The Second Fury of Gruumsh

Adventures Underfoot

Practice for the greenhorns

Date: 433R2O

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Arcaeus rolled out of bed. For a sleepy moment he looked around for Fetin and Bogrin, but they were gone.

That was right. He had started his own company after his companions left. The only one still with him was Ilfari, and she was always an early riser. She had probably been done with breakfast for a good hour.

They’d gone back to Valencia the night before, a sizeable town on the eastern fringes of Kessen and the last place they had stayed as Dragonfury Company. As things stood now, he was the captain of a mercenary company with no official name and only one underling, though both of those would be changed by the end of the day with any luck.

He went down the stairs to the common room of the Broken Sparrow inn. The Halflings that ran the place were already winding down what looked to have been a busy breakfast. Ilfari was seated at a table at the far end talking to a dark-skinned Halfling girl. She waved him over.

“Arcaeus,” she said, motioning towards the Halfling, “this is Ellila Upre. Ellila, this is Arcaeus.”

“The infamous Ellila?” said Arcaeus. “The one who left the group right before I joined?”

“She never really left,” said Ilfari. “I mean, not official-like. She just sort of wandered off.”

“It’s a nice little reunion for you two, then.”

Ilfari furrowed her brow and gave Arcaeus a look. “What’s with the attitude towards her?”

“Attitude? I didn’t mean to come off that way, but honestly, I can see where this is going. I know we’re looking for candidates for the new group, but we need to have people we can depend on to some degree.”

“I can vouch for her,” she said. “We fought together. I guarantee she can fight.”

“I don’t doubt she can, but can you guarantee she won’t run off again?” He turned to Ellila. “How do I know you won’t disappear whenever it pleases you?”

Ellie shrugged. “You probably can’t,” she said, her high voice colored with mirth.

“I appreciate the honestly, but I need to know that I can depend on those who fight with me. Somehow I don’t think you’d be willing to stick in one place for too long, right?” Ellila nodded enthusiastically. “She is really honest.”

Ilfari sighed. “Fine,” she said, tossing a bunch of paper scraps onto the table. “There are these others looking for work. I was going to say we could pick any one of them, but since you’re dumping Ellila, I guess we have room for two.”

Arcaeus crossed his arms. “Is this going to be a problem?” Ilfari shook her head, but didn’t say anything. Arcaeus picked up one of the pieces of paper. On it was scrawled a name, occupation, and location. There were half a dozen of them in all, so he organized them to see what his choices were a bit better.

“A lot of fighter types,” he said. “It would be best if we picked up a healer. A magic user of some sort wouldn’t hurt, either.” He moved two scraps aside and picked up a third. “What can you tell me about this Paladin?”

“Hold on a sec,” she said, turning to Ellila. “It was good seeing you again, Ell. We’ll catch up again some time.”

“I’ll find you again, no problem,” Ellila said, jumping down from her seat. “Nice meeting you, Arcaeus,” she said with a bow, then skipped out of the inn.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t hire your friend, Ilfari, but hopefully you understand at least.”

“So the Paladin,” she said, picking up the scrap of paper. Arcaeus clenched his jaw, annoyed, but said nothing. “From what I hear, he’s the fighting type, but he should be able to cover some of our healing needs.”

“What’s he like? Personality-wise, I mean.”

“A bit holier-than-thou. I’unno. Didn’t talk to him much.”

Arcaeus picked through the other scraps. “Doesn’t look like we have much choice in the matter, as he is the only one here with any healing ability. It would be foolish to pass him up. We should go speak with him when we have the chance.” He looked at the other papers again. “What about this Invoker? ‘Ingus Onasi.’ What about her?”

“I’ve only heard things. Seems to be a posh type. Really ritsy. And she casts spells. That’s all I could pick up on her.”

“Let’s not waste any time. Let’s go speak with them.”

+ + +

Marcus Peppers was almost exactly how Arcaeus invisioned the Human Paladin. He was shorter than expected, but he held himself tall and proud, wearing his weighty plate armor even while enjoying a drink at the inn he was staying at while in town. He had introduced himself well enough and seemed eager to join the group and was busy rattling off the names of creatures he had slain as Arcaeus conferred with Ilfari.

“I’m fine with him,” said Arcaeus. “Looks like he can fight, and he doesn’t look the kind to flee a fight.”

“I think he looks kind of dopey,” she said.

“He does, doesn’t he? But we are hiring him as a sword arm and healer, so that doesn’t really matter.” Arcaeus raised his hand to silence Marcus. “We can start you at 5% of any treasure found, though this amount will go up once you’ve proved yourself in battle.”

Marcus nodded his head. “That is fine with me. I am eager to prove myself against our foes. We should strike some nest of evil!”

“We’ll take whatever job comes,” said Arcaeus. “Not every mission will be a righteous crusade against evil. Some will be much simpler or more ambiguous. Are you alright with that?”

Marcus nodded again. “Yes, yes, of course. I can be a very patient man.”

“Great,” said Ilfari. “So we’re set here, right? Can we head over to Ingus’s inn now? It should be a sight better than this place.” She looked around the inn which was located squarely in a poorer section of the town, though Marcus didn’t seem to mind. As they left the inn, they were assailed by the stench of horse manure and unwashed bodies. Ilfari consulted the slip of paper with Ingus’s name on it out of habit, even though she already knew where she was heading. The higher end neighborhoods were a mere ten minute walk from the slums.

“Fancy,” she said, eying the door of the Blazing Stallion, the upscale inn Ingus resided in. “It fits her description, alright. It’s places like this…” she trailed off.

It wasn’t hard to spot her. As soon as they entered the inn, they spotted the Halfling dressed in brightly colored and highly decorative robes, though from the bulk they could tell she clearly wore underneath. A cape ran down her back and her hair was stylishly set. About her were books and candles, some of which floated idly in the air.

“She’s worse than I expected,” Ilfari muttered.

“She looks fine to me,” said Arcaeus, stepping forward. “Ingus Onasi?” he asked.

The Halfling looked up. Her face was slightly wrinkled and the edges of her hair were beginning to show gray, but her features were sharp and discerning. Her lips curled into a half-smile as they approached. “What can I do for you?”

“I heard you were looking to join a mercenary company.”

Ingus scoffed. ”’Mercenary’ is such a harsh word on the ears. I prefer the think of myself as an adventurer. But yes, I am looking for that kind of work.”

Ilfari rolled her eyes. “What can you offer our group?” Arcaeus asked.

“Two hundred years of magical experience,” she said. “I can produce very destructive magics and can offer exceptional levels of knowledge and information on a wide range of topics should it be required. Frankly, I should be asking what you can offer me.”

“Well, we have experience, that is for certain.”

“Where have you been? What is your company’s name? Have you done anything I’ve heard of?

“Well our former company name was Dragonfury Company. Have you heard of us?” She shook her head no. “Well, we’ve gone through crypts, forests, fortresses, enchanted gardens, and shrines devoted to evil gods. If you’re looking for varied adventures, I assure you we can offer that.”

“Sounds interesting. What sort of treasures can I expect to find on these adventures?”

“Anything we find, you get 5%”

“Make it 10% and we got a deal.”

Arcaeus and Ilfari exchanged glances. “5% is already quite generous as far as mercenary salaries go.” Arcaeus thought for a moment. “Tell you what: if you come on at 5% and do reasonably well, I can increase your cut to 7.5%, and if you continue performing well, you can get as high as 15% or 20%.”

Arcaeus was, in truth, reciting exactly how his pay scheme was set up to function, but it seemed to convince Ingus. “That sounds fine to me. Do you have any work lined up at the moment?”

“I was focusing on recruiting right now, so not at the moment.”

There was a tug at Arcaeus’s shirt. He turned to find a grayed old Gnome leaning on a walking stick and smiling up at him. “Yes?” He said.

“I suppose you don’t remember the face,” said the Gnome. “Probably busy saving so many people you can’t keep them straight, eh?” Arcaeus gave him a confused look. “I was one of the prisoners those psychotic cultists had locked up in the shrine. Remember now?”

“I think so. You were jumping up and down in the prison, I think.”

“Bingo!” he shouted. “You saved my companion here who was strapped to the alter,” he said, gesturing to his side. An attractive Half-Elven woman stood there, a bow slung over her shoulder and two swords strapped at her sides. She nodded briskly at Arcaeus, eliciting a tap on the shins from the Gnome. “You could at least thank him properly.”

The woman frowned. “Thank you,” she said shortly. She looked around. “Where is the Dragonborn? He was the one who slew the Drider priest who was performing the ceremony. If anyone, I’d wish to give him my thanks.”

“That would be Fetin. That was his last mission with us. The same goes for our Dwarven companion, Bogrin. I’m sorry you couldn’t express your thanks personally.”

“Well, that is a secondary concern,” said the Gnome, offering his hand. “My name is Alston. Alston Illweather. This charming lady here is Ellie Mavera. We are from the mercenary company ‘Bluemist Alliance.’”

“Fellow mercenaries? That makes things interesting, then. How did you come to be captured by those cultists? You both seem capable of handling yourselves.”

Alston waved his hand dismissively. “I was in the midst of a ritual scrying for our lost companion, a Tiefling named Grieda Havelthorne. Very sweet girl. Ellie was on her own while I was casting and couldn’t rightfully be expected to fight off thirty cultists at once, though gods knows she tried. Had your group not come along, we would have been in serious trouble.”

“Your welcome for that, then,” said Arcaeus. “So you just followed us to thank us?”

“Partly,” said the Gnome. “You see, our companion Grieda is still of the missing variety. We know where she is, but are not quite well-equipped enough to retrieve her. The other members of the Bluemist Alliance are too far away to be of assistance, and we can’t afford to wait for them to arrive. That is where you come in, my friends. If you would be so willing as to help us recover our ally, I would be most appreciative. And most rewarding, of course; I can offer you 2000 gold pieces and can assure you there will be at least some treasure to be had.”

Arcaeus nodded. “We’ve never been hired by another company before. Sounds interesting. Will you be helping us recover your friend, then?”

“I’m afraid not. You see, the Gnoll tribe and their Ogre companions have most definitely stripped Grieda of all of her possessions and those need to be recovered. She was carrying something very important to the Bluemist Alliance, so that needs to be retrieved. After you rescue Grieda, you’re going to need to cause a big enough disturbance for us to find and recover the item in question. It shouldn’t be overly difficult. But we have to leave immediately! I don’t know how long Grieda will remain safe.”

Arcaeus turned to the others. “Looks like we do have some work lined up after all. Let’s see how you two perform today, hmm? This will be the first mission of the new mercenary company: Beasts of Prey.”

+ + +

Arcaeus tugged experimentally on the rope. “How did you even get this thing attached?” he asked, looking up the sheer cliff face above.

“Magic,” said Alston, “makes everything easier. Now this should lead up to the Great Bowl, as they call it. It’s the main part of their tribe’s camp and our scrying shows Grieda should be tied to some sort of effigy at the center. Make sure she is safe, then raise a ruckus. If you can, that is,” he added, tilting his head to listen to the great shouts, drum beats, and stomping that overflowed from the Gnoll camp.

“Alright,” said Arcaeus, waving the Gnome away. “We are going to be making some noise fairly soon, so-”

“Right, right!” said Alston, hopping away. “We’ll wait until the camp is sufficiently chaotic. We’ll see you shortly. And make sure you keep Grieda safe!” He turned and dashed off, Ellie walking at a leisurely speed to keep pace with him.

Arcaeus turned to find Marcus already halfway up the rope. “Come on,” Arcaeus said, climbing swiftly afterwards, “and try to keep quiet for now.”

Marcus disappeared over the ridge at the top. Seconds later, a Gnoll flew past Arcaeus, his body smashing on the ground below a few feet away from Ingus.

“Be careful, you lummox!” she shouted as she grasped the rope.

Arcaeus reached the top to find Marcus engaged with another Gnoll. He unleased an arrow to drop it swiftly, then ducked down behind a jutting piece of rock to hide from the area below.

Arcaeus peaked over the edge, quickly seeing why the area was called the Great Bowl: there were three winding pathways that rose above the central area, creating a round camp surrounded on all sides by plateaus and cliffs. The only exit, barring jumping off one of the three pathways to the ground over 30 feet below, was a narrow pass to the north that doubtlessly led to other parts of the camp, though the twisting nature of the pass did not allow them to see down.

Each of the raised pathways had two Gnoll archers on them, though they had taken care of the Gnolls on the pathway they were on. Below was a gathering of tents of various sizes, the smaller ones likely for the Gnolls while the larger ones were for the Ogres. Eight Gnolls stood below; half were dancing, and the other half were banging on drums. Distantly, two Ogres were jumping up and down in time to the music. Arcaeus turned to his party, freshly gathered after climbing the wall.

“We take out the ridges first,” he said, “then strike the center. We can use these railing-like rock formations for cover along the ridges. Try to keep it quiet for now; we’ll raise hell in a moment, but we need to get rid of those archers first.”

“If I may,” said Marcus. Arcaeus nodded for him to continue. “It doesn’t seem sporting to be slinking about and killing our foes unawares.”

“Nor is it very sporting for them to hide behind those rocks and fire arrows at men with swords,” Arcaeus pointed out. “Nor is it sporting to fight our four with their fourteen. If anything, we are evening the odds.” Marcus nodded slowly, considering this. “Marcus and Ingus,” he continued, “will stay low along the ridge, keeping hidden. Ilfari and I will handle the ridges. Should anything go awry, give Ilfari some assistance.”

As Marcus and Ingus pulled away, Ilfari turned to Arcaeus, smiling. ”’it’s not sporting of them to hide behind rocks and fire at men with swords,’ hmm? Isn’t that exactly what you do?”

Arcaeus looked past her at Marcus. “He doesn’t seem like too bright a fellow. I’m sure he won’t even notice that parallel.” Ilfari suppressed a laugh at this comment.

“Watch my back,” she said, turning away. She scampered silently down the pathway, slinked unseen behind the tents below to avoid the dancers, and moved up the western pathway. The two guards reacted to her approach, but had to take cover from Arcaeus’s arrows. He could see Ilfari dive at them in the distance, her daggers easily deflecting their hatchets and finding their flesh. The shouts of the dying Gnolls were mixed into the shouts of the others, being lost.

Ilfarri made her way back and the group readied themselves to repeat the process on the eastern ridge. Ilfari moved silently down once again, passing the short distance in the valley below to the other ridge. She jumped one of the Gnolls before it saw her coming, her daggers sinking into it. Arcaeus felled the other before it could properly react. The attack looked flawless, but the shouting below shifted in timbre and the drums ceased. Those below began scrambling for weapons. The two ogres were already making their way towards the northern entrance of the path, attempting to catch Ilfari between themselves and the Gnolls heading towards the south entrance.

“Here we go!” Arcaeus called to the new recruits below. “Meet them and don’t let Ilfari get surrounded!”

“This is more to my liking!” shouted Marcus, springing forth. He met a surprised Gnoll as it circled one of the tents, catching it in the torso with his blade. Ingus harried those approaching him with blasts of fire and light, causing them to fall to Marcus as they shielded themselves. As Arcaeus began loosing arrows, Ilfari moved swiftly towards the south entrance, fleeing the approaching Ogres and wading into the panicked Gnolls.

The Gnolls were falling swiftly and the Ogres had separated themselves by too great a distance to be of any help to them. One Gnoll, wounded and frightened, turned and fled towards the pass to the north. Arcaeus fired an arrow at it, but it hit a tent pole and stuck to it. The Gnoll vanished into the pass.

“All for the better,” Arcaeus mumbled, considering that they were supposed to incite chaos anyway and news of an attack to the rear would surely do just that.

Marcus kicked a Gnoll away from him and looked for the effigy. As they were told, a female Tiefling was tied to it, her feet dangling a short distance off the ground. Marcus leapt past his opponents and rushed to the effigy, taking several small cuts as he did so.

“Are you alright?” he said, shaking the girl slightly. Grieda looked down and smiled.

“Quite an experience I’ve had here,” she said, watching him work on the ropes. “You can’t see the things I’ve seen anywhere else. Their celebrations are truly unique!”

“I really meant more along the lines of ‘can you stand?’”

“Oh yes, they were not rough with me, though I do think that was not going to be the case in a few hours.” The ropes gave way and Grieda landed lightly on her feet. “A little something for you,” she said.

“Oh no, that’s-” Marcus began, but he felt Grieda’s healing magics already working on his body, sealing his wounds.

“Now it’s probably best if we assist your allies. Ogres are notoriously strong.”

The two Ogres, both easily over twelve feet tall, advanced on Ilfari and Ingus. Ingus created an angelic warrior to assist them, but the Ogres quickly destroyed it with their great club and sword. Marcus swept past his allies to assail the Ogres. The one with the sword ignored him, advancing on the others. Marcus turned to stop the Ogre but was swept aside by the other’s club. Rolling to his feet, he dodged a high swing and jammed his sword into the Ogre’s gut halfway up the blade. He released it to roll from the incoming attack, then pulled it free with a vicious wretch.

“More are coming from the north!” announced Arcaeus as he strode up the eastern pathway, firing arrows as he went.

Marcus’s opponent fell and he turned his attention to the other Ogre. Ilfari was darting back and forth, creating small gashes in her opponent while Ingus flicked balls of fire at his eyes. Marcus pulled the Ogre’s attention onto himself with his divine powers and shifted backward, drawing him off of the others.

“I can’t parry those huge weapons with this thing,” said Ilfari as she stabbed her dagger into the Ogre’s unprotected back. The Ogre attempted to throw her away, but the attacks were coming rapidly from all sides and he was losing the battle.

A slew of arrows rained down upon the group as a fresh group of Gnolls poured into the Bowl, an Ogre leading their charge. As soon as Marcus’ Ogre had fallen, he found himself face-to-face with another. Arcaeus and Ingus picked off what archers they could while Marcus and Ilfari distracted the club-wielding man-mountain before them.

“Even more are coming,” shouted Arcaeus again, pressing his back against rock as arrows flitted past. “We have to work a bit faster, here.”

“We’re doing all we can!” Ilfari shouted back as she tossed a dagger at a Gnoll, the blade bouncing off the ground as the Gnoll dived for cover. An arrow whistled down from above, causing the Gnoll to slump out of his cover and collapse on the ground.

Grieda, initially running between her various saviors, had taken up a position near Marcus, keeping a constant stream of healing power focused on him as blow after Ogre blow landed on him, his attempts to parry them underminded by the sheer brutal strength behind each strike. Arcaeus noted that she seemed much more efficient than Bogrin, though he didn’t have much time to be impressed. Even as they began wearing down the current group of foes, another was already making their way in.

“We’d better hope your friends find whatever they are looking quickly,” Arcaeus shouted down to Grieda. “I don’t want to seem pessimistic, but we can’t keep fighting at this pace.

“Oh!” she shouted back, sounding excited. “Those are Gnollish Vulturemasters! The Rocktoe clan is famous for them!”

“What’s a Vulturemaster?” Ilfari asked, though the Gnolls were already answering her question. Three of the Gnolls carried vultures on their arms and tossed them into the air as the approached. The vultures flew upwards, then swept down to peck and claw at the adventurers, their disease-ridden claws and beaks leaving infected gashed in their wakes.

“Damn birds!” muttered Arcaeus as he picked one out of the sky. The Vulturemasters themselves wielded axes, but they were no more a threat with them than the archers were, being swiftly killed by Ilfari or Ingus. But having barely felled the last Ogre, a new one with a sword was already engaging the party.

A wave of acid struck the Ogre in the back, causing it to howl in pain and flail its arms. “We have arrived!” cried the laughing voice of Alston and he and Ellie dashed into view. They quickly joined the battle against the heavily outnumbered Ogre and helped down him, leaving no more foes standing in the Bowl.

“Did you find it?” asked Grieda as she embraced Ellie.

“Afraid so,” Ellie answered. “It seems Garvash took a liking to it. He made a piece of jewelry out of it and pierced his nose with it. We’re going to have to defeat him first, since I don’t think he’ll give it up so easily.”

“That is unfortunate,” said Grieda.

“It is just as well,” said Alston, pulling a couple of potions from his pack. “He really is nothing but a great, big troublemaker. We’ll be doing this region a favor by getting rid of him. Now who here needs one of these?”

“What do they do?” asked Ilfari skeptically.

“They will refresh you. They don’t heal wounds or anything like that, but they will give you vigor to continue fighting. They replenish magical power and physical strength. I only got these two, so whoever is feeling tired should get them.”

“Grieda has used quite a bit of her healing magic,” noted Arcaeus. “She’s going to need that strength to keep us going during the next battle. And I suppose Marcus has taken the greatest beating, so he’ll need his strength as well.” Alston seemed to agree and handed out the potions accordingly.

DM Note: These potions simply restored all encounter and daily powers to the drinkers, but not health or healing surges. Just in case there was any confusion. -The DM

A vibration ran through the ground. Arcaeus looked up sharply towards the northern entrance. “What is that? What is coming?”

“That would be Garvash the Swift,” said Alston.

Arcaeus eyed the cheery Gnome. “What is Garvash? Another Ogre?”

“Oh dear, no,” said Alston, chuckling as he waved away the thought. “He is a Giant. Much bigger than an Ogre.”

“We weren’t informed about any Giant!” said Ilfari, looking at her dagger which seemed all the much smaller at the moment.

“He wasn’t supposed to be involved, in all truth,” said Alston. “We were not aware he had accessorized our prize.”

Garvash appeared in the northern pass, a group of Gnolls running around his feet. He stood around twenty-five feet tall and carried what looked to be an ancient tree that had been carved down at one end to make a handle.

Etnoldrassl,” said Ellie. “That was the central tree in the Elven city of Amalel. That he would wield it as a weapon is anathema.”

Garvash walked carelessly, crushing tents and the bodies of the fallen as he moved. In the side of his nose was a gleam of gold, a treasure the size of a fist, doubtless the object they were searching for. As he approached, his arm was already moving upwards for a great downwards swing.

“Scatter!” commanded Arcaeus. The Giant’s arm came down, shaking the whole Bowl with a resounding strike of the ground. Marcus made his way forward, Ellie and Ilfari close behind. Alston and Ingus stood on the eastern ridge with Arcaeus and Grieda, striking at the Giant and the Vulturemasters and archers that joined him.

Marcus was unable to avoid the Giant’s first blow, a sideways swing that sent him tumbling. Before he was done rolling, Grieda was already sending healing his way. Standing once more, Marcus was quickly assailed by the vultures that had been released. A blast of fire from Ingus frightened them off, allowing Marcus to attack once more.

For the most part, Marcus was only able to reach the Giant’s legs, slashing as high as the lower thighs if he reached, but hacking at the calf for the most part. Ilfari also danced from his club swings, striking at Gnolls and Garvash himself when the opportunity arose.

Ellie slew one of the Gnolls and turned to strike another, but found instead Garvash’s great club rocketing towards her. She made to dodge, but it struck her directly, sending her sprawling. Garvash bent down and picked her up, hurling her at the annoying archer that had been peppering him with arrows for the past minute: Arcaeus. The throw was dead on and Arcaeus froze in surprise, taking the full blow of Ellie crashing into him bodily, sending them both to the ground in a pile.

“Thanks for the catch,” she said as she stood, searching about for her falchions. “These rocks would have broken everything but my fall.”

Arcaeus lifted himself up as well, though he was winded from the impact. He looked for his longbow but couldn’t find it, having been sent flying when they collided. Ellie raced off again to rejoin the battle, leaving Arcaeus to continue his search alone.

Marcus, meanwhile, had struck a bundle of muscles and tendons on Garvash’s ankle, sending him to his knees. With this short window available, he ran forth and swung his blade with all his might, catching Garvash in the neck and inflicting a horrible, gushing wound.

DM Note: Critical with a daily power. Ouch. Over 50 points of damage, setting a new record for the game by far. – The DM

Garvash stood again, but he wobbled dangerously. He swung a slow swipe, but it was way off. Attempting a second, the club slipped from his hand and skid a hundred feet before crashing into one of the nearby plateaus, bringing down a shower of rock chunks.

“He’s coming down!” called Ilfari, leaping away like a cat. The others ran as well as the Giant slowly shifted from side to side, his great hands still positioned as if holding his club. Gradually, he tilted forward, his great body coming down like a felled tree in the center of the encirclement. Shattered chunks of tent and sand were blown in all directions by the impact, accompanied by a sound like a humungous drum being punched through by a great fist.

As the dust settled, the two mercenary companies converged by the Giant’s body.

“I think that went well,” said Alston. He moved forward and plucked the golden trinket from the Giant’s face, stuffing it quickly into a bag.

“What is that object?” asked Ingus. “It looks fascinating.”

“Nothing to concern yourself with,” said Ellie.

“Be nice, Ellie,” said Grieda, placing her hands on her hips. “They have helped us greatly.”

“Nonetheless,” said Alston, his smile the same as always, “I have to agree that it is not of any importance to you, and in fact would not be a good idea for us to tell you. I hope you take no offense at this.”

Ingus made to speak, but it was Arcaeus’s voice that rose up. “You paid us merely to retrieve your friend and this item. That is all we need to know.” He tossed a bundle of splintered wood on the ground.

“Wasn’t that a bow a moment ago?” asked Ingus.

Arcaeus nodded solemnly and sighed. “I suppose it is time I got a new one anyway, so no worries. Ilfari? Would you mind checking the Giant’s belt pouch to see if he has any bows tucked in there somewhere?”

“Doubt it, but okay,” she said. She pulled at the thick ropes that sealed it and took a peek. “Good stuff in here,” she said, “but no bows.”

Arcaeus clicked his tongue. “I suppose that means I should get that payment from you so I can replace it.”

“A deal is a deal,” said Alston, motioning to the south. “I left my possessions with a friend back in Valencia, so we should head back that way. Also, a battleground may not be the best location for this discussion.”

“Then please, lead the way.”

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