Marrowshire: Precursor 1
Yggdrasil Hall, Marrowshire
6 Bells, Payday, 17th of Postharvest, Year 1126
Rubbing at his injured hand, Kas Torin Windsbane adjusted himself on the wooden bench in the front row of the broad stone meeting hall. Around him, dozens of Marrowshire townsfolk buzzed like a hive of stinger bugs smacked with a stick. The furor predicted by the town Marshall Harod came to pass, monsters–thick as flies on dren–were everywhere. It was a mess. Where the frell were they all coming from? Everyone knew the delving was big, they knew it was deep, no one even guessed the damn thing was full of critters.
Gray hair tied back and broad square face rough with stubble, barrel-chested Lusk muscled through the crowd puffing and growling. The heavy-set ranger’s ancient chain armor was splashed with ichor, his arms and chest bruised and scratched. “Pipe down, pipe down,” he thundered, shouldering his way to a seat. He collapsed on the bench, the wood giving out a loud squeal of protest. He coughed and wiped at the perspiration on his ruddy face. Even though he had to be in his late fifties or early sixties, he obviously still had plenty of fire and fight in him. He waved an arm at the crowd. “Hey, hey ,hey! Ease up on the pissin and moanin, wouldya? We all got stuff to protect, and we’ll do it. You ain’t gonna whine them critters to death.”
“You would be one to talk, Luskie,” one of the elders laughed. “Not all of us can poison them with our bad cooking.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Lusk snapped back. “Wasn’t me forcing a third helping of my ‘bad cooking’ into your pie hole yesterday. Can you even fit in armor anymore, Porkie?”
The insulted towny turned away with a scowl. While Marrowshire’s main populous consisted of folk who adventured at one time or another, not all of them retained their strength and skills. As the incursion grew worse, more and more reserves were being called up. At first, the old timers were called up in an advisory capacity; tactics, strategy, and dungeoneering lore. Then the lines broke and even dinged up ancient battle-axes like Lusk were forced to mix it up to defend their property.
With the pressure growing worse with no sign of abating. A hasty meeting had been called to get a handle on the resources, to explain the extent of what was going on, and to try to come up with an effective strategy that would keep people from getting killed.
Kaz sighed. As if the monster incursion weren’t enough other issues had presented themselves. He glanced to the lean blade-like figure sitting in the shadow of the stage, its features shrouded in smoke colored stealth togs. His gaze lingered on the stylized dagger worn in the man’s belt. Hard to believe he’d see one of them again after this many decades.
What would Tal think– or Desiray? No doubt they thought the old elites dead along with Grayhawk. He rubbed the letter in his vest pocket, thinking about the gold embossed signature on the letter. To think that she would be an influence on the worlds again. Everyone, like him, thought she had disappeared into the underdark never to be heard from again. Lords, the timing couldn’t be worse.
The messenger had him worried; Fayde Grimfury. An assumed alias if he ever heard one. He had come to the Dulcet Unicorn with more than mission. The shadowy man, an elf by his bearing, knew things. It wasn’t anything he’d said, there’d been scarce little of that. Kaz had a sense about these things, and behind those amber eyes was a dangerous stillness. His whole demeanor reminded Kas of a perfectly sharpened knife; a tool that took lives without rancor or malice. The question was, why this tool, this place, and now. What was his link to a past they’d all forgotten on a distant planet?
He straightened up at the cracking of the gavel to gain the attention of the room. Now, it began. First, they would start with the bad news. Then they would move on to the really bad news…
Marrowshire: Precursor 2
(Special Credit: Haploric Septrumen and Scolic Myxotie created by Robert Unger)
Yggdrasil Hall, Marrowshire
6 Bells, Payday, 17th of Postharvest, Year 1126
Haploric Septrumen and his partner Scolic Myxotie strolled into Yggdrasil hall where townsfolk milled about in concerned agitation. People were on edge, upset, and angry. Stress caused such wonderful behavior, the next few days were bound to provide some entertainment. Who knew, perhaps all the confusion might afford an opportunity to conduct some experiments. He really missed the days when he could freely conduct his anatomical explorations, but alas, he was an upstanding citizen of the community now. It did have its advantages, remaining outside a cage being the foremost of those.
Patting his stark black hair into place and brushing at his spotless coat, Haploric glided into the crowd. Though tall and broad, he had learned to slip through groups of people like a snake insinuating itself between tufts of grass. They never registered his presence nor did they detect the down-soft touch of his fingers occasionally probing for valuables. The smells. The people smelled of fear. It made his heart speed up. Taking a shuddering breath, he pushed a hand into his pocket and fondled the leather bag inside. Feeling the tiny bodies wriggle beneath his fingers helped to sooth his excitement. Control. He must remain steady– watchful. There would be better opportunities, bigger joys when there were less eyes to observe.
Spidery Scolic pulled on his sleeve. He glanced at the willowy ex-priest, the man’s gaunt features were pulled in a sour expression.
“What is it…” Scolic murmured in his sibilant voice. “Why do you bring us here?”
“The spectacle,” Haploric answered in a cheerful tone. “Can’t you feel it? Exhilarating!”
“Spectacle?” Scolic repeated, brow furrowed he scratched at his temple with a leathery hand. He looked around. “A babbling rabble it is. Yes, yes it is. Idiots they are, yes, nattering pointlessly, pointlessly at one another.”
“Exactly!” Haploric responded, pumping a fist. “A kettle bubbling, frothing, ready to explode!” He took a deep cleansing breath, calming himself again. Yes, marvelous indeed. He stopped what he was next going to say, when he saw a young dark-haired lady sidling through the crowd toward an open seat. He took a few steps forward. “Good day, Clarice!” he said in his most gentlemanly voice. He didn’t know why, but he loved that name– Clarice. It rolled so nicely off the tongue. She had such a sweet innocent face. Succulent.
Obviously startled, the young woman looked around. “Oh, sorry, mister Septrumen!”
“And how are things?” he asked, putting on his best interested expression. “I trust you have had no more pests about the house?”
She blinked at him. “Oh–yes, all gone. Haven’t seen any for nigh on a tenday. The oddest thing though, we can’t find Miggs.”
“Miggs?” Haploric pushed a hand through his hair. “Oh! Your cat, yes? Gray and white was it? I don’t recall seeing him when I was in the basement.”
“Yes,” Clarice answered. “My little Molly is very upset.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he responded, trying his best not to smile. It was a good thing he had remembered not to wear his new favorite fur hat. The questions might have been– uncomfortable. He shook his head. “I wonder if one of those filthy goblins got into the village and took him,” he offered. “I hear they eat cats.”
The woman frowned. “Yes.” She sniffed. “Thank you for your… concern.”
“Not at all!” he said. “Not at all.”
“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” the woman shouldered past him in a huff.
“Rude, she is,” Scolic murmured. “Rude and worthless.”
“Now now,” Haploric said. “She’s a customer. Always treat customers with respect. Especially ones who pay promptly.”
He turned and looked for a good seat to observe the spectacle unfolding. Spying an empty bench with a good view of the stage, he forged toward it with sinewy grace.
“Mister Septrumen,” a voice called to him.
Mister? Yes, right. He really hadn’t gotten used to that yet. He turned to see who had called to him. He waited as the man came toward him, as the portly fellow stopped he recognized the pudgy shopkeeper with his bent nose and thick lips. A customer. “Ah, mister Dobbins,” To find his happy place he turned his mind to thoughts of torturing a mouse, and gave the man his most ingratiating smile. “Good evening to you, how may I be of assistance?”
Dobbins didn’t react with a smile, he recoiled a step.
That wasn’t the right response. Haploric was certain he had done it properly. He turned his head, making sure the pearly white of his teeth glinted in the torchlight.
Looking shaken, Dobbins cleared his throat. “Mister Septrumen, might I have a moment of your time?”
Haploric glanced to his companion. Scolic shrugged. “My time is yours, Mister Dobbins.”
“Well,” the man cleared his throat again and fussed with his collar.
Haploric tilted his head, studying the man’s wriggling fingers. They reminded him of fat juicy worms squirming on a plate.
The man’s face had drained of color and perspiration dotted his normally ruddy features.
“Yes?” Haploric prompted, still smiling.
Dobbins coughed. “About your services, two days previous.”
He bowed. “Aye, the clean out went well, yes? The infestation is gone, yes?”
“Yes,” Dobbins muttered. “Even the roaches are dead.”
“There were roaches?” he said in sincere dismay. “I missed a roach? That’s terrible!”
“No, no, no,” Dobbins said. “They’re dead. That’s fine…”
“Can’t believe it,” Haploric murmured in distress. He elbowed Scolic. “You didn’t tell me there were roaches!”
“Not see them, no no,” Scolic responded. “Must have been under the boards, yes.”
“Mister Septrumen,” Dobbins said, voice cracking. “It’s not the roaches. It’s the dog.”
Haploric snapped out of it. “Dog?” He frowned. “You didn’t ask me to kill a dog. Killing a dog is extra.”
“No, no,” Dobbins said, obviously flustered. “The dog is missing!”
“Missing?” He rubbed at his temple. “There was nothing about finding a dog in our contract.”
“Mister Septrumen,” Dobbins went on. “After you cleaned the basement, we can’t find our dog.”
“Oh your dog,” Haploric responded. His gaze went back to the man’s nervous fingers. Fat. Juicy. Worms. “Did we not agree you would lock it upstairs so nothing untoward would happen to it?”
“Yes,” Dobbins said wiping at his brow. “Certainly, and we did so.”
He tilted his head. “And?”
“Did you see it?”
He blinked. “See what?”
“The dog, mister Septrumen, did you see–the–dog!”
Worms. Juicy juicy worms. “Was I supposed to? I was in the basement. How could I see a dog upstairs if I was in the basement.”
“Mister Septrumen, my son saw you,” Dobbins said.
“Your son?” Haploric’s brow furrowed. He glanced to Scolic. “Is your son missing now? I thought it was your dog missing.”
“No, my son saw you upstairs.”
“Quite impossible,” Haploric said. “How can I be upstairs when I was downstairs? I obviously can’t be in two places at once.” He looked to his partner. “Right Scolic, can’t be two places at once. I don’t have that ability do I?”
Scolic gave him a gap-toothed grin. “No no, not at all.”
“My son saw you in the upstairs hall,” Dobbins insisted.
“You didn’t ask me to clean the upstairs, so why would I be there? You definitely asked me to clean the downstairs. You’re not making sense.”
“You tell me,” Dobbins said, putting fists on hips.
“Tell you what? Are you trying to confuse me? Telling me down is up, and up is down. Lies, I tell you– lies!”
“Did you take the dog, Mister Septrumen?”
Haploric sighed. “Mister Dobbins, would your dog fit in my pocket?” He pulled at his coat, indicating the small opening.
Dobbins scowled. “No, but that’s not…”
“Did your son see me with a dog?”
“Did you see me with a dog?”
“I didn’t see a dog, so I contend there never was one!”
“Now see here–!”
“Exactly.” Haploric poked him hard in the chest, making the overweight man reel back a step. “If you can’t see it–it doesn’t exist! Except maybe for air… air exists. Is your dog made of air?”
Dobbins rubbed his chest. “Of course not!”
“Well when you get one I’d be interested in not seeing it.”
“Mister Septrumen, all I want is my dog.”
Haploric slapped his sides. “Dog, dog, dog. You didn’t ask me to kill a dog, nor take one. It won’t fit in my pocket, so I obviously don’t have it. Unless of course it’s made of air, in which case neither of us could see it. So, then it would be questionable if it even existed. Something like the point of this conversation. You asked to me to clean the basement, which we both agree is clean, yes?”
“I am upset about the roaches though,” he smacked Scolic on the shoulder. “Devil that! Look more closely next time!”
“Yes, yes, I will,” Scolic answered.
He pressed on toward the bench which still hadn’t been taken.
“But Mister Septrumen…!” the man sputtered at his back, unable to slip through the crowd.
“Worms,” Haploric muttered quietly. “Juicy juicy worms…”
It took a few moments to reach his desired seat. As he was about to sit down, a stout broad-shouldered female with red hair stepped into his path and thumped down on the wooden slats.
“Pardon,” he said. “That was my seat.”
“Yer seat is it?” the red haired lady said with a dwarven accent. The build, the broad face, the attitude–definitely a dwarf. She reached back a put a hand on the hilt of huge sword scabbarded over her shoulder. “If it were, I don be seein yer name on it.” She brushed at her spotless gold armor in a dismissive gesture. “Push on.”
“It’s a bench,” Haploric said. “There’s room for three. Scoot.” He made a shifting motion with his fingers.
The dwarf stared at him and her lip curled.
He turned to his companion. “Did you see that?”
“See? What am I seeing?”
“The thing, that thing with the lip? What is that?”
Scolic eyed the dwarf. “I believe they call that a sneer, yes. I believe so. A sneer.”
“A sneer?” Haploric mused. “Fascinating.” He focused on the dwarf. “Are you sneering at me?”
“Push on, ya git,” she growled. “I know you, animal killer.”
“Lies!” Haploric declared. “You wound me.” He put a hand to his chest. “I do not kill animals. All animals in my possession die of natural causes I assure you! In fact, I do my best to extend their existences as much as possible! Now, shoo!” He emphasized, making shifting motions with both hands.
“Lissen you long-haired black-eyed son of she-whelp, this daughter of a Redsteel will not be giving way on your smarmy say so. Push on.”
He stared at her.
She stared back.
“She’s sneering at me again.”
“Rude, yes, very rude,” Scolic emphasized.
“Kiss off, ya suck up,” she snapped. “Begone the both of ya! Or you’ll be answering to Ella Redsteel ya will, so help me.”
He sighed. Not like he wanted to sit next to the thornly sneer-faced bundle of aggression. What gave dwarves such bad temperments? It must be their diet. Too much meat and not enough fiber. “Come,” he said to Scolic. “We’ll sit over there by the stage.”
He made his way toward the spot. As he sat down, he noted the thin man wearing a gray guilder’s habit sitting on a bench in the shadow of the stage. In the poor light, the man was almost invisible. He sniffed. Drow. He was all too familiar with that smell. A male. Odd to see one on the surface. He noticed the dagger displayed openly on the belt. A guild token. The symbol of the D’klace. A hired killer. More interesting.
The elf focused amber eyes on him in a level cold stare.
Haploric dipped his head in a rare show of earnest professional courtesy.
He smiled. The future in Marrowshire promised to be even more interesting than he thought…