Chapter 54

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          Navero, male human cleric, 6th level
          Dania, female 1/2-elf MU, 5th level
          Kortul, male human fighter, 6th level
          Kory, male elf bard, 5th level
          Topash, male elf druid, 5th level
          Serga, male half-ogre fighter, 4th level
          Lao Tsu, male human monk, 4th level

The city was called Sireipa, and had an interesting history.  It was a
very old city, dating back through at least three empires, including
the one that currently occupied it now.  Much of the architecture of
the city was unusual.  The streets were narrower, and the ceilings
lower, and the decorations on the buildings were strange, and many
unknown to us.  Of course, there were the usual rumors of other,
unknown things, far more ancient than any of the people walking the
street during the daytime, but every really old city had plenty of
those.  All the buildings had dark, and very thick, walls, keeping it
warm inside on cold nights, even if they did make walking about
outside even more chilling than the winter did.
     The city was not a rich one.  They made most of their wealth by
mining the nearby hills, and cutting timber.  The mines, however, had
been worked for centuries, and their production had dropped so far
that most of the population was filled with gloom.  No one was cutting
trees much in the bitter cold; demand for it would increase come
spring, when people began building houses and ships again, but for
now, much of the town was unemployed and facing a bleak future.  The
town's only theater had closed last month due to a lack of public
support, and even Kory couldn't get much out of the locals at the
tavern when he played.  And no one knew anything about any Orb of
Spheres.  After a week, we had had enough rest and magic for everyone
to have fully recovered, and were willing to call it quits and hit the
road again, and damn the weather.
     As we'd come from the south, we decided to go out by one of the
north gates.  The road went through a manufacturing area.  There were
several workshops by the side of the road, for the manufacture of
leather goods, barrels, drills and other mining equipment, and other
durable goods.  Obviously it was not in the nice part of town.

Topash: "What a dreary little town this was."

Dania: "Why is everyone staring at us?"

Topash: "Ah... yes, they are, aren't they?"

Kory: "Oh, I don't know.  We may be the most exciting thing they've
     seen for quite some time.  Though I personally don't think we
     look *that* unusual."

Navero: "I think they're staring at Serga."

Dania: "Oh, shit.  That's right.  Well, pay them no mind.  You ok back
     there, Serga?"

Serga: "I'm fine."

Topash: "You know, it might be a good idea to figure out what we're
     going to do about Serga when we go into towns.  He does stand
     out, and not in a good way, if you understand me."

Dania: "No shit.  Got any suggestions?"

Topash: (Looks back at his humungousness, plodding along on his draft
     horse.) "Ah... do you know any spells that might disguise him?"

Dania: "Nope."

Topash: "Kory?"

Kory: "Nada here, my friend.  We could paint his armor brown and tell
     people he's a small tree, but that's about it."

Serga: "What?"

Topash: "Our bard is being flippant again.  But it does occur to me
     that this will become a serious problem very soon.  We can't
     avoid it forever."

Kory: (As they exit the gate) "We can avoid it a little longer,

(Guards stare as Serga plods through, and look at each other, but
don't seem as disturbed by things leaving the city as entering.)

Navero: "We didn't seem to have any trouble coming to this city.  If
     just take the time to explain ourselves, I'm sure that people we
     meet will be less inclined to act on their first assumptions."

Kortul: (Actually turns around to sneer at Navero.)

Dania: "Yeah, and if Dwarves weren't such shitpots, people wouldn't
     think they were all boozy hairy losers.  No one's gonna just take
     our word for it."

Kory: "Nav, look at us.  Would you trust us?"

Navero: "Well..."

Lao Tsu: "One time, a rittre spallow randed on a wise man's shourdel,
     and said to him, 'You ale the wisest of arr the men in the wolrd,
     and arr of natule lejoices in youl right.'  And the wise man
     said, 'What ale you doing?  Bilds do not tark rike men!' and he
     kirred the bild, and flied it fol his suppel."

Topash: (Looks heavenward.)

Dania: (Shakes her head and spurs her horse a bit.)

Kory: "Thank you for enriching our lives.  We all feel oh so refreshed
     and challenged by your unique point of view."

Lao Tsu: (Smiles enigmatically.)

Serga: (Looks clueless.) "Um, would you guys like me to just leave?"

Navero: "No, Serga.  You're our friend now, and we would never abandon
     you in crisis.  That wouldn't be right."

Dania: "Yeah, stick around.  We'll deal with it if anyone gives you

Serga: (Smiles.  It's not pretty.) "Thanks."

Topash: (Whispers) "Besides, his breath could kill a goblin."

Kory: (Whispers) "No, that's Kortul. Serga'd just scare 'em to death."

Dania:  "I dunno, Serga's pretty good in that department too.  But I
     think he may be smarter than Kortul.  You know he can read?"

Topash: "Well, he did say he was raised in an Elvish household."

Kory: "And we all know that automatically makes him superior, of
     course.  But there's only so much environment can do for a kid.
     Why, look at me!  Would you believe my parents were both
     musically untalented?"

Dania: "Yes."

Kory: "But I..." (glares at Dania) "And your parents were probably
     well-mannered, intelligent people, too.  With a real appreciation
     of the fine arts.  But that's not important right now.  Does
     anyone have any idea where we're going?"

Topash: "You know, I don't think that was ever discussed."

Dania: "Hey Kortul, where are you going?"

Kortul: "The next town."

Kory: "Well, that answers that question.  Kortul!  What's in the next

Kortul: "Don't know."

Lao Tsu: "What an enrightened way to tlavel."

Topash: "Kortul, why are we going that way if we don't know what's

Kortul: "Can ask about Orb of Spheres, get this over with."

Topash: "How do you know if anyone there knows about it?"

Kortul: "Don't.  That's why we ask, stupid."

Topash: "Don't you think it would be a nice idea to let the rest of us
     contribute our thoughts on the matter? Stop and lets discuss it."

Kortul: (Stops horse, lets everyone else catch up.) "Fine.  Where we

Kory: "Wherever the Orb of Spheres is!"

Kortul: "Where?"

Topash: "That's exactly the problem, isn't it?  We don't know where it
     is.  We have to find it, or find someone who does know."

Kortul: "Where we find someone who knows?"

Topash: "We'd be most likely to find such a person in a large city
     where information from many leagues around concentrates, of

Navero: "Some of the local people will also know about hermits and
     other people who live out alone, and who might know things that
     the sages don't."

Kortul: "But check cities first."

Topash: "Yes."

Kortul: (Rides off.)

Dania: "Well, that was pointless."

Topash: "Kortul, how do you know there's a city up there?"

Kortul: "The signposts."

Serga: "Do you guys do things like this a lot?"

Topash: "Shut up, Serga."

Serga: "What?"

Topash: "No, what I mean is, I'm afraid that yes, this sort of thing
     does happen far more frequently than it should.  I, for one, am
     getting tired of letting Kortul make our decisions of where to go
     and what to do."

Dania: "Since when does he do our thinking for us?  He's going that
     way because that's what we did for the last two cities."

Kory: "Yeah, and look where that got us."

Lao Tsu: "Once, a man was sent by his empelor to find a pule white
     clow, as a sign flom heaven.  Fealing his empelor, he rooked high
     and fal, but found no such clow.  And when, aftel many yeals, he
     letulned and found his empelol dead, he wept, and lejoiced."

Topash: "Lao, thank you.  Your stock of parables is truly amazing.
     You have one for every situation.  Now, what about Kortul?"

Dania: "You got any bright ideas on what we do?" (Rides after Kortul.)

Kory: "I certainly can't think of anything better to do.  Look, if it
     bothers you that much, just glare hatefully at his back like
     Dania does.  You'll feel much better." (Rides off.)

Navero: "Topash, I don't think there's very much we can do but ride
     around and ask people if they know about it.  And as you said,
     cities are the best place to look."

Serga: "And the beds are comfier too."

Topash: (sigh...) "Very well, then.  But next time, we decide which
     direction we want to go before we leave."

Navero: "That would be a good idea anyway."

     We continued on in silence.  If Topash were upset, he wasn't
saying anything.  We might have gone on like that all day if Kortul
hadn't been suddenly shot.

Kortul: (Looks very surprised as a crossbow bolt thunks into his

Kory: (Looks around) "Heads up!"

Topash: "Everyone scatter!"

     The road ran between hills at this point, and there were no trees
to scatter into.  We could see the dark outlines of people lying on
the crests of the nearby hills, with crossbows.  Obviously, these were
not kids on a lark, but real bandits or worse.  Kortul drew his sword
and charged his horse up the hill to the left, where the arrow had
come from.  The rest of the party scattered this way and that, trying
to find some cover.

Kortul: (Takes three more bolts charging up the hill.)

Dania: (Swears an awful lot, watching Kortul charge into the hail of
     bolts with her staff in his pack.)

Kory: (Goes towards the hills on the right, then notices a line of
     dark outlines on top of them.  Tries to hide behind his horse
     from both directions, and ride it at the same time.)

Lao Tsu: (Dismounts and runs towards the hills on the right.)

Navero: (Looks left and right and left and right and left and...)

Topash: "Oh... Dania, can you get them with Magic Missiles?"

Dania: "You know, a Lightning Bolt or two would come in real handy
     right now!" (Casts Magic Missile, scattering 3 missiles among 3
     of the archers.)

Serga: (Slowly turns horse around, starts riding towards base of hill
     on the left.)

Archers: (Twang Twang Twang a lot.  Crossbow bolts scattered among
     party members, most everyone hit at least once.)

Kortul: (Reaches the top of the leftmost hills, and the archers run
     away.  Looks down, and sees 6 more archers and an unarmed person
     with a staff.  All archers are aiming at him.) "Shit."

Dania: "Kortul, get back down here and give me my staff!" (Magic
     Missiles archers on right hill.)

Kory: (Fumbles out bow and arrow while trying to ride in the least
     targetable manner possible. His horse is becoming very confused.)
     "Well, this is another nice mess you've gotten me into!"

Lao Tsu: (Running towards right hills, trying to hide behind pebbles
     and blades of grass.)

Topash: (Rides up left hills after Kortul.)

Navero: (Rides up left hills.)

Serga: (Rides to base of left hills.)

Archers: (Reloading or running away.  The six archers Kortul just saw
     all shoot at him, but only 2 hit.  The unarmed man casts a spell
     of some sort.)

Kortul: (Does not notice any effects from spell, charges.) "YAAAHHH!!"

Dania: "Kortul, get your sorry muscle-bound ass back the fuck down
     here and give me my goddamn staff, you motherfucker!" (More Magic
     Missiles among the right hill archers.  One dies.)

Kory: (His ten thumbs just cannot find the bowstring. Elects for more
     evasive maneuvers.) "You know Dania, maybe we were a bit hasty.
     Get up there after him!"

Dania: "Are you crazy!?  I'm unarmored!"

Lao Tsu: (Runs up right hill, punches out an archer.) "As am I, sholt
     medium.  Pelhaps you wourd rike us to stand between you and them
     once again, so you may shoot us in the back?"

Dania: "SHUT UP!!  Where are they all?"

Topash: (Reaches crest of hill, sees Kortul charging into a pack of
     them.) "Ah, our unerring sense of direction has disclosed their
     location.  Now, shall we see if we can keep our unerring sense of
     direction alive for much longer?"

Navero: (Rides up hill, swings and misses at an archer.) "Stop, you!
     Why are you shooting at us!"

Archer: "None of your beeswax!"

Serga: (Rides around base of hill, comes in sight of pack and person
     with staff.) "I think the guy with the staff must be their

Archers: (Reloading, or shooting, or running away.  Kortul is shot in
     the back twice.  Navero is shot, Lao is shot.  The man with the
     staff casts another spell at Kortul.)

Kortul: (Rides through mass of archers, scattering them, heading
     straight for the head honcho.)

Dania: (Swearing mightily, charges up left hill.)

Kory: (Manages to load bow, shoots an archer on right hill.  He dies.)
     "Hot damn, I'm good!"

Lao Tsu: (Runs towards another opponent.) "No comment."

Topash: (Casts Tanglefoot on head honcho.  The frozen flora responds
     very weakly.) "Oh, my." (Draws scimitar.)

Navero: (Swings again, and misses.)

Serga: (Caves in the skull of a fleeing archer and drops him in one
     shot.) "Hold on!  I'm coming!"

Archers: (Ka-twang Ka-twang Ka-twang a lot more.  Kortul does not get
     shot again, but Dania does.  Kory and Lao take bolts.  The head
     honcho jerks his feet free with a small effort.)

Kortul: "RAAAAHHHH!!" (Swings mighty blow at head honcho, who parries
     with his staff... which fails its save vs. normal blow.)

VV   VV   AAA   DDDDD     AAA   BBBBB   LL        AAA   MM     MM

Dania: "What was that!?!"

Kory: (Shoots an archer.) "I think we're in trouble."

Lao Tsu: (Kicks another in the chest.) "Do you really think so?"

Topash: (Momentarily dazzled.) "Dania, I think their chief just

Navero: (Swings, and misses, again.) "Why do I suddenly feel sad?"

Serga: (Hacks another archer in two with one swat.) "I don't know.
     Was he someone important?"

Archers: (Those still on their feet turn and run away.  The head
     honcho (formerly a cleric) has been scattered hither and yon by
     the force of his exploding staff.  Which, as the GM told us, was
     a Staff of Healing.  No wonder Navero feels sympathy pains.)

Kortul: (Knocked flat on his ass by the explosion, and not moving.
     His horse is dead.)

Dania: (Rides over the hill, and charges towards Kortul.)

Kory: "Lao: 10 gold pieces says she grabs her staff before she checks
     to see if Kortul's alive."

Lao: "I do not gambre.  Particuralry with such pool odds."

Topash: (Watches the archers run away.) "Well.  I wonder who they

Navero: (Is still dancing around his opponent, still missing.) "Hey,
     why were you attacking us?"

Archer: (Looks around.) "Promise not to kill me if I tell you?"

Navero: "Of course."

Archer: "He hired us to.  The priest."

Navero: "But why?  Who was he?"

Archer: "Never said why.  Said to kill you, and we could take whatever
     booty you had, in addition to our pay."

Topash: "So, we have an enemy.  Dania, is Kortul alive?"

Dania: (Recovers her intact staff, with evident satisfaction.) "Yeah,
     but just.  Navero, get over here!"

Serga: (Leans over archer.) "Are you sure you don't know any more?"

Archer: (Turns very pale.) "I swear, that's all I know!  We're just
     hired mercs, we don't ask questions."

Topash: "You know, Serga the Horrible, I don't think our friend here
     is telling us the whole truth.  Do you think he's telling us
     everything, Serga?"

Serga: "I think he's a liar." (Cracks knuckles.)

Navero: (Casts Cure Serious.  Kortul starts to revive.)

Archer: (Starts dribbling on himself.) "Oh, lordy, I'm not!  I'm not
     lying, it's the gods' own truth that I tell you, I swear on my
     employer's grave, by all the cash I've ever spent, and every
     wench I'll ever rent, I know nothing!"

Kory: "Hmmm... I don't think he knows anything."

Topash: "No, probably not.  Does anyone recognize that priest?"

Dania: "There's not much left of his face.  I think he had the staff
     right in front of it."

Topash: "Might he have been one of the priests from the temple of
     death and disease?"

Dania: "Maybe.  Your guess is as good as mine."

Kory: "Does he have a whip?"

Dania: "Nope."

Navero: (Casts Cure Serious again.) "He isn't dressed like them

Kory: (To archer) "Did he ever run around with a whip?"

Archer: (Looks at Kory kind of funny.) "Not that I ever saw."

Kory: "Ok, fine.  Give us all your cash."

Archer: "What for?"

Kory: "Serga, hit him."

Archer: (Forks over cash from several pockets.  Also a small ruby, and
     a 100 gold piece note from a bank in a distant eastern city.)

Kory: "Say, we have gotten around, haven't we?  Serga, hit him

Archer: "Hey!"

Kory: "You weren't quick enough.  Serga?"

Serga: "I don't want to hit him.  He doesn't have anything else."

Kory: "Well, we have to use him as an example to everyone else who
     might try to attack us!"

Serga: "But everyone who might be impressed is dead or run away."

Kory: "No, we want to impress HIM."

Serga: "Then you hit him."

Topash: "I don't think that would be as impressive."

Serga: "Well, I don't wanna hit him.  Let him go."

Lao Tsu: "Pelhaps I courd hit him, if that preases your honolabre

Topash: "Look, we might as well... hey, where'd he go?"

Kory: "He's buggered off."

Serga: (Points to the archer, running away across the fields.) "There
     he is."

Kory: "Ah, shoot.  Anyone want to get him?"

Topash: "Not really.  I think we've made enough of an impression."

     Kortul got put on Dania's horse, and Dania rode with Topash.  The
rest of the ride was dull, and as we approached a roadside inn at
dusk, snow was beginning to fall again.  We got rooms, ate, and spent
the evening downstairs, with a lot of other travelers, marooned for
what turned out to be all night, all day and all the next night.  (Our
GM had to remind us that there are no snowplows in this era.  To clear
snow, you either have a lot of guys with shovels, or magic, and it's
expensive to hire a magician for the tedious work of shoving aside or
melting all that snow.  Only the rich parts of large cities have it
done regularly.)

Daniel Parsons                       "Well, I think I was impressive."                     "Gosh, I'm so impressed."

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