Sometimes you have to die good to live well.
Pip Pimpernal was enjoying himself immensely so he put a stop to that. First he triple tightened his loin cloth then out came the scourge and soon salty red tears were rolling onto the floor. Even so he felt pride, extra hard whack for that, after all he had come a long way. Here he was on a human ship heading to a human city; he could not believe it. Soon he would spread the word of his god to these odd beings, enriching their lives as it had his. Nautica had ensured he had a handsome stateroom despite his protests. She knew he would have to atone for it and yet she went right ahead anyway, Pip was beginning to believe it was some kind of joke. This thought pleased him, whack, as it was just one more injustice to bear stoically. He was glad to be off the island, he brethren were far too frivolous and flighty. Oh they listened to his sermons but they were always high on mold and never remembered what yesterday’s subject had been. Sadly the humans were little better, they were drunk all the time or extremely rude. Only the captain indulged him and he knew the man was just humoring him. Like most whose lives were tied to the waves he only had room for one deity and she was a mighty one. But once on land things would change, there was a whole world of beings waiting to hear the word.
Well today was very vexing for pip, after the crew found out he disposed of ALL alcohol on board that is. After advising them it was for their own good the crew lost it. It was all the captain could do just to get Pip stuffed in a sack and throw into a life raft. Pip considered this just his lot after all but it delayed his spreading the word and that was bothersome. After escaping the sack he tried his best to navigate and promptly ended up utterly lost. Pip wished he had listened to anything Nautica said instead of just retorting “God will provide!” He was lost, hungry and worst of all he could not punish himself for feeling this way. They had taken everything he had, which was very little. He only wished they had left his scourge. The only thing left was the amulet given to Pip as a parting gift by Nautica. It bore the sign of her mother and so no sailor, no matter how insane, would dare touch it. In fact the captain had tried to claim Pip was a devotee of the Goddess, but Pip had to set them straight. As the sun set the sea came alight with refracted rays of scintillating color. Burning orange, haughty red and regal purple surrounded Pip as though he was adrift on a rainbow, truly the Blazing Ocean deserved its’ name. As the gathering twilight consumed him he could just make out the lights of a distant shore. Hopefully with the morning he would be close enough to shore to fly for it.
Pip was strolling along a rocky beach; all about him were strange tangled tree and hanging vegetation. He used a bit of driftwood to beat the sin out of him as he went. Pip had no idea how to tell what direction he was going or what land he was in. He could not see any settlements on his scouting flights, and after nearly becoming lunch for a giant salamander he decided flying low was best. Finally Pip realized the beach was too easy a path to travel and so he set out into the swamp.
After a day’s journey the stinking fens and bogs were behind them, sucking mire turning to damp earth. They could see the battlements of the keep in the distance and what Zad saw disturbed him greatly. “I see guards on the walls and there are Pigapes constructing fortifications. Dame Von Nostrum what do you make of this?” “We have rivals it would seems, tell me do they fly a banner?” asked Olga. “They fly no flags but some of the better armored guards have a black griffin, or possibly hippogriff, on a red field emblazoned on their shields.” Olga said nothing in reply, her mouth moved but no words came. “Lady? Does this mean anything to you?” “Yes,” she answered finally, “It is the symbol of Wartooth.” Dozens of frantic questions inundated Olga in pandemonium. “Enough!” She yelled silencing them. “We must return to Mournguard and warn the garrison there. Wartooth will surly have scouts so we must move with all haste. We need to find some solid ground so we can reassemble the wagons.” “Why do we need wagons? Asked Rahg. “It will take us eight days by raft but only three by wagon.” “Well your right there but that’s only if we were going through the Bleakwood and thats…” Rahg’s voice died as he saw the look in her eyes. Olga, Zad, Rahg and the scouts worked hard and fasts, trying to finish the wagon as fast as possible. Olga decided that they would only need one wagon and the rest should be left behind. They would set fire to the remaining rafts and supplies so the enemy could not make use of them. Hurdy like always was forbidden from helping, so he wondered the perimeter. A he gazed into a stagnant pool he was amazed to see something staring back. Hurdy smiled, readied his clubs and braced himself for the fun.
Pip felt better then ever because he knew God loved him. He knew this because of the numerous horrors and hardships he had faced. He had been chased countless times, almost netted five times, hit with rocks about twenty times, absentmindedly terrorized by giant land squid three times and finally shot with an arrow that he suspected was poisoned. He suspected this due to his lack of arms, the melting vegetation and kaleidoscopic swamp muck. He knew God loved him or else why would he tremble so but in awe of the lord?
His training was working, as four bursts of white sticky stuff shoot from the pool Hurdy ducks and rolls to the left. Rocks and bushes are netted by the strands then yanked into the pool. The water frothed and churned for a moment and then raged forth. Eight-legged muck-brown crabs, about five feet across with two-foot long serrated pinchers, emerged at a skittering charge. Hurdy smiled and thought four crabs this big would be good eating. The critters rush forth but Hurdy leaps aside, turning left as he does and brings his clubs down hard. Hangnail rips the left claw off the nearest one before KaThumpa splinters its’ shell. Greenblack goo gushes from the beast as its’ eyes pop, franticly pinching at nothing. They lumber at him, circling and snipping but never reaching him. Then Hurdy realizes in he glee he lost track of one, it makes its’ presence known. Brutal claws pinch his ribs as he feels the beast’s fangs slip between his mail. Bone shaking pain floods his body as he fights the seeping dread in his blood. Unnatural sweat flows from his pores as Hurdy fights the evil venom. He slams his elbows down; dislodging the claws but ripping out some of his own flesh. The added pain fuels his savage attack as Hangnail sends the offending crabs shell cascading across the swamp. He brings KaThumpa around and bats the shattered husk crashing through a nearby tree. One crab snares his left leg in webbing as the other snatches his right arm in its’ pinchers. Its grip is deadly tight and tears flesh with ease but to hold Hurdy it has to stay still.Even the dumb crab knows it made a big mistake as Hurdy brings KaThumpa down over and over on what once was its’ face. The now limp claw falls away as he whips his left leg back hard. The beast attached sails through the air to connect with a savage kick sending it crashing away only to catch on its’ own webbing. Hurdy repeats his action tugging the crab to kick it out to the end of the web tether over and over, very much like a toy he played with in his youth. After several minutes of this game Hurdy crushes the spasming thing into a smear on the marsh. After tasting the meat, retching repeatedly, he decided the whole thing was a waste of time. He kicked the corpses a few times just to show them how displeased he was, then trudged back to the others.
Rahg was uneasy; he did not like the woods. Their first day had been uneventful but the gnarled trees with their leathery black leaves seemed to choke the light from the sky. Nothing lived in this land of eternal shadow save the trees, their warped bark seemed to writhe and ungulate. That night as he secured the perimeter an odd haunting voice rose and fell seemingly from all about them. Rahg did not recognize the tongue if it was it fact speaking, it sounded more like the drunken song of a child. Then he saw it, a ghostly glittering form flitting between trees. The apparition was only a foot tall and looked like a small elven baby. He watched in horror as the dancing infant giggled and began waddling toward him. For once in his life Rahg was scared and he showed it. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIHHHHH!!!”
Everyone was armed and waiting as Rahg burst into camp, “Damn it man get it together, how many are they, what armaments?” Olga demanded. Rahg stared back into the darkness fearfully, “I saw a ghost.” was all he said. The others looked shocked and fearful as Olga asked, “are you sure?” “It was a damn wee elf baby running and singing at me.” They just stared at him, “look it was startling ok?” he moaned. “Besides even if it was a baby it’s a ghost now so I think my reaction was perfectly rational.” This got more looks but Olga simple said, “ready yourselves for battle.” They sat around the burning fire, backs to the blaze, eyes to the woods. Zad was the first to hear it a haunting lullaby in an unknown language. “I do not believe it is speaking elvin” “what makes you say that? Said Rahg defensively. “Because I am an Elf!” “Well there are lots of different elves you know” “Really I was unaware of that,” replied Zad sarcastically. Olga silenced them at this point; she heard the sound now. It drifted about in ranges no human could reach; she could understand Rahg’s misgivings. “If it is a ghost I do not think we can harm it, Rahg use your sling, Zad prepare a offensive spell if you have one.” As they readied themselves for battle Olga prayed she had not led them to their deaths. Then suddenly the leaves of a fern parted and there before them stood the ghost. It was about a foot tall with teal eyes, slender pale elfin features and wore very bloody white rags. It continued to sing and dance toward them, until Rahg’s sling bullet hit in it the forehead. Blood gushed from the wound as the tiny being crumpled to the ground. Olga’s healing turned out to be lacking this time. The small stranger was, according to Zad, under the affects of a strong hallucinogenic poison. Zad and Hurdy spend that night searching for a counter agent, the search and application had taken all night but they succeeded. Now as they began their second day through the woods at least the newcomer was resting comfortably. Zad approached Olga, “I believe I know what our guest is,” he began. She nodded for him to continue. “He or she I’m not certain of which, may be a Pixiefairy. They are a Fay folk distantly related to both Elves and common Fairies. I have never heard of any being encountered though, most were dead specimens brought back by adventurers. Every now and again some sailors report sighting them but those tales are most likely so much scurvy.” “Why do you say that?” Olga asked. “Those sightings always involve the Forbidden Isle as well, making them highly suspect.” “The forbidden Isle?” “Ah yes you are native to Janid I forget sometimes. The Forbidden Isle is the mythical island of the Sea Goddess. All manner of fabulous beasts and beings dwell there, including it is said numerous Pixiefairies. Despite its’ legendary status the Daroko family claims to know its’ location. If our tiny ward survives he may shed much light on this.” “Yes we have heard of this place in my homeland but we call it Mur the Enchanted. Tales from the old kingdom speak of it as a place of healing and respite. An old Beldish tale relates how then King Vincent Valino’s ship was attacked by a Sea serpent. He slew the monstrosity but his ship was doomed and he clung to the floating mast. Out of the brutal surf loomed an island where none should be. He desperately paddled the mast toward it but his strength gave out and he slipped beneath the waves. He awoke to find himself on a pure white sand beach surrounded by a peaceful emerald green sea. The island abounded with fruit and fresh water but no animals. It the tale he meets many fantastic beings there before a boat is made for him and he returns home to confront his usurper. Among these beings is a race of tiny prankster’s very similar to our guest.” “I see you have studied much in preparation for your quest but why that childish tale?” “There are precious few records from that time and each is a treasure of history and culture that must not be forgotten. I would learn what I can of the time from any source no matter how suspect.” By that night the tiny stranger recovered and he, yes it was a he, was grateful. He introduced himself as Pip Pimpernel and said he was a devotee of some god called Nudor. When they confessed that none of them knew anything about his god, or indeed had ever heard of it before, he seemed overjoyed and proceeded to enlighten them. “…His is the loving hand that tends the sorrows of the world. His is the gentle…” “For the love of Beld will you please shut the abyss up!” this outburst came from Rahg who had been politely trying to ascertain where he came from for some time. Pip’s tiny face fell then brightened up; after all it was just one more injustice to bear. Before Rahg could continue Olga spoke, ” Mr. Pimpernel…” “You can call me Pip.” “Um thank you. Pip where do you hail from and how did you get here?” “Oh that’s all. I come from Oceanna and I got here by boat, well most of the way that is, after they set me adrift I washed ashore then wondered about till I got shot with an arrow and I assume poisoned, then I wondered some more thought more aimlessly, then I found you and got struck by a falling branch.” Everyone but Pip turned to stare at Rahg as Pip said this. “Yeah, branch that’s it.” Muttered Rahg. As they made camp they continued to question Pip about his homeland, which turned out to be the mythical Mur. When they asked why a sea Goddess needed an island Pip replied, “That’s because of Auqamaya she hates to see you land dwellers drown.” Apparently, and much to Zad surprise, the legends of Janid were true or somewhat true. The only inhabitances were Pixiefairies like Pip and castaways. The castaways would be towed to shipping lanes and then watched to make sure a ship picked them up. Pip’s people spent their time singing and playing pranks, which Pip held obvious contempt for. As interesting as the stories of his odd folk were the most shocking was his claim that gods dwell on the island. According to Pip the Sea Goddess herself visited every few years and her daughters visit every few seasons, Auqamaya every few days. The daughters were named, in descending ages, Nautica, Abyssella, Tempest, and Auqamaya. The only other permanent inhabitant was someone called Ichiclease and when they asked about him Pip would only say, “The Sea Goddess is punishing him for being VERY bad.” With all their attention on Pip’s tales only Hurdy saw the trees moving. They slowly crept ahead of them forming a dense wall of vegetation. The very largest of the trees was about fifty feet away and seemed, as Hurdy stared at it, to be made of rotting hide not wood. He readied his clubs as his companions prattled on about mundane matters. If they wanted to know about why Ichiclease was trapped on the isle of the Sea Goddess they could has just asked him. But no they never did, Hurdy wondered if he would tell them the truth if they asked anyway. After all WWTED? or what would the Eyes do? Pip was right in the middle of his favorite story when they heard the crash. Turning, and in most cases leaping to their feet, to see Hurdy viciously attacking a nearby tree. Olga almost started to scold him until they saw how the trees closed in on him. Suddenly the trees and plants all about them writhed to the attack. A mass of clinging ivy nets Zad’s legs as a dead tree slams its’ rotting branches into Olga. Rahg rolls out of harms way just in time while Pip manages to dart and flutter between leaping bushes. Hurdy snaps branches and cracks trucks as he windmills through the assaulting trees. He moves with purpose pushing on toward the large rotting tree lurking behind the pack. Olga’s blade slices the branches with ease but the mass of wood only rushes forward ramming hard with its’ moldy trunk. Zad struggles with all his might but more ivy adds to the cocoon, he screams for helps just as a large frown covers his mouth. Rahg hurls a dagger, pinning a snaking vine to the nearest tree as it worms for Olga ankle. Pip rushes higher, dodging savage twig rakes as he goes. Wooden fingers burrow into Hurdy as he drives on pounding everything from his path. As Zad begins to choke and writhe on the ground Rahg rolls to aid him, only to get snagged by a branch as he does. The knotted wooden member sends him sailing through the air to smash into a tangled thicket. Olga side stepped the timber and slashes low, toppling the moldering hulk. Pip burst forth into the sun; just for a glimpse however as a snarl of creepers snag his leg. Hurdy burst from the mass of vegetation and brings Hangnail and KaThumpa down on the rotting tree. Massive reeking chucks of flesh came off with each blow, spattering the surroundings with yellowgreen iccor. Zad goes limp just as their assailants suddenly disengaged and rushed toward Hurdy. Olga found Zad unconscious and Pip battered but ok. Rahg however was nowhere to be seen. He was inside a rushing bush as it leapt at Hurdy, raking his back savagely. But Hurdy just kept pounding. With one final mighty blow from KaThumpa the tree-beast quivered and burst, showering everything in putrid funk. As the companions gathered they turned to a new sound. Three more strange rotting trees were overseeing the dismemberment of their wagon. With Zad passed out and more trees closing in they knew what to do.
They ran on their muscles tearing, bones aching, all exposed flesh lacerated by thousands of thorns. Rahg lagged behind and so Hurdy was forced to carry him as well as Zad. Pip flittered along at her side as Olga led them on until finally there was a spot of light. It blazed through the murky woods like raging forest fire, as it engulfed them they knew the woods were behind them. They spent the next few days resting up while Olga met with government officials. Zad questioned Pip, Rahg kept inconspicuous, and Hurdy played with the local guards. All though the two nations sometimes warred the soldiers of the keep seemed to respect Hurdy’s former military service. He spent his time drinking with the guards and bullying the citizenry until Olga found out. After that Hurdy was forced to train and he did it with gusto. The prince’s steward send messengers for reinforcements but De Silva Keep was nearly eight days away and few other troops were in the area. As the keep’s commander planned the companions prepared for the worst. “So we are staying?” asked Rahg. “I will not force any of you to aid in this defense but I know this must been seen through to the end.” Replied Olga. “I got nothing better to do and besides we still got a temple to loot.” Rahg said with a smile. “My employer made no stipulation in regard to terminating my assistance in the event of invasion.” Said Zad with his usual blank expression. “I don’t know what’s going on but if there is suffering I’m there,” chirped in Pip. “Besides,” said Rahg, “who says we can’t leave before Wartooth arrives and continue our search” “No,” Olga said sadly, “it would not be right to slip way. Even so the quest is dead, I lack the funds to provision and man another expedition. I have already spent every coin remaining on our lodging here.” They sat silently in the gloom awaiting the inevitable assault to come. Pip could not understand the problem, much less the need for gold, and pestered incessantly as to why coin matters. A sound like hundreds of bison belching in unison erupted from the corner. Hurdy was clearing his throat to speak, “Igt sonmney fetle hapsv tqusc.” Hurdy thundered and produced a sack. Olga smiled; “Thank you my friend but we would require far more then tha…” she froze before she could finish as Hurdy upended the sack. Golden octagonal coins showered to the floor of the inn. After franticly counting they could not believe it, “one-hundred-and-ninety-two Royalcrowns!” they jointly exclaimed. The pile was worth nearly a thousand gold coins, Olga just smiled and said, “Our quest may yet live.” Then they heard they cry of the guard on the west wall. It was time. As they made their way to the west tower Rahg pulled Olga to the side. Rahg’s expression shifted to one of concern, “Now look do you want to win this or just get yourself a nice honorable death?” Olga’s fine features twisted in disgust, “I have no desire for death but I do not flee it like a coward. I would gladly give my life if it will slow their advance but a moment.” “Yeah it will delay them a little while they slip in your brain goo.” Olga almost struck him but then said, “if this is about your oath you are free from it. Run like a rat to your hole” “HA! Listen missy I made that oath to Draper not you and he’s not the kind who takes that kinda thing lightly. This isn’t about my oath it’s about you. Do you really want to win this battle?” Her eyes narrowed, “With all my heart but why do I feel you have something unsavory in mind?” “You would be half-right. I got a plan but I need to let you in on a secret. You see the reason I’m running is because I stole something from someone powerful.” “I gathered that much when we first met.” “Yeah yeah no surprises there but it’s what I stole that’s important.” He pulled a small fold of parchment from his pouch. “Is that it?” “No this is just ingredient, I need you to get everything on this list and bring it to the smithy. Pay for the stuff if you got to but get it no matter what understand?” “What to you intend to do?” “I’m going to make FIRE.” They stood with the keep’s commander, one Esper Vorrosia, high on the west tower. He was an old man, strictly a bureaucrat and clearly frightened. The captain of the tower, Lucian Smolt, was the only strategic mind among his officers. Originally the commander wanted the companions to have nothing to do with the coming battle but Lucian was able to change that. He sighted Olga’s knighthood, Hurdy’s military service and Zad’s magical knowledge as, quite currently, invaluable in the coming conflict. Vorrosia grudgingly agreed and so here they were, planning the defense. Only Rahg was not on the tower as he labored furiously in the Smithy. The massive river separating the Bleakwood from Beld was teeming with armored forms. They faced the men of Wartooth, deadly loyal and without pity. They drove great masses of the Pigapes, now garbed in steel, ahead of their front lines, whipping the beasts into a frothing frenzy. They dragged siege towers, battering rams, and huge awls with ease their massive frames hardly slowed by the tremendous loads. “That’s odd,” Olga remarked, “their commander seems to be in the far rear.” “Why is that odd makes sense to me.” Said Rahg appearing silently from behind as was his trademark. “Yes but the people of Wartooth hold courage in battle highly. Their leaders are traditionally at the head of any assault.” “Then it makes all the more sense he’s at the back, that way their tactics are not so predictable.” Rahg retorted. “Yes I suppose but still something about this just seems wrong.” “Forgive me your ladyship,” Rahg said extra sweetly, “but I would say the immanent dead and mutilation of everyone in this keep qualifies as ‘wrong’”.” Olga glared at Rahg but said nothing. “If you were wondering I’m done. I’ll have Hurdy bring the barrels to each of the towers and the gatehouse.” “Barrels?” Olga asked perplexed. “Oh you’ll see.” Even with all their preparations and plans they had to face the bleak facts. All together they had just over a hundred-and-fifty troops. Gazing down at the dark masses beyond the river Zad counted around six hundred of the ape beasts with over a hundred soldiers of Wartooth driving them on. They watched their doom sweep across the river, each companion silently contemplating their fate. “Sumtyes yuavtu dyged tlfwoll.” Hurdy said solemnly. “What did he say?” asked Vorrosia. “Sometimes you have to die good to live well.” Replied Olga. A cry came from the eastern wall, at first they thought it was a surprise attack then they realized the cry was of joy. One of the nearby families had sent troops to assist the keep. They were from the Emanuel compound to the north and were led by the family’s lord. His name was Vincent Emanuel and he brought twenty fine cavalrymen and over fifty skirmishers with him. The Emanuel family was the weakest; they stayed loyal to the crown even as it lay in ruins. Rahg would be with the archers on the west walls, Hurdy by the South Gate, while Zad, Pip and Olga stayed with Vorrosia on the west tower.