Mad Lands

Cleaning up the mess of others, part 2
A metal coffin hurtling towards certain doom ... with a dragon on top. No problem.

The floor was scattered with nobles who had been trussed up, but not all of them were moving. I saw two of the fire pot orcs at the far end of the car and four orcs wearing rather serious, well cared for armor near the middle of the car. Focusing my mind, I was able to sprint through the car and reach the orcs before anyone else was able to react. As soon as I entered the car, however, I noticed two more fire pot orcs just inside the door I had just run through. All I could do was hope that my new companions were able to take care of them before they began lobbing their incendiary rounds at me.

I saw, from the corner of my eye, Cora dash through the room and dart behind an orc I was facing. Just as she swung, the train jerked and her swing went wide. I heard two loud reports from behind me and glanced back to see Ronan standing in the back of the car. The two fire pot orcs that had flanked the rear door were now sprawled across the floor, their unused fire pots still clutched in their hands. “Why are you down here,” I shouted over my shoulder.

“That thing with the tail you mentioned earlier? Yeah, it’s huge, so I came back down.”

As he yelled his reply to me, Keras came thundering past him and charged towards the orc to my left. Once again, as he neared the orc, the train lurched and his attack went wide. While I could not say for sure, it seemed like the train had picked up speed in the last few moments and now seemed to be travelling at a breakneck speed down the track. My only hope was that we would finish with the orcs in time to slow the train down in case the bridge was in fact out. Odelle stepped into the train car next and advanced on the orcs with her mace. She swung at the orc that Cora had attacked and landed a glancing blow. A sudden explosion at the other end of the car let me know that Francis had joined the battle as a cloud of noxious gas seethed into existence and enveloped the remaining two fire pot orcs and the fourth of the elite orcs. I heard more of the twisting words that Awnya had uttered before and suddenly a wall of light swept by me and hit the orcs. Unfortunately, the orcs were able to resist her and in the resulting confusion ending up switching places with me. I was still adjacent to two of the orcs, but the third orc had managed to end up face to face with the cleric. I only had time for a brief word of hope that her deity would protect her from his blade.

I swung at the two orcs in front of me, my hammer barely missing one but connecting solidly with the other. I knew that I had their attention now and that, as long as I kept pressure on them, they would be unable to escape from me. As I swung at the two in front of me, I focused my mind on the orc facing the cleric, driving a spike of psionic energy deep into his brain. If he attacked anyone other than me, he would feel any damage he dealt as acutely as the person he hit. The orcs were finally able to recover from our sudden appearance in the room and began to lay into us with their falchions. The orc facing Awnya spun in place and struck Keras. Both Keras and the orc recoiled slightly from the blow, but as the orc reset his blade I could see a deadly iridescent sheen on the edge of the blade. The two orcs facing me swung and I was able to avoid one of the attacks. The other struck me and I could feel the insidious effects of poison begin to wind their way through my body. The orcs looked pleased that they had managed to strike me, but they had obviously never fought a Dwarfen defender before. It would take much more than that attack to bring me down, and they would not live long enough to deal that kind of damage.

Great, wracking coughs were heard from within the cloud of gas and I head a body thump to the floor. The fourth orc stumbled out of the cloud and advanced on me, swinging wildly with is blade. I deflected it easily and settled in for a protracted battle against multiple opponents. This was turning into a rather fun night. I saw Cora roll to her side and then, in a single motion, spring back to her feet and drive her dagger deep into the back of the orc who had attacked Keras. He gave a roar of pain, but Cora had already fallen back away from him. I heard a sudden shout behind me, “Isand, duck.” Two rounds struck the fourth orc almost simultaneously, both exploding in a shower of shrapnel and fire. I did not have time to move, but it affected the other two orcs as much as it affected me.

As we found our feet, we killed three of the four orcs without suffering any losses ourselves. The last orc was backing up, his eyes darting from person to person when Francis shuffled past me towards the middle of the train car, trying to find a place to cast a spell that would catch us in its blast. As he passed me, however, an enormous head ducked down and unleashed a scream of psionic pain. It’s force drove Francis across the car and left him standing beside the orc. With a sudden motion, Francis drew a dagger and slid it up under the orc’s helm into his neck. In the sudden relative silence of the car, the only noise I was aware of was Francis’ harsh breathing as he stood over the fallen orc with is bloodied blade. “What,” he rasped, “the fuck jusht hit me.”

“That big thing with a tail on the roof? I think it’s a dragon,” said Cora in a rather offhand manner.

Ronan, swabbing down the barrel of his arquebus, looked up with a smile on his face, “Next item of business, kill a dragon riding on top of our train. I say we split up and hit him from both sides.”

I walked over to check on Keras and, seeing that he was okay, headed to the back of the car to examine its connection to the rear cars. “I agree with Ronan. First, however, we need to pull this pin and slow down our pursuers a bit.” I gave the pin a tug, straining a bit, before giving up. “Keras, come give his pin a tug. I’m going to head to the front of the car and check the engine. I’ll meet you up top so we can get rid of our pesky guest.”

As I walked towards the front of the car, Cora fell in beside me. I heard a sharp metal screech and then suddenly the train seemed to leap forward. A few seconds later, I heard a loud crash behind us. I was about to turn around and smile at Keras when I saw the dragon’s head appear briefly. I did not have time to brace myself mentally before a wall of pain hit me. It sent me and Cora stumbling forward and we managed to reach the front of the car. I pulled the door open and we saw the open engine compartment in front of us. I glanced back at the others to see that they were filing out of the car to climb onto the roof.

“This,” said Cora, “is a little disturbing.” ‘A little disturbing’ seemed not quite appropriate for the scene that confronted us. The engineer, or what was left of him, was splattered across the controls. The controls themselves, aside from a generous coating of engineer innards, seemed to be slightly damaged. Cora cracked her knuckles and without a backward look, waded into the room. “I’m going to head up to the roof and help the others, do you think you can fix this?” She nodded her head, still focused on the controls, so I climbed the ladder to join the others in slaying a dragon.

As my head crested the train car, I saw the back of a purple dragon and my companions on the far side of the train car huddled against the end of the car. I sprang up with my hammer at the ready to charge the dragon when the wind caught me and almost flung my flat on my face. Luckily, my low center of gravity allowed me to catch myself but the racket I made alerted the dragon to my presence. As the dragon turned to face me, I could see that she had already taken quite a few serious wounds. My new companions had only been up on the roof a few seconds before I got there, but it seemed as if they were quite a force to be reckoned with. I closed with the dragon and landed a crushing blow on her wing, staggering her almost off of the train. Keras charged in with is gouge, followed closely by Odelle. As their blows landed the dragon suddenly trumpted in pain, the force of which threw the three of us back away from the dragon. I was able to catch myself before I fell off the train, but just barely. As I stood back up, I found my gaze captured by the dragon’s and I suddenly felt her in my mind. I had experienced this before and I knew not to resist wildly.

Part of my training had taught me how to deal with having someone else dominate my mind. For most people, their first reaction is to frantically push at the creature. The key to escaping is to relax, let your mind loosen and wait for your chance to strike. I felt the dragon move me towards Keras, then saw him glance behind and see me. I wanted to warn him, but I knew it was not time to make my move yet. Keras swung at the dragon again, trusting me to move up and guard his left side. His attack was so ferocious that it knocked the dragon prone. Her rage at being handled so flooded my mind and I felt her ready an attack through me. I planted my feet, gripped my hammer, and swung. The impact rocked Keras and dropped him to his knees. My heart ached at the thought of what I had just done, but I knew that Keras would benefit more from me being my in control of myself again more than if I had managed to pull that last hit. The dragon, having seen me give in so completely to her control, turned to my companions and let out a mighty roar. The physical blast was accompanied by a blast of psionic energy. The physical blast pushed them back towards the edge and I saw Francis tumble back over the edge. Both Keras and Odelle were felled by the psionic attack and were tossed limply back by the attack. My other companions seemed stunned by the attack and I watched in horror as the dragon began to draw in a mighty breath to blow the others off of the train car.

I felt the train suddenly begin to slow as the brakes engage and I glanced back to see Cora come bounding off the top of the ladder and land on the roof of the car. Awnya, the only person seemingly unfazed by the attack raised her hand and unleashed a mighty cascade of light. The dragon, caught off guard by the sudden searing blast reared back and I felt her hold on my mind weaken for a second. Feeling my chance, I grabbed onto her mind and thrust it away from me. She reflexively pulled her awareness back into her mind but did not seem to realize that I had not let go. I drove a spike of psychic energy deep into her mind as I drove my battle standard of healing into the ground at my feet. Summoning my will, I felt a surge of healing energy flow through me. Both Keras and Odelle suddenly stirred on the ground as they were pulled back from the brink of death. The dragon had already begun to roar at my companions again and did not realize that doing so would kill her. As she began to sweep her head from right to left across my companions, she crumpled to the top of the train car as my psychic spike finally pierced the inner recesses of her mind and seperated her soul from her body.

I saw a hand slap onto the top of the train car behind my companions and then Francis pulled himself up. “My dear, that wash brutal.”

Cora walked up behind me, right hand resting gently on her dagger. “I stopped the train before we fell off the bridge, but it looks like I missed all the fun.”

Ronan, having recovered from the dragon’s last attack, glanced back the way we had just come. “It looks like the fun is just beginning. I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly happy with these orcs right now. I’ve got a bag full of shot and enough range between us to make them regret letting us get this far ahead.”

The other members of the party moved forward and began tightening armor and checking straps. Awnya moved among us, whispering quiet prayers to her deity, as she healed us. I pulled my battle standard out of the ground and moved to join my new found friends. I clapped Keras on the shoulder and he just gave me a rueful grin, “Where did you learn to hit that hard?”

Ahead of us, a party of orcs swarmed over the two cars we had detached. It was time to go put an end to this.

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Cleaning up the mess of others
A metal coffin hurtling towards certain doom ... with a dragon on top. No problem.

Ronan, after checking the windows again, pulled Francis aside and I heard him begin what sounded like a detailed report of what he had observed outside. I stepped forward and raised my voice, “I think we can all assume that this attack is not yet over. There is something in this train that those orcs were after and they were willing to kill us to get to it. I don’t know what they are after or why, but I am not inclined to let them have it.”

Nodding his head, Ronan stepped forward and, for the first time, spoke. “So we have a choice to go to the baggage car or head towards the engine through the first class car, or hang out in our burning car… A couple of us could get to the roof to scout either way … maybe hit a motor cyclist or two… or we could just make a choice… We know that the first class car has a lot of moneyed people, and some pretty powerful dudes… If they are dead, we can relieve them of their gear… if they are in on the attack, we will have our hands full…”

He paced as he talked and had reached the other side of the car by this time. With a sharp spin to face us again, he continued, “On the other hand, there could be some nice valuables in the baggage car, and maybe any guards have been done away with… easy pickings? I am not sure if we can stop them from disabling the engine at this point, maybe it would be safer to be in the back of the train for bailing purposes, especially if the engine explodes. We could also disengage the baggage cart and coast off with the valuables in it… though most of it is probably raw material…”

His strange pauses made listening to him a bit difficult at times, but he had obviously experienced combat in the past and I felt his understanding of the situation could be vital.

“This attack,” he concluded, “is probably connected to the one that made the train we were supposed to catch ‘break down’. This would suggest an outside group probably doing raids on all the local trains… this probably means that they have large numbers to be able to do at least two such attacks on the same day. If we are left out in the middle of nowhere, we could be in big trouble… I want to go up on the roof and see if I can pick off a few bikers before the Engine is compromised… what do you say?”

I nodded my head, but waved Ronan back from the window as I addressed the group, “If they manage to stop the train, we’re in trouble. They’ll be able to keep throwing people our way until they overwhelm us. Our best bet is to get to the engine and make sure nothing bad happens to it. If we have to wade through the nobles’ guards to do it, so be it. I will not let their arrogance endanger my companion or myself. My companion and I can make it to the engine by ourselves, there is no reason for the rest of you to imperil yourselves.”

Keras, arriving at my side, leaned over and rumbled in my ear, “Vend, the Turnings.”

I bowed my head, “Of course, Keras. Thank you.” With a deep sigh, I turned to the elf. “I’m sorry to ask you this, but my friend here has just reminded me of the riders who were hurling fire pots into the train. If you are willing, we could use someone up top to pick off any extra riders who appear. It would be better if we had two people up top, one at the front of the train and one at the rear, but I’m not sure if we have anyone else capable of taking care of that. I hate to leave the cargo car unguarded, but I think our priority needs to be the engine. The rest of you can wait here while Keras and I clear the first passenger car. Once we have secured the area, you can move forward and make yourselves more secure in the stronger car while Keras and I move on to the engine. We will defend the engine and ensure that we make it our destination.”

Francis chuckled from the back of the group. The rest of the adventurers looked at each other and then, without a word being spoken, began to ready their weapons. I shook my head and began to move towards the front of the car. Ronan walked by Keras and reached up to tap him on the shoulder, “Can you give me a boost out the window? I’m going to head up to the roof.” Keras peeled off from the group to follow Ronan to the window. As I neared the front of the car, I leaned my head out the window to look forward for any other riders who might be nearing the engine. A sudden movement from the top of the next train car caught my eye and the fleeting image of a tail was left burned in my mind. As I jerked my head back into the car to tell the others what I had seen, Cora was pulling her head back in from the window across from me, her eyes wide. All it took was the word “tail” and she nodded her head frantically. We turned to tell the rest of the group what we saw when Odelle came running up from the back of the car, “There is a huge train behind us. It looks like it is going to eat this train.”

As everyone stared at her, Cora said, “There is a huge creature on the top of the next train car that looks like it could eat us.”

I looked at Keras and he simply nodded. “Where force is necessary, one should make use of it boldly, resolutely, and right to the end. We are now a part of this and I doubt they will let us walk away. If that massive train behind us is able to somehow connect to this train, we are going to want to be as far from it as possible. I say we move towards the engine and, having secured the next car, disconnect the rear two cars. It’s possible the collision could derail the train behind us. If nothing else, it will slow them down and speed us up.”

Francis stepped forward, “Shpeeding up might not be the besht option, lad. If I’m right about where we are, and I’m alwaysh right, there be a rather large bridge ahead. If they have taken that bridge out, we are merely rushing to our death.”

Placing his arquebus against the wall of the train, Ronan turned back to the group. “Whether or not the bridge is out, getting rid of the back two cars will help us. We can either speed up if the bridge is intact or slow down faster if it is not. Regardless, we need to clear the train ahead of us and reach the engine.”

His words met with general approval and so, as Keras boosted Ronan up to the roof, the rest of us stacked up outside the forward door. Bracing myself, I threw open the door, not sure whether I would find nobles lounging around drinking fine brandy or laying on the floor dead. In the dim light of the cabin, I saw my answer.

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A Beginning in Blood, part 2

The train finally arrived. It did not have the sleek and polished look of a passenger train, but people were boarding and so Keras and I followed Hughbert and his companions into the car. I ended up sitting across from the halfling and her friend. They spent the first hour or so whispering to each other and giggling, as though they were old friends catching up on their lives. When their conversation lapsed into a comfortable silence, I leaned forward and struck up a conversation with the halfling across from me. She introduced herself as Cora Tealeaf and her companion as Odelle. We exchanged pleasantries and passed the time easily telling amusing stories about our travels. Cora seemed to have an abundance of energy, a trait that I had noticed on the several occasions in which I ran into halflings. One thing I had not noticed the other times, however, was the large number of knives that flashed their subtle warning as she shifted around in her seat.

After talking for a while, she excused herself and approached Francis and his companions. After a cheerful hello, she leaned in close to Ronan and whispered a quiet question into his ear. He showed no surprise at her actions, but just leaned back slightly and shook his head. Cora cocked her head at him and then wandered back to her seat. She looked thoughtful, so I gave her a few minutes to think. I heard the latches from Ronan’s guitar case open behind me but my gaze was drawn to Cora as she glanced at the noise. With a slight widening of her eyes, she leaned back in her seat and a smile flitted across her face. I turned to look at whatever she had seen, but Ronan seemed to be sleeping, sitting with his enormous guitar case across his lap. When I asked Cora what she had seen, she just shook her head, as though in imitation of Ronan a few minutes earlier, and said that she never forgets a face.

Our conversation drained with the light as the sun set over the southern horizon. People began arranging bags, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep. The train was so late in leaving that we would not reach our destination until the following morning. I was about to arrange my bedroll behind my head when I realized that Keras had taken the second watch the night before and could probably do with some sleep sooner rather than later. I tossed my bedroll to him and told him that I’d take the first watch. With a grateful nod, he carefully placed his head against the wall and was soon breathing deeply from the vapors of saalis unistused. I noticed that Cora seemed to be staying awake while her companion slept. A quick glance at Francis and his companions showed that Ronan, the guitarist, seemed to be standing watching for his group. It was not an unusual occurence to run into another martial group on the road, but to run into two such groups was a bit odd. It seemed to take the parents around us quite some time to quiet their children down, but the train car was finally filled only with the noise of the engine ahead of us, the wind whipping by us, the track beneath us, and the soft breathing of the sleeping people around us.

I have no excuse for what happened next. I do not think that I could have dozed off, but I was obviously not as aware as I should have been. The Raskema Koorma tells us that “nothing is in the understanding, which was not first perceived by some of the senses”. My senses had not perceived their coming, so I did not understand the sudden eruption of fire and the shattering of windows. I jerked upright in my seat, seemingly as surprised as both Cora and Ronan. As the initial blast of fire died down, I noticed three shapes, weapons drawn at both ends of the car. In order for me to see them, my eyes had to travel past the bodies of the men, women, and children who had lost their lives in the sudden explosion of fire. With a shout of rage, I sprung from my seat and closed on the three figures at the back of the car before they had time to act. It only took a few seconds for me to reach them, but in that time I heard two incredibly loud reports and glanced back to see that Ronan had produced what seemed to be an enormous arquebus from somewhere. He was firing towards the figures at the front of the car, so I focused my attention on the three in front of me. I did not think Ronan would be a threat if he was firing at the orcs, but I knew that I could not defend against the orcs and him at the same time. Putting that thought aside, I focused my mind on the three orcs ahead of me. My first swing crushed the helm, and the skull within it, of an orc holding a fire pot. His two friends, suddenly finding themselves facing armed resistance in a car of unarmed civilians, drew their swords and began to swing at me.

Behind me, I heard the sound of combat. While facing the two remaining orcs, I could only take occasional glances behind me. Ronan had set the stock his enormous rifle against a window frame and was firing shot after shot with mechanical precision out of the window. Cora was darting and tumbling through the shadows, a wicked dagger clutched in her hands. Odelle had drawn her mace and her enemies seemed to be staggering back from her before her blows even landed. The cloaked woman who was travelling with Francis had stood and beams of blinding light were leaping forth from her hands to claw at the orcs, her inhumanly beautiful face visible each instance that her divine will was manifest. Francis had taken a stand in the middle of the car and was deftly weaving magic that culminated in a shattering explosion of color outside the train car. Keras, for some reason, seemed inordinately terrified of the small fires that dotted the train car. I was able to keep both orcs pinned in place at the back of the train car and was slowly wearing them down. As the sound of combat started to wind down behind me, I yelled over my shoulder, “Keras, kasvada paari munandit .”

Almost before I had a chance to process the thunder of hooves, Keras charged past me and slammed into one of the orcs. For those who have never seen a minotaur barbarian charging, I suggest you keep it that way. When an animal charges another animal, they are typically just trying to injure or scare the other animal away. Keras, with all of his martial training, hit the orc so hard that his limp body shattered against the back wall of the train car, cracking the thick wooden beams of the car and showering us with a rain of viscera. The orc in front of me froze and stared in horror at what had just happened. It was then that I made my second mistake of the night. I paused to stare in wonder at the stunning display of power I had just witnessed. The orc left me a perfect opening, but I could not swing my hammer because I was staring at the shattered remains of Keras’ last target. The remaining orc recovered and redoubled his efforts, but it was no use. Seven against one are brutal odds even for a Dwarfen battlemind, but they were far too much for the lone orc. After his body, his life draining from hammer blows, gouges, and several large round shot holes, collapsed onto the floor of the train, I turned to begin putting out the fires.

As I used my cloak to smother the fires, I noticed Awnya, Cora, and Odelle checking over the bodies, searching for survivors. Francis and Ronan had their heads out the windows on either side of the train, scanning for more orcs. Keras and I managed to put out the rest of the fires and found everyone gathered around a young child that Cora had found. Awnya looked up and saw several small trickles of blood leaking through my armor. Shaking her head, she waved her hand and uttered a twisting word of pure light. My head suddenly cleared and my soreness disappeared. I found myself seriously considering taking Francis up on his offer to travel with him and his companions for a while. I have always enjoyed travelling with a cleric, they make the aftereffects of battle so much less painful.

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A Beginning in Blood
Through forces vast and unseen, fate brings together seven travellers on a simple station platform.

Don’t listen to what they say. Go see. It was these words that sent me on my way, accompanied through hardship by my faithful companion Keras, a brother to me in all but blood. After months of travelling to speak with various factions, we found ourselves in Harinway, waiting to board a train bound for Kalm. Keras and I spent several hours at the station waiting for the train to arrive, a phenomenon that is much less rare than it should be in these lands. I recited parts of the Raskema Koorma to keep my mind focused while Keras sat slowly sharpening his gouge. Even though he seemed to be focused on the task at hand, I could tell that his mind was wandering the passages of his Kardias, looking for weaknesses. As the platform began to fill up, I noticed that our area seemed to attract an odd collection of travellers. A halfling and a half-elf sat on a bench nearby and chatted with each other. A group of three travellers were under the awning, talking quietly. One of them, a rather pale looking elf, gently strummed a guitar and hummed a tune while his companions, an older man and a hooded figure, spoke softly.

I noticed that Keras had paused in his sharpening and seemed to be focusing intently on the ground before him. “A King is not the noblest person in his country, he is the noblest of the servants. For if a King is not willing to work for his kingdom, to craft for his kingdom, to fight for his kingdom, and if the need arises, to die for his kingdom, how can he ask any of his people to do otherwise?” Keras shook his head and resumed sharpening his gouge without looking up at me. “Why,” he asked, “do you always pick that passage to disturb my thinking?”

I sat back and smiled, taking a moment to enjoy the peace on the platform. After a slow moment, I finally spoke, “Because it always gets your attention. If I recite a new portion of the text, you sink deeper into yourself to think about it. How can you expect to nurture your Kardias by being in the world if your mind is not in the world as well.”

Keras snorted, “Hmm, I suppose. Luckily your mind is always out in the world, I’m just waiting for it to find something worth paying attention to.” A few passes with the whetstone later, Keras spoke softly, “That passage always pulls me back to the present because of the repetition, it’s like walking down a path only to find yourself back at the beginning of the same path that this time leads somewhere else.”

As Keras finished talking, the halfling walked by us and approached the massive station master. In a very clear voice, she asked what the delay was and was told that the train we were waiting for had broken down but that another train was coming from the mountains to pick us up. I considering going to ask the station master how long the wait would be, but it seemed that he was quite disturbed over the whole affair. I had been keeping an eye on a large pavilion set up on one end of the platform and, after having seen a nobleman flash his ring to gain admittance, decided that perhaps Keras and I could get out of the sun and procure some meat and maybe even a fine Dwarfish wine.

I tapped Keras with my elbow and stood up. I slid off my left gauntlet so that I could produce my ring when asked. I felt Keras take his place at my right shoulder as I approached the tent. Even though the guards outside were well outfitted, the tension in their faces ratcheted up a notch as the minotaur loomed over my shoulder. I flashed my ring and the guard took a few seconds to puzzle out what he was seeing. Apparently these guards had not had the priviledge of being in the presence of Dwarfen nobility. The guard on the right finally gave a slight bow and apologized, not convincingly, for not recognizing me. “Do you have your first class ticket,” he asked? Of course there would be some sort of monetary level required to get in the tent. “I seem to have misplaced it,” I said incling my head towards the tent. He was not impressed and informed me that I could always buy one from the station master for 1000 pieces of gold. I managed not to let my mouth fall open at such an absurd sum. It seemed almost as though some external force was trying to set the ticket prices at some arbitrarly large number to keep me out. I must have stared at him for too long because he finally gestured towards the giant station master. As I turned and began to walk away, I found myself facing a nobleman approaching the tent. He smirked at me, dismissing me as someone barely worthy of notice for not being as moneyed as he. Without thinking, I stuck my foot out as we passed and I heard him stumble behind me. I slowed down, praying he would challenge me to a duel. After a few more steps, I realized that he must have assumed that he just tripped on his own. Keras leaned over slightly, “That was not becoming of a lord of your stature. Does your book have something to say about that?”

“It does,” I conceded. “It also says that a wise man will ponder every possible ramification before opening his mouth.” Keras chuckled as we returned to our seats, “So instead of pondering every possible ramification and then opening your mouth, you stuck your foot out?”

Before I could respond, I saw the halfling walk by us again, this time heading for the cargo minders at the other end of the platform. They moved as though they wore weapons and knew how to use them. I didn’t think she would get in any trouble, but I made sure that my hammer was free at my side. She talked with them for a few minutes, seeming to win her way easily into their good graces, before returning to sit by her friend again. They spoke quietly, too quietly for my ears.

As I strained to hear what they were saying, I was approached by the older gentleman from under the awning. “Good day,” he said. I stood up and gave a slight bow, “Good day to you as well.” We struck up a conversation and eventually even managed to draw Keras into it for a bit. The older gentleman, Francis Hughbert, was travelling with a woman in a cloak named Awnya and the guitar playing Ronan.

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