We finally arrived in Restov last night, after several days of journey. I had been looking forward to a comfortable bed and if at all possible a hot bath but I don't think we'll be staying long, unfortunately. The notice that brought us here spoke of the Lord Mayor of this land offering contracts to whomever is willing to retrieve the Stolen Lands to the south, but didn't offer much more in the way of details. I managed to pick up bits and pieces of the history of this area. The rest, I left to Nagata – he set off before sunrise to put his ear to the ground and see what he could learn.
He returned with rumors, some easier to believe than others. I'll write them down:
- in 4499 AR, one Choral the Conqueror invaded the lands of Rostland and Issia from the Lake of Mist and Veils, and laid claim to them thanks in no small part to the aid of two red dragons. The showdown between Rostland's Swordlords and Choral's forces happened in a valley near Icerime Peaks, known today as Valley of Fire. Nagata heard a rumor that there were not two, but in fact three red dragons in the fray – two females, Choral himself being the third, male red dragon.
- another rumor claims that in order to conquer Rostland and Issia, Choral the Conqueror struck a deal with some… let's say unsavory forces of unknown might. And the time nears to pay for whatever graces he was granted.
- we've heard before about the ruling noble family of Brevoy (Rogarvia I believe) vanishing without a trace overnight, along with all of their servants and household guards, causing house Surtova to declare themselves rulers two decades or so ago. Nagata's heard a rumor that claims that Skywatch was in fact built as a lookout and warning post, and the family simply up and left in the wake of something they have detected, but the rest of us are oblivious to.
- finally, and still on the Vanishing as locals call it, there is a rumor claiming Choral the Conqueror never died, and he's returned to whisk away the Rogarvians for some unknown wrongdoing.
We had a decent breakfast today, a welcome variant from our usual trail rations. I must confess I am a little tired of them, but I'm not complaining. I hate hunger more than rations. Besides, the more I eat the less there are to carry, so that's a plus. After the meal we set off to reclaim this contract or… permit to explore, I'm not sure of the correct word.
On arrival, I immediately assigned myself the task of head counting. Might as well size up the competition. And the competition, I must say, is larger than we are. I'll add my thoughts below.
The First Group (henceforth referred to as the Usual Adventurer Group), composed of the following: a dwarven cleric or warpriest of Zon-Kuthon (Takeshi says it's Abadar but I don't know…); a sword-and-board fighter of undistinguishable race carrying a bastard sword (he was covered in tin head to toe, it was hard to tell what he/she was); a human wizard in his late 30's to early 40's; an odd combination barbarian-like caster-style man, which I (as well as Oksana) are entirely sure is a thiefling; and an elven archer, common as they come.
The Second Group (henceforth referred to as Militant 25), composed of the following: 24 strong (!!!) counting meleers, archers, wizards, professional-looking yet not quite mercenaries; and their leader, who appears to be in everything a Swordlord.
The Third Group (henceforth referred to as The Twelve Monkeys) (sidenote: I'm not even trying to be funny – they behaved like and some looked the part of, actual monkeys), composed of the following: four cutthroats, two archers, four diplomats, a cleric of Erastil and a rogue-type who, unsurprisingly considering his company, kept slightly to the side.
So with that all set and done, I looked at my brothers and Oksana and… told myself I hoped we wouldn't have problems with the others (at least not immediately). The UAG look seasoned and comfortable working together, and much more used to this life than we are. There is a certain air of companionship to them that comes only with going through hardship together. I don't want to have them as enemies. The Militant 25, well… there's 25 of them. Twenty five men?! Honestly?! The leader seems to have brought in all of his household for a show of strength in numbers, and I have a feeling he might be some Swordlord looking to improve his status. Finally… the monkeys. Thugs, wailing siren diplomats, a mishmash of people who seem to have been borrowed from several different walks of life. And then there is Razor Man, their rogue. I dubbed him in this manner as I didn't hear any names mentioned. And he looked harmless enough, until I took a more careful look – I stopped counting when I found the 22nd knife hidden on his attire. Boots, belt, sleeves, jacket, you name it, there was a blade. At first I figured he is their Nagata. Reflecting on it, I'm not so sure anymore. In time, I'd like to ask Nagata to keep an ear out for a knifethrower.
(sidenote: I'm not intimidated by this one, but I am intrigued. He may well be the mind behind that amalgam of people. In fact, if he's half as used to subterfuge as I think he is, they might not be wholly aware of that themselves… but I digress – fact is, I don't know anything but what I've observed and this is all guesswork – moving along.)
The Lord Mayor Ioseph Sellemius didn't seem too happy to give out the charters (that seems to be the correct word). Politically speaking I understand this is a necessary action to take, but not one that's overly pleasing. He also seemed rather… surprised about us. I'm not sure if that is due to our collective foreign look, or the fact we were the smallest, less experienced group present.
Now armed with this charter, we have been authorized to explore the area of a place called Greenbelt as follows: counting from Oleg's Trading Post, 36 miles east and west, and 60 miles south. I had investigated some of this land's geography before we got here, but I confess I had to go back to my map to locate Oleg's Trading Post. Takeshi asked around for more information, and he managed to get a few more details. Apparently this settlement is the home of Oleg Stevenson and his wife, who, being sick and tired of having neighbors, decided to pack their things and move out towards the frontier of the civilized land. Takeshi got a general description of the gentleman, and someone to point us the right way. I had half hoped we could discuss the details of our next move over lunch at the inn (and so did Nagata – not that he told me, but I know he did) yet time is of the essence… we moved out at once.
Oleg's Trading Post looks the part of a small fort, half covered in lichen and made up of fossilized wood and old stones. Now I won't say the building was derelict (its defenses on the other hand were long past that, according to Takeshi), but as I've heard the locals say, it's no spring chicken. When we looked it over from the road it seemed to be all but abandoned, and I had to wonder how many people manned this place. We had heard only of Oleg and his wife, but I figured that a frontier settlement would have more inhabitants – hired help, the couple's children, other residents, what have you.
But no, it's just the Stevensons. In fact, I don't know how they manage to defend the place. But within the first few moments it became obvious that harsh language was a very real possibility, as we heard Oleg on a tirade of some of the most imaginative profanity I've heard in my time. Better still – upon arrival, they enquired on whether we had been sent to aid with their bandit problem. To which yours truly replied, "What bandits?" eliciting an immediate flare of despair from the couple.
Over a very delicious (and very plentiful) meal, Oleg and Svetlana told us about their troubles. Three months prior to our arrival a gang of bandits came in and robbed the Stevensons' monthly shipment of goods under threat. If they should resist, not only would they set fire to the fort, but also take away his wife and likely beat him within an inch of his life. Every month since they've comeback, in less and lesser numbers as they grew confident the Stevensons would not fight back and nobody was going to come to their aid. It's bad enough they were robbing them of their livelihood, but I shiver to think what would happen when the day inevitably came when the Stevensons could not meet the demand… it's appalling that nobody has done anything about this so far!
I would not stand for it, and I didn't even need to look at the others to know they would not stand for it either. Oleg told us they would come the day after next, and unlike the previous times, we would be waiting for them. Oleg counted 12 men the first time around and five the last time – one common appearance made by an archer, most of the others would be meleers. We also heard about a certain… how should I put this…?
(sidenote: I am still struggling with some terms in the common tongue of these lands and what is and isn't a polite term here. Without honorifics, it's somewhat difficult to make sure I am not offending anyone – although the character in question I wouldn't mind offending some, as I'll put further ahead)
By default I would use the word "lady" but I don't think it's appropriate. A woman came in with the bandits the first time around, brandishing a pair of hatchets and threatening to send poor Svetlana to their camp as… "amusement"… for the boys. If I wasn't enraged enough at this lot by now, this was, as locals say, the last drop. We made a plan to surprise the bandits when they came to collect, hid among the fort's buildings, and bid our time – one hour into sunrise, they came in ahorse, four men in all, one of which carried a longbow.
I must say I quite enjoyed the performance. We fell on them like the wrath of Shizuru - Nagata from the rooftops, Oksana from behind a corner, Takeshi and I from the stables. The archer was down before he could get his bearings. I had hoped we could capture the last man alive and interrogate him to learn more of the fiends, but no such luck – as the last one nearly made good his escape, he had an unpleasant meeting with a naginata. Still, I wasn't worried – Nagata has a particular sort of knack to track down prey, we were sure to find their tracks.
We found a clue on the archer, however – a silver pendant shaped like a stag's head. Thinking back to what we'd heard about the Greenbelt, we recalled that some groups of bandits to the South have united under the banner of one Stag Lord – so perhaps we were facing something larger than we thought at first.
No sooner had we reached this conclusion, Nagata was outside sniffing for horse tracks. We followed the trail due southeast, hoping to find the bandits' camp and ask them by whose authority were they bothering those nice people.
We traveled for the remainder of the day, with a slight detour through a radish patch (of all things) and a small group of kobolds with an even smaller self-preservation instinct. We made camp in a swamp within which we hope to find those scoundrels. As I'm writing this, my watch shift if coming along – we'll resume our journey as soon as the Sun rises.
What I've learned today: standing immediately behind Takeshi when he spins the naginata will get me a knock on the head with the handle – next time, stay farther away.