Our ruse had earned us a chance, but we had yet to earn the captain’s trust, as she had us wear these tacky magical rings that track our locations.
We run? Sold to slavers.
We pawn the rings? Slavers.
Something happens to our chaperone? Slavers.
We disappoint Armstrong in any shape or form?
Clearers stakes have seldom been stated.
They had us bond to our rings in our own unique ways and it’ll please you to know that I sang to mine. I don’t remember the exact words, since I had to improvise. You see, it is in improvisation that our characters shine through the clearest, when all the facade of studied texts gives way to the monologue of the heart.
I’ll try to transcribe some of my singing from memory:
O little ring
Aren’t you the cutest, littlest thing
You may be made of copper, not of gold
But that doesn’t matter to this old
Clown, o no
I love your little glow
O, glittering copper
I love her
O, how I love her
Now that I lost her.
Alright, alright – I admit to editing the text a little, but the raw feeling remains in tact, I assure you and, judging by how this tiny creeper is clutching to my skin, I can only assume that the feeling is mutual.
My colleagues had their own way of bonding with their new copper companions.
Babbin tenderized her bejeweled fist on the wall, getting her ring intimately acquainted with what will no doubt be its primary way of interacting with the world. You can learn a lot about a woman from her punch.
Lynea whispered some sweet things to her ring, things even my big ears couldn’t overhear.
As for Deesan, I didn’t quite catch what he did. Sneaky little imp.
Once we had properly welcomed four new members to our crew, the Humorless One himself came to pick us up. How thoughtful! He was escorted by two guards: A fine lady with swagger in her step and a rigid fellow with a full set of plate covering all of his features. More on this guy later.
H.O took us to the stuff-jail and gave us back our items. Lynea seemed very relieved to be reunited with her tome. I, too, was relieved to be reunited with you, Thaliar. It had been so long since I had the opportunity to write to you, which should be obvious by the length of this entry.
Babbin didn’t seem as thrilled as us bookworms, however – there was something missing from her chest. Treasure.
“Where’s my money?” demanded Babbin.
“It has been put to repaying your debt to society,” answered Hush. That’s his name, by the way: Albert Hush. Very appropriate; a librarian’s name.
Do I get.
“You don’t. It belongs to Dryfoot now – it will be used to repair the vessels you broke.”
O boy. O boy.
Babbin stared Hush down and I swear I could see a bead of sweat forming on that dry, wrinkled forehead. Here I was thinking that the Humorless One was a bloodless mummy! Good to know there’s still some salt flowing through that old bugger. He’ll be needing it for the tears he’ll be crying after Babbin is done with him.
Now, onto the noble quest that the city-guard had seen fit to sent our party on:
We were to find and rescue the missing goat of the Swamp-Light inn.
Not exactly a princess locked up in a high tower, but it’ll do. Humble beginnings and all.
Our chaperone for this quest was a proper knight in shining armor, however: Reek, the gruff knight, who, in spite of his name, smelled quite nice. I’m guessing he uses perfume. Flowery, with some punch.
Now, you’re a savvy reader, Thaliar and by the fact that I have explicitly mentioned that his armor covers up all of his features you can probably already tell that there is a reveal coming – I beg your patience; Calliope implores me to save reveals for when they have the most dramatic impact. Bear with me here.
Before we were send off into the wide world, Hush allowed us a round of questions. Babbin needed only one.
“How safe do you feel at night?”
Hush replied: “Quite safe,” but I don’t think he himself was buying it. I certainly wasn’t.
We left Hush to ruminate in his own soiled robes and were lead outside by our mysterious chaperone. At last! Daylight! The skies were clear and the streets were abuzz with the hustle of life. Ah, the great urban outdoors!
It seems we were in one of the fancier parts of town – a residential area – since the pavements were clean, the houses were tall and we didn’t see any of the races that populated the prison. O, there were some half-orcs and ogres, but they were always pulling carts, never riding in them. How proper.
This peaceful scene under a clear sky wasn’t meant to last, however. They never are. Out of nowhere one of the more expensive-looking carts exploded in a shower of colorful sparks. Reek and I rushed in to see if we could save any survivors, but the heat was overwhelming and kept me out. But it didn’t stop firefighter Reek, who heroically janked the door off and rescued a fiery figure from the flames.
I felt helpless in the face of such an inferno, so instead of doing something stupid and getting myself hurt, I helped coordinate a water-bucket line. I always enjoy the dull gazes of an audience who are spectating a play, but when there’s actual danger to real people involved I expect some more participation. Thankfully, this audience delivered plenty of volunteers. When everybody pitched in, we managed to gather some buckets and pull in water from a nearby tavern to put the fire on the cart out.
Meanwhile, the figure Reek pulled from the wreckage was still flaming and something needed to be done about that. Babbin threw her waterskin at me, which I caught with the back of my head – woman’s got a mean throwing-arm – but the water didn’t seem to do much. Reek knew why: It was magical fire, you see, so we needed a spellcaster to put it out. He send us to fetch Albus.
Lynea and I rushed back to the garrison to summon the old coot. The show-off flew to location, cape billowing in the wind, absolutely nailing the landing. I have to admit that he looked mighty impressive. He put out the magical fire with a simple silence spell, revealing the terrifying flaming figure to be…a scrawny kid in his early teens. I estimate him to be around twelve, thirteen. He seemed unhurt, but terribly shook, which was understandable since he was just the victim of a horrifying accident in which he probably lost his parents. Although the silence spell prevented him from making any sound, we could still see him screaming and I felt it in my gut.
I tried to calm the boy down, do some breathing exercises, tell some knock-knock jokes, try to focus his mind on anything, anything besides the horror that just occurred and it seemed to be working. He was still shook but at least he wasn’t wailing anymore. I can’t handle tears of sadness.
Reek removed his helmet and revealed himself to be… – yes, I know, another reveal, but at least this one was properly foreshadowed – a tiefling! Yes, you heard that right – Reek was a handsome red devil, with little stubs for horns. I complimented him on his heroics, soothing his wounds with a well-meant pat. Now here’s a fellow that has the potential to become an inspiring folk-hero; a child of the down-trodden class, working his way up through the city-guard to change the system from the inside, to do what little he can for the little guy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Reek believed the accident to have been caused by a rather violent “wilder awakening”. Could the boy have facilitated the death of his own parents? I refused to say ‘caused,’ since this was clearly unintentional. I’m starting to see why the guards are so concerned with this so-called wilder magic. Fireworks are fun at parties, when handled with care, but you don’t want them going off in the cart on the way there.
Albus ordered Reek to “run down to Stillstone and get the Silencers,” leaving us alone with Hush and the boy.
Babbin and Lynea stepped in between the old wizard and the newly awakened one.
“You are afraid of this?” Lynea taunted, gesturing at the boy. “You really are pathetic.”
I sympathized with the sentiment. Once calmed down and no longer flaming, the boy just looked like a scrawny, scared little kid. A frightened child that could explode at any moment the silence spell was lifted. So, all in all, I’d say both sides had a point.
Albus insisted that the child was taken to Stillstone, to be ‘educated,’ something Babbin and Lynea fiercely objected to.
Reek returned with several guards wearing the by-now familiar ‘S’ insignia – which I guess stands for ‘Silencer’ – who took over the spellcasting for Hush. Now came the time to fight over the boy – it was Lynea and Babbin versus Albus and Reek. Babbin kicked off.
“You don’t like us,” she said bluntly. “You worry this child might hurt people. Why use innocent guards when you have expendable people like us? I have raised a kid; I can do it again.”
Reveal! Babbin is a mother! I can already picture a whole litter of orcling, each and every one growing bigger than their mom. Did she used to pirate the seas with a whole crew of sons and daughters? Family piracy! Now there’s a story. What ever could have happened to them? Where are they now and why was Babbin alone when we met her? Questions I am itching to have answered. Don’t worry, Thaliar – you’ll find out when I do.
Reek was sympathetic, but ultimately sided with his superior.
“Look, Babbin, was your name?” he said, “you don’t know how this city operates and I can tell you that they will take good care of him at Stillstone. It is not a prison. He can rehabilitate there. Once he learns to control his powers, he will be returned to society.”
Inquisitive Deesan had a question. Where were all the adults that had been ‘returned to society?’
“Some of them are guards,” said Reek. “Some graduate to become great people,” he added, indicating Hush, who returned this gesture with a deathly stare. Apparently somebody spoke out of line. Is the Humorless One a ‘Wilder’? If little Albus had been through an accident similar to the one that had just occurred, it would explain his current zeal. Maybe he wants to prevent others from suffering a fate similar to his own? Forgive me, Satyrs, I seem to be developing some sympathy for the Humorless One. Hopefully it won’t impair my ability to mock him.
Yet, Lynea was still skeptical. “What happens to those who don’t graduate?”
A fair question. “Unfortunately, they have to be silenced,” answered Albus.
Quite the dilemma! From the perspective of safety, this seems to make sense – you can’t have people randomly exploding in your city – but still, muting innocent people for life for a fault not their own can’t be the right, either. There’s no justice in that.
Ultimately, we didn’t have much of a choice in the matter – we were still under the proverbial yoke of Armstrong, married to her with these cheap copper rings and I don’t think that we would be able to take care of a child while under the literal yoke of actual dragons.
The boy was delivered unto the guards and taken to Stillstone. We were told that we would not be able to visit, but I am sure we will find a way to check up on William.
O, that’s his name, by the way: William Shaw. I had him write it down.
Now, before we were off to look for the Swamp-Light Inn’s missing goat, Reek still had some surprises left in store for us. Turns out that the half-orc servant dragging the cart was still alive – Reek cleaned his wounds and healed the poor chap with the holy light of Lethander. It looks like, even though most of His worshippers seem to turn from half-orcs and their ilk in disgust, Lethander Himself still looks out for them, through this handsome red-skinned tiefling champion. Let that be a lesson, Thaliar: Never judge a deity by Their worshippers. Once a child grows up, a parent can no longer be held responsible for the things they do in Their name.
After all that, the tiefling found that his helmet no longer fit; it was melted by his heroics as he literally showed his true face to us. See? I told you the reveal would be dramatically pleasing. Patience pays.
“Well, I believe we have a job to do,” said the champion of Lethander to his prisoners.