Our journey begins on a cart on the edge of the bustling city of Baldur’s Gate. A party of adventurers is waiting to make their way south toward the town of Greenest, drawn by rumours that the evil Cult of the Dragon is active in the area. Currently, our heroes are experiencing some problems with their mode of transportation…
Cyd kicks the side of the cart in frustration. Feathers uncoils herself to glare at her, and Cyd hears the tressym’s voice in her head, sounding put out: Do you mind? Some of us are trying to sleep.
“Stupid cart. How long does it take to fix one faulty wheel?” Cyd growls.
How should I know? Feathers gives her a mental shrug, before stretching her paws and wings, walking around in a circle, and curling back up to resume her nap.
There’s a creak, and a gnome pulls himself up onto the side of the cart next to Cyd.
“Don’t worry,” he grins. He puffs out his diminutive chest, pulling a scroll from his pack and waving it at Cyd with a flourish. “Now that the Enchanters College has promoted me, I think I can fix the cart with the power of Archaeology!”
Cyd furrows her brow. “I don’t think that’s how promotions work, Nubs.”
Nubbins ponders for a moment. “Well, I haven’t tried to fix a cart since I got the promotion, so it could be! Do you think I should give it a go?”
“Why bother? He’s not going to pay you for it or anything. And besides, it can’t be much longer…”
There’s a clank of metal and wood as Aleph walks over to join the conversation. “We could walk,” he suggests. “The oxen cannot pull the cart throughout the night, in any case. It may be quicker.”
“I’m more like an ox than you might think, Alf!” Cyd says. “I’ve got to get some sleep in between walking, too, you know.”
Aleph nods, conceding the point, and glances over at the cart’s owner, a merchant with a silver hand that matches his silver hair. He has offered the three of them a space on his wagon in return for their protection on the long journey south. Not that the bargain appears to be doing the party much good at the moment, Aleph reflects.
“Do you require assistance?” Aleph calls to him—and the merchant jumps as he turns to look at the group.
“Oh… no, thank you. I’m just waiting for the… carpenter to arrive.”
Aleph doesn’t sigh—Warforged don’t breathe, so he can’t—but the red flames of his eyes dim like a banked fire. “Very well. Let me know when he does. I will lend him my aid, if needed.”
The wait stretches. One of the horses nickers softly, stamping in its traces. Around the little wagon, the noise of the city ebbs and flows. The Basilisk Gate creaks open and shut on its vast hinges, admitting travellers, merchants, and sailors. After a little while, a middle-aged man with a large beard and a bald head emerges from the throngs of people in the streets, jogging towards the cart.
“Well met, friends,” he pants as he reaches them. “I heard there was a wagon due to leave by the Basilisk Gate, headed for Greenest. Have I missed it?”
“Well met,” Aleph replies, “and you have not: this is that wagon. We were meant to leave a watch ago,” he adds, with a significant look at the merchant, “but have been delayed while we await repairs. Do you travel with us?”
“I do.” The man extends his hand. “Gerard, monk of Ohgma, The Wise God. Pleased to meet you!”
Aleph regards the hand in confusion for a moment before Cyd nudges him. Then he clasps it tightly.
“I am Aleph. This is Cydonie and Nubbins.”
“It’s Cyd,” Cyd says.
“And Nubbins,” Nubbins adds, waving.
Gerard bows to each of them in turn before placing his bag on the cart and pulling out a small vellum pocketbook. He stops as he spots Feathers, eyes widening.
“My goodness. Is that a tressym?” he asks.
Cyd grins. “Yep! She’s mine”—Feathers looks up and shakes her head haughtily—”and she’s great!” Feathers nods at this, before returning to her nap.
Gerard turns to Cyd. “How did you find her?”
“Animal magnetism, I think. She sort of found us!”
Gerard produces a pen and makes a few notes in his book as he asks Cyd if Feathers has any special abilities.
“Well, she can fly, of course, and she also understands a few languages, but she can only talk to me because of this ring.” Cyd shows him a simple wooden ring on her middle finger.
“Amazing,” Gerard mutters, writing all this down. “And I have to ask…” he continues, turning to face Aleph, “…are you some sort of construct? You appear to be a marvel of invention!”
“I am Warforged,” Aleph replies. “I was built in the creation forges of Cannith House, to fight on the front lines of the Last War.”
Gerard’s eyes nearly pop out of his head as he gets this down.
“Creation forges! I’ve never heard the like! Do you know anything about the process, by chance?” he asks eagerly.
Aleph shakes his head. “The secret to the creation forges has been lost for many ages. I do not even know if any others of my kind still live.”
“I am sorry to hear that, on both counts,” Gerard replies.
Nubbins pulls out his lute and begins tuning it in preparation for the journey ahead. He hums to himself for as he works, looking idly over the side of the cart. A female elf is lingering nearby, listening in to the conversation between Aleph, Cyd and Gerard. Nubbins smiles at her.
“Hello! Another passenger to Greenest?” he asks.
“Hello, tiny man-gnome-thing” the elven woman replies, squinting at him myopically. “Yes, I am heading that way. I’m Minerva—I heard all of your names a moment ago, so no need to repeat them. Didn’t intend to listen in, was just killing time. Actually, you might be able to help me…”
She pulls a large wanted poster from her bag, adorned with an artist’s impression of two mean-looking bugbears.
“Do either of these chaps ring a bell?” she asks. “They’re on the run from the law, and I’ve been sent south to bring them back.”
“That sounds a worthy goal,” Aleph interjects. “I have not seen them, but I would be glad to assist you in bringing them to justice.”
Cyd nods. “Yep, what the tin man said. Happy to help. We’d get a share of the bounty, right?”
Nubbins brandishes his official letter of promotion again.
“I have paper too!” he says, hopping down from the cart and waving it at Minerva.
“Yes… Right… That’s… very nice…” Minerva eventually manages to wave the paper, and Nubbins, away, before continuing: “I wouldn’t refuse help. These two are hardened criminals, from what I’ve heard. They used to be mercenaries, so I’m expecting armed resistance.”
Before Aleph can respond, a great, grey-skinned giant of a man approaches the group, a thick cloak billowing behind him. An imp hovers at his shoulder, eyeing the cart and its occupants with studied indifference.
Cyd gives a woop of welcome. “Keithy! Didn’t expect to see you here!”
Keothi inclines his head. “It is Keothi, Cydonie. Or Wordweaver, for preference.”
“Yeah, yeah. Keithy, Weavy, Wordy—whatever!”
Keothi sighs. “I hope you have not been delayed for too long?”
Cyd frowns. “How did you know we’d been delayed?”
“I meant to say that if you have, in fact, been delayed, then I hope it was not for too long,” Keothi says hurriedly.
As he speaks, the merchant appears from the other end of the wagon and gives the group the all-clear. “All fixed up and ready to go: no more loose wheels for us!”
Aleph looks around, puzzled. “Where is the carpenter?”
“Erm… he’s been and gone. All fixed, very efficient!” The merchant replies. “Anyway, best get going!” He glances at the new arrivals. “You’re all welcome—the more armed company I have on the road, the happier I’ll be.”
He climbs onto the driver’s bench and the cart sets off at last, with a clatter of wheels and hooves. Once he has driven the horses through the imposing arch of the Basilisk Gate, the merchant turns and introduces himself.
“Sorry about the delay there. The name’s Erern. I’m an alchemist by trade. Thank you for accompanying me—it’s always good to travel in groups. Especially at the moment. Been a few more bandits roaming the area the past couple of months.” He looks at Aleph and chuckles. “I imagine they’ll think twice before they try anything with us!”
“Anyway, it should be an easy journey—it’s about three tendays to Greenest, half of that on the main trade road towards Amn, the rest on the Berdusk trail, which is quieter. And Greenest is easy to spot—only town near the Greenfields to have its own keep.”
The first signs of winter make themselves known as the cart rattles towards the south, with a bracing wind from the Sword Coast springing up out of the clear sky. The first half of the journey passes smoothly. As Erern predicted, no bandits attempt to relieve him of his wares under Aleph’s watchful gaze, though the Warforged does buy a couple of healing potions himself. On the evening of their fifteenth day on the road, the group turns off the main trade route and onto the well-worn dirt path to Berdusk. They stop for the night not long after, pulling the wagon up next to a patch of bushes and trees that provide some shelter from the bitter wind.
A light sleet starts up as the group make camp, chilling their bones and ensuring that no one lingers long to chat around the campfire before retiring to sleep. Aleph sets up a tarpaulin to keep off the worst of it, then sits down to watch for the night. As the sun rises, he pulls out his Baliset and begins strumming it vigorously, producing a discordant jangling. Gerard sits bolt upright.
“Are we under attack?!”
“I am greeting the dawn,” Aleph replies. “The sun has returned; the time for sleeping is past. Rise, and welcome a new day!”
“Fuck off, Alf,” Cyd mumbles, rolling over and pulling her bedroll over her head.
Gradually, the group all rouse themselves, greeting the dawn with a mixture of groans and curses. The sleet continues over the course of the day, eventually giving way to a clammy mist that rolls in across the sloping grasslands.
“Everything is damp” Cyd groans as she roots through her bag looking for a snack. “And we haven’t seen a single big animal so far…”
She’s sitting at the back of the cart with Gerard and Nubbins, legs hanging down over the side as she watches the road vanish into the mist behind them. Something pokes her in the ribs and she looks down to see Impy, his hands full of dead insects.
“Lunch?” he asks, offering them around.
“A kind offer, little imp, but I am a vegetarian,” Gerard replies.
“Ooh, this one looks a bit like a sweet,” Nubbins says, eyeing a red beetle. “Does it taste like one?”
Impy shrugs and hands him the beetle, which Nubbins pops into his mouth and chews.
He frowns. “It’s a bit crunchy and it’s not much like a sweet. Actually—”
He is interrupted by a black-fletched arrow that lands, quivering, in the cart by his side.
“Odd,” Gerard says. “That seems to be a goblin arrow…”
“Never mind what kind of arrow it is,” Cyd retorts. “We’ve got more incoming!”
Another trio of arrows flies towards them. Ahead, Erern reigns in the horses and leaps from the cart, putting its wooden frame between him and the attackers. Aleph turns, raising his shield.
“To me!” he calls to the rest of the group. “Take cover behind the cart and draw them out.”
Gerard jumps down from the cart and moves into position behind Aleph as Keothi draws his axes. Cyd and Minerva ready their bows; Nubbins pulls out his lute, its strings already crackling with magic.
A third volley of arrows flies out of the mist. Gerard snatches one from the air, examining it closely.
“Definitely goblin made,” he confirms.
Nubbins peeks out from behind the cart. “Can you teach me to do that?”
“I would be glad to try, Nubbins, though perhaps not at present,” Gerard replies. Several goblins have just emerged over the crest of a nearby hill to the west. Waving bows and spears, they charge the wagon.
The fight is over almost before it starts. At the sight of the attackers, Nubbins launches into a calming melody on his lute. Two of the goblins at the back of the raiding party collapse mid-charge, sinking into a sleep so deep that they roll the rest of the way down the hill without waking. Another pair are felled by two quick shots from Cyd. The remaining three goblins collide bodily with Aleph’s shield and bounce off it as Gerard steps out from behind him. Gerard ducks low and sweeps the legs of the two nearest goblins, knocking them out with two quick jabs to the side of the head. He turns to find Aleph pulling his axe from the body of the third.
“A scouting party, perhaps?” Aleph grunts.
Before Gerard can reply, a ferocious roar and thudding of feet causes them both to turn. A large lizardfolk is following in the wake of the goblins; before Aleph can raise his shield for protection, he plunges his trident deep into Aleph’s side. Aleph grunts again as he braces himself against the trident. He swings his axe, leaving a large slash across his opponent’s chest. Behind the cart, Keothi nods to Impy, who vanishes from sight and reappears by the foot of this new threat. The lizardfolk looks down and growls as he feels a short, sharp pinch. Before he can pick Impy up and crush him, his leg begins to swell, rapidly. It doubles in size, and then the swelling begins to spread to his chest and arms. His swollen leg collapses into a foul-smelling mess; over the course of a few seconds, the lizardfolk follows suit. All that is left of him is a puddle of bubbling goo, already sinking into the dust of the road. There’s silence for a moment as the party process this. Then Erern emerges from behind the cart.
“Well, that was unpleasant.” He rummages in the back of the wagon and produces a potion, which he tosses to Aleph. “On the house. I don’t know what I’d have done if you lot hadn’t been here.”
“Urgh, gross.” Minerva grimaces as she prods at the pool of gloop with her shortsword. “Anyone mind if I give him a quick once-over?”
“I think I speak for everyone when I say, be my guest,” Cyd replies.
Steeling herself, Minerva sifts through the muck that was once the lizardfolk, fishing out an ichor-covered coin purse and inspecting his weapon for a craftsman’s mark.
“It’s a bit… sticky, but it’s well made,” she concludes. She turns to the group, hefting it aloft. “Anyone any good with a trident?”
A message from the writers:
Thanks for reading Tabletop Tales,
Lou & Cam