Gozran 1, 4720 AR
In the last five years, there has been a subtle yet noticeable change in the Valley of Obelisks. Stillbirths among livestock and people alike, locust infestation, disease, and drought have slowly increased to the point that a once-prosperous area is now struggling year by year just to provide sustenance for all. And recently things have taken a severe turn for the worse.
Attacks by natural creatures of the woodlands and fields have increased markedly. During this same time, there have been reports of the appearance of lethal creatures never before seen by mortal eyes, which have begun to make their abodes in the mountains surrounding the valley.
Most disturbing of all is the increase in random acts of cruelty and violence within the populace. The murder rate has doubled each year, not to mention unreported beatings and fistfights. Many are calling it the Cursed Season – which unfortunately has not yet drawn to an end.
Because of the ongoing troubles, events like tonight’s Calamity show at the Sly Wink are a much-needed reprieve. Folks can forget their concerns for a short while, blowing off steam along with the young performers on stage.
Jamil cleverly plucks his lute with fingers that seem to defy reality with their speed and precision. Renka trills on her flute, producing melodious runs through three octaves without becoming too shrill. Little Dren is the beating heart of the band, practically dancing among his various drums, all while maintaining a steady thump to keep everyone on pace.
And then there’s Nova, who steps to the front of center stage after the chaos of the musical solos has warmed the crowd up. She smiles sweetly, her hair floating around her mysteriously as she casually croons out the first lines of the ballad. She gives voice to lyrics that remind the audience of better times and look hopefully toward a return to such halcyon days.
Amaya and Nasti exchange a smile at their table near the stage as the band brings the bridge to a crescendo. And the crowd goes wild, drawn completely into the performance. Nasti jumps up and dances like everyone is watching. Amaya keeps elbowing Nasti to get her to sit down, but she holds up a candle in appreciation
“I liked them before they were cool," Nasti tells no one in particular.
After their set ends, Jamil steps forward and says, “Thank you, everyone. We are Calamity. Glad you could come out and see us. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
Dren heads off to the bar saying he’ll be back with drinks for everyone. “Grab a couple for Amaya,” Nova calls after him.
“You know I will!”
The singer turned to the others, both her cousins and her bandmates. “That went well I think. Good crowd tonight.”
“Yes, a good set, even if you left the one with the knight and the mermaid out,” says Nasti. “Again.”
“It was good,” says Jamil, ever the perfectionist. “We’re getting there.”
“Ah, lighten up, ‘Mil,” says Renka. “It was a great show.” She gestures at the smiling crowd. “We did that.”
Dren laughs as he returns to the table with a platter of drinks for everyone. He tips Nasti a wink as she sips her tea, and drums on the table with his hands, before unceremoniously hopping into Renka’s lap and grinning widely. “That was awesome! Was that awesome? That was AWESOME!"
“Awesome!” Nasti raises her glass. “Let tomorrow burn and we’ll sing TODAY!”
“WOO!!!” hoots the halfling. Then he blinks. “Oh, yeah! That reminds me! My auntie wanted to talk to you guys.” He gestures vaguely at Amaya, Nova, and Nasti. “She’s, uh, around here somewhere." Nasti looks around for her, being still currently sober.
Jamil sighs. “Not another of THOSE jobs, is it?”
“Haha! What? I dunno, man,” says Dren.
“Did she say anything else?” asks Nova.
“Lotsa stuff, prolly. I told her I’d find you and she could talk to you herself.”
“Was it something important?” says Amaya.
“Not as important as PARTY!!!”
“I like where your head’s at, Dren,” says Nasti, “buuut I guess we should see what this is all about. And hope it’s something easily resolved, so we can return to making merries.”
“We still drinkin’, or are ye gonna go?” said Renka.
Amaya shrugs and Nova says, “I’m up for a couple more mugs before we go anywhere.”
“That’s the spirit. I’ll go get them,” says Amaya, heading off to do that.
“Looks like you’re outvoted Nasti.”
Amaya brings back a pony keg for the table.
“All right, ONE drink,” says Nasti. Then Amaya brings back a pony keg for the table. “That counts as one, yes?”
Merriment ensues for a time as the band and their companions lounge in the afterglow of the good feelings they were able to inspire in a people beset by dark times. After a short while, a middle-aged halfling with fiery red hair approaches the table, giving Dren an amused if long-suffering look.
“AUNTIE!!!” cries Dren.
“You haven’t forgotten me, have you Sweetling?” asks the newcomer.
“Haha! What? No way! We were just on our way to see you Auntie Vintra!”
Nasti sits up straighter, and Amaya slides the woman a mug. Vintra glances at the half-elf and nods with a small smile, taking the mug and having a sip. “Ooh, that’s swill. My table has better. Can I tempt you?”
“I can resist anything except temptation,” confesses Nasti.
Nova frowns. “Oh, dear. Were you just waiting for us? Dren you should lead with that next time. We’d be happy to.”
“Lead the way,” says Amaya.
Dren hugs the pony keg and says, “Don’t worry Amaya. We’ll take good care of this.”
“I’m sure you will,” she says laughing.
Vintra smiles, tousles Dren’s hair, and sashays away with the trio in tow. Nasti hooks a bunch of grapes from the table and begins feeding them to Canter as she follows Vintra. The halfling woman leads them to one of the cleanest tables in the Sly Wink, a booth near the back corner, which is quieter than much of the rest of the commons. There she takes a seat and indicates that the younger women should do the same, pouring from a bottle into four narrow flutes. Nova takes a seat next to Vintra.
“I can’t imagine what all Dren failed to mention to you, but first let’s try some good booze,” says Vintra.
“If you insist,” says Nasti. It takes a LOT for her to not just guzzle it down.
Nova sighs happily after a sip. “Now that’s a good way to relax after a show. You have good taste, Vintra.”
Vintra tips her glass to Nova. “I try. My position affords me a few such luxuries.”
“And what position are you in?”
“You’re aware of the Chicane Guild, of course.” The younger women confirm this. “I’m the guildmaster,” Vintra says mildly.
“Oh,” says Nasti, quiet enough that it’s hard to hear, even in the quieter room.
“Oh, wow,” says Nova. “And you’re Dren’s aunt? It figures he’d never mention it.”
Vintra smiles impishly, “Okay, that’s overstating it a little. I’m one of a few that steer the guild. We don’t really do ‘guildmasters.’” She smiles, looking around the room. “You are the reason for much of the good feeling here tonight, of course. But you ladies came to my attention for different reasons.”
Amaya raises an eyebrow, and Nasti says, “Oh?”
“We do have a couple other…” Nova starts to say. She stops short after the others’ reactions.
Vintra gazes at Nova expectantly. “Do continue that thought.”
“Day jobs,” she finishes lamely.
“Yes, ‘jobs,’” says Nasti. Her yellow eyes flicker in the dim light as they dart back and forth.
“But if you are looking for all three of us I’m pretty sure I know which one you are wanting,” says Nova.
Vintra nods. “Indeed. So, I’ll just make my pitch and you tell me what you think.”
Nova leans back and listens, and Nasti sets her flute down, which miraculously has a few swigs left in it.
“Two days ago, goblin and hobgoblin bandits raided a Chicane Guild caravan carrying fruit and spices to Sumberton. The spices in particular are key to us meeting a quota set by our business partners. We need them back. My guild is willing to pay you each thirty gold for this recovery operation,” she says. “What do you think?”
Nova looks at her cousins. “What do we think?”
“It sounds agreeable to me,” says Nasti.
“Sure,” says Amaya.
“Excellent,” says Vintra. "Ordinarily I’d bribe one of the lords to take care of the problem. But Lord Carstellan says the robbery happened under the jurisdiction of Tulvercross. And the Entrighan and the Perdekark families in Tulvercross say it happened in Sumberton territory,” Vintra adds with a tired sigh. “I’ve heard you’re acquainted with them, so I don’t imagine that comes as any surprise. Well, I’m tired of them all and need this handled quickly, so I’m spending the bribe money on you instead.” She smirks slyly.
“I welcome your largesse,” Nasti says before Canter can stop her. At least, with her accent, it sounds like largesse. The halfling’s eyes twinkle.
“Sounds like something we can do,” says Nova. “Getting rid of goblin raiders will help everyone.”
“Do you know what direction they retreated to?” asks Amaya.
“Better than that. One of the caravan’s teamsters was captured by the goblins but escaped shortly before they descended into their warren. We sent him downriver yesterday, but I can show you where the warren is. Got a map?”
Nova shakes her head. “Not on me, no.” Amaya produces one and Vintra shows her teeth. “You carry a map to a tavern?” says Nova. “And I thought I could see the future. Nice job, Amaya.”
“Even I left my journal at home,” says Nasti.
Vintra makes a mark on the half-elf’s map in the north part of the Kurkle Ridge, perhaps seven miles south of Sumberton. “There’s a box canyon. The tunnel entrance should be there.”
“Hmm, okay,” says Amaya. “We can leave at mid-morning unless you can somehow wake Nasti at first light.”
“And after some more of this wine, mid-morning sounds about right,” says Nova.
“Well, hear the rest, because you might need other preparations. The spices are in eight crates marked with the Sumberton sigil. Those crates are bulky, so you’ll need some sort of pack animal or wagon to bring them back to me. As you’re on guild business, you may borrow what you need.”
“Hmph. Wagon, yes. We’ll have to get up early and THEN leave mid-morning,” says Nasti. “Perhaps if I promise myself some late coffee made with some of those spices, I can claw my way free of bed at dawn.”
“Ooh, I know of this new coffee place in town. I can bring you some!” says Amaya.
“You damn well better.” She is both kidding and not kidding.
“Vintra, I think we’re settled. Leave the rest to us,” says Nova.
“Ladies. Thank you,” says Vintra.
“Now the ‘fun’ part. I get to go tell Jamil I’m going on another of ‘those’ jobs. He gets all pouty.”
“Can I watch?” says Nasti.
Nova laughs. “Sure.”
* * *
Gozran 2, 4720 AR
“You know, you really are an asshole,” Canter tells Nasti in the morning. She waves the familiar off as Amaya arrives with lattes for the group. Nova takes hers gratefully, inhaling the scent of cinnamon. They stop by a Chicane Guild warehouse to secure a wagon and horses then begin to make their way south.
The box canyon is easy enough to find, and they stow the wagon and picket the horses outside of it to avoid any damage to guild property. The trio enters the canyon alert for any sign of danger. Perhaps halfway in, they notice two green-skinned humanoids with large heads and wide ears lounging in the shade against one wall of the canyon. The creatures perk up slightly when they notice your approach.
“Ahoy-hoy!” Nasti calls in Goblin.
One of the goblins casually picks up a rusty blade and mutters in broken Taldane, “You go ’way. This gobbo territory.”
The tiefling sticks with the Goblin tongue. “I’m practically paesano, friendo. See how well I speak your language?”
“Me think dat racist.”
She nods. “That’s fair. Sprechen zie Taldane for my friendos here?”
“What you think am talking in?”
“Ozi, wait. Look!” says the other goblin.
“What?” He squints at Nasti for a moment. “Heeey. You’re the lady.”
“The lady,” echoes the other goblin.
“That’s me!” Nasti says, mouthing “I don’t know” to her cousins.
“If they think you are their Goddess, play along,” advises Nova.
“Fiznip call it,” says the first goblin, slapping its companion on the shoulder. “This lady hired cousin Breek.”
“Breek say you not so bad,” agrees Fiznip.
“Breek, yes! And what a lovely gobbo,” says Nasti. “Is he a mate of yours?”
“Yeah, he real man of ladies. Not like poor Oznog,” says Oznog.
“Oh, chin up, Ozi. Plenty of blind fish in the cave pool.”
“Ozi, I think you handsome gobbo,” says Fiznip.
She poiints at Fiznip. “See?”
“Thanks, Fizzy. Want make out?”
“What? No. Uh. Have gobbo girl in … uh … Absalom?”
“And I’m sure she’s bright green with a mouth like a shark,” says Nasti.
“Sure, ‘Absalom’ girl,” grumbles Oznog. “What you do here, lady? Who your friends?”
“We were looking for something that a friend of ours lost. This is Nova, and that’s Amaya.”
“Hi!” says Nova. Amaya waves.
Oznog waves casually back. “Dat metal costume look heavy,” says Oznog of the half-elf’s half plate armor.
“It’s actually pretty light,” she says.
Oznog shrugs. “You strong, then.”
“Your hair floaty,” Fiznip says to Nova. “You know that, lady?”
She grins. “It’s magic.”
Fiznip elbows Oznog. “Magic. Eh? Eh?”
“What? Magic? Oh. Nice.” He turns back to address Nasti. “You say friend lost stuff out here, huh. Not so bright, your friend.”
“I know, right? That’s how WE got sent out here. It’s about eight crates of spices, marked with … well, they have markings on them.”
“You friend lose eight crates?”
“I know, it’s a lot to process. Why don’t we go inside and have a look around for our missing goods while you work your way through all this new information?”
“Wait, wait. Oznog still process … ing.” The goblin puts one hand on his chin, miming looking thoughtful for a moment. “Fiznip, you ’member these crates?”
“New boss insist. We say dumb job.”
“Don’t like new boss.”
“Me too neither.” Oznog looks at the three of them in a way that they assume he thinks is shrewd.
The tiefling’s eyes shine. “New boss, eh?”
“Look, we hear good thing ’bout you from other gobbo. You seem nice enough. Most gobbos in base no like new boss.”
“What if … we share password, Ozi?”
“I getting to that, Fizzy.”
“Look. We can no defy boss, ’cos he has friendos. But. BUT. If you go in, maybe talk to other gobbos. Say password. They hear you out. Maybe.”
“Get friends out safe,” adds Fiznip. “Take crates. Whatever.”
“That’d be great, thank you,” says Nasti.
“But NOT the hobbos, prolly. Some big friends of new boss.”
“Some maybe,” says Fiznip.
“You bleeding heart, Fiz.”
“I know. But some nice me.”
“Okay, okay. Maybe SOME gobbos.”
“Right. That what I say.”
Nasti nods sagely as the goblins continue to blather. Then she says, not ungently, “The password?”
The goblins both blink at her. “Oh, right,” says Oznog. “‘Yark-bree.’”
She grins, showing off those slightly-too-sharp teeth. “I love it.”
Oznog offers a thumbs-up. “Okay. Thanks, lady. We wait for other gobbos. You go. TKB.”
“Now, if we have a disagreement with your new boss that leads to an, um, change of management, you’re welcome to come work for me in the town.”
“Me consider,” says Fiznip.
“You are wise in your generation.”
“But Ozi wild soul,” Fiznip continues. “Live life of wild brigand.”
“It true. Oznog cannot be tamed.”
“That why you love life a shambles.”
“Huh. Thought it sexy.”
“Not so much.”
“Now, if you’ll please excuse us…” says Nasti. The goblins wave the women along.
Nova winks at poor Oznog on the way by, and he smacks Fiznip lightly. “See, Fiz? Oznog may be secret sexy.”
“Dunno ’bout that.”
As the sentries’ voices began to trail off, Nasti tells her cousins, “Goblins are just like anyone else. You just have to know HOW to talk to them.”
“That was so great, Nasti,” says Nova. “I guess it’s good to have friends in low places.”
They find a tunnel entrance where the canyon ends, a long, steeply-sloped passageway down into the ground. Curiously, a rope is attached near the surface and seems to extend the entire length of the tunnel as a sort of makeshift handrail. The light gives out after the first hundred feet, but as they near the end of the second hundred feet, they see a dim glow ahead. They douse their lights and slowly approach.
The tunnel opens into a roughly square chamber shored up by timbers. Four similar posts hold up the ceiling, and a torch set in a sconce on the north wall lights the room. Two hobgoblins in heavy armor lean on the far wall, guarding burnished copper doors engraved with leering demonic faces. Unlike the earthen walls in the other parts of the room, the walls that flank the doors are made of gray-green masonry. A hay bale is set near the eastern wall, crossbow bolts sticking out of it.
“Oi! Who you?” says a hobgoblin as it sees Amaya peeking around the corner.
“The cleaners,” says Amaya.
Nova motions for Nasti to lead the way, and the tiefling moves beside Amaya. “Friends from the town, uh, friends! Yark-bree!”
“What gibberish is this?” says the speaker. “Look, you’re really not in the right place for staying healthy, ladies.”
“Rube-Hey? Well, never mind, I’ll start over. We’re come to reclaim some stolen crates. You can either let us through or suffer, as you please.”
“Is that a fact,” says a third hobgoblin, standing near a ladder that leans against the west wall.
“Hey. Isn’t that that … singing human?” says the first hobgoblin, pointing at Nova where she lurks behind her cousins.
“What, Bolly?” says another.
“You. Bird in the back. You with Calamity?” asks Bolly. Nasti looks from the hobs to Nova and back again.
“That’s me. They call me Nova”
“What are you on about, Bolly?” asks the third hobgoblin.
“Friend o’ mine sneaked into a show in Sumberton. Came back raving.”
“What a random place to meet a fan,” says Nova.
“Hah!” says Bolly. “Tellin’ ya, Rigel. This human is valley-famous.”
Rigel, the hobgoblin beside the other door frowns. “Hang on. Purple skin and horns. Horns. Floaty hair. And … the muscle, I suppose,” he says, glancing at Nasti, Nova, and Amaya in turn. “I think these are the women from the otyugh incident up Tulvercross way.”
“Wait. Is that right? I ’heard about that,” says the third guard.
“Our reputation has preceded us,” says Nasti.
“Oh, yeah. Someone slips a giant tentacle-monster into a noble’s drinkin’ water. Word gets around,” says Bolly.
“But these are them what handled it, eh?” says Rigel.
“Ah. I see.”
“Annnd they’re here for stolen crates.”
“Ah … I see.”
“I’m afraid that is both the long and the short of it, yes,” says Nasti.
“Well. This is awkward,” says Bolly.
“What are your feelings about this new boss I’ve heard so much about?” says Nasti.
“Boss keeps us fed,” says Rigel. “Takes care of us. Even if the work ain’t always exactly on the up-an-up.”
“He doesn’t seem too smart though,” says Nova. “Raiding the guild. Heat was definitely going to come down on all of you for that.”
“Might be as you’re right,” says Rigel. “Look, we know you got a job to do, but so do we. Nothing personal, eh?”
“Nothing personal,” Nasti agrees. “You seem like decent fellows.” She sighs. “Can’t say as we didn’t try?” Nova frowns but then steels herself.
Rigel holds up a hand. "How about this. If we manage to thrash you, we’ll let you go, and you won’t come back.” He looks around at his fellows for confirmation, and they nod. Satisfied, he looks back to you and continues. “Say you couldn’t find us or the goods was already gone. Whatever you like.” He swallows. “And if you thrash us, take what I just said into consideration, right? Call it professional courtesy.”
“We have an accord,” says Nasti.
Amaya moves swiftly, rushing the unnamed guard and bringing her bastard sword down in a vicious arc to draw first blood. Then she brings the blade up into high guard, ready to fend off any counterstroke from him or the female archer tucked into a nook in the west wall. Bolly charges in to flank Amaya with his wounded companion and scores a hit of his own despite the half-elf’s heavy armor. Rigel advanced to stand beside his wounded comrade, but Amaya’s blade batted his attack aside. The hobgoblin then raised his shield.
Nasti ducks Bolly’s backstroke as she moves towards the doors, angling against Rigel and the other guard before sending a cone of flames to wash over them. The unnamed hobgoblin fell screaming, and Rigel was singed, the whites of his eyes showing. “Some accord,” he growls. Nova moves into the room and evokes a ray of frost toward the archer, who manages to evade the freezing beam.
The archer takes aim at Nasti and put a pair of crossbow quarrels into the tiefling. Amaya brings her bastard sword down on Bolly, who avoids her first slash but not the second. Her blade carves into the hobgoblin’s chest, sending him to the floor, bleeding out. Amaya turns a glare on the archer, who is too bolstered by anger at her companions’ fates to be intimidated. Nasti’s next spell stabilized the burned hobgoblin, and Nova casts positive energy into the tiefling, healing some of her injuries. “Thanks,” Nasti calls.
Rigel fails to hit Amaya again before the flat of her blade renders him senseless, and she rushes up the ladder to threaten the archer. She flees, and after a brief chase, even her best shot is thwarted by the half-elf’s bracers of deflection. Nova tries to get the woman to back down, but she is practically mad with grief and adrenalin. Moments later, she joins Rigel in unconscious on the floor.
“I can’t see; is she alive?” asks Nasti. Canter tsks.
“She’s alive,” Amaya confirms.
The tiefling nods and goes to check on Rigel and Bolly, both of whom somehow still draw breath. “This new boss? NOT a fan.”
“I hope they all aren’t this stupid,” says Nova.
The trio turns to consider the demon-carved copper doors to the north.