1st day of the 9th moon in the year 4512 of the Noruz reckoning, dusk.
As the sun finishes setting, Relana and Corvis continue to withdraw from their confrontation with Flavio the Flutist. Corvis, gravely wounded, leans heavily on Relana’s small frame as the adrenaline that drove him through the fight fades. They make slow progress. Relana glances around increasingly desperately for someplace that might be able … and willing … to offer assistance. The pair find themselves in a low-end artisans district. Among the shops, crockery, leather goods, chitin products, a small shrine is housed adjacent to a novelty shop selling gaudy jewelry and other trinkets. Relana, not familiar with the iconography, guesses the shrine honors some kind of goddess of artisans. It looks tidy and recently tended. Corvis groans increasingly loudly with each step.
Dorvian is wrapping up his day in the shop. He reviews the day’s receipts and furrows his brow with concern. Next month’s protection payment to the Brothers is due on the morrow. The extra burden used to be tolerable until She started demanding that he devote part of the shop space to a shrine to Her. Those expenses, the lost floor space, and the distraction have caused his profits to dwindle. He wonders how much longer he can last in the present circumstances. He doesn’t wonder for long, though. After all, only the half-witted need to think. Dorvian is a man of purpose, of action! And so, he purposefully decides to act by squatting down and reaching for the jug of cheap wine. He keeps it next to a chamber pot; he’s not worried about confusing the two, since their contents taste much the same.
He stares at the shrine to Her Awesomeness, the High Bitch of Farts and Crap, the source of his suffering, the cause of his pain. The minutes tick by as his slender income trickles down his throat (and chin). The shadows lengthen as the afternoon sun descends past the walls of the city like a slowly falling blade. His capability to form coherent thoughts is completely gone, a fact that would fill him with much pride, if he could only wrap his head around the concept. In its place is a amorphous need, a jelly-like germ of an idea – no, an action! By now, the wine has passed through his stomach and into his bladder. Dorvian drop his pants and takes a step – not towards the chamber pot, but towards the shrine.
Relana walks towards this shrine, while poking at Corvis “Hey! Stop making so much noise! You’ll make us even more conspicuous! Corvis groans unhappily at Relana’s poke. He exclaims, “there’s a hole there!” He leans against the doorway of the entryway of the shop and that provides more support than the half-elf. Relana walks by the jewelry and trinkets, and barely resists the urge to “examine” one. If the situation did not appear to be so dire, she would have had plenty of time to examine these goods. She asks, (to anyone in particular) relatively loudly. “Hello, is anyone here! Who is this a shrine to that can aid us, two who are in distress and in need of aid!” Corivs touches his back, where he was stabbed, and his hand is covered with fresh blood. “Hurry…” he calls out hoarsely, back sliding down the wall until he’s sitting. “Hurry.”
In the blissful moment before Dorvian allows his bladder to release, he hears Relana’s voice from behind him. Startled, he turns around, and has the remaining presence of mind to think Ohhh sh-!; but for once, his brain is faster than his body. Afterwards, he and the stranger stare down at the flattening puddle of urine on the shop floor. Is this my punishment? Dorvian wonders, cheeks flaring. He slowly steps backwards and reaches for his pants. As he does, another thought strikes him, somehow more terrible than the first: Or is. . . She answering my prayers? He looks up. The stranger is still staring down. It’s a half-elf, short and pale like a sickly cavern mushroom. Dorvian clears his throat and tosses her a rag. “Here,” he says. “For your boots.” Then he falls silent, wondering what will happen next.
Relana ignores the wafting smell of urine for the time being, along with this “person’s” inappropriate behaviors. Unfortunately, she still manages to blush slightly, and looks somewhat putoff. “Dear Sir,” Relana comments, struggling to maintain her compusre, “my friend here is in dire need of clerical assistance. Do you or anyone you know have any skills in this matter? He recently defended me from some thugs, and unfortunately, did not come through completely unscathed…” Relana takes stock of the man in front of her, in case this encounter also has unexpected results. She takes the rag that is offered, and bends down to wipe her shoes, but at the same time, when the gentleman glances away, move her dagger into a more…. accessible… location…
Dorvian takes a moment before replying. His mind is clearing, and he knows now that he was right, that She had sent this stranger. “I can meeee. . .” He shakes his head and tries again. “She wants me to do it.” An awful thought crosses his mind. “Do help. Help I mean! I can help! Where?” Dorvian stumbles forward. The half-elf had not reacted to the urine, and had. . . touched herself when she though he wasn’t looking. He shudders at the thought. Perhaps She is punishing after all. Why me? he thinks, not for the first time, and not for the last.
Her friend is an elf, short, scarred, and strong. . for his race. But Dorvian has brawled with the brawliest brawlers in Braw – Aval – and he thinks he can take this elf. Especially with the elf collapsed on the ground, all the blood draining out of him. “That’s what happens! See what happens when you mess with me!” Dorvian swings his fist high in the air, admiring the way his knuckles shadow his face against the setting sun. He leans back, and the next thing he knows, he’s flat on the ground, and the talking toadstool is screaming at him. He squints and tries to make out what she’s saying. “Heal him? Heal him? Fine, fine!” Dorvian wrenches himself into the sitting position, succeeding on his third attempt. He doesn’t look at the elf, merely pats him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, here, this will help.” He slaps one hand on the elf’s cheek, closes his eyes, and begins to pray.
After the tall human (all humans are tall from Relana’s point of view) prays for a few moments, an ornate urn appears above Corvis’s head. Relana blinks in surprise, but the urn has already disappeared. A few gallons of water now plunge down and drench both Corvis and the human. The human blubbers incoherently with surprise, eyes now wide open. Corvis gasps. The human appears to think and collect himself and then proceeds to murmur prayers again.
If the cold water was a shock to his system, the divine power now flowing through him is a balm. Flesh knitting back together, blood flowing strongly, no longer anemic due to loss, and his strength returned. Corvis takes in a deep breath, smiles, and is about to say something when he hears a shout, ‘They went in that crazy Dorvian’s shrine!’. By the looks on Dorvian’s and Relana’s faces, they must have been followed here. He stands up, steady once again, “Sorry for the mess, pahren, but if we could have one last favor, would you show us out the back? And, if you don’t have a back door, well,” he unsheathes his blades, “I guess this is where we make our last stand.”
The shout is from Luciano, Dorvian’s main competitor across the street. That scoundrel! He knows at once what that fat bastard wants. “No, no, I won’t let him,” he mutters. “He won’t eat either of you. I won’t let him, no, definitely not!” All three turn their gazes to the unlocked doors to the shrine and the shop… The cave toadstool has already darted into his shop; he hustles the forest mushroom in after. “That way, let’s go that way,” he points. Dorvian glances around his shop. Truth be told, there’s nothing here that he needs; in fact, nothing here he wouldn’t be glad to be rid off. His eyes linger for a moment on Her shrine. . . then the toadstool pushes him rudely from behind. “Yes, let’s go, we’re going!” Yes, Dorvian is more than ready to go. . . but lurking in the back of his mind are uncomfortable rumors of carnivorous fungi. Something pokes him from behind again. Suddenly uncertain, Dorvian closes his eyes even as he stumbles forward and whispers an incoherent prayer.
“Move along! You’re attracting attention here… We need to get out of the city," says Relana as the trio bundles out the door. Do either of you know how to get out?” Relana tugs (perhaps futiley at the human’s robes), while glancing around… Relana notices a short bow and quiver full of arrows by the back door that Dorvian seems to have forgotten. She grabs them as she slips out the door. Once outside, Relana looks about for a dark alleyway that she can use to slip out of the city… “Oh, to think all I wanted to do was just get into the Aval library”. Relana thinks back to prior times where she had been chased out of places… but never had someone been killed. Perhaps she should mend her ways and pursue the path of a reputable loremaster full time, without these extra… distractions that seem to pop up from time to time… Relana breaks her reverie to tug once more at the human, and looks at the elf to see what his inclinations are.
Dorvian leads the party down the back alley and into a quiet plaza. Someone can be heard banging on the door to the shrine and shouting, ‘Let me in or I bust this door, you crazy shrine, and then you stoopid face!” Dorvian recognizes the voice as Bruno’s, the local Brothers’ enforcer. They slow their pace to look normal and walk purposefully, but towards no particular destination. Suddenly, Dorvian doubles over and cries in pain. Somehow, he feels like he’s in deep trouble with somebody important. Perhaps Bruno has trashed Anahita’s shrine and she is angry with Dorvian for letting this come to pass. Passersby pause in their errands to take notice and look curiously at Dorvian who is curled up on the street moaning.
Dorvian’s sudden doubling over gives Corvis pause, and he makes a face at Dorvian’s smell. Why did it have to be a drunk pahren? He attempts to shoulder the ill cleric, to support him as he edges around the plaza, and says to a passerby giving him an odd look, “Pardon, my friend is going home early tonight.” The smell shouldn’t give him any doubt. Corvis looks to Relana, “Relana, the main way passes north, though we should avoid it. Are you familiar with the backways?”
Supported only by the forest mushroom, completely unaware of his circumstances and surroundings, Dorvian is struck by sudden clarity. No, not struck; consumed, engulfed, devoured. This is why he drinks; this is why he hides; this is why he has no peace. The mushroom’s cloak is stained with blood, yet there is one large patch which is – miraculously? – clear. For Dorvian, the entire world now resides in that small clear space. He dips his left index finger into the blood and begins to draw.
“Let’s go this way!” waves Relana in the general direction of the north exit to the city. “I think we can take the sewers out, and avoid people seeing us, especially since the blubbering human doesn’t seem to be of much use…” “Maybe you could carry him…” she says to the scarred elf… Relana searches for an entrance to the sewer that leaves the city. If one is not forthcoming, she’ll attempt to find a relatively quiet set of alleyways that runs parallel to the main entrance. “I need to get out of this, and leave these people… they attract too much attention…”
Corvis lets out a sigh. Sewers. “Sewers are a bad idea. Mazes, don’t always know where they lead, easy to get trapped, and there’s no cover once the arrows start flying.” He keeps Dorvian moving with him, keeping to the edge of the square. “Holy man, what’s your name? You know this part of town?”
The blood pattern on the cloak has grown, hooks and swirls draining out from beneath Dorvian’s finger. A voice in the haze: no words, only meaning. In a voice unlike his own, Dorvian opens his mouth and begins to speak directions. He’s either in touch with his goddess, or he’s crazy.
As the party starts to make progress out of the city, Corvis notices Relana is having trouble keeping up. Corvis is encouraged that she isn’t complaining… The priest is not helpful unfortunately. The sun has now completely set. The traffic at the gate is moderate with local villagers heading home for the night and some travelers coming and going.
On one arm, a disturbed and drunk holy man, telling him that the freedom path lay west towards the mushroom lands, all the while gesturing towards a deadend alley. At his other side, a materialistic teen with poor tactical sense that can barely manage to keep up as he leads them along the direct path towards the closest gate out of the city, away from a motley assortment of pursuers. These are the days when trouble simply finds you, piles it on, and all you can do is shoulder on and try to regroup somewhere else. They mill out with the villagers that are going home after a busy day at the market, buying or selling or both.
The party makes it out the north gate at which point Relana gasps and simply cannot keep pace. Relana stumbles over to the side of the road out of the way… It looks like such a soft inviting patch of dirt… “I’ll rest here just for a moment… <huff>.” Corvis notices Relana stop and backtracks with Dorvian to figure out what to do. Corvis asks, “You okay? You look a bit tired. We need to decide what to do now that night’s falling. I think there are a couple inns along the road.” He motions to her backpack, offering to hang on to it. Looking back to Dorvian, “Holy man, pahren, what’s your name? Thank you for bringing me back from the brink. Are you going to be okay? Were you drinking dwarven lichen ale? That stuff isn’t even really ale and causes real problems.” Dorvian considers his situation and wonders in what condition his gem cutting and gold working tools are in. Probably Luciano has them by now.
Corvis shoulders the additional load from Relana, tries to encourage Dorvian to get a move on his own, and then they walk as a group. He attempts to make small talk, trying to gauge who the two are, but he’s distracted by a group behind him. He attempts to try and size them up as they travel, but doesn’t immediately inform his companions of his suspicions. Through furtive glances back and some common sense, Corvis infers that the three trailing the party are humans more accustomed to the city than the outdoors. He believes he could take any one of them, maybe two with surprise on his side. He wonders how reliable his new companions might be in a fight. He observes that Dorvian lacks any innate or other ability to hide quietly in the woods or anywhere else for that matter as he has already stumbled on the odd tree root and mutters to himself indistinctly but nonetheless audibly. The way he absentmindedly holds his bow does not inspire confidence in his marksmanship either.
Corvis walks with the small group and, when the inn is in view (about a quarter mile away) reveals, “It looks like we’re being followed. Three gentlemen behind us.” He cocks his head back, motioning, but doesn’t look back. “I’m not sure which one of use they’re targeting, but they don’t look like the guard.” He looks between his two companions, “And that means they could be after any of us. I suggest we stick together in the inn. Any suggestions?”
“The pahren is kind of out of it.” Relana kicks some dirt onto the priest’s cloak. “We can leave him on the road somewhere, and the two of us can hide. If they look like they’re bothering our friend over here, we can deal with them…” Relana begins to look around for suitable shadowy places to hide in, and watch… Relana tries to quietly stay out of view while keeping the pahren in her line of sight.
An owl hoots on its silent flight overhead as Corvis and Relana ponder their predicament. Should they allow these rogues to continue to tail them to the inevitable throat slit in bed? Should they seize the moment, take their destiny in their own hands and strike first? Should they head out into the woods and attempt to lose their unwanted companions in the darkness?
The full moon faintly illuminates the trees lining the road to the village just north of Aval City. The pines rustle in the wind. This road leads to the northern Aval city of Zobol 300 miles away. The Claacos border city of Kahnul lies roughly 350 miles to the west. The party could backtrack to Aval and take the west road, or attempt to cut directly through the woods. The minor Aval coastal cities of Negal, Reyal, and Jiroft also beckon to the south and east each approximately 150 miles from Aval City. The cool autumn air would be refreshing if not for the sense of impending doom and futility. On these roads, the party can cover roughly 24 miles per day at a comfortable pace.
Corvis figures if these hooligans are city dwellers, which seems a safe assumption, then he’ll be able to cover their tracks through the woods well enough so they won’t be followed when the hooligans figure out the party has not actually arrived in the village. They’ll have a decent head start and even if they are followed, Corvis is pretty sure the party is unlikely to be surprised with his and Relana’s eldritch senses. The party can strike southwest for the west road to Kahnul. The party is well provisioned and has adequate blankets and tents to stay warm provided they are friendly with Dorvian. Corvis suggests this to both Relana and Dorvian.
“Kahnul…. That’ll take me away from Aval… and it’ll take 15 days to get there… with the threat of Claacos too… Then again, I need to go somewhere to get the heat off because of this flutist guy…” “Hey, Pahren, Do you think that we can make it to Kahnul, and we can help you set up shop there? It seems the least we can do…” She gives him a hearty pat on his back. “Hrmm… this pahren seems a bit weak and frail… I hope he’s up to the trip. I can’t even use his bow properly because it’s so big.”
Since the pahren seems to be neutral between Zobol and Kahnul, the party cuts into the open woods to lose their tail with Corvis falling slightly behind to remove obvious signs of passage and create false leads. He keeps Relana and Dorvian in easy view with his infravision. After trekking for about two hours, Corvis is convinced they have not been followed and the party makes camp for the night. The next day, they continue southwest until they hit the west road. The going is easier from here. They fall in with other travelers, but keep to themselves.