“You threw a flaming tent on us!” Arius spat, his face still covered with soot, his right eyebrow singed from the flames.
“By all that soars on the wind, you paladin’s always find fault with the world. It wasn’t intentional. My magic surges from the ground and air. How it impacts the world, sometimes is beyond my control,” I responded. So much for gratitude. My eyesight was just barely coming back…blinded by some ring on her finger.
“Don’t yell at Theren,” Bor replied. “You set me on fire before then,” he fired off at Arius.
“Let us move past this,” I offered. “She got away even if her henchmen didn’t.”
“It’s worse than you thought,” Bor replied as he wiped the ashes out of his beard. “She had the Gray Rider’s pouch.”
“Are you certain?”
“I admit, I was on fire which was a bit distracting,” Bor replied with a wry grin. “But yes, I saw it. She has the message we were sent to recover.”
“Curse her and the soil she treads upon,” I said. I walked over to the unconscious form of Althalus. “I suppose we should awaken them, if we can.” There was a slight mumur of protest but I bent down and shook the warlock hard. He snapped awake, as if in a deep dream, drew his blade and raised it to my throat, catching himself at the last moment.
I grinned, deliberately. “Wake up sleepy…”
“What…what did I miss?”
“Everything,” Arius replied as Bor woke up Galinndan. It took a few minutes to fill them in. Whatever poison the female had used was potent. They were wobbly on their feet still.
“We should go after her,” Bor said.
“We are in no shape for another confrontation with her,” I replied. My comrades had the right spirit, but I could see the weariness on their faces. “We can use their camp and tents tonight.”
My blood-brothers and I moved into the tents. In one we found a small chest, iron-banded and locked. Galinndan was thrilled. “A locked chest, we have no idea what is in it.”
“You’re the rogue. You have a pick in your tools – have at it.” We all took a step back. There are plenty of children’s stories about booby-trapped chests, enough that we exercised caution.
There was an audible click and Galinndan grinned. “I’ve got it!”
“Maybe you should check for…” thook! He opened lid and the small poisoned needle struck Galinndan in the right cheek. “…for traps.” Staggered by another dose of poison, he nearly dropped the chest. Inside we found it filled with gemstones, all rough, but still worth a considerable fortune. There was a scroll in there as well, for a spell of biting cold, and three potions that were horribly labeled. I suggested caution. Such potions could do anything. There was a silver dagger with a ruby in the pommel. While not much of a weapon against the living, it might come in handy against the dead.
Arius found a sack in the other remaining tent. He checked to make sure it was not rigged with any devious device, the opened it. A snake, brasshead, poisonous and deadly, lunged out at him, narrowly missing him and the already brain-muddled Galinndan. “Maybe we should capture that snake?” he suggested.
“You can,” Arius said. “I will have nothing to do with a poisonous snake.” He dumped out the contents and found more gems.
“We’re rich!” Galinndan said.
“I do not care for money. I came for that Gray Rider’s message, and she took it with her.”
We camped in the bedrolls of our defeated enemies. Bor said that was part of victory, but I felt no victory in hand. That woman had made off with that pouch.
Before the break of dawn the next day, I proposed that I, Bor, and Arius set off after her. The others would remain at the camp in case she circled back on us. She had not concealed her trail. After mile or so the brush and trees ended and we were in steep rolling plains of grass. We followed her horse’s hoof prints for a while. I was not too worried about splitting up our party.
Hours later we came up over a rise and she was there, standing next to her horse, that incredible curved sword pointing down, her arms crossed on the pommel.
“I’m impressed you followed me this far,” she said with remarkable calm. I turned and gestured that none of us needed to arm ourselves…yet.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Lexa Lyoncroft she replied casually. “I am impressed with your talents. You took out some of my best men that I had with me. Good fighters are hard to find.” I almost got the sense when she said her name that she expected that we would have heard of her.
“You were the ones that ambushed us,” I returned flatly.
“Indeed. I brought down your fury on us. A mistake I will not make again. Not that I was concerned. I could take you all out without even breaking a sweat.” There was a creepy confidence in her voice. She definitely believed her own words – this was no idle boast.
“What are you doing here in the fields?” I probed.
“My employer hired me to gather information, as well as rob those traveling the area,” she said matter-of-factly.
“There is an ill wind in the north…rumors of things that—well—are best left unmentioned. My employer has his reasons. Asking too many questions in my line of work can get someone killed. Now then, why are you here?”
“We came,” Arius said, “For that pouch you have…the Gray Rider’s. He showed up in our village and died. We came to recover it – to complete his ride.”
She grinned and despite my vows, I swear, I could feel the energy come off of her. “Well then, we seem to be at an impasse.”
“We have your treasure,” I offered. “Perhaps an exchange is in order.”
“You wish to parlay with me?” she asked, as if she were intrigued that we would offer it…and perhaps disappointed we would not fight her.
“Yes,” I replied proudly.
“Very well, let us begin. I cannot let you have that rider’s pouch or message. Giving that to you would violate my agreement with my employer, and he is a man…uh, person, that one does not cross.”
“We have sworn to complete the rider’s mission,” I returned.
“What is your proposal then?”
“She is a dangerous foe, but we could take her,” Arius said in a low tone.
“You could try,” she replied. “If you think because I am a woman I am easy prey sir knight, I assure you, I could filet you before you could draw my blood.”
I held my hands out to ease the tension. “There is no need for swordplay or threats here. We are in parlay.” The problem with paladins – they always want some sort of justice. “Perhaps we could merely read the note that that rider was carrying.”
Lexa paused. “Interesting…that would allow me to honor my sworn oath to my employer. What do you have to offer?”
“We could return your treasure,” I countered.
“And my pet snake Reggie,” she said.
“That bloody snake is gone,” Arius said. “And good riddance.”
“That is disappointing…and I am afraid, not nearly enough. I need to profit from this in order to justify my actions to my employer.”
“That is all that we have,” I returned.
She laughed, not a little laugh, but a belittling chuckle at my expense. “You did not travel this far in the Gellesian Fields without finding something to line your pockets. If you want to see this message, you have to offer me something more. Otherwise this parlay is ended and we either part ways or shed blood.”
I paused, my mind racing for something we had that might entice her. Then I remembered, there was one treasure we had found that might be worth something.
“What about a demon’s skull?”
“A demon’s skull? Where did you get it?”
“We slew an ogre. It was stuck on his club,” Arius replied.
“You slew Pot Head?” Lexa seemed genuinely impressed and I stood a little taller at the compliment.
“Indeed we did,” I offered. “I such a rare artifact worth something to you?”
That wicked and beautiful smile returned, like a snake coiled to strike. “That may very well be of interest to my employer. Bring it her and we can make the exchange.”
I paused and felt my face turn red. “Well, we don’t have it with us. We hid it several days ago. We will have to go and retrieve it.”
She nodded. “Very well. We will meet in ten days atop the tallest of the Bailey Hills. You bring my treasure and the skull, I will being the note.”
“This parlay is ended,” she said mounting her white horse. “Do not attempt to cross me. Better men have tried and died.” Before I could assure her, she rode off.
Arius moved up next to me. “I don’t trust her.”
“Nor do I,” I replied. “But what choice do we have. Besides, there are worse things.”
“Like what?” the paladin sneered.
One of us has to tell Althalus that we just used his precious demon skull as a bargaining chip.”
There was an audible moan. Just then the remnants of our party arrived. I cringed, knowing that telling the warlock he had lost that skull was going to bring about no end to his griping. Frankly the rest of us were going to be glad to be rid of the thing.
I hope you’re enjoying the novelization of our current campaign. I think the players are thus far. Here’s links to the previous sections.