It was afternoon when they passed the first campsite – it looked much the way Ashly had expected it to, a simple fire-pit and a stack of wood. They stopped for a quick lunch out of their packed rations before heading on again.
The sky was growing dark as they reached the second, and the group agreed to stop. Josh handled getting the horses settled while Nick started a fire and Vera, Marco, and Ashly started setting up their tents – one for the girls, one for the boys. Ashly wasn’t sure whether she was more grateful to have the extra elbow room, or for not having to share a tent with Josh.
“Dibs on first watch,” Josh said.
“First watch.” Ashly blinked. “Oh, yeah, we should have someone keeping an eye out overnight. For trouble.”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “There’s five of us so… five two-hour shifts. That way everybody gets eight hours of sleep.”
“With how long the night is this time of year we won’t be able to leave after eight hours anyway,” Marco agreed. “I’ll take the last watch.”
“You guys suck,” Vera said. “I hate splitting my sleep schedule.”
“Just pretend you’re polyphasic,” Nick said.
“Polyphasic. Like you sleep in two four hour shifts instead of just eight hours in a row. Second watch.”
“I’ll take third, if you’re okay with fourth, Ashly.”
“Yeah, sure. Just make sure there’s enough firewood to last the night, I don’t want to have to wander around scrounging for it.”
After a dinner of cold rations, Ashly climbed into the tent with Vera while Josh took the first watch.
Morning came with a graying of the sky. Ashly’s own watch passed uneventfully, and she woke, thankfully, without pain despite sleeping on the uncomfortable ground. Breaking camp proceeded quickly, and the group re-mounted their horses for the trip to the Way Inn.
The day’s travel progressed uneventfully, traffic growing somewhat heavier, the way it was closer to Daggerford. Midday they stopped for lunch in a small hamlet before continuing on.
An hour before sunset they’d reached the small village surrounding the Way Inn. Approaching the entrance, they were intercepted by a patrol of a half-dozen spearmen.
“Halt!” one demanded. “Identify yourselves!”
Movement caught Ashly’s attention – there, on the roof of the farm – three men with bows. “Archers on the roof.”
Marco cleared his throat, eyes darting to the roof. “We’re, ah, Daggerford militia.”
The patrolman visibly relaxed, smiling. “Oh! Good to see you. Come on in.”
“Thanks!” Marco gave a small salute. His smile faltered. “Are you expecting trouble?”
The militiaman shook his head. “You’re going to want to talk to Red Beard up at the inn, center of the village.”
The patrolmen stepped off the road, and Marco led the way past, towards an extremely well-fortified structure, stone to the village’s wood and daub. An enormous man with a bushy red beard greeted them. “Visitors! From Daggerford!”
“Militia!” Josh called out. “Sent to make sure the road is safe.”
“Come in, come in.” Redbeard said. “I am Daurayvn – call me Redbeard.”
“Redbeard,” Ashly said. “I’m Ashly – this is Vera, Nick, Marco, and Josh.”
Dauravyn led the way into his inn, into the common room, to a centrally located table. Servants ran to and fro, appointing it with a lavish meal of different breads, meat dishes, and vegetable sides. Much better than the simple fare they’d been living on.
Redbeard joined them as they were finishing up. “So, my friends, what brings the militia to my humble inn?”
“We scout road for a caravan from…” Marco began, in halting Common.
“Waterdeep,” Josh said.
“Waterdeep,” Marco finished. “Saw armed patrols, you trouble?”
“No, nothing new,” Redbeard shook his head. “Not since the Dragonspear Castle assault.”
“We foreign,” Nick piped up. “What is?”
Redbeard’s face darkened. “Demons came from the depths of the castle. The trade cities waged a great war on it, for two years.”
“Demons?” Ashly asked, feeling the blood drain from her face.
“Aye. We drove them back but…” He shook his head. “Hard to let one’s guard down.”
“I see.” Marco nodded.
“Sounds like a plot hook,” Josh said, in English. “We should scope it out.”
“What?” Ashly said. “Why?”
“It’s what adventurers do!” Josh said.
“Fuck you,” Vera said. “We’ve got a few weeks left, I’d like to spend it not being horribly killed.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Josh said.
“You were unconscious, asshole!” Ashly scowled, the memories of burning alive in the truck coming back, so vivid, so fresh. The nightmares about it had stopped, but the last thing she wanted was to go through it again.
Redbeard watched the back and forth quietly. When it seemed to have ended, he pushed himself away from the table. “I’ve prepared a room for you, but first, there’s a gentleman who wishes to speak with you?” He gestured towards a small table at the back of the room where four people were sitting.
“Okay,” Marco said.
Ashly rose with the others and followed Redbeard to the table, where sat an older man, a pretty young woman, and three stout looking young men.
“This is Meldar Farwarden,” Redbeard introduced the eldest.
Meldar stood, wiping his hands on his breeches. “Well met! This is my daughter, Delora, and our three teamsters, Ian, Finn, and Dooley.”
Dooley gave Ashly a grin. She looked away, keeping her eyes on Meldar.
“Please, sit,” Meldar bade them. Marco slid onto the bench next to him, Nick next to Dooley, Josh next to Nick, Ashly next to Marco, and Vera grabbed a chair from a nearby table to position at the end.
“They’re foreigners from-” Redbeard paused.
“Kara-Tur,” Josh supplied.
“Oh, that’s exciting,” Redbeard said. “Other side of the world, imagine that. But they don’t speak Common very fluently.”
“Oh, I see,” Meldar said. “Can any of you read?”
“Only our own language,” Nick said.
“No matter,” Meldar shook his head, cleared his throat. “We caravan! Go Balder’s Gate to Daggerford!” He mimed walking with his fingers. “Very far! Many nights travel!”
Ashly felt the smile freeze on her face.
“Bad Mans kill guards!”
Marco frowned. “Bad Mans? What you mean Bad Mans?”
“You know word… bandit?”
“Yes, we know bandits,” Ashly said.
“Yesterday bandits kill guards. We ask you, take us to Daggerford?”
“God, I hate when people talk like that,” Ashly said in English.
“Please,” Delora spoke up, speaking less exaggeratedly than her father. “We need to get there soon – before the last caravan from Waterdeep. We pay you each… 40 gold?”
“That’s not bad for an escort mission,” Josh said, again, in English.
“We’re headed that way anyway,” Vera reasoned.
Marco considered. “How fast you go?”
“Four days?” Dooley shrugged. “Three if we push the beasts through the twilight.”
“Three days,” Meldar said.
“Okay,” Marco said. “Leave in morning?”
Meldar grinned and slapped the table. “At first light! Thank you! You save us!”
“In morning then.” Vera pushed away from the table, switching to English. “This better not get me fucking killed again.”
After a restful night’s repose in the Inn’s common room, Ashly and the others met with Meldar in front of the Inn. He and his daughter rode horses, while the three teamsters walked and led the mules carrying their wares. Everyone seemed in high spirits, pleased to be leaving the inn and continuing towards Daggerford.
“How do we do this?” Nick asked Marco.
“Want me to scout up ahead?” Josh offered.
“Let’s keep it simple,” Marco said. “Me and Vera take the lead, but within view of the main caravan, Ash and Josh ride with it watching our flanks, Nick, you take the rear and keep an eye out behind us.”
“How come I’m not in the lead?” Josh pouted.
“Because-” Vera began, with a sneer.
“Because we have spears and you have a sword,” Marco said. “Our weapons are better at a charge, yours is better when the action is in one place.”
Josh frowned, then nodded. “Fine. But we should rotate positions.”
“Not a bad idea,” Ashly said. “Keep everyone fresh.”
“Every two hours,” Marco agreed.
Meldar trotted his mount to join them. “Are we good? To set off?”
Marco nodded. “Yes. We ride at front, sides, back. Watch for danger.”
“Good plan!” Meldar beamed. He unfolded a map, showing it to Marco. “Route is good?”
Ashly leaned in to get a look at the map. It didn’t look much like what she’d consider a modern map, few grids, few lines, more of a drawing than a scale representation of anything. And of course, the Common alphabet – Thorass, she reminded herself – was completely alien to her.
“Show me Inn and Daggerford?” Marco asked.
Meldar indicated two points along a road.
“Okay,” Marco said, holding the reigns of his horse with one hand, pointing with the other. “Campsite here, Liam’s Hold here. We stop for night both, good?”
Meldar nodded, folding his map and putting it away. “Onward!”
Random Encounter Check: 1.
Encounter 8: Wolves.
The party is a large group, so the wolves won’t attack outright.
Do the horses Panic?
They were ten minutes away from the village of Bowshot when the wolves came. Ashly didn’t see them at first, didn’t hear them – at least until the howling began, coming from the tall grasslands, sounding like it was all around them. She exchanged a quick glance with Josh before her mount started bucking beneath her.
GURPS: Everyone needs to make a Riding roll to keep their panicking horse under control.
Nick lacks Riding, but he does have Animal Handling at 11, and Riding defaults to that skill at -3, giving him an 8. He rolls a 9… however, he gets a +5 to skill if the animal knows and likes him. Nick is the sort who might have been trying to befriend his horse over the journey. Has he?
3: No, but the horse is well trained, giving him a +1 instead. He has an effective 9, barely passing.
Ashly and Vera pass as well, and Marco does with a use of his Luck. Josh fails, and he’s not the sort to make friends with a horse so we’re not checking. He falls, but his armor absorbs the damage.
She pulled back on the reigns immediately, not hard, not to hurt her mount but to give it a sense of control, to remind it of discipline, to assure her that she, its rider, was there for it. The beast didn’t quiet as the howling continued, but she kept a firm grip on both her reigns and her saddle.
Josh wasn’t so lucky – he was bucked off almost immediately, landing hard on the ground. “Shit!” His horse ran off into the field, away from the howls. One of the handlers yelled after it, but it was too late.
Grey objects shot across the path ahead and behind the group, bounding wolves now silent and deadly in their hunt, focused on the fleeing horse. Ashly gathered up her reigns and brought her own mount around to ride after them.
Rolling Tactics by default for everyone (IQ-6): Vera and Josh pass.
“Wait!” Josh stood up, in her way. “Stop!”
She reared back to avoid bowling him over.
Marco rode up alongside her. “Wolves go after stragglers. We have to keep together!”
“But Josh’s horse!” Nick protested.
Josh turned to look at the field, where the wolves were already gaining on the panicked beast, nipping at its heels. “It’s gone, man. Even if we could take on a whole wolfpack, it’d be dead by the time we got there.” He turned back to the caravan. “And we have a job to do.”
“How can you be so cold?” Nick asked, unconsciously patting his own horse’s neck.
“Nick.” Ashly understood where he was coming from. She really did – and could tell that he’d bonded with his own horse… what was merely a conveyance to her and Josh, he’d made a friend. Probably named it. She rode up alongside him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t watch.”
She turned him away from the chase, back towards the caravan. “We need to move on. Before… while the wolves are busy. Before they decide they want more.”
“Fuckers are probably going to charge me for it.” Josh stared off after the wolves, then turned to Marco and Vera. “Can I ride double with one of you?”
“Sorry,” Marco turned back to the front of the caravan. “We have to stay mobile.”
“Looks like you’re walking,” Vera returned with him.
“Fuck!” Josh shouted, fists balled.
Meldar’s daughter seemed sympathetic to Josh’s plight, shooting him several sad glances during the rest of the trip to Bowshot. Once there, the group stopped for a light lunch. Josh looked around for a replacement horse, but couldn’t find any cheaper than 75 gold.
“This sucks, man, they’re totally going to make me pay this off.” He was almost apoplectic.
“Why do you care?” Vera asked. “We’re probably going to jump away in a few weeks, so what’s the big deal?”
“Yeah, but that’s two weeks away!” Josh half-screamed. “I hate owing people money.”
“If you never intend to repay it, does it really count?” Ashly asked.
“It does to me,” Josh said with a frown.
“Who knows how long we’re really going to be here?” Nick said. “We were in Zombie World for a month. Austin was what…”
“Like two weeks?” Marco said.
“Right, two weeks. We’ve been here for six already.”
“Maybe it’s tied to how many of us are still alive?” Josh suggested.
“Maybe?” Nick said.
“So maybe a TPK will get us home again?” Josh drew his sword.
“A what?” Ashly stepped away from him.
Marco put a hand on Josh’s arm. “Total Party Kill. And we have no reason to think that’s the case.”
“But what if we don’t jump while all of us are still alive?” Josh asked.
“Good!” Vera said. “Look, don’t get me wrong, I miss indoor plumbing and oral hygiene too, but we’re stable here. Fed. Not in immediate danger. Every time we jump, it’s monsters, or zombies, or lizards… no chance to breathe or think until now.”
“Right,” Ashly said. “It’s not a great situation… but it’s one we know.”
“So let’s just wait it out,” Nick said. “See how long we last here with a full party before jumping again.”
“Fine.” Josh sheathed his sword. “I guess I’ll hold off on murdering everybody.”
His tone indicated that it was a joke, but Ashly didn’t find it very funny. Dying had sucked more than anything else she’d ever experienced. She never wanted to go through it again.
They met up with Meldar again after lunch and the caravan set out along the road towards Daggerford, and after a few hours, they reached the campsite they’d stayed at on the trip over. As before they set about building a fire and setting the camp, though this time Marco and Josh stood watch while the caravan settled in.
“Same nightly watches as before?” Nick asked.
“No offense, but without your glasses you’re not much good for it,” Marco said. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re right,” Nick said. “How about we do two four-hour watches, and I’ll split the difference between them?”
“Okay,” Ashly said. “I’ll take first watch with Marco, then Vera and Josh.”
Vera gave her a very annoyed look, then nodded. “Yes, fine, sure. And Nick, you just… split the difference.”
“Works for me,” Josh shrugged.
“Sounds fair,” Marco said. “Let’s have dinner with Meldar and Delora.”
“She’s cute,” Josh said.
“Yes you should flirt with her,” Vera said.
“No he shouldn’t,” Ashly frowned. “This is a job. And he barely speaks the language.”
“I speak the international language,” Josh said.
“Jesus Christ,” Marco went back to setting up his tent.
“Of love!” Josh yelled after him.
“Better her than me,” Vera whispered to Ashly.
“Why do you think I wanted to go on watch with Marco?” Ashly rubbed her arms. “I’ve caught Josh… watching me.”
“Are you sure you don’t just have a crush on Marco?” Vera teased.
“No!” Ashly felt her face flush. “Maybe. No. Why? I don’t care.”
Vera laughed, walking away to get the fire started.
Everyone gets 1 CP. Skills used this episode are Riding (Horse) and Tactics. Marco passes his IQ roll and takes Tactics. Nick finally passes his roll to add Riding, and Josh adds a second point in the skill.
Next Time: Everything Changes.