The Razor's Edge

Brayden is set free

Brayden’s journal…

It was a blasted shame. I found Thrymar’s caravan. It was one of my masterpieces, too. I was able to lift over two-years wages in one soft, amazing, velvet pouch. But the blasted orcs invaded before I could get away.

The didn’t dismember me. No. I was flung out into the outskirts of the camp. Out of sight, out of their pea-brain minds. Fortunate for me. Not so fortunate for the temple whores that were in the tent. They were killed in a very painful, bloody progression. Or, so I was told.

I didn’t see such a thing. I woke up in the custody of a hired-hitman-soldier named Eiraes. An egotistical turd. Did I happen to mention that he stole my prize? Yeah, and the broach that the clerics in Drydar gave me.

I spent two days under heavy guard while the fellow muscle-for-hire held me captive at a church-sponsored outpost. Then Eiraes has a bright idea. He wants to take me into the city. Did I mention it was festival week? Further proof that the elf is insane.

He dragged me, still in chains for a full day. He stopped in a small inn to get a meal and some rest. While there, a crazy lady bursts in screaming about how some critter, child or itty-bitty monster took her child.

I noticed this as my opportunity. My chance to break out of these chains and slip away from this egotistical freak. Little did I know I was slipping out of the control of one freak, and into the realm of four: The elf, a dragonborn – one of the ugliest creatures I’ve seen that wasn’t trying to kill me—an elf, a human. The human was a cleric – a member of the church that had funded Eiraes’ trip on the road that had snagged me.

The cleric and dragonborn were apparently friends of the crazed woman. When they asked for volunteers to rescue the child, I tried to jump out to make sure I was seen. While it was difficult, it worked. The cleric chose Eiraes and myself to assist in the challenge. And I began my request to remove the shackles.

After I promise to the cleric that I won’t run under punishment of the god Paylor, the elf removed my chains. While I serve no deity of this world, the elf has kept the broach. I don’t know what it’s worth, but the clerics insisted that it was worth more than I could possibly imagine. And until I can pick his pockets and get it back, I will play along and chase down this little boogie man.

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New Direction for Eiraes

Eiraes’ Journal…

I haven’t spent much time around the Low Road but even I, a patient elf, was getting bored with the bustle of the area. This last job did leave a sour taste in my mouth, much as the region’s cooking, it was time to leave.

I found the opportunity when we came upon a caravan, Thrymar’s own, being attacked by a rouge band of Orcs. I haven’t seen them this far north in quiet awhile, though these did appear different than the ones I met in the past, how different can an orc really be? Although, every one of the travelers were lost in the raid, one unlucky rouge was found unconscious with the Lord’s coin purse tucked neatly in his vest.

We detained him and questioned his involvement to the attack and the coins, but were quickly lied to. “Payment” he said. Doubtful. I’m sure of his innocence with the attack with the ugly beasts, he seems above that and I don’t really mind the theft, even two weeks normal pay would have hardly been a dent in the ever deep pockets of Thrymar. But after taking the religious broach he carried with him is when it hit me, escort my Halfling friend here to the city of Veluna, an escape from this dreadful area and a chance to see more of the world.

Luckily enough in our travels after stopping at the Fallen Timber Tavern for a meal a woman screamed that her child was taken. No one in the tavern offered to help as fast as I had thought they would. Except Brayden. His heart is bigger than his own little frame? Probably not, but his eagerness for freedom was a beautiful thing. Eventually a fairy tracker from the back corner offered his hand, as a Humans Cleric of Paylor, and a strangely Dragonborn wizard. I knew this would eventually lead towards his permanent escape, but I had planned to let him go before we reached Veluna anyhow, it was a delight to see him swear his obedience to Paylor.

Maybe with the help of Brayden Plaughborn and his escape from shackles, I can escape from the memories of home that keep my mind shackled down here.

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Brayden rests -- Goblins

(( What MIGHT happen next from my perspective and imagination. ))

As the last hobgoblin guard fell, Brayden flopped to the ground. The fight was over, and the wounds in his shoulders still burned like insects from hell were burrowing their way through his bones. He rolled back and forth, trying to ease the pain. “AGGGhhh… damn, those guys were tough.”

But the good news was that it was over. He sheathed both daggers and sprawled out face-first on the musty, damp floor of the cavern, winded, exhausted and in pain. The cold rock on his sweaty face and neck felt good, despite the dirt and smell. The battle had taken nearly everything that they had.

With almost all of his remaining energy, he rolled over, staring in the dim light at the ceiling, trying to catch his breath and hoping to catch glimpses of the gems that were so valuable to the hobgoblin slavers. What a fine time for Eiraes to have to return to his fort to check in. Brayden was glad to survive, despite being without the odd elf’s uncanny ability to seemingly be in two places at once. The elf was fast, and they had missed his blade and combat strategy.

The cleric knelt next to him and placed one hand on each shoulder. He closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath. Brayden smiled and started to push his hands away. “Listen, I appreciate the help, but I don’t believe that your—”

Suddenly a wave of what felt like warm water flowed all over his body and Brayden’s pain vanished. “You are healed, little one.” Without another word, he stood, turned and attended to the goblin king that had led them in.

Brayden was amazed. His shoulder felt better than it ever had. He stood slowly, still panting to catch his breath as his heart rate returned to normal.

The goblin smiled and nodded with respect to the cleric. “Thank you, sir. Your kindness will not be soon forgotten in my kingdom.”

“Just remember…” Titus spoke up from his sitting position a few feet further away, “your promise to us.”

“Yes.” The Goblin King, Shagrach, nodded. “We will go, never to return to the village of humans.” He walked closer to the deep pit, then knelt and crawled forward, slowly peering down into it. Brayden saw a glint of moisture on the goblin’s face from the nearby campfires. Was that sweat or a tear?

“Free us.” Several slaves chained to the cave walls began chanting. “Free us.”

“Free them?!” Zander laughed. “What good ever came from freeing a goblin?”

“I saved your lives today.” Shagrach looked somberly at the ranger as he returned. “And even without a formal ‘thank you’, I will keep my promise of peace with your village. You should pay my kind more respect.”

The slaves seemed go grow more restless, chains rattling and echoing through the cave.

Brayden looked at their feet, and saw his prey… the gems that were mined from the walls of the cavern. He crept forward, staring intently at the gems, wondering if they were diamonds or precious stone.

“Titus bowed his head in respect. “Thank you, King Shagrach. Your help today was very appreciated. You are a mighty warrior, and we owe our lives to you.”

“Hardly.” Zander chuckled. “I didn’t see what happened, but with the way the smelly goblin ran out of his shackles, I’ll lay money that it was the goblin that got us into this mess. We should have let him die.”

“Wyrmrock!” The slave stepped between Brayden and the gems, wielding his pick as a weapon. The argument between Zander and Titus suddenly forgotten. “No!! WYRMROCK!!!”

Brayden jumped back, his daggers instinctively in his hands. “Hold on! I just want to see the stones that you’re digging up.”

“No.” The goblin continued to protect the pile of gems and dirt at his feet, screaming in a stream of gibberish.

Finally, Shagrach stepped next to Brayden, pulling one arm down from attack position. “He is trying to protect you, Halfling. He says not to touch the stones. Once you do, you are marked for death. The hobgoblins will feed you to the great evil below. That’s why my son … ” The goblin king stepped forward and took the pick from the slave.

“That is why my subjects will not leave the cavern. We believe that since we have disturbed the wyrmrock, our souls are marked. When we die, we will not die. We will live on in shells of ourselves, killing and doing the will of another.”

”’Scuse me?? Say that again?” Brayden couldn’t quite grasp what the Goblin king was talking about. It was a senseless riddle.

Shagrach ignored the halfling and began speaking in hushed tones. The pick head began to glow in an incandescent blue. Using the flat side of the pick he raised it far above his head and brought it down in a deafening crash. The piles of stones and rubble all over the room exploded into tiny shards and flashes of blue light.

He heaved back again and threw the pick against the wall with a ringing crash and growled at no one in particular. “We will not dig up the wyrmrock any more.”

“Hey!” Brayden spun the Goblin king around, ready to punch him, but the glare in those goblin eyes made him stagger backward. There was absolute hatred and anger. Brayden had seen the magic that the little goblin could summon, and the thought of being in the line of that magic anger made him pause. “Why did you do that? Those could have been worth something.”

“They were only worth your soul… Come. Help me free the slaves. I’ve already lost my son. I have likely lost my own life. But I will not lose my kingdom as well.”

“We should rest, Shagrach.” Titus stepped forward and knelt to be at eye-level, placing his large hand gently on the goblin’s shoulder. “We have all battled hard today… we’ve all had our losses, though none as great as yours. While our bodies were healed by the benevolence of the cleric, your heart may never be healed. May you find peace with this, great king.”

“But where can we rest?” The goblin looked around. “Certainly not in here. We’ve seen many guards coming and going throughout the caverns. They change shifts in sets of two or three. We have about six hours before the next shift arrives. We would not have the energy to get far at that rate, and once we are in the open, they would kill us from a distance, before we even knew they were there.”

“The mess hall.” Brayden smiled and lept forward. “It has only one egress and would give us tactical advantage. It would allow us to rest while only having one vantage point to cover. Let’s get the slaves freed and all rest in there. Should the guards come early, there would be more than enough of us to overpower them from our vantage point. With so many, we could keep two or three on guard in rotating shifts as the rest of us regain our strength.”

“It is a possibility, little one.” Titus nodded. The cleric stepped close to his side and nodded as well, still not speaking except as he had to.

“No!” Zander growled. “I will not sleep with goblins at my side.”

“Not just goblins, Zander!” Brayden felt indignant. He could only think of his father, working the fields and possibly becoming a slave like these humans and goblins had become. The elderly men of his own village would not have survived such brutality. His heart ached to see his own people again. He was tired of the land of elves, humans and gnomes … and goblins and hobgoblins.

“We all risked our lives to see the mining operation in here.” Brayden’s voice echoed off of the cavern walls as he spoke in stern tones. “And this room is much too eerie to sleep in. There’s no telling what may decide to ascend from that pit. But we are far too weak and tired to travel far enough away. We are ALL too tired.” Brayden pointed with his daggers around the room indicating the slaves as well. “Sw, we have a puzzle. There are many goblin slaves, but remember that there are also human slaves here. You have freed two of the human slaves, but there may be more.”

“The little one is correct, Zander.” Titus nodded. “Our own kinds may also have become slaves to the hobgoblins, even in other caves or mining operations. Come. Let us free the slaves, take a head count. Those that wish to stay with us for protection may do so—Goblin, human, elf, Dragonborn or otheriwse. If they choose to flee, they are free to do so, as well.”

“Don’t forget halfling.” Brayden said. Feeling a small victory won, he stood next to the tall Dragonborn. He crossed his arms, daggers still at the ready to make a show of force.

“Fine. But if you wake up with a dagger in your back, don’t blame me. I’ll be sleeping with my back against the wall, and my sword at the ready.”

(To be continued… )

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The death of Brayden

The skeleton swung its sword, and caught Brayden across the chest. Immediately, Brayden felt the warm trickle of blood down his chest. While the sword had not run him through, the blade had done significant damage.

Stumbling backward, Brayden gripped his daggers tightly and tried to gather his resolve. They were losing this battle, and the undead seemed to be getting stronger with every second.

“Shagrach! LOOK OUT!” Brayden shouted as the middle skeletal archer drew his invisible bowstring back, bone arrow notched and aimed right at the Goblin’s head. Shagrach ducked as the arrow missed by no more than an inch.

Brayden took a deep breath and started forward again, resolved to find a way to bring these ivory monstrosities to the ground in pieces. Leaping forward he grasped the open ribcage and climbed the skeleton like a ladder. He drew his dagger and thrust it deep between the vertabrae just below the skull.

A loud shreik preceded the skeleton’s violent shaking, tossing Brayden backward onto the dusty, cold stone floor.

“I said kill it, not piss it off!” Eiraes shouted.

“I’d love to!” Brayden shouted back, anger building deep inside as he picked himself off the floor. “Just tell me how to kill something that doesn’t want to die… and has found a way to simply NOT die. Any bright ideas? I’m open to hear ‘em.”

A boned arrow whistled past Brayden’s ear. He could feel the swish of air and the sting as it grazed his cheek.

“Please… gentlemen! Focus on the task at hand, not each other.” Titus raised his hands, and a bolt of blue ice shot forward, striking the nearest skeleton, seemingly to no avail. It moved a bit slower, but attacked with great vigor and intent. “These beasts must have a weakness.” His eyes grew wider as he spun facing the far corner. “Brayden! On guard!”

A low growl behind him made Brayden spin, but it was too late. A gray decaying beast had come out of the shadows and caught him by surprise. He tried to tumble backward away from the beast, but it was much faster than he’d anticipated. It grabbed him by the shirt, and thrust something deep into his already wounded chest.

Brayden looked into the yellow eyes of the beast as it pulled him in close. The rotten smell of decay and death filled his senses. The skin hung loosely on the bony frame, but his grip was stronger than any soldier or bodyguard Brayden had ever encountered. It was not a zombie, at least, not the kind he’d been told about. He was a rotting gray monstrosity, apparently a derived from what was once a humanoid like a hobgoblin or orc in its past life. But now, was nearly a manifestation of decay and evil. The beast growled in a horrific low tone: “Today, I will feed on your soul!”

With that, Brayden saw the beast’s arm jerk forward, and another flash of pain ripped across his ribcage with such intensity that he tried to scream from the agony of the wound, but nothing would come out. He tried to inhale but his body was no longer responding to him. His vision began to dim as pressure behind his eyes grew unbearably intense. With a quick glance down, he saw his ribcage torn open and blood pouring down the front of his body.

Brayden closed his eyes and tried to push himself backward, away from the beast that had grabbed him up, but his arms and legs had become incredibly weak. “Help… Eiraes!” he managed to groan, but with that proclamation his world went dark.

  • * * * *

Brayden woke to a soft light growing around him until the light itself was so bright that it permeated his very body. Nothing hurt. Nothing seemed out of place, despite the viscious battle that he’d just been in. No one stood over him or around him. “Eiraes?? Titus?? Whare are you? Where am I? Someone… answer me.”

“They did not come with you.” The voice was soft, but firm.

“What do yo—no. No, it can’t be. No, I’m not…” Brayden looked around trying to identify the source of the voice, but it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

“Dead? Yes. Quite, actually. Yet, you live.”

“Enough with the riddles! Who are you?! Did you heal me? Or the cleric? What’s going on here? SHOW YOURSELF!”

“Tell me, Brayden Plaughborn, son of Micah Plaughborn… What good does it do for a halfling to gain all the wealth in the world and lose his soul?”

Brayden could see nothing around him except the soft radiating white light. Even the ground under his feet seemed to be a brilliant white marble. “I don’t know. I don’t understand the question.”

“Please. Don’t tell me you are that dense. You are a bright halfling. What good did it do you to seek great wealth? Whether you farmed all the days of your life with your father, or stole on the low road, or you dove deep into the caverns of the abyss itself, you still wind up here with me when your days are done.”

Brayden walked forward, still trying to isolate the sound of the voice. “You seem to have the answers, here. You tell me.”

“Come, Brayden. Your time has reached its end. There is no more time for questions, and even less time for answers. Come with me.” A man stepped out of the brilliant light and gently took Brayden by the hand. It was only then that Brayden realized that he was not wearing his trademark leathers. He wasn’t even wearing his familiar dark cloak. He was wearing a simple linen robe, draped with silver adornments on the fringes and a golden sash at his waist.

“Wh-where am I going?”

“It is written… ‘for each, once to die, and then the judgement.’”

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Eiraes' Return

Eiraes stealthily followed a Hobgoblin grunt as he entered the cleverly hidden tunnel, but still keeping a safe distance. The two eventually came to a semi-lit small room with no obvious exits. The Hobgoblin sniffed some more and grumbled something intangible. The beast drew it’s sword and walked through a wall as if it weren’t there and disappeared. One second later there was roar, followed by a man yelling in fear.

Dashing to the stone ‘wall’ Eiraes felt in disbelief as his hand slide right through the rock’s surface. Slowly walking through it, he came to a cave tunnel and saw the Hobgoblin charging at what appeared to be two humans who could barely stand on their own feet. Not wanting to lose an opportunity to find his missing comrades, he made a decision to take this one alive.

In an instance Eiraes vanished and appeared a few feet in front of the speedy Hobgoblin, bringing a startled look to the creature’s face. Sticking his foot out and assisting the attacker to the ground with a quick shove, Eiraes made sure the encounter was over. It put its hands on top of its head, almost as if it’s done this before.

Just then, a club came up over the new found prisoner’s head. Smashing down, the body crumbled beneath it leaving one of the humans standing over it.

“We were prisoners of these damn things. I wasn’t going to let it sit there and weasel out somehow,” He said. How could I argue?

“How does a dead body explain where my friends are? Should I be looking at the blood flow? Or maybe the direction its fingers are pointing?” With that last comment, the three members looked towards its mangled fingers, twisted and broken, pointing in every direction. “Helpful” Eiraes remarked.

They quickly described the party that rescued them, and they were off in the direction they went. Eventually meeting up with them, and setting up camp for the night.

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Hiding in plain sight
An exiled Tiefling's life

Bartholemew pulled the hood down a bit as he shoveled manure from the church stalls. Two other indigents worked a few stalls down. He could hear them talking between themselves. 

“So, Thad… have you seen any more Tieflings raiding your pigs?” The first one chuckled. He was short and fat, with long greasy hair. 

The inference that Tieflings did evil things always made Bartholemew angry. He channeled his anger into the shovel, and worked even harder. He and his kind were not evil. Sure, they were descenants of demon/human encounters, but Bartholemew was a peaceful Tiefling. But knowing how they were hated among the people, he always strived to keep his identity hidden for fear of the result.

“Give it a rest, Michael.” Thad scowled as he continued shoveling. “Ya know there ain’t no such thing. They’re myths made up to scare kids to eat their beets.”

“Not true. I saw one five years ago. Ugly beast. Long hair. Dark skin. He was gonna kill me, but I got away. Ran straight into town and got a mob together, but we never could find the bastard. He vanished into thin air without a track or a trace.”

“Likely story. What’ya think, Scar Face?” Thad called over. 

When Bartholemew looked across the stables, Thad was leaning on his shovel, staring right at him. He glanced at Chubby, and he froze. He knew that face. He’d seen that man before. Fear ripped through his chest and arms like ice. Quickly ducking his head, Bartholemew shouted back, “My name is Bartholemew. And please don’t bring me into this. I’m just working for my wages.”

“Oh, come on.” Chubby waddled down the aisle toward Bartholemew’s stable gate. “Tell us. Do you believe in Tieflings?”

“If I did, would you shut up and leave me to work in peace?” Bartholemew dropped his shovel, pushed through the gate and past Chubby, briskly walking toward the chapel. 

“Awww, you’re no fun, Scar Face.” Chubby called after him. “Get back here and grow a spine. We’re just trying to make the day go faster.”

But it was too late. He couldn’t risk trying to carry a conversation with them. Especially him. Once inside, he marched directly to Priest Donnair’s  room, gathered his composure and knocked gently on the door.

“Come in.” The priest’s voice was smooth and practiced.

Bartholemew opened the door and stepped through. The room was paneled in dark, expensive wood, and the floor was covered in an expensive imported rug. After closing the door, he removed his hood and bowed with respect. 

“Yes, Bartholemew? How can I help you?”

“Apologies, sir. I’ve come to collect what little I’ve earned today. I did not finish, but the two you’ve assigned to work with me today were insistent on seeing my face and carrying conversation.”

The priest nodded. “I understand. It’s okay. I will pay you a full wage today if you’ll do a few other favors for me.” Priest Donnair pulled three coins from his pocket and handed them across his desk. “I’ll tell the others that the scars from your accident were causing you pain and you had to go to find a salve for relief.”

“That’s the other thing, sir… I don’t think that the story of my disfigurement will hold up to scrutiny any more. People are curious by nature. The more you pronounce me different, the more that they want to see all of the differences. Please, sir. Let me return to cleaning the stables at night, in peace.”

Priest Donnair lowered himself back into his plush chair. “Now, Bartholemew… you know that is not possible. The horsemen will return at night, and the horses are disturbed by your presence. They, too, fear your kind.”

“Then what else can I do for you? I cannot work with these men any more. You, alone, have put trust in me. Everyone else in this entire city wishes me and my kind dead, fearing that we will eat their children and kill their cattle, and stew their innards for dessert. I will serve you humbly, with whatever skill I have. But I just wish to do so in private.”

“I am not alone in my trust of you. And how will they learn, Bartholemew? I’m putting these men with you so that one day they will discover your true face, and realize that your nature is not to harm them but to help. You are a true gentle soul.” The priest’s words were soft and sincere. “How will they ever trust you if they do not work side-by-side with you to know your true nature?”

“You want them to discover me? We’ve already run into this five years ago. You insisted that I step out of my fear and face it head-on. That very man you put with me today was the man that tried to rally the city against me. This experiment has failed my kind over and over through the years. And that day, had you not hid me in the basement of this building, I would be dead. I revealed myself to him as a gesture of good will, and he ran, fearing that I would devour him.”

The priest sat with a solemn look on his face, his hands pressed together at the fingertips and his thumbs resting on his chin.

“Well? Do you have other work for me, or not?”

With a deep sigh, the priest looked up. “You are right, my friend. The people are not ready… not yet. I will speak with Bishop LeRove. There has been an issue boiling to the southeast, and you spend much of your weeks in those woods. Perhaps you could be our eyes and ears there. If he agrees, we could pay you to do some scouting for us. There, you’d be in your home environment, and you would have the privacy that you seek.”

Bartholemew felt his shoulders relax for the first time in weeks. “That would be very nice. Thank you, my friend.”

The priest stood and slowly escorted Bartholemew to the door. “I make no promises, but I will ask on your behalf. He knows your plight, he knows your true origin and most importantly, he trusts you. Now, if you will excuse me, I must prepare the utensils for the festival this week. In the next ten days, there will be much chaos. I need to be as focused as possible.”

Bartholemew donned his hood and shook the priest’s hand, grasping it in both hands he stared directly into the priest’s eyes. “I owe you my life, Donnair. Thank you for all you’ve done for me.”

“You’re welcome. And it is I that is in debt of his life to you. Now go. I’ll send a servant to deliver a message to you at your camp site in two days.”

Bartholemew thanked him again and slipped quietly down the corridor. He checked his tail to make sure it was still securely fastened under his cloak, then slipped into the streets. People brushed by in on either side. They laughed with their friends, haggled with the vendors, yelled at their mates, and continued life as normal… completely un-aware that a Tiefling was walking through their midst. How many times had people of his kind done this? And how many times had they slipped through life unnoticed. Yet they did no harm to the people of the city. Any city, for that matter.

As he past the city gate, a guard approached, shouting for him to stop. Bartholemew held up the church’s symbol and the guard nodded. “Your symbol marks you as damaged to the Order of Truesilver. How are you damaged?”

“Fire upon my face when I was a child. I am ashamed to reveal my scars as they are a mark of my transgressions against Truesilver, sir.” Bartholemew called back. This was a speech that he was all-too-familiar with. “Please have mercy on me and grant me the right to hide my face.”

“What is your name?”

“Bartholemew.”

“And upon whose blessing did you receive the mark?”

“Priest Donnair. He has delivered a note of me to all gates.”

The guard looked back toward his counterpart who nodded. “Very well. Go through.”

Once out of sight of the city walls, Bartholemew relaxed again. He slipped into the woods down a small trail. Once sufficiently deep into the woods, he removed his hood and inhaled deeply. The cool breeze carried the sweet aroma of the spring-time foliage. He walked a bit slower, enjoying the connection with nature as he returned to his campsite to await the promised messenger.

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Into the wood

The campfire crackled and made harsh shadows against the night. Bartholemew closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth from the fire. Three days had past since he had spoken with Priest Donnair, and still no word.

A rabbit hung on a spit over the dying flames where he’d eaten a good portion of it. A loud crack behind him made him jump. In an instant, his sword was drawn facing the direction of the sound; “Who’s there?”

“Mr. Bartholemew?” A weak voice called out of the darkness. “I was sent from Veluna by request of Priest Donnair.”

Bartholemew put his sword away and pulled his hood over his head far enough to cover his face. “Come closer.”

A skinny man no taller than five-foot slipped from behind a tree, nervously inching closer. “Y-you… you are a Tiefling.”

“No. I was scarred as a child. But you did not come to discuss my malformities. What do you have to report?”

“I saw your face. You are a Tiefling. I’ve always wanted to meet a Tiefling. Are you as kind as Priest Donnair has said?”

Bartholemew slowly lowered his hood, letting the flickering light of the campfire dance on the side of his face. “I hope so. He has placed alot of trust in me.”

“Indeed,” the man held out a coin purse in a trembling hand. “He said that I should give you these.”

Slowly taking the coin purse from the little man, Bartholemew smiled. “Thank you. I assume this means that I have been officially commissioned.”

“Yes. I have much to tell you.”

Bartholemew stepped back, inviting the man to sit at his campfire. “Tell me more. I have a rabbit cooking. There’s not much, but you are welcome to what is left.”

The man sat and eagerly devoured the remains of the rabbit, sucking the bones dry, sure to get every ounce of meat from the sparse carcass. His name, as Bartholemew discovered, was Herman, but preferred to be called Shorty. He detailed the region of the forest that seemed to be having issues. There was a great evil boiling somewhere in the wood, and the epicenter seemed to be somewhere to the east.

After the man finished speaking and eating Bartholemew began to collect the bones to be buried to prevent wild animals from approaching his camp. “Thank you, Shorty. The hour is late. You are welcome to camp here and return in the morning.”

“If I may,” Shorty slowly stood, “I would like to go with you.”

“Hah! This wilderness is no place for city dwellers. Especially if there is such a great evil as you have said.”

“Please. I’m a cartographer by trade. I know the area outside the wood quite well. Let me go with you. I have nothing back in Veluna, and to spend time with a Tiefling would be my honor.”

The last sentence made Bartholemew pause. “Tell me, Shorty. Are you afraid of me? Afraid of my kind?”

“Not at all,” Shorty chuckled. He stood and stepped closer, “I’ve been interested in your kind since I met one as a child. It was a simple action, really. I had fallen in the dirt and began to cry, and a woman came over and picked me up. She dusted me off and sat me down next to my parents. I don’t think they ever saw her face, but I did. She was a Tiefling. I remember the shape of her face under her hood. I know she was. And if she were evil, I would have been dead already.”

“This commission may get dangerous. How do I know you can take care of yourself?”

Shorty drew two daggers from sheathes at his side. “This is Margaret, and this is Betty. They’ll do the talking for me.”

Bartholemew nodded with contemplation. He was happy to see a human so interested in his heritage for a change, but something still nagged at him. With a single movement, Bartholemew drew his sword, and thrust it just over Shorty’s left shoulder.

Shorty screamed and rolled to his side. Bartholemew tried to contain a laugh as Shorty tripped over a small log and nearly landed face-first in the fire, missing it by only a few inches. 

“The woods are too dangerous for someone who is not ready at all times.” Bartholemew slowly replaced his sword. “I mean you no harm, but if I needed someone to go with me, I would need someone whose nerves are a bit more steady. As I said before, you are welcome to stay until sunrise, but then you must return. Tell Donnair that I accept his offer, and tell no one of my heritage. It is important that I remain hidden for now. Agreed?”

Shorty nodded. “Sure. I understand.”

With that, the two made preparations for bed. Bartholemew buried the leftover bones, and Shorty placed another bit of driftwood on the fire and unrolled his bedroll. Little else of adventuring was mentioned between them.

Sometime past the third hour, deep into the darkness of night, Bartholemew woke to the sounds of shuffling nearby. He got onto his knees and wielded his sword. Keeping the light of the fire out of his eyes to prevent night blindness. Glancing around the camp, he noticed that Shorty was no longer in his bedroll. 

“Shorty? Is that you?” Bartholemew peered toward the rustling sounds as they seemed to draw closer. He saw a brief flash of white darting from tree to tree.

Bartholemew gripped the handle to his blade tightly. The rustling sounds faded, and soon there was nothing but errie silence. Not even the insects made their usual forest noises. Something had startled even them.

In an instant, Bartholemew felt something heavy land on his back, tossing him off-balance as he tumbled face-first into the dirt. He spun onto his back where a wide-eyed Shorty stood over him, daggers drawn and pressed against his throat. “Now… I think you see that my nerves are a bit better than before. Perhaps you would reconsider taking me along.”

With that, shorty smiled, withdrew his weapons and sheathed them. He extended a hand to help Bartholemew off the ground.

With little else than his pride injured, Bartholemew stood and dusted his clothing. “Perhaps you are right. I was a bit hasty. In the morning, we will head out. But if something happens to you, I owe you no allegiance. You are going on your own merit, and whatever happens is on your own head.”

Shorty smiled and extended his hand. “Agreed. It will be my honor to fight at your side, come what may.”

  • * * * *

The two strode through the trees as the early morning sunlight danced like golden glitter through the tops of the trees. Bartholemew kept a hand on the hilt of his sword as he looked around.

“So, what did Donnair tell you about these woods?” Bartholemew asked, breaking the silence between them.

“That they were full of wonder, and that you would know what to do when you found it.”

Bartholemew stopped. “Found what?”

“That’s just it. I have no idea. He said you would know. That your training would come into it’s own and you would know it when you see it.”

Bartholemew sighed heavily. “The man was always full of vagueness. But he is rarely wrong on such things. Come on. Let’s find whatever it is I am to find, and get back to him.”

“You don’t suppose we’ll find orcs, do you?” Shorty asked with a gleam in his eyes. “I’ve read much about them, but haven’t ever seen one.”

“I doubt it. The elves have them cornered down in the southeast, except for a few roaving raiding parties.”

“But if we do,” Shorty smiled, “What would you do? Would you draw your sword and charge them? Or would you announce your presence and try to negotiate?”

“Negotiate what? They only seek to kill, ravage and destroy.” Bartholemew spit on the ground at the thought of Orcs. “To announce my presence would be to give away tactical advantage. If I felt I could win, I would draw my sword and charge with all that was within me. If I did not, I would skirt by.”

“Hmmm. And the same could be said about Tieflings from a human’s perspective.”

Bartholemew nodded. “Touche. But I have witnessed my fair share of orc attacks. Have you ever come upon the scene of a Tiefling attack?”

Shorty laughed. “Touche, indeed. And no… I have not. Then again, how would one such as myself know the difference?”

“Well, first of all, we do not revel in the spilling of blood. Only if our own lives are threated would we risk spilling blood onto the soil. We believe there is an inherent life that flows through the blood of all living things. If the scene is a bloody mess, then it is most likely not the work of a Tiefling.”

“I will keep that in mind for when we come upon our next scene of an attack.” Shorty grinned from ear to ear. “I appreciate you letting me spend time with you. There is so much I can learn from you.”

Movement to their left made Bartholemew stop. He held out his hand for Shorty to remain silent.

“What is it?” Shorty asked.

“Shh.” Bartholemew scanned the horizon. Darting between the trees in the distance was a tall humaniod. It’s skin darker than usual, and bare-chested. 

“Get behind me.” Bartholemew whispered. When he looked back, Shorty was nowhere to be seen. “Shorty?!” Bartholemew tried to yell and whisper at the same time. “Oh well…” he whispered to himself. “At least if he ran home, he won’t get hurt.”

Bartholemew slipped behind a tree and peered around, watching the humanoid as he ran in the distance. Soon, it changed direction and began running directly at Bartholemew’s position. That’s when Bartholemew noticed the tiny goblin leading the way. 

“Nooooo!! Be freee!” the Goblin squealed. “Let me be free!”

As the large humanoid stepped from behind a tree, Bartholemew could make out its origin. It was a Hobgoblin.

It stepped forward and drew its bow. In one swift move it notched an arrow, pulled back and released. The arrow sped forward, piercing the goblin’s chest.

Bartholemew stepped out from his hiding place and rushed to the fallen Goblin. As he touched its body he knew that the creature was dead. There was no life emminating from his body. 

An arrow flew by Bartholemew’s head. Looking up, he saw the hobgoblin bearing down at full speed on him, notching another arrow. 

Bartholemew jumped up and ducked behind a tree, followed by the ‘thunk’ sound of the arrow embedding itself deep into the bark. Knowing that the hobgoblin would take a second or two to notch another arrow, he spun out and charged the creature with a mighty roar. The hobgoblin was not phased by the display of force. He stood fast, notched the arrow and drew back his arm. 

A ball of white fell from the branches above, knocking the bow and arrow off target just before the arrow was released. “You’ll not defeat us!” Shorty screamed as he drove his dagger deep into the hobgoblin’s chest. As the creature fell forward, another arrow came from nowhere, catching shorty just under the ribcage.

Bartholemew dashed forward, leaping over logs and underbrush. Another hobgoblin turned and ran in front of him. Without a thought, Bartholemew pressed harder to chase. If the creature reached any other hobgoblins, Bartholemew would be dead. Soon, they approached a clearing where a dry riverbed lay. By this point, Bartholemew was only inches from the hobgoblin. He raies his sword and brought it down with full force, plunging it deep into the creature’s back.

As it came to a halt, Bartholemew plowed full-force into it, sending them both into a tumble down the steep hill until they were both sprawled at the bottom of the dry riverbed, his sword and only weapon still firmly lodged in the hobgoblin’s back.

He lept to his feet, poised to defend himself, but the creature did not stir. He stepped slowly forward, and yanked the sword out of the creature’s back. As he did, he could feel the life-force fade from it. It, too, was dead.

Dashing back through the woods, he finally made it back to Shorty, who was panting heavily, trying to press on his bleeding wound. 

“I’ll … be okay.” He growled and grimaced as he pulled the arrow cleanly through, then let out a scream that startled the birds in the distance.

Bartholemew placed his hands on the human’s wound. He could feel the life quickly fading as the blood poured out. “No.. No no no… hang on, Shorty.”

He closed his eyes and tried to summon all that he could. He could feel the warmth flow through his fingertips, and he heard Shorty sigh. When he opened his eyes again, Shorty lay on the groud. His shirt covered in blood, but the wound was sealed.

“Shorty?”

After a long pause, shorty looked up. “Yeah?”

“You scared me to pieces.” Bartholemew collapsed on the ground beside him.

“I scared you?? What about me?” The two laughed until they could laugh no more. 

“So, you still want to go with me?” Bartholemew asked, breaking their revelry.

“That depends… was that an orc?”

“No. A hobgoblin. Meaner, uglier and deadlier. Probably more of them, too. They don’t travel alone.”

Shorty stood, slowly checking himself over. “What did you do to me? I thought I was going to die.”

“It was a blessing of Truesilver. You will not die. Not right now anyway. But things just got worse than I could have expected. I need you to return to Donnair. With the discovery of hobgoblins in the wood, we have a huge problem. Go back to Veluna and tell Donnair that we ran into Hobgoblins near a dry river.”

“What dry river? There’s only one river that flows through Dapplewood. That’s Stone River. I charted it years ago, but rumors say that it has been poisoned, not dried up.”

Bartholemew glanced back in the direction of the second fallen creature. “Go. Tell Donnair that Stone River has been dammed up someplace up river. I will go see what I can discover and return to him as quickly as I can.”

Shorty nodded as a smile spread across his face. “A hobgoblin, eh? I killed a hobgoblin?”

“Don’t let it go to your head. You were almost killed by one too.”

Bartholemew shook the small man’s hand. Despite how humans had treated him in the past, in the past day, he’d begun to hope. Perhaps he could discover acceptance after all. Maybe with enough time, Tieflings could once again be trusted. “Go with Truesilver.”

Shorty nodded, and jogged back up the small trail toward the former campsite.

Bartholemew dashed back down the hill to the fallen Hobgoblin. As he stood in the middle of the dry riverbed, he placed his palm on the ground and a sense of foreboding and evil swept over him. 

“This isn’t good.”

View
How to Trap a Tiefling
Written by Jerry and Duane

Bartholemew held his sword at his side, watching the floor of the riverbed carefully. The autumn air was crisp and cool, and scented with the fallen leaves, but the scent of drying mud, the scattered bodies of small fish, drying in the sun, and the ribbon of silt where the river once ran through the forest kept giving him uneasy feelings. There was definitely something sinister behind this unnatural event.

A sudden crack in the tree line to his right caused him to start. He raised his sword and scanned the line. A small cloaked figure darted into the trees. Goblin? No, this one didn’t move like a goblin. He was a slight bit taller than Shorty, and a bit more filled out. He was dressed more like the wagon people that were camped only a short distance away. The Tiefling had seen them setting up camp when they had first arrived. Perhaps one of their boys was out exploring the woods.

“Wait.” Bartholemew took up chase. Prowling through these woods alone, this little one could be in great danger. He had already encountered two hobgoblins in the woods, there were bound to be more.

“Wait! Stop! This area is dangerous, little one.”

As the Tiefling paladin dashed into the wood, he jumped over a fallen log and ducked a few branches before being able to stand upright and scan for movement. The little one had vanished. Bartholemew scanned the dead leaves for evidence of being recently disturbed, but he was no skilled tracker.

“Little one! Come back here.” he shouted into the forest. Several birds stirred, but nothing else seemed to have noticed his outcry.

The paladin started at a half-jog forward, deciding in himself that if he did not see the boy within the next minute, he would resume his investigation of the riverbed. There was too much at stake to waste time.

Another sharp crack sound, and the Tiefling spun to his left. There was the boy again. He looked human at a distance. For a good half second, they stared at each other before he dashed into the wood again.

Bartholemew waited. Why, he wondered. Why let himself be seen again? He had already evaded me. If he wanted to get away, why divulge his position?

Moving cautiously forward, he scanned the trees, looking for traces of movement. Keeping his sword gripped tightly at his side.

“I see you.” A voice said from his right. Bartholemew turned, but didn’t raise his sword. The young man sat on a rock, holding the end of a thin rope. He fidgeted with the rope. He was anxious but not panicked. This young man had the same swarthy complexion and dark hair that characterized the wagon people. Only his pointed ears betrayed his mixed parentage.

“You must be careful, little one.” The Tiefling said very calmly as he approached, “I’ve killed two hobgoblins today, and there are sure to be more in the area.”

“There are worse things than goblins in the woods.” He answered, ignoring the Tiefling’s warning. His eyes locked on Bartholemew’s face, and there was an edge to his voice.

Bartholemew reached up and touched the edges of his hood. Until that moment, he had forgotten that his face had been unguarded. The man had seen his true form. “I am Bartholemew.” The Tiefling introduced himself, already aware that he was being scrutinized. “Where are you from?”

“I travel with the Rom.” The young man answered. The Romani was what the wagon people called themselves. To everyone else they were gypsies. As a seeker of truth, Bartholomew was a good listener. The boy didn’t say he was Rom, but rather that he travelled with them. There was a distinction.

Bartholemew sheathed his sword and took a step forward. “Then let me escort you back.”

“You are an odd sort, to be requesting to escort me.” The young man fidgeted. “How do I know you would not try to eat me on the journey?” But he didn’t sound afraid. In fact he sounded almost excited at the prospect.

This young man had seen his face. And for the second time in a day, someone that had seen his horns had not run away or assumed the worst in him. He had a sudden rush of hope. Perhaps there could be peace for the Tiefling nation once again. Bartholemew took a step forward and knelt to be eye level with the little half-elf. “Because if I wanted to harm you, wouldn’t I have done so already? Why would I follow you, alone to this place just to hold a conversation with you.” He extended his hand, a friendly gesture, “Now, come. Let’s leave this wood. It is not safe for you here right now.”

The young man stood and held the end of his rope tightly. “You are correct—we shall go back to the camp.”

The half-elf yanked the end of his rope and Bartholemew felt his right leg being violently yanked backward as the distinctive sound of a bag of stones scraping down the side of a tree. His sword flung out of his sheathe and glanged against a nearby tree as he turned rapidly upside down. He screamed in pain as his head thumped against a stone and world spun around him in an upside-down blur of green and brown.

“And that is how you catch a demon!” The half elf laughed. He actually jumped up and down with glee. The Tiefling extended one arm and caught hold of a sapling to stop the spinning. His eyes focused on the youth he had so underestimated.

“Rom satarma!” He exclaimed in a language Bartholomew didn’t understand. “Wait ‘til they see you!” the youth continued, “The gadja will pay good money to see a real live demon!”

“Get me down from here!” Bartholemew spewed. Blood rushed to his head, making his ears ring and his face flush from the extra blood and from anger.

The boy anxiously drew a short sword from his scabbard, pointing it at the Tiefling while working upon a leather satchel to remove several darts with his other hand. “Don’t say another word,” he warned. “I know about you demons and your sorcerous ways! You’ll try to put a hex on me.” He was nimble but inexperienced. And the way he was holding that sword informed the Tiefling that his aptitude at setting traps far exceeded his skill with a sword.

“I am not a demon. I’m a Tiefling!” Bartholemew finally shouted down, resolving that just being angry would not change his situation. “And I have—had—no intention of harming you!” He reached back and felt for the dagger he kept in his belt. While he was not proficient with such a small blade, he always wanted to be prepared… although he never expected to have to use it for cutting himself out of a tree.

“A Tiefling?” The boy shook his head, “Fairy tales! They are merely legend.”

“Do I look like a legend to you?!”

“No.” The boy knelt down bringing himself to eye level with his captive. “You look like a demon. You are a demon. And I will capture you and put you in a cage. You will bring me great profit.”

“Cut me down, and I will show you what I am made of.”

Instead the boy nimbly maneuvered himself behind the paladin as Bartholomew reached for him. A sharp pain flashed in his neck. He could feel a drip of blood running up his neck, into his hair.

“I swear that if I get my hands you, little one, you will regret this.”

“It’s too late.” The little man shouted, fear in his voice.

“Why? What did you do?”

“I poisoned you. It won’t kill you, but will put you to sleep.” The boy smile was triumphant, like a young hunter over his first kill. “By the time you wake up, you will be on display.” He prattled on, waiting for the poisoned dart to take effect, “Much better than the bear! The bear is tame. Really. He doesn’t need to be in a cage anyway. Besides. . .”

The boy’s eyes suddenly grew wide in surprise and shock as he stumbled forward. About the time Bartholomew noticed the arrow in the boy’s side, he felt the bite of another arrow in his own thigh. The paladin swung back and forth, feeling along the back of his belt until his hands fumbled onto the smooth silver of the dagger. In one quick move, he swung upward slicing the rope that bound his leg. He crashed to the ground, landing hard on his neck and shoulder, looked up in time to see a small group of hobgoblins rushing forward.

“Go,” Bartholemew shoved the ignorant boy in the opposite direction, “Get out of here! Goblins!”

But the gypsy boy just stood there. He looked up from the arrow in his side and stared transfixed at the approaching hobgoblins.

“Go!” Bartholemew gave him another shove, and the boy stumbled forward, assessed the situation and then ran. Before he could turn his attention back to the approaching goblins he felt another arrow bite deeply into his shoulder. He winced and silently cursed himself for allowing the boy to have distracted him so completely from the real danger in these woods. Now he could see them clearly, bows drawn, and knew if he didn’t close the distance between them they would continue to pepper him with arrows until he dropped.

The hobgoblin leader snarled, the hatred in his violent black eyes seeming to intensify as Bartholemew charged towards him. The leader dropped his bow and drew a jagged blade that looked as brutal as it was twisted. The leader stood his ground while the other two circled around Bartholemew seeking advantage. The paladin received a few minor cuts, but moved too fast and was too accomplished a swordsman for these goblins accustomed to distance hunting to get in a good slice. He, in turn, delivered several cuts of his own, a few more than minor, and took down one of his opponents, another was sorely wounded.

But the hobgoblin leader was uninjured. No matter how good Bartholomew was, the odds were against him now. He was feeling light-headed, almost drunk, and had to shift his weight to keep from falling as the realization hit him: The gypsy boy’s poison! Not now! But the paladin continued his fight, blade flashing as the world spun around him. If he was going to die at the hands of this disgusting creature, he would do it trying to take as many of them with him as he could—if only he could keep his balance!

If only!

As the poison took hold of Bartholemew he lunged forward in a last desperate effort, swinging wildly at the leader, trying to choose which one of the shifting images actually was the leader. And missed. The Tiefling lost his balance and actually fell into the wounded hobgoblin taking him down with him as he collapsed.

The leader stood over him, laughed malevolently, his dark eyes gleaming, ready to finish the paladin off, when he unexpectedly paused—a stunned look on its face. Instead of stabbing Bartholemew the hobgoblin dropped his wicked blade and fell forward onto him, a short sword protruding from it’s back. Bartholemew used that moment of surprise to finish off the wounded goblin, who had his own rough weapon raised preparing to thrust it into the paladin’s side. He felt the weight of the goblin leader roll off and the gypsy boy knelt down next to him. He noticed that the boy was bleeding, and still had a goblin arrow sticking into his side.

“Forgive me,” the boy said. But the paladin was already unconscious.

  • * * * *

By the time Bartholomew awoke, it was already dark. There was a small campfire popping and sputtering just a few feet away. Three branches had been fashioned into a small tripod and a metal pot was hanging over the flames. As his eyes focused he made out the form of the gypsy youth sitting just on the other side of the campfire staring at him.

“You’re awake.” The young man said. His voice was quiet. He got up slowly, wincing as he stood.

Bartholemew looked around and saw that they were sitting inside the ruins of a collapsed cottage. The roof had disintegrated and the upper portions of the walls had collapsed long ago. The boy had used the tumbled stones to fashion a fire ring. The walls offered some protection, at least the flames could not be easily seen in the darkness, but the paladin knew that the smell of smoke would draw any goblins passing nearby to their location.

“This is as far as I could drag you,” the gypsy said. “You weigh as much as a horse.”

The Tiefling assessed himself. At least some of his armor had been removed and stacked next to him. Some of his wounds had been bandaged—badly—but the arrows in his thigh and shoulder had not yet been dealt with. Glancing over at the gypsy, he saw that the arrow in the boy’s side had been removed and his ribs were bandaged.

“I went back to camp,” the young man began, “I would have brought someone to heal you, but. . . “ his voice faded.

“They would put me in a bear cage.” The paladin finished his sentence for him.

The half-elf’s eyes brightened for a moment, and he drew a flask out of his pack, handing it to the paladin. “Here,” he said, “I took this from Tarandra’s wagon. There will be hell to pay when she find’s it’s missing.”

The paladin took the flask and looked at it.

“It’s not a trick,” the gypsy assured him. “Really, it is a healing potion. I know you have no reason to trust me, but—” The boy paused, then began again. “I don’t know how to deal with those arrows, but at least that potion should help.” He shook his head, “I don’t know anyone around here who would be willing to help you.”

“You are not a demon?” The boy broke the silence. It was a question, but it sounded more like a statement, a realization that had come at a price.

“It is as I said. I’m a Tiefling.”

“What I did was wrong.” The gypsy youth said. “It almost got us both killed.” He paused, “Forgive me?”

It seemed sincere.

“That will take time, little one. But for saving my life, I cannot be angry with you. You have restored honor in my sight.” Bartholemew set the flask down next to his side. “Do you have a name?”

“Daeson.”

“Well, Daeson,” the paladin said as he looked at the arrows still buried in his flesh, “I’m going to need your help.” He drew himself up and the arrow on his shoulder scraped against a stone sending sharp cutting pain slicing through him. He grimaced.

This is really going to hurt.

He fantasized for a moment about the thrashing he was going to give this little one after he was fully healed, and that made him feel a little better.

The boy crept slowly forward, keeping just our of range of Bartholemew’s reach.

Bartholemew winced as he shifted position. “I will not hurt you, Daeson.”

“How do I know that?”

“My name is Bartholemew. I am a paladin of the order of Truesilver.”

The boy sat back, a puzzled expression on his face.

Bartholemew sighed. “That means, if I harm you after I have promised not to, the gods themselves will take revenge on me on your behalf.”

The boy inched closer. “What do you need me to do?”

Bartholemew turned, his tail flicked out from under his cloak and the boy jumped. “It’s okay… just grab the arrow in my thigh. Hold it very still.”

The boy did just as he was asked, but as he gripped the arrow, it shifted against Bartholemew’s thigh bone sending pain flashing up his body, causing him to scream.

The boy quickly released the arrow and scrambled backward. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“No. Again. This time, just be careful. Push straight forward.”

“But, won’t that hurt even more?”

“It will hurt, but alot less than pulling backward. These arrows are barbed.” Bartholemew relaxed and took a deep breath. “Go ahead.”

“I can cut it out.” The boy said, weilding Bartholemew’s dagger.

“No!... no.” The boy did not appear to be adept with surgical skills. “Just push it through. It’s okay.”

The boy leaned forward and gently wrapped his fingers around the arrow. With a tentative look and a strong push, the arrow ripped through his inner thigh. The stone arrow head dripped red just a few inches above Bartholemew’s knee.

Bartholemew took several long breaths, controlling the pain as he pulled the arrow cleanly through. “Okay… good…”

“Here.” Daeson held up the unusual bottle with the brown liquid.

Before Bartholemew could respond, the boy had the cap off and was nearly pouring it down Bartholemew’s mouth. A warm rush of energy seemed to radiate from his throat as the liquid flowed down. Bartholemew choked and swallowed. In a fit of coughing and sputtering, he felt a warm flow, like boiling-hot water flowing across his skin, down to the wound in his leg. In less than a second, the skin seemed to mend itself, leaving a minor yellow scab where a gaping hole had just been.

Bartholemew wiped the liquid from his chin with his good arm. “Thank you… but we aren’t ready for that yet.” Turning, he presented his shoulder. “We can’t just push this one through. It would pierce my heart if we did.”

“What can I do, then?” The boy crept behind Bartholemew and inspected the arrow closely, gently touching the area where the arrow intersected the skin. He wrapped his fingers around the arrow, sending pain radiating down to Bartholemew’s fingers.

“No! Just wait a se—”

The boy pushed forward and the pain was nearly more than Bartholemew could stand. Then, with a sudden jerk, the arrow ripped violently back through, taking chunks of meat and flesh with it. Bartholemew’s world went dim for several seconds as he’d already lost a considerable amount of blood.

When he came to his senses again, the boy had emptied the remainder of the bottle. Apparently he’d forced the unconscious Tiefling to drink it.

“There.” The boy smiled as he checked the wound on Bartholemew’s back. “It is healing nicely.”

Bartholemew closed his eyes, just thankful that the event was over, despite the fact that it hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. The smell of smoke filled his nostrils so that he couldn’t make out any other scents of the forest. The hobgoblins were sure to smell something

He pulled himself back and leaned against the dilapidated stone wall. “Tell me, Daeson. Why are you so afraid of the Rom?”

“I am not afraid.” The boy scowled. “I am Rom.”

“Then why not take me back to your camp for healing?”

“Because they would cage me for taking their supplies. And they would have caged you, or even killed you. The Tiefling are not respected with the Rom. The Tiefling elders have promised many things to the Rom, but have never held up their end of the bargain.”

“The Rom will not kill their own except for treason… I don’t see taking supplies as treason.”

The boy frowned. Bartholemew had obviously hit a nerve.

“Besides, I thought you said that you didn’t believe that Tieflings such as myself even existed.”

“I didn’t. But while I was being bandaged, I asked Keital, the leader, about the Tieflings. He spat into the fire and told me all about your kind. He thought that you did this to me. I tried to tell him otherwise, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Bartholemew exhaled… afraid to even ask. “What did he say about me and my kind?”

The boy just smiled. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe a word of it. Hey, look! I got your armor back. See?” he limped across the room and picked up the over-sized segments of plate armor. “You were too heavy to drag with it on, so I had to go back and get it.”

Bartholemew smiled and closed his eyes. “Thank you, little one.”

“Mr. Bartholemew?”

“Yes?” he answered, still keeping his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the nearby flames.

“Can I go with you?”

“With me?... where?”

“On your mission. To clear out the hobgoblins. I’m good with a blade.”

“Indeed, you are, little one. But I think you are too young. Too small. Too green. Besides… you don’t know.” The world seemed lighter and foggier than just a few minutes before. For a moment even Bartholemew couldn’t even remember what it was he did or didn’t know. Why was he here again? Then it came to him in a wave of fogged realization. The evil of the river.

“Jut let me go with you a little while. I have no where else to go right now.”

He felt a wave of happiness flow over. Something seemed to be taking him down into a deep sleep against his will. He really didn’t want the boy to come. He would easily get hurt, but he heard himself say, “Yeah… okay. Tomorrow.”

“Good. Now let those herbs relax you. We can start the search again tomorrow.”

“Herbs?” He managed to mumble.

“I dabbed the herb oils on your shoulder before I pulled the arrow out. It will allow you to rest, now.”

Before Bartholemew could even respond, he was asleep.

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Justice!
Daeson's Journal

I am a terrible thief. I should be a good thief, but I’m not. They tell me that my mother was as skilled as anyone in purloining a coin, or even snatching a jewel from one of the temple idols. If the gods are watching they must be idle. Or maybe she was just that good to escape even their omniscient gaze.

When I was real small, I remember once when we went in to visit a jeweler. She had given me very clear instructions about what to do, and we had practiced over and over to make sure I would get it right. She always said there was no room for error in our what we do. That is true of our acrobatics as well as theft. If someone sees through the misdirection, the trick won’t work.

Anyways we go into the jeweler’s room and she is dressed up in suck finery that I thought she looked like a real baroness or maybe even a queen. They brought out the jewels for us to see and while they are looking at them she pinches my leg which was my cue to start squaling, which I did, and so she asks them for some water, but I kick the guy in the leg and while he is messing with me he snatches up a couple of the best gems and has them ready for me to swallow when they give me the water. Diamonds go practically invisible in a glass or water. Did you know that? Even big ones.

Well there were all kinds of accusations but there were no jewels to be found on either one of us and we walked out just like she knew we would, but then we also knew better than to go back there again!

I think maybe is she had lived maybe I would be a good thief. But it seems like the gods want we to walk some other path. Sometimes I really think so. Except them I remember what I am and I know that I can wander whatever road I want to, I will end up here again so I better find a way to get good at this.

We made it into town, and Bartholomew and I went to the Temple of Pelor to talk to Brother Darmouth. Shagrach stayed outside of town and said he would wait for us for two days before he would head on back to find his people. We didn’t make it back in time to meet up with him, so I guess that is where he went.

It was amazing to get so close to a goblin. I know that I could render him real well if I needed to. If I had some paper I would sketch him, but I don’t have my old sketching pad anymore. I used to make some money drawing people, except no one wants to be drawn the way they really are, which I what I like to do. It’s important to notice those details that make one person look so very different from another person if you want to get them right. And it is not just their appearance, it is also the way their expressions shift across their faces and the way they hold their bodies. To get the drawing right you have to do all of that and it has to be _exactly _right. But people want to look better than they do, which basically means that women want to be more beautiful and men more muscular and masculine than they really are. So if you want to make a living sketching people, you have to keep that in mine and make them look younger and more beautiful if, and I emphasize this, _if _you want to get _paid _for your trouble.

Now that I have learned that lesson I think I can make a better living sketching portraits of people. Maybe, someday if I can ever afford a wagon I can start mixing pigments and paints and paint some folks on canvas, but it is very expensive and it takes a lot of time to mix pigments and get them right. If I had a wagon I could also store all my acrobatics equipment so I could put on some really excellent performances. It is a way to make a few coins. If I had a partner to work the crowd while I was performing we could make even more. It is hard to steal anything while I am travelling with Bartholomew because he is always suspecting me of taking things even when I’m not. I’m not sure how to explain a whole horse and wagon. So right now I just have to think about it, cause I doubt I will ever have that much money all at the same time.

This morning started out good.

Shagrach and I went fishing and I speared a few fish, a couple of very nice ones, he got one most excellent dogfish with whiskers that were longer than the palm of your hand. The sines of those suckers are very sharp and poisonous. You have to be very careful when you catch them or pick them up, cause those fish know just how to flip to spear you with their spiny fin.p.
I started to roast them over the fire on some sharpened spits but Shagrach reminded me that we had that magic pot we got from the hobgoblins—oh yeah, that reminds me, never, ever confuse goblin and hobgoblin when you are talking to a goblin. Goblins get all red in the face over someone calling hobgoblins goblins, like three letters make such a difference. Anyways we got this pot, and it almost cleans itself. The fish soup I made tasted better than it ever had, and I am only a mediocre cook, but with a pot like that I might be able to make some money cooking if I can figure out how to work it out.

Xander, the elf, even said something nice about how the food tasted. I was really surprised. He is the most unsociable elf I ever met. Ok I just had to erase all that stuff I just wrote about Xander, so I know the page is sort of scritchy here cause this eraser is just about a nubbin now. He is just swell. We are great friends. I have much I can learn from him. Ok. There.

Xander and Bartholomew killed a bear. They wasted a lot of the meat somewhere in the woods, but I wasn’t sure exactly where to go to find the carcass, so now it’s food for wolves. I did salt down the skin and make some jerky from the shoulder meat they brought back. I wish they had brough back more fat. You can fry anything in bear fat.

Bartholomew took out that glowing stone he carries and was talking to it. Somehow the stone lets him talk to other poeple far away who carry other similar stones. I would really like a set of stones like that, but you would need the whole set, and I think you really could’t steal them because I bet the wizard who made them could use them to find you. He was walking about the Praetorian Crest, and I remember hearing baout it before. They think it was stolen a long time ago and Bartholomew and I decided we need to find it to stop whatever is going on below the river where the three champions are buried. The lich is there, and I think it has something to do with the three champions. One of them is a dead dragonman, there is a word for them, but I can’t think of it just now. Bartholomew hates them because they drove his poeple away from their homeland and took it over. It’s hard to blame him. You can never trust a dragon. Really you can’t.

Of course, I have always heard such terrible things about the Tieflings, though that is not the world my people had for them. They consorted with demons, in fact they are sort of demon spawn, or cambion,themselves. So it’s hard to believe they are very nice people. All my life they warned me that the Tieflings are looking for me, and that I have to diguise myself and be sure to stay away from them. I think grandfather should never have made that deal with them. I don’t care what the reason. Nothing good comes from making deals with demons.

But Mister Bartholomew is different. And I don’t think they would look for me if I am traveling with one of their own. I think the best way to hide is to hide in plain site. No one looks for you there. Mister Bartholomew seems nice, and even Brother Darmouth did some magic and said that he knew that Mister Barthomew’s heart was pure. I’m just glad he wasn’t looking at me. I’m sure my heart could use a good cleaning. Which reminds me that I need to find some silverpolish.

I tried to make some money in the town. The thing that worked was becoming a priest of Pelor. Everyone in the market wanted to donate food, so I guess the priests of Pelor must have reputations for having a big appetite. I blessed a whole bunch of people at the fair, and who knows, everyone says a Vistani blessing is real. I just know that farmers want to hear that their crops will grow and that they will have great harvests. Old sinsters want to hear that handsome young men will soon come courting. It’s not hard to tell a fortune if you just use your head and ask the right questions before you start talking.

But then I slipped up on this one knave. I think his name was “Mandy”. What were his parent’s thinking, huh? Good enough for him, no wonder he is such a jerk. I caught the chord wrong when I went to slice and he came unglued and started chasing me. Then it seemed like there was nothing under the sun that was going to go right for me. I caught my heal on the edge of thw wagon when I tried to jump over it to get away. So I fell. There were guards standing in all the wrong places and, well, finally he caught up with my by good friend’s tent. Oh yeah. You hear it right. I managed to pull the section of tent awning down over him, but then his brother in law Bill comes out and grapples me. I managed to get free, but those two guys must have practiced running with the hounds cause I could not get away from them. The fact I kept tripping didn’t help. You cannot run in the sandals. You just can’t. Especially sandals stolen from a priest. Bill slugged me a couple of times and busted my nose after Mandy tackled me down to the ground, and then a guard named Jack showed up, who was Mandy’s brother in law. Yeah. That’s right. His brother in law!

So the guard threatens to kill me, or just cut me up, but he never even thinks about taking me to the guardhouse, so you know he is exactly the kind of city guardsman you always hear about. Finally he decides to take everything I own, my sword, my dagger, my coin purse and divide it up with his good buddies who are all having a laugh at my expense. They went on and on about what a bad thief I am, and of course, the worst part is that they’re right. I am a terrible thief. Ican be a great entertainer, but that requires money and equipment I don’t have, so it ain’t happening. He even ripped off my shirt, so now all the clothes I own in the world is a pair of pants. I do have some armor, so I can wear that. I also have a priests robe, so I can wear that, only not when Bartholomew is around. So now I have even less money than I did before.

The acolyte at the entrance to the Temple of Pelor wouldn’t let me in, and then Xander wanted to charge me 100% interest on any coin to get myself healed, so I told him to go copulate with an orc. I hear elves think that is about the worst insult you can say. I found the healer, who didn’t charge me anything, but I would never go to him again. Never. I had to become an acolyte to get back into the temple. I could have found a stable, but with my luck some horse would have stepped on me, so I figured the temple was safer.

I thought a lot about killing Jack and Mandy and Bill. A lot. I guess maybe I am the only one who sees that killing a man is just another form of stealing. It’s a funny thing killin’ a man, you take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have. They took my stuff but they didn’t cut me up, or kill me, or even put me in prison. So I guess I should return the favor. It’s just very hard not to think about revenge. Uncle said I always have had a temper, but its probably all because of that bad deal my grandfather struck, and then all the stuff that happened later.

Things could be worse though. Brother Darmouth bought me a used shortsword to replace the one the guard took. And Xander bought me a used crossbow (and I will _never _figure that one out). I am a bad thief, but I am an even worse fighter. I need to find a new troup of acrobats and do what I am good at. I can’t even win a fight with a dandy and his brother in law. Not sure how well I will fair against orcs! That’s where we are going. There are orcs in the Kron Hills that have the bell they stole from the Temple of Pelor. We think it has more magic than Brother Darmouth knows and that it probably figures into all the stuff that is happening here. So now we are off to fight orcs. So like I said, I’m not thinking my odds are too great for surviving this, but I got balls like turkey eggs and I’m not scared of nothing.

Well, not usually.

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Departure

Interesting running into their missing party member shortly after Bartholomew and Xander left Tyneman’s Festival. It almost seems that some unknown hand writes an unseen script, sometimes making my job easier… and slightly more annoying. If I believed in the gods, I might perceive that they have a twisted sense of humor.

After learning about the location of Craigstad me and my new partner would be off to find him. We soon acquired a skiff from a gentlemen named Jonkler to head downstream to the stronghold of Rastor. Luckily, he also threw in a fishing net which definitely came in use on the long trek to our destination.

I can’t finish tonight, someone else feel free to pick up

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