The rain had let up overnight, but the roads were muddy and miserable. Olg asked Fave, Stad, Brosin, and Tulver to focus on building fences that will keep the goats in, as the fieldstone fences for cows are not goat-proof. Kelvyn collected 52 eggs from the chickens, and spent the morning pickling 26 of them.
Despite the mud on the roads, Olg and Kelvyn set out for Hullbeck. They load up the wagon, and take the magic hilt with them in hopes that the Sage will be able to give them some clues about it.
The small troupe made it to Gretchen’s, where they stopped for the night. Olg and Kelvyn made a bee-line for the bar, each ordering a drink. Kelvyn settled in to eavesdrop on the conversations around him as Olg went to talk to Gretchen.
“I come bearing the farm report,” he tells her. “There’s 50-some odd chickens or some such number and we have 6 dairy goats that will be ready to dairy next year. The fanciest dairy goats you’ve ever seen. They have much hair. Angora, or something… We’ve got three goblin farmworkers that are tending to the day to day, and tending to the future….We’re making a Hullbeck run…Gotta supplement the farm income so we can have resources.”
Then the discussion moved on the sleeping arrangements for the pair of adventurers for the night. The troupe had in the past always worked for their room and board. Given Mugi’s popularity on the one night that he took up the world’s oldest profession, Gretchen asked if Olg was interested in trying prostitution for a night.
“I won’t bathe for that,” came the immediate reply. “I’ve already taken a dip in the lake twice this week. That kind of cleanliness sticks around.”
While Olg and Gretchen talk, Kelvyn chatted up the bartender. He asks after the apprentice that had gained significant local notoriety by turning the river into a sleeping potion that worked upon mere skin contact. Kelvyn seemed surprised to learn that the apprentice hadn’t run off, and was still ensconced with their master at the Gleaming Spring.
Addressing the question of lodging, Kelvyn paid 3 gold pieces to have a room to himself. Despite the offer of work, Olg chose to sleep outside in the wagon with his bear.
The troupe traveled uneventfully the next day to the main road and camped by the hot springs overnight. Dawn of fifth-day found them traveling towards Hullbeck, determined to make the long journey in a single day.
They arrived in Hullbeck quite late, but decide to “roll by” Sage Onida’s tower just in case her door was open. Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on them, for Onida was open for business.
Olg was rather taken aback to be reminded that Onida’s fee for acting as a group’s sage was 2,000 gold pieces a month. She was firm that she would not answer questions about magical devices or anything else for free.
After thinking for a bit, she suggested that she could test spells on the pair of them, and would identify one item per spell tested. With a rash lack of reluctance, Kelvyn and Olg agreed to this deal.
Kelvyn went first. Onida told him to let her know if anything burned, tingled, or went numb. She assured him that the itching wouldn’t drive him mad. Probably.
Onida concentrated on Kelvyn for a moment, and he began to glow. When the glow faded, he was covered from head to toe in tiny, iridescent golden scales.
“You look like one of our goats, but less fuzzy,” Olg informed him. “Now you’ll be easy to spot at night.”
“I’ll be easy to look at,” Kelvyn countered, looking at the shimmering scales.
Olg went next, and Onida’s concentration had no effect he could detect. He didn’t glow, burst in to flame, or lose his shadow. Onida led them outside of town, and told him to use a breath attack out into the field in front of them.
Having no experience either casting magic or using a breath attack, this was an instruction that Olg found difficult to complete. Finally Onida smacked him on the back of the head, and his breath weapon went off on his surprised outbreath.
It created a beautiful cloud, but not beautiful in the way that Kelvyn’s new scales were beautiful. It was shiveringly dark, and cold. The sort of beauty that was best seen from far away.
When he asked how to do it again, Olg learned that it was a one time use spell attack. Onida, in turn, learned that Olg’s tongue and jaw still worked after using that breath weapon. She told them both to let her know if they noticed any odd or unpleasant sensations, and that Kelvyn should mostly be back to his old skin type by morning.
Olg tried to hit Kelvyn to test out the effect of the scales. He found that he couldn’t land a blow.
Back at Onida’s tower, she whisked the sword hilt upstairs for analysis. After quite a while had passed, she came back down the stairs and informed them that they had found a magic fire sword dedicated to an old god that had fallen out of favor with the people. It could be activated by calling the name of the god, Ἥφαιστος and a blade made of fire would appear.
He was a god of metalworking, she added. Some said he dated from back before the world burned, though the body of scholarship dedicated to him was not large. To Kelvyn, Onida added that he should think of any remaining scale patches as beauty marks in the coming days. Or at worst, a harmless and pretty pox.
Kelvyn and Olg both slept in the wagon, saving the gold an innkeeper would have charged. Sixth-day dawned hot and bright, much to Olg’s displeasure. He spent the day under the cover of the wagon, making a holster for the magic sword from leather.
Kelvyn, on the other hand, sought out sociable work. He heard in town that Farmer Johnston was mucking out his pig fields after the fall slaughter to prepare for going in to winter. He walked out to the farm, and offered Farmer Johnston a hand with the tedious and dirty chore. In return, at the end of the day the farmer gave him a very generously cut chain of good pork sausages. That evening Olg slept in the cart once again, while Kelvyn stayed at an inn with bathing facilities.
Seventh-day dawned misty. Neither sensed anything lurking in the mist, but they distrusted it nonetheless. They spent the day indoors, at the local bar. They paced each other, each drinking 10 beers over the course of a day. Going by Onida’s again, they found that her door was closed.
That evening both decided to sleep in the wagon, with a lantern burning to keep the mist at bay. Kelvyn spent the night terrified, seeing shadows in the mist. Olg took watch all night. Neither got any rest to speak of.
As dawn came, the mist dissipated. Onida’s door was still closed. Both fall into exhausted doses and slept away a beautiful sunny day. That evening they tried Onida’s one last time, but her door was still closed.
They decided the spend the night of eighth-day traveling partway back to the farm. On the way they passed two goblin smiths arguing over ownership of a silver hammer, while heading in the direction of Hullbeck (courtesy of Spine Wrinkle). Olg and Kelvyn were soon drawn into their debate as one of the goblins exclaimed that even strangers on the road could see that the hammer was rightfully his.
Asking for more information, the adventurers discovered that the goblins were siblings, with businesses set up immediately next to each other. (The goblin’s personalities were inspired heavily by the Chengelpet brothers in “The Last Colony” by John Scalzi.) The hammer had been left to them in the will of their eldest brother.
The will unfortunately no longer existed, because when they could not agree on the interpretation of the wording, one of them threw the document into the fire in a fit of rage. They had traveled to the wise master at the Gleaming Spring to ask him to solve their dispute, but had been turned away.
Olg and Kelvyn found it damning that one threw the document in the fire, and felt the silver hammer should go to the other sibling. When the goblins largely ignored the adventurer’s decision and continued their squabble unabated Kelvyn told them, “We gave you our judgment. Believe us or don’t. You two have a lovely evening.”
“For a fee, we also do judgment enforcement,” Olg calls after the still arguing goblins as they parted ways.
The quiet cycle of camping in the wagon and traveling continued, until the troupe was jolted out of their relaxation midmorning on tenth-day, shortly before they reached Gretchen’s. They surprised a giant spider in a field near the road. Its bulbous black body was shiny in the sunlight.
Thinking quickly, Kelvyn dashed a flask of oil at the spider’s feet. Olg ran up to it, shouting Ἥφαιστος as he drew the magic sword, slashing the creature and setting the oil at its feet aflame. The spider was dead before it could even quite turn around, so great was its surprise.
As any good adventurer does, Olg immediately began butchering the great beast. He harvested the venom sack from the head, careful not to get cut and accidentally poison himself. He cut apart the abdomen to gather the web sack and spinnerets. He harvested the meat from the slain foe and he and Kelvyn had an impromptu feast, sharing out the meat with their war beasts.
The rest of the journey to the farm went uneventfully. They had been away for seven days, and found that in their absence Mugi has been hard at work. He finished the goat fences with Stad, Fave, Brosin, and Tulver.
Then Mugi did the fall planting in the garden behind the farmhouse, sowing amaranth and building special cedar growing boxes for a crop of potatoes. He and the others also tilled up one of the fields that would no longer be needed for cows, and had just finished sowing winter wheat.
During the night of second-day the party sleeping in the barn was beset by biting bugs. The Goblin King and Braum were able to drive them off with a lit torch, but sleeping in the hay loft had lost its appeal. The party retreated to the living room of the farmhouse, where they spent the rest of the night in peace.
The morning of third-day dawned clear and bright, perfect for farm chores. Kelvyn went out to the chicken coop with the goblins and, using their shared nimbleness, showed them how to slight-of-hand eggs out from under the chickens without getting pecked.
Coming in to catch the end of this explanation, Mugi then showed the goblins how to befriend the chickens and charm the eggs out from under them. All in all, however, the goblins decided they didn’t care much for the chickens and only 18 eggs were collected from a flock of roughly 60 chickens. Perhaps the feeling was mutual.
Afterwards, Scrob the Goblin King and Braum discussed the future. “We would like to make a place where we can foster ideas, spread understanding….We can attract travelers from the main road.” Braum expanded on his vision.
Scrob decided to travel back to the Labyrinth, to explain the farm to the other goblins there. He wasn’t much interested in the chickens, but had taken a liking to one of the farm cats. Braum bid him to take a pair back to the Labyrinth, with a caveat to mind “how fast they can breed”.
Two goblins, Stad and Fave, elected to stay behind and work on the farm. They set to with Lucia after their compatriots leave, cleaning out both the barn and chicken coop with gusto. The adventuring troupe was impressed with the goblin’s enthusiasm, and excited that some of the goblins are buying into their idea. Stad and Fave will stay on and manage the farm while the troupe goes out adventuring.
The troupe promptly set out for Gretchen’s. There, Mugi asked Gretchen to recommend a farming mentor. Gretchen was a little puzzled by the request, and after a pause suggested their neighbor Ned Killigun. She also mentioned that there was a farmer’s market every eighth-day, a few hours west of her establishment.
To avoid paying for rooms that evening, Braum volunteered to entertain the crowd at the bar with stories. He talked of the battle between Erlang Shen and Sun Wukong that raged across the heavens. Long into the night Braum depicted their mighty struggle. The tale concluded as Sun Wukong was forced to serve the king of Heaven, and was bound to a monk headed into the west.
The morning of forth-day the troupe headed over to the Birbeckle’s farm on Gretchen’s recommendation, to see if a few of the older Birbeckle children might be interested in helping out Stad and Fave with the chickens and other farm chores.
The elder Birbeckles were amenable to the idea, and volunteered the middle boys, half-grown teenagers Brosin and Tulver. As a neighborly gift, they also dug up some rhubarb and sent it along with Mugi to be planted. When Brosin and Tulver expressed some skepticism about why a farm needs so many chickens, Olg replied “Chickens aren’t a need. They’re a calling. If you search your soul, you’ll hear a cluck.”
When they arrived back at the farm, Mugi took the gathered chicken manure and plowed it into the garden patch behind the house. He carefully planted the rhubarb in the northeast corner of the garden.
Simultaneously, Braum gathered up Stad, Fave, Brosin, and Tulver. He filled them in on the plan: the troupe was planning to travel to the old caved in gold mine to check it out. In the meantime, the four of them would run the farm.
Brosin was the first to reply, pointing out that they needed a cook. In fact, he continued, his girlfriend Jan is a pretty good cook. Braum okayed Jan the Girlfriend moving in as cook, and gave the group 10 gold pieces to cover any needs or emergencies that arise before the whole party meets up at the egg stand at the eight-day farmer’s market. The troupe decided to leave Legion the pack dog and Julio the mule for farm use while they were away.
The troupe hadn’t make it more than a mile down the road toward the old gold mine when they saw an evil looking storm blowing in from the west. The clouds seemed to glow with light. They hightailed it back to the farm, and settled in to wait out whatever was coming.
Questioning Brosin and Tulver about the apparent firestorm, the troupe heard tales of the spells the mad mage lords inflicted on the world in the last days before the world burned. Some of those spells linger in the world still, the farm boys say, such as the occasional firestorm that sweeps over the area, burning people and animals alike caught outside when it hits.
Kelvyn and Mugi chose to wait it out in the cellar, while the rest of the party sat together in the living room. Kelvyn was at this point the only member of the troop who had not learned any Sign, but Mugi had picked up a few words of Common, so they were able to communicate a bit during their self-enforced closeness.
Braum passed the time with those above ground by telling the story of how three ghosts changed the perception of an old money lender. Ghosts being the main purview of his chosen god, he had many ghost stories.
“The moral of the story is that money and wealth is good, as
long as you do good things with it. And you should always value people and
relationships over material things.”
The morning light of fifth-day showed that the damage of the storm wasn’t too bad. All of the chickens had been safe in the coop, and the troupe’s animals were all in the barn, so the farm had suffered no losses. The troupe set out to the gold mine, taking a dozen eggs to give to Gretchen on the way past her place.
Upon exploring the gold mine, the troupe could see that the
way was completely blocked and the surrounding tunnel seemed unstable. There had
clearly been several efforts made to clear the cave-in throughout the years,
but none had broken through.
“We’ll use the timber we brought to shore up the cave in. Olg, you’ll use your architectural expertise. Put the beams up first, then start clearing the cave-in.” Braum efficiently organized their party, and they get to work. The troupe dug rubble and hauled it away in shifts, taking the best rubble out onto tarps for possible later panning. They worked for the remainder of the day, getting up early the next morning for more of the same. In the late afternoon of sixth-day, they broke through into to uncollapsed mine shaft.
They found a corridor worn smooth, as if fingers had traced every inch of the walls for years, looking for a crack or a seam. They also found the desiccated remains of what they assumed to be the miner who was trapped inside the mine at the time of the cave-in, with a locket. Empty supply crates and a few remaining chunks of gold ore were the corpse’s only legacy.
Braum said a prayer over the body, asking his permission to
bury him outside and explore the area. The troupe formed a solemn burial party,
taking the worn tools to bury with the body. They built a rough holy symbol and
left a few chunks of ore to mark the grave.
“You made it out,” Braum intoned over the grave. “We’re sorry
we weren’t here sooner. Sir, if you still have family left in their world we’ll
get the locket to them and tell them what happened.”
The morning of seventh-day, the troupe decided to travel to where the farmer’s market will take place the next day. Reaching the empty wooden stands, they occupied themselves by scrounging up charcoal from the remnants of old fires. They knew that a wood fire wouldn’t burn hot enough to melt gold, but a charcoal fire would. Sorting through the bags of ore they collected at the old mine, they selected a likely candidate and threw it into an old cooking pot. Weighing the captured gold later, they found it was roughly equal in weight to 17 gold pieces.