Sweet hells, if the ruckus our company brought to Shore Blossom was one thing, then the new arrivals are in a whole new league of mess.
Nearly three full weeks of much needed vacation time were broken up by this! Odiri and I had been having a lovely time banging away and drinking ourselves into all sorts of states. Really, we were only leaving my cottage to replenish our stocks of liquor and let the bed laundry dry. But no, of course, such simple pleasures of life cannot be left alone.
The state of the company had been an odd thing in the past month. Many came and went, and a large party had only just returned the previous night. As such, Odiri and I found ourselves seated alone at the carved table, geefully draining Madam Saru's supply of Maiden's Breath. A red-haired half-elf, obviously a newcomer to town, entered the Inn and was almost immediately ushered up onto the stage with a whirlwind of instruments. Though I prefer Elura's talents, this bard, Kethra, put on a fair show and absolutely delighted the crowd. I was distracted much of the performance, in any case. I really couldn't pinpoint their gender. And, even after we were introduced and I picked up that Kethra's companions used feminine monikers, it seemed much to directly ask. I wasn't aware half-elves could experience cycles as full blooded elves can, but perhaps the androgynous look was the cause of being between changes? I'd never gone through such a thing myself. I had only ever been a man, for the obvious limitations of war. Naligor, if I recall correctly, is the only one among us elves in the company to have seen the other side. I suppose it makes little difference. Kethra was the one I liked best out of the arrivals anyway, if only because she seemed the most sane of the bunch.
She was seated at a table not far from us, certainly close enough for me to overhear her conversation with Madam Saru as she was attended to. Kethra would be staying at the inn, especially since there were some "difficult customers who had vacated their accomodations". The snide comment did not go missed, though Odiri lamented to me that had I not been booted from the Drunken Fish, we could have taken our business there instead.
Suddenly, the afternoon sun streaming through the main door was eclipsed by the absolutely massive frame of a golden-scaled dragonborn, tall and broad chested, with great horns almost like an elk. Between them, curiously suspended in air, was a golden egg. I have little experience with dragonborns as a rule (Roth being a rare and favorable exception), but this one was something entirely novel. Beside him, with enough of a height difference between them that I was forced to actually move my head to get her into view, was a young woman in fanciful clothing, bearing on her back a halberd nearly two heads taller than she was. She had her arm tightly around Ferret, one of Kodu's kids. I assume he had hepfully led them to the Rose Shell, but his face read clear with discomfort and terror.
Without any invitation, the two came and plonked themselves at our table, dragging over Kethra with them. The dragonborn immediately went to pet Xiao, who happily rolled himself over and presented his belly. Traitor. Charka bristled and came to sit a little closer to my feet. Knowing this would be terrible, if only based on the fact that Odiri and I, especially drunk as we were, should really be the last people to act as welcoming party, I went to take a hard swig of my wine, only to choke on it. The woman, introducing herself as Serena, greeted me with an unnervingly wide smile and stated she hoped I woud "have a nice death". While we bantered a little on what sort of death I desired, the dragonborn ordered "the hottest cup of oolong ever made", which had to be brought out with tongs. Between this and craning my neck to stare up at his genuinely unsettling height, he introduced himself as V.Gates. If I'm not mistaken, that's "hello" in Dwarven. Why? Of all the things? There was no time to ponder the matter, because he had already charmed himself halfway into Madam Saru's drawers with some deadpanned joke about contortion by the time we attention was turned back to him.
Odiri and I ordered up another round of Maiden's Breath…
Serena explained, far too loud and excitably, that she and V.Gates had come to town on a mission to slay necromancers in the name of their goddess, Persephone. Or that is as best I understood it in my increasingly inebriated state. I'm probably off. V.Gates had the additional purpose of locating his cousin, our Roth. (If anyone tries to tell me that not all dragonborns are related, then boy do I have some contrary evidence…) Kethra had more or less involved herself as Serena's entourage. What she possibly could have done to earn an entourage is beyond me. In any case, the three wished to join the company. Odiri and I attempted to explain the state of our collective hunt for the Yomi Princes, but our efforts were ignored outright. Serena stood up, waltzed up to the posted charter, and signed everyone's names on it. She didn't even read it! Was there really no enchantment to prevent this sort of thing?! Odiri hopped to her feet to take a look herself, only to see Serena writing "Did you know that anyone can sign this?" at the bottom of the parchment and planting a smiley face next to Frivolity's name. As Odiri exited to have a calming smoke of her pipe, I took the charter off the wall, rolling it up and locking it in the glass case, to prevent this sort of thing in the future. I can't believe the thing wasn't enchanted… Had we really all just assumed that it was?
I returned to my seat, throwing back more wine and laying my head in my hands, as Odiri came back as well. As much as I dislike her grass habit, I cannot blame her for turning to it in that moment. V.Gates gave some sort of patronizing remark in my direction, calling me "child". Child! The nerve! Even the oldest dragonborns only get to about 80! Odiri held me back as I clenched my fists and sized him up. He would probably kill me if we went hand to hand, but it was an affront to my honor that would not stand. Shei, smart girl, came to diffuse the situation, bringing me a jug of water and whispering to V.Gates that "High Commander Eucarion is 252 years old". Damn fucking straight I am. Uppity overgrown lizard.
Madam Saru presented the three new apparent members of the company with keys to the glass artifact case. A few new things had made their way into it, including a Rod of Resurrection that V.Gates immediately took out. I was legitimately concerned a moment that he might break it, but he handled it with such reverence and great care. I was… impressed? Curious, certainly. I cannot recall if it was I or Odiri who proposed that we go with them, but, as much as I was displeased with the idea, Odiri and I were, again, the only two of the party in adventure-ready condition. Somebody would have to bring back the items if the new recruits died out there.
The following morning, Madam Saru had set up a breakfast for us as usual as we all geared up to leave. To the collective surprise, V.Gates disrobed in the middle of the hall to don a set of armor from the case, then a second time to hand the same armor over to Kethra instead. I couldn't help but notice his sizeable organ. I'd always thought that dragons had… well… not that. Was he bigger than Albion? He had to be bigger than Albion. V.Gates caught me staring and dropped his … meat … on the table, causing everything on it to rattle, asking me if I'd like a closer look. Oh god, it's been a while. I averted my eyes, embarrassed to have been so conspicuous, and declined the offer. I mean, really. Self control is a virtue. Odiri was sitting right there, anyway. In the same moment, it became rather apparent that Madam Saru had not been nearly so shy. She approached V.Gates and presented her favor, tying a white ribbon about his wrist and wishing him a safe return. From the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice, it was clear she had meant a safe return to her bed. I can't fucking believe it. A 7 foot dragonborn is the first in the party to bed possibly the most famous courtesan in all the kingdoms. Soveliss is going to lose his shit.
Retrieving Griffin Bait and False Indigo to pull Frivolity's borrowed wagon, we made our way to the gate, where Tim and Bob introduced themselves as Timothy and Robert, making eyes at Kethra as they did. I understand a thing or two about being dry on the job, but the lack of subtlety! Serena made a few menacing comments to the matter of dehydration and dying, quieting them uncomfortably.
We barely got into the Bamboo Sea before coming to a halt. In the commotion of Serena's incessant demands to go somewhere, we had failed to decide where exactly we'd be going. After some deliberation between Odiri and I, we settled on somewhere on the opposite bank of the Mara River. Odiri seemed terribly upset by the idea of simply crossing the river and insisted we find a ferry. She can't swim? Well, that would certainly have to change. As much as I also hate being in the water, I'd of course been trained in the military. Drowning is a terrible way to go. I'll find some time to teach her. Our best bet was heading towards Makiako's Trust to cross over, the hope being that we would not encounter anything particularly dangerous along the way. It was silly, really, that we had to play tour guides to these children…
At noon, we stopped briefly to rest. No sooner had we pitched a camp than we assaulted by three massive boars. The appeared rabid, enraged, eyes glowing red. Xiao dispatched one quickly, by the remaining two charge Odiri and I, nearly goring us on their tusks. As I wrestled one off me, I could see in its eyes a malevolent intelligence. Possessed, perhaps, by some malicious force. We broke free of them as Serena slashed at them with her halberd. Odiri felled one, sticking it cleanly through the eye. From behind the cart, Kethra's unsteady voice, delivering a rousing speech and nailing the final boar through the neck with her crossbow. Excellent shot!
Serena prayed over the slain boars, their eyes clearing with a glow of pale light. V.Gates immediately went to chuck the whole boars into the cart. Fucking amateur. I pulled them back down as Odiri and I set to work on them. I was only half-listening, but V.Gates and Serena bantered back and forth, Serena expressing frustration that V.Gates had gotten into Madam Saru's bed before she had, threatening to bed down some other pretty thing in vengeance. A … curious relationship they've got there. None of my business, I suppose, though I am wildly intrigued.
We managed 15 more miles up the bank of the Mara before nightfall forced us to make camp for the night. As I stoked a fire, Odiri walked down to the water's edge, stripping down to clean herself of boar guts. I couldn't help but watch. There was something beautiful there. Her, wading nude into the brackish eddies, skin glistening with rivulets of red-stained water, silhouetted against the breezy marshes, hair fiery in a feast of color like the dying sun low in the sky. I can't explain it, really. I thought a moment to join her there, but, well, the present company. When it was just the two of us out to hunt, there was no need for modesty. I wandered a little further up the river, out of sight. After a feast of duck and river fish, we settled in for a peaceful night.
The following morning passed quickly as we traveled further up the Mara. Unfortunately, the trend of being attacked at lunch continued. Catching us by surprise, 8 ghost tigers burst from the bamboo. The sky darkened, the sun blotted out by the ghostly projection of Blood Spattered Snow Tiger, booming down at us that we were not welcome in the Bamboo Sea and that she had already killed one of our own. I was struck with worry. It hadn't occurred to me until that moment that we had not seen any of the party that had gone out before us. Could one of ours really have been slain? No time to think as all hell broke loose. Odiri fired on instinct, striking one of the tigers nearly dead with a clap of lightning burst from an arrow. Two jumped into the cart, clawing at Kethra and Serena. V.Gates, voice thundering as loud as Snow Tiger's, called the tigers to attack him. Ah, smart dragon. He had the protective scabbard and they could do no harm to him. With them in his range, he unleashed a blast of fire in their faces. Odiri and I landed two kills of our own from horseback as Charka and Xiao slayed two more from the ground. Torrential rain began to pour down on our heads. Serene leapt over the side of the cart, narrowly escaping a wild claw, but leaving Kethra alone. The bard let loose a clear, shrill note, knocking one of the tigers out of the cart, Serene slashing it in half as it went airborne. Charka leapt into the cart, fending off the remaining tiger from Kethra and giving her the chance to pull her crossbow. One well placed shot and a wink from Charka and another tiger was down. Serena and Charka slaying the final two, the illusion of Blood Spattered Snow Tiger retreated. Serena summoned a ghostly fire with her prayers to bless the corpses as the rain receded, leaving behind the sacred scent of myrrh on the restored pelts of the tigers.
After a blessedly quiet night, we cleared the last leg of our journey up the river and arrived at what supposedly was Makiako's Trust. All that stood there was an abandoned waystation with a few broken barges. Reaching out to sense any lurking beasts, Odiri and I noticed a suspiciously empty spot in the water. No fish. Nothing. Odiri loosed an experimental bolt into the spot, just as V.Gates said something to the end of, "I think its a large predator". Oh, no shit, we immediately discovered, as a five headed hydra reared up from the water with a roar. I ensnared it thorns, taking out one head with an arrow. V.Gates breathed a lick of fire in one of its faces, wading into the water to attack the body. Rather shockingly, Kethra insulted the thing viciously, calling it a "death noodle twat wasp". Bold words, and it seemed genuinely hurt? Unbelievable. Odiri and I slung fire arrow after fire arrow into the damn thing, as Kethra's barrage of insults continued. God, what a slog of a fight. A final fiery arrow from my bow and the hydra collapsed, dead.
The hydra must have been at the waystation quite some time. Bones littered the surrounding area, mostly humanoid. All we found of interest there was a lockbox and some ledgers in dwarven. The ledgers were thrown in the cart, as Adi might find them interesting. Odiri deftly opened the lockbox with the enchanted gloves. Makiako's Trust. Makiako's lockbox. Makiako's gloves. Perfect. Inside, some coinage, a medallion in the seal of the First Kingdom, and a shapeshifting fan capable of calling the winds. Looking around, the only other observable thing was a bit of text written on the roof of the waystation opposite the river. "Beware of Hydra". Yeah. Wish we'd known that a little sooner. Our keys began to glow, and we were all returned to the gate.
I must say this now. One thought of late gives me cause for great concern. Odiri has missed her monthly. I haven't said anything. As a man, it is hardly my place to comment. But I've resided in the company of women enough to understand feminine business. Besides that, it's a difficult thing to keep private in close quarters and from keen senses. I know when she's supposed to be having her lunar tide, and it's been nearly a full week. I suspect she may be too stressed by all the recent adventuring. The alternative is impossible…. isn't it?