We rested for several days while helping the Drelevsii organize their new government and clean up the mess we’d made. Never stab anyone if you can help it, Pino, blood is just too messy and people contain too much of it.
We escorted a grateful Baroness Drelev and her doggie to the edge of town. “You managed to rid the world of my husband and save my Jewel. I am forever in your debt,” she gushed as the dog enthusiastically licked her face. Lady Quintessa Maray had agreed to escort her back to her estate in the old country. “We’ll put in a good word for you,” she promised smiling warmly as they waved goodbye.
On the second day Terrion Numesti returned with his daughter Kisandra. I was sorry to see how deeply the man has suffered. Oh, he made a show of his old confidence but his eyes betrayed him. He begged us to find his other daughter, Tumary, who is captive of the Tiger Lords. We promised to do our best but—between you and I—I’d rather fight an enraged owlbear than be hostage to barbarians.
|Jooquo copyright Paizo|
Bert claimed that he was getting “official enquiries” about the destruction of the boggard village and thought that maybe he should take depositions from us. I, for one, hate being categorized as a mass murderer, so I went to a nearby lawyer’s office and browsed his skimpy library for information in my defense. In the annals of the Pathfinder Society I found the following passage about the habit of boggards:
“Acceptance into the clan then depends on the young boggard's successful hunt to kill a sentient humanoid. Those who fail are exiled from the clan.”That’s the salient difference between the boggards in that village—every one of which had brutally murdered a thinking being—and old Garuum back in P.U.R.K. who lives in lonely exile for refusing to kill. It’s the difference between uncivilized and civilized, between the world we’ve found here in the Stolen Lands and the world we’re making.
“Tell our critics to consider that,” I instructed Askew as he mounted his mule to ride southeast.
“Whatever,” I heard him mutter as they disappeared into the swamp.
The next morning we’d just mounted our horses, preparing to ride northwest to the camp of the Tiger Lords, when they began snorting and backing from the nearby woods. That’s when Cane returned, by his side strode a large tiger!
|Tiger Face by Eddie Fouse|
The creature looked on us as your kitty Sniffles looks on baby rabbits. “I’ll go ahead,” he said as they bounded out of town.
“I hope he’s not sleeping with this one,” Trask grunted while encouraging his skittish mount to follow.
The Tiger Lords were encamped 50 miles northwest of Fort Drelev, but most of the land was unexplored so our progress was slowed somewhat as we made a rough map of the area while climbing from Hooktongue Slough into the rolling plains of the upland.
We came to a narrow valley filled with thorn. I felt unease as I remembered how we’d fared against the fangberries that had nearly bested us so long ago. The trail led to a cave, bones littering the entrance. Alley suddenly backed up hissing. “Speartooth!” Cane mouthed silently, reminding us of the fearsome dire tiger we’d been warned of. That’s when we heard a deep snarl and Alley’s fur fluffed like Sniffles at Little Billee’s approach.
That said, in the middle of my second prayer I chanted the wrong sequence and instead of castigating the animal with searing light I was staring with befuddlement as Cane fought the second great beast. By the time I’d revived it was over.
We found and buried the remains of their many victims, finding a few keepsakes to place in Erastil’s shrine of the departed.
We continued northwest into the hills. The ground was riven with the burrows of very large animals, like the kind we found beyond the northeast mountains. Sure enough, we soon found ourselves confronted by a pair of hyena aurumvorax, which are creatures with very large mouths, sharp teeth, eight legs, and very sharp claws. It’s hardly worth mentioning, we dispatched them so quickly, except that here, too, we found the remains of many victims.
Erastil asks for peace with Nature, dear Pino, not surrender.
That’s when I noticed that Cane was covered with dust and feces from the battle. He motioned for Alley to lick him clean. As she happily ran her rough tongue over him, purring, he said, “Sizzles was a good dog—I'll never love another.” He turned demurely away.
We continued northwest passing through sprawling savanna broken by low hillocks and scrub. That evening we went without campfire, eating jerky while our horses grazed nearby. I spent my watch under the bright stars, listening to rasping insects and the occasional shriek of wild things.
Cane and Alley took the brunt of the attack but this group of barbarians wasn’t as tough as legend says—although we were fighting mostly inexperienced warriors. Trask had been filling our ears with tales of the legendary Szechuan of the Cinderlands so we were battle shy and hesitant.
Across the campground three men stood watching us outside a tent. We assumed they were sizing us up for the real battle that would begin as soon as we’d polished off their flunkies. Oh, how misguided your uncle quickly proved to be as we saw the warriors enter a nearby tent where the terrified screams of the hostages erupted.
Keeping his head, Lev transported Cane to the tent where he cut through the hides in a desperate attempt to stop the murder. Distracted, I dropped my sword, scrambling after it for what seemed an eternity until Saint Vlad (that’s what I intend calling him from this moment forward) guided my hand.
In the meantime, floating well above the fray, Trask took aim on the far away tent—now torn and roiling violently, putting a couple of the killers to sleep in mid-blow.
While we finished the fight on one side of the encampment, Cane shielded the final hostage with his body as Trask killed the last of the barbarians. In the silence that followed only the sobbing of the two surviving hostages were heard. Thankfully, the Numesti girl was one of them.
“They took us back in their caves and . . . and . . .” she sobbed.
“There, there,” Lev comforted. “There . . . did you say—caves?” he gulped.
She pointed towards the end of the canyon where we found a dark entrance into the side of the hill.
“Uh-oh,” Trask whispered.
I’ll write again if I can,