The Fallen Lands: The Ruins of Numinis

5.1

A Night on the Town

The party met up with Willow (a Sentinel of Order) and were introduced to his friend Armeo, a member of the Seekers. After some discussion, they decided to infiltrate the sewers below Farmenton and help some of the citizens get out while finding ways to undermine the Sons of the Beast above. They had one last night in Az before heading out in the morning. Armeo would join them in their mission.

Crawling through the sewers, the party found a small band of degenerating humans, feasting on the flesh of dead humans and humanoids. They were led by “Pappy,” a shit-slinging evil man. None of them could be considered really human anymore, and Pappy demoralized and immobilized while his cannibalistic followers crept forward, biting and slashing at what they thought might be “meat.”

Captured, Pappy warned them the “beware the worm” before Rhio slit his throat.

Further down in the tunnels, there was indeed a “worm,” a giant carrion crawler with lashing tentacles that struck and pulled its victims towards it. Ginni tried pushing and pulling it around, but mobility, with its great reach, was in short supply. Eventually, the party surrounded the vile beast and thrashed it until Rhio struck a fatal blow. In its death throes, it sprayed them all with a sickly orange-yellow ichor. Ginni quickly patted them all down with her cleanliness spell, then spent a few minutes with each of her companions, bolstering Malidar’s flagging energies.

And then, it was time to move on.

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“You eat like an orphan.”

Ginni looked up, surprised. Eliza Jax, proprietress of The Mangy Gnoll stood at her table, a second bowl of stew in hand. Ginni looked down and blushed. She quickly snatched her hand off the table from where she’d curled it around her bowl, protectively. Her spine straightened, and she set the spoon down on the table before delicately picking it back up using only her fingertips.

“Woah,” Eliza said under her breath. “And now like a merchant’s daughter….” her eyes narrowed at Ginni. “Who are you?”

Ginni shrugged and gestured to the other side of the table. “Do barkeeps eat, too—” she flashed a smile, trying to be friendly while changing the subject “or were you bringing me seconds?”

Eliza wordlessly set the bowl down and settled her large frame onto the bench.

“Sorry about my manners,” Ginni said. “We’ve been out among orcs for a little too long…. uh, no offense.”

“None taken.” The barkeep shrugged, picking up her own spoon.

They ate companionably together, mostly talking about the situation in Farmenton, the coming war, and the work Eliza was doing to carve a little safe haven in the chaos. Ginni told her, with a growing excited blush on her cheeks, about learning to horseback ride.

“It was…. amazing. Like… the closest thing you can get to sex without taking your clothes off.” Eliza raised an eyebrow at that, but Ginni didn’t notice. She was scanning the small crowd of bar patrons instead. “Really slim pickings tonight,” she muttered under her breath.

“For what?”

“Oh—” Ginni glanced over at the half orc woman, shrugging. “We’re leaving tomorrow to go back to Farmenton. It’s a dangerous mission, and I’m probably going to be dead within the week.” She raised her ale mug and pointed at the shot of firewater she’d ordered before Eliza sat down and ginned. “So tonight, I’m getting drunk and laid— and not necessarily in that order.”

Eliza smiled and said “ah.” She paused for a long moment, and Ginni suddenly realized that, the entire time she’d been sitting here, Eliza hadn’t looked around the room, at anyone. Sure, it was late, near closing, and she was on her dinner break. Her two serving girls were hustling around delivering drinks and plates. But no innkeeper left her post unattended for that long.

Instead, Eliza had been looking at her. At Ginni.

“You know,” Eliza finally said while Ginni took a deep drink of her ale. “I could help you with more than one of those goals, tonight.” She looked away, suddenly, and Ginni didn’t miss the blush that crept up her neck.

Ginni cocked her head, considering. Though half-orc, Eliza had a certain raw beauty to her that had had Rangrim, at least, panting after her ever since they’d come into town. And Ginni had been among orcs for almost a month. She blushed herself, remembering the effect of the blood rage, the overwhelming fire that had burned through her core and straight into her sex. But Ginni simply hadn’t considered Eliza as a bed partner; the woman was tall, taller even than Ginni, muscled, and her independent strength was the kind that the wizard admired and never hoped to attain.

“Um….” Ginni blushed. “How do I put this—” she sighed, and instantly regretted it when she saw Eliza’s face fall. For a fleeting moment the effect her rejection had splashed over the half-orc’s face, and then was gone.

“Never mind,” Eliza said, quickly covering her expression with the cool demeanor of “Eliza Jax, Proprietress.” She moved to stand, but Ginni’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.

“No, wait—” she sighed, softening her words. “Please wait. I was going to say— you’re out of my league. I’m a scrawny con artist who’s probably going to be dead in a few days. And you’re a tough, strong, independent business owner with connections to the very people who might help save the world. You’d be crazy to want me… to want this.”

Eliza laughed, a little bark of a chuckle, but she put her hand over Ginni’s on her wrist. “Ah, Ginni. It’s more like I’m a half-accepted half-breed with ‘unnatural inclinations’ and you’re a smart, pretty girl who also just happens to be one of those people who can save the world.” Her fingers twined with Ginni’s, and their eyes locked. “_You’d_ be crazy to want this, and I’d be crazy not to.”

Ginni laughed, then, and gave the half orc’s fingers a tiny squeeze. “How soon can you get off?” she whispered.

Eliza raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, that depends on a lot of things, including you—”

“I meant from work,” she replied, blushing. “Dammit, I’m a lot smoother at this when I’m pulling a con.”

“I’m ready when you are,” came the steady reply.

They left the shot of firewater on the table. Ginni could get drunk later.
-——————
Rangrim was well into his third shot of firewater, glancing over at where Eliza and Ginni were chatting like school girls. “Think I should try again, eh, Malidar? I think Ginni’s softening her up for me— maybe telling of me exploits, and me charms.”

“Maybe,” Malidar said, not looking up. He was poring over a map of the region, in particular plotting out the various routes the Sons leaders might take, his brow furrowed.

“Ah, c’mon, Malidar,” Rangrim urged. “Rhio’s already out finding a lady for the night. Have ye no plans yerself?”

“You go right ahead, Rangrim,” the warlord said, glancing up. “I’ll keep an eye on things here.” It was a subtle reference to a previous time they’d all let their guards down and their gear— including the all-important smoke bottle— had been stolen. Recovering that one item had claimed too much time, and too many lives. But he also gave a nod over towards Ginni— they’d tacitly acknowledged that, as accomplished a wizard as she might be, she was still very young and didn’t always make smart or safe choices.

“Aye,” Rangrim said, downing the rest of the shot. “Here goes nothing, then!” He stood and stamped over to Ginni and Eliza’s table, but the women didn’t even see him. He watched, mouth gaping open, as the women stood, holding hands, eyes locked like they were about to devour each other, before they headed straight for the stairs. He stared after them, looking down at the shot of firewater on the table, then back up at the departing women. When they were halfway up the stairs, he saw them from the knees down, their legs stopped and turned toward each other for a long moment, Ginni’s sandaled feet shifting forward, bringing her very, very close to the half-orc.

Rangrim bolted down Ginni’s drink and went back over to Malidar’s table.

“Ah, she wasn’t me type, anyway,” he grumbled, but Malidar pretended not to have noticed their companion’s departure with the innkeep. In moments, Rangrim rallied, however. By closing time, he had the two remaining serving girls sympathetically bringing him extra mugs of ale. When he bemoaned the coldness of the stables where they were bunking for the night, the girls staged a mock argument over which of them would give him a warm place to sleep.

“Well, fine,” the brunette conceded. “You can keep him in your room… but I get to keep him in my bed!”

The red head shrugged. “Suit yourself. He’ll be exhausted by the time he gets there, though—”

“Ladies, ladies,” Rangrim interrupted, putting one arm around each of them. “There’s plenty to go around, I assure you… dinna underestimate dwarven endurance, my dears.” They obligingly led him, only stumbling slightly, through the kitchens to the room they shared.
-———————-
Returning to the stables, Malidar sighed. Each of his companions had found warm beds and warm companions for the night, and he was returning to a thin cot in a stable full of horses. He cleaned his weapons and armor, checked on the smoke bottle in Rangrim’s pack, and bunkered down, alone.

This is the price of command, his father’s words came back to him, one of his lessons, so many lessons, about war and command and being the kind of man worthy to carry this legacy. The price of command— that when your troops run off for a night of whores and booze, you read the maps and make the plan and never complain that they’re having fun while you stayed behind.

Because the real price of command was that tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, he was going to lead them into a situation where any one of them might die. A night of pleasure was a little enough reward for such sacrifices. All three had risked more than their lives for this cause already. Malidar wondered how much of their exuberance for pleasure tonight was carried over from the blood rage, the raw animal power he’d seen on their faces when they’d each drunk from the bottle.

The price of command— that his friends would risk corruption and evil, to complete the mission, finish the job. In fighting the war with the Sons, they could lose the internal conflict, the one his father had long warned him about, the fight he struggled with every day. Not for the first time, he felt urgently the need to warn them against that struggle.

It was a long time before he slept. Memories of his friends, overcome by the blood rage, continued to trouble him long after his eyes closed and he drifted to sleep.

5.1
 

Malidar notes 3
After he was finished looking over the compiled notes and maps of the region, Malidar rolled them all up and placed them back into their case. He picked up the hours old flagon of half finished mead, and peered inside at his reflection for a moment. Not liking what he saw, he drained the remainder in one long swallow. Certain his companions were busy for the night , he pulled his backpack out and sat cross legged on the ground. He dug around inside, finally finding a small bundle carefully wrapped at the bottom. The bundle made a shallow jingling noise, like at least a few coins were inside. He undid the ties, unaware that he had stopped breathing for a few moments. He reached inside and removed an elegant comb. It appeared to be carved from bone, and a few hairs the color of the darkest night were still caught in it’s fine teeth. Tears came to Malidar’s eyes, then began to flow down his cheeks and lose themselves in his thick beard. He thought of her, so perfect for him. The one he would always love. The one he would see again…  

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sniff Oh, that’s just too sweet for words.

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Night had fallen and their task was before them when Rhio slipped out the door. It was here in Az that the rumors of the Grey Ghost had begun and he liked the ring of it. With so many newcomers to the town it was time to enhance the burgeoning rumors of the benevolent spirit that wandered the streets of the town, especially now. Benevolence was something that those whom had fled east from Farmenton to the border town of Az had seen little enough of in recent weeks.

Rhio surreptitiously passed from street to alley, in between the tents and shanties where the thousands whom were now refuges made their homes. Here or there he would allow someone to see a glimpse of his cloaked form. Let them see the Grey Ghost and have something to speak of that didn’t involve the horrors they had seen in Farmenton. Let them know that not everything that stalked the night was something to be feared.

When last he had been in Az and word of his evening persona began to spread, he was a thief. He stole possessions without being aware of his actions. Then he would spend the days returning the items. It had brought him back from the fiery pit from which he had been reclaimed. Yet the Rhio that had returned was scarred, his skin a dark shade of grey. His rage, a legacy from his father, easily boiled to the surface. He looked at his arm beneath his cloak and thought again that it seemed his skin was lightening in color. It was too bad, really. He thought the swarthiness added an interesting twist to his image.

He continued to pass from fire to fire, hidden in the darkness that the refugees sought so hard to hold off with their light. There he listened and lamented that he could not steal from them their horror, their fear and their helplessness. What was the point of being a thief if you could steal happiness, joy and love but not hopelessness, anger and hate? His rage swelled up within him but he was able to force it down. No, there would be a time and place to unleash that particular tool and it would be soon. In its place a profound sorrow settled over him.

He thought again of the unlikely path that placed him here. He had been selfish, greedy, thankless and worse. Then he fell in with these unusual fellows. Now he stood with Malidar, Rangrim and even Ginni against tremendous odds for very little benefit. It was for the people that had descended upon Az that the sacrifice of he and his friends was necessary. There would be more suffering, pain and death for the people who scratched out a living in the Fallen Lands. He and his friends would be the difference in how much sorrow would embrace the land.

The tears that obscured his vision burned his eyes. He quickly brushed away the tears. He had little enough desire to burn these days and yet he knew that a fire threatened to consume him as surely as Velnias’ dying burst had. That fire had consumed Rhio’s father and the destruction to those around the man had planted embers which only needed a breath to ignite. Rhio shook his head and strode back into the shadows. That was enough reflection for the evening.

He would do what he could to help some of the people whom now found themselves homeless. Wandering from fire to fire he placed coins under pillows, in boots, in the arms of dolls. He picked a fair haired lass who was obviously new at the practice of selling her body. He then took her hand and led her to a place where he knew of a woman who was far more experienced at the profession. The three of them then wheeled toward the Mangy Gnoll arm in arm. All three would get something from the night; a meal and a warm place to sleep for the young girl, a night of warmth and pleasure for him, and a ring that had been misplaced for the older woman. Oh, and a bath. A bath for the three of them to start things off.

5.1
mortaine

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