Before the Fall

15th Scorpion, 250th YBC

Yaqub pulls the shivering blanket above his eyes. “Wh-What are those things?”

The hooded man stands beside the first wagon. His sword still in hand, drawn when the first war cries echoed through the valley. “Goblins.” The wagon oxen rears its head in a deep lowl, bound energy searching for escape. He takes a hand to the bridle and eases the ox down. “Ones that learned the broken tongue of Iron Hide orcs.” The ox snorts under a soothing rub. “The season is not so late that they have given up pillaging for the year.”

Smoothing his shirt, Yaqub forces pomp into his voice. “Well, then it seems that I was wise to arrange for addition sword arms. Would hate to think what would have happened without my foresight.” He looks around. “What are you waiting for? I still have ten more miles to travel before this day is done.”

Drivers reseat their helmets and steady their wagons. The man walks by Eileen’s wagon as the caravan starts again. “What Yaqub says in jest, I say with conviction.” He whispers. “Well done.”

“Well done my backside.” The driver grumbles. “If those those monsters tain’t going to be the death o’ me, that crazy woman’s aim will.”

The rest of the day passes in solitude, only flitting song birds break the stillness of the woods. Dinner is eaten without the revelry of days prior and low clouds creep over Selune. The warrior sits back to the fire, turning only to stoke the occasional log.

A cold snap settles in the late night and winter dust falls from the skies. Morning dawns on the first valley snow of the season. Drivers pull their cloaks tighter and the merchant grudgingly offers blankets to those less prepared. Yet the greying year revitalizes the moment. Morning birds sing loud and snow shower as squirrels leap from branch to branch.

Pelor rises over the eastern Peaks and glinting snow catches the eyes of Eileen and Zeke. Dimpled snow runs along the western shrubs, paralleling the road. The pocks are small, regular, closely spaced and there are many of them. A warning voice echos in the depths of their minds. The tracks look long for their size, some with five scratches in the snow leading the narrow ends.

Clusters of the dimpled snow branches from the road, running into the deep woods and the ridges beyond.

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14th Scorpion, 250th YBC

The next morning crunches with frosted glass and the low sun curls back the darkness and beauty of the East Pass rises before your eyes. Strong from the night’s rest, the oxen begin a steady assent of the pass. Ground and tree are still green in the low pass, swaying to the morning wind that whips down the mountain side. Yaqub pulls his blankets tighter and the driver begin to mumble about the cold.

The forest draws near, by late morning roots begin digging and chipping away at the road, wagons rattle as they bump over. The thinning air dampens bird song and few deer spring along the road. Baelim and Tirana walk to a slight clearing ahead and pass a pocket of still air. No birds sing, only the rattle of Baelim within his cold chilled armor. No movement, only the rustle of leaf and twig. Zeke catches a scent and raises his nose. A thin stench lingers in the stagnent air, the scent of other ones that share the deep. Green-things!

“Waaagh!”. High voices voices screech from bursting trees. Thicket and brush belch vile, stunted creatures, a briar of tiny arms reach and grasp for Baelim and Tirana. Late morning sun glintting off the flash of iron blades and the screeching forest mobs down on the knight and mage.

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12th Scorpion, 250th YBC

The evening fire and morning embers are a needed warmth as late fall breezes play over the roof shaking straw and shingle. The sharp morning chill bites as you step away from the hearth and ice wind plays at cloak trim outside the door. Mercio stirs in the predawn, inns herding game animals to the back and stable hands feeding horses. A smith hammer rings behind distant buildings as you walk toward the north gate. Wagons and carriages rest unhitched on roadsides behind their drooping eyed guards. A curl of doused smoke rises from a ring of three close to the gate, the man in the yellow shirt holding the dripping bucket. The wagons are heavy carts made from timber culled across the breadth of Vanterra, each attended to by a man in leather tying down the coarse burlap cover resting over a mounded load. A pike hangs from the back of each and the men bob and weave through their duties, spitting like farmers, cursing like drivers.

Another, a man, wanders through the still wagons, retrying knots in the wake of the pikemen, resetting crates under the cover. Tall for a man, his thin beard is brown and older than the pikemens’, maybe older than Yaqub’s. Hair hidden deep in a hood, but mouth bemused with every retied knot, eyes upward with every reset crate.

“Ah, least you come on time.” Yaqub crunches through frosted mud, the campfire dying behind him. “We will not be but a few minutes from departing, please prepare yourselves while my,” he coughs to hide his sneer. “men finish their preparations.” Hands reach slightly to the cloudless dawn. “If they can be called men, Fharlagen perserve me.” Hands drop and shoulders sag. “If they were I would not have needed more”

“And do make sure some one stays in front this time.” He addresses you, turning back to his caravan. “Guards do me no good if they are behind my wagons.”

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11th Scorpion, 250th YBC

The western sun hangs low over wintered mountains, another day of the House of the Scorpion drawing to a close. The road leads to the center of the broad valley to the town settled upon the junction of the roads of men and dwarves. The great din of civilized tongues carries though wooden town wall. The guard has to shout the town name of “Mercio” as you pass the town gate. The streets are the rural and broad stretch of an aged border town but even these are too narrow for the wagons and cattle within the city walls. Caravans line the main streets and master and traveler bicker in every known tongue over the cost of passage north. Men, dwaves, even the occasional elf and halfling weave through the mesh of coach and cart searching for any conveyance of hoof or wheel to bear them north, across the mountains.

The inns of Mercio’s heart overflow in creatures and ale. Small families huddle way from the late day chill and even the lone travelers crowd against door and window in hopes of finding a patch of clean floor to sleep upon. The crowd thins away the town’s heart and veins. Tucked in a corner is a small tavern under the tarnished shingle “Beaten Plow”. The laughter within is too bawdy for the common traveler and the brawny man under an eye patch rests against the door to scare the rest away. But a fire crackles within and sizzle of grease carries out on the strands of revelry and no one stands around the door. Even the scowl of the eye patch man cannot keep you from pushing through the doorway.

You dodge a tankard as you enter. By the roaring fire a dashing half elf belts out a lively rendition of a mandolin tune you recognize as Round Table Nights. Serving lasses weave though the mass of patrons clapping, stomping and dancing in time to music. The room and benches are packed but there is enough room for those that can force their way to a table. It is places like this where tales are begun and names are first forged…

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