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    Yeoldebard
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The Troll Hunter - 5. On the Road Again

CASSIEL

 

Finally he was free from the stuffy confines of the manor, free to breathe the open air once more. Travelling through the town- his town- the half elf gulped down greedy lungfuls of air, a feeling of elation passing over him despite the difficulties that lay ahead.

Nearing the newly constructed wooden palisade guarding the town from the wilds, Cassiel frowned as a ghostly apparition appeared before him. The Guardian of the Bloom, someone he had never thought he’d see again, stood before him in all her big boobed glory, and the half elf let out a quiet sigh, wondering why nymphs always had to be so… extra.

“It is good to see you Cassiel. It seems your fate has changed since last we met,” the nymph said, her honeyed voice draping over his mind like a warm blanket on a cool winter night.

“I do not believe so. I feel that I’ve been fated to suffer here since I first set foot in Lady Jamandi’s mansion,” Cassiel shrugged.

“Nonetheless, you aided me in my hour of need. I wish to reward you for your dedication,” the nymph nearly purred, images of just how she might reward him twisting the half elf’s gut.

“I really do not need a reward. Aiding people is its own reward for me,” he frowned.

“Nonsense. Every good adventurer deserves a reward,” the nymph continued. “There is a verdant thicket just on the other side of what you call the Narlmarches, where I may appear in the flesh, so to speak. Come to that place, and I will make sure you receive the prize you so justly deserve. But I do not have it in me to reward you here, or to offer a reward to your companions. It is best if you come alone.”

She flickered away, Cassiel doing his best to hide the dark scowl that crossed his face. The feeling he got from her… it was like using honey to trap a fly. It left a disturbing residue on his mind, one he was almost certain held an enchanting quality. There was no way he was going to that thicket alone.

Resuming his walk with spirits darkened, the baron passed through the gate with a quiet nod to the two guards manning the gate, spotting his companions waiting nearby. Valerie’s armour nearly gleamed in the morning light as she worked on her horse’s coat, and the half elf wondered how many arguments she had been in to get that kind of shine on the metal. Beside her, Amiri swung her giant sword around, trying to stand upright as the weapon dragged her along. Cassiel had no idea why she was so enamoured with a blade she couldn’t even use unless tapping into her rage, but he wasn’t going to argue with her results. The barbarian was death incarnate when she really got going, and he was just happy she was on his side.

Linzi was sitting on a rock with Theofrid, lost in conversation with the light haired gnome. Her crossbow and lute crossed her back, a large book sitting heavily in her pack, and Cassiel was glad he had remembered to get that bag of holding from Oleg’s on his way south from Restov. It had sat for nearly a month, but now it would be put to good use.

Tristian knelt beside the rock, offering silent prayers to Sarenrae, no doubt calling the god’s favour down upon their journey. Cassiel waited until he seemed finished before finally approaching the group. The half elf already had a plan. They would start with the Bald Hilltop, see it cleansed of its curse, then head north to visit Oleg’s, have a quick discussion with the alchemist living there. Jhod seemed to think Bokken would make for a good court alchemist, but Cassiel had his doubts. Not about Bokken’s abilities; more about his willingness to be in a town. The alchemist seemed to prefer the quiet of the trading post, and Cassiel didn’t know if he would want to trade that for a busy shop.

He knew the trolls were a dangerous problem, but he couldn’t abandon his barony to lawlessness while fighting an unknown enemy in unknown lands. They would take care of the trolls, figure out what was going on, but first, Cassiel had a duty to see to his new lands.

Clearing his throat loudly, the magus gathered the attention of his party.

“I would like to thank you all for joining me on another adventure. We have a long road ahead of us, one taking us north to Oleg’s before scouting out a place for a new settlement. After that, we will travel south along the Thorn River to the ford before heading west into the Narlmarches. There, we will hunt down these trolls and verify the truth behind their immunity to fire. By my estimate, we will be on the road for a week, maybe longer. Theofrid, how are we on rations?”

“We have six days worth, my lord,” the gnome replied quickly.

“Another thing, I wish to travel under the guise of a normal adventurer. It will go a long way toward learning the disposition of my subjects if they are not aware they are speaking with the baron,” Cassiel added. “So, please keep any and all titles to a minimum. Are there any questions?”

Linzi perked up suddenly, balancing precariously on her rock.

“Are we going to hunt bandits in the north?”

“If we find any nearby, we will put them down. But hunting them down is not our priority at the moment. If anything, we are scouting, gathering information on our land. This is only after we stop whatever is happening on Bald Hilltop.”

The halfling nodded her understanding, sliding off the rock. The rest of the group shrugged off the question, Amiri taking her place on point while Valerie brought up the rear. They fell into position like a well oiled machine, guarding Tristian and Cassiel as the most important members in the group, even on horseback.

Linzi pulled out her lute, strumming a jaunty tune as their horses walked, hooves tapping a quick beat over the dirt road. It didn’t take long to reach the hill in question, the sounds of the lute dying off as they approached the foot of the incline.

“We walk from here,” Cassiel said, the group dismounting and preparing for combat.

Bolts were loaded into crossbows, Amiri and Valerie pulling out their swords as Cassiel strung his bow. They started the long trip up an overgrown path, the dead undergrowth vanishing suddenly as they approached the top. A strange glow filled the air, Theofrid letting out a loud gasp as they came upon a grove of giant pink and blue plants.

“This… these plants… they’re from the First World…” the gnome breathed, his hand brushing over the vibrant petals. “This place isn’t cursed… it’s fey.”

“It is the same difference when it comes to the locals. This hilltop is haunted to them,” Tristian frowned, taking in the plants. “They are beautiful, but I can sense a malevolence to them, like a trap drawing us in.”

“Everyone guard your thoughts,” Cassiel added, looking up toward the crown of the hill. “I’m sorry Theofrid, I know this is like your home, but we can’t let fey enchant our people.”

“I understand,” the gnome sighed, stepping back.

A murmured spell set the plants alight, a piercing wail filling the air as they burned. Cassiel flinched back at the noise, his eyes glued to Theofrid. That hadn’t been what he meant, but he supposed the gnome knew what he was doing. For his part, Cassiel knew little of the First World, aside from the common warning not to trust anything the fey said.

Go figure, he owed his coronet to one of them.

“Let’s keep going. One plant can’t be the cause of this,” he said, setting his sights on the crown once more.

Spreading out slightly, the group continued onward, nearing a circle of large stone pillars. A strange clicking filled the air, one Cassiel knew all too well as a sound that haunted his dreams.

“Spiders!” he called as portals opened around him.

“Doomspider!” Theofrid yelped as a dark spider descended on him from a central portal in the stone ring.

The gnome scrambled back as Cassiel nocked an arrow back. Murmuring a spell of acid onto his arrow, the half elf let it fly, trusting the famed archery of elves to see his missile and spell to their mark. Beside him, Linzi strummed her lute, a song of courage washing over the group as Tristian called one of Sarenrae’s faithful hounds to his side. The dog took off, launching itself at one of the spiders.

Amiri and Valerie fought back to back, their blades quickly coated in blood and venom as they slew spider after spider, allowing the archers to focus on the doomspider. A laugh fell over their ears, followed by a spell being cast, and Cassiel grunted as he felt his fear of spiders threatening to take over his senses. He took a deep breath, fighting it off as another arrow was set to his bow. He had a new target, the source of these portals. Drawing the bowstring back, he chanting a spell of conjuration, ice coalescing over his missile to form a snowball. Loosing the new spell, the magus took a brief moment to watch in satisfaction as the arrow collided with the sorcerer, ice imploding violently against her arm.

She shrieked in pain, a bolt from Linzi adding to her agony. A loud prayer from Tristian forced her body to shake, snapping her neck, and the caster dropped dead, leaving the group to deal with the last of the spiders.

As the last spider fell, Cassiel let out a long slow breath, watching the portals flicker and die out.

“I never would have guessed a sylvan sorcerer,” he muttered. “Linzi, do your thing.”

“You got it,” the halfling said, kneeling over the fallen body.

Within seconds, she had pulled off a ring and a scaly cloak dripping in abjuration magic, leaving a dagger on the corpse.

“Anyone need a wyvern cloak?” she asked.

“Theofrid?” Cassiel questioned.

“Amiri could probably make the most use of it, to aid in deflecting blades,” the gnome replied.

The barbarian snorted, a hand running over the scaly cloak.

“This is weak. My skin is stronger than some dead wyvern.”

“Well, if you do not want it-”

“I’ll take it,” Amiri denied, pulling the cloak from Linzi’s hands.

Cassiel rolled his eyes, trying to figure out why the barbarian insisted on playing tough. The cloak would help her stay alive, and there was no shame in accepting the help.

“Are we good on the loot?” he questioned.

“I think so,” Theofrid said, handing the ring to Valerie.

The fighter slipped the thin band on without question, her eyes closing in surprise as the effects of the ring made themselves known. Cassiel had seen a similar look in Linzi’s eyes, the energy to withstand most debilitating effects filling their body through the ring. He nodded with a satisfied smile. His team was better protected.

 

THEOFRID

 

They spent the night at Oleg’s, Theofrid missing his bed back at the manor. The trading post just didn’t have quite the same comfort to it as a baron’s home.

Morning dawned bright and early, and with it came news from Octavia. Already there were fewer reports of spiders, and she had withdrawn Regongar, the half orc rather upset that he hadn’t gotten to electrocute any beasts. Cassiel had mentioned a location on the road for a settlement, his regent already hard at work setting it up.

Once a simple breakfast had been finished, the group tracked down Bokken, the alchemist standing over a small pot with what smelled like some of the foulest poisons in the world. Cassiel gave him his offer, the man frowning as he mulled it over.

“I’ll think about it, but I need some help first. There are a few bushes of small red berries, almost like raspberries, in a nearby cave, but the cave is filled with spiders,” Bokken said. “If you can bring me a bucket of berries and a bucket of moon radishes, I will be happy to work for your barony.”

“And where are these moon radishes?” Cassiel frowned.

“Damned if I know. But they’re great for my old aches and pains.”

“I believe I saw some radish plants around the old sycamore,” Valerie noted.

“Well there you have it,” Bokken said. “Here, take this, it should help with the swarms of spiders in the cave. But make sure you hurry back; the berries tend to go bad rather fast.”

“This would also be a great time for me to return those damned spider mandibles that keep finding their way into my bed,” Cassiel scowled.

Theofrid stared blankly ahead, trying not to give anything away. He and Linzi always threw the mandibles near the half elf, a harmless prank, but one that made them laugh every time. The jaws were as big as them and it took the two of them together to move it, but hearing Cassiel’s yelp in the morning made it worth the effort.

“Yeah, the kobold who took me prisoner mentioned a mite who likes to collect big things,” the gnome mentioned offhand.

“We cannot take too long,” Cassiel frowned. “We still need to head into the Narlmarches.”

“It shouldn’t take more than half a day to reach the sycamore; it took me a day when I was still recovering from a fight,” Theofrid added. “If you want, we could probably stop by Nettle’s Crossing, it’s a little out of the way, but a spear might be nice against the trolls.”

“Oh, right. I completely forgot about him,” Cassiel grunted. “Okay, we’ll take the main road to Nettle’s Crossing, look around the sycamore, then head to Fangberry Cave. You said it was just south east of here?”

“Oh yes, you’ll probably pass it on your way to Nettle’s Crossing, though I can’t imagine what you’ll find there. The Stag Lord had him killed nearly a year ago,” Bokken frowned.

“That’s for us to worry about. We’ll get your berries and radishes. We should be back before three days,” Cassiel shrugged.

They set off, passing through the gates of the post and heading south. Theofrid directed them further east, pointing out that while it wasn’t the main road, the road they were on would eventually bend south and take them to the crossing once they reached the Shrike River.

Reaching the crossing around mid afternoon, the group dismounted again, checking their weapons as usual. While Davik Nettle’s presence was likely scaring everyone and everything away from the river, there was no point in being unprepared.

Amiri took point as usual, leading the way toward a muddy riverbank. With a groan, the undead corpse dislodged itself from the shallow mud, staggering toward the group.

“Stag Lord dead… Pharasma awaits. Farewell…”

He collapsed to the ground, his corpse rapidly decomposing once the will had left it, and leaving behind a gleaming shortspear as payment.

“We have saved him from an eternity of torment,” Tristian said, bowing his head to say a prayer over the corpse.

“This is a nice spear, though not exactly what I was expecting,” Theofrid added, picking it up.

“It’s tiny,” Amiri snorted.

“Hey, have some respect for the dead,” Cassiel scowled at them.

“Oh… sorry,” Theofrid muttered.

A moment of silence passed, before Linzi spoke up.

“Well, shall we see how the Taldan War Chronicles are proceeding?” the halfling asked innocently.

“What?” Theofrid frowned.

“Oh, you had to be there,” the bard chuckled quietly. “Kobolds and mites yelling at each other over something neither of them did, it reminded me of so many Taldan conquests.”

“If you mean the old sycamore, I was there, just stuck in a kobold pit,” Theofrid grimaced.

“Oh, right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up unpleasant memories,” Linzi apologised quickly.

“For more than one of us,” Cassiel added with a shudder. “We’re staying above ground this time. Deal?”

“You got it,” Linzi grinned.

“It would be nice to give that purple toad another kick, but I suppose his body is long gone by now,” Amiri grunted as they headed back to their horses.

“It will be nightfall by the time we reach the sycamore. Should we camp first?” Valerie mentioned.

“Is anyone overly tired?” Cassiel asked, looking around.

A series of shaking heads answered the question.

“We ride then. Carefully.”

Copyright © 2021 Yeoldebard; All Rights Reserved.

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Spiders, uggg!!! Somehow I sense there will be more of them!!

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3 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

Spiders, uggg!!! Somehow I sense there will be more of them!!

When in doubt, throw spiders at your adventurers for some easy trauma points- The Dungeon Master's Guide, at some point, probably.

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