Man in the Iron Mask Part 6: DWI
“If it were not for the differences between the ages and races, life would be unbearably dull.”
-Diary of Sarevok of the Iron Mask
Shar-Teel awoke slowly, her groggy mind slowly crawling out of the state of slumber. She opened her eyes and winced in pain, even the dull light felt like daggers piercing her tender head, this was not good. How much did I drink last night... she thought to herself, clutching her forehead with a gloved hand. Why was her hand still gloved? She sat up and looked down, why did she only have her breastplate removed? She glanced around the room quickly, gasping sharply once she saw a plated arm extending from the end of the bed, on the floor. What was he doing here, in her room?!
Slowly the previous night began to return to her memory, she could foggily remember the bartender informing them that they would be forced to share a room, but how did she get in the room, and on the bed? Her eyes narrowed threateningly, he must have brought her here, but how? Had he... carried her? She could not tolerate that thought, her incapacitated, completely helpless, how dare he not just leave her sprawled out on the bar floor! That was where she usually ended up anyways...she shrugged her shoulders and stretched her long arms out.
The warrior began to stir, and Shar-Teel reached across her bed quickly to grab the missing piece of plate. She strapped it to her torso as Vorekas stiffly sat up and turned his helm-covered head towards her.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked groggily, bringing a gloved hand up towards his head. He seemed to have forgotten that he had a helm on, and it thunked against the metal with a loud clang.
Shar-Teel winced and covered her ears. “Do you mind?” she snarled, her reddened eyes gazing at him angrily.
“My apologies,” he replied dryly, slowly rising to a standing position. “We will leave soon, I suggest you take a cold bath or the like...I have no time for hangovers.”
“I am fine,” Shar-Teel barked in reply, “I am ready to leave.” She threw her legs over the side of the bed, her head pulsating with waves of pain, then paused as nausea flooded her stomach.
Vorekas paused, then walked across the room to the door. He bent over and picked something up, his back blocking Shar-Teel’s line of view, then quickly turned back around and thrust his arm forward. A metal object clanked against the bed, and Shar-Teel gradually recognized it as her helm. She leaned forward and grabbed it, tenderly replacing it on her disheveled hair.
“Thanks,” she grunted, slowly bringing herself to her feet. Her legs wobbled unsteadily for moment, then she began to walk towards the door. She glanced up at Vorekas, who was standing beside the portal, and motioned for him to go before her.
“Ladies first,” she sneered, her drawn face turning a light shade of green as she extended a tan arm to brace herself against the wall.
“There are no ladies here,” Sarevok retorted, throwing open the door roughly and stepping into the hallway. Shar-Teel followed him closely, hoping silently that she would not stumble forward and fall into him, then clutched the wall tightly as they descended the never-ending staircase.
They walked into the crowded tavern and Shar-Teel gripped her ears tightly, her head screaming in agony as she was inundated with sound. She glanced around and saw a strange little man motioning wildly towards them, and she could faintly remember a gnome...joining their party? No, that couldn’t be it...
“Vorekas, right?” the gnome asked cheerily, “and let’s see...Shar-Teel?” He glanced up at them with a broad smile crossing his very gnomish face, and he nervously smoothed his black beard.
“I imagine you garnered that knowledge from your amazing sleuthing abilities, although I wonder if you were not sent here for some reason, for instance...to infiltrate our small party?” Vorekas asked, pulling out a chair beside the gnome and sitting down.
The gnome seemed genuinely surprised, and shook his head furiously. “No, no, nothing like that, I’m evading the law, remember? I am visiting family, that’s all...I swear it on my great-aunt Neverlie...she was an honest gnome if there ever was one!”
Shar-Teel glanced at him blearily, clutching her aching head tightly as she sat in a chair across from the ostentatiously dressed gnome. Vorekas didn’t respond, but instead motioned for a passing barmaid to bring them breakfast.
“You seem a bit rough on the edges my dear, did we over-imbibe on the Evermead last night?” the gnome questioned, his bright eyes twinkling mischievously.
Shar-Teel glanced up menacingly. “I am not your ‘dear’, nor is my business any of yours...”
The gnome threw back his hands defensively. “I meant no harm, no harm at all, just a simple comment on the rather suspicious amount of fatigue you seem to have this morning, considering the large quantity of mead I did watch you consume last night, but I am sure I was mistaken, obviously a woman of your stature and mind set could withstand the incapacitating powers of any drink, I am sure you were in complete control of all of your bodily functions and words...”
Vorekas seemed to jump, imperceptible to most but Shar-Teel, and she glanced at him strangely.
“Gnome, stop babbling or I will split your open from topknot to crotch,” she retorted sharply, closing her eyes as little daggers shot through her head.
“I am sure you would,” the gnome replied, laughing nervously, “but then you wouldn’t have your third companion on your little quest, now would you?”
“What?!” Sarevok and Shar-Teel barked simultaneously.
“I do not even know your name, gnome, and you so readily presume I will allow you to accompany me to Baldur’s Gate?” Sarevok said, glancing at Shar-Teel as she slumped forward in her chair.
“Jan Jansen, at your service! Gnomish thief and illusionist extraordinaire!” the gnome gushed proudly, puffing out his robust chest and beaming.
“And why do you wish to travel with us? What benefit for you is there in the agreement?” Sarevok asked cautiously.
Jan paused for a moment, tapping a thoughtful finger against his chin, then glanced back up at Sarevok. “Well, you see, I am not one of the more favored gnomes in the eyes of the Flaming Fists, nor is my family...some protection from them and the bandits would be greatly appreciated...I fear I would quickly be a Jansen kabob if I attempted the trip alone through Larswood.”
Sarevok nodded in agreement, and Shar-Teel perked up at the mention of the Flaming Fists.
“You hate the Fists?” she asked tiredly, her droopy eyes staring at him blankly.
“Hate is such a strong word...the Fists and I have issues, economic issues, which must be ironed out before I am actually allowed within the city...” Jan replied carefully. “Actually that is where your fully-laden carts come in handy, I am sure I could easily fit under one of those tarps...”
“You expect us to smuggle you into the city?” Sarevok sputtered, “do we look like gullible fools?!”
Jan shook his head furiously. “No no...of course not...but there is a benefit for you also, to take me into the city.”
“I am listening,” Sarevok replied, tapping his fingers against the table.
“Well, you see, how can you possibly guard three carts with only two men...er...people,” Jan began, glancing nervously at Shar-Teel, who was oblivious to the slip, “it is impossible. I am sure you are quite capable, but the math indicates that you would die quicker than a Drow in Suldanesslar. With my help, your chances for success would be much greater, and I ask for no monetary repayment, simply protection.” The gnome glanced up at Sarevok, who nodded his head ponderously. The gnome stuck out a chubby hand, “agreed?”
Sarevok sighed as he extended his gloved hand and clutched Jan’s tightly, not even realizing what exactly he was getting himself into.
Jan smiled brightly and clapped his hands together excitedly. “Ah, just to think of it, I am traveling with such imposing figures, how wonderful!” His smile drooped slightly as Shar-Teel leaned forward, gripping her head tightly. He began to fumble with a pouch tied to his belt and withdrew a small blue bottle.
“Here,” he motioned, shoving the bottle into Shar-Teel’s hands, “drink this.” She reared back and glanced at it suspiciously, throwing it back against the table.
“I am not so easily misled, little man,” she hissed.
“Well I will be a turnip’s uncle, don’t you know that is a special Blue Turnip Anti-Hangover Concoction, version 4? Version 1, 2, and 3 didn’t end up so well, see Uncle Meadamor didn’t realize that blue turnip also had amazing explosive abilities, and he accidentally dropped it on the floor once when he was testing the materials, I’ve never seen anything like it before! We were cleaning up pieces for days, and who else but me found the scrap of paper with the recipe scribbled on it? I revised it, of course, but you still shouldn’t throw it around like that...” Jan rambled, and paused to draw a deep breath.
“Enough,” Shar-Teel sighed, “at this point I will try anything.” She reached forward for the bottle, batting away Sarevok’s protesting hand, and swiftly uncorked it and guzzled the contents. A rush of cool water flooded through her hot mind and weary body, lifting her heavy eyelids and lightening her tired limbs. She glanced up at the gnome, a smile crossing her healthily flushed face.
“This is great stuff! Where can I get more, this would come in handy in the future, I am sure...”
Jan smiled proudly. “Once we reach Baldur’s Gate, I can quickly manufacture some more for you, and on the house since you have been so kind as to allow me to accompany you on this dangerous mission!”
Shar-Teel looked at Sarevok and nodded her head approvingly. “I like this guy,” she said, smirking devilishly as the warrior leaned back in seat with a loud sigh.
“And so you see, all along the turnip-napper was that little sneak Stickyfingers, we should have guessed from his name, but gnomes have never been known for being the most sensible of creatures, at least not the Jansen line, and soon we captured him and threw him in the Pit of Scraps, where he was surrounded by nothing but rotting turnip flesh and skin for days on end, the terrors of the Abyss cannot compare with the utter horror of it, the screams were atrocious....when he came out, he was never the same. Least to say, he never touched another turnip for the remainder of his life, although he was soon killed by a passing merchant cart, you would never believe what the cargo was...” Jan gushed, his rapid chatter pausing only as he took a deep breath.
“Turnips?” Shar-Teel replied from behind him, and Jan turned around and nodded vehemently.
“Exactly. The cart actually driven by my Uncle Meadamor, the one with the drinking problem, I guess he didn’t see the fellow, thank goodness he didn’t have his Version 1, 2, or 3 potion with him, just imagine what mess that would have been! Bits of gnome and turnip everywhere, all the children around, it would have been a scarring experience I am sure...his wife Bertha Heavyhand would not have approved I...”
“Enough!” Sarevok barked, from the front of the caravan, “I can tolerate no more of this unceasing, nonsensical drivel!”
“Nonsensical? Maybe I should elucidate...” Jan began.
“Oh put a sock in it, Vorekas, he is more interesting than sitting in silence” Shar-Teel shouted in reply, “go on Jan.”
“Um, well, er,” Jan mumbled, “I seem to have forgotten my train of thought, what do you know.” He gulped and glanced at Vorekas, who was sitting stiffly in the seat before him. How could he bear to wear that awful plate mail all the time? What was he hiding anyways? It has been a stroke of luck, for sure, to find this small group...and even more lucky that he had actually been allowed to join them! He always seemed to be rejected, he had no idea why...who doesn’t like a gnome?!
Sarevok opened his mouth to reply when he suddenly heard a loud rustle in the woods to the east of the caravan. He glanced sharply to his left and scanned the treeline, drawing his crossbow slowly.
“Kefin, I thought we were supposed to find some back up here, this is where the camp was, until they burned it down...” Rilt whispered, glancing around nervously.
“Yeah, something seems strange,” Vilem added, “I don’t see anybody else.”
“Maybe they are hiding in the shadows,” Kefin replied.
“They aren’t thieves, they are bandits.”
“No...but there’s our target,” Rilt replied, pointing towards the moving caravan, barely visible through the thick brush.
The sound of crackling leaves and twigs startled them, and the three jumped and spun around. They were faced by a small band of bandits, young tow-heads like themselves, and they sighed in relief.
“You scared us,” Rilt gasped.
One of them grinned, “obviously you are the ones we were told to find, you seem inexperienced enough.”
“Inexperienced?! Maybe in the woods, but I can eviscerate with the best of them!” Vilem barked, drawing an arrow and pressing it against his bowstring.
“What are you waiting for?” another jeered, “an invitation?”
“Let’s get ‘em! Enough iron there to fund a nice little trip to Maztica...”
Another bandit nodded his head rapidly. “Huaahhaa, I kicked him in the head, until he was dead!”
His companions sighed and shook their heads. “Ignore him...he got hit in the head...”
Kefin gave the man a strange look, then withdrew an arrow and loaded his bow.
“To the victor goes the spoils!”
Sarevok’s suspicions were soon confirmed, and a small group of bandits suddenly appeared from the dark underbrush.
“Bandits!” he shouted, and quickly aimed his crossbow towards one of the oncoming outlaws. He fell quickly, but was replaced with another...then another...Sarevok could hear Shar-Teel shouting.
“There are too many Vorekas, I can’t...” her voice ended in a loud war cry as she jumped off the caravan and withdrew her blade, deciding she could kill more with her sword than with her bow.
Jan had cast a few simple spells to dispatch one or two of the bandits, then withdrew his own crossbow and began shooting at them randomly. A few arrow rushed past his uncovered head and he ducked quickly, scrambling down into the foot room of the cart.
Sarevok finished off a few more with arrows, then ordered Jan to take over the control of the caravan as he drew his sword and rushed into the fray of the battle. He grinned maliciously as looks of fear spread across the bandits’ faces, then blood splashed against his plate as he sliced them apart. Shar-Teel was skewering them on her blade, but still more came...he felt his arms tiring. Suddenly a rush of black swept past him, and he saw a flash of metal plunge deep into the neck of an attacking bandit. A cloaked figure was stabbing bandits left and right, his swift limbs carrying him adroitly through the fallen bodies. Sarevok turned back to rip through the leather of an oncoming bandit, impaling him on his long blade.
Shar-Teel glanced in surprise at the hooded figure so efficiently killing the bandits, obviously a thief, but her thoughts were soon interrupted by the oncoming rush of attackers. After what seemed like an eternity, the battle was finally over and dozens of bodies were littered across the grassy earth. Shar-Teel immediately set to work at scalping them, while Sarevok turned towards the approaching hooded figure.
“My good man, I hope your cargo has not been damaged,” the dark man commented, his soft voice belying his obvious prowess in the field of murder. Sarevok couldn’t see his shadowed face, but only two specks of green he assumed to be his eyes.
“Nothing that cannot be repaired,” Sarevok replied, “but I admit I must wonder why one so...adept...as yourself is traveling alone through these woods?”
“A high price is payed for the scalps of these criminals, I am not one to deny myself a business opportunity...I have been hired by a wealthy merchant to reduce the threat to his trade, as an added bonus,” the shadowy man answered softly, his voice eerily calm.
“I see we have competition in the hunt for scalps,” Sarevok said, gesturing towards Shar-Teel as she ripped off the scalp of a screaming bandit.
The man paused and glanced towards Shar-Teel, then turned back to the warrior. “My employer would be glad to see another embarking on such a noble endeavor...”
“I would not mark it as being noble...”
“Ah, yes, well it all depends on your interpretation of the word, does it not?” the man replied silkily, “nevertheless, I am sure he would be glad to repay you for your aid, even though you have unwittingly helped him, he is a generous man.”
“As you are, if you are willing for us to partake in some of the generosity most likely directed towards your purse,” Sarevok added dubiously.
“I assure you, I would not be informing you of this if I thought it would at all affect my...salary...but, I must be returning to my duties. If you are ever in Baldur’s Gate, please visit the High Merchant Derman Jahladz, I will inform him of your noble actions,” the man replied, then turned and vanished into the shadows of the nearby forest.
“Did he not want any of these?” Shar-Teel asked, holding up two bloody fistfuls of scalps.
“No...” Sarevok replied ponderously, “he did not even ask...”
He smiled to himself as he languidly walked through the winding paths of the thick forest, this was all too simple. Fools, bandits were, not to see the trap staring them in the face...the shock on the boy Kefin’s face was memorable, even, as he plunged his dagger into his bare neck. He glanced down at his gloved hands, the blood didn’t show on the black leather, but he knew it was there. As it should be, where it belonged .
It was perfect, absolutely flawless. He was pleased.
Part 6: DWI
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