Children of the Night

From the pages of Sulayn's journal, Part 1

A Record of the Children of the Night

Late into the night I was woken by a small woman entering the wagon to rent the second bed. A second woman, with a strong Sczarni accent was profusely thanking her as they talked through the open door, rather loudly, for several minutes before my new roommate finally said goodnight and settled in. I’ve had more peaceful nights in the barracks. I buried my face in a pillow to fend off her lantern and my travel weary body fell quickly back to sleep in the cozy cushioned bed. That night I dreamt of my cousin’s ranch in Greengold. Mostly the dreams were of mucking out the nests while the rude elven children of the wealthy came visiting from Iadara. In my dream though I was a full blooded elf and a child as they were. In the dream they welcomed me to play with them instead of viewing me with pity and scorn for my flawed “quick blood”. She is waking as I write this. I suppose it would be polite to make conversation.

What an awkward surprise! While exchanging pleasant banter with my new companion an uncomfortable familiarity began to grow in me. She was an attractive dwarf, fairly young as far as I can tell and a merchant and healer of some sort, although she was strangely cagey on the subject. It turns out that we have met before, years before at the Salty Siren in Greengold. Well, that explains the dreams. Met, is a bit understating it actually. An awkward night of youthful experimentation fueled by that summer’s excellent mead. I’m afraid I’m sure I performed badly and she had already left the barn loft before the hippogriffins crowed me awake for their breakfast. It was my only experience with a woman and, and while my heart was never into it, I don’t regret that night. Inside the wagon Halda and I chuckled at bit, embarrassedly recalling that night and how much time and life had changed since then. It was much less uncomfortable than it could have been and for that I was grateful.

After that strange reunion I believe I’d like to get out and see this wonderful festival the traders have been talking so much about. First order of business is a new shirt. This rag is bound for the trash. I should put an ear out for some work today as well. My coin purse is getting light.


The day began with an awkward reunion and ended chasing down murderous goblins in a race to beat them to the safety of their mountain homes. It has been a long, exhausting day and we are still traveling but as we stop for a brief rest I feel compelled to put this down as I don’t want to forget such an extraordinary day.

The beauty of the rolling terraced hills I had seen at sunset spills into and nearly surrounds the small town of Vauntil. The market was already open and bustling by the time I awoke. Leaving my spear and armor behind in my rented wagon I wandered the market drinking in the scents and smells of exotic foods and intoxicating perfumes. Everywhere there was something interesting and strange. Nostalgia tugged at me when I passed a table of imported Kyonin sweetbreads but I was here to sample something new. The octopus and squid was popular but more expensive than a night at a good inn. The festival attendees were colorful and friendly and quite cosmopolitan compared to the wary looks and not too slightly subtle warding gestures I’d seen traveling through Varno and Versex. I paused at a stall to examine a book on the local flowers and the bookseller and I got wrapped up in conversation with a noble from nearby Caliphas, my eventual destination. The vendor told us of a madman who pulled an ivory handled dagger from some nearby ruins, ruins from the age of the Whispering Tyrant. The noble and he seemed to believe there would be more artifacts to pull from the ruins. I asked after employment and the noble referred me to the captain of his guard at Redcliff estate. I noted it as a potential when I arrived in the capitol. The work sounded solid, but not very interesting. I also learned that a friend of my brothers was here, possibly with Ecaeris. Our conversation was interrupted with a crash as a large brute upended the squid cart spilling his slimy wares on the cobblestones. He was yelling about being poisoned and he did look unwell. His skin had a sweaty, shiny sheen to it. I ran through obvious symptoms of poisoning my father had taught me to recognize but it matched none that I could remember. In fact he still seemed strong as an ox and angry as a bull. Without my spear I felt as if I was missing an arm but I took a step forward and laid a hand on my dagger hilt. A half dozen town guard pushed through the crowds and cautiously circled him. These were professionals and had seen what I had. In his agitation the big man shifted his bulk easily betraying the appearance of his corpulence. He never reached for the axe on his back but we all watched for it as one of the guard tried to talk him down. The noble Sir Elias Redcliff pushed his way past me clearly not wanting to be protected. After a tense few minutes the big man threw down a handful of coins and stomped off roughly shoving the pressed crowds away and some to the ground. On the far edge of the crowd a young girl bravely stepped into the angry brute’s path. She exchanged a few words with him and unphased by his snarls reached up to hand him a yellow flower from her basket. “I think you are” her little voice squeaked. He tore it flinging petals to the ground but stepped around the defiant little girl. The whole scene left me intrigued.

I excused myself from Redcliff and broke away from the crowds. Hawkers resuming their cries and melodic music sprung back up nearby. Not liking feeling that vulnerable I returned to my wagon to don my armor and grab my spear. On my way back to the town square I spied the man that had caused the disturbance. He sat thoughtfully in amongst a caravan of wagons. We talked for awhile and it wasn’t long before his wariness softened. His name was Vargan and he had lived here sometime in the distant past. He seemed to take some offhand comment I made as an epiphany roughly slapping me with what I learned was his idea of an affectionate gesture. He departed eager to return to the squid cart but with a kind of eager zeal, not anger. When he stood to leave I noticed the stem of a small flower sticking out of a pocket on his rough shirt. Interesting. I suddenly remembered the lead I had on my brother and cursing myself hurried back to the town square.

The sun was low on the horizon when I finally found my brother’s friend Vali. He was playing violin outside the city hall near an old stone brazier as tall as a person. Vali said that Ecaeris was supposed to meet him at the festival today but he hasn’t seen him. I learned from him that Ecaeris spends much of his time at the academy in Caliphas and was courting the queen. The word queen earned a snort from a richly dressed man standing nearby, and someone in the crowd corrected Countess. I clearly need to catch up on local politics. The sun was setting as we talked and I gazed out over the festival to admire the lamplighters at work. A crash here, shout of alarm from the other direction and a scream. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a hand dart from under a table and grab a bottle of wine. A dog erupted in barking and then yelped and gurgled in pain.

It was goblins and they were everywhere. Not the pathetic, cowering whelps I’d seen in the Echo woods or the bumbling, almost cute goblins of a child’s story. These things were vicious little killing machines reveling in destruction and cruelty. It was difficult to pick them out amid the chaos and I’m sure even harder for the local humans. Intelligent sounding barking behind me drew my attention to a small clutch of them harrying a cart pulling wood and oil for the bonfire. Spear in hand this time I ran to engage. I was quickly mobbed and it took all my attention to bat off their teeth and chipped little blades. At the periphery of my awareness I heard pockets of fighting amongst the screaming and panicking locals. Guards shouting commands to steering merchants and customers to safety. The fiends on me slid under and around me stealing quick, angry stabs and tumbling away in impossible tumbles. Even when I managed to hit one the slippery runt would slide off the blow with nothing but a nick. I dropped one but another had snuck up behind me and nearly sliced my ankle tendon. I only just avoided the disabling blow with an reflexive kip. A couple of their weak strikes slipped past my guard but I don’t think anything drew blood. Desna’s stars! I’m glad I armed myself when I did! The newest goblin seemed to remember their task and croaked a command causing the goblins to break off to spark the fuel wagon a light. The flames ripped across the oil burning into the wood and cart. The goblins cackled their excitement but in the distraction I cut a second one down.

I stole a glance at the despoiled festival square and saw only a handful of dead or dying, most goblins. But several still howled and struck at a handful of scattered survivors. If they had had a little training they would have grouped up and pushed the creatures back. Several of the goblins looked in rapture, their blades hanging stupidly by their sides. A woman’s blade slashed in deft arcs, but like me her measured skill betrayed her in felling the unpredictable scrappers. I saw my new friend Vargan was having more luck. He had a goblin’s head in his hands and in the instant I watched he squished it like a ripe pumpkin muttering to the wretch as it died.

And then a shrill shriek from high above caught everyones’ attention. We turned to watch in amazement as one of the little creatures jumped off the roof of city hall straight down at an oblivious gentleman below. Did I write everyones’ attention? I’m afraid this poor fencer, wrapped in a battle with both his blades flashing, was the last to realize. He looked up just in time to see the plummeting goblin crash into him knives flailing. The blade scraped across the noble’s chest as the little beast crashed with a crunch onto the ground. A nearby woman, seemingly just watching all this chaos as if it were theater let out a gasp and reached a gloved hand towards him yards away. But the fencer staggered and kept his feet. I don’t think that goblin ever got back up. A grunt alerted me to backarm block a chopping bite and I pivoted back to my own dance, determined to finish them off.

Wagons moving somewhere nearby.. crying.. and screams. The smell of boars? Out of darkness a particularly gruesome goblin barreled towards me. He was a full head bigger than the others and better armored than I was. The three other goblins grinned madly, teeth stretching from ear to ear as they renewed their frenzied attacks. The new goblin, some kind of champion, fought with less abandon, more cunning. This I understood. I lowered my stance and focused on him alone, allowing years of conditioning to bat away the swipes of the others. He was good. Even shrugged off a pretty good blow, his mail turning a probably lethal stab into bruised ribs. Hit hard too, but more instinct than training. Kicking off the stone wall behind me I flipped past his swing into a crouch. Confused he didn’t see my spear tip trace lightly up the skin of his throat, enter under his chin and burst through the top of his skull. With a hard pull I yanked my weapon free.

Unconscious battle sense receded then and let my mind return. I realized one of the goblins near me was struck dumbly with a sloppy grin as if from a hard blow to the head. The swordswoman had closed the distance to me her armor and sword splattered with blood. A swing from her longblade split one of my goblins from ear to waist. All around us the few goblins we could see broke and fled into the shadows. I remember wishing their howling cries didn’t sound so damn joyful.

After the battle introductions were made as others started to filter back into the town square and tend to the moaning in the streets. A shadow of something I thought I was supposed to feel passed over me but it was gone before I could recognize it. Too many skirmishes and there are always the dying. Best to keep the heart out of it. The woman seemed distracted, something about the wagons. She had pale grey skin and a muscled frame beneath layers of heavy cloth and simple armor. I barely got the name Persephone out of her before she slipped away and into the darkness. Then the fencing gentleman was on me shaking my hand and introducing himself while his other hand pressed a fine kerchief to his bleeding stomach. He is a Viscount by the name of Lowls but insisted I call him his personal name Aetherton. Impressed that I held off a few goblins he offered me a job in his personal guard. The pay sounded generous. We walked as we talked and came across my old dwarven flame Halga talking with Sir Redcliff, the noble I had met earlier. Both had gotten caught in the fight but Redcliff looked in even worse shape than Aetherton. He looked as though just maintaining a proper gentleman’s posture was taking everything he had. I wondered how long he could keep it up. Vali came by as we talked, violin still in hand like he had just taken a quick break from playing. He gave me an alchemical healing potion, very expensive by the look of it. He offered another to Redcliff who sorely needed it. I don’t know if it was pride or caution but the two started squabbling. When Vali would offer no promise other than his good will Redcliff weighed something in his mind and finally took the potion. He looked much improved after he drank it although it did not look like it closed all of his significant wound. As I had managed to evade the worst of my attacks I gave mine to Aetherton. It was good magic and sealed his flesh leaving nothing but a raised pink line where the goblin’s dirty blade had kissed. Vali disappeared back into plaza, I saw him last talking to an old woman who was bent over weeping.

So the five of us gathered and tried to puzzle out just what had happened and why. Someone had seen the goblins taking prisoners and another thought they had taken them away on wagons. I remembered the swordswoman Persephone had left speaking of wagons. Turns out she was Vargan’s friend and a good tracker so we pieced together she had gone after the prisoners. Redcliff and Aetherton cajoled and bullied the town militia and were able to fairly quickly secure us a couple of horses on loan. Vargan picked up the trail and a couple hours later we caught up with Persephone who had been tailing them. We are taking a brief rest now and while I sat here writing I noticed Persephone kneel in the mud of the wagon tracks and pick up something small. In the moonlight I see Vargan crossing over to her. The two of them stare down at a small yellow flower.


 

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