When I began writing this story it was to placate some of my old gaming buddies who wanted me to write about their characters. Well, what began as a simple adventure to slay a dragon turned into a novel regarding the greater war between the Rangers of Tehas and the minions of Lord Havoq.
Jack Large stood on the quarter deck of the Naster's Promise, watching the flurry of activity above and below. The Promise approached the dock of Misty Bay Colony at a snail's pace, though you would never know it by the number of orders Captain Hamplewaith shouted to the foresail top men.
Jack's diminutive race did not swim well, and thus he counted himself a dedicated land lubber. He stood in amazement as the Captain and crew drew the ship gently beside the dock. The humans threw ropes to the dwarven yardmen below who quickly secured the ship to ancient rock columns wrapped with burlap cloth. Cold wisps of fog crept over the deck railing as the bay's legendary blanket of mist rose to obscure the water's surface.
Jack's light coat and thin pants were no match for the colony's chilly night. To make matters worse, Captain Hamplewaith's late afternoon run into the bay through high waves left Promise's deck and Jack's hairy, unshod feet soaked with cold water.
The halfling shivered as he looked up into the hills surrounding the dock. Pinpoints of light twinkled as the populace of the colony lit lanterns within their homes and businesses. Magical lights on tall poles above the parapet walls lit the colony from the top of the hill to the water's edge. In Misty Bay, light was more effective than swords against the threats in the darkness.
The sun's final rays lit the ruins across the bay. Jack's sharp eyes made out collapsed, plant-covered buildings, towers, and spires. Time and nature destroyed what armies of orcs and ogres could not. Those ruins were the reason for his four month journey with promises of riches and power.
The ruins were once a great city ruled by a council of mages. It fell into darkness, and evil unleashed by the mages, or so the legend told. Jack didn't believe in evil. He didn't believe in good either. Things just were the way they were. Still, when he looked across the bay, a chill ran up his spine. Jack told himself it was because of the cold.
Captain Freedor Hamplewaith walked the deck yelling orders at his crew. He saw Jack and smiled. The captain's embroidered wool long coat, tall polished boots and stylish triangular hat marked him a successful merchant.
"And so, Master halfling, we've finally arrived," said Captain Hamplewaith.
"About bloody time, too. I'll never eat another fish in my life," grumbled Jack. "Nor shall I ever return home if it means this long a journey."
"You get used to it, Master Large. I return Straulia in two months time. By then you should be rich and ready to return," grinned the Captain.
"Rich, if I'm lucky. Ready to return, never," said Jack looking towards the ruins once more.
A fat, well dressed dwarf approached holding a lantern with a book under his arm. "Hallo, Promise. Welcome back to the colony," he yelled.
"Aye, glad to be in, Harol," said Captain Hamplewaith. "Didn't think we'd make the bay before nightfall, but we caught a lucky wind. Glad of it, too. There's things in this fog I'd rather not deal with tonight. Or any other night for that matter."
The gang plank dropped to the dock. Captain Hamplewaith motioned Jack to join him as he walked to the dock below. Jack's legs didn't quite know what to do without a ship rolling under them.
Harol laughed at the halfling. Jack replied with a scowl. He never much liked dwarves.
Captain Hamplewaith made introductions. "Harol Stonefist, meet my only passenger on this journey, Jack Large. Harol is the dockmaster here. Jack is an adventurer looking to make his fortune in the ruins and untamed lands here about."
"More meat for the grinder," snorted Harol. "Get about ten of you in a day. Well, considering your size I guess we get about twenty." Harol laughed at his own joke. He stopped when he realized no one else laughed.
For some reason dwarves seemed to tease halflings more than others. Jack assumed it was because they were shorter than elves and men and needed to pass on some of the ribbing they received. Whatever the case, Jack made a mental note to return to the dockmaster's residence some night to lighten the taunter's purse.
Captain Hamplewaith continued as if no offense had been given. "Jack will need some contacts, Harol. Someone in one of the adventurer guilds. Who's running the best outfit these days?"
"Those who survive their first month think Cornelius Diamondeye runs a good shop. He's a gnome with a nose for treasure, that's for sure. I'd recommend him. I used to send newcomers to Shiva's shop, but she packed up a few months back. I saw her board a ship headed to Angel Bay. White as a ghost she was. Never heard what happened, but I want no part of anything that could frighten that mage."
"Diamondeye's office is up that street, about ten blocks, but he won't be there now," continued the fat dockmaster. "He's usually at the Full Tankard Inn, I hear. Now there'd be a good place to put up for the night. They have plenty of gnome sized beds there that should fit a halfling fine."
Jack grunted, noting the street. He turned without a word to the dwarf and headed back onto the ship and below decks. Jack said his goodbyes to the crew as he collected his things. When he emerged, the crew was unloading goods from the cargo hold into wagons on the docks below. Items from Straulia and a number of tropical islands sold well, or so Hamplewaith said. The Captain stood on the dock arguing with a local merchant about the price of his goods. Jack raised a hand to wave goodbye, but the Captain never spared him a glance.
Jack walked off into the night, heading toward the Full Tankard Inn. His mouth watered as the smells of mutton stew reached his nose. His diet of fish and salt pork aboard the Nester's Promise left him desiring anything remotely edible that walked on four hooves.
Closed shops and numerous taverns, inns and restaurants dotted Traveler's Lane. A pair of city guards with well maintained arms and armor walked passed Jack without a second look. Well dressed human colonists visiting the restaurants and taverns nodded to each other and the guards while exchanging polite greetings. No one seemed to hurry, and no one looked down at Jack.
"And how are you doing, Mr. Large," Jack said to himself mocking the accent of the locals. "Just fine, Mr. Large, and you?" "Oh, couldn't be better." Jack spat on the street and turned back to see how far he'd come.
A drunk staggered out of the Lovely Lady Pub and into Jack. "Watch it, shorty," slurred the smelly human, "or you'll wind up a stain on the bottom of me boots." The human reeked of alcohol and dead fish. Dried fish blood and sweat covered the fisherman's once once white shirt. His boots still bore decaying fish parts adding to the smell.
Jack glared at the fisherman. Rage overwhelmed the halfling. Faster than thought, a small club with a heavy metal ball on the end shot out striking the fisherman on the kneecap. The human fell to the ground in pain, opening his mouth to yell. Jack filled the man's mouth with his boot kicking the fisherman over and over again in the face.
Jack bent over and relieved the fisherman of his coin purse. The halfling pulled the man's face close to his own. Jack held back gagging from the smell of beer breath, blood, and rotten teeth.
"My name's Jack Large. If you think you're big enough to take this back," Jack said holding the man's coin purse up, "come find it, and we'll continue the discussion."
The halfling dropped the man's face back to the pavement and backed away slowly. The human managed to rise on his third try. Jack held his club ready for the fisherman's attack.
Just then he heard the sound of a knuckles cracking. He looked up to see a huge man standing in the doorway of the Lovely Lady Pub. "That was right dirty fighting, little man. I figure I'm big enough to take it back." The giant grinned showing a number of missing teeth.
Jack snarled. "Come and get it."
The man lunged toward Jack with one huge fist raised in the air.