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chapter 1

a guest Apr 23rd, 2019 325 Never
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  1. I
  2. When it comes to a kingdom whose worthiness can be gauged through sheer scope and scale, you would be hard pressed to find one as successful as the Kingdom of Arkmunster. Arkmunster thrives on expansion, using its border provinces and settlements as a means to utilize and ferry valuable resources back to the densely populated capital cities where they are collected, refined, manufactured and traded. Along the northern borderlands lies a great forest called the Drayfair Woodlands, home to towering trees of Ogany and Reafwood that are desired for their flexibility and strength. With the discovery of this resource there had been an expansion of hopeful settlers that had left the heartlands and struck out in the hopes of making a life centered on the potential of a thriving logging and carpentry industry that could sustain itself in union with the forest. These pioneers settled in a large village, just barely able to be called a town, which they had named Hillsford after the geography of the location where it resides.
  3. Hillsford isn’t much when compared to other settlements in the Kingdom of Arkmunster, but the people there are proud that they could create what they have even in the harsh environments of the northern borders. A stone wall, sturdy and rugged, circles the town with two heavy gates on either side of a muddy main road which contains the main attractions to be found in a sleepy hamlet such as this: A village hall, two stories of strong wood and stone with a bell tower atop a sloped roof; a blocky structure with barred windows, home to the ragtag militia that have sworn to protect; a lively looking tavern where most villagers find themselves after a hard day’s work;  a smoky looking blacksmiths stall where the sound of metal on metal can be heard banging out over the daily noise, no doubt from the determined strikes of a blacksmiths hammer, along with an assortment of other workshops and stalls frequented by cartloads of goods to be picked up or delivered. Hillsford is an industry town, small but growing steadily as they entice other likeminded tradespeople from around the kingdom to uproot and travel to the safety of the stone walls.
  4. On this day there is a traveller, however, that does not fall into the categories usually reserved for visitors to this secluded hideaway. Under the hot  Flamerule afternoon light, summer in mid-swing, a trail of small boot prints can be followed through the front gates and into the tavern where a carved wooden sign hangs, suspended over the front door with the name “The dappled goat” written in surprisingly well done calligraphy. The origin of these small boot prints can be tracked to an equally small figure surveying the nearly empty mid-afternoon taproom. This figure, not Human but not far removed, is a Halfling: Half the size of a human, soaring at a hearty three-and-a-half feet tall, modest but not to be underestimated, for what a Halfling lacks in size they make up for in tenacity. The observer, donned in a well-made but miniaturized version of breastplate armor, a flowing purple silk shirt with blackened leather pants, a round wooden shield strapped to his back and an elegantly carved silver mace that hangs from a belt loop, goes by the name of Jerimius Tomil Hummingbee, or Humbee for short. Humbee stood, idly fiddling with a silver coin dangling from a chain around his neck while looking back and forth around the room, seemingly in search of something. The bartender, a blunt but well-meaning man by the name of Isaac Shorkov, was the first to take notice of the new visitor.
  5.  
  6. “Oy’, take a seat wherever ya like, Susana’ll be wit you shortly.” The gruff voice shouted out from behind the wooden bar that was practically as high as the stunted traveller.
  7.  
  8. “Oh, most certainly!” Humbee replied, almost as if being snapped out of some trance.
  9.  
  10. With a small hop Humbee planted himself down at one of the tables and withdrew a worn deck of cards from his pocket and began practicing flourishing shuffles and tricks for nobody in particular. A moment later a young redheaded woman approached and addressed him in a friendly manner:
  11.  
  12. “Well now, ‘aint that somethin. You’re good with those cards, ya?” she said with genuine interest.
  13.  
  14. “Indeed, I can put on  quite the show to tell the truth, I have somewhat of an affinity for games of chance and the  tools of the trade that come with” Humbee said, flashing a finely crafted set of bone dice in one hand before nimbly absconding them from view.
  15.  
  16. “Wow, you’d make right good friends with that big fella who’s been ‘causin all the ruckus around here lately.” She replied, tilting her head towards a raised stage on the opposite side of the room. “He’s quite the gambler too.”
  17.  
  18. It was then that Humbee’s eyes fell upon the figure that he had previously thought was some large piece of furniture with his initial glances, but now he could see was actually a figure lying on stage, draped in a heavy cloak, empty tankards of ale and bottles of wine  strewn about the area in  a disorganized frenzy.
  19.  
  20. “You say this…person has been giving you trouble?” Humbee asked inquisitively.
  21.  
  22. “Yeh, sometimes he can be a bit’o a hassle when he gets hard on the booze” she said. “Some people are scared of ‘im, bein’ an orc and all, but he hasn’t hurt anybody, and he plays those sea songs o’ his every night for the patrons. He’s good, can really get the placed razzed up an’ all singin’ along.” She mused with a thoughtful expression.
  23.  
  24. “Sounds like quite the interesting person. You usually don’t see many civilized orcs around these parts.” Humbee said.
  25.  
  26. “You know, we been gettin’ a few interestin’ faces ‘ere the last few days. There was another, came out of the woods she did, with pale blue skin and a kinda swashy form, almost like she was made a’ water or sumthin. Never seen somebody like that before either. I think she’s still hangin’ around town here somewhere but I wouldn’t be able to tell ya’ where, she’s so quiet an all. The total opposite of that lug, there. Now listen to me blabbin’ on, can I get anything for you?”
  27.  
  28. “No, I think you’ve helped me out quite enough. Thank you for the information, I’ve been looking to meet a few peculiar faces that might be able to assist me with a little endeavor of mine” With a fluid motion Humbee produced a silver coin, placed it on the table and slid it towards the waitress. “Thank you for your service, plus you can tell the innkeeper I’ll be reserving a place to stay for a few nights at the least.”
  29.  
  30. “I mean, I didn’t do ‘nuthin really but I’ll take ‘yer coin anyhow. We always appreciate a big spender like yerself around here” With a wink and a flirtatious smile the waitress pocketed the coin and headed back towards the other patrons to continue her duties.
  31.  
  32. Armed with the knowledge he was looking for, Humbee hopped back down from his seat at the table and began to apprehensively approach the figure on the stage. As he closed in, the form seemed to be slowly heaving up and down with a grating snoring sound with each inhale which impressed Humbee as he never realized how loud it was; the fact that he had not heard it when he had first entered caught him quite by surprise. A few steps from the slumped body he began to reach out to try and gently shake him awake, but stopped when the figure turned over in his sleep, revealing the portrait of the noisy culprit. The figure was certainly orcish, with all the features that come along with that in the form of two great tusks that jut out from a hefty under bite, a thick nose and brow, green skin scarred from who knows what and a long, mangy mutton chop beard. His great form was clear now, towering at around seven feet tall, with a large protruding belly that looked hard as rock. Humbee mustered up his courage and jostled the brutish looking fellow, resulting in a swath of stale, ale laden breath blasting into his face in the form of a great belch.
  33.  
  34. “Uuuuggghhh, who bothers Uzul?! Can’t you see it time for sleep now?!” The orc had bellowed upon being roused awake.
  35.  
  36. “Um, sorry for waking you Mr.Uzul, but it’s mid-afternoon.” Humbee replied.
  37.  
  38. “Really? How long Uzul sleep? Me not remember much after many morning meals and breakfast ale. Who are you, small man, and what you want?” groaned the orc.
  39. “Sorry, I forget my manners.  My name is Jerimius Tomil Hummingbee, but you can call me Humbee for short.” As he said this, Humbee gave a polite bow. “I am a travelling priest of Tymora, the goddess of luck and fortunes. Who might you be, if you do not mind me asking? I hear you are causing quite the stir around here.”
  40. “Me named Uzul. You should know better than you wake a pirate like Uzul if you know what good for you, priest.” He replied as he wiped his eyes and stood up to his full imposing height, stretching his back with a loud crack. “Well, Uzul not really pirate anymore. Pirates are bad and Uzul could not take that, hurting weaklings and stealing stuff. Now Uzul just want to travel and sing sea chanteys and drink and be happy.”
  41.  
  42. “You sound like quite the wanderer, Uzul, if you have experience on the sea and now find yourself in a place like this. Would you call yourself an adventurer, perhaps?” Humbee had inquired with a sly inflection.
  43.  
  44. “Uzul best adventurer around, little man!” He replied, followed by a guttural laugh and a hard slap on Humbee’s back that almost sent him stumbling forward.
  45.  
  46. “Oh, yes, I quite believe it. You look like a mighty companion! You must know, I’m an adventurer myself. Indeed it’s true! I come from a long line of adventurers that carry the Hummingbee name, the most recent before me being my father, Fineon Hummingbee, the master dungeoneer. I’ve come to this place following the direction of a most peculiar source,  a source that I believe has lead me here to  find fame and fortune among the Drayfair Woodlands. Seems like an unlikely place for such things, but I always trust my intuition, as well as the guidance of Tymora, who is known to many as Lady Luck. The problem is, however, the area around here has become quite dangerous with wolves attacking travellers and the like, and I’m not sure I can find what I’m looking for by myself lest I become a meal in some ravenous creatures belly.”
  47.  
  48. “What you getting at, shorty. You want Uzul’s help?” He said with a grumble followed by a cavernous yawn.
  49.  
  50. “I do. I need strong companions if I am to accomplish my goals and ensure that the Hummingbee name continues to be one associated with tales of daring exploits! Are you interested, big guy? It seems like it would be right up your alley.” Humbee requested, humble but trying not to seem too desperate.
  51. “Me don’t know. Uzul got it good here, play music for crowds, drink lots of ale, eat lots of food.  Why should I do it and give up good gig?” He replied.
  52. “Hmm. How about this: I heard that you like to gamble, is that true?” Humbee asked.
  53. “I do.” He replied, apprehensively.
  54. “Let’s play a game. Liar’s Dice? Best two out of three games. If I win, you promise to accompany me on my little endeavor here in the region. Now, this won’t be without reward of course, anything we happen across while travelling together will be split down the middle. If you win, I swear by the purse strings of Tymora I will pay back any debt you incur while staying at this Inn: drinks, lodgings, and food included from this point on. What do you say?”
  55.  
  56. “Uzul do like food. And Ale. And Sleep. Having little man pay for that would make things a lot easier for me. I do like adventures, too. Deal!” As he said this he stuck a great and strong hand out and shook Humbee’s arm so hard he felt like it was going to be ripped from its socket.
  57.  
  58. “Alright, I tell you though I am a bit of a master when it comes to these sorts of games” Humbee warned as he produced his set of bone dice and walked Uzul over to one of the tables. As they both sat down, Humbee motioned to the waitress for a round of drinks to be brought to the pair as the game began. After a few rounds of dice rolls and bluffs the game had gone back and forth, surprising Humbee at the level of play displayed by his opponent. The reality of the situation did not dawn on him, however, that Uzul had not really known how to play the game but had been making the right moves through sheer luck.
  59.  
  60. “Is this a game? It’s interesting, how do you play?” A soft voice said from behind Uzul that shocked the both of the players out of their intense state of concentration.
  61.  
  62. “Ahh! Who you, sneaking up on Uzul?!” barked the orc.
  63.  
  64. “Oh my, we didn’t even hear you approach! We must have been deeper into this game than I realized.” Humbee said to the figure that was now standing near their table.
  65.  
  66. In front of him was a woman with blue skin that seemed to shimmer as if it was crafted from water itself, wearing a long robe that flowed down to the floor. She carried two daggers strapped to her belt, and in her hand was a cattail that she was using as a pointer, motioning in the general direction of the table now crowded with dice and an assortment of empty ale tankards in varying sizes, the larger being closer to the orc with the small ones by the Halfling.
  67. “This is a game, right? I like games but I nothing of them. How do you play?” She repeated.
  68. “I’d be happy to show you how to play once we’ve finished up our game if you’d like to wait around, what do you say?” Humbee replied.
  69. “Sure, I don’t mind. Do you care if I draw you?” The mysterious woman asked as she took a thick book out of her satchel and began to sketch the scene in front of her without waiting for confirmation.
  70.  
  71. “By all means, go ahead. Let me introduce myself, my name is Jerimius Tomil Hummingbee, or Humbee for short, and my new friend here is called Uzul. What is your name?” He asked.
  72. “River. I feel as though you both are very interesting. I come from a very secluded lake in the forests not far from here and everything is so different from what I’m used to.” She said in the same quiet voice. “I’ve heard music coming from this place sometimes at night; it’s certainly something I’ve never encountered before. Does it come from you?” She asked, peering up from her sketch towards Uzul.
  73.  
  74. “Ha! You like? Uzul great musician, play drums real hard and sing with strong voice. Uzul also play concertina sometime, but squeezebox hard and small and take skill, me not bother with that often.” He replied towards her, pride showing on his face when talking about his musical prowess.
  75. “It is…distinct. May I see your concertina?” She asked.
  76.  
  77. “Sure, just don’t break. Concertina hard to find you know.” He replied, digging through a heavy looking pack that was slumped up against the side of the stage.
  78.  
  79. A moment later he roughly passed the small accordion-like instrument to the newcomer, who gave it a gentle squeeze which let out a quickly deflating note into the tavern atmosphere. “Interesting...” She said with an expression that relayed some deep thought going on internally, hidden away from the two others at the table.
  80.  
  81. “I believe I have you stumped this round, Uzul, and that gives me two victories to your one! You are quite the player but it looks like I’ve won the bet!” Humbee beamed as he jumped up from his seat with a gleeful motion.
  82. “You right, you win. Uzul don’t know what he doing anyway.” Uzul admitted, totally uncaring at his defeat at the tiny hands of his opponent. “What you need me for?”
  83.  
  84. “Hold on a minute, maybe our new associate River might be interested in this as well.” Humbee said, darting a glance towards the woman standing near the table, still fiddling with the instrument. “Do you fancy yourself an adventuring type too? I’m gathering companions that might be able to assist me in a little enterprise that I’m sure will be richly rewarding!”
  85. “Sure. I just want to see things and learn as much as I can about the world.” She replied as she gingerly placed the concertina back on the pile that consisted of Uzul’s belongings.
  86.  
  87. “Wonderful! I guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak.” Humbee said as he began rummaging through his own belongings. “You see, I’ve got an interesting little object here that has brought me all the way out to this untamed frontier.”  With a slow reveal from under his clasped hands Humbee produced a wonderfully crafted compass, inlaid with gold filigree in a beautiful pattern around the casing with a shimmering silver needle on the face. “You see? This is what I was talking about.” Humbee said in hushed whisper.
  88. “So what, it compass. What’s the big deal?” bellowed Uzul as Humbee frantically tried to get him to lower his voice.
  89. “Hey, this is no ordinary compass, this compass is magical! I was gifted this by the goddess Tymora herself, and she said to me in the most majestic voice that if I held onto it tightly the needle would point me in the direction of fame and fortune. After I found it, I followed wherever it lead me, and while I haven’t struck it big yet, I’ve had more good luck than I can shake a stick at! Now it has brought me here, maybe to find companions such as yourselves, I don’t know, but I trust in its guidance with every ounce of my being!” Humbee gushed, no longer containing his whispered tone.
  90. “It doesn’t seem to be doing anything now.” River pointed out, tapping on the glass face with her wand-like cattail.
  91. “Hmm. Maybe it’s used up its energy for the day; I’ve heard that magical items can do that in my travels, you know. I’m sure it will be full of spit and vinegar again in the morning!” Humbee said with a sagging response, trying to hide his disappointment at the lackluster reveal of his most precious treasure.
  92. “All this talking has made Uzul hungry. What me have to do for a decent round of meals here?!” Uzul cried in a mock fury.
  93. “A’right, calm down you big oaf. I’ll get me husband to whip ya’ up somethin’ real fillin’” the barmaid Susanna cried out in response before proceeding into the kitchen to find try and find the cook.
  94. “It’s on me, Uzul.” Humbee interjected. “I know I won the game but I’ve got plenty of money to go around for new friends of mine. River, pull up a seat and join us officially, you don’t have to stand around! Tomorrow is a new day, and I’m positive with the three of us, and this magic compass, we’ll find fame and fortune that will cement our names in history!”
  95.  
  96. II
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