Caravan Camp, Tradetown
Gods Above! I nearly died today!
But Revelry, you ask, How can that be? It was but the very first day of your very first journey on your own…
Very true, dear reader; and yet this afternoon I teetered on the threshold of death‘s door not once, but twice at the least. Were it not for the heroic efforts of the gallant young guard snoring softly behind me, I’d not be here to write to you this evening at all. I’m ashamed to admit I don’t even know his name… Though, in my defense, it has been nine Hells of a day – and not to worry, I can always ask him in the morning.
Perhaps, though, I should start from the beginning…
The rain had begun before I even finished breakfast this morning. Not a torrential downpour as yet, but a relentless drizzle that made a muddy mess of the footpaths crossing the campus. By the time I reached the stables I was already covered in mud and muck almost to my knees, and there was still a whole day of travel yet to come. An auspicious start to the day’s journey. For a moment I considered simply going back inside and climbing back into bed. Instead, I brushed and saddled Seraphine, loaded my supplies into her saddlebags, and rode off into the wet, gray morning, eager to meet my destiny.
I had arranged to travel as far as Stonehome with a merchant caravan led by a lanky, orange and white striped Tabaxi named Paws After The Fireflies, or just Paws for short. (I just love Tabaxi names, by the way, they are so full of wonder and whimsy – why would anyone ever shorten them?) They had instructed me to meet them and their crew at the caravan grounds just outside the city, and the rain was growing steadier by the minute. By the time I arrived my demeanor was somewhat… soggier than usual. Paws After The Fireflies and one of their teamsters were arguing heatedly as Seraphine and I rode up.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” grumbled a grizzled old gnome with great white tufts of hair sticking out of his ears, “my lef’ hip is achin’ som’fin fierce! There’s a Thunder Squall a’brewin’ out there, you mark me!”
“Wimmet, you are truly gifted with the animals,” Paws After The Fireflies retorted sharply, tail twitching, “but you are no seer, and I cannot take business advice from your left hip! We are due in Stonehome in five days time – profits are on the line! WE GO! No more arguments!”
“Aye then,” Wimmet spat into the mud as he turned back to hitching his team, “but be it on yer’ ’ead Paws! I warned ya’, did’n I? Me hip ain’ never wrong!”
“Then I guess we’ve both been warned, haven’t we Wimmet.” Paws After The Fireflies hissed at the teamster’s back, but the old gnome just continued grumbling as he worked. At the time, aside from my hopes being both raised and dashed at the prospect of delaying for the weather, I thought the warning nothing more than the grumping of an old gnome dreading the miserable day’s travel ahead.
Still; Wimmet had threatened a Thunder Squall. Nearly every soul in the Boiling Seas quails at the mere mention of that name – and with good reason. A Thunder Squall can form almost instantly, even out of a cloudless sky. A moment’s warning is all you get as a thick white mist suddenly fills the air, then the tempest is on you, fully formed and raging! Hurricane force winds whip the mist into a constant disorienting swirl as lightning explodes like a fireworks finale across the sky. The unending thunder is so close it rattles your bones, and sleet and freezing rain stings your eyes to near blindness – if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’re as likely to get hailstones the size of apples. Then, just as suddenly as the tempest appeared, it is gone – leaving shattered ships and leveled villages in its wake. Personally, the closest I had ever been to a Thunder Squall was witnessing the aftermath, yet just the horror of the scene and the survivors’ testimony were enough to give me nightmares for days.
As the wagons began slowly slogging westward down the muddy road, I found myself eyeing the clouds more warily. Perhaps my imagination was running wild, but they did seem to be growing darker and more foreboding with each passing the mile. By mid-afternoon it was as dark as twilight and we were almost all soaked through to the bone and thoroughly miserable.
One of the caravan guards, though, still held his head high. He was whistling, even, as he loped along beside the wagon. Now, I pride myself on being positive – attitude is everything, after all – but this cocoa-skinned ray of sunshine was smiling like he was on a balmy afternoon stroll. He was quite handsome, too, in a calloused, rugged kind of way. Hmmm… my skies were suddenly looking a bit brighter too.
I nudged Seraphine closer to this dashing optimist, intent on striking up a conversation. Our eyes met as I approached and his dazzling smile broadened. Just as I reigned Seraphine in beside him and smiled back, though, I heard my name shouted over the wind.
“Revelry!” Paws After The Fireflies was waving at me from the stoop of a low stone building ahead of the wagons, “your assistance please!” Damn their timing. Through the dim drizzle it took me a moment to realize that they were standing on the steps of the Tollmaster’s office. Dark Ancestors, we had reached The Span already! Visibility throughout the morning had been so poor I’d been unable to track our progress at all. Wimmet clearly was gifted with the wagon teams to have managed such a pace in this weather!
The Span is a massive bridge that crosses a two mile wide chasm that was ripped almost completely across our small continent during the cataclysm. Flat and level for its whole length, the bridge is broad enough for five lanes of wagons to cross in each direction. Built in a beautiful synergy of magic, engineering, and stonecraft; it is truly one of the Great Wonders of Fairhaven. Like everything else in our fair nation, however, it has a price. (For the sake of tonight’s narrative – and my drooping horns, the candles are burning low – I will leave my description there for now but promise to provide more details tomorrow.)
Paws After The Fireflies would need my Writ of Bardic Privilege to complete payment with the Tollmaster, of course. You see, the Unified Thespians, Performers, Singers, and Entertainers Guild will pay half of any toll in the country for a merchant escorting a Bard of the Realm in their travels, but the Bard’s Writ number must be recorded in the Tollmaster’s ledger for proper billing. With a heavy sigh, I gave the beautiful guard an apologetic smile and spurred forward towards the toll office; business first after all.
Signing my Writ number into the ledger took well over an hour. I expected the wait, of course, but the rain and mud had mucked things up even more than usual today. When I finally emerged from the toll office, Paws After The Fireflies and their entourage were queued at the foot of the bridge a short distance away with several other wagons and carts. Far more traffic than I expected to see on such a dismal day.
I was too far away to overhear, but I could see Wimmet and Paws After The Fireflies gesturing furiously at each other. Before I had descended the steps and unhitched Seraphine, though, the two seemed to have settled into just glowering at each other. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that Wimmet’s limp did look quite a bit worse as he leaned into the driving rain, leading the wagons out onto The Span.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? Oh, yes, we all should have listened to Wimmet and his Oracle Hip…
The temperature dropped at least ten degrees once we were out over the chasm, and the strength of the wind doubled. I quickly dismounted to walk beside Seraphine, shamelessly letting her take the brunt of the weather for me. As we shuffled through the stinging rain past a rickety covered cart to catch up with the caravan, a wind gust slammed into Seraphine so hard she stumbled into me. The cart caught her weight with a shuddering jolt, and Seraphine was able to catch her balance – but for that long breathless moment I was literally crushed between them.
When the pressure finally eased, all I could do was cling to Seraphine’s saddle, gasping and seeing stars. As the world slowly swam back into focus, I was greeted by the cart’s driver, a red-faced halfling who looked equal parts livid and terrified. He was leaning around from the driver’s seat, gesturing furiously back and forth between Seraphine and his cart while screaming at me over the wind.
Unfortunately – or fortunately, I suppose – between the ringing in my ears and the noise of the growing storm, I couldn’t hear a thing he was saying. So, I simply chose to ignore him completely – strongly encouraged by the fact that I was still leaning heavily on Seraphine and laboring to catch my breath. The poor chap was still gesturing furiously to his decrepit old pony long after Seraphine and I had passed him and rejoined Paws After The Fireflies’ caravan.
Despite Wimmet’s best coaxing, the caravan’s progress across the bridge was torturously slow. The rain was coming down faster than it could drain away and the pooling water was nearly ankle deep. Not only did this make footing more treacherous, it also dragged heavily on the wagon wheels. It took us more than an hour to labor past two of the guard houses positioned every half mile along The Span’s length. And the incessant downpour showed no signs of relenting.
Halfway there at least, I remember thinking, just keep trudging, Revelry; put one foot in front of the other and we’ll be across before you know it.
Which, naturally, is the moment when all nine Hells broke loose.
Lighting suddenly split the sky directly above us in a blinding white flash, and Seraphine reared back in panic. I felt her reins slip from my fingers just as the thunderclap boxed my ears and shook me to my bones. For a moment, I could do nothing but blink blindly and shudder as the massive thunder clap continued to roll around and through me. Then a solid wall of wind slammed into my back, driving me to my hands and knees on the paving stones.
I was still trying to fathom what had just happened when someone, I have no idea who, hauled me immediately back to my feet and began to pull me after the wagons. As my head cleared, though, I pulled away from my would be rescuer, scanning around for my poor Seraphine.
I spotted her just a few yards behind me, stiff legged and wild eyed. Reaching her, however, was a stumbling journey of rapid staccato flashes between Seraphine’s frightened form and radiant white blindness, as more lightning exploded all around us. I could dimly hear Wimmet shouting somewhere, “I tol’ ya, Paws! I fuckin’ tol’ya!”
Debris was flying everywhere in the sudden gale as I finally reached Seraphine and tried to calm her long enough to get a grip on her reins.
Further back on the bridge I watched a covered wagon go tumbling in the wind, like a ball of dried grass, right into the traffic on the opposite side.
Seraphine’s sides were heaving, but she allowed me to stroke her neck as I reached toward her bit.
I saw the angry halfling on his cart right behind Seraphine. He was, of course, shouting and gesturing furiously for us to get out of his way.
My fingers finally closed around Seraphine’s reins – just as a savagely swirling gust of wind literally lifted me off my feet!
I was blown high enough to see over the tips of Seraphine’s ears as a blazing white finger of heavenly wrath briefly connected the angry halfling and his cart directly to the Heavens Above.
For an eternal split second the very air all around me hummed and crackled with energy. I felt every hair on my body stand on end as Seraphine’s mane rose straight out like a mohawk-style helmet plume.
The angry halfling was perfectly silhouetted, head thrown back and arms outstretched, center stage in an impossibly bright spotlight. Then; the world exploded.
Well, the angry halfling’s cart anyway. Not into burning splinters and wood chips, as one might expect, either; instead the cart detonated like a cannonball hitting a ship’s powder stores! Noble Seraphine took the brunt of the explosion, but I still felt a moment of searing heat before the shockwave tossed me towards the other side of the bridge like a rag doll.
My body bounced heavily across the top of a loaded wagon traveling in the other direction, and then rolled ungracefully off the back. Everything went dim for a moment as I slammed into the paving stones with a splash. The angry halfling’s final moments were still blazoned across my vision, regardless of whether my eyes were open or closed.
After a moment, I gave my head a shake and climbed shakily to my feet, blinking rapidly. Lightning was still splitting the sky all around me and I could feel the thunder crashing over me, but it all seemed sort of dim and far off. My body was sluggish and slow as I turned in an unsteady circle trying to get my bearings. It seemed there could be no rest for the wicked, though – as a huge piece of debris flying on the wind slammed into my left shoulder, sending me reeling. I managed to stagger for several feet before falling back down to one knee.
Chaos reigned unchecked all around me as people, wagons, and livestock scrambled for cover or bolted in panic in all directions. Despite the danger, it took a moment for my addled brain to catch up enough to tell my battered body to move. But by then, as I pushed myself back to my feet, I found myself staring directly into a stampeding team of horses – all thundering hooves and wide, rolling eyes – mere moments from running me down.
There simply wasn’t enough time! My limbs felt like fat, numb sausages and there still seemed to be a delay between my mind and muscles as I tried to heave myself to one side. I already knew it was hopeless.
But suddenly, out of nowhere, a guardian angel from the Gods Above swooped in and tackled me out of the way! We rolled over and over, splashing through the ankle deep water, but whoever it was held me tight. Which was fortunate – as I could barely keep up with what was happening, let alone get my battered body to cooperate.
When we rolled to a stop, my rescuer wasted no time; immediately hoisting me to my feet, ducking under one of my arms, and half-dragging me towards a large square blur near the edge of the bridge. The blur, I realized as we got closer, was one of the bridge’s guardhouses! I had no idea which one, but relief flooded through me at the thought of shelter. My vision was beginning to clear a bit as we staggered up the guardhouse steps, and I was finally able to get a good look at my hero as he tried the door. I recognized his smooth cocoa skin even before I saw his face – my smiling sunshine guard!
I am just going to call him Sunshine from here, I think, to make referring to him easier – I hope you don’t mind.
The guardhouse door didn’t budge. We hammered on it futilely for a few minutes as the storm raged around us, but no one came. We could hear people inside, but it seemed they weren’t taking in refugees today.
Taking Sunshine by the elbow, I pulled him around to the leeward side of the building. There was a scant six feet of stone wall before the building met the bridge’s parapet, but we wedged ourselves into that corner for the meager protection it offered. As we squeezed in tight together, I noticed that Sunshine was clutching his other arm close to his side and it was slick with blood.
The storm was too loud to even try shouting over, so I gestured gently towards his injured arm with a beckoning motion. Sunshine hesitated, then he gingerly slid it between us. I couldn’t hide my wince as I saw the splintered wooden stake impaling his forearm, and the first two fingers of his hand were sickeningly crooked. Taking a deep breath to focus my mind, I reached into my soul’s wellspring of magic and song.
Gently tracing the edges of the wound on Sunshine’s forearm with my fingertips, I began softly singing a verse of renewal from the Song of Creation. Sunshine’s eyes widened as shimmering silver tendrils of magic began to spread into his wound from my touch. I smiled apologetically into those beautiful almond eyes, took another deep, steadying breath, and mercilessly ripped the wooden stake from his arm. Sunshine howled in pain, but somehow managed to keep his arm steady. Before he had time to recover, I ran my hand down to his broken fingers and brutally yanked them straight. The flesh on his forearm was knitting back together before our eyes as I hummed the last stanza of my spell and I could feel the finger bones fusing under my hand. When my song was done, his fingers were whole and all that remained of his wound was a thin pink scar.
Wearily, I sagged against his chest for a moment while he flexed his fingers and stared wide eyed at his new scar. The effort had drained me, but my own battered body was also screaming for attention. Placing my hand on my own chest, I began to sing again, exhausting my magical reserves for the day. I was truly surprised at how many small wounds I suddenly felt pushing out splinters and other detritus while knitting themselves back together. Not all of them closed completely, but the pain was suddenly much more manageable.
I have no idea how much longer the Thunder Squall raged on. It may have been only minutes, but it felt like hours as we huddled under the remnants of my cloak, clinging to each other. Our little corner spared us the worst of the wind, but we were still pelted by bits of shrapnel that swirled around the guardhouse. The tempest was merciless as it continued to split the sky, rattle our bones, and freeze us with sleet and rain. An entire wagon flew by at one point, ten feet in the air as though enchanted – and sailed right over the parapet to plummet into the gaping chasm.
And then suddenly all was still…
The last wisps of wind scattered the light mist left hanging in the air. I had to quickly shade my eyes, as I was suddenly blinded again. This time by the radiance of the sun as it starkly illuminated the wanton destruction left in the Thunder Squalls’ wake. Crates, barrels, livestock, produce, broken carts, and bodies littered the bridge in every direction. Sunshine and I were still crouched in our corner, holding each other in stunned shock. Then, after a few moments, some people began to slowly climb out of the scattered wreckage; others called out for help from where they lay; but many… far too many, did not stir at all.
Sunshine and I climbed unsteadily to our feet and went to aid the other able bodied survivors already digging through the debris. My magic was spent, but we did what we could to tend the wounded and carry the dead. Almost no one spoke, except when coordinating rescue efforts. After such a deafening cacophony of nature’s wrath, the sudden stillness felt eerily sacred, and was broken only by the cries of the wounded. Through it all, though, my hero and I were never far from the other’s side – bound close by the shared insanity we had just experienced.
We found Paws After The Fireflies among the wounded; whole, but sitting beside a stricken Wimmet. The grizzled old gnome was unconscious, with a nasty gash high on his forehead and blood covering half of his ashen face. There were tears in Paws After The Fireflies’ eyes as they looked up at us, but they seemed to have no more words for what had just happened than we did.
The mournful spell of silence was finally broken by the shouts and calls of rescuers arriving on the scene. The first responders of Trade Town (another unique national treasure that I promise more detail on tomorrow) brought fresh animals, carts, and medical supplies, taking over the rescue efforts. And thank the Gods for them, as we were all still shell shocked and exhausted. Many of my fellow survivors, realizing help had arrived, simply sat down where they were and began to sob.
I longed to join them in collapse, my mind was still reeling, but I had to find Seraphine. There was no way I could rest until I knew what had become of her after the explosion. Taking Sunshine’s hand, I headed back towards the makeshift pens where livestock were being corralled. We had already searched it twice, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have been brought in since.
The moment we got close I saw her – and for a moment, my heart nearly stopped again. My beautiful girl was laying on the stone, the side of her face, neck, and shoulder a bloody mass of matted hair and tattered flesh. But, she was breathing! I could see her chest rising and falling steadily. I released my own breath slowly to steady myself, then started forward again to see how Seraphine was. A young looking elf with a neatly plaited braid of straw-colored hair was bent over Seraphine, tending her wounds.
Despite her youth, the elf’s slender hands were deftly confident as she cleaned splinters and debris out of Seraphine’s tattered face. Choking back tears, I took in the damage the exploding cart had done, cursing myself for having no magic left. When I was finally able to find my voice, I hesitantly asked if Seraphine would be alright. The young healer didn’t even look up at me, she just stayed silently focused on her grizzly task.
“I can save her.” She said after a few moments, as though discussing the weather, ”It looks worse than it is, most of the shrapnel wounds are shallow. Still pretty bad though – her eye is ruined; most of this ear is gone; and there will be scarring. It’s up to you. Though if you don’t want her anymore, I’ll take her – no need to put her down.”
“Put her down!?! Of course I want her!” I cried, my words tumbling over each other in haste, “I’m just so glad she’s alive! I can pay you – I don’t have much, I just graduated, but I’ll sign a loan out on my Writ number if I must. Please, do everything you can for her.”
When the young elf finally looked up at me, I was taken aback for a moment by the age lines in her face. She was not so young as she had appeared, and there was a deep wisdom in her steady gray eyes. Those piercing eyes bored into me for a moment, as though peering into every corner of my soul, then she gave a small smile and a short nod, and bent back to her work without another word. I would have probably stayed there, watching the healer labor over Seraphine into the evening, but Sunshine gently led me away to find food and someplace to rest.
We climbed aboard one of the wagons being loaded with survivors for a surreally sunlit ride into Trade Town. By the time we arrived, tents were being set up for the wounded and they were already serving from a large cauldron of pottage and a roasting pit. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until the savory aroma of the roasting venison wafted over the wagon as we climbed down.
Sunshine and I remained constantly connected, holding hands or leaning into each other, as we were cursorily examined by the healers before being allowed to join the line for food. With just minor wounds left after my healing spells, it only took a few minutes to have our remaining cuts and scrapes cleaned and bandaged. The venison and stew was plainly seasoned, but delicious! Hunger and calamity do make the best seasonin, don’t they?
As we ate, the buzz of conversation slowly started to grow around us – hot food and strong ale reminding us all that we were still alive. Somehow, as that realization washed over the crowd of survivors, the somber scene slowly transformed into a manic celebration. Tensions eased and ale flowed. Somewhere a group of minstrels began playing lively tavern music – not terribly, either… though, certainly not up to College standards. I leaned against Sunshine’s chest contentedly, my belly full and my foot tapping along with the beat, caught in the uplifting magic of the impromptu Celebration of Life unfolding all around us.
Able to resist for only so long, I pulled Sunshine up to dance as I drained my mug, laughing and kissing him soundly on the mouth. His surprised expression was pricelessly adorable, but I couldn’t help noticing a more primal hunger behind his eyes as I led him toward the promenade. We danced and twirled and laughed with the others, reveling in every breath and heartbeat. It had been a long day, though, and soon we found ourselves slipping away from the crowd to find someplace quiet to bed down for the night.
And now here we are, back at the beginning; less a few of the more… intimate… details.
Gods Above I am tired, but there you have it – the fateful tale of the very first day of my very first journey as a Bard of Fairhaven. If only I had known what I was getting myself into when I promised you adventure! Haha.
Goodnight dear reader. I am going to curl back up in bed with my companion and try not to dream. Don’t worry, though, I won’t forget the details I promised to write for you tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll even tell you Sunshine’s real name.
Watch for new journal entries from Revelry on the first and third Thursdays of each month!
If you missed any of the previous journal entries, you can find them all here.
In these postscript sections I will loosely discuss how the random events generated by The Adventurer’s oracle decks that inspired the journal entry you just read. If a solo play journaling rpg sounds like fun to you, pick up a copy of The Adventurer and start writing!
For this entry, the first event card I drew for Revelry’s journey to Bolton was Severe Weather. Playing with that prompt led me to the creation of the Thunder Squall, a brand new, unique weather anomoly of The Boiling Seas. Developing the mysteries behind these sudden and violent storms was a lot of fun and helped better define some of the realms core truths… which, of course, I can’t reveal just yet! I chose The Span for the setting because it is the first major landmark west of Fairhaven, only about half a days travel from the city, and a perfect location to introduce you to more of the Confederated Guild City-States of Fairhaven!
We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions so please leave them in the comments. Some answers may have to wait until the appropriate journal entry to be revealed, but we will be as responsive as I can! 🙂