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Somarrian Hunt Adventure Notes Ep 1

Somarrian Hunt – Adventure Notes
April 15, 2021

The following transcript is a direct translation from the RPG session, in the player and DM's own words.
Mixed with a small dose of creative license spice from the DM filling in gaps where needed.
(*) edited for speed.

 

Player Characters

Darrell Judd “Torgrum Thorsvoldsom” – Dwarven - Barbarian
Denise Robinson “Claw” – Wilder elf – Druid
Gabriel Mondo Vega “Armando Equis Blake” – Human – Bard
Patrick Keeffe “Calsimeer Alderman” – Human – Cleric
XiaoWen Wu “Pansy Lightfoot” – Halfling – Rogue.

Non-Player Characters

Rahat (the Merchant of Granada, who is the Merchants Guildmaster of Andalus)
Razin (Agent of Rahat)
Aggee (Calsimeer’s Targonian Guide)
Jfray (Torgrum’s guid)
Vintu and Ngoyi (Armando’s guides)
Cosmo the Magnificent (Rooshen Proprietor of Cosmo’s)
Danika (Rooshen proprietor of Danika’s—horse trader)
Brandi (Proprietor of the Gnome Trader, specializing in healing potions)
Master, (Ogre proprietor of Dogs)
Cordelia (Pert Lynnwood softgoods shopkeeper)
Pierre de Clement (Aimilleus graver)

* * *

NOTES ON CURRENCY
Gameplay currency is calculated in Dungeons & Dragons gold pieces.
The debt owed Rahat is 50,000 Andalus Milles or equivalent to 5 Emperor’s Gold Sovereigns
Currency in Gravers Dig is Torte, which translates, 1 torte equals 1 gold piece.
Businesses in Gravers dig accept and deal exclusively in casino chips.
At the Casino, the players withdraw 5,000 torte in casino chips.

* * *

THE CAMPAIGN SETUP

The players live in the city of Juba in the Kingdom of Andalus; individually they run into trouble with the law and are arrested, sent to prison and ultimately sold as indentured servants, (treated little better than slaves).

How did they come to be arrested?

- Claw is arrested for poaching falcons on Emir Zubiya's private hunting grounds.

- Torgrum, The Tavjan raiding ship Torgrum crewed, was attacked and sunk by an Andal war ship. Everyone on board was slain and/or captured.  Torgrum landed in prison.

- Pansy, always dreaming of raising giant bees, overestimating her abilities, takes a giant bee for a joyride, not just one bee however, but all the giant bees. Over the city of Juba, while flying past a nobles palace, she loses control of the bees that swarm the citizens of the city, (a few deaths result). Barely hanging on, she crashes into the palace’s gardens and blacks out.

- Armondo, Noble born as Armando Equis Blake, his parents (ruthless merchants) didn't like him being an entertainer. The one family member who was sympathetic was his mother's father, who helped him attend bard school in Dorsang. But while he was in bard school, his parents thought he was an apprentice under Thomas Swift in the imperial capital of Saratof. Armando forged letters from Swift. After returning home, it all came to light. Parents were pissed, but tried to hide this and avoid loss of honor. But a spy reported the situation to Rahat, the family’s rival, and she had him arrested for forging the correspondence of an imperial consul.

- Calsimeer “Cal”- I think Cal was always uncomfortable being born female, and after his parents (emissaries from Mycenae, hence his Greek origins) were assassinated, he was taken in by a Moorish Wizard of Transmutation, and studied with him for a bit (this part of the background is listed amongst his allies). Eventually, the Wizard sensed his discomfort, and with Cal's assistance designed a spell that functioned as a permanent polymorph, allowing him to finally create a body he felt comfortable in.

One day, Cal woke up and the wizard had disappeared. After searching for over a year, Cal found himself falling in with a group of Jovial thieves in Andal, hoping their connections might lead him back to his mentor. On a job to extract an artifact from a particular noble's abode, they were betrayed by one of their compatriots and thrown into jail.”

 

SOLD INTO INDENTURED SERVITUDE

The punishment for their crimes against society? Ceremoniously tossed into a dark and dismal prison for a month—to the newly incarcerated, felt like a lifetime. Soon they began to look forward and dream of a day when they’d be released, even if sold into servitude to someone…anyone.

Eventually, weeks later, they were dragged dirty and scruffy into the bright light of day and found that they had been sold into indentured servitude, (treated no better than slaves, until their debt to society repaid—debt now owed to their new employer).

Our would-be heroes had been purchased by Razin, an agent of Rahat, during the week of Phoenix – the time of rebirth, and the last week of the year. Perhaps the new year will bring better fortune.

They were taken to the slave quarters of a large Moorish estate, given simple rooms with small cots to share, (men and women separated), and fed decent food while they awaited their tasks, their specific assignments, their ultimate doom.

The players learned they were owned by Rahat, the Merchant of Granada, who was the Merchants Guildmaster of Andalus.

Armando knew this name, and well, for Rahat was a hated business rival, an enemy of his family.

While each of heroes were tired from their ordeal in prison, their will beaten down and physically and emotionally vulnerable. Rahat, a spell caster of no small consequence, used an incantation on them to change their memories, “Modify Memory”. For each she implanted the same memory.

 

NEW MEMORIES

Each slave, Torgrum, Pansy, Calsimeer, Armando, and Claw were escorted individually into the Merchants Guildmaster’s extravagant office. Rahat was a middle-aged Moorish woman, stern, and all business.

Rahat explained the situation thusly, “You have been purchased, you are my property, bound by law and while I am free to tattoo you as my property, this I will not do. However, if you are so inclined and agreeable, I offer you a deal, a generous offer to be sure, for your freedom. You value your freedom, no? Yes, of course you do.”

“For this freedom you will owe me a debt. Not just a debt of gratitude, but of significant value in coin.”

“I have consulted the astrologers and the astrologer agree, unified under the Anumians. You are a capable with a ample opportunity ahead of you. Your life has great untapped potential and I wish to exploit that potential.”

“Yes. Yes, of course we agree,” each had said, “It’s an accord.”

And what was involved in this deal?

“You will assume the life of a graver and embark upon a great adventure for which you’ve dreamt your entire life. You will take a ship and sail across the Great Sea to Gravers Dig, a resort near the city of Sheol, in Somarria. Once there, you will register at the Lodge and participate in a Hunting Tournament called, The Somarrian Hunt. Since the emperor’s death, gravers have become eager to test their skills at this renowned hunt. It is the fashionable thing to do, and fortunes are being made.”

“Oh, my goodness gracious, yes—what a stupendous idea. What an opportunity” Each recalled saying, giddy with excitement, fueled by the memory altering incantation.

Rahat continued, “I am sending you on this graver adventure with four other individuals, other newly acquired slaves. You are good friends, or soon will be and business partners in this endeavor. You will live together and work together to his end. As a result, the five of you will jointly owe me a debt, collectively of fifty-thousand gold pieces.”

Each person nodded affirmative, as-if that colossal sum of money was reasonable.

“I’m confident you have what it takes to repay this debt and likewise rebuild your shattered lives.”

Each informed thusly, that while they were in the employ of Rahat, they were to remain within the confines of Gravers Dig resort and the official hunting grounds. Their purpose, to focus on repaying the colossal debt owed her.

As the memory altering enchantment seeped deeper into its victims, Rahat escorted each to a desk with papers. She took nail clippings and hair samples with a knife, “For insurance,” she said, “you understand. Now sign”, she cut them sharply across their index finger with the blade, spilling blood across the parchment.

Fingers as their writing instrument, each recalled signing a contract in blood.

“I will be in touch,” she said with a backhand flourishing, dismissing them from her presence and from the spell.

The world fell into dreams and darkness.

This exact exchange, verbatim, played out five times, each time Rahat weaving a memory altering spell on Torgrum, Claw, Armondo, Calsimeer, and Pansy.

Back in their rooms, each were energized and happy, with renewed strength and bursting with positive wellbeing for what the future held. Knowing that freedom was once again in their grasp. They would have to earn it, but it was there, nonetheless. A cruise across the Great Sea. An adventure, a hunt. They owed a world of money, but earning their freedom was motivation enough.

A few days passed, while they waited for the end of Winter. A ship would take them to Somarria, to the city of Sheol and to Gravers Dig. But first, they were made to wait, waiting for first night of Spring—an astrological significance, Rahat, apparently took quite seriously.

Our heroes were moved to larger guest quarters and their belongings brought as well, (less Pansy’s giant bees). They were treated well, but palace guards shadowed their every movement and looked disapproving any time they ventured beyond what was allowed. While they had freedom to roam about the grounds, that freedom had limitations. All in all, the five stuck to their rooms waiting for the arrival of spring and their boat ride out and away from Andalus.

 

CALATEN THATALO

Meanwhile—

Late one night, Claw was rustled roughly out of bed by an urgent Razin giving curt instructions to follow, “Quickly, follow me, mistress Rahat doesn’t like to be kept waiting”.

“In the middle of the night?” Claw said, rubbing their sleep filled eyes.

“Rahat doesn’t sleep when doing business” and with that, Razin directed Claw to Rahat’s personal quarters.

On the other side of the palace, on the highest floor, inside the posh personal chambers, Rahat paced in front of an incense rack puffing thick gouts of pungent aromas, that seemed to be made up of all the world’s fragrances.

The great lady, ignored Razin and Claw, enraptured by iconography on a scroll and for a time she read and reread it’s contents.

Nervous for what the summons at this late hour could mean, Claw studied Rahat nervously, trepidation seeping in around their nerves as they waited patiently for the noble to finish reading the scroll.

This woman has claws, Claw thought. Sunk deeply into my skin.

Finally, Rahat turned the scroll over as if searching for more and then flipped the parchment onto a table. “Ahh yes, Claw. Welcome.”

“Thank you, my lady.”

Rahat leveled her piercing gaze, striking Claw like a spear thrust to the head, a knife to the heart, a pin to the eye, “You are a member of the Calaten Thatalo?”

“Yes,” Claw said slowly, their mind bewitched by the gaze, “Is that a problem?”

No mincing words, Rahat said, “You probably heard of my mother, Jubal?”

Claw gasped sharply, unable to contain their surprise. The name Jubal released a flood of ecstasy from the young elf, for they all but worshipped dragons.

Claw recognized the name immediately, of course. Jubal being one of the esteemed Chaldean Elder Dragon whose long rich history dated back to before the Claw Hammer War.

Claw all but worshipped the ancient majestic creatures—eternally fascinated. They prided themselves with their knowledge of dragon history and lore—having spent many long years of their life raised in the Calaten Thatalo—an elven lodge in the Garnon Forest who revered dragons. The lodge had subsequently been disbanded by Emperor Marcosta Kordaava, forcing Claw to practice their studies in secret. But apparently not that secret, at least in this, Rahat knew.

Claw knew the dragons and the dwarves were the only indigenous races common to Chaldea; the rest of the races that now well-populated the world today, were brought to Chaldea by the dragons during the Claw Hammer War. Brought to Chaldea for the purpose of fighting the dwarves. The dragons were also responsible for bringing a small smattering of elves to Chaldea, though, most believe the elves came to this world after the great war.

Jubal, one of these ancient Elder Dragons was known for her greed. Over the last few centuries Jubal had disappeared from the landscape, missing, and presumed dead.

“Is your mother, a-around?” Claw asked.

“No,” Rahat snapped quickly, unblinking, eyes slits.

“Since I know about your lodge, and what it stands for. I am entrusting you with extra responsibilities. I trust that you would never betray one of my kin.”

“Oh no,” Claw interrupted, “of course not… I mean—"

Rahat ignored the rude tongue-muddled elf, “We value our privacy, and you would not betray, that I am anything other than a human woman.”

“Who does not have claws,” Claw said, looking at her own hand, “I can verify that. I can speak to that personally.”

Rahat did not ignore this however and held up her index finger and upon it’s tip, heat wave energy pulsed and spiraled, like a whirlpool of air and colored clouds.

Claw wavered, their head spinning as if drunk, their eyes bulged transfixed by the energy vortex. Inside that vortex, appeared an ebony dragon’s claw with glistening razor-sharp scales. The index nail easily triple the length of the others, stretched forth, slowly out of the vortex tapping the young elf on the forehead.

And then just as quickly it withdrew, with a vast sucking of air. The energy vortex slammed shut with a bang, pulling Claw nearly off their feet.

“Serve me well, vanha sielu nuori veri caladon metsän uskollinen” Rahat said, using Claw’s real name which was unpronounceable by any other than elves and dragon. “If this debt is repaid in full and you have served me well. I will allow you to worship me. Furthermore, I will entrust you with greater responsibilities which will be well-rewarded, but you must not tell anyone who I am, or I will be… cranky.”

“Ohhh, ah, a cranky dragon is not anything I ever wish to deal with,” Claw admitted loudly without thinking. Their thoughts manifested into words before they could catch them and put them back. Claw bowed low, averting their eyes, “I am honored to revere you with or without the successful completion of this task.”

“Excellent! Razin will provide you with a line of credit. Denominated in Andalus-backed Emperor’s Gold Sovereigns. So you have access to funds, to play, to work, to do as you will. Any credit you access, of course, will be added to your collective dept, to me, plus interest. Make sure you keep receipts. It's all explained in detail in your contract."

Claw bowed, “Of course.”

“Of course.”

“That’s very reasonable,” Claw said, still in awe that she was in the presence of a sub-elder dragon—the daughter of an elder. “I understand what it means for a dragon to give up coin, wealth, it’s—”

“Spend it wisely,” Rahat interjected, cutting Claw mid-sentence, “It is an investment so that you have the materials you need to serve me well.”

“Oh, definitely,” Claw said.

Razin motioned for Claw, the interview was over.

“May I inquire,” Claw said, ignoring Razin’s tug on the arm, “What is the proper honorific I should use to address you? Mistress? Milady? ‘O scaley one?”

“Malika,” Rahat said, picking up the scroll from the table. Like flash paper, it was gone in a brilliant white flash-bang. “Let’s just stick with Malika Rahat.”

“Yes, Malika.”

Interview over, Razin escorted Claw back to their chamber and to Pansy who was waiting there, full of questions.

 

PREPARATIONS, (IN THE DAYS THAT FOLLOWED)

They were made to wait three days, waiting for Phoenix to depart and take winter with it. With Spring comes renewed life and new possibilities. While they enjoyed not having much responsibility, they also did not have much freedom either.

The five, were forced to remain in close confines, eating and sleeping together and slowly they opened and got to know one another.

Rather than sit around and be bored, they used the extra time to prepare for their journey, each were granted travel and work VISA’s that enabled Indentured Servants to travel without their owner to find work, gain employment, and earn money to pay of their debt. The VISA allowed limited travel, to sail freely across the Great Sea, between Andalus and Arusha and to find and gain work in Sheol, Gravers Dig, and participate in The Hunt, but nowhere else.

After Calsimeer signed the VISA, Razin asked for a moment, “As a holy man, who does not serve Set, I know that various religions have different alliances, but in these times, it seems that almost every religion finds brotherhood and sisterhood with other religions that are not Set.”

For the last forty-years, Emperor Kordaava had outlawed all religions except the worship of Set. As a priest of Dionysus, Cal had been thankful that he could express his true religious beliefs, but was also thankful when he was arrested, that the authorities hadn’t discover his affiliation with the church of Dionysus. If they had figured it out, at least, they didn’t mention it and it didn’t change his prison sentence, at least that he knew of.

“In Sheol, there is a priestess of Amaterasu, a Muromachi goddess,” Razin said. “I implore you to seek out Hastu, a priestess who runs Camp Sunshine. We know of her, because she runs an orphanage, called Camp Sunshine. It is illegal to purchase and sale slaves in Andalus, so when slaves are purchased illegally, its donated to a charitable cause.

“Why tell me all this?” asked Cal,

“As a holy person, I thought you might like to know of another holy person who is probably operating somewhat secretly, as you are. Holy people who do not worship Set have a kinship these days.”

“I was going to say the same. I appreciate, although you are the one who purchased me. I am glad to know, in some respects we are on the same side.”

“I am on my master’s side, but I certainly hope for your success in this.”

Razin had been friendly and courteous during the adaptation period after getting out of prison, always with a thick layer of professionalism.

The five finally left Juba, set sail on The Crucible, a caravel, for the resort of Gravers Dig, in the town of Sheol, in the kingdom of Arusha, on the continent of Somarria.

The Crucible, a caravel waited in the harbor until sunset to heave anchor, as Spring manifested in the sky. As the sun set and Spring shone brightly the captain opened her sails and sent the bow directly for her.

The voyage across the Great Sea lasted three anumians -- Spring, Ballerina, and Artisan.
On the last day of Artisan, just as Warrior manifested in the early evening sky, The Crucible, entered the port of Gravers Dig.

As they approached landfall, the thing that caught their attention first was a large timbered walled town on a hill to the east. Old and rugged thought it was, it was a welcome sight after three weeks at sea. Quaint but not at all as bad as they had been led to believe.

“That is not where we’re going,” said the captain. He motioned to the buzz of flies to the west, “That’s your destination. Welcome to Gravers Dig.”

From the deck of The Crucible, it was easy to see, Graver’s Dig was not Juba or any modern city in Andalus or anyplace they had ever heard of in Tamica. Juba was a beautiful, populous, energetic city, clean and respected—a gem of the empire. This place was a ripe dump—tropical hot and sweaty. A Somarrian wildlands frontier boom town.

Spiked above the jagged skyline like a mohawk on a bald head rose a Latium style coliseum. Not a titan of modern construction, but a tiny wannabe arena. All the same, it tried to pay respect to it’s Latium heritage. Okay, so it was a rather short cropped mohawk.

There was another large structure that immediately caught the eye, a Ma’at Temple rose like a snaggle tooth, probably to Set, of course, what other Ma’at god would dare erect a temple in Kordaava’s empire.

And everywhere there was signs of construction. E-v-e-r-y-where!

The harbor was crammed to the gills with ships coming and going, gridlocked and sparing for position. All the berths were occupied, loading and unload cargo and passengers.

The Crucible waited its turn.

Our five heroes after three weeks at sea were eager to test their legs, even in the mayhem buzzing around the docks.

Finally, it was their turn. The crew waved and said their goodbyes, “To your success!” they said, joyfully.

“We’ll read about you in the Kordavan Informant,” the sailing master said, his platitude dripping with sarcasm.

ARRIVING AT GRAVIERS DIG
MELTING POT MAYHEM

Wanting to get off the ship and getting off the ship were two different things. The five stood motionless at the end of the gangplank, kept at bay by a turbulent thrumming mass of people and animals going about business and daily routines.

The ship had roped off to heavy timbered docks, or piers, or a cobbled muddy causeway? It was hard to tell which. Gravers Dig seaside port was a contradiction, an exhibition in architectural themes and composition forced together like oil and water.

People and animals moved like flood waters, like carpenter ants building a hive. Kids of all ages, girls and boys, (of every conceivable age), darted quick like hummingbirds, yelling, screaming at people, while dogs barked and yipped at their heels. There were cattle, horses and mules, chickens, elephants, and camels—if there was an animal mode of transportation, it was visible here.

The people for the most part were dark skinned Targonians—darker and darker still. There were humans of every possible variety and ethnicity—Muromachi, Aimilleuse, Ma’at, and Tavjans. There were also elves, a Satyr and his harem of concubines and a… the new arrivals gawked, stunned momentarily as a gnome strode past on a miniature velociraptor.

Onboard ship, wind for the most part had kept the passengers cool. But as they approached land the radiating heat, like that off a kiln grew more intense, until breathing became labored.

Hot and sweaty did not do the description justice. It was the unbearable kind that sapped strength and made you feel swimming was the dryer method.

Somarria’s heat baked them like bread, and they all wondered if this venture was a mistake. A mistake? Hell, the mistake was getting into trouble in the first place. The mistake was getting arrested. The mistake was agreeing to Rahat’s contract. Speaking of the contract, the ones they had signed in blood. Did anyone actually have a copy? Too late now, they were here.

If the oppressive heat wasn’t enough, a plague of insects, flies, gnats, and creepy-crawly alien things on wings buzzed over the port like that of a dead corpse. These new arrivals were the next course and the plague came at them with teeth and stingers.

What was the old saying? We aren’t at home anymore. Since the emperor’s death, no wonder the empire had given up on Somarria as a lost cause.

“Get off my bloody ship,” I loud bark came from the captain.

Into the mayhem they dove.

A Targonian lad, late teens, in a bright kente kufi hat, screeched to a halt in front of the newcomers blocking their path—he pointed and quickly scanned the crowd and those exiting the gangplank. He barked loudly to the thrumming masses, speaking fast, almost gibberish in an undecipherable alien dialect no one understood.”

He performed a little dance, arms waving flamboyantly in the direction of town, his hands arching like a maestro directing an orchestra.

Turning night into day might have had less of a reaction on the crowd; the boys’ harsh words and exaggerated arm waving parted-the-sea. The passersby gave the new arrivals elbow room. Even beggars and homeless moved off, wanting no part of this business.

That nasty business done, the lad turned back to the newcomers, looking them up and down with critical eye, organizing the hierarchy of authority before him.

He eyed Armando’s lute and flute, “No, not you,” he said.

He quickly dismissed the Halfling and the Dwarf…. And the elf? “No-no!”

His gazed landed on Calsimeer, tall, dark and handsome—and groomed for eat. A man of impeccable taste based upon his garments.

“What can I do for you little one,” Calsimeer asked, welcoming the lad with a warm grin.

“Hello, I am Aggee,” the lad said, his arms waving energetically once more. “Welcome. Welcome to Gravers Dig. You are here for the Hunt?”

“We are indeed here for the hunt,” Calsimeer said.

If the young Targonian’s arms moved fast, his lips moved faster. “Let me help you. I can conduct everything. Are you registered for the Hunt? Where are you staying? Do you have local currency?

Calsimeer stammered partial answers slipping into each other, each answer slapped back by a flurry of new questions, “Yes, maybe, we don’t know, we have—"

“You seem to need me,” the boy said with hands on hips.

Calsimeer grinned warmly, “These are all very good questions”.

“I am a guide. If you pay me, I will keep these people off of you.” The boy said, pointing at the riffraff around the docks who were eager as lions. “They all want your business. If you pay me, I will pay a little bit to them, and they will leave you alone. I can show you around town. I will show you where to go. Get you checked into your inn. Manage your luggage. Bring you food. Hire any help you need. Is that acceptable? I will quite asking questions just now.”

Calsimeer ignored the fast-talking lad momentarily, his mind going back to every con artist story he’d ever heard—losing money, given the wrong information, left stranded at the worst possible Inn. Was this boy, charming and eager as he was, the local scam artist in this tale, lying in wait, ready to pounce on new arrivals?

“I am Aggee, your humble servant. You pay, I work hard—double hard for you. Most loyal. Ask anyone, Aggee the best.”

Torgrum motioned to the kids lurking about the docks, sitting on crates and barrels, crouching in doorways like predatory cats ready to pounce, “They’re sharks, all of ‘em. I sense an ongoing problem with these children,” he swatted a mosquito on his neck, “like the pests in this place that won’t go away. If we don’t hire this one, we’ll never be rid of these bloodsuckers.”

“Wise dwarf,” Aggee said winking.

Calsimeer looked to his companions, “What do you think everyone?”

“It’s a protection racket,” the dwarf sighed.

“Very well, Aggee,” Calsimeer said, spreading his hands in agreement and bowing.

“Do you have reservations at a place to stay tonight? First-things-first.”

“I do not believe so,” Calsimeer admitted.

“Yes? No?” Aggee’s head bounced full of enthusiasm ready to get this caravan moving.

“What are our options?” Pansy asked.

Aggee nodded, “There are a broad array of places you can stay, depending on your finances.”

The boy climbed onto a crate and pointed to a field pockmarked with an assortment of dirty tents, “If you don’t wish to spend money. You can go and set up your own tent and camp in the field. That’s fine. It’s free for anyone who is registered for the Hunt. And that includes breakfast.”

The crew stifled a laugh.

He pointed the opposite direction, “There are bunkhouses,” he said, describing with wide gestures what long meant. “These long houses are group shelters. Open floor with stacked cots. That cost half a gold piece per person per night.”

He pointed off yet another direction, “There is of course, a proper inn. You can stay there. One gold piece per night per person—sleep on the floor, hard but doable. Five gold pieces extra, you can have private room.”

The newcomers muttered, sighed, and scoff while trying to gestate the sleeping options.

“Or, ummm, If I am not out of your price range yet. You can rent a house for one-hundred gold a night.”

Aggee scanned the blank stares, “Should I stop there?”

“Y-e-a-h!” they all slowwwlly breathed out collectively, quickly realizing they could spend a small fortune if that was their desire. If money was no option and luxury was required, no doubt an estate house with servants was also available.

Claw stopped Aggee right there, “Normally, I’m happy with climbing a tree and hanging from a hammock. I’m going to do as the locals do, and, and, do as humans do… and sleep in a bunkhouse?”

“Field. Bunk. Whatever. Let’s go!” said Torgrum.

“How much money do we have to spend on lodging,” asked Pansy.

“What do you have left?” shot back Claw, laughing. “I got three gold, I’m happy to hangout in a field. I have camping gear.”

“Rahat gave us a budget,” Torgrum said, “Correct?” he continued pointing to Claw. “She told Claw.”

“Yes,” said Claw, “We have a budget. But I feel renting a house is bit beyond it. Remember, whatever funds we spend, we’ll have to pay back with interest”.

Pansy kicked a rock, “I can live on the streets, sleep wherever I can find.”

“Nice!” Torgrum said, giving Pansy a Chaldean solute.

Aggee clapped his hands sharply together three times, gathering their attention, “We should probably talk about money. You probably don’t have Arushan currency, yes? What kind of currency do you have?

“We have assets, little person,” Claw said waving the promissory note from Rahat.

“Let me see. Let me see,” Aggee motioned frantically like a junky eager for hit.

Claw held the note protectively so that Aggee could read but not make off with it. He scanned and rescanned, “Ahhh, ahhhh, ahhh,”, he mumbled shaking his head.

“What?!”

“I cannot read this language. I believe this is a bank note of some value. Yes? I recommend for all your currency, that you go to the Casino to convert your money—this note—for local currency.

“And gamble”, Claw said snidely.

“Fortunately, Andal currency holds up pretty favorably. In fact, the Andal currency is pegged to the imperial sovereign so you will get a pretty good deal.”

“He’s a godsdamn Chaldeapedia of fun facts,” Torgrum scoffed, “Pegged to the imperial sovereign. Pegged to my ass, if you don’t sound like a dwarf.”

“I told you, Aggee is the best. Assisting gravers with the Hunt is what I do.”

“Assist or prey?”

“Its business,” Aggee said, “dwarves understand business better than most, am I right?”

“In that we agree.”

Aggee bowed to Calsimeer and then tipped his hat to the rest of the party, “Perhaps we should exchange your money first. Yes? I can help you with this, if you like.”

The boy jumped down from the crate, “And I think, if we hurry double-haste, we can hit the market before it closes.”

“That seems like a good place to start,” Calsimeer agreed.

“Banking and then shopping,” Claw said, “awesome”.

Aggee pushed the currency note back to Claw, “You hold on to that. Don’t give it to me.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no,” They said, putting the note away safely inside their breast pocket.

“Let’s go to the Casino,” Aggee said, marching off like a Legatus at the front of an imperial legion. “Hunt and glory. Much fun awaits you.”

FAST FORWARD >>>

 

CASINO EXCHANGE

Late afternoon

The bank teller, a bald DWARF, somewhere between 70 and 170, (who can say), and by the looks of his clean-shaven skull and outrageous tattoos, advertised he wasn’t exactly an upstanding clan member.

After he verified the promissory notes legitimacy, he inquired, “How much cash do you wish to take out of this line of credit?”

Claw looked at their compatriots and did the math, “There are five of us, soooo… five-thousand?”

“Okay”, he said and counted out five-thousand gold piece worth in CASINO CHIPS into five stacks.

“Casino chips?” Claw said, studying one up close. “Can we spend this in the market?

“Yes, of course,” the teller said.

“You don’t want Arushan currency,” Aggee said, “Trust me. In this town casino chips are worth more.”

The teller placed the chips into five linen pouches stamped with a Casino logo and Claw dispersed them to their companions.

Calsimeer hesitated.

“Cal, you look stunned,” the elf said.

“Five-thousand”, Calsimeer said astonished at the princely sum.

Claw leaned in close, voice conspiratorial, “They didn’t even blink. I wonder how much more I could have gone for? But this should suffice.”

“I should say so,” Calsimeer said, testing the bags weight.

Torgrum for his part, wasn’t impressed, “Clay currency, what kind of blasphemous currency is this bullshit? Whatever happened to good ‘ol mithril?”

“Dragons don’t eat clay,” Aggee said pointedly.

“Dragons?” Torgrum spit. The dwarf behind the counter spit in unison and the two nodded, eyes catching.

“Gravers Dig attracts all types, including dragons,” Aggee said.

“Bullshit!”

“Are we done here?” said the teller shooing them away, like unwanted vagrants off his stoop. The talk of dragons was not sitting well with the dwarf.

Aggee ushered Calsimeer to the door, antsy as a boy with his pants on fire, expecting the others to follow, “The market will close soon. We must hurry”.

“Just remember,” Claw said at the door, “We have to pay this back, WITH INTEREST.”

“That would be why my reaction was as such,” Calsimeer nodded knowingly.

“You don’t have to spend it,” Claw laughed know that was unlikely, “But what good is money if not to spend,” they continued with jesting mockery.

Claw motioned to the door, “Let’s go shopping shall we. Or would you rather stick around and gamble?”

Aggee held out an empty palm to Calsimeer ready to receive, “May I have my two? Gold pieces now. Please and thank you. And lest this not be clear, what this covers—I will be with you as long as you require today, this evening, tonight or even until tomorrow morning if that is what is required.”

Calsimeer handed over chips and they just as quickly disappeared.

Outside the Casino, Aggee gathered the group close, “By the way, if any of you want a personal tour guide. In case you should split up. You will want to be safe and no one bothers you here in Gravers Dig. You each can hire your own guide, if you like.”

Everyone had noticed that with Aggee as their official guide, the other young street lads were keeping their distance, but lurking just the same, for a morsel of work if given the opportunity.

“Fantastic.” Calsimeer rested his hand on Aggee’s shoulder, “Now, Aggee, you have been very good to us.”

“I am your man. I am your man.”

“And you are going to assure us these are also trustworthy individuals, yes?”

“Yes. Yes. Oh, yes.” Aggee said, stiffening to attention. “Of course. Yes. Yes.”

“We are just trying to make money here, off the tourists,” His eyes went down to the one-thousand gold piece bag in Calsimeer’s hand.

“Ah yes, quite.” Calsimeer nodded. “We are going to be good friends.”

Claw looked about the busy thoroughfare and the street urchins ready to pounce from the shadows, “Perhaps we should not advertise these chips so brazenly. Walking stupidly through the bad part of town with a king’s ransom in chips chinking---‘oh hello’---”, they mimicked the voice of the town idiot.

Everyone took Claw’s meaning and hid their chips.

“Yes, get me one of them guides,” Torgrum said to Aggee.

Aggee turned and snapped, and began yelling at some kids lurking in a nearby door. A boy, probably fourteen promptly came running, grinning madly.

The two had a very short conversation in a foreign dialect, our heroes didn’t understand, but later learned was Aru, the language of Arusha, the kingdom where Sheol and Gravers Dig was located. Aru was an offshoot dialect of Targonian—the largest and most well-known of the Somarrian kingdoms.

Aggee introduced Torgrum to Jfray, “Give him two gold pieces and Jfray’s your man”.

Armando tapped Aggee on the shoulder, “I’ll take two”.

“Two guides?” Aggee and Claw said simultaneously, confused by the request.

“Yes, please.”

“Okay,” Aggee nodded. He would have happily provided ten if that had be the request.

“Thank you.”

The next kid in line was a young girl, and the next one after that was also a girl—two friends as it turned out.

Aggee introduced Armando to the girls, “This is Vintu and Ngoyi. Give each two gold pieces and they will guarantee you don’t get into trouble.”

Aggee turned to the elf, “Claw?”

Claw considered all the young eager guides and didn’t feel all the fuss was quite necessary, “I think I can find my way to an open field without a guide. Thank you.”

 

SHOPPING DISTRICT

“The market will be closing shortly,” Aggee motioned heading to the market district, “If you you supplied for the for the Hunt, let’s go there now.”

As they walked, Aggee provided an overview of the major vendors:

GRAVERS DIG MARKETPLACE VENDERS

Permanent Shops
• Dwarven Armory. Bustling with activity, looks like weapons and armor for sale.
• Lynnwood Softgoods. Bustling with activity, looks like leather goods, backpacks, tents, leather armor.
• Guild Matters. Not much activity, can't see inside, looks more official than commercial.
• Cosmo's. Very small tower, mystical sigil on an iron door. Menacing gargoyle on roof.
• Danika's, "Horses and Tack". Stable with horses in corral out back.
Stalls
• Ken's. Bearded Pert man making and selling arrows.
• The Professional Arbalest. Two male Hessens selling crossbows and supplies.
• TT’s Marn Tats. Tattoo shop with hot elves with punk hair, tattoos, and plant grafts.
Tents
• [CLOSED] Madame Celeste's, "Horoscopes, Anumian Rituals". Spooky, mystical, smells of patchouli.
• Dogs, "Hunting Dogs, War Dogs". Lots of barking.
Carts
• Gnome Trader, "Healing Potions!". Gnome lady peddling wares.
• On Fire. Older male Akkadian with scars selling tobacco and incense.

It was damn near closing time, and some shops had already buttoned up for the night. There was no time to waste to linger and window shop.

The shops were bustling even at this late hour with shoppers—hunters and gravers by the looks of their clothing, armor and weapons. Even here, the streets were alive with kinetic energy with kids, dogs, and livestock.

Gravers Dig, a miniature town, its tiny footprint was cramped, way too small for its needs. The narrow streets, thoroughfares and shoulder-to-shoulder businesses produced an aura of claustrophobia and seething mayhem.

Since the emperor’s death, Gravers Dig business had exploded, a vital resurgence, and brought gods only knew how many gravers and those that supported graver lifestyles to the tiny resort. Even now, construction was E V E R Y W H E R E, buildings going up faster that a tinder on alchemist fire.

This evening the vendors were doing a brisk business. The busiest place by far was the Dwarven armory. It was a madhouse of people buying and selling armor and weapons—if the friends wanted to do business there, they’d have to go in as a wedge.

“Any of these shops look interesting to you, master dwarf,” Aggee said.

Torgrum rubbed his beard thinking, “Just a minor question, first. The Hunt. What do we know about The Hunt?”

Aggee stared at the dwarf astutely, “You have not read the brochures?”

“How far away? What is the destination? What kind of ground are we going to cover? Are we going to sail are we taking horses? What do we need?”

Aggee smiled waving his hands as-if he was a god creating the Pearl Universe, “It is a vast, wild, wilderness. Somarria is dangerous and savage. First you must traverse vast wide plains. Then the jungle. And there are hills upon hills.” He stopped considering momentarily, “Places like that.”

“Horses,” Torgrum said, “I think we’re in need of horses and tack.”

“Wise dwarf,” Aggee’s sparkled and grinned knowingly, as if he recognized a secret that he alone understood, “Find Danika's.”

 

GNOME TRADER

“Meet back here!” Calsimeer said peeling off from the group with Aggee in tow.

He headed quickly for a stall with a sign overhead that read, “TT’s Marn Tats”, his imagination intrigued by the thought of Marn mysticism. With Gravers Dig being so close to the Kingdom of Marn, the delicacies found here would probably not be found anywhere else in the world. On another day with more time, he would have loved to spend an idle afternoon learning more about Marn. But right now, the practical business side of his brain, flicked him in the ear when he saw a large brilliant red “Healing Potions” advertisement on a nearby cart.

The large healing potions sign was mounted high over a cart and another sign beneath it read “Gnome Trader”. A pint-sized gnome woman, the proprietor, was busy polishing crystal vials when Calsimeer caught her eye.

“This is Brandi,” Aggee said in way of introduction. “She’s a fixture around here”.

“Hey. Hey. How is it going? Glad you stopped by, “Brandi said with a high-pitched squeaky voice. She was a fast-paced entrepreneur, in a kinetic world of vendors hocking wares. Each word shot out of her mouth in rapid fire, like an auctioneer selling the last cattle in the world. “You happened upon the best alchemist in all of Gravers Dig.”

Aggee shook his head, “Liar, she’s no alchemist,” he corrected.

She ignored Aggee and plowed on, “What can I get you? I have the largest selection of assorted elixirs from here to Trevous. Tonight, one time offer, we have a special on healing potions. They are only, like, fifty gold pieces each. Get’em while they’re hot.”

Calsimeer shuddered, “How many gold pieces each you say?

“Fifty gold pieces each for healing potions.”

“Fifty gold pieces… each?” He said shifting his stance—cracked his neck—and adjusted into a haggle stance.

Calsimeer rubbed his temples, trying to sooth a headache that was seeping in around the edges of his eyes.

“Maximum of…”, she counted off numbers in her head, “of twenty… per… customer.”

“Maximum of twenty,” Calsimeer mimicked.

Brandy clasped her hands together, praying. Praying to her god or in hopes Cal was the next sucker.

“Apologizes,” Calsimeer said slowly, “Math was never my strong suit. Ahhh…”

“Twenty times fifty,” Brandy said and stopped, staring into the heavens, hoping maybe the answer would be written there.

“Two times five is ten,” she said to herself, doing the math in her head, “add another zero. Zero. That would be one-thousand gold pieces.”

Torgrum who happened by just at the moment, scoffed, “Isn’t that amazing”. And kept on going wanting no part of the miniscule alchemist.

Calsimeer heaved a heavy “Haahhh”, his tongue twisted into knots.

“I tell you what? I give it to you for nine-ninety-five.”

Calsimeer choked back a scoff, “A tempting offer”.

If Brandi’s speaking cadence before was fast, she picked up the flow of dialogue, like a woodpecker hammering syllables on oak, “You will never find healing potions, this quick, this cheap anywhere. These are the cheapest healing potions anywhere.”

“Oh, yes, yes, yes,” Calsimeer tried to fend off her verbal assault, “I understand, and you are talking very, very fast.”

“Amazing product. Right. Because I have low overhead. You see, I have just the cart here. Just me. I don’t have any employees. You are getting this close to wholesale.

“Right. Absolutely. Umm, how about, let’s say we do ten?”

“Right. No discount though for ten. Ten times… five hundred gold pieces.

“Right. How about a discount for fifteen?”

“Huh?”

“Discount for fifteen?”

“Fifteen? Okay,” The little gnome nodded.

“Fifteen healing potions?” Calsimeer said again, to verify she understood.

“Okay, fifteen healing potions,” She stopped once again to do the math, “That would be… I tell you what, I will give them to you for seven-twenty-five.”

“Seven-twenty-five sounds wonderful,” Calsimeer was happy to forego any more math.

“Yeah, right. Okay,” Brandi opened a cupboard and quickly counted vials, placing them into a cute little package with a ribbon. With all fifteen stowed, looked Calsimeer up and down.

“Ah-ha, I have just the thing,” Bending down she unlocked a little drawer, whereby she pulled out tiny micro vial containing a deep burgundy liquid.

“This is a gift, just for you—free gift with purchase” She said grinning, “A special invention of my own genius. I call it, Miracle Wine.”

She held up the vial into the light, “This may not look like it, but this is fine wine from Mycanea. Pinot noir. Gather a gallon of fresh water into a container—a glass Jeroboam decanter if you wish to impress a lover. Pour in the vial and it will produce the best wine you’ve ever tasted.”

Brandi pressed the vial into Calsimeer’s hand patting him lovingly, “For you—added bonus”.

“You are a fine girl. A good girl, a gnome after my own heart,” Calsimeer could always be seduced by a girl and wine.

“It’s a wine concentrate. You know. Just a small vial and you get a whole gallon of wine. Whoo-hoo!” she exclaimed excited.

“You had me at wine.”

“Do you require anything else? I have a robust inventory—anything you desire—one-gold-piece or less.”

“Do you have any ball bearings?”

“Yes, ballbarians! I have packages of fifty ballbarians.”

“I will clean you out of all the ballbarians you have.”

“Ceramic, glass or steel?”

“Steel, of course. What would I do with ceramic or glass?”

“Steel expensive,” Brandi said shaking her head, “Rare and expensive”.

“I want the best. How much for one-hundred steel ballbarians?”

“My cost for steel is quadruple that of ceramic. That would be four gold pieces for one-hundred ballbarians.”

“I will do that—one hundred percent do that.”

 

DAWGS, HUNTING DWAGS, WAR DAWGS

“I’m this tempted,” Claw said, holding up a thumb and forefinger pinched together, “to finding out what a Marn graft looks like on an elf.” They giggled.

Aggee was shaking his head violently side to side as if he was trying to get a spider lose from his hair. “No. no. no. Marn tattoos and grafts take time, very difficult,” Aggee said, “No time this evening.”

Claw shrugged off Aggee’s warning, “I’m a freak’n druid—I’m going to get me some dawgs. Some BIG dawgs,” they said cheerfully and trundled off to a tent advertising dogs for sale. “I need my animals around me.”

A block away, the constant rat-a-tat-tat barking and howling of unruly dogs told Claw they were heading in the right direction.

Claw approached a large round circus tent, faded and weather beaten that had a red painted sign: D O G S.

A rather large and imposing black-as-sin bullmastiff was tied down securely outside the flap with five hulking iron chains, one linked to each leg and one around the neck. A sign next to it read, Beware of Unrooly. Eats anything including customers.

Claw carefully tiptoed past Unrooly, hoping not to bother him and pushed through the flap and were immediately assaulted by the overwhelming pungent smell of dog urine and feces. The owner of these dogs was NOT taking care of them properly. Claw recongized the smell of cruelty.

A ten-foot ogre beastmaster wearing nothing but leather harness and chains spun on Claw threatening a war, as-if Claw were the thief of Arq Jaham. The ogre’s voice detonated like thunder drowning out the yapping dogs, “WAR DAWGS ARE TWO-HUNDRED GOLD EACH. HUNTING DOGS ONE-FIFTY.”

Startled and ears hurting, Claw stumbled backwards into a cage of puppies that came to life yapping madly.

“I am the beast master, of Khino-ulrup, bred, born, and trained,” the ogre said pointing a large savage bullwhip.

Claw dry mouthed, gulped difficultly, “Wh-what kind of dog breeds do you sale?”

“I said, War Dawgs are two-hundred gold each. Hunting Dogs one-fifty!!!” He blurted loudly once more.

“But, what kind of—” Claw stammered

“But what?” the ogre snapped, by with his voice and whip.

“Whatever breed you got, I will take. How about two hunting dogs and four war dogs.”

“One-thousand one-hundred gold”, he boomed. “Hand it over”.

Ahh, crap, she thought. Claw only had the thousand casino chips. “I’m sorry,” she began afraid to upset the colossal ogre. “Mr. Ogre sir.”

“W-H-A-T?”

“That’s a little more gold than I have.”

“Why did you ask to buy dogs you cannot afford? Are you wasting my dog time?”

“No. No. Definitely not. That was not--”

“How much do you have to spend?”

“One-thousand gold in casino chips” Claw responded quickly and did the math, counting on fingers, “Three war dogs is six-hundred and four hunting dogs—”

“Dog math is hard for the elf,” the ogre chuckled and let Claw continue to slip and slide through the weighty calculations.

When Claw couldn’t pencil out the numbers evenly, the ogre sighed heavily of boredom, “You can have three war dogs and four hunting dogs for one-thousand.”

“SOLD!” Claw yelled boisterously, mimicking the ogre’s loud mannerisms hoping maybe she could gain his respect and double thankful not to have to do any more dog math. “Free all the dogs!”

“Pay me and they will be freed.”

And Claw did precisely that. Happy to have freed at least some of the poor mistreated animals.

The beastmaster brought out a pair of white bullmastiffs with short cropped mohawks, “This is Worstest and badboy. You can rename them if you want as long as you have their Rule Bones, they will do as you instruct”.

“Rule Bones?”

“Yes, bones—each dog has the very own head-knocking rule bone. You say jump, and they say Howl high.” He giggled and handed Claw the bag of bones. “Important to memorize the symbols on the bones”.

He went to another kennel and brought back four white and orange Brittany Spaniels, “This is bastard” the ogre said, “and his three bitch sisters. Again, feel free to rename ‘em, I don’t give two shits.”

Speaking of shit, Worstest was doing just that on the floor. The Beastmaster kicked the feces with a flick of his toe to a large pile of the stuff.

“If you get ‘em killed, I have more bitch sisters. ten-percent discount to returning customers, but since you so bad at math, I will take advantage of you.” And he chortled.

“Wait, you still owe me another war dog,” Claw said, “you trying to rip me off?”

The Ogre growled revealing savage hulking yellow chompers, “I’ll rip off your head—”

“I get it,” Claw winced, “The other dog please,” They gave a little curtsy.

The beastmaster counted the dogs scratching his head, “Damn if I didn’t” miss one.”

Claw motioned to the front door, “What about the dog out front, Unrooly? What’s his story? How much for him?”

The ogre shook his head, “You cannot afford Unrooly”.

“What if I wanted to afford Unrooly?”

“No-no… I can’t afford Unrooly.”

“Then give him to me—and you won’t have to pay for him.”

“No-no-no. I can’t afford to let Unrooly go. Last year, Cosmo put those magical chains on him to keep Gravers Dig safe.
“What did he do?”

“Unrooly is unrooly, see? Trust the beastmaster.”

Claw was sad that they couldn’t save Unrooly—maybe another time. Claw took their seven new canine companions and left, happy to have saved some of the unfortunate mistreated animals.

Outside the tent, the pack of dogs took off like hounds after a fox, Claw barely keeping her feet.

The beastmaster who watched the dogs depart yelled, “Use the Rule Bones or you’ll find yourself on the other side of Blue Moon.”

Claw immediately felt the power of canine protection as vagrants and would-be guides, hunters and gravers withered into the shadows terrified of the elf and their hunting pack.

LATER

Claw returned from her dog shopping, beaming with pride, behind a pack of ogre trained dawgs. They were sporting the biggest shit-eating-grin and the proudest of parents.

“You get a dog. You get a dog. You get a dog.”

 

COSMO THE MAGNIFICENT

Armando and his two new guides stood before a simple, squat stone tower—gnome in stature, width, and height. Facing the road was a plain ironwood door with a gray moss-covered gargoyle perched upon the frame; perhaps the gargoyle was a stone decoration or maybe it was a living creature. From Armando’s advantage, the creature hadn’t flinched in the slightest—if a creature it was.

Armando approached the smooth door slowly examining it for a door handle, for which there was none. There was no window or hinges or hints the door was anything more than a piece of fine art. At eye level however, there was a relief carving of a mystical sigil—the anumian universe gate.

Somewhere in the back of Armando’s mind, he thought, that maybe he’d seen the sigil used in this manner before but couldn’t remember where. Like a name of a long ago childhood friend stuck on the tip of the tongue but couldn’t find it.

The sigil had something to do with, movement? Or travel? Transportation perhaps.

Evening was quickly running thin, long shadows formed on the short squat tower. Armando inched close and touched the sigil with the flat of his palm—hoping maybe the sigil was a key or an operational switch. It was smooth and cool to the touch, but the door didn’t budge.

Right hand worthless, he tried his left palm.

Still nothing.

“Friend,” he barked at it, frustrated.

Nothing.

“Amigo,” he said.

Nothing.

“Freund,” He said, trying friend again, this time in Hessen.

He tried saying every form of friend, in every dialect he could muster, “Ffrind. Ven. Ystävä. Ami. Amico.” Everyone knew the childhood method of opening a magical door speaking friend, but this tower wasn’t in on the joke.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

When Armando looked at the guides for assistance they both just shrugged.

Suddenly—POOF like a snapping ember from a fire—a man materialized right next to Armando, brushing his shoulder—forming solidly out of thin air.

“Next,” said the man with a grin, jerking his thumb over his shoulder before waddling away down the thoroughfare.

“Cosmo I presume?” Armando said to the back of the receding man. But if the man was indeed Cosmo, he showed no sign of acknowledgement and was gone, having disappeared into the early evening shadows.

Armando scoffed at the rude exit and turned back to the door, sizing it up once more.

Maybe the door was an elaborate illusion, and he could simply pass through it. So, with profound purpose and determination Armando took a forceful step forward, plowing headfirst into solid ironwood, smashing his nose directly into the sigil.

“Ouch!” he exclaimed rubbing his delicate and now throbbing schnoz.

The girls stifled giggles.

Blinking back tears, he decided a softer approach might be better for his face and ego, he looked around quickly, hoping no one had seen his idiocy. He pushed first with one hand then two. The door remained erect and vigilant as Heimdall protecting Asgard.

“Business might be better if you allowed customers to enter,” he said, projecting his voice to anyone inside who might be listening. “Or maybe hang a closed sign”.

“What the--?” he sighed, turning back to the door and the sigil. The riddle of the sigil was the key—no doubt. It was as plain as the nose on his now painful face.

He fondled the sigil with his finger and… WHOOSH and SUCK!

Armando tittered head spinning from a headrush getting up too quickly. He blinked repeatedly trying to regain his orientation and discovered that he was indeed someplace else—presumably inside the tower?

A low creaking rumble to his right, immediately drew his attention up and up his eyes moving traveling slowly up a granite wall. He lurched back—not a granite wall at all as first expected. A stone golem loomed over him, looking down inspecting him as a child might inspect an ant before squashing it.

He lurched back, tried to move away from the huge hulking construct, but Cosmos’s emporium supplied many things, but room was not one of them.

The tiny, cramped space contained a smorgasbord of magical paraphernalia stacked from floor to ceiling, a wondrous cavalcade of curiosities. So busy and heavy laden was the room the things made it damn near impossible to move. Anyone with even a passing interested in the paranormal could get lost for weeks, months perusing the otherworldly inventory.

The sense of magic—the real deal—was pronounced and permeated everywhere.

Armando’s head continued to spin from the translocation trick utilized to move him to this place. He wasn’t entirely convinced where here was, if it was a trick of the mind, an illusion or something else entirely. Just beyond his periphery, out of the corner of his eye, rippling haze shifted fluidly giving Armando a whoozy lightheadedness.

The proprietor, a tall stationary man stood quiet behind a fabulously ornate glass counter crammed with arcane antiques—potions, figurines, scrolls, jewelry, and even a helmet.

He wore an impeccably clean floor length white rob and an inviting smile.

“Welcome, I’m Cosmo” he said with a full-throttle voice that rattled the room’s inventory. “Who are you? Who do I have the pleasure of doing business with today?”

“I am Armando the Bardbarian,” Armando said in return with nearly as much gust and zeal. “How are you?”

“Excellent. Most wonderfully excellent,” said Cosmo, “I say you are most welcome esteemed guest in this place. I see that you are from Andalus. I am from Roosh originally. The capital city Saratof. The jewel of the world.”

“I have never been to that splendid city.”

“I am now here, in Gravers Dig, as a broker of fine magical wares.”

“Your magical wares are broken?”

The man leaned close, “NO. Brow-kur. Corredor?”

“Oh, excuse me.”

“I apologize for the confusion you experienced gaining entry. The tower’s security only permits one customer at a time. If someone is here doing business, others sadly, must wait their turn outside. My inventory is much too valuable to have customers wondering around unattended. You understand?”

“There is no room to wonder,” Armando said, wishing the golem would step back.

“I like to focus my attention on one customer at a time. A premium service to all who enter. Speaking of, what might you be in the market for? This is not my entire collection. If you don’t see anything you like, perhaps it would help if you would provide some ideas of what you might be searching for?”

Armando looked around the room not seeing immediately what he wanted, “Have you heard tell of the legendary singing sword?”

Cosmo considered the question, “A singing sword?” he said in way of clarification.

“Yes.”

“Huh?” he thought, fidgeting with a tooth. “Very interesting. Well, that is a very rare weapon. That is the type of item I’d have to take some time to try and locate for you. Certainly, I do not have one in stock. But if you’re interested in such a weapon and you are willing to place a deposit, so that I would know the sincerity of your interest. A fully refundable deposit, of course. I could have ten gekkons in flight within an hour. Searching Chaldea for such an item.”

“I will give you the equivalent of one-hundred gold pieces in gambling tokens, as a deposit,” Armando offered.

“Well, I approve your method of currency, but one-hundred gold pieces is a paltry amount. Make it double—prove you are serious. Two-hundred gold pieces.”

“I will make it three hundred. Serious enough?”

“Three?”

In his mind’s eye, he imagined Claw reprimanding him for so casual disregard for their money, ‘Do you understand haggling? We have to repay this debt with interest’.

He shrugged off Claw’s imaginary ridicule. If he could get his hands on a singing blade, he could endure Claw’s earboxing.

Cosmo opened a box and pulled out a parchment with contractual language pre-written, “Very well. What is your name, good sir?”

“Armando Equis Blake”

Cosmo spent the new next few minutes taking down personal information, filling in the contract explicitly. When he was done, he filled out a receipt for three-hundred gold pieces.

With the paperwork complete and signed, Cosmo said, “It will take my Gekkons, depending upon their destination, three or four days maybe. And then a day or so, for my contacts to send word back with enthusiasm. It will be at least a week at the earliest before I hear news. Are you going on The Hunt tomorrow?”

“I am.”

“I will certainly not have anything for you by then. Which reminds me. If you should not survive the Hunt, what should I do with the deposit?”

“Give it to a cleric friend of mine Cal—go see Cal. Go see Cal. Go see Cal.”

“Go. See. Cal, hmm?”, Cosmo repeatedly wrapping his mind around the peculiar instruction, “Where might I find this Cal?”

Armando remained blank faced, trying to figure out the best method to find Calsimeer. As of yet, he and his friends had not secured lodging and Armando had no idea how he was even going to find Cal after shopping.

Cosmo waved off the annoyance, “I will be writing instructions—he is a friend of yours. He’ll show up and claim you, should you die.”

“Everyone knows, Cal.”

“Fine. I however do not. I have taken a note of it, sir.”

“Very good.”

“Excellent. Excellent. Great. Well, have a good day. And thank you for coming to Cosmo the Magnificent.”

Armando turned to exit and found there was no door, “How do I leave?”

 

DANIKA'S

Customers were coming and going briskly from Danika’s when Jfray shoved through the front door dragging Torgrum.

The “Horse and Tack” shop was a large, converted log barn and stables with large connecting corals.

INSIDE

Danika’s shop, “the barn” was a cavernous affair fabricated from brutish old growth timbers. The walls were sectioned off into stalls containing every breed of horse imaginable, there were tiny shetland ponies, pintos, destrier, hulking draft horses, mules and many horse breeds besides.

As they entered, a woman helping another customer waved their direction, “I’ll be with you shortly”.

Torgrum growled like a bear. “Did she just call me, shorty?” he said gruffly to Jfray, “Did you just call me shorty?” he yelled at the woman stepping closer, the hair on the back of his neck bristling.

“No, sir,” Jfray said, pulling the suddenly angry dwarf back, trying to keep things cool, “She said, she’ll be with you shortly. Like, soon.”

Torgrum continued to growl as he was led away.

“I hope so, she’s going to find out how short my temper truly is.”

Torgrum and Jfray slowly moved away from the woman toward the perimeter, where they inspected the stalls and the horses for sale. They marveled at the grand selection and quality offerings Danika’s had to offer. The Horse and Tack shop had exactly what they needed.

After a few minutes, the woman who had waved early, an athletic Rooshen women in full leather riding gear and tall boots approached—she was a living advertisement for fine leather goods and held herself proudly, as though a knight.

“Yes, sir dwarf. Welcome to my stable. I am Danika.”

“I am in need of five horses,” Torgrum said flatly and to the point.

“Torgrum and his allies,” Jfray interjected, filling in the informational gaps, “are new to Gravers Dig and will be competing in the Hunt.”

Danika smiled and nodded at Torgrum, “You are not the first person to think maybe on a outdoor hunt, into the great Arush wilderness, horses could be useful.”

“These legs aren’t made for walking,” the dwarf said.

“You’ve come to the right place then,” She said leading Torgrum further to the back of the barn. “We can fill most needs. Are you looking for draft horses, or riding horses, or war horses?”

Torgrum considered the inventory and what they might require in the days to come.

“What do you know of horses?” Danika asked politely.

“Well, you know I’ve been around. I’ve been on ships, wagons, a war chariot once and even ridden winged lions. You know, they are all just another form of conveyance. Right?”

She arched a brow, “Right. So not a lot?”

Torgrum pointed to a silver dappled Morgan, “We’ll need a riding horse” and then turned searching, pointing at a chestnut Jutland, “and a War Horse”.

“So, you do know your breeds,” Danika said impressed.

“What part of, these legs aren’t made for walking, don’t you fathom?”

“We also have ponies”, she said pointing to a side stall, “and mules”.

“Shetland or Cob? I’m going to need a pony about eight hands,” he held up his hand waist height, “for my friend Pansy—she’s height challenged. She prefers bees, but the pony will have to do.”

“We got that”.

“I’ll also need a horse for myself. I’m kinda stout, so it needs to be strong and robust. Intelligent, but not pretentious. I ain’t riding no pony. The horse can’t be so tall… well you know? I’m five-feet-formidable and require quick ingress egress.

She laughed, “We got that too”.

“Just make sure I don’t look like a dwarf on a colt.”

“Was that five horses?” Danika asked.

“I’ll take the white Shetland. The chestnut Jutland, and three Morgans—the dun, roan and the dappled silver, he’s mine.”

She pulled out a ledger from a side pouch, and began writing, “A pony is sixty gold. A riding horse is one-fifty. A military saddle is forty. Bit and bridle is eight. Saddle bags are eight. I’ll throw in all three for fifty gold. For the riding horses is one-fifty, with equipment, that’s two-hundred each, times four, is eight-hundred gold pieces. Plus, the pony is sixty plus fifty. That works out to nine-hundred and ten. I’ll give it to you for nine-hundred even.”

“I’ll give you eight-hundred. The whole lot for eight-hundred”. He held up eight fingers, four on each hand, “Eight. C’mon, you know you’re making a killing here.”

“You are right, I am trying to make money. That’s the point of my business to make profit. I stock quality horses and offer a fair price.”

Torgrum and Danika stared at each other, each weighing the situation seeing who would blink first.

Torgrum blinked, “Eight-fifty”.

“Okay, yeah—nine-hundred,” she said motioning for security.

“Nine-hundred. Sure—", Torgrum relented.

Danika’s ran a clean operation and the horses well-tended.

“I will toss in boarding free-of-charge until you require the horses. You can leave them here overnight and we’ll have them turned out first thing pre-dawn tomorrow morning. Come by with your crew and my lads will have them ready.”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Perfect would be nine-hundred gold in my hand,” she indicated.

Torgrum handed over the chips, “What a bargain”, he said.

 

SHOPPING FOR FREEBIES

Pansy slipped away from the others, she too interested in shopping but with an eye on deep discounts, or as close to free as her nimble fingers would allow.

She approached a business bearing the name, Lynnwood Softgoods. The owners and operators were elven and based on the store name, they were from the Lynnwood forest, the largest elven kingdom in Somarria.

Elves made superior leathercraft goods and based upon the crowded shop, the word was out, this was the place to purchase leather products.

From the door she could see leather products of all varieties, backpacks, tents, and healthy inventory of leather armor—padded, studded, brigandine, gloves, helmets, and frankly, anything possibly made of leather, wool, or cotton.

She entered.

Leather was fine, but what Pansy had her eyes on were the clientele—the Hunters and Gravers—and all their fine crafted weapons and trinkets.

As she dove deeper into the store, brushing under the notice of shoppers, she passed racks of leather armor of all variances.

A man was trying on a pair of leggings and was doing squat thrusts testing the flexibility, his large friend watched with amusement.

“These leggings make my ass look big,” the man said slapping his ass.

“It’s fucking padded armor,” the other responded. “Fat and protected”.

Pansy sized and weight the two potential targets as she passed—the first was mostly naked and had nothing of significance, the friend carried a large hammer and shield. She shuddered, much too big.

She continued around a mountain of stacked tents and bedrolls and approached the rear of the shop, where there were sections of jerkins and boots. Pansy heard a man with an Aimian accent speaking loudly, with a hint of incredulous, “Are you saying you didn’t have a good time last night?”

The woman, young, perhaps just out of her parents’ home, wore a knee length leather dress with tight wrapped bodice. She wore her long blonde hair, half braided on the side.

The poor girl was the main attendant on staff at the moment, at least from what Pansy could see and was attempting to work, while a would-be suitor not interested in shopping was chased her skirt. Like a bee darting from flower to flower, the young shopkeeper moved from section to section, trying to avoid the man’s advancements.

“The bottle of wine was bohemian was it not? Share another bottle with me, tonight.”

The shopkeeper was trying to fold leather jerkins but he kept on taking them out of her hands, “I’m working,” she said in a soft Pert accent, looked around nervously.

The man, one Pierre de Clement of Aimilleuse, was attractive. Some might call beautiful and he no doubt knew it. Based on his expensive silk clothing he was also rich. Wealth and beauty, by Pansy’s experience usually added up to arrogance. A deadly bad combination especially for this poor girl.

Pierre moved with the grace of a cheetah, stalking the young shopkeeper. He leaned against the wall, as if posing for a portrait, twirling a long stem rose, “I shall buy this establishment and give you the night off”.

He leaned in closer to deliver another one of his lines or perhaps a kiss, and she sidestepped, spinning away. She curved quickly around a pile of crates and ran into Pansy, (who of course was small and not visible), she tripped scattering an armful of jerkins across the floor.

“Oh dear, my apologies, miss,” the lady said stooping to retrieve the fallen goods.

“No harm done,” Pansy said craning her neck up at the man that was standing over them, “You have your own set of challenges.”

The woman smiled and winked at Pansy as the two took their time fixing the ruffled clothing.

“My name is Cordelia. Halfing sizes are over there, “she said nodding, “Let me know if I can be of assistance.”

“What time do you get off?” The man said, nudging a shirt with his foot over to Cordelia.

Cordelia stood abruptly and moved off, the man following like a love-struck puppy.

Cordelia dropped the pile of clothing on to a crate, “I’m doing inventory—it’s going to be late.”

“Doing?” the man said distastefully, “What are you doing to the inventory?”

When the man had turned to follow Cordelia, Pansy had noticed he was sporting a jeweled dagger on one hip, a rather sizeable pouch of coins on the other, and a rapier slung over his back.

“A dandy target,” she said to herself, smiling sheepishly. “My dandy man”.

Pierre had kicked off his boots and was sitting in a leather highback chair and struggling mightily to get his right foot in.

“I could wait while you do this thing with inventory,” he said between clenched teeth. “This thing is soooo tight.”

Pansy picked up a pair of soft leather moccasins, “Damn these are nice”. She put them down as she was more interested in the dagger dangling just a few feet away.

“Inventory will take all night. I’m going to be exhausted,” Cordelia said exasperation dripping.

Suddenly the boots ripped under the tension, Pierre’s toes forced out the front. “These things are cheap.”

“Those are for halflings,” she said, snatching them angrily out of his hands.

As Cordelia went searching for proper human sized boots, Pansy slipped under the table next to where the man was sitting.

Cordelia searched, bent over a pile of boots on a low table. Pansy watched quietly hoping the man didn’t notice her, his attention was on—

Pansy followed his gaze and found Cordelia bent over her back to the man. Her gaze came back to the man and found him bend over sideway peering up her dress.

Pansy groaned, “you pig!”

As long as Cordelia was exposing her wares, the man would never notice her. “And for that, pig, I’m relieving you of your pig sticker.”

She verified and double verified, no one was watching and lifted, easy as that, the jeweled dagger from the dandy’s waist.

Cordelia returned with black boots and thrust them into the man’s hand, “If you want to make me happy buy these, so I don’t get into trouble.” She took the ruined boots and tossed them into the garbage.

“I would buy the moon, if only you would have dinner with me.”

“We had dinner last night. The spiced meat was divine, it was the company that was in poor taste.”

Cordelia moved to the opposite side of the shop in hopes of getting away from the man, but he continued to follow, forgetting the boots.

“What a putz?” Pansy said examining the dagger more closely—it was worm to the touch and almost purred as she ran her fingers over the glistening jewels.

With Cordelia and Pierre on the other side of the shop, Pansy slipped quietly out from under the table. With the dagger under her belt, she made for the door and evening beyond.

“A nifty new dagger”, she said to herself, “and still fully loaded with chips.”

 

 

 

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