I’m just here for a drink.” She said, patting the one on the left on a bulging arm and noting the resemblance between the two men. “Twins. That’s adorable!”
“Adorable.” The hulking man replied, “That sword is adorable.”
“Yeah, he is.” Callindra said with a grin and walked up to the bar.
“Whaddaya want?” The wide man behind the bar asked, “We got bog ale and black death.”
“I’ll take an ale then.” She said, tossing him a gold coin.
The bartender batted the coin out of the air behind himself where it clattered into a grate beneath the bar and pulled a clay mug from a shelf, filling it from a tap.
“They weren’t kidding about your prices were they? She asked, “Gods and demons this ale had better be amazing.”
“It’s worth more’n that lass.” He said with a smile.