CHAPTER One – The founding of the Company
Ozruk stretched as she sat on her bed looking out the window. It was early spring but it had been unusually cold and the snow still covered the ground and the trees. Ever a moody girl she had had a lot on her mind for the past month and had been drawing away from people more than usual. A young tiefling of 17 her demonic heritage was quite evident not only in her horns and long tail but her hair was an unnatural purple color and her skin was an odd shade as well. She unfortunately did not have many friends so the knocking on the door was surprising.
“Coming!” she called out in an annoyed tone. Swinging her feet over the edge she quietly hurried out of her room and down the hallway. The house was completely empty save for herself and she enjoyed the silence. The only child still at the home she helped Algis run things while she attempted to find an apprenticeship somewhere.
The banging on the door repeated before she reached it and pulling it open Ozruk was surprised to find herself staring at two of the city guards.
The one who had been banging on the door looked down at her in disdain. “Is Algis home?” he demanded.
Ozruk sighed and shook her head, she was used to this treatment by now. “I haven’t seen him since yesterday”
“Well if you see him Lord Walister is looking to speak with him” with that the two guards turned and walked away down the road back towards the town center.
Ozruk carefully closed the door before letting out an annoyed sigh and rolling her eyes. She was not a fan of the city guard as they weren’t of her and while many just ignored her some of the others saw her as being cursed and they tended to treat her poorly.
Lord Walister was the noble who controlled the city of Longsaddle from his manor house on a rising rocky outcropping above the city.
Taking a deep breath she returned to her room and slipped into some warmer clothes. She did not care for the cold weather and preferred the heat of summer so the last few months had been very uncomfortable. Stopping to tightening her boot laces for a moment before she opened the door and headed out to try and find Algis.
Luci Pendragon was reading the message board in the town square with interest. A very short half elf lad with the blond hair and fair complexion of his elven side. He had his hand on his chin as he considered one note in particular written on a fine parchment. A smile crept across his face as the idea took root.
He turned away from the message board just in time to take a full blast of cold air as the wind picked up. Shaking his hair out of his eyes his attention was drawn to a small commotion near the entrance to the city. A bit surprised he began hurrying over in case it was the caravan bringing in more food supplies. The city had been short on food for a while with the unusually long winter snows chocking off the usual merchant caravans and a few shipments that were expected hadn’t arrived in some time.
Several people greeted him as he passed and he hailed them with a smile. As a cleric of Ayora, the goddess of light, Luci was a very popular young man. Although there were a number of other priests only a cleric was blessed to wield the power of the gods blessing.
Upon reaching the entrance he could see the commotion was a new comer who the guards were cautiously approaching. A towering half orc wearing furs and a wolfs head cloak was standing there calmly before the guards who were being very cautious of him. The half orc seemed amused by the attention and didn’t seemed frightened at all.
“What are you doing here?” demanded one of the guards.
“Juss passing through, looking for food” grumbled the half-orc.
Luci pushed his way forward through the gathered onlookers and approached the confrontation with a smile.
“Hi there!” he said.
The guards looked over at him with a mixture of annoyance and some relief at having a cleric come and deal with the problem.
“Welcome to Longsaddle, I’m Luci, what is your name and where are you from my friend?”
The half-orc seemed surprised at how forward Luci was but responded readily “My name is Orrin, son of Krontz from the northern mountains.”
“Well nice to meet you Orrin, I over heard that you are hungry? We don’t have much but I could get you a simple meal at the church”
The half-orc smiled a very toothy grin, “I would like that”
“Er Luci do you think that is wise?” asked the guard who had been speaking earlier.
“Ayora protects, he is simply looking for a meal and won’t cause any trouble, now will you?”
Orrin shook his head, “no trouble, just hungry”
“See? It will be okay” he replied to the guards. The guards just sighed and moved back, shooing off the onlookers while they did so.
“Come with me” Luci said as he beckoned Orrin to follow him to the church that was on one side of the central square.
Ozruk headed into the Broken Peg, one of the two inns in Longsaddle, this was the cheaper establishment and one that Algis would sometimes frequent. She knew the proprietress seemed to be rather fond of Algis and she didn’t exactly have any better leads as to where is was. The school Algis ran was closed up and nobody had been there when she last checked.
“Excuse me, excuse me” Ozruk called out.
Straightening up from behind the bar was Moriala, the owner of the Broken Peg since her father, the original owner, had passed away many years ago. “Ach, what can I do fer ye?”. Moriala wasn’t exactly accepting of Ozruk but at least she tolerated her.
“I’m looking for Algis, I guess the Lord on the hill wants a word with him and I can’t find him anywhere.”
Moriala shook her head. “I havn’t seen him in several days meself, if ye do find ‘im tell ’im I’m looking for him too” she said with a chuckle.
Ozruk just looked to the ground and groaned softly. “I’ll be sure to let him know” before turning and heading back into the cold.
Ozruk wandered the streets as she made her way towards the city square near the church. Her eyes constantly scanning for trouble, she had had difficulties with a number of other people her own age and preferred to avoid more trouble. As she came into the central courtyard she saw a pair of strangers there, one of whom seemed very familiar and in a few seconds as she drew closer it hit her who it was.
“Xanaphus?” she said as she approached.
The wood elf turned towards Ozruk and looked at her for a moment before responding with a simple, but cold “Ozruk, I see you are well”.
Ozruk quickly snapped back “and I see you haven’t changed”.
Xanaphus just shrugged. The young woodelf was tall for her race with flowing red hair that cascaded over her shoulders. She was well equipped in fur lined winter clothes with an exquisitely carved longbow across her back.
“And who is this exquisite but odd beauty before me?” the other stranger was a completely foppish bard wearing the strangest clothing possible that didn’t quite seem to fit him as though tailored for somebody else. Ozruk noted he had an odd look on his face before speaking but she couldn’t place why it seemed so suspicious.
“Who the heck are you?” demanded Ozruk
“Ah but I asked first!”
“I’m… Ozruk” she said slowly trying to figure out this odd man.
“Ah milady, I am the great bard and musician Carrick! Perhaps you’ve heard of me? I just arrived here in this great city accompanied by this spectacle of beauty here who so gallantly rescued me from an unfortunate circumstance!” as he said this he bowed with an excessively lavish flourish.
Ozruk just stared in disbelief then realized Xanaphus was watching Carrick almost doe-eyed.
Orrin greedily ate the simple meal of peas and grains that Luci had prepared. The church had a small stock that was nearly out for giving to the poor and destitute. A gaggle of young children peered around the doorframe, wide eyed at the sight of the hulking half-orc.
“So tell me about yourself Orrin” Luci asked.
“Me travel, look for things to do” Orrin grunted.
“Wow, I guess you’ve seen many things haven’t you?”
Orrin just shrugged.
“Do you know where you are going?” Luci probed again.
Orrin shrugged again.
“Well I have an idea, do you want to hear it?”
Orrin thought a moment then shrugged again.
Luci smiled broadly and began explaining his plan.
Luci and Orrin walked out of the church chatting. Mostly Luci chatting and Orrin just grunting or looking around bored. Luci spotted the small group by the center well and waved at Ozruk with a smile.
“Ozruk! And… Xanaphus?!” his smile turned to shock as he recognized her. “Wow, Xanaphus, its been so long! Nearly 11 years, I tried writing and sending you money, guess I should have realized that delivery guy was scamming me sooner,”
“Luci…” Ozruk tried to interject.
“But I mean why would druids need money for since you are all about nature and the like”
“Luci” Ozruk raised her voice a bit more.
“But now you are here and its so good to see you again and OUCH!” Luci continued until Ozruk punched him in the shoulder.
“Luci, you are babbling again.”
“Oh, right sorry.” Luci looked embarrassed for a moment before continuing. “Hey its great to see you again Xanaphus! And who is your friend?”
“Ah noble cleric! I am Carrick the great, a performer of musical talents and graceful performances extraordinaire!” Carrick had that surprised look on his face for a moment again before falling back into character.
Luci stepped to the side and gestured towards Orrin. “This is Orrin, he was passing through but I have a really great idea now that everybody is here!” he finished excitedly.
Xanaphus stopped staring at Carrick and looked at Luci with a puzzled look.
Ozruk mumbled some curse under her breath as she waited for whatever hair brained scheme Luci had come up with.
“Well Lord Walister is looking for people to look into the missing supply caravans and I thought it would be a grand adventure if we took on the job.” Noting the look on Ozruk’s face he added “And he is paying.” At that both Ozruk and Orrin became much more attentive. Luci smiled to himself, he knew just which buttons to push on Ozruk.
Xanaphus thought for a moment before shrugging. “Well I wasn’t doing anything else I suppose I could.”
Luci turned back to Xanaphus “So what brought you out this way Xanaphus? Its been what, eleven years since…” he trailed off.
“Well, my order sent me out in this general direction. The elders sensed something off and I was chosen.” She said.
Ozruk gestured towards Carrick “and where did you find this character?”
Carrick feigned shock at that while Xanaphus giggled. “I kinda found him in a barrel by the river side.”
“What?” Ozruk was a bit disbelieving.
“Really?” asked Luci
Ignoring Ozruk Xanaphus continued “Ya he was in the barrel completely naked, just sort of popped out”
“Well that explains the crappy clothes” said Ozruk.
Luci looked puzzled at Ozruk and Xanaphus glared at her.
“They are Xanaphus’s” she simply said.
Orrin let out a gauf at that.
Braum wiped the sweat from his forehead as he examined the red hot horseshoe that he was working on. Couple of more strikes on that left side should do it he decided before shoving it back into the fire.
A massive, brawny man he kept his head shaved bald with a large mustache the one luxury he afforded himself. Towering over most people he certainly did not blend into any crowd although he fit in better here than he did in the dwarven halls where he had learned his craft.
Pulling the horseshoe back out he set it on the anvil and gave three quick, ringing strikes in the right place before he was satisfied with his work. As he tempered it he heard a familiar voice.
“Braum!” called out Luci as he entered the smithy.
Braum turned around with a smile that widened as he saw who accompanied Luci.
“Xanaphus. Long time” he said simply, Braum was usually a man of few words, he just gave a friendly nod to Ozruk as she slipped in quietly and she smiled back. He was a bit surprised at Orrin. “I believe we’ve not met”.
“Orrin” Orrin said simply.
Speaking up from behind Orrin Carrick stepped around “And I am Carrick the magnificent! Bard and performer extraordinaire!”
“Braum, I’ve found a great job for us to do that would pay in coin.” Said Luci excitedly. “Lord Walister is hiring people to search for what has happened to the missing trade caravans and he is willing to pay for finding any information”
Braum thought for a moment then looked at Luci with a sigh. “You are planning on going aren’t you?”
“Yep! And I convinced the others to come along, come on Braum, it would be just like old times.”
Braum shrugged as he thought it over “well, coin would be good.” He looked at the corner where his pet project, a massive tower shield lay only partly completed because he needed both more time and more supplies, supplies which were rather scarce with the caravans not making it through. “You know it would be dangerous”
“It would be fine, Likely the late snowfalls are just forcing them to wait or getting them stuck” replied Luci.
Braum shook his head in amusement at Luci’s exuberance. “I suppose I better go to keep you out of trouble”
“Hurray! We should meet with Lord Walister quickly before somebody else takes the job.” exclaimed Luci.
“Please Luci, nobody is so foolish to take on that job” said Ozruk.
Xanaphus looked amused as she replied “Didn’t you agree to go too?”
Ozruk just gave her a glare. Braum raised an eyebrow at the obvious tension between the two young women but wisely decided to not get involved.
A short time later the group walked up to the gate of the manor house on the hill. Luci had snagged the flyer from the notice board and presented it to the two guards standing outside the front gate. They looked at it briefly before looking intently at the odd group before them.
“Well, guess it is your funeral” the one said with a shrug. They stared fairly intently at Orrin who seemed to not notice them at all. A quick glance over the others was cursory although they shook their heads at Ozruk’s presence. She pointedly ignored them though Luci could see her tense up from her tail.
They entered the courtyard and were approached by a young serving girl with light brown hair in a yellow tunic and a faint smile. “Good afternoon milords and ladies, I am Simera, how may I assist you?”
Luci said “Well I saw the flyer and I brought a group to take on the job of locating the missing caravans”
“Ah, very well, Lord Walister should see you shortly, please, right this way.” She turned around and led them into the manor house itself.
The inside of the manor house was very well done with dark red wood carved trim and marble floors. She led them to the large double stairwell that led to the second story mezzanine that overlooked the main hallway with rooms branching out in all directions. The railings to the stairwell were also of the same dark red wood as the trim work downstairs and were also elaborately carved. The stairs brought them to a room at the top with large wooden double doors and Simera motioned for them to stop.
“Excuse me one moment while I check if he is available” she said before opening one of the doors barely enough to fit herself through the opening.
After a moment she opened the door and stepping out she said “Lord Walister will see you now”
“Thank you Simera” said Luci as he passed into the study. The others did not say anything but followed Luci’s lead into the room.
The room was very large and dominated by a massive oak desk that dominated the far end. Seated at the desk was Lord Walister himself. A middle age man with hair that was starting to go grey. He didn’t even look up at them while signing off of several papers that he then handed off to another servant standing off to the side before turning back to sign some more.
“So you are the people who want to try and help our city in these dire times are you?” he said without looking up from the papers he was signing.
“Yes, I’m Luci Pendragon and these are…” started Luci
Lord Walister waved him silent, “Yes yes I know who you are. I just need somebody to go out there and figure out where the caravans have been disappearing. My own guards are needed to guard the city and I can’t spare them for the task at the moment. Here.” With that he slid a paper across the table that bore his seal on it. A servant picked it up and handed it to Luci who glanced briefly at it and saw it was for a horse and wagon.
Lord Walister continued speaking even as he signed off on other papers “Thats just a loan, I expect both the horse and wagon returned in good condition, you may need them to bring back any goods you find. You’ll be paid upon your return”
Luci nodded before asking “Where should we look?”
“Look to the northwest, the caravans usually pass through Tellus before reaching us, somewhere between here and there is the most likely spot”. With that he waved them off. Luci was about the thank him when Ozruk and Braum grabbed hold of him and hurried him out of the room.Soon enough they were outside the manor with the writ in hand.
“Well” said Luci “I guess we have a horse and wagon. we should go pick it out”
“You realize there hasn’t been a shipment of horses in several months right? This is kind of the off season.” Ozruk pointed out. Longsaddle was a popular horse trading area and the trade made up most of the merchant traffic during the warmer months.
“Well he would not have given us the loan if he didn’t have horses now would he?” shot back Luci.
They made their way down the hill and to the edge of town where the horse sables were. Entering the stable house they were met by a man who was filthy and definitely had been a while since he had last bathed.
“Ya?” the man grunted.
“Hello Herbert, we have a writ here from Lord Walister for horses and a wagon. Hes sending us out to go looking for the missing food caravans.” As he said that Luci held out the paper. Herbert looked at it and looked at Luci.
“Well, I got one horse and a small wagon, nutting else til the first stock arrives from the breeders in a week or two.” Herbert shrugged.
“Okay, well if that is what is available then thats what we will take, thank you” Luci said trying not to show his disappointment.
“Won’t have it ready til the morning, Wagon has some stuff on it I gots to clear out.” Herbert added.
“Okay, we head out tomorrow” said Braum. “That work Luci?”
“So tomorrow it is” Luci said. “Orrin, Xanaphus, Carrick… er where is Carrick?” he looked around confused.
“Oh he said he was going to the Kings Bounty to do his bard routine there” said Xanaphus.
“Oh, okay, well Orrin, Xanaphus we do have some room at the church if you want” he said.
Xanaphus shook her head “I’ll be outside the city gates, I don’t much care for all this stone and people” she turned away and began to leave before halting and turning to Luci again “I’ll meet you here in the morning, oh, and it is good to see you again Luci” before turning and continuing to head out.
Ozruk and Braum looked at each other and shrugged. “I’m going to go and pack up for the trip”, Braum just nodded and left with her.
Luci pulled Orrin’s hand. “Come with me, I have a place you can rest and we’ll head out tomorrow”
Ozruk arrived back at the home as it was beginning to get dark and immediately froze. The door was ajar even though she knew it had been closed when she left. What was more telling was she couldn’t see the faint glow from the warding runs. Algis, being a former wizard, had place a number of warding runes around the house. Those who lived there, like Ozruk were given a small charm that would deactivate the runs when one got close. Much like a key and lock they were an effective and simple way to lock the doors when not at home. Now however the runes were completely disabled.
Pushing her way cautiously through the door she listened intently for any sound. Ozruk moved silently like a ghost through the house trying to find what was amiss. She had lived here for most of her life and knew exactly which floorboards would creak so not a sound preceded her.
What caught her breath was Algis’s room. The door was open which in and of itself was extremely rare but now not only was it open but the runes were disabled and it looked like a storm had torn through the room. Papers were scattered around, desk drawers were emptied out and the normally neat and tidy space was a complete mess.
She looked around in fear but could not see anything else. Whatever had done this appeared to no longer be in the house but she decided to move quickly. Slipping over to her room she quietly grabbed her backpack and shoved in several changes of clothing along with some supplies. Her pack had mostly sat unattended since her failed apprenticeship two months ago so a lot of things were still in there that she needed. Grabbing her pack she left the house quickly and made her way to the Church of Ayora.
The door to the church was opened by one of the priests who was surprised to see Ozruk. Priests served the church although they did not have the holy powers granted to the Clerics. Most of the priests did not think highly of the Tiefling who was known to be a troublemaker but the old man held his opinion back when he recognized that she was afraid.
“What is it Ozruk?” he asked.
“I… I need to place to stay for the night, some… somebody was in the house earlier, I don’t known who.” Ozruk stammered.
The priest was surprised by this news and opened the door wider to allow her entry. “Yes of course, we have some of the cots for travelers available.”
Ozruk nodded her thanks and went into the small room indicated. Just a tiny room barely bigger than a prison cell with a simple cot in it. A sheet gave a measure of privacy as she put down her pack and curled up on the bed.
It took a long time for her to calm down enough to fall asleep.