The Whisperer in Darkness

Mission Three
I'm the Dog
Date of Contract 19.01.373
Place of Contract The Stronghold of Carvahall
Current Time Two hours after dawn
On hand Cdr Greil, DC Bloodrock, Grimlock Skullfucker, Tarkus the Swift
Client Sol-Ket Taern
Client occupation Ruler of Carvahall
Mission Parameters Objective: Retrieve the murderer, dead or alive
Up front 50ip each
On completion 150ip each if dead, 250ip each if alive

Mission Profile

The client summoned us to his hall the morning after the bar fight. Though disappointed that we did not manage to apprehend the fiend responsible, he understood why we could not. He then offered us a contract – to hunt down the escaped murderer and bring him back dead or alive. The pay was generous and I think we all relished the thought of bringing the killer to justice. I agreed to the offered terms without dispute.

Mission Details

Tracking the stranger proved simple enough. Starting from the Piss Hole, we only had to speak to four or five locals before we found one who could point us in the right direction. Tarkus helped get us through the side streets, then from the pastures onwards there was a trail of blood I could track. After that, Grimlock took it upon himself to assault an elderly labourer who had observed the murderer heading towards the marshes.

Passing through the marshes, we met two giants. One was badly injured and the other turned hostile despite my attempts (translated by Tarkus) to assure it we meant no harm. In the end we had no option but to kill them in self-defence.

Finally, the murderer’s trail took us into an old, infested, malachite mine. Its branching tunnels led us into the homes of aggressive kobolds and goblins, forcing us to waste time and energy exterminating them. Gravilla and Tarkus rescued an old goliath who had been captured by the goblins to feed their brutish queen.

Searching alone, they were then ambushed by the bearded goliath, whose strength had been greatly augmented by some sort of demonic possession. The noise from their battle attracted a Chull (i.e. a monster crustacean), which then ambushed the ambush. Tarkus was routed, abandoning Gravilla to fight both adversaries alone.

Fortunately, Gravilla was able to extricate herself – leaving the goliath (which was now aflame with demon fire) and the Chull to battle each other. She found Tarkus in the bearded goliath’s hideaway. This cavernous chamber was a dead end, so she hid amongst a pile of reeds that probably served as his bed. Tarkus laid waste to everything else in the room.

Our target fought off the Chull and found Tarkus in the midst of breaking all his stuff. His broadsword burst into flame, becoming a deadly firesword, and the two goliaths made for each other. I joined the battle at this point but we were hopelessly outmatched.

It was then that a ghastly-looking imp creature appeared. It immobilised the goliath with a powerful spell, allowing us to gain the upper hand. Its magic felt incredibly evil. The chilling tune it played on a wooden flute somehow extracted a demon’s soul from the bearded goliath and drew it into a clay jar it produced from its tunic. Once it had this soul, it disappeared in a maelstrom of arcana.

Mission Outcome

No longer enhanced by demon power, the bearded goliath was quickly defeated and taken into our custody. We bound him and walked him back to Carvahall, arriving there the next day. Our prisoner survived the journey, albeit with a broken foot inflicted by Tarkus to prevent escape attempts.

Mission Two
Date of Contract 18.01.373
Place of Contract The Stronghold of Carvahall
Current Time Midnight
On hand Cdr Greil, DC Skullfucker, Tarkus the Swift
Client Ilikan y’Meavoi f’Thotham
Client occupation Tavern proprietor
Mission Parameters * Objective: Break up a pub brawl
Up front Null
On completion 300ip (100 pess each)

Mission Profile

After two days of relaxation in Carvahall, the client appeared at our current residence (Pan’s house) several hours after dark. He had intentionally sought us out and, looking extremely flustered, begged us to put an end to a fight that had broken out at his tavern, the Piss Hole very close by (note: no, seriously, that is genuinely its name).

He offered 150ip for this task and also a week’s worth of free drinks. Since immediate action was required, I did not have the time to track down Euven and Gravilla (at leisure somewhere in the city) or to discuss exactly what I was getting us into, so I considered 150ip insufficient and demanded 300ip instead.

Such was his hurry, the client readily agreed, though he withdrew the offer of free drinks. (note: why was he willing to pay so much when local law enforcement would be required to provide assistance for free? Our proximity? His desperation for haste? Perhaps a low opinion of Carvahall’s soldiers?). We readied our equipment (with the exception of Tarkus, who was adamant that he would not need his axe) and set forth without delay.

Mission Details

It was only a short walk to the Piss Hole, 2-3 minutes at most. We approached from behind (for practical reasons rather than tactical ones), arriving nearby just in time to witness a goliath get flung through the air and broken by some great impact. The client fled towards us at an ungainly, off-balance sprint, screaming, “Something has been summoned!”

Encounter: Ankylobrawlrus

Once it was clear that the situation was resolved, I left the others, crept over to the Piss Hole and peered through one of its windows. The place was chaos, filled with goliaths engaged in a bloody, all-on-all fistfight. Two goliaths had their weapons drawn, each wielding a six foot greatsword, and were engaged in a furious duel. The rest seemed less concentrated, attacking each other at random and some even appearing to enjoy doing so. One was standing on the bar throwing bottles, another had just thrown himself off a table, and another still was swinging from a chandelier.

I was suddenly passed by the soldiers and Tarkus, pressing on towards the Piss Hole without delay. I retraced my steps and helped Grimlock find his axe in the dark (it turned out to be embedded shaft-first in the muddy debris from the rocks that the jigsaw smashed earlier) then the pair of us ran to the tavern’s entrance and almost collided with Tarkus, who was evicted from the premise at some speed at that very moment.

Entering together, we set about calming the place down. Unfortunately our arrival was deemed to be the entry of new participants, for one mad-looking brawler broke away from the mob and charged at Grimlock. A second later, the one on the chandelier swung off and followed suit. Skullfucker ducked nimbly, spun around on the ground and tripped both aggressors with his legs. Sheltering behind him and Tarkus, I was able to cast a spell of sleep across the room that dropped most of them and slowed the rest. The brawl stopped briefly as the remaining combatants gazed at their snoring opponents with confused expressions, then they met each others’ eyes and resumed with new partners.

Suddenly an earth-shattering roar boomed out from behind the bar. A gout of blood sprayed up the wall and a large object hurtled towards me, landing like a boulder at my feet. It was a goliath’s head, staring up at me with lifeless eyes. Seeing this, the Piss Hole clientele immediately evacuated from every exit, leaving us alone with the winner of the greatsword duel – an 8ft tall, blood-drenched goliath. Unlike any other goliath I have ever seen, he sported a full head of matted hair and a broad, black beard that tumbled down about a foot across his chest. He snarled, vaulted the bar and sprinted at us with his greatsword clutched tightly in one fist.

I knocked him back against the bar with a wave of thunder and told him to stop immediately, reassuring the bloody patron that we meant him no harm. He made to charge again, but was charged in turn by Tarkus, who made to cut off one of his legs but only cut it very deeply instead. The murderer reacted immediately, manouvering his sword so that Tarkus’ momentum would carry him straight onto it.

Tarkus attempted to batter the sword out of the way but only managed to relocate which part of his body was injured… to a more vital one. He crashed into some tables, jumped up and turned around in one motion, then took a staggeringly hard elbow to the head as he rose. He dropped like a sack of bricks and lay like one dead as Grimlock, still injured from his battle with the summon monsters, charged into combat in his place.

I did my best to help from the sidelines, splattering our opponent with a slick of agonising, corrosive ooze, but our enemy was fresh, and his vigour only seemed to grow with time. He cut through Grimlock’s guard with his relentless force and scored a painful wound on the dragonborn’s side. The murderer turned to me and shouted, “LET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!”

Grimlock now flagging, possibly even on his legs legs, looked at me beseechingly, but I was loath to let a violent swordsman roam free. Yet there was no help coming – the soldiers lay unconscious by the tavern door. Stalling for time, I demanded to know the murderer’s name, but he did not reply. He knew that it was he who held the power in this situation. We could not best him in our current state. I had no choice but to relent, and he sprinted past us both, his final word of “Thanks!” like a dagger between my ribs.

Mission Outcome

I memorised the murderer’s appearance as best as I was able, fixing it in my mind until I could relay it to the city soldiers. I also interviewed the brawlers I had put to sleep, learning that the bar fight was the result of the Piss Hole clientele simply watching the duel between the murderer and his victim, and disagreeing on who to support.

The victim was a local by the name of Novak, a tailor of heavy duty clothing. The brawlers described him as a “normal, typical, stand-up guy” and seemed genuinely surprised by news of his death. I asked them to give their names to my client, which they did before they left. After accepting payment from the client (Tarkus’ share slightly reduced after he stole and consumed a large pile of sandwiches), we went back to base for stitches and sleep.

Final Note. Tarkus saw a doctor the next morning and paid 30ip for the treatment of injuries he sustained during this contract. Perhaps now is the time to re-negotiate mercenary pay rates. A share of the pay needs to go directly into funding the Greil Mercenaries so that we have money set aside for equipment, medical treatment, advertising, bills, inns, bribes (if necessary) and other group costs.

Mission One
Down the Pan
Date of Contract 16.01.373
Place of Contract The Stronghold of Carvahall
Current Time Mid-morning
On hand Cdr Greil, DC Skullfucker, Tarkus the Swift
Client Pan y’Aukon f’Boktor
Client occupation Game hunter, formerly military
Mission Parameters * Objective: Retrieve mystery belonging
* Temporary contract(s) for: Lady Bloodrock; Euven Dielenath
Up front 325ip (65 pess each)
On completion 325ip (65 pess each)

Mission Profile

While at ease in a tavern close to our night lodgings, Euven received an offer of work from an inebriated patron. We met with him in the tavern the next morning (note: client gulped regularly from a flagon of guhlayl – possible drinking problem?) and were surprised to find Lady Gravilla Bloodrock with him (note: client thought she was a member of our group – possible he offered work to several parties last night).

The client, Pan, was a frequent customer of Sunspeaker Nala’s prostitution trade. After some time they became close and his visits turned personal. However, now Pan has heard rumour of her demise and wishes to retrieve a belonging that he left at her woodland home. He would not elaborate on what this is, stating only that people would talk if he obtained it himself and that we “will know it when we see it”.

He offered 500ip for successful completion, but raised to 650 on coercion from Grimlock.

Mission Details

Nala’s home is located in a small wood within sight of the borders of Carvahall. Upon entering we saw hawks overhead, a group of deer (Grimlock was pleased), and even heard the baying of mountain wolves – a rare breed significantly larger than their lowland cousins.

Approximately halfway to our destination (just over 20 minutes in) Ellana sensed that we were not alone. The canopy above us suddenly exploded in size: trees and branches growing longer and thicker as the gaps revealing rays of sunshine rapidly closed, all to the tune of the snaking, crawling hiss of foliage creeping over itself.

It became suddenly dark, but Euven’s eyes remain reliable – he noticed a figure emerging from the trees, appearing as a young female half-elf, the dryad Tell. Her head lolled forward in an odd, drugged fashion, before rising again, eyes scanning us with feverish vigour. She hissed the words, “You die.” then her flesh erupted, shooting out bark and thin branches like bracken, transforming her into a lumbering tree-like form, her true appearance.

Assisted by blade spiders, Tell attacked. She was closed to reason, forcing us to slay her in self-defence. Though upset by this turn of events, I saw a possible opportunity in the making, for blade spiders can be tamed and used as mounts. I leapt onto the back of the greatest and began breaking it to my will. Meeting with some success, I ordered the Mercenaries to cease their aggressions and back away. Alas, Elanna ignored me and struck it a fatal blow. With its death the canopy reeled back to its former state, relighting the area with bolts of sunshine.

Furious for the loss of what would have been a claim to fame for the Greil Mercenaries, I ordered her to leave our company upon returning to Carvahall. Instead she departed then and there. I hope she is safe. We continued to the sunspeaker’s home and found it to be a solidly built wooden hut nestled between the thick trunks of two large trees. The door was bashed open by Grimlock to reveal a small but cosy-looking living area, with several chairs, a bookcase and a stone fireplace, with red embers glowing dimly within. A door at the opposite end of the room seemed to be the only way of progressing further.

Someone was still living here. Tarkus made to kick the door down but it swung open violently mid-kick, knocking his questing leg aside. A young, aggressive, male goliath stormed over the threshold, brandishing a sword, and shouted, “What the fuck are you doing here!?” A cry rang out from the back room and he readied his sword, “Don’t you dare come any closer.” I promised we meant him no harm. A second figure appeared behind him, a female his own age, clutching a bundle of cloth to her chest. She spoke to him reassuringly, then looked at us imploringly, seeking permission to speak.

Her name was Het, and his Garon. They were walking through the woods several days ago when they heard a noise, in their own words “a heartbreaking wail”. They traced it here and found a baby. They assume it is Nala’s, and having heard the rumours that she is dead, took the child’s care upon themselves. They visit this residence every day, keeping the baby here out of fear that their parents (and the rest of Carvahall) would disown them if they knew the truth.

When Pan started seeking people to retrieve the infant, he unknowingly made the request of Garon, who began making plans with Het for them to escape Carvahall with it. The pair are of the opinion that Pan is too much of a drunkard to be responsible for a baby. It is clear that they have grown very attached to it. A smile spread across Het’s face as she cooed to it in her arms, while Garon lowered his sword and looked at us with a pleading expression.

Mission Outcome

Garon and Het offered us 100 pess to allow them escape and hide the truth from Pan. Instead I convinced them to let me take their cause to the Sol-Ket, Carvahall’s ruler. Leaving Gravilla with Het and the baby, we took Garon back to Carvahall and ascended to the mayoral palace near the peak of Mt Osilo. Having been told of the way we resolved the situation with Sunspeaker Nala, Sol-Ket Taern had already summoned us, so we were granted an immediate audience.

I spoke with the goliath leader at length, explaining the situation and discussing possible outcomes. At my request, he summoned Pan to join us. Our client was intoxicated and very angry, demanding both the baby and his money back. After showing Sol-Ket our contract, he ruled in our favour and even ordered Pan to pay us the remaining half of our due. Enraged, Pan drew his weapon and made to attack the aged goliath, but I dropped him with a sleeping spell before he could do any harm.

Due to the likelihood of prejudice against the child of Sunspeaker Nala, Sol-Ket eventually ruled that Garon and Het should proceed with their escape plan with his own financial contribution, also offering them the option to return to Carvahall when the child is old enough for them to pretend it is their own. The Greil Mercenaries received full payment from Pan and the use of his house while he is imprisoned. We also received armour and weapons as a personal gift from Sol-Ket Taern.

Alternative outcomes I ignored:

  • Grimlock’s suggestion to kill the couple, take their money and deliver the baby to Pan for more money.
  • Euven’s suggestion to take a random object from Nala’s house back to Pan, pretend we thought it was what he desired and demand the rest of our payment.

Thank goodness I’m in charge.

Final Note 1. Sol-Ket was curious to know why we sought the dragon. I told him that we were hunting its rider, a dangerous mass-murderer, and he seemed regretful that he had no information to share. Even without his staggering generosity, I am pleased that the Greil Mercenaries can consider him a friend.

Final Note 2. Gravilla brings sad news – Sir Norman Bulip is dead. After following his trail into the Gol mountains, she found his body deep inside a forest, stripped of the metal equipment he carried. After burying her friend, the Lady wandered aimlessly for several days until she regained her senses not far from Carvahall. I believe she will join us. I also believe she would make a good deputy commander…

Personnel Status Report
Height 7 ft 6 in
Weight 300 lb
Age Mid-40s
Race Goliath
Nationality Alban
Hometown Carvahall, Gol mountain range
Physical Description Muscular, hairless and covered in striped black tattoos, including one above the forehead reminiscent of a bat. Small green eyes, a wide nose and heavy eyebrows. A plethora of fading scars: on the upper body mostly from sharp weapons, on the lower body mostly from animal attacks and falls. Update: noticeable flattening of the skull on right side.
Personality Quiet, passive, cooperative, competitive, unimaginative, impulsive, slightly bloodthirsty
Next of Kin Wife (name unknown)
Skills Melee combat, two handed weapons (axes in particular), sprinting, climbing, physical strength, recovers quickly from injuries, speaks giant
Fighting Style Berserk brute force, close quarters, suitable for fighting one or several targets at a time.
Pay Grade Standard (currently 1/5 of total Greil Mercenaries’ earnings)

Status Updates

12.01.373: Sprained ankle, received during boisterous mountain climbing. Full recovery by 14.01
14.01.373: Knocked unconscious after two blows to the head, delivered by two local bullies (now Carvahall soldiers) who attacked for the fun of it. Full recovery within two hours
15.01.373: Stopped breathing for several seconds after a near-fatal blow to the head, delivered by a 20ft rock monster summoned by Sunspeaker Nala. Fell into a coma and was taken to a Carvahall hospital for treatment
16.01.373: Awakened from coma with permanent mild brain damage. The doctor expects his intelligence to have dropped considerably, while also suspecting that his pain tolerance and fortitude might have increased dramatically.

Final Note. Tarkus gave us a fantastic grin when we entered his room in the clinic. It is good to have him in one piece. He insisted on rejoining us immediately, against my best wishes. I could have ordered him to rest but he had such infectious enthusiasm… it is hard to turn down a goliath.

Notice of Resignation
Role Greil Mercenary
Pay Grade Standard (Currently 1/5th total Greil Mercenaries’ earnings)
Intention to leave stated 16.01.373
Notice given None
Fee for insufficient notice Not applied
Pay due None
Permission granted After the fact
Date of departure 16.01.373

Circumstances of Resignation

Though Gregg served with us for over a week and acclimatised well to fighting with the group, he did not “acclimatise” to the deputy commander. Having witnessed savagery, blood-lust, remorseless cruelty, regular decapitation, mutilation of the dead and cannibalism at his hands, this is entirely understandable.

Being expected to follow Deputy Skullfucker’s orders no doubt played a part in Gregg’s decision to leave, but it seems evident that the final straw came last night, when Euven and I had to draw weapons and defend ourselves to keep Grimlock from semi-intentionally attempting to rape Ellana. I awoke this morning to find him gone, a letter declaring his resignation by my pillow and the orb from Rhea’s hut by my pack.

Actions Taken

  • Regarding Gregg
    Given the circumstances, I hereby release Gregg from his obligations with no ill feeling. I will not hold him to the usual regulations and penalties dictated by the contract, but instead permit him to immediately leave my employ without fee or restriction.
  • Regarding Grimlock
    I simply cannot convince Grimlock that being a hideous, scarred, one-eyed reptile does not make him sexually attractive to human women. In fact, he insists that being a hideous, scarred, one-eyed reptile is exactly why he is sexually attractive, to all women. I think he expected last night’s incident to only start as rape. I am considering the effectiveness of disciplinary measures, but really what I need is a new second-in-command.

Final Note. Tarkus’ recovery is now of even greater importance. I had hoped to follow Euven’s lead today, but if only three of us remain it may be too dangerous to risk. DAMN.

Tarkus Perishing

The medics emerged from their makeshift infirmary with grave expressions, and ushered the Greil Mercenaries to meet Destel with them. In a deep, sombre voice, the chief healer relayed the news while the rest nodded or grunted along in assent. “He’s looking shit, I’m afraid. Serious head trauma, fractured skull, could even be bleeding into his addled brain”. He stopped to pick his nose and added a diplomatic “Poor sod” to make clear that, friendly insults aside, he really was concerned.

Greil looked pained, “So what can you do for him?” The chief blinked apologetically and replied, “Well… nothing. We don’t have the facilities to have a go at him here. And what’s more he’ll be dead if he doesn’t get treatment by the end of the day, and the only place near enough is Carvahall!” The other medics folded their arms at the mention of Carvahall, their lips rolled in resigned defeat. Even Destel dropped his eyes, looking troubled.

The commander frowned, “So how about we take him there, then. Put him on a wagon and go up the mountain. Destel, you already need to send men there to report the sunspeaker’s death” (At this Grimlock again displayed Nala’s severed head, something he had done at every mention of her for the last half hour) “Yes, I think they get the picture, Grimlock. They’ve all seen the head now, please put it away.” Grimlock scanned the group to make sure they had all understood that it was he who bore this trophy, then retied the gruesome object to his armour with glowing satisfaction.

Greil resumed, “Since this is the case, surely it’s entirely reasonable to lend us a wagon and some soldiers?” Destel shook his head reluctantly, “It’s not a smart move, Greil. Carvahall is at the top of the mountain, and with it raining as it is the terrain will be slippery as shit. Some nasty bastards out and about, too. Buggers would love a slow-moving pack of tired and wounded to snack on. Hell, they’ve eaten prime goliaths in days gone by!” As if to enforce the futility of the proposal, a heavy sheet of rain suddenly smacked into all present, heralding the arrival of a storm. Some eavesdropping soldiers barked harshly – it would just be foolhardy to go anywhere now.

For Destel this decided the matter, “No, I can’t allow it. You can do as you please, but my men stay where they are until the rain passes”. But Greil was persistent, arguing Tarkus’ case for several more minutes. After winning over the medics (who could certify the urgency of his condition and never liked to lose a patient), the diplomatic wizard eventually managed to talk his way into getting the wagon and two goliath volunteers to help guard it. This being so, the Mercenaries set out within the hour and were lost to sight within the great grey deluge.

The next hours were incredibly difficult, remembered later as glimpses of straining bodies illuminated by flashes of lightning, with all sound and scenery drowned out by the weight of the rain. Grimlock and the goliath soldiers took turns pulling the wagon up the steep hills and valleys leading ever up the mountain. Unaffected by the violent gale, Euven balanced adeptly on the wagon’s top, his eyes sharp enough to pick out foggy shapes through the storm’s great blanket. Greil walked alongside with Gregg and Ellana, the latter of whom had chosen to accompany the group up to Carvahall, much to Euven’s suspicion.

On the way back from the Kruthik cave, the young woman had explained a little about herself. She was a traveller from a village in Pescado to the north. Her father had taken her to live in Gerelden for several years, where she studied magic for a time. Eventually she had left. She claimed to have witnessed the crash of the dragon, but was captured by the Sunspeaker when she went to investigate. Nala had kept her in the cave, bound by her arcane power, draining magic from her at regular intervals until the bonds were broken during her battle with Grimlock and Tarkus. Now Elanna seemed eager to accompany the group, and Greil suspected that she might even want to join it. If not for her proximity to the dragon and sunspeaker, he may even have considered it – she seemed completely genuine.

The storm continued unabated, howling on for a drenching eternity. Fortunately, Tarkus’ unmoving body remained relatively dry, covered by a stretched leather sheet cut to fit the wagon – surprisingly, Euven’s idea. It held admirably against the weather, and thanks to the efforts of the party also suffered no abuse during an attack by a pack of small, ferocious, werewolf-like creatures. The goliath soldiers, Hann and Gilligan, proved to be of a useless sort, wetly choosing to stand guard at the safe side of the wagon while Elanna and the Mercenaries risked their necks nearby.

The battle ended well, with no significant injuries to the defenders despite numerous falls in liquid mud. As soon as the last of the attackers was dead, Euven asked permission to go look for a humanoid figure he had seen through the rain just before the attack. Commander Greil denied this request, considering the information that stood to be gained by sending one elf to hunt a shadow in a thunderstorm not to be worth the risk of the trouble it might bring. The wagon resumed its slow journey up the great mountain, ever finding there to be another peak atop each one scaled. Eventually a road was discovered, raising group morale for the last leg of the journey.

By the time Carvahall came into sight the rain had eased slightly, though this was due more to the lofty altitude than a change of weather. The party were filthy, sodden and exhausted, but took heart at the sight of fire and shelter. They arrived just before sunset. The stronghold was built into the flat side of a tall cliff, not far from the mountain’s peak, as is typical of goliath cities. Hann managed to run ahead to deliver Destel’s message while Gilligan guided the wagon to a reputable doctor’s clinic. Tarkus was deposited in capable hands, and Gilligan offered the Mercenaries the use of his home for the night. They gladly accepted and made their way there without delay.

Though certainly worried about the welfare of Tarkus, they knew they had done all they could. Greil prepared a large meal for all save Gregg (who cooked himself a monster egg on toast), then there was an angry disagreement between Greil, Ellana and Grimlock on whether Grimlock should be allowed to “ravage” Ellana. The dragonborn attempted to barge Greil out of the way, was knocked back by the wizard’s magic and then made to try again, leading Euven to draw his sword and Ellana to promise she’d blow him up if he came any closer. Skullfucker prolonged the tension for several moments before giving up and going to the pub to sulk.

As it happens, Euven visited the same establishment by chance an hour later. Choosing to ignore the dragonborn, the elf took a seat at the bar and ordered an ale. He received a pitcher of guhlayl, which to his refined palate still tasted like the runoff from cattle bedding, so he spent the following half hour taking pretend sips whilst pouring most of the drink onto the floor. He was just picking himself up to leave when he was hailed by a fellow patron – an extremely drunk Carvallian who wanted to talk business – mercenary business.

… but not until the morning, apparently. Right now he was too intoxicated to do much more than smile, laugh and sway. Euven agreed to meet the lumbering giant the next morning, then made for the pub’s exit without a backwards glance. Eventually even Grimlock returned to Gilligan’s house to sleep, by which time Greil and Euven were bunked outside the door to Elanna’s room – partly to make sure that Grimlock didn’t come knocking and partly because Euven still mistrusted her. Before going to sleep, the elf explained his suspicions to the Commander (what if she were the dragon’s rider?), but Greil trusted his instincts on the girl – she meant no harm.

Tarkus Rising

Euven hammered his fist down in one last defiant act, the strength and desperation behind the blow born more of anger than an attempt at saving a life. The goliath’s eyes flew open and blood spluttered out of his mouth as he gasped air. The elf called for water and Gregg hurried over, unfastening his water-skin and trickling it into Tarkus’ mouth as the other two mercenaries looked on, relief on Greil’s face, vague boredom on Grimlock’s.

“How many fingers to you see?” Euven asked the goliath, holding three digits up in front of his face.
“…three” Tarkus replied.
The elf lashed out and back-handed the revived warrior across the face. No one questioned this.

The group rested for almost ten minutes, catching their breath and tending to wounds whilst their eyes wandered around the surrounding area. Both Grimlock and Euven scanned for footprints, finding none, while Greil sat in an almost meditative state, reading the arcane energy flowing around the area. He detected a wealth of it around the dragon bones and his mind conjured up a plethora of pages from within the Necronomicon, detailing rituals involving the desecration of mystical beasts. As well as this, he could feel emanations pulsating from the nearby cave mouth as if the opening itself was taking shallow breaths.

The wizard announced his findings as he got to his feet and began looking for footprints himself. Though he could see a multitude of animal tracks, he spotted nothing out of the ordinary until he explored the ground closer to the dragon; a huge gouge in the earth ran from the beast’s hind quarters into the nearby woodland. It appeared as if the creature had been dragged to its current resting place. Following the trail, the group found a small, unnatural clearing only a few minutes walk into the trees. Entire tree trunks had been uprooted or snapped in two like fire wood, the earth piled up into a mound where some huge falling object had smashed into it. They had discovered the dragon’s crash site.

Yet finding it answered no questions. How had the dragon died? Why had it died? Where was its rider? They trudged back to the bone site and again considered the cave. Its dark mouth loomed before them, a large opening at the base of one of the many sky-high spires of the Gol mountains. Light penetrated only a few feet into the entrance-way, blocked out almost entirely by a large, rocky slab coated in gnarled, green tendrils of moss and lichen that jutted from the the rock-face above. After a few words of discussion, the mercenaries filed inside.

There was a stagnant smell – the stench of mould, rotting wood and bacteria-coated water. As they proceeded further inside it clawed up their nostrils, strong enough even to be tasted. When the darkness became complete, a dim light began to shine from the tip of Greil’s staff, illuminating the cave for several feet in all directions. Some way ahead of them they could see another light – small, flickering, cutting through the inky darkness; though what lay between them and it could not yet be seen, hidden in the oppressive black.

Each pace took more nerves than the last, slowing the group down until they were advancing one short step at a time, their eyes staring alertly in all directions, their eyelids tightened instinctively against the cloying vapours. Grimlock roared, attempting to intimidate the cave. A guttural gasp replied from somewhere deeper inside. Progressing still, an increasing sound of running water yielded a stream cut across the group’s path. Greil checked its depth with his staff: merely shin deep. Tarkus eyed the water with an air of mistrust.

Gregg, peering into the darkness, realised that the flickering light was in fact a candle. Euven took aim at it and asked Greil for orders. The wizard told him to watch and wait, then directed the light from his staff to fly forward towards the candle. Its passage illuminated nothing and illicited no reaction from any hidden presences. Grimlock, after fumbling a memory check (what was he trying to remember?!), jumped into the water. Gregg followed, gasping slightly at its coldness.

Back on the stream’s banks, Greil decided that he and Euven should remain where they were to cover the others and keep clear the way to the exit. He pointed to a spot above Tarkus and the light reset itself above his head. The goliath looked up and moved to one side, only to see the light move with him in a fixed position. Nodding with satisfaction, he long jumped over most of the stream, landing near Gregg with a large, icy, unwelcome splash. A wavering voice rang out from somewhere beyond the candle, “Stay back… you fucking bastards, I can still… kill you all”.

Followed by Gregg, Tarkus walked the last few feet into the light of the candle. A pair of legs were slumped in a shadowy corner, the rest of the body shrouded by the dark. Grimlock brought up the rear and replied, “Get fucked and bring it”.

“Very well (cough)”. Bolts of bright green arcane energy streaked from the slumped figure, briefly illuminating the area as they rocketed past the adventurers in different directions and exploded against several sections of earthen wall thoughout the cavern. Clods of dirt and small stones were heard showering down a split second later before silence once again fell.

The silence, however, was short lived. Strange echoes reverberated around the cavern, rapidly increasing in volume and intensity – a cacophony of alien clicks and screeches, underlined by the steady thrum and vibrations of scuttling legs hurtling across the ground at an impressive pace.

Encounter: Colonial Marines

Grimlock charged into daylight and slammed the bitch onto the ground. He was followed by Tarkus, supporting Gregg, then Euven and a human stranger. Last of all came Greil, walking backwards with eyes fixed on the darkness. The party exchanged glances, glad to all be alive, then gazed upon the newcomer, seeing her properly for the first time.

Adorned in leather armour and a dark green cloak, her slender frame seemed bulkier then it was at first glance. Long blonde hair was tied in a ponytail behind her head, showing off the angular features of her face, making her appear almost elven in origin, though it was clear from her stature that she was in fact human. The woman was well armed – a longbow could be seen slung over her back, a short sword hung by her side and finally an assortment of daggers were arrayed in a belt across her armour.

She introduced herself as Ellana. Gregg decided she looked badass. Grimlock didn’t pay her a second’s glance, instead turning to the Sunspeaker and demanding that she tell him about the dragon. Nala grimaced at him and gestured towards the exposed bones lying nearby, “It is dead.” But Skullfucker was adamant, “Bring it back to life.” She laughed at him and was punched extremely hard in the face. Before anything else could happen, Greil stepped in and redirected the interrogation onto a rather more rational path, “What were you doing here, Nala?”

She was surprisingly direct: “Seeking power. My kin, they do not respect me, they outcast me because of my looks.” As she said this, she raised a hand and created a small orb of light on her finger tip that revealed her face to be scarred hideously down the entirety of one side, “For a man to have a scar, it is a mark of respect and honour, for a woman, one who is not involved in the military anyway, it is a sign of weakness. I was only able to survive by plying my trade as a whore, and even then, only a cheap one. My looks are not worth the coin. This…this ritual. I should have received power. Respect. Instead (cough) I lie here dying. The beast was tainted with foul magic!”

Despite her unfortunate circumstances, the group did not particularly respond to this speech. Greil pressed on – “Have you seen the dragon’s rider?” She shook her head, coughing badly now, “I saw no rider, only an ancient lizard breathing its last.” Gregg had a question of his own, “Why did you fight us?” At this she frowned, as if even she were not quite sure. “The dragon’s blood, it, twisted me. I no longer thought or acted as myself. I saw only danger and sought a means to defend myself. But as the days went on, my power dwindled. Why the others did not return to take me on again I do not know, but had they, they likely would have succeeded… as it seems you have.”

The next few minutes threw up a few more details. The sunspeaker claimed to have gained the dragon’s blood ritual from “unorthodox texts”, reminding Greil that perhaps he had once read of this ritual himself. She knew nothing of the seeing stones carried by Gregg and Euven. At this she began to beg for death, when a screech followed by rushed clicking sounds suddenly rang out from inside the cave. Ellana spoke up, “Kruthik! Perhaps a scout of sorts!” Her tone held significant alarm, “That was likely only a first wave, Kruthik hives can be ten times the size! We must hurry. Kill her or leave her, I don’t care which, but we must go!”

Greil permitted Grimlock to finish Nala and the dragonborn decapitated her without hesitation. As he claimed the large skull for his collection, an army of screeching Kruthik marched from the cave. Euven shot the first and Gregg killed several more with a short blast of magic but, seeing that the enemy force was indeed of great number, Greil ordered a fighting retreat, organising the party into a solid line that could back away with minimum molestation. As the first insects reached the group, soil was blasted skyward as two huge Kruthik guardians emerged from beneath the ground.

To escape these new opponents, Ellana blew up six members of the horde and teleported into line with Euven. Grimlock made the opposite decision, charging from the line into one of the huge creatures and hacking off two of its legs with his greataxe. The dragonborn roared violently to make the guardian feel suitably intimidated, but his fearless, brainless, instinct-driven opponent instead took a bloody, ragged bite into his arm. Gregg and Euven attacked at range from Greil’s defensive line, killing another three between them. The commander himself set a cloud of daggers at the centre of the cave entrance, killing enough Kruthik to cause a small pileup.

Having decided not to join the fighting retreat, Tarkus was swarmed by the great bugs, taking attacks on every side, but bellowing like a drunken hell fiend, managed to kill all of his attackers. Now dangerously far from the others, the goliath stood his ground, stubbornly ignoring the order to retreat. Close by, the second Kruthik guardian fired poisoned spikes long-range at the party. Greil tele-dodged out of the way but Grimlock was hit in the back. The now queasy-looking dragonborn resumed smashing in the other guardian’s face. Tens of Kruthik reinforcements charged out of the cave and swarmed Tarkus a second time. The bold giant tried to escape but was caught up amidst his attackers, even then killing assailants as he fell.

Ellana took up her bow and fired magic-flame arrows into the roiling mass. Euven scored a solid hit on the thus-far uninjured second guardian with an arrow of his own. Greil set another cloud of daggers in a different area of the cave mouth, causing another pile up and reducing the flow of new enemies to a comparative trickle. However, there was still a massive horde of Kruthik in the fray, many of whom had begun chowing down on the downed Tarkus. Gregg and Ellana blew up several more in his defence, then Grimlock killed his targeted guardian with a full-body axe swing, heaved Tarkus off the floor and started to leg it with the goliath a floppy mess in his arms.

Euven scored another deadly hit on the remaining guardian while Greil laid a final cloud of daggers to complete the blockade. Seconds later, the resulting pileup left the cave mouth fully blocked. Pursued by the remaining Kruthik, Grimlock was protected by his armour, also shrugging off the poison, but Tarkus, now slung over his shoulder, was savaged even further. Ellana destroyed two of these pursuers and the dragonborn turned around to cleave the last. The injured guardian tunnelled away, leaving the adventurers alone on the ground, shaking with adrenaline. Piles of dead bugs twitched and leaked for thirty feet beyond the cave’s entrance.

The Mercenaries fled to a safe distance. Greil saw to Tarkus’ wounds, wrapping the deep cuts and jagged gashes as best he could. When the goliath opened his eyes, his features creased with great pain. He jumped to his feet and began gasping for air as would a man drowning, swaying unsteadily, revolving drunkenly across several paces. His hands flew up to his head, fingers digging into his scalp as he let out a guttural roar, which faltered after only a few seconds. His legs failed beneath him. Tarkus pitched forward and collapsed into the dirt.

The Element of Surprise

According to Destel, the dragon’s crash site was a little under two hours march away. The mercenaries managed almost an hour and a half of that before running into trouble.

Greil’s hand shot up signalling the others to stop; he could sense something on the wind, an arcane energy strong enough to be tasted. His companions stood silent and still, flanking him from nearby copses and sections of undergrowth, their senses alert. In unison, they all realised that the pleasant bird song which had accompanied them on the journey had suddenly died down. Nothing stirred in the trees around them.

An explosion of fast-moving energy suddenly tore over the ground mere metres ahead of Greil. He readied his staff, hand still raised in the air signalling the group to hold their positions, as two patches of dirt and gravel began to lift from the earth, whipped into the forms of small, spiralling tornados. The pair darted back and forth ahead of the wizard, seemingly getting the measure of the situation and in doing so, displaying a sentience which could mean only one thing: these were some of the sunspeaker’s constructs.

Greil brought his hand down into a decisive point aimed at the twisters. His comrades leapt into action.

Do The Twist

The battle was won, and with relative ease, the group were unscathed save from a few cuts and bruises. But something nagged at the back of their minds, surely this could not be all that they were to face, the creatures they had just defeated were nowhere near powerful enough to wipe out entire squads of goliaths. The mercenaries reformed into their travelling positions and continued on, with a new air of caution hanging over them.

It was close to half an hour’s walk after the former conflict when the group, Greil once again leading the way, crested a hill and spotted the dragon, lying at the bottom of a small, natural basin. The creature, though still impressive in it’s size, was nothing but dried bones, a literal skeleton of it’s former majesty.

Greil’s hand flew up as it had earlier, once again signalling a stop. All but Grimlock complied – the dragonborn, having now also spotted the bones, continued on in a slow, determined plod, straight past the wizard, who made no attempt to stop him. Greil made several other gestures with his raised hand, signalling the others to move up with him whilst still in their flanking positions, so as to have a decent spread of vantage points from which to spot any attackers. The scene was not all it appeared to be, they were sure of it.

Grimlock reached the dragon as the others moved up behind him. He crouched down, a solemn expression on his face and laid a clawed hand on one of the huge ribs in a tentative, and almost caring manner. The ribcage exploded.

Sharp shards of bones showered down over the dragonborn, who managed to fling an arm up in time to protect his head. He opened his eye and his gaze was met with a sight which sent vague shivers of terror even down The General’s spine: a huge, stone construct, humanoid in shape, was rising from the ground, clawing itself from the earth beneath the dragon and coming to a stand still in the nest of bones, looming over Grimlock and seemingly glaring at him, though it had no head nor face to glare with. The digits on it’s cattle-sized hands, curled together to form solid fists, essentially becoming large boulders on the ends of it’s arms.

From his hidden position, Gregg thought back to the wound he had seen on the goliath scout: crushed ribs, black bruising. The scout had been thrown clear by the force of some colossal strike.
“This could be bad” the invoker muttered.


The sound of heavy breathing was all that could be heard in the small, natural basin, at the centre of which laid the lifeless bones of a once mighty lizard. Greil and Gregg, whose part in the battle had taken them away from the others, limped over the basin’s lip, picking up their pace as they saw that all was not well – Euven was crouched over the crumpled form of Tarkus as Grimlock looked on.

“He’s not breathing” the elf exclaimed as they hurried towards him, “He took a strike to the head from that stone beast.”
Greil’s breathe caught in his throat as he reached the scene, the goliath’s face was a confused sea of dark red gore, though the blood-flow, emanating from a deep gash across the scalp, seemed to have halted.

Euven, his hands clasped together one over the other, pumped feverishly at Tarkus’ chest, with enough force to rock the goliath’s body in rhythm with the movement. Gregg stepped forward wanting to lend a hand, but the elf ignored him. Now in an upright position on his knees so as to throw his entire weight behind each depression, Euven soldiered on, but to seemingly no avail.

In frustration he released one hand and, laying the other flat across Tarkus’ ribcage, brought it down as if drunkenly slamming his fist onto the bar at a grungey inn. Over and over again he repeated this action as the others watched on, unable to do anything, the grim certainty of the situation blossoming outwards from within, having decided to become more than a skulking suspicion at the corners of their minds. Tarkus was dead.

Rude Awakening

The dragonborn’s solitary eye shot open. Something had awoken him, yet he saw only darkness. Gruff shouts came from somewhere nearby. He scrambled to his feet and left the shelter he had been sleeping in. Peering through the gloom, axe at the ready, he spotted a group of goliaths huddled around the remains of the fire, a quick scan of the surrounding area revealed nothing else of interest – more precisely, there was nothing that needed killing. Clearly a diplomatic head was required; Grimlock hurried to Greil’s shelter and shook him awake.

Euven exited his shelter in time to see Grimlock entering the wizard’s. Moments later the two re-emerged, Greil ordered his two mercenaries to stay put as he roused the others – the party were awake and at the ready in less than a minute.

“With me, Grimlock,” the wizard commanded, “the rest of you stay back and watch for my signal.”
The two strode over to the group, announcing their arrival with a curt greeting upon spotting Destel, not wanting to startle the hardened, blade-happy warriors, “Good morning, Destel.”
“Indeed” the goliath turned to them, his face deathly serious.
“What’s the situation?”
“One of our patrols has returned,” Greil and Grimlock arrived alongside the group as he said this, and saw what they were huddled around: a horrendously wounded goliath, coated in bruises and lacerations, was sprawled on the ground, unconscious and breathing in short, ragged bursts, “…What’s left of them anyway.”

“Gregg!” Greil called without turning.
The invoker reached the huddle seconds later, “Sir?”
“Can you help this man?”
Gregg nudged through the crowd and got to his knees by the injured warrior, where he administered a thorough examination, taking several minutes.
“He’s badly hurt. Most of these wounds are deep and will take time to heal, but not fatal, this however…” he gestured to a large, black bruise at the centre of the goliath’s chest, “It seems to be some kind of impact wound, something hit him and it hit him hard.”
“Can you do anything for it?” Destel asked.
The invoker gave a quick nod, as he laid his hands over the soldier’s chest and began to mutter a prayer.

The heavy silence was broken minutes later by Gregg’s uncharacteristically soft tones, “He needs rest. I’ve done what I can do, if he survives to the morning he will be fine, but for now it’s out of our hands.”
The goliaths all accepted this and carried the wounded man off to one of the shelters.
“Thank you,” Destel said, laying a bulky hand on Gregg’s shoulder, “You need not have helped, but I truly feel honoured that you did. It takes a noble man to use his own strength and abilities to aid those with whom he is not directly involved.”
The invoker said nothing, but gave a respectful nod.
“Get some sleep, the lot of you. I will call for you when he wakes, if you would like?”
“I most certainly would” replied Greil.

Destel woke the wizard at the crack of dawn, after only a few hours of sleep. Several minutes later, Greil, Euven and Gregg were heading towards the wounded goliath’s shelter, having left Grimlock and Tarkus to sleep. They nodded to the two goliaths outside, stationed as guards, as they pushed aside a flap of canopy and entered.

The shelter was still dark. It had been well constructed – the covering was comprised of several layers of thick leaves, though the dappled pattern of the rising sun still managed to penetrate through small cracks, providing some light. Destel and another goliath were inside, crouched by the bedroll in which the wounded soldier had spent the night, the goliath himself now propped up on a pile of blankets.

“Glad to see you came too,” Destel said to Gregg, “He’s having difficulty speaking.”
The invoker got to his knees and placed a hand over the soldier’s throat as the goliath croaked out a strained greeting. A short prayer followed by a brief surge of arcane energy, felt only by Greil, and the warrior’s voice was improved, allowing him to answer the myriad of questions thrown at him moments later. His scouting patrol had been ambushed by elemental constructs, a fact that might have been shocking in any other situation. He had been thrown clear of the chaos when something landed a rock-solid punch directly to his chest, launching him through the air. Seeing an opportunity, and knowing that the others were already dead, the goliath had made his escape, barely managing to return to the camp before collapsing.

There was little else the interviewers could get from the soldier, he clearly needed more rest and was taking the loss of his companions hard – Euven did not say anything, but found it odd that the other goliaths, being from an honour bound and generally battle-savvy culture, did not question this warrior’s fleeing from the scene without any attempt to rescue his men. Before leaving, Greil investigated the wounds himself and was able to detect traces residual magic around them. This worried him; the constructs must have been considerably potent to leave such energy behind.

Grimlock and Tarkus awoke an hour after the others, Greil having brought them heaped plates of tender mountain lamb for breakfast, which both mercenaries greatly approved of.

Stomachs filled and packs checked, Greil and Euven updated the others on the plans devised the previous night: they were to appeal to Destel’s better nature, hoping to get him to send a retinue of men, if not the entire camp, with them. Whether this succeeded or not, they would then set out for the dragon themselves. The group accepted this plan, though not all of them really agreed, particularly Tarkus, who was all too aware of the code of honour running between members of the goliath military and of the possible punishments that insubordination could be met with.

Whether a united front from the mercenaries could have swayed Destel or not was a moot point, the answer was a stern “No” and was respected by all present, though he wished them the best of luck and seemed somewhat disgruntled about not being able to help. The group’s final bit of business, a relatively standard discussion of formation and tactics to best guard them against ambush, was marred by a particularly odd event. Mid-way through a sentence, Greil began to flash, a bright white light seemingly shining from his very skin every couple of seconds. After quickly hiding a surprised expression, the wizard carried on talking for almost half a minute before someone stopped him to ask about this bemusing event.

“What the heck is going on?” Gregg interrupted.
“Just ignore it” Greil replied.
The four non-flashing mercenaries shared confused looks.
“No, no I’m not ignoring this. What is happening?”
“It really is nothing; it’ll be over in a minute.”
Gregg looked taken aback, “What will be over? What exactly is going to happen?!” fear danced over his eyes as he sensed that Greil was not deliberately casting the light.

The wizard was lost for words, his face etched with concentration. Grimlock stepped forward, grabbed the wizard by the arm and tugged him into some nearby trees, away from the others.
“Wistark” he growled.
“Greil, call me Greil.”
“Grrr…ale, what’s going on? I’m worried.”
Now the wizard truly was lost for words, though he managed to find them after several moments of pure shock, “Don’t… worry. Everything is fine.”
As if confirming this, the pulsating white light suddenly stopped.

“What was that?” Grimlock asked. In an attempt to avert the dragonborn’s attention, Greil changed the topic, “Grimlock, I have to tell you something. From what I’ve heard from Destel, the black dragon was completely unmoving when they battled the sunspeaker over it… the chances are high that it is dead.”
Grimlock rejected the goliath’s testimony immediately, “It was sleeping.”
“Perhaps. I just want you to be aware, my friend. Please don’t get your hopes up.”

Tarkus and Gregg ceased their chatter as the two mercenaries returned to them.
“I see your little problem has come to an end” Gregg said with an air of suspicion.
“Come on,” Grimlock interjected, “Let’s get going.”
“Agreed” Euven replied with a nod.
“Hang on,” Gregg piped up again, “I want to know what that was.”
“The sooner we find the dragon, the sooner we can move onto work that actually pays” Greil locked eyes with the invoker as he spoke.
A tense silence descended before Gregg eventually shouldered his pack, “Let’s move then.”

A Warm Welcome

Almost an hour’s walk from the road where the group had met Uran and Rile, they reached the goliath camp. If it wasn’t for the hulking, white-skinned brutes milling around the area, they may well have passed by without noticing it as the forest clearing showed little to no sign of un-natural tampering; though it was surrounded by various shelters (most appeared to be sleeping quarters, several larger ones may have been used for meetings and official business however), they were all constructed from the surrounding forest – thick but malleable tree limbs had been carefully bent and tied down then covered in brick-a-brack from the forest floor and nearby bushes, creating a stunningly covert encampment. Euven was particularly impressed.

“Grab a seat” Uran suggested as he gestured towards the centre of the clearing, where several other goliaths were sat around on the ground, eating, drinking and chatting. The group followed his advice and sat in contemplative silence, surveying the campsite around them, happy for a well earned rest after almost a week’s worth of hardships. Rile returned several minutes later by himself (Uran having gone to seek medical care for his stomach wound), bearing large tankards filled with a dark brown, foamy liquid. “Guhlayl for all!” Rile roared pleasantly as the drinks were handed around, “guh-layl” being goliath slang for Gol Ale.

The mercenaries tentatively sniffed at the brew, noses twitching as they detected how overtly strong it was, with the exception of Grimlock and Tarkus, who both downed theirs in an instant, the dragonborn’s eye fixed on his goliath companion as he raced him to the finish line, only managing a tie. All eyes were on The General, whose face suddenly winced into a painful expression, Tarkus on the other hand appearing completely content, being something of a guhlayl connoisseur. Grimlock leant forward and placed his head between his legs without saying a word, himself seemingly unsure as to whether or not he was going to vomit. The silence was broken moments later when the dragonborn let out an almighty burp, answered with a hearty cheer from the nearby goliaths.

“Good effort!” a voice called out.
The adventurer’s turned to see a particularly well-built goliath approaching. He was covered in thick, leather armour from the neck down, had a pair of broadswords (both seemingly as large as the ones belonging to Uran and Rile) strapped to his back and an impressive scar running diagonally from the top left of his scalp to just under his right eye. He eyed Grimlock as he reached them, “Woh! Big fucker aren’t ya?”
The General said nothing.
“Okay…well, greetings! The name’s Destel, I’m leading the rag-tag bunch of misfits.”
“Greil” the wizard said, getting to his feet and shaking Destel’s hand. He proceeded to introduce the entire group, all of whom waved or nodded politely.

“So,” Destel began a new branch of conversation, steering it away from pleasant greetings, “I guess the most pressing question from my current perspective is, what the heck are you all doing way up here?”
“We are hunting a black dragon” Greil answered without hesitation.
Destel seemed momentarily lost for words, “”Well, you don’t say. That just so happens to be why we’re camped out here in the wilderness!”
“Oh?” the wizard enquired, pressing for Destel to continue.
“Yeah! We heard reports of the beast about five days ago, heard it had fallen from the sky somewhere around here, not too far from Cavahall. Our illustrious leader sent us out here to stake a claim to it – a massive dragon’s skull mounted at the village gate would look damned impressive.”
“Agreed” Grimlock grunted.
“See, he knows. Anyway, seems someone beat us to it, and what a mighty bitch she is.”

By now the whole group were listening with noticeable intent, so much so that no one witnessed Euven slide his still full tankard over to Tarkus, who happily chugged it down.
“Her name’s Nala, she’s a sunspeaker, also from Carvahall.”
“Sunspeaker?” Greil enquired.
“Magic user. A wizard I guess you’d call her, but sunspeakers don’t really wield magic the way you humans do. Theirs is almost entirely offensive, and impressively so, no telekinesis or card tricks or shit, though they do dabble in some clairvoyance. It is through sun speakers that we are able to speak with our kinsmen who have left this world. She was more of that second branch, not so interested or capable of being put to military use like most sunspeakers”

“I see. So Nala reached the dragon first?”
“That she did. Fuck knows why. But she set to defending it like her very life depended upon it. When we first reached the area, we were on our guard, but weren’t exactly expecting resistance from anything other than the target. We were set upon from all sides by elemental constructs. I saw my men thrown through the air, beaten to a pulp and torn to shreds within a matter of minutes. I was forced to call a retreat and we escaped to this clearing. Word was sent back to Carvahall telling them of what happened. I was expecting reinforcements… all we got was a solitary messenger, ‘Stay put’ he told us, ‘Form a defensive position and do not attempt another assault’. I was livid, I can’t lie, but I’m not about to be the one ignoring direct orders. So we holed up here. This area has remained safe for now, but we send out regular patrols and several of those have been assaulted. I’ve lost nineteen soldiers in the last four days, including the ones lost in the initial battle…” Destel paused, visibly shaken, the onlookers all remained silent. “All because of that fucking whore” he finished.

After a suitable pause, during which the goliaths present all fell into sombre silence, the mercenaries tentatively began to ask questions. They discovered that the constructs Nala had summoned to be her warriors were nigh on undetectable, seeming to materialise out of thin air in the blink of an eye, and they learned a little more of her past – it was clear she was not well liked, though little reason was given for this, only vague notions that she was somehow ‘bad’. After being segregated from the village, she had turned to prostitution.

Only one question stumped the goliath leader, a vague and obscure one uttered out of the blue by Grimlock, “Does she have any weaknesses?”

A pregnant pause prefaced Destel’s reply; the topic shift from the current discussion of goliath patrol structure to a clear and definite threat had thrown him, “Urm….no.”

The talk drew to a natural conclusion as questions dried up and Destel invited the party to stay the night, pointing out that there were several shelters unattended, their former occupants killed during patrols. The mercenaries gladly accepted and the former jovial air slowly returned to the proceedings, as more alcohol was consumed and a gargantuan boar was spit roasted over open flames.

Euven, wanting to learn more of sunspeakers and their clairvoyant abilities, took Destel to one side after obtaining permission from Greil. He learned little more than what he already knew or had surmised. Though Destel seemed distracted and very keen to get back to the roasting boar, Euven also had questions about the relations between humans and goliaths, in particular the presence of any tensions between the two races. After learning that tensions, though mild, were present, he tacked one last small and unassuming question onto the end of the discourse, and was told that the goliaths had not seen any well armoured and/or suspicious looking dwarves in the area recently.

They returned to the large camp fire together just in time to catch the last half of an epic tale being recounted by Greil: how The General had lost his eye. The story was well received, particularly by the goliaths, who all requested to see the wound multiple times, marvelling at the massive scar and showing their own off to the dragonborn. Grimlock remained stoic and silent through the whole affair, but Greil was sure he spotted the flicker of a smile on his compatriot’s face as the muscled warriors worshipped him.

As the witching hour approached, most residents of the camp slumped off to their shelters, some with an obvious stumbling gait. Only two sets of eyes remained open longer than the others – Euven and Greil remained seated around the fire, watching the orange embers slowly fade as they discussed possible courses of action for the next day. Renegade sunspeaker or no, they had to find that dragon. The pair turned in after half and hour’s discussion; little did they know that sleep would not be with them for long.


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