Logane stood at the narrow counter looking out over the crowd as his hands shined his shield of their own accord. The place was a brewery with its large brass kettle and huge wooden fermenting tanks dominating the large open space. A wall of hay bales separated the works from the sales but the smell of yeast and fermentation pervaded everything. Logane and his friends were headed to the Worldwound by way of Mendev. There was important work to be done there, by Sarenrae; purification that needed to occur. That was Logane’s reason for going. That was Logane’s reason for existing which is why he didn’t join his friends in their particular kinds of escape from what was to come in the near future.
Logane’s compatriots were elsewhere in the room enjoying either the draft or the some of the locals present. Selran and Evithyan were combining their talents to amuse the crowd to generate funds for the trip and ladies for amusement. Selran Silverbough could not be missed in his brightly colored clothes and multicolored robe. The sparkles and colored lights that danced about him had even turned the young man’s white-blonde multicolored as well. The glamours spun and danced while Evithyan in his rich city garb perched on the wall of hay playing his flute. The silver flute looked like a tree of bright silver that reflected the colors around where gold ivy did not climb up its trunk. The elf’s music was already having an effect on the room. The crowd seemed taken with the bard as much for his playing as for his handsome features framed by his deep golden hair and gold-brown eyes. The hay itself had begun to grow greener with the happy tune. They could have fun anywhere, Logane thought in the part of his mind that he kept aware when he was focusing like this. Indeed, he sighed as he moved to a different part of the room, they should. People always remarked that holy warriors had no fear, that they knew no doubt. Logane knew that it wasn’t as simple as that, fear and doubt he had just like everyone else but not towards the things that most took for granted. He had faced off against demonic possession in Absolom, Chelish devil-servants, abominations created by arcanists in Osirion and cultists when he was only 14 years old in his home town. He hadn’t been afraid of those things, those moments. They had been clear and calm moments and in time he had burned them all. His mother had told him about the Dawnflower every night before bed. Every night before some of the dark things had come for her and left him alone except for the Dawnflower words in his head, her mandate in his heart. That was where he felt the fear, the fear of letting Sarenrae down, of not burning the rot and corruption of the cruel, the evil, and the inhuman out of the world. He never had doubts when there was work to be done only when he thought about it later, when he examined the costs or the sacrifices. There were beginning to be too many doubts so he suggested the Worldwound to his fellows. He knew that he would find nothing there but what he brought with him, the goddess’ sweet purifying flames. Selran would find risk and glory and Evithyan would find whatever it was that the elf was looking for. Logane had never discovered what that was and suspected that it changed with Evithyan’s mood.
That left only Turigar and Logane knew exactly what he was looking for in this tainted world, revenge. Orcs had taken everything from him. They had left his village a smoldering ruin and within those ashes had gone Turigar’s wife and child, his entire life, so the blacksmith had gathered his families remains and buried them except for a finger bone from each that he kept in a pouch around his neck and taken up his last forged longsword to become the Orc Hammerer. Humanoids saw no mercy from the Orc Hammerer and Turigar had cleansed whole villages of the filth. He went to the Worldwound to mete out yet more revenge and that was fine with Logane. Unfortunately these small towns offered little to pleasure Turigar but strong drink.
Logane shifted his gaze over each person in the brewery. There were a number of patrons but few had a tainted soul. The loud drunk braggart near Selran shimmered with such intense chaos that were it not for the man’s greatsword and holy symbol to Gorum Logane would have dispatched him already. It was difficult as common folk rarely possessed enough taint to discern but it was often there and Logane has found many men and women who had served evil who did not invoke recognition by his Goddess’ gift. In time they slipped up and burned as well.
It was when Logane had felt that he could sit back and eat some of his rations when the creatures had boiled out of the work area behind the bales. Kobolds, twenty at least and the innkeeper talked with them without a care in the world. Logane watched carefully and didn’t need to Read them to know that virmin such as these were a danger. Logane stood and drew his scimitar as he began striding towards the filth. He was so intent that he did not hear the brewery door open allowing more patrons into the bar rather it was the roaring voice of Turigar that pulled his attention towards that direction. The warrior had grabbed his longsword off the counter and pointed it at a beefy and barbaric female half-breed in some sort of homespun uniform and armor.
Turigar the Orc Hammerer launched himself at the female and she, in her turn, shifted her stance to ready for the attack. The Gorumite also seemed, unsurprisingly, ready for a fight but then, Logane thought with a smirk, Gorumites always were. Logane turned towards the kobolds and pronounced judgement upon them as his fire erupted from his hand and bathed his scimitar and off-hand in divine fire that seethed out his skin.
“Let the Flame of Purification cleanse thee all, vermin!” he shouted even as chair and sword clashed behind him. He knew that Selran and Evithyan would have his back, they always had. As his left hand erupted in fire and engulfed a kobold Logane felt the passion of Sarenrae swell within him and every doubt and fear slipped away replaced only with the purpose and love that came with Her purifying flame.
The smell of soot and fermenting beer overwhelmed the senses of Warden Akiros Ismort, Lucian Brewer, Marshal Slade, and Sammet the Smith, making the gentlemen cough randomly. Around the men were the ruins of The Drunken Stag. Half the brewery was completely burned out and the rest lay in a large pool of beer and water. Scattered among the fallen beams and broken furniture lay bodies covered in blankets, two of the four fermenting tanks were mostly burned ash and the huge brass kettle was damaged from fire and the impact of fallen support beams. The four men stood in the center of The Drunken Stag away from the hot spots that still smoked and were being dumped upon with water carted up from nearby wells. Lucian looked in despair at the state of his Stag oblivious to the crowds of onlookers and the small groups gathered next to the devastation surrounded by city guards and the Warden’s men.
“Lucian, I can repair the kettle.” Sammet said quietly placing his calloused hand gently upon his friend’s shoulder. “The two tanks are lost but they can be replaced but the kettle couldn’t be but, Caylean be praised, I know that I can repair it, Lucian.”
The distraught brewer walked away from the Warden and Marshal lead by his friend to the safer parts of the brewery to gather necessities from his office and quarters before staying at the smith’s home. Warden Ismort was livid with rage and deathly quiet. He kept glancing over at the four adventurers huddled together talking quietly to each other watched by his guards.
“Slade, by the hells, I will see that group of miscreants hung for this!”
Slade frowned at the company and then looked over at Korrah still being tended to by Corbin.
“You’re not alone in that sentiment. However, that being said there are a large number of people standing around who are waiting to see how we’ll handle this situation so let’s do it as leaders,” Slade gave Akiros a look out of the corner of his eye, “and not lose control of ourselves. Think of where you are going to securely hold these men after I have a talk with them.”
Slade began to walk towards them slowly. He was composing his thoughts but he was also opening his awareness to the ebb and flow of ethics and morality that he was keenly sensitive to. Most of the populace around him registered as nothing more than figurative whispers but he could feel the swelling of unsavory intent that rolled out of the crowd and out of Akiros to a much more pronounced degree, and he became more than aware of Corbin’s substantial chaotic presence which is when Slade’s mind and intuition stopped him dead in his tracks. With a dwarven swear spat from his lips Slade launched a hunk of the collapsed brewery through the elven minstrel who had been playing a soft tune while his friends had talked closely beneath the obscuring music. The guard Prog swung around from where he had been glaring at the captives who ignored him and gave the Marshal a quizzical look but it was the Warden whose roar startled the crowd near him enough that they shuffled away from him and drew the attention of the General from his wife.
“Abadar burn their hides, those E’chuta gob drek!” Slade rarely swore, much less in dwarven but the few in the crowd who understood him were stunned.
“AAAAARRGH! FIND THEM! FUCKING FIND THEM NOW!!!! FIND THEM AND PUT THEM IN CHAINS AND GAGS BEFORE I RIP THEM IN FUCKING PIECES! MOVE OR I GUT YOU INSTEAD YOU FUCKING BLIND WORTHLESS BASTARDS!!”
Akiros dashed forward pulling his sword from his scabbard with such a fury that Prog and Matt fell over themselves getting out of the enraged Warden’s path and watched as he drove the blade through the brightly dressed dandy’s head causing his friends and he to fade away like wet paint in the rain until the illusion simply dissipated. Needless to say the sudden explosion of activity in Meereover washed through every rented room and sable and ultimately out the onto the roads and through the fishing boats of the piers.
In time the search was called off when it was revealed from rumors in Olegton and Rickety Bridge that the fleeing adventurers had slipped away into the forest and headed out to Mendev across the plains on the other side. Bounties and wanted posters were posted and Akiros Ismort was convinced to not gut guards when his fury had run its course.
Meanwhile at the end of the month, as the winds started to shift and turned the northern plains beyond Grassedge into a stormy sea of new green growth the village was filled with new activity. In the center of the village stood more hives than Mark could count and the general store was so packed with spring supplies that patrons couldn’t pass each other in the narrow passages. Now eleven, the dark haired boy with tanned skin and light blue eyes sat upon the thatching of the Windy Sheaves’ barn and watched the setting sun and rolling grass of the Numerian Plains.
He wasn’t just a boy anymore really. Once the Company of Masks had been destroyed by the nobles of Narlmarch the Windy Sheaves had no one to run her so Fellis, who had once been a whore and wench, and himself, the stable boy orphan, had taken charge. It had been nice. Many regarded them as heroes after they helped fight off the Masks and their Empty Men. Fellis had tried to be something like a mother to him and for a while it had been fun to pretend but Fellis didn’t know what motherhood was supposed to be like and when a man has fought off undead horrors and nightmare situations like Mark had; well one just didn’t go back to being a boy anymore. Fellis soon was making a bit extra again with the odd male guest so she ran the inn and Mark moved back out to the barn and kept the books. If people believed that she kept the business going and owned the inn all the better. Mark had hired a local woman to clean and cook and the inn was becoming successful again.
It wasn’t too bad overall. Egrin Farmer from down the west road a ways had taken over the William farm with its ancient tower and rumors of haunts and added it to his own lands. The man had come to meet the boy a few weeks after those terrible nights to share tales of helping the heroes and facing the horrors, of sleepless night and accepting that even brave men like themselves could cry from the nightmares over a beer or two. Now Mark ate dinner with Egrin’s family at least twice a week. He was a good man and Mark liked and respected him a great deal but, again, he was his own man now with a home and a business. Besides, Mark had already had a father once and that was not an experience he wished to repeat again. Instead he had another true friend and confidant along with the warrior Estophus who stopped by from time to time in his travels and botanical (whatever that meant) investigations to stay at the inn. It was from him that Mark had learned to read and write and do his sums and for that Mark gave him a free room whenever he wanted.
Mark also had new responsibilities. A serious and foreign woman named Zhang had visited him one night and talked with the eleven year old. Mark had tried to convince the woman to let him kiss her for she was far prettier than Fellis and obviously not a whore but she had kindly and respectfully refused. Rather she had offered Mark a chance to continue to help the Baron by being one of her Flock, a secret watcher and informer. Mark had given it very serious thought and agreed. He was a veteran and understood the need for secrecy, the value of lies when it was important. She had kissed him then on the cheek. It hadn’t been on the lips like he’d seen Egrin do with his wife but truth be told Mistress Zhang was far prettier than any of the women in Grassedge and Mark was sure that none of the other men there had ever been kissed by a woman half as special as she.
So Mark sat on his barn and looked out on his world. Beneath him he could hear the cage of ravens croaking and whispering to each other in the hayloft as they waited for him to come pet and feed him or give them a treat and release them for the flight back to Meereover. This was his inn and his village, he thought, to watch over and protect. Mark was sure that when he was even older, like twelve or thirteen, he could be mayor of the village. He would have to ask Egrin about that. Until then he would watch out for his neighbors, his inn and the expanse of grass that shimmered in fading sunlight and growing shadows that lead to barbarian tribes, skymetal cities, demon armies, elven forest kingdoms and all the other wondrous subjects of the tales that Estophus told him about. Watch, grow taller and maybe sprout a beard so that, one day, he could maybe get a Lady Zhang to give him an honest kiss.
The boy laughed out loud at the thought of that on the roof of his own barn in the town that he helped save in a kingdom that he was now secretly guarding under a sky that filled with Desna’s starry cloak as Pharast came to an end. As far as Mark could imagine it couldn’t be better even if he had ended up a pirate riding the Sodden Sea or a great soldier-sorcerer living in Absolom like he had dreamed when he had been a terrified, sad, hurt little boy so long ago.