By Brian Flood
Chapter 36 - The Pack Just IS
Along the Dusk Road
North of Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Early Evening, 1st Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The sun is just beginning to set on the western horizon when the small band of travelers finally decides to stop for the evening. The day’s journey has been completed in near silence – the mourning of Kyrian’s passing and the subsequent departure of Alric and Slyvia have provided ample opportunity for each adventurer to reflect quietly on his or her own past and eventual fate.
The weather has not helped matters, in the least. Rain – the party’s almost constant companion since leaving Berdusk some twelve days ago – once again announced its presence during a mid-afternoon shower. Fortunately, the Dusk Road is a fairly well kept traderoute. Its hardpacked, gravel and stone surface prevented an over-accumulation of mud and puddles during the silent journey north from Asbravn.
The predictions of those citizens and travelers that the party met in Asbravn have proven correct. Despite the less-than-comfortable weather, traffic along the road was in higher volume to that of the days leading up to Higharvestide. Apparently, merchants and farmers alike are trying to complete their last errands and travels as winter looms in the not-so-distant future.
The scenery on this stretch of road has proven to be much the same as that which the party saw during its final two days or so of travel in their approach to Asbravn. Farmlands blanket the earth as far as the eye can see. Now, however, the crops have been harvested. Only the long, parallel lines of plowed furrows populate the vast majority of the fields.
The small band, preferring for now to reflect amongst themselves has located a small wooded glen some two score or so yards off o the western side of the Dusk Road. Now, slightly soaked and tired from the increased pace of the day’s march, the small band begins to perform their routine pre-evening activities.
Dolak, Kjira, and Corax begin to prepare the firepit and clear the ground for the adventurers’ lean-tos and tents. As they do so, Alani – now lacking a hunting partner in Slyvia’s absence – accompanies Lucas on a short foray in search of herbs and nuts to augment the evening’s meal. Darius and Soft-Fang leave the campsite to search for game; they return a short while later, empty-handed. Apparently, even Mother Nature is seeing to make the party’s day uncomfortable.
Settling for a meal of trail rations, the party gathers around the campfire as the sun finally sets. Long shadows provided by the setting orb stretch across the open fields that surround the small wooded glen. Soon, the nearly full moon that rises high into the evening sky provides the only light.
Finally, Cyzicus breaks the gloomy mood that permeates the air of the campsite. “Perhaps we should discuss what we were told this morning,” the halfling suggests. “These reports of monsters disappearing when slain troubles me. What sort of foul magic could do such a thing? And what of this woman that Corax mentioned – could it have been Zell in disguise? I do not think that she would be capable of this, but she definitely portrayed a few instances of a dark and brooding heart during her short time with us.”
The red-robed mage stops himself at Cyzicus’ uneducated comments. Standing from his sitting position, Lucas starts his sermon.
“Magic is not foul, young Cyzicus. You don’t see me claiming that ‘swords are the root of all evil.’ Only the heart behind the caster or blade may be foul. Magic stems from all that surrounds us in the world. Mystara is Goddess of all magic and she is not evil. Magic is more so a neutral tool. It is the user of magic that turns or twists the weave to support his own -- perhaps ‘evil’ – desire. Magic by itself does not summon these frog creatures.”
Pausing to reflect a moment and to catch his breath, Lucas starts again, “To get back to your question, though, it sounds to me like conjuring magic. I will be able to summon such creatures myself in the very near future. You have all seen me dismiss my mount every afternoon into a mist and leaving no trace of it ever being there. It is not an uncommon spell to do such.
“I believe that Dolak is right –
that we must be ever vigilant for Zhentarim agents on this leg of our journey.
Perhaps this last companion of Kyrian’s was more than just a casual
partygoer at the inn. We should all
try to remember her, so that we can recognize her in the future if she should
show herself again.” With that
said, Lucas sits back down and pulls his woodland cloak tighter about himself to
keep out the light chill.
Darius breaks from staring at the near full moon, and shakes his head as if coming back from somewhere, when he hears Cyzicus and Lucas speak. “I do not think that it was Zell,” the young druid declares. “She was a strange one alright, and couldn’t work with a group but I don’t think she would stoop this low.”
He then continues, saying, “Aye
master Lucas, I have noticed your beast. While
it is not natural, it is not evil, and thus you prove your point.
Magic is defined by the one using it, not the force itself.”
The druid looks ready to bed down for the night, and sends Soft Fang to under Tomar’s wagon, but he waits to see the outcome of the discussion before heading there himself.
Corax leans forward toward the companions and begins in low tones, “There is no need to argue my friends. I was there and I believe without a doubt that there was magic involved. And, I might add, it seems rather peculiar that a caravan guard was attacked so far away from his caravan unless: A, it were
personal; or B, he was guarding something awfully important.”
Corax adds the rest so that it is too low for Tomar to hear, “Does anyone actually know what exactly it is we are carrying?” Then he adds for emphasis, “Has anyone else been curious enough to try and find out?”
“Oh, and by the way, has anyone else found it unusual that you travel with a wolf...I was just wondering,” he asks.
“You travel with two wolves,” replies Darius with a grin. “I will show you the other later tonight.”
Kjira looks at Corax briefly
suspicious, but she quickly recalls her own curiosity at the contents of
Tomar’s wagon and the party’s attempt to inspect them.
“I think, friend Corax,” she begins between sips of the tea she patiently brewed over the fire, red tresses streaming down her face, “I think that we’ve ascertained earlier that Master Tomar’s cargo is essentially harmless – nothing more than old books and their trappings. You’ve little to fear aside from the bandits that seem to plague the road we travel.”
“As for the wolves...well, they make for welcome company and fearsome companions. ‘Tis probably best not to pry beyond that.”
“Speakin’ o’ the wolf,” says Dolak, picking up where Kjira left off, “I’ve been thinkin’ we might need some kind o’ name. Callin’ ourselves ‘Tomar’s Hired Wagon Guards’ is kind o’ plain. How ‘bout somethin’ like ‘Company o’ the Iron Wolf’ or the ‘Iron Wolf Company.’ I can’t really explain it; other than I kinda liked it some. Has anyone else thought o’ somethin’ we can call ourselves?”
Darius looks in surprise at the dwarf,
“Why do we need a name for ourselves?” he asks.
“You’re Dolak, I’m Darius, this is Kjira, Lucas, and the rest.
I do not understand the need to name the pack, the pack just is.”
Corax raises an eyebrow in the direction of the heated discussion between Darius and Dolak and volunteers quietly, “It sounds to me, gentlemen, that you’ve already named the group... ‘The Pack’ or rather; ‘The Wolves ‘Pack’ – which I guess, speaks to your interdependent nature and the presence of two wolves. And, while I understand your modesty Darius, I think you stated it best; ‘The Pack just is...’ ”
Corax turns back to Kjira and returns
to his earlier inquiry concerning their patron’s cargo
“Then you’ve actually visually inspect the books and other sundries
that we’re guarding? If not, I
think it might benefit us to know what has placed this party in such grave
danger...as to having its members hunted down and killed.
“The Zhents, if I’m not mistaken, are oft to participate in your usual thuggary, but why would a drunken sailor be attacked by one who wields magic?...The Zhents that are wizards work at quite the price for one of them to work on something of no great consequence...
“But,” Corax concludes, “as a member of this ‘Pack’ that we are in, if your curiosity has been quelled – and you do no feel that our charge has placed us in danger – I…er, WE…needn’t go rummaging through effects that do not belong to us.”
Lucas turns towards Dolak and considers the dwarf’s suggestions for a company name. “Iron Wolf Company has merit though maybe Magic Wolf Company would be more fitting,” adds the red robed mage with a chuckle.
“You seemed to like that shrinking magic, Dolak, though I didn’t like the fire too much.”
Pausing for Dolak to respond before continuing, “I have been thinking, Dolak, that I would like to learn a bit more of your language, history, and culture. That is, other than the curse words,” the mage adds with a wink.
“I would be willing to teach you
some elvish if you wish to learn some of the fair folk or I can offer you free
tankard now and then when the opportunity arises,” Lucas offers.
Then, seeing that Corax is still not
comfortable with the answer concerning what the party has been hired on to
guard, Lucas turns to address him. “Our
patron’s wares were displayed and for sale back just a day ago.
Did you not stop by and look at his wares? I am sure some are probably worth a pretty penny or three but
nothing that would harm us...that is directly.
Some would surely like to get their hands whatever of value that a
guarded caravan is protecting. If
you still have your concerns, then ask Master Tomar yourself as we did before we
Corax simply shrugs and replies,"
As I said, if the group is satisfied; I am satisfied.
It’s just that murder always arouses my curiosity.”
Kjira then adds her opinion, saying,
“I must, naturally, side with Lucas on this issue of a name...we are
not merely a ‘wolf company,’ but a group of many talents.
I think that perhaps we should try to recognize this.
Perhaps we should be the Company of the Wolf and the Stave...”
Kjira notes the long stares... “Too lengthy?” she asks, and then continues. “Should we be the Wolf Imagica then?” She rattles on a few more combinations before realizing no one is paying any attention.
Dolak looks first to Corax, “I dinna think it is what Tomar carries so much as who Tomar is. I got the impression from Supplicant Asgar that Tomar has views not quite the same as the Zhents – perhaps he has dealt with them a’fore.”
Addressing Lucas, Kjira and Darius, Dolak continues, “Aye we ‘ave many talents and to name them all would be quite a lengthy title. And were we to stay out here, perhaps we would need no title at all. But we must venture to the towns and cities to find employers, and somethin’ akin to Iron Wolf Company has a solid, reliable sound to it, w’ a touch o’ mystery that might draw a future employer's eye.”
Dolak then jests to Lucas, “Aye, I’d be willin’ to teach ye some of m’language and learn a bit o’ Elven o’er a handkeg o’ ale or two. And I can throw in the colorful words as a bonus – them that ya don’t already know that is!”
Still looking confused at the
discussion concerning a group name, Darius mutters to himself.
Then, looking at Dolak, he says, “Although I don’t understand the
need for a name, if it must be, then I leave that in your capable hands, Dolak.
I am turning in till my watch.”
“Corax, earlier I said that you traveled with two wolves,” the druid says grinning from ear to ear. Darius stands back and bends forward a bit and shapechanges into a large grey wolf with sandy colored fur on the head, and the strangest blue eyes (instead of the normal yellow wolf eyes). He pads over to the wagon, lays down next to Soft Fang, and soon is asleep.
“Well,” Lucas declares, “if no one else has anything to suggest, I think I will side with Dolak and his ‘Iron Wolf Company’ suggestion. Any objections?”
From across the fire, Cyzicus – who has been uncharacteristically quiet to this point – speaks up. “I think it is a fine name,” the halfling announces. “And I can only hope that our ‘iron’ serves us true when we finally confront whatever enemy it is that lurks just beyond our recognition for us.” With that, the halfling falls silent once more, sitting motionless and staring into the flickering flames of the campfire.
Hearing no objections, the red-robed
mage stands and continues, "Then let us be known and make a name for us as
the "Iron Wolf Company!" Lucas
sits again to finish his meal before turning in for the night until his shift
With no other opinions offered, the small band sets about settling down for the evening. As per Darius’ instructions, Cyzicus and Kjira take the first watch; Dolak and Corax assume duties for the second three-hour shift; and Alani, Lucas, and Darius take the final shift. The night passes uneventfully, and the party rises the next morning, eager to be on their way.
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