D&D Rocks Part 2
I suppose I should put my own little advisory on my posts much like my colleague. While his Ika campaign is a world created for the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop game, my D&D stories are not actually set in any particular setting. They’re more a tag for the tales told in Fantasyland where my little band of misguided adventurers explore life and have silly stories under the pretense of numerous genre tropes. In fact, I’ve gone to great lengths to not reveal what D&D even stands for in this situation. I’ve always imagined it to be Dazed and Distraught or something to that effect.
Granted, sometimes I pull inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons adventures. This particular story lacks the deep personal turmoil found in others because it was based on one such game that, in respect to all those involved, shall remain anonymous. It did have giant birds in it though.
The caravan was a mess. Wagons lay cracked and broken like empty husks after a feast. Most were reduced to splinters scattered across the weed covered road. Their contents were scattered about the hills, leaving a hazardous pile of goods for the survivors to stumble through. Amongst the junk came the slow groans of the guards still clutching to the last moments of life. Those that had survived relatively unscathed picked amongst the carnage, shifting broken planks and sorting through iron pots for those haunted voices.
The three men surveyed the damage from their rocky outcrop. The archers had already disappeared into the steppe, seeming to vanish in the thin shadows of the stony landscape even though it appeared little more than a scraggly sea of thin grass and low-lying shrubs. Carefully, they made their way back to the survivors, exhaustion beginning to set as their adrenaline passed.
“I want a full count of those left standing. And bring the wounded to the fourth wagon. There’s enough cloth to set up a makeshift tent. We’ll see yet who can be pulled from the Tarnished Halls and Helja’s dues.”
Siara stood amongst the guards, a beacon of order and authority in the devastation of the skirmish. Her breastplate gleamed in the hanging sun, her sword resting elegantly upon her hip. Before her stern gaze, the men bent to her commands. Orders were swiftly filled and a sense of proper calm had been restored. While they hurried to fulfill her commands, the woman herself bent over the wreckage of a cart, sifting through the scattered remains. Upon hearing their approach, she stood with an imposing expression.
“You three, report!”
Derrek, Keirn and Jeremiah looked to each other unsure exactly what happened in all the chaos despite being in the thick of it.
“They’ve fled?” Keirn offered uselessly. He kind of wished he sounded more confident when he said it.
“Did you get confirmation of their direction, numbers, leaders?”
The men looked blankly at each other.
“They went that way.” Jeremiah pointed off into the distance.
Siara’s piercing black eyes rolled over each man slowly. Keirn felt like they were three misbehaving children brought before a disappointed mother. The silence was long and uncomfortable and they shifted nervously beneath that commanding glare.
At last she sighed, looking towards the sky as if she couldn’t even trust their report that the birds were gone.
“So we have nothing. No idea of who they were or what they were after. There have been heavy casualties amongst the guards and all of the non-combatants have disappeared.”
“Well, I am pretty certain that they were the tribe of-“
“Disappeared?” Keirn interrupted. “Surely someone returned now that the fighting is over.”
Siara raised a curious brow to Derrek but addressed Keirn.
“I would have that so. The call to withdraw from our enemy seemed clear enough to me that the attack was over. I doubt anyone couldn’t hear it but so far no one has returned.”
“We saw them head that way,” Derrek said, pointing over the ridge. Siara scanned the hills as if she expected to see all the men and women huddled amongst the grass choked rocks.
“We also saw one of those large birds chase after them,” Keirn said, shaking his head. “The fools should have stayed near us so we could protect them. I can’t see most of those people surviving against that monster. Not without some knowledge of combat.”
“But why assault the caravan?” Jeremiah asked.
Siara’s eyes narrowed in thought. She looked as if she was about to share some revelation but the call of a nearby guard took her attention. She turned from them, clearly finished with her interrogation.
However, Keirn was reluctant to leave. He shifted nervously upon his feet, his mind trying to come up with some excuse for him to linger in Siara’s presence.
“Oh Siara, I was just wondering if… well…”
Her reply was short and quick. Keirn turned to his friends for some support but, as typical, they had nothing to help.
“Well… errr… have you seen my sister?”
It really wasn’t what he was looking for but the words were gone and he couldn’t reclaim them.
“I’m not some mewling wet-nurse,” Siara replied. “Why don’t you search for survivors and see they get some aid. Perhaps you’ll find your sister amongst their number.”
And that was that. Keirn watched her pick through the wreck, her long black hair tumbling gently over her immaculate armour encasing her slender figure. Derrek snapped his fingers before Keirn’s face to get his attention.
“You have the heart and wit of a courtesan. I’m in such awe of your skills I would delight in apprenticing beneath you.”
“Shut up,” the young man grumbled knowing too well that his friend caught his longing looks. “Let’s just see if we can’t find something.”
“You know what I don’t understand?” Jeremiah asked. “Why would the tribals attack the caravan in the first place? What were they after?”
“Probably the valuables,” Keirn said. “It’s not like bandits have complex moral objectives.”
“There’s only so many uses for cast iron pans and chamber pots. Unless… do you think they want to build a great tribunal mudtower in order to unite all the scatter tribes beneath a single, ambitious warlord?”
Derrek blinked at his companions’ confusion. “Well, the principal culture structure of the Rakstas tribes are the mud fortresses they scatter over their territory. They occupy these during the mating season when the great herds gather. There’s little building material over the steppes but they discovered a unique architectural form that uses the local mudclay to fashion semi-permeable homes. When these dry beneath the sun, they become tough as wood. Once the great herds move on, they leave these buildings behind for the next tribe much like the tenant crab passing off its shell for another.”
Keirn eyed Derrek suspiciously.
“Sometimes I think you fabricate this nonsense to fool us.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“But why this caravan,” Jeremiah asserted. “I thought these routes were relatively safe.”
“Obviously not, else why would they hire us?” Keirn said.
“Do you think there’s something valuable in these wagons?” Jeremiah hypothesized. “Maybe that’s what she’s looking for.”
“Well, she spent quite a bit of time with the Caravan Master,” Derrek said. “She probably already knew about the pots.”
Derrek stepped to an overturned wagon, lifting up the collapsed canvas to reveal a great pile of cast iron skillets, pans, vessels and other cooking ware.
“We must be transporting far more than that.”
“Not really, most of the cargo is earthenware.”
“What about that orb?”
“Found it in a bag hidden in a cauldron,” Derrek shrugged. “But there wasn’t much else in it. Just some rusted tools and spooled thread. And an old boot.”
“Well that doesn’t make any sense,” Jeremiah said. “Why would they need so much security for something so valueless?”
“Because the kingdoms don’t want a towering mudpillar!” Derrek exclaimed.
“Why do we bring you along?”
Suddenly, a great horn blast ran down the beleaguered line. It was a warning call. Men scrambled for their weapons, abandoning their search and duties as they hurried for cover. Keirn pressed against the shattered remains of the wagon, his hand reaching for his weapon as he tried to think what could possibly be descending up them now.
Curious but wary, the three young men emerged from their cover and made towards the front of the caravan. A lone figure moved towards them from down the road. Arrows were notched but something in the stranger’s gait gave pause to Keirn. Then, a familiar voice rose on the winds.
With unmatched speed, the figure hurried towards the caravan. Bows were raised but Keirn called for them to lower their weapons.
Cresting the hill came a red-faced Kait. Sweat beaded her brow as she looked horrified at the scene of carnage before her.
Keirn blinked at his sister, his mind momentarily blank. When last he spoke, his voice burst forward in a trembling denouncement.
“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! YOU COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED! WHY DID YOU WANDER OFF?!”
Kait started at her brother’s outburst.
“I thought I would take a quick jog ahead to see what was before us. What did I miss?”
“How did you- Didn’t you know- See you- Birds!”
It was an incoherent stammering but managed to communicate the young man’s fluster.
Jeremiah quickly stepped to Kait’s side, brushing Keirn aside.
“We were assaulted while you were… away. You were fortunate to miss the battle. It was very… devastating.”
“Has anyone checked on my packs? Are my things okay?”
“Your things?!” Keirn cried. “I’ve been worried sick that you’re lying dead in some ditch and your first thought is your collection of yarn?!”
“It’s a very nice collection,” Kait muttered.
“Did you happen to see some men, women or children wrapped in cloth while you were scouting?” Jeremiah asked.
“I saw some people in the hills but assumed they were nomads,” Kait shrugged. “I didn’t really pay much attention to them and they seemed content with their own business. You don’t think they were behind it, do you?”
“I don’t think-“
“-we know for certain,” Keirn said. “They chased off most of the caravan and tried to kill all of us.”
“Many of the travellers fled when the fight broke out,” Jeremiah said.
“We saw a roc fly after them… I don’t think there will be much to find.”
“What do you mean?” Kait asked.
“Well…” Keirn said, “when a hungry beast sees some unarmed, defenceless humans…”
“Are you saying there were rocs in the skirmish?”
“Yes, rocs. They’re really large birds like…” Keirn tried to hold his arms out to indicate their length but quickly realized the futility of that display. “They’re really big.”
“I’m know what a roc, or ruhk as it’s properly called, looks like. They’re a rare species of Stephanoaetus Gigantorus that can live upwards of sixty years if given enough food to support their diet. Famously gentle creatures with a caring temperament. But there isn’t any known species that would be out this far in the plains. They favour cliff environs or coastal regions. The closest would be the distant Ashencleft Mountains. But we’re well out of their hunting territory.”
“Well, they were here,” Keirn said. “And they aren’t friendly.”
“A pity that I missed them.”
“The bigger pity is that we won’t be getting paid,” Keirn moaned.
“Why do you say that?” Jeremiah asked.
“Look at our escort, Jeremiah!” Keirn cried, waving his hand at the wrecked wagons.
“But surely if we find the survivors the caravan master would honour the agreement.”
“Why don’t you discuss it with him,” Keirn said. “I’m pretty sure I saw him running off with the group about to be turned into bird feed.”
“Why would the caravan master run off?” Kait wondered.
“Probably because he has no spine.”
“But wouldn’t he want to protect his investment?” she continued. “I mean, none of the guards fled and you managed to repel the attack as well. Why spend so much money putting together the caravan and hiring so many guards if you’re just going to abandon it at the first sign of trouble?”
“It’s not like the Rakstas tribe is particularly bloodthirsty,” Derrek added. “At the very least, a reasonable response would be to bargain with the attackers if he felt he would lose any fight for his possessions.”
“Well, clearly he didn’t think we would win the fight or that the savages were worth negotiating with!” Keirn exclaimed. “Or is anyone else not remembering that they attacked us without warning and had three HUGE FREAKISH BIRDS?!”
“Three to attack, two to the back,” Derrek hummed.
Keirn took a slow breath.
“I don’t even care to figure out what that’s supposed to mean.”
But Jeremiah’s eyes lit up.
“That’s right! There were three of the birds, but only two retreated. The one that went over the hill never returned!”
“Well… maybe it flew off in another direction!” Keirn protested.
“Really. A bird that large and you think it just sneaked away?”
“Maybe it’s… maybe it’s still chowing down on all the fools that ran off,” Keirn grumbled.
“Then the caravan master could still be alive!” Kait exclaimed.
“So what? You want to go rescue him?”
“Isn’t that what we were hired to do?”
“No,” Keirn said slowly, “we were hired to protect the caravan. And that is sitting right here and is already demolished.”
“But you were just arguing that we wouldn’t get paid because the people ran off,” Jeremiah countered. “Which is the caravan? The people it was transporting or the pots and bedpans?”
Keirn frowned. He had no aspirations to run headlong into a large monster. When facing the archers he had little choice and a hunch they were cowards. But animals were different. And this one was almost ten times their size.
“Fine! You want to go find the violent man-eating bird and kill it, then so be it. But don’t expect me to be the one to run my sword through its heart when none of you have the guts to put down the miserable creature!”
“Oh! I do love a good hike!” Kait exclaimed, hurrying up the rocks.
“Hopefully she’ll forget about her bags,” Keirn grumbled to Derrek as he unwrapped his sword from his side and stepped over the ruined wagon. “Otherwise, we’ll never hear the end of how she’ll never be able to finish her socks or some such.”