Episode 2: Reunions
Episode 3: Nigh Watch
Episode 4: Big Dogs
Episode 5: Judgment
Episode 6: On Display
Episode 7: The Uninvited
Episode 8: Departures
This week's episode: The Uninvited
The cage bars wrapped around Terad, Jordon, and Jack's throat. The humans and halfling struggled but the bar/tentacles held them tight, slowly crushing them to death. Jack heard Ballar's low voice chanting in some unknown language. Suddenly, the bars were back to normal. Terad, Jordon, and Jack's hands were at their throats trying to free themselves from an attacker that was no longer there. None of them were injured.
Ballar said the last words to his spell.
Cornelius's face flushed red in anger. "You should not meddle in the affairs that are not your own, foreigner," spat Cornelius. "You Tehasian Rangers have no authority here."
Ballar stood and placed himself between Cornelius and his fellow prisoners. "These men are now under my protection, Cornelius. You would be wise to keep your greedy fingers away from them." Ballar was a large man but the small gnome didn't back down one bit.
"You'll see what happens to meddlesome foreigners around here," said Cornelius. "I'm a large donor to the church of Justice so you would be wise not to cross me. It will effect what they prosecute." The old gnome smiled as a man who just played a trump card.
Ballar smiled back. "And I think you'll get a lesson in church hierarchy soon," said Ballar. "Are you aware it crosses all sorts of territorial boundaries? When you speak to the priests let them know they'll be hearing from Willard of Tehas soon. They'll know him."
The old gnome's eyes narrowed. "Fah, you'll see who controls what around here. And you, Mr. Largefoot, do not think of running. The binding spells the priests put on you will kill if you try to leave. You're my property now and I expect you to act like it."
Guards ran up from the keep. "Are you ok, Guildsman Diamondeye?" the sergeant asked.
"Yes," replied Cornelius. "I advise posting a guard here to make sure none of them escape. Keep an close on on the halfling. He's already made one escape attempt." The old gnome started to leave then stopped for a moment, considering. "A great reward awaits if these men don't return in the morning. It would be a pity if they all expired during an escape."
"I've got your reward right here, you twisted git," said Jack grabbing his crotch.
Cornelius sputtered for a bit then stomped off down the street.
Terad and Jordon slapped Jack on the back congratulating him.
Ballar patted Jack on the head. "Indeed, Mr. Large, you do nothing by half measures."
"So you're a priest," said Jack.
"I serve Uller, god of the Hunt, Archery, and Winter."
"We'll have healing spells tonight," said Jordon. "That's good news indeed."
"I have a few," said Ballar, "but Uller believes in self-reliance. We'll be much on our own."
"Well, a little is better than nothing," said Jack.
They all looked at Terad waiting for the joke. The fighter shook his head and sat down.
Additional guards were posted keeping passers-by at a distance. Occasionally people would stop and stare. Jack gave them each a Straulian one-fingered salute.
As afternoon gave way to evening, guards came with mules. They threw sacks and backpacks into the cage filled with the possessions of the prisoners. The guards hooked the mules to the wheeled cage. Jack and the others equipped themselves for a night in Old Town.
It was a parade, of sorts. People came out and waved, gave disapproving looks, or rude gestures depending on how they felt about the prisoners. The fisherman whom Jack assaulted shouted death wishes to Jack. Jack returned a Straulian one-fingered salute. Jack felt humiliated by the journey's end.
The procession stopped at the open gate to Old Town. A priest arrived and removed the magical wards from the cage handing a guardsman a key.
As before, guards formed two lines leading from the cage door to the gate. As before a priest of Law stood on the balcony reading each prisoner his sentence. In the middle of the priest's pronouncements, Fenris stood and began barking.
"Would you quiet your animal," shouted the priest.
Ballar spoke to Fenris in a foreign language. The wolf let out a long howl. Ballar suddenly looked toward the gate. "Man the walls! We're under attack. Close the gates! Close the gates!"
Ogres, orcs, and goblins burst from the ruins running towards the colony walls. The portcullis began to fall then stopped and rose again. Screams came from the gate house. Other guardsmen tried to enter the gatehouse but a strong, metal-bound door stopped them.
Tared and Jordon shouted for the guards to open the cage but the guardsmen ran towards the gate with spears ready to meet the charging forces of darkness. Alarm bells sounded throughout the colony.
"Jack, we need out of here," said Ballar.
The halfling pulled his favourite pick from its hiding place in his sleeve and opened the lock with one twist. The humans nearly trampled him getting out of the cage. The ogre's hit the gate first. Many had elven arrows stuck into them. The ogres crushed the guardsmen with sweeps of their large clubs. Several of the huge humanoids went down as the elves directed their fire inward. Then Tared and Jordon waded into the ogres and the tide of battle changed.
The two humans fought as a single instrument. Jack heard no jokes. Indeed the two seldom spoke at all. They just continued to dance around the huge beasts striking several at once. Ogre after ogre fell. Then, slowly, the ogres began to retreat.
Ballar stood outside the cage with his great longbow firing arrow after arrow. What he shot he hit and what he hit usually went down. His great wolf stood as his side, back fur standing on end. Ballar spoke to the dog often, keeping it at his side.
"Ladders!" someone shouted from the wall.
"Jack, are you going to stand there or join us?" ask Ballar.
"I'm holding myself in reserve in case anything gets through." lied Jack. In truth he was too stunned by the spectacle to attack much of anything.
"The gate house. Find out what's keep that portcullis up," ordered Ballar. "Fenris, protect Jack." The dog barked. Ballar reached into the cage, lifted Jack with one hand and placed him on Fenris' back. "Go"
Jack had never ridden a dog before. It was an odd experience as Fenris leaped over bodies and swerved past combatants delivering Jack at the gate house. Jack ordered the guards aside and went to work on the lock. A few seconds later the door swung open. Bodies were smashed everywhere as if a giant had smeared them on a wall. The only body that was somewhat recognizable was a female guard. She'd had her lower armor ripped away leaving her half naked.
The gears and chains where smashed and bent. Several guards vainly attempted to pry the chain from the wreckage to lower the portcullis. Jack thought it hopeless.
The halfling went back outside. Fenris knelt allowing Jack to mount. "Ballar," said Jack hoping the great wolf understood. The dog ran back to its master.
Adventurers from throughout the city began arriving. Fighters, mages, and priest mounted a defence of the colony from the walls but the battle continued.
"This makes no sense," said Ballar. "Even in these numbers the Old Towners don't stand a chance."
"Well someone stood a chance. The gate house is completely wrecked and the guards were a bloody smear on the wall. Well, except for that one poor girl."
"What?" said Ballar.
"There was this one girl. Looked like someone had their way with her before they killed her," said Jack.
"Sweet mother of the forest," said Ballar. "This entire battle is a diversion." Ballar spoke more words to Fenris. The dog began sniffing the air. Ballar cast spell and laid his hand on Fenris' back. Fenris' body glowed yellow. The aura concentrated itself on the dog's nose. Fenris let out a series of barks.
"He's in the city," said Ballar. "And he's after something. Jack, are you a pickpocket?"
"It's how I started in the business," said Jack.
"Can you remove a man's belt without him knowing?" asked Ballar.
"Easy," said Jack.
"We need to move quickly if we're to catch Dûr." said Ballar who then spoke to his wolf.
Fenris left at a trot sniffing the air with Jack still on his back.
"This is your fight, huntsman, not mine," said Jack holding onto Fenris' fur. "I want no part of whatever bent those gears."
"He is a dwarf with a very special belt," said Ballar. "He's the minion of Lord Havoq and he's only sent out on very special mission. Missions Havoq doesn't want to fail."
"You haven't answered why I should help you," said Jack.
"Because if we can take him down, that belt is yours," said Ballar. "You wouldn't need to endure many short jokes with that around your waste."
Jack smiled. "Alright, mate. I'm in. What's the plan?"
"Fenris and I distract him while you get the belt off. After that, we either kill or capture him. Either way I take him back to Tehas for trial and hanging," said Ballar. "I'd prefer just to hang him but some very important people want to talk to Dûr before he's sent to the lower planes."
"Fine by me as long as I get that belt," said Jack.
Fenris barked once and took off at a dead run. To Jack's surprise Ballar kept up. "He's got Dûr's scent," said Ballar.
Alarm bells rang throughout the colony. Most homes and businesses were shut tight against the battle. They passed a group of gaurdsmen standing in reserve.
"Shouldn't we grab them?" asked Jack.
"No," said Ballar. "Dûr would just kill them and they'd alert him before we got there."
Jack swallowed hard. He was a man of talent. He was good in a fight but he couldn't take down twenty guardsmen. If Dûr could do that then he could just as easily kill Jack.
They stopped in an alleyway across from the Full Tankard Inn. Fenris pointed his nose at the Inn and let out a growl.
"I've been there before," said Jack. "Its where Cornelius threw his web around me." Jack thought back to the female guard in the gate house. "Serena!"
Ballar put a hand on Jack's chest to keep the halfling on Fenris. "Stealth, Jack. If we go barging in there Dûr will make short work of us."
"Then what's your plan, huntsman?" ask Jack.
"I go barging in the front. You sneak around back," said Ballar.
"Oh, that's a much better plan," said Jack sarcastically.
Ballar continued . "I won't last long against Dûr so you must act quickly. Whatever it takes, get that belt."
Jack dismounted Fenris and walked casually across the street then ran to a back alleyway once out of site of the Inn. Assuming the back door was guarded he quickly hopped onto a barrel, climbed the inn's wall at a corner and entered the building from the second story. As he approached the stairway to the floor below he heard the door slam open below.
"I thought I smelled the stench of Havoq Keep," said Ballar loudly.
"So Black Arrow, we meet again," said a low gravely voice.
Jack crept downstairs keeping to the shadows, dropping over the railing to the floor below. He made no sound.
The inn was trashed. Dûr stood alone over Serina. The dwarf wore black, chain armor. A huge hammer lay nearby along with a shield emblazoned the hammer fist of Garn, god of Strength and Domination. Dûr wore a large, ornate belt clasp at his waist.
Cornelius sat in a chair with the bar's brass railing looped around him like rope. Tears flowed from the old gnome's eyes.
Serina struggled under Dûr's hand but couldn't get from under his grip. Her beautiful, violet eyes showed a combination of anger and fear.
Ballar had somehow changed. He now wore a black mask. His clothes where that of a city dweller with a clean white shirt, black leather vest, pants and boots. Jack was sure it was Ballar but all traces of his normal speech were gone to be replaced with a high-born accent.
"You interrupt my fun, Arrow," said Dûr. "Cornelius has given me what I came for hoping to save is niece. Pathetic since I'm going to kill her anyway."
"Not while I draw breath," said Ballar as he launch an arrow at Dûr. The arrow struck Dûr's shoulder but bounced off the dwarf's armor. The dwarf released Serina, grabbed his hammer and charged Ballar. The huntsman dropped his bow and drew his great sword then stood ready to meet Dûr's charge. Ballar side-stepped Dûr's first blow. The floor shattered where the hammer struck. Ballar swung his great sword at Dûr's head. The dwarf ducked under the blow, dropped the hammer and tried to grapple Ballar.
Ballar backed away swinging at Dûr's arms. The sword skidded off the dwarf's armor.
Jack moved forward using what remained of the Inn's furniture to hide his approach. Ballar grabbed one of the low timbers, raised his legs and kicked Dûr solidly in the chest. The dwarf, for all his strength, still only weighed as much as a normal dwarf. Dûr staggered back a few steps and started to launch toward Ballar. Jack reached for Dûr's belt buckle. For all its ornateness, the belt had a simple hook holding it on. The halfling's quick hands undid the belt and had it free.
"Ha," yelled Jack as he fastened the belt around his waist. "Who's the strongman now?"
Dûr glared at Jack. "Silly hairfoot. You think I'm stupid enough to wear it on the outside of my armor?"
Dûr punched Jack in the chest. Jack saw red and had the feeling of flying. Then he had the feeling of smashing into glass. Then he had the feeling of falling to the floor. After that he didn't feel much of anything.
(to be continued...)