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Something Must Be Done...

Part 4: Meetings

2007 Sonja Torres & Aric Olsen, with thanks to Paul Del Vecchio


Sitting in the all-too-empty common room at Adele's, Greywarden waited patiently for Bentir. He knew enough to let the Guildmaster bring up the information on his own terms - he had learned some hard lessons about the advantages of listening. Forcing a conversation never afforded the opportunity to learn anything from the other person - and Greywarden's life might soon depend on the whatever Bentir had on his mind at the moment. So he would wait as long as necessary.

He ate his stew instead, and thought about what he had seen from atop the Pouch earlier that day. Something was amiss along the road, those trees would need investigation, and it was possible that he find some clue as to the direction to take once the group was put together. He contemplated a short ride on his own, but Stepper was a thin animal - not to be tested yet, and if he got into trouble...well, Greywarden knew his limits. Bentir was right - alone he'd only get himself killed.

Patience, then, exercise his patience. It seemed that most of his life he had learned to exercise patience...

Bentir hid his worry as he held the door open for his companions. The young man and willowy female seemed small backs for the merchants to lay all their hopes on. No matter, word had only barely been sent mere hours ago, and already here were two more volunteers in addition to the carpenter. Perhaps another day or two and there would be more. As the Guildmaster followed the two adventurers in, he saw Greywarden already there, impatience apparent in the set of his shoulders and the restless way his eyes scanned the nearly empty room. His bowl of stew was already before him and his eyes met Bentir's the instant he stepped into Adele's. Greywarden's thoughts flowed quickly across his face as his eyes went immediately to Bentir's two companions, appraisals already forming themselves in the young carpenter's quick thoughts.

The Guildmaster went straight to the table and gestured for his companions to sit.
"Greywarden, please excuse me for being late. I had some things to see to, and as you can see, we now have more allies in our cause. And good thing I waited too...they have added to our scant store of knowledge."

The carpenter nodded respectfully to the Guildmaster, glad to finally be getting the information that could help put trade back in order. While Bentir ordered more stew and ales for the newcomers, the appraisals continued, three ways now. The man was younger than Greywarden, tan and muscular. His clothing was sturdy and well-made, and he sat facing the door, as if he needed to see it to assure himself of the outside world beyond. This was someone who was far more comfortable outside than in. He was comfortable enough with Bentir though, meeting the Guildmaster's gaze as evenly as he met the carpenter's, relaxed and self-assured. He looked like a strong companion for a quest such as theirs.

The woman was an enigma, slender and quiet, with keen eyes that seemed to absorb all they saw, but giving nothing back. She looked youthful, but something about her made it difficult to guess her age. Although she was fine of form and no Amazon, her quiet confidence spoke of a strength that went beyond size. If she was here, she knew as much as anyone and felt that she was equal to the task. Greywarden knew that looks could be deceiving, and that, like him, she might have abilities that went beyond skill at arms.

When everyone had their food before them, Greywarden went back to his own. As he tasted the savory-scented stew, he realized that even Adele had suffered from the recent losses. The stew was less hearty, thinner and with less meat and fewer spices than usual. A little thing on the surface, but then, it was often the little things that made life worthwhile.

Finally, Bentir spoke again. "Thank you all for coming. I will tell you all we know and hear your news as well. Our little town of Reedle may be small, but we've always had good business because of our position here at the edge of the mountains on the trade route between Karameikos and Selenica. Caravans always appreciate our services and the chance to rest and make repairs after their long journey through the mountains. And we are glad to have them in spring after the long winters too. We are a town of farmers and traders and well pleased to be such. But this year, the caravans have not come like usual. Less than a quarter of the normal trade has come down from the mountain route, and many of those that usually come from Darokin are starting to hesitate, using alternate routes as fear spreads among the traders. When we asked those that have made it, the news was disturbing. They told us that the usual numbers of caravans and traders left from Kelvin and Specularum in Karameikos, but they were as surprised as we to learn their compatriots never arrived here. At least the earliest ones were surprised." Bentir's face now turned grim, a line between his eyebrows forming a furrow that was ever-deepening these last months. "The later ones arrived with grim tales of destroyed caravans; broken wagons, smashed goods, blood, but nothing else, living or dead. There were no bodies, not even of animals. Some of them salvaged a few goods, but more often than not, the carnage had already been looted by the other denizens of the mountains, goblins or kobolds most likely. And yet, even those creatures are less aggressive than usual, as if they too were afraid to do more than loot, forgoing their normal ambushes and retreating deeper into the mountains. Our farmers have also not been spared. Some lucky few have lost livestock, while some of the farms closer to the road, like the caravans, have been completely emptied of living creatures, animal and human."

Greywarden spoke up, repeating some of his earlier questions for the Guildmaster. "Are the caravans being wiped out well armed, Sir, or are they smaller shipments and lone travelers, and is there any evidence of weapons being used?"

Bentir turned toward the sturdy young man, then replied, "I will let Lucio answer that question. I think he can shed a little more light on it than I."

The young man tipped his head slightly toward the Guildmaster then spoke. His voice was strong, but not as deep as Greywarden's. "My name is Lucio de la Vega, of De la Vega Transport. My family has been working these trade roads since my grandfather's time. We too have heard reports of trouble on this route. I was already here to investigate when I heard of the Guild's summons for a quest. From what we've learned, more small groups have been hit than large ones, although even groups as large as 25 people have been reported missing. I examined what appeared to be one such attack on my way in, less than 10 miles from here. It was at a bend in the road, where the mountain shadows still loom over the road, and the fir trees come right to its edge. Some of the trees were dying, and the ground seemed disturbed, so I went to investigate. It turned out that the trees were broken, the small ones trampled down while the larger ones had great sections of branches broken off, sometimes as high as 6 or even 8 feet up from the ground. I saw smashed and broken wagon remains but found no remaining goods. I saw several places with blood on the ground, and another large pool of it near the broken horse harnesses, but not a single body did I find."

"That seems odd." spoke the woman, "What about weapons? Were there signs of a fight or any tracks?"

"I was getting to that," Lucio nodded. "There were signs of a fight, footprints of people taking up arms against something, but I saw no swords or bodily weapons, although they may have been looted. I did find some broken and blunted arrows but I do not think they fought against bandits. The other tracks I saw were nothing human, or even two-legged. This was four-footed, and large, over 12 feet, judging by the breadth and depth of the prints."

"A beast then," mused Greywarden aloud. "But what kind? And was it alone or did it carry a rider? I wonder if there is more than one? Did you see where it came from, or where it went?"

"I don't know what kind," the ranger replied. "I've never seen anything like it in all my time on the road. The prints were broad and clawed, but not like a cat or wolf at all, and too short to be a dragon's, although I thought at first it might have been a young one. In one place they stopped completely and reappeared very deeply a good 8 feet away, in a pool of blood. In another place, the ground was completely torn up, and I thought it was a burrow at first, but it didn't go on like a tunnel. More like something dug in and hid, then erupted out. The tracks looked like they came and went from the same direction, but I thought it wiser not to follow them too far alone. Like you, I hoped to find out more, then report to my family and our contacts to see if they might know something based on the evidence I saw."

"How long ago did it look like the attack had happened?" asked the woman.

Lucio thought carefully before answering, "A week to 10 days, most likely, from the condition of the damaged trees and the rain wear on the tracks."

The woman nodded, as if this confirmed something in her mind, but she said nothing more.

Bentir looked at the three brave people seated before him. They appeared young and vulnerable to his eyes, and in his heart he felt certain that he was sending them off to certain death. And yet, what choice was there? Now they knew all he could give them to know. The choice was theirs to make and they knew the risk. Would they choose to take it? He sighed, then met each pair of eyes in turn. "So then, what say you? Our offer is 800 gold pieces and what supplies as we have gathered to aid you. Will you try to stop this thing and restore our way of life here in our humble town?"
 

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 updated 4-13-07