Burning Sky Session 16

As I was settling down and reflecting on the day, my head still spinning at having found a handkerchief that may have belonged to my father, who we all presumed to have died in the War of the Silver Marches, I realized that Moradin had just granted me the ability to speak with dead.

I asked my companions to return with me to the hobgoblin cave, and they all agreed to take the four hour trip the next morning.

In the morning, I prepared speak with dead, and we departed at first light.

The trip was uneventful, and the hobgoblin caves appeared just as we had left them.

Casting speak with dead on the bugbear, I began to ask questions, starting with, “Where did you find this bloody handkerchief with the symbol of moradin and the initials?”

First I asked in dwarvish, and receiving no answer, I asked in orcish, and then common.

Finally the bugbear corpse spoek, “I didn't find it.”

“Who found it?” I asked.

“I don't know,” the corpse replied.

With my last question, I asked, “Who did it belong to when it was here?”

“That was the boss’s stuff,” the bugbear corpse replied.

Decapitating the hobgoblin leader, I wrapped the head in a sheet and stuffed it in my pack.

We left the cave and made the uneventful trip back to the fishing village.

Just outside the village, Xireas instructed her zombie minions to bury themselves in a shallow grave until she comes for them.

We gave the farmer fifty more coppers for letting us stay another night in his barn.

I expressed my gratitude to my companions making the trip with me, knowing that we have important business.

Everyone agreed that the mystery of my father was also important business. Xireas, commenting on how weird finding the handkerchief was, asked, “What were the circumstances of your father's disappearance, if I may ask? If it's too personal, I understand.”

“Well,” I considered, “he had been called away by the ancient dwarven ritual to join the War of the Silver Marches against the many arrows orc clan.” Cyrus and some others nodded in recognition as I continued. “They were supported by drow and dragons and giants. Frost giants; I hate him!” I spit at the last sentiment.

“He fought a great many battles and killed a multitude of orcs and enemies along the way. His bravery and prowess were legend! He had the honor of leading part of the vanguard forces during the assault of Dark Arrow Keep — that was the central stronghold of the Kingdom of Many Arrows.

“The final assault came with the terrible cost of the loss of too many dwarven souls. I remember many a widow weeping in the halls, lamenting for our last heroes. My pappy was among the most celebrated for his bravery. It was said that in the final throes of war, a powerful artifact supplied by a drow turncoat wizard had been used by the dwarfs are dispelled the darkening enchantment of the drow that were used to create roiling clouds of smoke or some other foul substance, and turned daylight into something less than moonlight, and hid the stars entirely. The artifact was destroyed in the process, causing a great explosion, killing the paladins who were holding the ritual, including my poppy Danvidin. With the abolishment of the darkening, the orc in the drow defeat was complete, but my but my pappy’s body was never recovered.”

“That's interesting,” Xireas acknowledged. “He was quite the brave warrior.”

“Oh, certainly,” I confirmed. “Like I said, he was legend!”

“Sorry to hear about your dad,” Cyrus consoled.

“He went the best way a warrior can go…” I stated. “Or did he? I don't understand how he could be here or how his items could be here. He never mentioned ever traveling to another world like this.”

“I like mysteries,” Xireas shared. “Perhaps if we ever get to another city, we can see if they have a library or some kind of, you know, some kind of place where we can do some research. Maybe we can figure some of this out.” Maybe it's related. I mean, I don't know but, we got here under some weird circumstances ourselves, didn't we?”

“I hope so,” I agreed. “We certainly did. It was also an explosion. But there's not much we can do here.”

That night I cast speak with dead on the hobgoblin head, asking in Common, “Where did you find this bloody handkerchief with this symbol of Moradin and the initials?”

“A filthy dwarf dropped it in our cave as he ran from battle,” the hobgoblin head announced with contempt. “Coward!”

“Was he alone?” I asked.

“Yes,” the head replied.

“Did the dwarf get away?” I asked.

“Filthy animal ran like a coward,” it replied.

“Why would the warrior that you presented flee?” Xireas wondered aloud.

“I have no doubt that was not my pappy that was running,” I explained. “That's not even a question.”

Cyrus suggested, “So maybe there was some dwarf here with your dad's—”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “That's what I'm thinking.”

“Well, I mean if he was in so many combats,” Xireas suggested, “you know, a tactical retreat is certainly not dishonorable.”

“That's true,” Cyrus agreed.

“If he was surrounded by all these creatures. Let's say, I'm just supposing now, I don't know from anything, but let's say, there was a similar complement of creatures here, and he was surrounded, who’s to say he didn't fight and then have to have a tactical retreat?”

“It's possible,” I acknowledged, “but I doubt that he would run from that compliment. Anything is possible. I don't know what the conditions were—”

“All I'm saying is,” Xireas maintained, “I don't think he should jump to conclusions yet.”

“Yeah,” I insisted, “but my pappy wouldn't run from a dozen hobgoblins.”

“Which way did he run?” I asked the hobgoblin head.

“I think he went South,” the head answered.

“OK, that's good,” Cyrus nodded. “We're heading south.”

“How long ago was this?” I asked, with my final question.

“Years ago,” the head replied and went quiet.

I cast gentle repose on the head, wrapped it up again and stuffed it back in my pack.

When we woke the next morning, Ulfgar had attuned to the hand wraps he had recovered.

I gave Cyrus the amulet of mage hand.

From his pack, Cyrus pulled out a weirdly shaped bottle with weird swirls and strange angles, popped the cork, drank from it, and handed it over to me.

“Here,” he offered. “Have a sip. You learned something rough today.”

I drank the strangely sweet wine with Cyrus, thanking him.

“How long has it been since you saw your dad?” he asked.

It’s been many years since those battles.

“And all this time you thought he fell in the battle,” Cyrus noted, “but he was alive.”

“Yeah,” I confirmed, “all of us did.” I explained that he had many children, reflecting on my youth with my dozen brothers.”

“So, Ulfgar,” Cyrus probed, “are there any dwarf settlements around here that dwarf would flee too?”

“There's many dwarf settlements to the west,” Ulfgar replied. “Especially in the western reaches of Dassen.”

“Perhaps we can head there after we finish our business in Sequen,” I suggested.

In the morning we headed out bright and early toward Cornerwood.

It was an uneventful day's walk when we reached the town.

Together we accompanied Xireas into the forest where she told her zombie minions to wait for her.

Entering Cornerwood, we could see by the buildings, the place once had some measure of wealth to it. Though now the buildings were generally rundown, and poverty was now rampant.

Amidst the clomping of horses plodding through the muddy streets, we found there were some small shops selling standard resources; a general store, smithy, stable, etc.

We found an inn that looked like it was once a grand place. A small placard outside labeled the place as The Palatial.

“Keep your eye on your pouches, boys,” Cyrus warned us. “People down on their luck tend to act erratically.”

People watched us as we walked toward the inn.

“You know,” I revealed, “I'm reluctant to tell everybody about the fire forest not being on fire anymore, but I guess they really need to know.”

“Why, the reluctance?” Cyrus asked.

“Well,” I explained, “I know that Eyvindr is trying to help them rebuild, and I guess I'm nervous that people might see an opportunity there to take advantage. But I think, more important than that, everybody needs to know that this burning forest is no longer blocking their trade and also it's no longer blocking the Ragesians from coming from Gate Pass. They really need to know this.”

“Yes,” Cyrus agreed. “If the Ragesians take Gate Pass, which they were besieging when we left, they might come rolling down this road.”

“When we leave here,” I proposed, “I think we should go south and follow the mountains. I think I've had enough forest for a while, if I can avoid it… Unless there's some reason for us specifically to go through the forest.”

“There's no really big towns in Dassen,” Ulfgar explained. “The biggest is probably Bresk, near where I grew up.”

Entering The Palatial, we saw what was once a well appointed and beautiful hotel, now obviously rundown. The people seated at the tables eating were dressed marginally better than the people roaming the streets. At the front desk, an attendant waited.

“Well met there,” I said, approaching the desk. “We’re looking for a table and some rooms.”

“Right, right?” rushed the older human with a professional demeanor, trying to make the most of his worn out finery. “Guests! That's great. Right right away, sir. How many rooms would you require?”

“How big is your biggest room?” I asked.

“Quite sizable actually,” the host replied. “Is it all of you? How many of you are there? Six? Well, I can give you two rooms on the top level, if you'd like. That should fit all of you. Unless you all want separate rooms…”

“Are they adjoining?” Cyrus asked. “Can we open the door between them?”

“The two rooms on the top floor, yes.” The host explained. “If you all want separate rooms, then they probably will be scattered throughout the hotel.”

“Two rooms sounds good,” I confirmed and we paid him 800 coppers.

“You can take a seat if you wish,” the host offered, handing us two keys. “Take whatever available table you like. Would you sign into the register, please?”

I signed my name and handed one of the keys to Xireas.

“That includes food, right?” I asked.

“No,” the host replied, “those are the rooms.”

“Oh, really?” I haggled. “This looks like the type of place where people work hard for their coin.”

“Yes, sir,” the host replied, “we absolutely take pride in all our work.”

In an attempt at flattery, I pointed out this place looks like the type of place that would do well to offer as many amenities as possible.

“Alright,” the host finally resigned with a confused look, “that's alright. We could throw in a plate of food for you.”

“That's appreciated,” I replied. “I'll tell my friends.”

“But I know dwarves drink,” the host hinted, “so any drinks are on you.”

I nodded and we took a seat at an available table as Ulfgar finished doling out the coppers.

With a towel tucked into his little apron, he approached the table, “Okay, what can I get you folks?”

We all ordered the stew and potatoes, with an ale for me, mead for Ulfgar and Torrent, and wine for Xireas.

After a short period of time, the waiter came back out with a big serving tray, placing a bowl of food in front of each of us along with a hunk of bread, along with our drinks. “Bon appetit.”

Cyrus drank his own wine and ate his rations, letting his order sit there.

“Somebody was watching us,” Cyrus informed us. “They just left the tavern, but we were being clocked.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, focused on my food. “What did they look like?”

“A young lad,” Cyrus shared. “Could we just pick pockets. Could be something worse.”

The food was just passable.It was not terribly good, but it was hot and it filled our bellies without making us sick.

An older, bearded gentleman came walking in, wearing a top hat of sorts and a proper coat and tie, and headed straight to the front desk.

After a short exchange with the host, the latter pointed to our table, and the rotund fellow came walking over.

“Excuse me, fellows,” he began. “Uh, Mr. Angradin, I presume.”

“That's me,” I responded.

“Well, it's nice to meet you,” he continued. “I realize you're eating your dinner now. Do you guys mind to eat and chat? Oh, I can pick up the tab for your uh, for your beverages for your inconvenience.”

“Alright,” I agreed.

“Great. Thank you,” he replied, pulling up a chair and sitting down. “Greetings, my name is Ferez, and I'm the mayor of this town. Welcome to our humble little community. It's kind of hard to ask, but the town needs some help and I somehow get the impression that you folks might be willing and able to assist us.”

“It depends what you need,” I prodded.

The waiter came over and placed a goblet of wine in front of the mayor.

“Well, we're having a problem with some bandits,” he explained, “and we need some folks to help us get a handle on it. Their constable has been killed and we don't really have anyone to take his place. In the meanwhile things are starting to get a bit out of hand here, and, uh, well, we normally don't ask for mercenary help or what not, I'm afraid we're out of options, and so perhaps if you all would be willing to help our humble little town to help us get a handle on these smugglers and thieves, we can certainly pay you for your time and your efforts.”

“How much?” Cyrus asked.

“Well,” he offered, “I can offer you 300 golds to, you know, take them out.”

“You have a Smith in town?” I asked.

“Yes, we have a Smith in town,” the mayor confirmed.

“So what are these bandits raiding?” Ulfgar asked. “Is there some kind of caravan moving about between towns?”

“Not so much a caravan,” the mayor corrected. “We've had a problem with a lot of refugees coming in. A lot of our industry is gone since the fire forest… Many years ago our trade sorta dried up and we’re not faring very well since. And so obviously an undesirable element moved in, but since the Ragesians have been on the move, we've got a lot of refugees coming in and quite a few desperate people, and we don't have much work to offer, and so quite a few have taken up with the local thieves and whatnot, and they've grown a bit, and so they shake down the shopkeeper or they you know rob people. They'll do all the things that gangs— They've grown to be quite the gang of thieves, so the constable was trying to do his best, but he took a couple of them into custody, and then as retribution they killed the constable.

“Who's their leader?” Cyrus asked.

“Well,” the mayor considered, “I don't rightly know. He seems to send all his underlings to do his dirty work and he stays very much out of the light.”

“These two that they took prisoner,” Ulfgar questioned, “are they still captive or did they escape?”

“No,” the mayor explained. “They murdered the constable and took back their—”

“Ferez,” I interjected. “We're just passing through. If we take care of these bandits, aren't you afraid they'll retaliate against you?”

“Well,” Ferez explained, “part of the job is to find their leader, kill off or capture as many as you can and then from there we might have a chance to kind of fend for ourselves. We can't continue to live in fear of them forever. So if we could find a way to kind of make it more manageable then we can try and get some men together who would be willing under those circumstances to get a new constable. People are afraid to take it up now.”

“You had mentioned that you're seeing a lot of refugees,” Ulfgar enquired, “and some of these refugees had joined this criminal element. Where are the refugees coming from?”

“If you don't mind me asking where have you been?” Ferez asked with a puzzled look. “You know the Ragasian are mustering for war, and a lot of the Ragesians are fleeing from the north, trying to get away from being conscripted, or being caught between the crushing of two armies.”

“But how are they getting here?” I challenged.

“Did they cross the mountains,” Ulfgar pressed, “or navigate the fire forest?”

“No,” Ferez replied. “No one’s come from the fire forest in forty years. There's some mountain passes that they have come through and they've been coming from the northwest, through the Hettkomn Mountains and there are a couple of trade routes that they can make it through. They've been fleeing and flooding into Dassen.”

“That's a difficult travel,” Ulfgar noted.

“Yes,” Ferez agreed. “Many of them don't make it. Desperate times drive people to desperate things.”

“I didn't think refugees could make it through those mountains,” I pondered.

“Yeah, many of them don't,” Ferez repeated. “It's an awful situation to be in. So, are you willing to help us?”

“If we figure out a way towards a peaceful solution,” Cyrus offered, “will you honor any deals we make?”

“Peaceful solutions with the criminals, you mean?” Ferez questioned.

“Yep?” Cyrus confirmed.

“Like what?” Ferez wondered.

“I don't know until we talked to them,” Cyrus replied. “If they're predating on you because they're hungry, maybe we could come to a solution where you give him food.”

“Uh, yeah, I guess, if you could…” Ferez stammered. “Uh, yeah, I don't think… Uh, that wasn't the impression… But, okay, if you think you can negotiate that…”

“Well, won't know until we try, right?” Cyrus stated.

“It's likely there's some criminals in their midst,” I suggested, “but it sounds like there's probably just some hard up, desperate people with no better options.”

“So we've gotta let the word out that we're gonna have a shipment of items going out of the town,” Ferez revealed. “Or at least the plan is to have a shipment of items going out of town, and then we can sort of lure them in, so you can kind of mop the place up with them.”

“Where's the shipment headed?” Ulfgar asked.

“Well, it's not a real shipment, mind you,” Ferez clarified, “but we're gonna make it that there is a new shipment at a location outside of town 'cause we don't want violence to kind of spill over into the town and kill anybody unnecessarily, if it gets to that.”

“Sure, but you've leaked there's a shipment,” Ulfgar pressed. “So did you leak that there's a destination for this shipment?”

“We will be leaking that there is a shipment,” Ferez explained. “We wanted to see if you were willing to work with us before we do that.”

“Do you know where the bandit’s hideout is?” Cyrus asked. “Is it like in the forest? In the mountains? Like any idea or general direction?”

“I don't,” Ferez admitted, “but like I said, we are trying to smoke them out by setting this up to see if they would strike, and then we could grab them.”

“I'm thinking about it,” I finally replied. “Listen, why don't you let us finish our meal and we’ll get back to you? Where can we find you?”

“OK, thank you,” Ferez replied, finishing his drink. “Thank you for your time. You can have him send for me and I'll come right away.” Indicating the host, he rose and walked out.

Discussing the offer amongst ourselves we were all wary of the likelihood that this could be a trap. Cyrus also mentioned his discomfort at the vilification of the refugees, which was a sentiment we all shared. Ultimately we agreed to use zone of truth on Ferez the next morning, before embarking on the mission, and that if possible we would seek a way to broker peace between the supposed bandits and the town.

When we were done eating, we had the host send Ferez a note that we would speak with him in the morning.

We checked on our rooms, which were quite large, but nearly bare other than beds, a pitcher of water, and an empty washbasin. Xireas, Torrent, and Crystin were set up in one room, and the rest of us took the other, keeping the adjoining door open.

Given that it was still early in the evening, Cyrus, Ulfgar, and I decided to explore the town.

Our first stop was the general store, where Cyrus purchased six flasks of oil.

“Are you adventurer types?” the quartermaster inquired.

“No,” Cyrus replied, “we're just travelers.”

“Yeah, just passing through,” I added, “How's business?”

“Eh, you know, it could be better,” the quartermaster replied. “You know, I mean it's picked up a little bit since we've had, you know, an influx of people coming in, but I guess it could be better.

“How’s the farmland around here?” Cyrus asked.

“You know, the farmers usually do okay,” the quartermaster shared, “but like there's been a lot of criminal activity and raids and such, so the farmers have been getting kind of hit.”

“What about the refugees?” Ulfgar asked.

“Yeah, you know,” the quartermaster answered, “some people don't like, you know, the influx of all these foreign people from Ragashia, but, like, they pretty much keep to themselves. They don't bother anybody. Some will come looking for work. Others are just desperate. Refugees are alright.”

“How’s the crime in this town?” I pried.

“Uh!” the quartermaster sighed, “It's gotten pretty awful lately. Especially after they killed the constable.”

“Who killed the constable?” Cyrus asked.

“Uh, I think it's the gang,” the quartermaster shared. “I mean, look, all I know is what I hear from people coming in and out. But yeah, it's some kind of gang that's been so, you know— The gang started out preying on people who had, you know, very little, like on the roads, going out of town, or whatever and they would just hold them up and then they just—I don't know how—they started growing. I guess it's because we were getting poorer and poorer as time goes on, but it feels like every other person is a criminal nowadays! It's awful! Like, you know I've got Felix over there standing by the door watching people coming in and out because you never know who's gonna try and pocket something or make a run for the till or something.”

“You don't have to pay protection money?” I pressed.

“Well, they've been trying,” the quartermaster admitted, “and, you know, Felix over here has been kind of holding them off, but…I don't know. I think I might have to start paying. I don't know how. I don't know what I'm gonna pay him with, but…”

“Do they identify themselves?” Cyrus asked. “Like with wearing red bandanas or have a certain symbol? Are they that kind of gang? Or are they just ruffians?”

“No,” the quartermaster considered. “They’re kinda smart about it. They don't wear a lot of symbols, but you know who they are. Every now and then when they come around, you know who they are. They make it pretty known.”

“They don't have some kind of name or something?” I probed. “Like who do they want you to pay protection money too?”

“It’s the Deroga gang,” the quartermaster revealed.

“Ah, the Derogas” Cyrus sneered.

“Clan? Gang?” the quartermaster wondered. “That’s probably the name of the guy who runs them is my guess, but what the hell do I know? I'm just a shopkeep.”

“Hopefully business picks up,” I replied, after Ulfgar purchased some chalk, and we departed.

Our next stop was the smith, where I wanted to see what kind of armor they had, and soon we heard the familiar sounds of steel clanking on steel.

The smith was in the middle of shoeing a horse, while more horseshoes were heating in the forge. I can tell he was reasonably proficient at his craft.

Waiting patiently until I had this smith’s attention, I greeted him, “Well met there. You ever make anything more exotic? Weapons? Armor?”

“Oh, you mean more than horseshoes, huh?” the smith replied. “I used to make a lot of it, but not much call for it here nowadays. I have a few pieces in the back, but, anything in particular you're looking for?”

“Yeah,” I acknowledge, indicating my worn chainmail, “I'm looking for something better than this.”

He shook his head, showing me some suits of chainmail, as well as some assorted pieces; some grieves and some arm pieces. He had a pretty decent selection of swords; longswords, shortswords, scimitars, and more. He also had some arrows, as well as a little bucket with arrowheads in it, a couple of spears, and some leather armor.

“How's business?” I asked.

“It's alright, the smith replied. “It's kind of hit and miss. You know, it's like, business is okay. You know, you got a lot of demand for weapons around here lately, but like it's not the kind of demand I, you know, relish supplying.”

“Are there gangs buying the weapons?” I surmised.

“Yeah, some of them get requisitioned,” the smith confirmed. “Or, uh, you know they take what they want and throw a few coins. That's why, you know, a lot of the armor’s gone and whatnot. There's really not much left. Well, you know, what can you do? Stick to horseshoes and nails and whatever else I can make here.”

“What if we could get some of that equipment back for you?” I explored.

“Well, I'd be very grateful if you did,” the smith replied.

“You have any leads?” I pried. “You know where we could find these people?”

“I don't know,” the smith shook his head. “I never really tracked them. You know they blow in and out of here whenever the hell they want.”

“They have a brag?” I pressed. “Leave a name? Make a special order? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“No,” the smith replied, introducing himself as Travis, “the only name that they throw around this is the name of Deroga. I don't know who the hell that is. Maybe that's a leader or something. What the hell do I know? This town’s going to shit if I'm honest about it. Used to be a good place. You could come and, you know, raise your family, or whatever.”

“Well, Travis,” I nodded, “keep the faith. I think things are going to get better soon.”

“Gods know, I hope so,” Travis agreed. “I'm sick and tired of this nonsense.”

We parted ways and headed back to the Palatial.

When we returned, Xireas was downstairs, a couple of guys fawning over her, buying her drinks.

After acknowledging our return, we found the others upstairs.

The night passed uneventfully, and in the morning, we headed downstairs.

We were finished with our breakfast when Ferez arrived.

Cyrus had accompanied Xireas out of town to deal with her zombies.

Taking the seat I had offered him, he turned to the host, “Henry, would you mind bringing me some coffee please?”

“Of course, sir,” Henry the host replied.

“We'd like to help,” I stated.

“Oh, wonderful,” Ferez cheered, “thank you! Oh thank the gods, we have someone who's willing to help us.”

“So what's the plan that you had?” I asked.

“Well,” Ferez elaborated. “There's a pretty good spot right outside of town that we want to use to trap these criminals, and capture them, or whatever is necessary to be done. So we thought we would create a shipment of some…pick your valuable item…say it’s leaving to go in that direction, and lay in wait and see if they show up.”

“Is anybody gonna lay in wait besides us?” I asked.

“Uh, maybe the criminals?” Ferez looked puzzled. “I'm sorry I don't know what you mean. Like are we sending anyone else other than you?”

I nodded.

“Yeah, like for convoys that are being raided,” Ulfgar explained, “usually you wouldn't send them unattended and unguarded.”

“Well,” Ferez considered, “I mean, we could, you know, have a wagon and a couple of guys pulling the wagon, but we don't have a lot of trained militia to send with you at the moment, if that's what you were asking.”

“So are we to be the guards of this caravan?” I sought.

“Yes,” Ferez confirmed. “Hopefully they won't know who you are and once you spring the trap you can overtake them.”

“Alright, we just want to make sure that we have the details correct,” I explained, “and ensure that everything is on the up and up.” Ferez nodded as I continued. “I’m gonna cast a spell to make sure that we're all being completely honest here.”

“Okay,” Ferez agreed, “go ahead. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Once Cyrus and Xireas returned, I filled them in on our conversation so far.

“Just make sure that the driver and whomever else you think we need to send with you are safe,” Ferez added. “Because they’re not the fighting types.”

“We can pretend to be the drivers,” Cyrus suggested.

I cast zone of truth, covering all of us, and could tell that Ferez was affected, appearing not to have resisted.

“Can you repeat the whole plan?” I asked Ferez.

“Oh, sure,” he agreed. “So the plan that we were proposing was to create a fake caravan or delivery of some sort, that you would be accompanying or protecting, and we would leak out that the delivery of valuable stuff was going where it was going with the intention that these thieves would be trying abscond with it, and you would be there to capture them, and hopefully take out their leader, and resolve the situation.”

“And what do you know of these bandits?” I asked.

“Like I told you, they're very low key about what they do,” Ferez continued. “I don't really know much about them. I'm not really know who their leader is, but they come in from time to time, they harass the townsfolk, and some people get robbed along the road—whether it's them or not. I can only assume that it's them. But they've been quite the nuisance. Does that answer your question?”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “Do you know what they're called?”

“Um, some townsfolk have spoke of the name Deroga, or some such thing?”

“Do you know who killed the constable?” I asked.

“It was them,” Ferez stated.

“Are you working with them?” Cyrus asked.

“No!” Ferez insisted. “God no. I’m the mayor of the town. What do I want to work with them for?”

“Have you been deceptive with us since you've met us?” I asked.

“No,” Ferez maintained. “I've tried to give you all the information.”

“Do you intend to pay the full 300 gold when we successfully defeat these bandits?” Cyrus asked.

“Absolutely,” Ferez promised. “You can take that to the bank.”

“How is it that you have 300 gold to throw around when all these people are starving?” I asked.

“I personally don't have 300 gold,” Ferez explained. “It's the town's money. The town has some amount of savings. We levy taxes and whatnot and some money for its operation.”

“We won't need your men,” Cyrus instructed. “We’ll drive the carts ourselves.”

“Okay,” Ferez agreed, “is there anything else you think you need?”

“Who else do you want to do with this plan?” I asked.

“So far it's me, you all, and my lieutenant,” Ferez indiacted.

“Who's this?” Cyrus asked.

“Oh, that's Tralfaz,” Ferez replied. He’s an upstanding citizen. He helps me get everything done in this town.”

“Where is he now?” I asked.

“Out running some errands for me, actually,” Ferez replied.

“What time can we meet the caravan?” I asked.

“When would you want to set it all up?” Ferez asked.

“As soon as possible?” I replied.

“Let's go now,” Cyrus suggested.

“Okay, well we need to give it some time to leak the shipment out, right?” Ferez suggested. “Go to a few places, mention it, let word get back and then do it. What do you think?”

“Alright,” I agreed. “Can you have it done by noon? “Let's say it's an emergency shipment of valuables.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Ferez agreed. “Why don't we do it all behind Ralph's place? That’s the general store.”

We worked out the details and agreed to be there.

At noon we arrived behind the general store, and retrieved the wagon, which was loaded with crates. Cyrus drove, while Ulfgar and I walked alongside the horses, Xireas and Crystin hid in the back, and Torrent guarded from the rear.

We led the wagon south and I cast guidance on myself as soon as we left town.

Cyrus instructed Crystin to act as our reserves, explaining that her job is to hide in the wagon and keep an eye out, and if somebody gets in trouble, that's when she should pop out and pitch in. Otherwise stay hidden.

Eventually, as we led the cart south along a river, some well armored humans stepped into the road and held up a hand. “Stop the wagon. We will be taking possession of that.”

Four ogres further down the road approached.

Casting spirit guardians, I engaged the bandits; a human and an ogre.

Advancing, Torrent cast spiritual weapon, hitting the lead ogre, and flanked the lead human.

Advancing to my right, Ulfgar smacked the lead ogre with his quarterstaff.

Flinching from the spirit guardians, the lead human slashed me with his sword, and even deeper with the backswing. The human behind him did the same to Ulfgar. My spirit guardians went down.

Standing up in the wagon, Xireas cursed as a bright flash streaked from her finger, erupting into a fireball around the ogre and human bandits.

As the bandits screamed, Cyrus jumped off the wagon and cast caustic brew, but the human and two ogre bandits avoided the stream of acid.

The lead ogre smashed me in the head with its giant club. One from the rear circled around and hit Cyrus and was scalded by his hellish rebuke.

Crystin rose in the cart and hit the ogres attacking Torrent and I with twinned chaos bolts.

After using my scale of healing, I cast spiritual weapon.

Torrent slid over and cast cure wounds on me, as her spiritual weapon hit the ogre in front of her.

Ulfgar smashed the ogre in front of me with his staff, bringing it down with a thud, and patiently defended himself, avoiding a slash to the head, but getting nicked by the backswing. The other human bandit grazed me.

To the side of the road, three well armed and armored humans emerged from under a tarp and, pulling the tarp away, revealed a small rowboat. Two of the men, one dressed better than the others, jumped into the boat, while the third began pushing it off the shore.

Xireas hit the nearest human bandit with three magic missiles.

Cyrus surged, cutting the bandit down with three slashes of his longsword, and slashing the ogre on his other side, while avoiding its counter attack.

Maneuvering, the other ogre bashed me with its club.

Crystin cast shatter on the ogre and human bandit.

Casting spirit guardians again, I hit the ogre with my spiritual weapon.

Torrent cast cure wounds on me.

As the bandit on the shore shoved the boat off into the river, Ulfgar smacked the lead ogre with his quarterstaff and finished it with a punch.

The remaining human bandit slashed me twice with a longsword, and my spirit guardians disappeared.

“Get the guys on the boat!” I yelled, as they rowed it further into the river and Xireas hit the well dressed bandit with three magic missiles.

The remaining human bandit fell to his knees as Cyrus thrust his longsword in and flanked the ogre, which smashed Torrent in the head with its club.

Another ogre popped out from the trees, threw a javelin towards Torrent and flanked Cyrus.

“Oh my gods, Torrent!” Crystin screamed, and hit the ogre attacking Torrent with three magic missiles. It fell dead on its back.

Advancing, I wounded the last ogre with my warhammer, and Torrent followed suit with her mace.

With the step of the wind, Ulfgar jumped off the ledge toward the shore, ten feet below. Leaping off the shore to a rock fifteen off the shore, the monk punched his fist of unbroken air, knocking the better dressed bandit off the boat, into the river, and had to be pulled back into the boat before they continued to row further away.

Climbing down from the wagon, Xireas climbed down the slope to the shore and clipped the better dressed bandit in the boat with three magic missiles.

With a backswing of his longsword, Cyrus disemboweled the last ogre, and climbed down to the shore.

Crystin followed Xireas, and hit the better dressed bandit with three more magic missiles.

I climbed down to the shore and cast guiding bolt, but the flash of light streaked harmlessly past the boat.

Torrent slid down the slope and cast magic weapon on Cyrus’ longbow.

Moving to the edge of the shore, Xireas hit the better dressed bandit with three more magic missiles, and he fell into the boat.

Moving to the edge of the shore, Cyrus drew his longbow and hit another bandit in the boat.

Following Xireas, Crystin hit the same bandit with three more magic missiles.

I cast another guiding bolt, hitting the same bandit, who ducked for cover inside the boat.

Advancing to my side, Torrent cast cure wounds on me.

We began gathering the corpses into the wagon, along with all their weapons and armor.

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