As we exited the sewers, each of us looked at one another appraisingly. I looked over at the halfling, telling him he had something on him. I started to motion to the rat tail on his shoulder, then began gagging at what was sticking out of his collar and waved my hand in an all encompassing circle. There was evidence over his entire body of his having been swimming in sewage. He laughed as he relayed I was not very clean myself.
Kael said he was going to find a stream to clean up in, then shapeshifted into his leopard form and raced toward the woods. Lucien still held the alligator head in his arms and was torn between the bath first or seeing the town officials for a potential reward.
D.W. and I had no such qualms. We mutually agreed to clean in the stream first, then head to the bath house for a more thorough cleansing. Without waiting for Lucien, we headed toward where the druid had disappeared. D.W. suggested we go upstream of Kael so as not to get his backwash, so to speak.
While he bathed, I kept a careful watch. I have often heard of thugs who attack individuals while bathing alone. Then he did the same for me while I bathed, though I had a feeling he peeked at me several times as I thoroughly scrubbed. The thought amused me. Once we were finished, we went to the bath house and steeped in the warm water until we felt clean through and through. D.W. seems much like me in preferring cleanliness over filth.
Since our bodies were now cleansed, it was time to turn our attention to our equipment. I purchased a Field kit and offered to clean D.W.’s things as well. He insisted then on paying for half. Normally, I would prefer to be somewhat benevolent, especially with my friends, but I did not have much coin to spare and found myself accepting his offer. We went to the room at the inn where I had been staying and went to work on cleaning and caring for our weapons and armor.
Once we were satisfied that everything was once again in good shape, we went to the Blue Goose Tavern to await Kael only to find him already sitting at a table. Since we have taken our meals there the last few days, we had expected to find Lucien there as well, but there was no sign of him.
The tavern was full, though not really crowded. A minstrel sat in a corner playing a lute and croaking out a song we had heard far too many times. I doubted he would earn much coin the way he was slaughtering the tune. No one else seemed to notice. Guess that is just a habit of the trade for me to critique others on their song and music.
A harried looking woman came to our table, her apron stained from various foods and little washing. We ordered the regular ale as we had not yet regained a full appetite after our time spent trudging about in the sewers. She seemed to take her time returning with the drinks and I was rather parched.
D.W. decided to share with us a most interesting cake he had found in his travels, something he called “tiramisu”. I regarded the delicacy with wariness as I was unsure exactly where he had just pulled the cake out of, since his pack was still upstairs. Still, the cake was an interesting confection and I decided to dismiss any misgivings and enjoy it.
We three devoured the entire cake in only a few minutes. At first, we took sparing bites, uncertain what it would taste like. I was startled by the moist layer of cake in between layers of cream. The halfling explained it was drenched in alcohol. Kael paused a moment as he had decided not to partake of heavy drinking, but the flavor drew him back into inhaling the treat.
A fit of giggles overtook each of us. Being half elf, I am not prone to lapses of decorum very often. I could not explain where all the laughter bubbled up from or how it overcame me so fully. I actually laughed to the point of there being tears in my eyes and my ribs were hurting.
We spoke freely of theaters we had been to, plays we had seen, foolish friends, books we had read and so much more, each story more entertaining than the last. Each tried to outdo the other with a more outrageous tale than the last.
Even when we tried to talk of something serious, such as where my beloved rogue Lucien was, none of us could stop laughing for more than a few seconds. We did manage to decide to go see the magistrate as we believed that was where Lucien last ventured to. Then D.W. told another tale.
Several more stories were exchanged before we remembered our purpose. As we began to move away from the table, Kael remembered an event that happened to him as a child and we sank bank into our seats chortling with delight.
D.W. ordered more drink from the passing waitress who told him he was cut off. He looked down into his cup to find it still full, a fact that sent us into another round of laughter. Someone mentioned we should go to see the magistrate, but we could not seem to stop the pattern of telling another joke or tale and laughing uncontrollably.
I do not have the faintest idea how much time passed before we managed to stagger from the tavern, still giggling. We finally arrived at the magistrate’s office only to find the door closed with a “Gone fishing” sign posted to the front of it.
In a most cheerful manner, D.W. walked up to a town guard asking where the magistrate’s favorite fishing hole was. The large man looked down at the halfling with a frown, telling him he didn’t know him and was not about to give up such information to a stranger, then shooed him on his way.
With a shrug, the halfling suggested we just look over in the stream where we had bathed to remove the sewage from ourselves. He laughed as he said the magistrate was likely finding lots of black crappies today. Somehow, I was certain he was not speaking of the fish.
As we entered the woods, a flash of light appeared directly in front of me and I suddenly found myself standing in a meadow. Before I could figure out where I was, both Kael and D.W. were beside me. We turned around in time to see the magical doorway disappear. Something told me we were no where close to the town of Farseek anymore.
Kael withdrew his weapon as D.W. pulled out his bow and quickly notched an arrow onto it, both prepared for a fight. I kept my hands free, choosing instead to evaluate my surroundings first.
The meadow was small and warm, with the faintest scent of flowers in bloom. I could see birds not far from us, swooping in and out amongst the trees. Here and there were the normal insects of Mellem. The weather was just like it was when we were in Farseek, so hopefully we were not far from there. Nothing seemed unnatural in the immediate area.
“Now what?” Kael asked as he scanned the horizon for danger.
“Well, I’m glad we stocked up on supplies last time we were at the mercantile” said D.W. “It’s good to prepare for emergencies.” He frowned at his own false humor. “Let’s look for tracks to see if anyone is around.”
Kael shifted into his leopard form, which he preferred most of the time when out of town. He started sniffing around on the ground in search of signs of humanoids. D.W. searched not far from Kael. I had no such skills, so I focused on looking for a trail or path along the edge of the meadow.
I came up short at the edge of the meadow as I heard something just in the trees. A delicate looking woman was standing there, wearing what looked to be a tunic made of vines and green leaves. She wore no shoes on her feet. Beside her stood a centaur with long black hair pulled back in a leather thong. They stood beside one another watching me with guarded eyes.
As much as I wanted to, I did not look back at my companions. I was fairly certain these two would bolt if the others came running. Instead, I quietly greeted them in common tongue with my hands held palm up in front of me to show I held no weapon.
The woman glanced up at the centaur, then nodded ever so slightly. He looked down at her, a soft expression on his face. It appeared to me that the two were more than mere acquaintances.
“My name is Barthello. We seek your help” the centaur said in Elven in a deep voice.
I looked up at the large creature, confused as to what I could possibly help him with, but kept my expression blank. Instead, I asked what he needed help with. The centaur looked over at the small woman and I could swear he blushed.
“Anamatrea and I are to be married. I gave her a bracelet that has been in my family for a great many generations as an engagement gift.” Crimson spread further upon his cheeks. “I was holding it in my hand, presenting it to her, when a bird flew down and snatched it from my hand.”
It was difficult to maintain a serious expression when I wanted to laugh out loud. The centaur went on to explain that he had raced after the bird and found where it nested. He simply could not climb the tree to fetch the jewelry and he would not even take a chance with his beloved’s life. Then he pointed toward the northeast to where the tip of a pine tree stood just above the rest of the trees in that area, telling me that was where the nest lay.
I told him that I would ask my two companions, of course, to verify they too would help. I had no doubt they would. Still, I was not their master and would not give their consent without asking them first. As expected, they both agreed, though Kael wanted to know if they were responsible for the portal that brought us here. I suggested we ask once we had the bracelet. If they were the ones who brought us here, they had the ability to send us back, in which case the locket would give us a bargaining aid.
As we finished dicussing the matter, we saw another portal open near where we had come into the meadow. This time, it was Lucien who emerged from the gateway, both swords drawn and ready to fight. He quickly spotted us and what looked like an expression of relief crossed his face as he made his way over to us. We quickly filled him in on what we knew.
We quickly made our way to the tree Barthello had pointed out. Since D.W. seemed to be the most skilled at climbing, he agreed to shimmy his way up the trunk. I watched his progress with trepidation, since he was such a small being, but he was surprisingly limber as he moved up the tree. While it did take a while, he finally made it to the top. He spent more than a minute up there before making his way back down toward us.
About ten feet from the ground, D.W. suddenly stopped descending. He climbed onto a thick branch and straddled it as he pointed behind us with a shout of warning. His bow was immediately in his hands as he fired off a shot into a large snake that was winding it’s way toward us.
Kael shifted into his half-elven form, yanked out a sling and flung a bullet at the snake. Lucien and I waited until the serpent was a bit closer before moving forward. I moved to it’s right as Lucien moved around to it’s left. We quickly took it down as a group.
Then D.W. spotted another one from his vantage point. With his directions, we once again managed as a group to bring the beast down. Lucien then cut the heads off the two beasts and shoved them into a sack in his backpack. I asked him what he intended to do with them and he said something about fangs and poison.
D.W. finished climbing down the tree and showed us the items he had found in the crow’s nest. Besides a sparkley bracelet, there were a number of odds and ends that sparkled and bright. Kael pointed out that crows liked anything that reflected sunlight like polished silver and gems. Looking at the items in D.W.’s hands, it looked like he was right about that.
We headed back to the centaur and his fiancee. They were relieved to find we had found the bracelet for them, though D.W. did not hand the item back to them immediately. He made it look natural as he shifted feet and moved slightly away as the centaur reached for it. D.W. then casually asked about the portals, wondering if Barthello knew who was responsible for them.
Barthello gave the halfling a long look as if analyzing him, then nodded. He asked us to wait for him as he needed to speak with his village elders before he could help us further. Then he held out his hand, palm up, to D.W. The halfling hesitated for the briefest moment, then handed over the bracelet. We watched the centaur and Anamatrea walk away.
Lucien glared at D.W. and hissed at him. “WHY did you give him the bracelet?! That was our bargaining tool!!”
D.W. sighed as he looked at the rogue. “Did it really make a difference? He either is going to help us or he isn’t. Do we want to start a war with a village full of centaurs if he doesn’t help?”
Lucien continued to argue for a minute. When he realized D.W. was not really listening to him, just nodding and saying “uh hunh” at the appropriate times, he finally gave up.
About an hour passed before we heard noise in the direction the centaur had disappeared. Sure enough, Barthello was returning to us. He was alone this time as he made his way over to us.
“I’ve spoken to the elders and they have agreed to allow you passage.” He smiled. “We have a way to return you home.”
He told us about a young centaur mage named Garanor who was most likely the one who created the portals that brought us here. The centaur assured us it was not the lad’s intent to do harm, quite the opposite. A moment passed, then he insisted upon our swearing a solemn oath to him that we would not tell anyone the secret he was about to reveal to us. Each of us looked at the other and nodded our assent, then gave our promise to him.
The centaur looked around intently before leaning toward us. He told us in a hushed voice that his village had a teleportation circle that went to a wooded area outside of Farseek. It was his belief that the young mage was attempting to create another that would bring them back here so that they could have easy transport back and forth.
Barthello smiled as he told us he was able to bring us to the device now and return us home. He informed us he too would travel through it as he needed to speak with Garanor to straighten the problems out. The young mage had the right intent, but was going about things the wrong way.
Barthello led us through the woods and skirted around the village he had told us about. A number of centaurs were milling about the edges of their village, curious about our group. I smiled at a young colt as he peeked at me from behind the safety of his mother’s flanks.
We finally reached a circle of trees with two leatherclad centaurs standing guard. They looked at Barthello who spoke with them quietly, then moved aside to allow us by. We moved forward to find a naturally formed stone platform with symbols carved into it.
Without hesitation, the centaur stepped onto the platform and disappeared. I knew he had gone first to assure us it was safe, so I immediately stepped up next. I found myself in a stand of trees. Once I moved out of that area, I could see it was basically sectioned off and hidden so no one would notice a traveller suddenly appearing there.
We thanked Barthello for his help in returning. He thanked us in turn for retrieving the bracelet, then pointed out the direction of Farseek, which was less than half a mile from us. Lucien walked with us only until the centaur disappeared from view, then told us he would meet us back at the inn shortly. He headed toward where he’d last seen the centaur.
Later, he told me he had shadowed the centaur to see where he had gone and seen him meet up with the young centaur mage. I then relayed to him the events of the day prior to meeting back up with him. He was perplexed at how we had acted in the tavern, especially with how silly I had been. It was his intent to find out what exactly was in the cake we had eaten. As to me, I was just happy that he had gone looking for me and that we had not lost each other.