We are making camp, and enjoying the sight of the distant fire emitting far back at the goblins’ HideOut cave. We assign watches: Naghan and Mystan take first watch, Cloud and Ahvin second, and Neela and Zinadeera take third.
During first watch, Cloud awakens early and without a word begins walking toward the forest. Naghan talks to Mystan about the distinctly archaic and monotonous tones the dragonborn prefer their music. Mystan kindly ignores Naghan and notices Cloud’s exit. Mystan calls out to her feline humanoid friend who calls back to leave her be.
Cloud makes a determined bee-line to a particularly offending tree with equally offending bark. With her claws at the ready, she begins to make quick work at giving it a more scarier appearance to better suit her mood. This rouses Neela who chose to slumber away from camp. The smell of sap awakens the half-orc and she gets up to find a crying ball of black fur she recognizes as Cloud. Still groggy having rested but a few hours, Neela grinds out a, “Need anything?”
“Space.” The voice filtering through sounds as strained and rigid as she looks.
“You got it.” And without a second thought Neela settles back down and is asleep moments later.
Now that first watch is ended, Mystan settles down for the night within her sublimely accommodating tent. She hums herself to sleep – or at least what is thought to be humming by the syncopating monotone sounds drifting from the gilded tent.
Naghan’s intent is unclear, but his hands strain at his ukulele until he thinks better of it and retires to his sleeping hammock at the opposite end – and perhaps as far from the dragonborn as possible. The trees strain as he settles in, strums a slow easy lullaby that resolves into hearty snores.
Cloud joins Ahvin for second watch. The latter finds a perch among the low-lying canopy. The two perceive some rustling within the bushes nearby, on the outskirts of camp. Alert, Ahvin moves closer, making his way through the branches and spies a fox. Annoyed at the creature’s antics, the halfling aims his crossbow at the ground near its feet and loosens a bolt in hopes to frighten it away. The fox, unperturbed, sniffs the bolt and saunters off.
Cloud finds a place to curl up, keeping her distance from Zinadeera and Neela who decides to chat among themselves as they take over the last watch. Neela admits to her gnome companion that her quest for self discovery is somewhat stalled by her imbibing. Zinadeera tells the half-orc she is one of several brewers from her monk establishment; if asked what her favorite brew is, the answer will always be: “Free.”
Towards the end of their shift and as the light of the new day blushes the horizon, their conversation is halted when a jet of flame erupts from within the dragonborn’s tent. The fire snuffs out as quickly as it arrives, but the once ornate canvas is now a black husk. Mystan emerges and mumbles in a temper, uncaring of the state of her tent.
Cloud is annoyed at the rude awakening and argues with Mystan. Neela rushes to the charred remains of the tent and whispers a prayer under her breath, her hands outstretched and a soft golden light emits from her palms to the blackened cloth. Wherever the light touches the cloth restores to it’s original glory. The heated conversation between Cloud and Mystan rouse the rest of the campers. Neela finds Zinadeera and Ahvin nearby and mouths, “Sexual tension.”
They note the snickers of the others and break up the argument. Sylvan chooses this time to boldly ask of Cloud what manner of creature she is. When she replies she is a tabaxi, we are all amazed to learn how rare an opportunity it is to have one such as she grace us with her presence. Even one with such a temper.
Back on the road, we travel the rest of the way to Phalandin. It is a small village with its own town square. We draw attention from a growing crowd of villagers. Most of us chalk it up to them not getting a lot of visitors. Ahvin however observes their thinly veiled fear as they scoot their children behind them.
Our destination is the Stonehill Inn. Neela and Cloud find the broad sheet posted outside the building. A quick scan reveals the long-aged postings: an advert for Professor Phadius’ Oddities and Fabulous Curiosities piques Cloud’s attention while a wanted poster grabs Neela’s eye. With an uncharacteristic show of stealth, Neela rips the wanted poster – of herself – off the broadsheet and down her top before anyone catches her. The only noticeable news is of a paradigm arc installed in both the major towns of Arclight and Exandria but their purpose is vague.
Ahvin looks after the care of our horse and cargo which was retrieved from the goblins back at their Hide Out. This cargo belongs to the blacksmith of Phalandin and stolen by the goblins.
Inside the inn a dwarf by the name of Tobias Stonehill greets us. He offers the stressed Mystan a cider for a silver. This summons the gnome who scrabbles and stretches up to the top of the bar. The dwarf kicks a lever and a stand swoops out from a hidden compartment at the foot of the bar. The gnome and halfling utter a cheer and they both prop themselves atop the stand, now at bar height to enjoy a mug each of the great quality cider.
We get rooms and decide to pair off. Ahvin and Zinadeera in one, Mystan and Cloud in another, and Neela and Naghan in the third. Ahvin excuses himself and finds the blacksmith. He meets Lionshield, a stout, handsome woman who is quite surprised to learn of the news their cargo’s been returned. As reward, Ahvin negotiates for our rooms and accommodations be provided and an answer to a question: “Why are people in the town afraid?”
She agrees to the payment but is unable to answer openly and requests him to return at a later time. Ahvin excuses himself with the promise of returning with one other of his party in a more private room so they can discuss the state of the town further.
Everyone retires to their rooms; Naghan is fast asleep, snoring in perfect pitch except for F. As Ahvin begins to ascend the stairs into the rooms beyond, Mystan is making her way down, intent on another cider.
“Wait!” Ahvin pleads as he tries to steer the dragonborn back the other way, grabbing at her leg, “I have news to share with everyone.”
“I need a drink first.” She pushes by him, the smaller one’s grip surprises her and she works to break away. With his prompting, everyone but a snoring Naghan meet downstairs to join Mystan at the bar where he tells us of his bargain with Lionshield.
Zinadeera agrees to go with Ahvin to talk with the blacksmith.
“You really think they’re going to listen to you?” Ahvin hears, thinking the voice belongs to his gnome companion as they walk together to the shop.
He responds aloud with, “Of course!” and realizes the voice was inside his head. Zinadeera looks at Ahvin questioningly. He shrugs but offers no explanation.
At the blacksmith, Lionshield addresses Zinadeera with great honor upon seeing the monk’s amulet of the Order of the Redeemers – the monk sect with which she belongs to. In answer to Ahvin’s earlier question about the state of the villagers, Lionshield eludes to a bunch of “Red Brands” shaking up the town.
They first showed up two months ago draining the town dry of much needed resources and money; especially so close to Falls Cres (a seasonal celebration) being mere weeks away. Today is shake-down day, so money is sparse. She looks off behind the rogue and monk and mutters, “Oh bugger me!”
Ahvin and Zinadeera overhear a loud smack and a child exclaim in pain. This is followed by a threatening voice. They both crane their necks to view the scene through the window behind them and see four rough men surrounding a small halfling boy.
Mystan, back in her room hears this from her window. Cloud is halfway down to the bar where Neela is enjoying a cider when they both react to the disturbance and dash outside.
Ahvin, finding Lionshield had locked the door behind them, breaks through the window to rush into the street. With his crossbow at the ready, he fires twice at the burly men but his shots go wide. Zinadeera kicks at the door, breaks through the lock with such force the door swings out, hits the opposite wall, and swings shut again.
An apron-wearing halfling woman runs into the center of the men and uses her body to shield her son.
Cloud moves into the square and calls forth a jungle plant, throwing a small seed. As she launches it, branches begin to grow and shoots spring out. Simultaneously, the man she targets exclaim, “There’s another tabaxi!” and shoves his companion in the path of the wild plant. He gets entangled by fast-growing, grasping vines. Cloud’s attention fuses on the one who identified her race – most everyone she encounters has never seen the likes of her, especially this far into the Wild Plains.
Ahvin searches for the perfect opening and fires a crossbow bolt into the one he saw hit the halfling child. His aim is deadly; the man in mid-speech drops dead as the bolt finds its mark.
If you are to ask her, Mystan would tell you she seamlessly jumped out of her window, two stories up, and performed a marvelous three-point landing. In reality, she lurches and tumbles out in a hot mess, the landing so heavy she gasps for breath. Dusting herself off, she begins to rally those around her. When she sees Cloud she yells, “After you have your answers, I will hold him while you skin him.”
Zinadeera goes through the troublesome door, rushes over to the three remaining bullies and readies her fists in a fighting stance. Neela approaches, commands one of the bullies with a single word: “Vomit.” He retches in response but manages to shrug off her compulsion on him.
From among the crowd, a human wearing a red sash makes arcane hand gestures. A white nebulous forms betwixt his outstretched hands and out shoots white, sticky webbing at both Cloud and Neela. The first jumps back with little effort but Neela, not as quick, gets caught and held down.
The one that resisted Neela’s compulsion moves to attack the half-orc, but Zinadeera intercepts with jabs. He responds in kind with the same fighting style and smacks her in the nose with the tip of his foot.
Cloud hisses, spraying green acid and swings her spear at another but he manages to dodge out of the way.
Ahvin turns his deadly crossbow to the mage and drops him with another aimed shot.
Mystan runs over to the one engaged with Cloud, and misses with a thrown axe. Frustrated, she draws a sword, makes a wind-up move and slams it down on the dodgy man, effectively butterflying his chest open.
Zinadeera’s every attempt to punch her opponent gets thwarted and sets her teeth on edge. Snarling and being as threatening as a tiny gnome can be, she plants her feet and punches her opponent with quick, blurred precision. He reels back as both fists and an elbow slam into him with such force he dies on the spot.
Neela gets a whiff of the tabaxi’s wound and prepares a prayer. Ignoring the half-orc, Cloud tells the mother and son they can leave, but they are too scared to move. Shrugging, Cloud moves with deadly intent toward the entangled human – the only one left of his band. As they cross one another’s paths, Neela sneaks a healing smack on the tabaxi’s rump on her way to the halfling mother and child; the druid is too distracted with the human on the ground to care.
Mystan, finished with gathering the bodies of the fallen, also attempts to take the mother and child to safety. But the mother flinches and shrivels away, begging forgiveness when the fighter’s hand presses gently on her shoulder. She decides to move on to help her druid friend.
Not wanting to be apart of what the tabaxi and now the dragonborn will do with the surviving bully, nor wanting the young boy and his mother to witness any further horrors, Neela steps forward with as much benevolence she can muster. The mother and son accept her gentle persuasion to allow her and Ahvin to escort them to the blacksmith.
Not soon after the the two trade off between torture and interrogation, the poor soul cries out, “Glastaff in the manor! He’s the one we work for! Eight of us plus other…things!” And then he seals his fate with a “We should’ve killed the stupid kid!”
In answer Mystan lifts him up, the entanglement straining taught. She slams him down and Cloud magics the vines tight, tight, and even more tight until he is garroted in several bloody pieces.
Back inside the at the blacksmith, the halfling boy apologizes profusely to Ahvin and Neela for wandering into the manor where he should not go. The last he remembers is something inside his head say, “Get out.”
Outside, Zinadeera is joined by Cloud and Mystan and they loot the bodies of the dead. Naghan, awake now from the horrifying screams of the tabaxi’s victim, joins them and finds a mysterious bag among the corpses. He flips it inside out and several coins fall from it – these coins are likely the results of several shake-downs of the villagers.
The goliath exclaims his delight when he recognizes the container’s purpose: it’s a bag of holding. He spies a rope, and with glee, takes out a small blade and cuts the rope before anyone can stop him. Everyone watches as it mends itself back together. Naghan, pleased with himself, hands the rope off to an amazed Zinadeera. The monk also finds a small set of papers on her now-dead opponent. The papers reveal martial arts notes in elvish script. She inhales a sharp breath. It is unheard of to record the teachings of their sect in such an offensive manner.
The villagers begin to stare at the group in entreaty when they see the coin that is recovered. When Neela and Ahvin return to their companions, the halfling addresses the gathering villagers. He asks if they can wait the next day to give him and his troupe time to deal with the rest of the gang to prevent any further shake-downs.
Until then, we decide some baths are in order; especially for Cloud. Once clean and recovered, the group’s next item on their list to tackle is the manor where they will deal with the rest of these “Red Brands.”