Part I: The Long Road to Tahmoul
Part II: Hand Off
Part III: Fear and Loathing Among the Elves
Part IV: Party, Party, Party ...
All woke at dawn and made a quick breakfast. As they were getting ready to walk south Trilla held up her hand, a tight fist. "Incoming."
Everyone turned outward and drew weapons. A gravelly voice called softly, "Imoto, permission to enter your camp."
Renki replied, "Enter, Chochenani." Then to the group, "It is my eldest brother. He is not alone." Everyone remained ready for battle.
Through the trees appeared thirteen ogre magi, all armed for war. Their weapons were conspicuously sheathed and they held their hands away from their weapons and were working hard to look non-threatening, a fairly difficult thing for a group of oni to do. They were surprisingly convincing. Most were stone faced but a few, based upon their familiarity with Renki's expressions, looked apprehensive.
While they were all dressed alike, two stood out. One was Chochenani. The humans and the dwarf had spent enough time around oni to realize that the other one was probably the youngest of the group and bore a strong resemblance to both Renki and Chochenani. They were nobles and it showed in their carriage and in the way the others deferred to them.
Renki waited patiently for her brother to speak, and the others followed her lead. David's first inclination was to start asking questions, but even he wasn't quite ready to start a fight with double their numbers in ogre magi.
"Gozokushoku has instructed me to escort the Gaijin back to the elven lands. He commends you on your success in defeating the Sleeping One's clerics and intends that no harm befall the Gaijin on the return trip."
"Did Gozokushoku provide instructions for me?"
"You are to accompany them and lead the embassy to the Gaijin peoples."
"What is the purpose of the embassy?"
"Gozokushoku wishes our clan to have peaceful relations with the Gaijin peoples."
Renki looked a bit nonplussed at her instructions, but said nothing further on the subject. "I believe you are familiar with my companions?" She looked pointedly at Orcanus and continued, "All except this one, who is new." Renki introduced Orcanus, who made an excellent show of looking confident in the face of double their numbers of ogre magi.
David remembered the eldest brother from the ceremony in the throne room when the oni presented the party with the mithril weapons as thanks for saving Renki from the giants. He was bigger and bulkier than the other oni, and Renki had commented that he was a powerful wizard as well as a deadly fighter. All oni had potent magical abilities, and the nobles were typically skilled in wizardry similar to that of humans and elves.
Renki looked around at the group, said, "Excuse me please," and immediately growled at high speed in her native language. She gestured at Orcanus several times, her brother made odd faces a few times, and the other oni generally ignored the conversation. Once it was clear that there would be no fight they all directed their attention outward as guards. The younger brother stood by, shifting from foot to foot and looking bored.
Faraz's impression was that the young oni was a teenager. He reminded the human of his younger brother and his friends, always affecting a bored attitude. The attitude was no more attractive among ogre magi than it was among humans.
Watching Renki and her brother, he understood they were unhappy with each other or their conversation. Without understanding the language he could tell the older brother was talking down to his younger sister, and she was having nothing of it.
The conversation ended abruptly with both obviously unhappy. "Chochenani and his buntai will escort us to the elven lands, where I will continue with you," told the group. There wasn't much to say so they silently completed packing their belongings and headed south, with a handful of ogre magi in front and back, and to either side. David had a dozen questions but continued to exercise his right to shut up.
Faraz noticed all the oni took their places in rotating three person scout elements. The younger brother, who had not been named or introduced, did so with typical teenage ill grace. The single oni who marched with the party changed every few hours, but none except Chochenani would engage in conversation. Conversations with the leader were typically short and brusque. It was hard to tell if that was his normal personality or if he had a personal problem with the current situation.
All were very respectful to Renki and polite to the group. The younger brother tried insolence once but Renki immediately quelled that. She never said a word, never twitched a muscle. She just stared him down. He tried to out stare her and failed quickly. The young woman was a deadly fighter and according to Faraz's employer, an equally deadly wizard. The young oni was bored, but he wasn't THAT bored that he was going to push his luck with his sister.
The trip was generally uneventful. While they encountered goblinoid patrols several times, in each case Chochenani spoke to them and the goblinoids let them pass. "What is he telling them?" David asked Renki after one nervous encounter with a company of orcs leavened with a dozen ogres, led by a senior orc with a half-orc sergeant. The discussion was heated and it appeared the orc captain was backing down at the prompting of his sergeant.
"He told the captain that what we are doing is none of their business, we are going through, and not to bother us."
David choked. "That's not the most diplomatic way of handling it."
"No, but we have found that informing others of our actions with the implied understanding that we will kill anyone who gets in our way generally simplifies things. The captain was about to order his men to attack us when the sergeant stopped him." Renki shrugged. "The sergeant realized the buntai was placed to wipe out the entire company with our ice spells. The captain is a fool but not totally stupid it seems. He realized that he was going to receive a his sergeant's dagger in the kidney if he opened his mouth." She looked down at David. "The world would be a better place with one hundred less orcs in it." David realized she wasn't joking in any way. He had grown very comfortable with Renki and enjoyed his discussions with her, but the oni point of view was quite different from the one his grandparents, well, Jake's grandparents and the clerics of Demeter had instilled in him. Sometimes he forgot she wasn't human, and the reminders were always startling.
The light forests dotting the gently rolling plains gave way to older, thicker forest in rolling hills. They had barely entered the heavier woods when a near simultaneous hoot from the front and both sides brought everyone to a halt. Looking around Faraz realized that all four out riding patrols were slowing moving in to the main group, all backing towards group with weapons ready.
Trilla had no idea what was happening but took several deeps breaths to calm herself and prepare for action. She felt her employer ensure his sword was loose in its sheath. The others touched pockets and pouches, preparing for spell casting. The ogre magi were just as keyed up, ready for action.
Chochenani gave a soft whistle that rose dramatically in volume to echo gently through the forest. There was complete silence for about three seconds, then an answering whistle came. The oni gave a second whistle which was answered in turn. Motioning for the Gaijin to stay, he strode slowly forward one hundred feet out in front of the party. An elf appeared from behind a low bush, bow in hand but no arrow evident. They slowly strode towards each other, making no noise and stopped about 20 feet apart. They held a discussion of some sort, the six foot high elf dwarfed by the massive oni.
Trilla had the idea there were many of elves nearby. She was careful to make no sudden moves and prayed that no one else would either.
Chochenani turned and called to the party. "Weapons away, come forward." Everyone looked at Jake and David, who nodded simultaneously. The oni near them all sheathed weapons.
"Let's go." Turning to Orcanus, David said, "the elves are a bit touchy out here on the border. Things will be ok." David glanced up at Renki's face and it wasn't there.
It took him a moment to realize that she had shape changed herself smaller, shrunk herself down to about six feet tall.
Jake realized it at about the same time. She looked exactly like her normal self, just smaller. Human or high elf sized. Well, non-Sathean human sized. "You look a lot less threatening now." Renki turned and winked at him. She could be stiff at times, like the dwarves, but usually had a good sense of humor. Also like the dwarves, once you got to know them.
As he got closer Bisonbit was sure he had seen the elf before. He was one of the captains of the elven rangers who had escorted them north. As they reached the ranger Chochenani turned to the party and said, "Farewell," turned and moved slowly back to his people. As he reached them the entire group faded back the way they came.
The elven captain was nearly as brusque as the oni. He politely greeted them and said, "we will escort you back to the city. I don't expect any problems as the goblinoids have been avoiding our lands, but we will be cautious. My job is to bring you all safely back." His glance at Renki made it clear that he wasn't fully happy to carry out his orders.
Looking down at Orcanus he asked, "What, er, who is this?"
"Orcanus Sunfoot, at your service!" The halfling bowed. He was out of his element here, but knew how to make a good first impression. Polite and competent was the best choice. Threatening or tough would not ... not that he expected to intimidate the tall elf. This elf was taller than he expected, towering over all of them, even the shortened Renki. He noticed that all the nearby elves were at least 6' tall, and the captain was six inches taller than that. Note 34
Faraz and Trilla both looked a bit nervous, but the other three humans and the dwarf? There wasn't a trace or fear or indecision. He supposed that people who were used to facing and destroying the most powerful minions of Elemental Chaos weren't scared by mere mortals.
Jake, David, Bisonbit, and Gilden exchanged glances. The elven captain seemed a bit standoffish, maybe even nervous. The presence of an ogre magi and an unknown creature didn't seem to explain it. However, he briskly led them off towards the nearest elven city, a half-day's travel. Jake prayed quietly to Demeter that things would stay civil. He didn't understand the elves' attitude and feared that as outnumbered as they were, things would not go well if they got hostile. For good measure he added a similar prayer to Cieldren.
As they walked the party caught brief sight of their escort, elven rangers - and to their surprise, similarly dressed and equipped dwarves. Before this war elves and dwarves barely communicated, much less coordinated efforts. The elven rangers were famous, even in Trivana. Gilden had never heard of dwarven rangers. Note 35
In his own way the elven captain discouraged conversation as much as the ogre mage leader had. So the party walked along in silence.
Faraz was impressed by the halfling. He short legs worked quickly and tirelessly to keep up with the taller humans and elves. He was used to traveling with Gilden and didn't think about the dwarf's ability to keep pace. The distance to the city shrank quickly and they were within the boundaries before they even realized it, by mid afternoon. The buildings of an elven city were constructed of stone and wood, but tended to blend in to the forest so one could be among them without realizing it.
The captain escorted them to a small building whose inside resembled a dormitory, a dining area in front, a common bath in the back, with small individual rooms along a central corridor connecting the two common areas. "The prince will greet you in the first hour after sun down. Please refresh yourselves. You will be escorted to the palace at about sundown. The baths are hot and fresh food is being brought in now." With that he abruptly left them alone. Unlike a similar human situation, there were no servants to assist them. Elves maintained servants to handle services but generally care for themselves.
I run the demi-human size/weight different from the PH. High elves are tall, topping 6-1/2' tall. The grey elves are shorter, typically 5' to 6'.
Dwarves run 4-1/2' to 5' tall, gnomes and halflings 4' to 4-1/2' The PH sizes for some demi-humans are a bit too short IMO so I adjusted them upward a bit.
The dwarven rangers are NPC only. I've never formalized their characteristics, treating them mostly as normal rangers. Why? Property that is not protected is encroached upon, so the dwarves have to protect their lands. A subset of dwarves well trained in outdoor life seem to be a necessity. In Shahrivar the rangers are all dwarves. In my primary campaign world, Trivana, the rangers are modeled on the French Foreign Legion, and members are not typically of the ranger class.
The dwarven rangers are primarily campaign dressing - typically there is no significant interactions with them. I like to toss in little details that the players will ruminate on, never knowing for sure which details will be important.
Besides, I like world building.
Everyone trooped to the baths and stripped down. All except Orcanus were used to an army camp life style and nudity was basically ignored. Instead of sliding their grimy bodies into the tubs they scrubbed themselves under showers of flowing water, and assisted each other in washing hair. Once clean they entered individual tubs of steaming hot, scented and oiled water. Renki's tub had been planned for her normal size so she had to pull a chair over to get into it.
At some unseen signal servants - all elves – arrived with scissors and razors, trimming hair and shaving the men. Elves grew no facial hair but had an understanding of the process and were quite competent with the razors. They knew enough to merely trim Gilden's beard. Clan dwarves typically wore their hair and beards long and decorated them with intricate braiding, but adventuring and soldier dwarves often clipped their hair and beards short.
The servants were quiet and unassuming, excepting the woman who helped Renki with her hair. She was a bit nervous and nearly jumped when the oni patted her arm. Renki said something softly and smiled showing as few teeth as an oni is capable of. The woman calmed down - mostly - and completed Renki's hair, but seemed happy to get away from the oni.
While they were soaking, silent servants removed their belongings without anyone realizing. Jake sat bolt upright when he felt the Sword of Cieldren moving away from him. It had been on his person for months, he had no idea that he could feel its presence until it moved away from him. "What are they doing?" he asked tensely.
The woman trimming his hair jumped back. It was clear that while they presented an even facade, the elves were nervous of them all, not just Renki. She stammered and finally managed to mumble that the party's belongings were being taken to a nearby building for cleaning, and would be returned when spotless. Jake fought down momentary panic at his sword being parted from him, trusting the elves were trying to be good hosts.
David commented that his clothing had many pockets full of delicate spell components. The man shaving him mumbled something about the elves understanding and being careful. Everyone finished their baths, dried off, and put on comfortable robes. They then repaired to the conference room for a light meal, sans servants.
Bisonbit was the most perceptive, and spoke first. "They are afraid of us. Why?"
The others all looked at each other in puzzlement. Finally Renki spoke, "It is the same as with the goblinoids."
"We are the Reavers. We have fought that which could not be fought against overwhelming odds. We vanquished our foes, and in the case of the Hall of the Frost Giant Clerics, we obliterated them."
David broke the silence. "Your people reported what they know?" he directed at Renki. At her nod he continued, "You're right. All the elves know is what they got from the their spies. What did you tell your brother about what happened?"
Renki paused, gathering her thoughts. "I told him little, which irritated him. I told him that Jake destroyed the Carnith Chalice and brought the keep down on their heads. He asked how but I told him I wasn't sure I understood. I didn't mention Cieldren, as you asked me not to," Renki finished, looking at Jake.
"All they know is that Jake blew up nearly half of a huge rocky bluff and rained chunks down on a goblinoid city, causing severe damage to large parts of the city. Goblinoid mothers will be terrifying their children into obedience for centuries, maybe eons, invoking the name of the Reaver Jake." She laughed out loud. "I suspect the elves will be doing the same." She looked at Jake. "You are probably the most feared being in this world, and no one knows exactly why." Renki roared in laughter. The others joined her laughter, if with a bit less volume. Note 36
"Why don't you want us to tell anyone that you're the second Champion of Cieldren?" David asked. Something of a braggart, he wouldn't mind trumpeting such a fact around. David would be quite happy to be the Champion's best buddy!
Jake stammered for a while but couldn't articulate his thoughts. Finally he managed to say, "I don't mind being the Champion of Cieldren. I just don't want any attention."
"Are you ashamed of being a Dwarven Champion?" Gilden accused. Everyone could hear the dwarf capitalize the words.
"NO!" Jake said emphatically. In a soft voice he continued, "I just don't want to be the center of attention."
In the silence that followed Gilden commented. "You are one of the two most important people in the entire world to all the dwarven peoples." Jake looked even more anguished at this pronouncement. The dwarf looked down at the table. "I'll hold my silence for a while. But I'll promise to hold my silence only as far as the safety of the clans is not at stake. Not a second longer."
"Cieldren chose you for a reason, and your goddess assented for a reason. You have an important role in this world and you will do your duty." The dwarf got up and stalked off to the room reserved for him and closed the door. The others broke off and went to rest. Jake sat with his elbows on the table, staring at the grain of the wood.
The typical result of the heroes vanquishing the BBEG and his minions is that they return to full honors and praise. Everyone lives happily ever after.
I'm following a different tack here. I'm thinking of the elves as xenophobic, insular creatures who have, until the past 20 years, lived primarily in isolation from the other races. They are cooperating with the dwarves and humans in mutual defense, but this doesn't change their racial view in 20 short years, especially a race whose life span is typically five hundred years in my campaign.
This makes everything more mysterious/interesting for the players, as opposed to the typical "hail the returning heroes".
A group of young elves, male and female, arrived just before dusk to escort the group to the reception. It was made politely clear that weapons beyond belt knives were not acceptable so the party reluctantly left their newly cleaned weapons and armor behind. After spending years armed and in armor, not being armed and armored made them feel naked.
Gilden was over his outburst and the others were more relaxed. Jake looked a bit haunted but otherwise seemed ok. Trilla stayed near her employer, ready to do whatever he needed.
This reception was identical to the dozens they would attend in coming months. They met all the notable elves and guests, and managed to not make total fools of themselves. At the first reception there was considerable nervousness among the hosts, but as weeks went by that nervousness diminished but was never quite gone.
The constant question was variations on how they destroyed the giant fortress. "Magic" didn't satisfy the elves. Jake stammered at first but ended up blaming it on the Carnith Chalice. Ever the showman, David diverted the attention away from the uncomfortable Jake and hinted that the chaotic item had a flaw – Jake got lucky and hit it just right. Where did the shield come from that kept them from being killed? Demeter and Cieldren favored them that one time.
Most of the elves were satisfied with this explanation, but certainly not all.
The elves did not call the group The Reavers; they referred to them as the Company from Kerr, although Gilden quietly grumbled that he was from Rendelshod, not Kerr. But to the people of this world there was no real difference.
The process of feting repeated itself in the first city, and in a second, and a third. The Company quickly grew bored with constant parties and being shown off like prized dogs. Mornings of the first week or two were spent nursing hangovers. After that they all drank and ate far less. They trained every morning, together and individually, to keep up their respective skills. Trilla found an human sect that was an off shoot of her own temple. Their unarmed combat techniques were different from what she grew up with, but made an interesting adjunct to what she already knew. Faraz disappeared periodically with a group of elven druids, absorbed knowledge from them, and shared what he had learned about the creatures of Elemental Chaos. The others found locals with similar interests and took the time to expand themselves as well.
After months of circulating through the elven cities The Company from Kerr were escorted by a group of dwarven rangers to the nearest dwarven city.
One thing different about the dwarven cities is the concept of "inner" and "outer" cities. The "outer" city strongly resembles a human city, with the exception that everything is typically made of stone - wood is a decoration or accent, not a structural material. The outer city is generally cleaner than a human city and sanitation standards are strictly enforced, especially in the lower class neighborhoods. Most of the permanent population is non-dwarven and typically amounts to a few thousand people of various races. Humans are the most common along with various half breeds, with some elves and some few goblinoids. The Company spotted a number of races they did not recognize, or had merely heard of.
Few dwarves live in the outer city, although many have businesses there. They walk from the depths of the inner city each morning, and back each evening.
The "inner" city? Non-dwarves never see it. As expected it is underground, spread across numerous huge caverns connected by tunnels. Only dwarves are allowed to enter and dwarves don't talk about it when sober, so descriptions are hearsay and speculative. Dwarves and a few select non-dwarves are allowed entrance, typically people who important enough to the dwarves to be adopted into one of the clans.
Unlike Trivana where each of the Nine Clans had its own region, each of the dwarven cities has segments of the Eight Clans. There was no Clan Gilderlo here - in Trivana that clan was formed by the legendary Thorin Gilderlo more than a thousand years ago. The other eight clans date back from near the beginning of dwarven history.
The Company from Kerr was housed in the best accommodations in the outer city, feted at all the great entertainment houses, and introduced to the many notables, including trading factors from Tahmoul. But no mention was made of the inner city, nor was Gilden offered entrance. He shrugged it off, since he was a member of the Gilderlo clan, which did not exist here. Privately he felt hurt at the exclusion. He was as much a dwarf as any.
After months of parties across the elven cities, the group was tired of parties, of being trotted out to the edification of the masses. Jake, especially, became withdrawn. At the second dwarven city it became more tedious and everyone wracked their brains for excuses to skip the dog-and-pony shows.
Copyright 2013 Bryan Fazekas