After our time in that hellhole, the fresh air that hit us was sweeter than any I had ever smelled, despite being the river that runs through Reinmann. As soon as we exited the giant steel doors covered with arcane symbols, the last man we rescued began to transform. Muscle and sinew began to twist beneath his skin as though trying to get free, gaining mass as he grew. Giant wings tore through his back, with a dark membrane stretching out as they extended. His growling as he changed paused momentarily as his throat and vocal cords began to tear and reform. The finger and toenails grew out to form claws, whilst the face and skull reform to form a snout. His spine enlarged as the vertebrae pushed out, straining the skin which itself changed to a darker hue. Finally his eyes changed from their original colour into a yellow, more animalistic form. Towering above us, the demon’s lips split apart into a smile full of wicked teeth. ‘Theradix the Ravenous Maw thanks you for his freedom. I shall not forget this day.” He growled at us “The fallen will rise.” With that, he flew up into the black night sky, leaving us to wonder what we had released.
Two boats were dry moored by the doors, one full of crates and the other with a cage and shackles. Two staircases ran up to street level on our left and right, and barely visible on the opposite bank was another where boats could dock. As we decided upon the best route away, we heard a shout somewhere above us. I helped the mountain man push the boat with cargo down to the water, though my own strength paled in comparison. Our rescuer loosed an arrow, and the bard yelled something about his mother, which seemed to kill the man. I may need to rethink that idiom about sticks and stones it seems. The party swiftly joined us in the boat, and we silently made our way to the other dock without incident, where our rescuers cart awaited our escape.
Our rescuer sent his strange doggy forward to scout ahead, while the rest of us followed at a safe distance, trying our best to remain hidden. Hearing trotting horses, we did our best to conceal ourselves in the quiet marketplace, between the stalls and crates scattered about. Mounted knights of the Purple Guard passed the end of the marketplace, fortunately they were unaware of anything wrong and passed on their way. The cart was fortunately larger than I had expected, and covered in the low grade furs of many creatures. Our rescuer’s man Jerome aided us in unpacking the furs, yet I dreaded being trapped beneath them. My angel had not guided me wrong so far so I trusted in that, the discomfort a minor thing by comparison. I settled down and did my best to hear what was happening outside.
We rolled towards the city gates, I heard the sounds of various establishments, even recognising the voice of the barkeep from The Foolish Horse as he ejected some patrons that had overstayed their welcome. Eventually the cart drew to a stop, and I could hear snippets of conversation. I hear the rescuer greeting a man by the name of Ankan, and something about an urgent order of night hag skin. After a tone that could only suggest a bribe, the disapproving response from this Ankan was enough to know that no coin had passed hands. The voices drew close, and I hear Ankan asking about another displacer beast cloak, too fine a garment for a mere gate guard. We held our breath as we felt the furs being disturbed above us, yet we remained undiscovered. I hear some new voices, the clank of armour and horses and as we move on our way, I realise we have gained an unwanted escort on our escape.
For a long time there is no talking, however we hear our rescuer, introducing himself as Francis, requesting that the guards ride ahead to scout for threats. He is curtly ignored and reminded that we are being escorted to Silverbell. Eventually the cart stops, and sounds of the knights dismounting indicate that the convoy have stopped for food. Francis makes his way around the cart, telling our escort that he needs to check if the furs have displaced. As he lifts the furs, the mountain man tells him that the alarm will have been raised in Reinnman and that riders will have been sent out. Knowing that we would not make it to Silverbell before the riders reached us, Francis tells us we need to kill our escort.
I swear the mountain man smiled as he stood up in nothing but a loincloith, heaving the furs that covered us backwards and exposing us to the guards. We attacked the three men as Jerome cowered behind the cart, however this was short lived, as the single mounted man loosed a great fireball at those of us who had not yet moved, burning me once again and if I had not gotten some rest on the journey so far I fear my adventure would have ended there. As most of our party attacked the two guards eating, I realised my speed and range may be our only chance of stopping this mounted mage. As the mountain man buried his axe into one of the guards, I leapt from the collapsing cart towards the mage, loosing more angelic blasts at him which I could see were effective enough. He returned the gesture in kind, hitting me with some of his own magic missiles yet after that fireball I could shrug them off. I turned my head from the impact, to see the carnage behind me. The doggy biting at the horses, one of the escort men dying in the melee, the second one in armour not doing much better, and the bard singing a song which gave me some much needed refreshment. I loosed more bolts at the mage, enough to put him down this time and raced forward to grab his horse. It would be a more civilised way to ride than walking now that our cart was burning. Riding the horse back, I see the last man pleading for his life. He was not successful.
We searched the bodies and salvaged what we could. I found a few coins on the mage but nothing noteworthy, and his horse’s saddlebags were empty. Once we had everything we wanted, their bodies were thrown onto the burning wagon, hopefully buying as some time when our pursuers found this scene. We carefully removed our tracks away from the scene, and the mountain man who seemed a natural guide, and thankfully dressed in armour now, lead the way north, away from the road to Silverbell.
For the first time since we left the cells, we have enough breathing room to learn a little about each other. This man Francis Skinner is more than just a fur trader, he’s linked to the same resistance which I had been searching for. Tasked with assembling us as a team he had managed to get. As it transpired, my drunken antics and subsequent arrest had not been part of the plan, but rather the trigger for it.
As I rode and the rest of the party walked, Francis told of us a great city that lay to the north, where knowledge is free and is shared as much as resources are. It sounded almost mythical and I knew that this could be the answer to the questions that had haunted me since I realised there may be a better way than what existed in the Kingdom. He told us of a cache of equipment and supplies ahead that had been well hidden from the path. While deciding upon the best route to take, Azmodeus objected to the discussion vocally. ‘You talk too much.’ he told Francis. ‘You think too little.’ he responded to the goliath, who seemed to surprised to respond. I think I like this fur trader.
On our journey, we traded stories and learnt about this party we had all found ourselves in. Other than myself, I found out that the rather pleasant singer by the name of Stephen Bruener was actually a half-elf, the tiefling was called Ishamael and really seemed to like fire,and the knight with a touch of magic about him, Valin Horn, was a blacksmith from Toulouse. The two in the cell next door it seems had just been a bonus, though one I feel we have all been grateful for, Azmodeus the goliath from the wilds, who though powerful enough seems a little overconfident in his abilities, and Jarvok, the half-orc, half-dwarf barbarian who I realised may have been a slave in my father’s mines once.
After several days travel, I spotted the glint of something by a tree. Francis looked worried as I pointed this out, it was exactly where the cache was but it should not have glinted. As we got closer we realised that the site had been disturbed, Azmodeus identify that hyenas had gotten into it, likely attracted by the smell of rations. Most of the heavier equipment remained so those that needed it exchanged theirs or picked up extra gear. A few arrows remained but many had been scattered or damaged beyond repair. The lack of rations worried me in this wilderness, if we couldn’t find food I worried that Greg, my horsey companion may be on the menu. I was surprised once more however, both Jarvok and Azmodeus were competent scavengers and as we made camp Jarvok provided us with a delicious roast rabbit with a berry glaze. He was a surprisingly good cook and in his own way I felt this food was his way of thanking us.
Whether it was stomaching almost a week’s worth of prison slops, whether it was the knowledge that my path was becoming clearer or that this was possibly the first time in my life I had truly been free, eating that rabbit beneath the stars with this mix of outcasts tasted like the greatest meal I had eaten for a very long time. As I slept in this makeshift camp, I once more felt the warmth and praise of my angel guide, I was on the right path, wherever it may take me.