Chaotic Crew:Campaign/Chapter 02
Chapter 2: Troll Spit and Horse ****
"So, where's the bar?" Wolfgang glances left and right, then up and down. Eleihoff quickly checks in his sleeve.
Gideon folds his arms over his chest, eyebrow twitching. "Booze? Yeah, booze is good."
"Um, there's one tha-that way..." Credance points a slender gray finger in the direction of the Last Call.
"Lead on, then, lass," Reginar tells her.
The Party is currently standing in Rounds' Square, a circular plaza that forms the (loose) center of the (equally loose) collection of buildings known as Worldstown. No more than a half-dozen buildings line the area. Directly across the street from the church entrance, next to the huge iron gate leading out of town, is the Last Call bar (as Credance indicates). Among the other buildings are a general store, a specific store, a bistro, a brothel, and a horse-and-wagon rental outfitter.
"Are -um- are you sure you wouldn't p-prefer some -uh- tea?"
"Tea? Why the hell would I want tea?" Gideon retorts.
"Heironeous recommends not -uh- not imbibing p-poisons..."
"I don't give a damn what a god thinks. If they don't want me drinkin', they'll come stop me themselves."
"Oh! You-you should be more careful what you sa-say about the gods..."
"Or what? They gonna come 'teach me a lesson'?" Gideon starts towards the bar.
"I'm sure they serve tea at the Last Call, um... Credance, is it?" Wolfgang looks at the woman, then starts walking toward the Last Call. Eleihoff shrugs and also starts walking towards the bar, still holding his pet toad.
Reginar gives Credance a friendly pat. "I'm sure they'll have something else to drink besides ale, lass. Besides, Moradin knows that a warrior works best when his spirit is joyful... and a glass full of spirits goes a long ways towards that."
"M-maybe... That's true..." Credance wanders after the others, and Reginar follows.
Wolfgang sighs deeply, then walks in the door, looking around. Gideon shoves his way in and heads towards the counter. As the rest of the Party also enters the bar, they all can't help but marvel at the sheer lack of tastelessness of the place. The entire interior is made of white marble, polished to a brilliant shine... expensive antique tables and chairs dot the floor, and a massive, solid oak bar occupies the far wall. Dozens of bottles of spirits line the shelves behind an immaculately-groomed bartender in a tuxedo.
Credance goes up to the bartender. "Hey, Higgins. Can I get the usual?"
The bartender flashes a smile at Credance. "Why, hello again, young miss!"
Leaning on the counter, Gideon asks, "Oy, what'cha got?" His tone is less friendly than usual, if that's even possible.
Wolfgang has a sinking feeling. "...oh no. My dad always said you can't trust the food in anyplace too clean. And this place is gleaming."
"Don't be so cynical, laddie."
"This isn't cynical, Reginar. No, this is merely slightly leaning toward reality. Higgins, is it? May I get something non-alcoholic? Fruit juice?"
"What do you have in the way of... alcoholic beverages?" Eleihoff asks, after staring at the walls for a while.
Reginar heads up to the counter himself. "I'd like a large, stout Dwarven ale, if ya got one."
The bartender says to Credance, "I see you've brought friends." Without missing a beat, Higgins passes out menus to everyone. "Please make your selections from the list. We have many beverages, both alcoholic and otherwise."
"Could you please put my-my friends' orders on my -um- tab?"
Wolfgang glances at the menu. "I'll take the passion-light fruit-flavored beverage, please."
"I'd still like a large, stout Dwarven ale."
"Strongest alcoholic drink you got. No metal," Gideon orders.
Eleihoff says, "I would like some Gnomish Spirits, please."
The bartender becomes a black-and-white blur, zipping around behind the counter at superhuman speed. Within moments, drinks have been deposited on the counter: a fruity drink in a champagne-like glass for Wolfgang, a frothy ale in a metal stein for Reginar, a sealed green flask for Eleihoff, and... the bartender places down a wooden mug of... something, before Gideon.
Gideon's drink looks more like acid than alcohol, bubbling madly and almost looking like it's trying to escape the confines of the mug. Gideon grins a very evil-looking grin as he picks up the drink. "Now don't this look tasty?"
Wolfgang takes his glass and heads to a nearby large table. "Thank you, my good man." He then sits down at the back of the booth.
Eleihoff picks up the sealed green flask. "Ah. Thank you!" He examines the flask momentarily before taking a drink.
Reginar looks at Gideon's glass, impressed. "Now there's a brew." He picks up his own drink and takes a gulp, while still watching Gideon's drink. Gideon looks at the drink for a moment before downing it. All of it.
Credance smiles for the first time, her purple eyes sparkling and the lines of her angular face seeming to soften. "Ah, Higgy," she ruffles the bartender's hair, "I was there when you were born..."
The bartender looks gravely at Gideon chugging the brew, as Credance ruffles his thinning hair. "I'd be careful with that, if I were you..."
With the mug still to his lips, Gideon looks back over at the bartender. "Hrm?"
Higgins glances away. "...nothing, never mind."
The drink burns as it goes down... not an alcoholic burning, but an "I just swallowed flaming tar" burning. As Gideon finishes the drink, he slams the mug back down on the counter. "Not bad."
Wolfgang idly sips his drink while he sits, visually examining the group he's now with, trying to summarize their strengths and weaknesses by what he can glean. Credance takes her glass and joins Wolfgang at the table. Eleihoff eventually wanders over as well and takes a seat, sipping his drink as he walks. Reginar chuckles at Gideon's reaction, then goes over with his own ale to join the rest at Wolfgang's table.
Wolfgang smiles at the people sitting down with him and, sipping his own drink, queries, "Looking forward to an exciting mission?"
"I'm lookin' forward ta havin' a squad and servin' the gods again," Reginar tells him.
Eleihoff says, "And I look forward to seeing new things. Perhaps I can set up my Alchemy Shop again for a spell."
"Good, good. Now, how about that book? Does it have the location for this dimensional portal to the Switchboard?"
Reginar looks over at Eleihoff expectantly, who reaches into his pack and produces the book. "Let's take a look, then."
Gideon sits down at the bar and orders another one of the burning acid drinks. He has no interest in the book or whatever at all. Higgins produces another wooden mug of... something. "I feel I must warn you, this establishment is not liable for any physical or psychological damage you might incur by imbibing this."
"...Psychological?" Gideon manages to mutter, then breaks into a laugh. After calming himself down, the giant of a man drinks the bubbling, acidic drink a little more slowly than the first one. "Say, barkeep. What'cha call this drink, anyway?"
"Acid spider venom."
"Fresh from the spider?"
"No, that's just what we call it. It's actually made of troll spit."
Gideon shrugs. "Either way. Got a bit of a kick to it. Not bad."
Eleihoff opens the coveted book and checks to see if it has a table of contents. Reginar leans in to look at The Book curiously. Wolfgang looks at The Book as well, wondering about the details that Eleihoff might uncover.
The book's table of contents begins with introductory chapters on the nature of planar travel; specifically, how portals and keys work. Farther on is an index listing many of the more popular portals; beyond that, listings for some of the more obscure ones. Everything seems to be listed in alphabetical order.
"Maybe under S for Switchboard or D for Divine Switchboard?"
Eleihoff checks for both of Wolfgang's suggestions, his eyes moving around rapidly from behind his glasses. There doesn't seem to be anything directly relating to the switchboard, but he does find an entry for "Worldstown - Portal Listings".
"Hmmmm." Eleihoff checks that entry. There only seem to be a few portals in town... one of them, inside the Church itself, is listed simply as "Etc". "That's... odd."
"What's odd?" Wolfgang takes closer look at the page.
The entry continues: "So far, our researchers have failed to gain access to this portal... the Church itself seems to lack the knowledge to open it. According to our sources, a sage in the town of Cityville has visited the area beyond the portal once, but he has refused to comment on-record to our staff."
"So, I guess that's our first stop. This sage-acious guy in Cityville," Wolfgang says.
Having finally turned his attention to the others at their table, Gideon interjects, "Joy."
Eleihoff continues reading the entry: "Our staff specialist theorizes that the portal links to a plane composed entirely of candy. When asked why, he simply said, 'Because I'm hungry'."
"...oh, never mind."
Reginar says to Wolfgang, "I think the specialist is the one that was hungry, not the sage."
Wolfgang re-reads the text. "Oh, I guess that would be a good interpretation. Let's go, then."
"I agree, let's visit the sage and see if he'll speak to us." Reginar takes the umbrella out of his beard and puts it back in the bag. "Thanks for the suggestion, Grandpa," he says to the bag.
Wolfgang blinks at this sight again. "...okay... um, I'll go get my horse, then."
Reginar stands, drains the rest of his ale, and says to the others, "Shall we?"
"Well... I guess," Credance says.
"Right," Eleihoff says as he closes the book. He finishes his drink, then puts the book in his pack and stands up, not gaining much height in doing so.
Wolfgang rises to his 5'11" height and heads out of the building to get his horse with little more than a, "Meet you all in front of the church."
"I'd rather stay here and drink my troll spit."
Reginar says to Gideon, "If we're lucky, we can go find some trolls to kill, and you can have all the troll body parts to imbibe that ya want."
"Booze gotta sit for a while before it's any good."
Eleihoff offers, "Maybe I could mix it with alchemist's fire, if you want more of a kick."
"This drink 'ere's good 'nough for now, though. But I'll be sure to try that eventually."
"Well, order a couple extra, store 'em in your pack, and ya can drink as we go," Reginar suggests.
"Oy, barkeep, you got somefin' I can store the booze in? Bottles're fine." Gideon takes a bag from his side and plops it onto the counter next to him.
"Sure thing." Higgins fills a few glass bottles full of the slop and passes them over. "Drink in good health."
Eleihoff comments, "He won't have good health for long, with a drink like that."
"Yeah, yeah," Gideon mutters, placing the bottles into his bag. He leaves a few gold pieces on the counter and gets up.
Reginar tosses a casual salute at the bartender. "Thank ya, sir."
"So, what. We goin' somewhere, or did you pull me away from the drink fer no good reason?"
"We're going to see a sage about a portal," Reginar tells him.
"Maybe, maybe not. Some sages can be, ya know, a little out there in the head."
"But sages're old. I can't fight old people."
"We'll have him summon ya some trolls for target practice."
"Pfft." Gideon heads out of the bar and back onto the streets.
Reginar looks at Eleihoff. "I guess that worked." He hefts the Grandpa bag over his shoulder, adjusts his pack, and heads out of the bar after Wolfgang, Credance, and Gideon. Eleihoff shrugs and follows.
Out on the streets, Wolfgang is just swinging up onto the back of his horse, and guiding the horse in a quick, tight circle. Credance disappears for a bit and returns with one of the church "mounts": an old, battered nag who definitely looks like it's seen better days. She rubs the nag's nose. "Who's a pretty horse? You are. Yes you are, Brimstone."
"There better be somefin' to fight," Gideon grumbles as he approaches.
Reginar observes as he arrives close behind, "Hmm. Well, that's two of us that have something to ride."
"Egads, Credance! That ol' horse looks like it's a better glue source than a fit ride! Are you sure it'll last?" Wolfgang wonders.
"Well, she likes to get out, and -um- I'm the only one that'll -uh- that'll take her..."
Gideon says impatiently, "We goin' or what?"
Wolfgang snorts, but turns his horse around in the direction of Cityville. "Are the rest of you going to walk?"
"I'm walkin'," Gideon says. "Harder to fight if I ain't got control of myself."
"Oh. I don't have a horse..." Eleihoff realizes.
"Maybe we can rent one somewhere, lad," Reginar tells him. "Credance, do you know of any stables around?" She points across the circle, and Reginar heads in the indicated direction.
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea." Eleihoff follows along after Reginar. Gideon mutters and looks irritated.
A huge, bright neon sign proclaims the place to be "Ned's Rent-A-Nag". A row of stables are lined up beneath the sign, a multitude of horses shuffling and making horse noises behind the gates. As Reginar and Eleihoff approach, a short, corpulent fellow practically bounds out of an office door, ready to pounce on his prey.
"HEY there, folks! Welcome to Ned's, home of the county's best-quality previously-ridden equines!"
"Greetings there, sir! We'd like to rent two horses to head to Cityville," Reginar says.
Ned smiles a wide, greasy smile. "Then you've come to the right place, good sir! But, may I ask, what sort of horses are you looking for?"
Wolfgang calls after them, "Make sure you get the maintenance records on those horses! Check the shoe wear and look for signs of traffic accidents!"
Reginar glances back at Wolfgang, then turns back to Ned. "Ones that won't keel over and die during the trip, mainly."
"Oh, is that all?" Ned gestures to the horses behind him. "Well, we carry only the finest quality merchandise here at Ned's; any one of these beauties can get you where you need to go, no questions asked!"
Reginar looks at Eleihoff. "Well, lad, might as well get ourselves some hooves."
"Yes. But which one? Hmm."
Reginar looks over the wheels... er... hooves. To Ned's credit, most of the horses look more or less adequate. A couple have seen better days, but for the most part, they look to be in ridable shape.
Gideon takes a look at the people walking by. A random townsperson notices him staring and blinks at him. "Whaddya lookin' at, huh?"
"Why, you offended or somefin'?"
"Why, you lookin' to offend?"
Gideon cracks his knuckles and gains a wicked grin. "Depends."
"Anyway, Credance... how long have you been here at the Temple?"
"Um... a hundred and ten years next -um- January."
Wolfgang coughs, choking. "...okay. Um, good times?"
"I was kind of -er- born there..."
With Ned's overly-enthusiastic help, Eleihoff and Reginar pick out a couple of ponies small enough for them to ride. Probably due to their relative youth, they seem to be fitter and less apathetic than the older mounts. Ned's grin gets wider. "Here we go, these two are cute as a button and eager to please. Shouldn't have any trouble totin' you folks around."
"Thank ya for the mounts, sir. They look like good ones. How much?" Reginar asks.
Ned produces some papers and a quill from his coat pocket. "What sort of payment arrangement are you folks looking for? Cash up front, or would you like to opt for Ned's E-Z Credit system?"
"I'll go with cash up front."
"Five gold a day rental expense, paid weekly... that's thirty-five gold per mount."
Reginar and Eleihoff hand over the gold for their mounts. Ned has the two adventurers sign the papers, then pockets the gold, grinning all the while. "Nice doin' business with you folks! Just make sure you come back in a week when the contract's up." He glances around, then whispers conspiratorially, "I'd hate to have to send the... collection agents after you."
"Don't worry, sir, Moradin is a far more effective enforcer than you are."
The man frowns. "Are you insinuating something there with that knuckle-cracking, boy?"
Credance notices the altercation between Gideon and the townsperson and plays with her chains. "Oh... I pray nothing bad happens..."
"I'm sure we'll be just fine... so, everyone ready to trot out of here?" Wolfgang's voice raises at the end.
Gideon ignores Wolfgang. "Boy? I'm no boy. I am a man, shorty."
"Is that what you call it?" The man looks Gideon up and down. "You look more like a circus attraction to me."
"I'm no circus attraction, little man."
"Oh dear..." Credance worries.
"So tell me, little man, are you strong?" Gideon continues.
"Okay, I think everyone's ready. Gideon? Time to go." Wolfgang guides his mount toward the road to Cityville. Credance climbs gingerly onto Brimstone's back.
The man sighs. "Not really... I talk a mean game, but I can't even bench a hundred."
Gideon spits. "What a damn shame. I was lookin' fer a good fight. Whatever."
"Yeah, well... sorry." The man slinks away, looking rather ashamed. Gideon heads towards the entrance of town, grumbling to himself and looking rather perturbed.
"What about food for these guys?" Eleihoff wonders.
Ned grins. "Oh, that's the beauty of it... these are self-feeding ponies!" He pats one of them on the haunches. "Yessir, the finest magical technology on the market... the horse generates its own hay supply from a special gland adjacent to the stomach."
"That's... interesting..." Eleihoff says, completely failing to hide a curious tone.
"That does sound interesting. Though, sadly, I don't think we have enough time to ask about it right now. Maybe when we return the horses." Reginar mounts his newly-rented horse and heads off after Wolfgang, Gideon, and Credance.
Credance trots over to the accosted townsperson. "Um, sorry about that, Mr. Anderson. I can -um- do a blessing on the house or something, if-if you like that is..."
Anderson shakes his head. "Nah, don't worry about it, darlin'. Though, I dunno why you hang around with such a jerk." He slinks away. Credance frowns for a moment, then blesses the man anyway. She then encourages Brimstone to follow Wolfgang.
Wolfgang heads off down the road at a fair clip. Gideon pads along on foot. Eleihoff gets on his mount and guides it after the group, a bit nervous about riding without any formal training.
"You know, Eleihoff, if you'll relax a little in the saddle and not hold the reins like they're a monkey fighting you for control, you'd find riding to be easier," Wolfgang suggests.
"...okay." Eleihoff starts breathing deeply and quietly, and tries to steady his hands.
Wolfgang nods. "Much better. You'll get it."
"Here, lad. Maybe a good-luck charm from my Grandpa will make you feel better." Reginar braces himself on his horse for a moment, then reaches into the bag and pulls out... a bright yellow sombrero. He rides over to Eleihoff and hands over the hat. "See? There you go. Keeps yer head cool and yer spirit bright."
Eleihoff says nothing, and instead stares at the hat for a few moments, before taking it and placing it on his head. Reginar smiles with satisfaction, then pulls away a bit again and continues on the journey.
And so, the Party took to the road, leaving the safe haven of Worldstown behind them, as they rode (and walked) toward the distant town of Cityville...
"...home, home on the range! Where the deer and the antelope play!"
Gideon grumbles at Wolfgang, "Stop singing."
Eleihoff says, "Awwwwwww. Why?"
"Because it's irritating."
"Yeah, I'm way off-key today, too."
Time passes painfully slowly, thanks to Wolfgang's singing... still, before long, the Party finds itself approaching their destination... as they crest a hill, a road sign draws their attention: "Cityville, 1 mile."
"Finally!" Gideon hurries along, moving from a fast walk to a jog.
Wolfgang says, "Excellent!"
Eleihoff cheers, "Yay!"
Shortly afterwards, the Party crests another hill... the town of Cityville rises into view, nestled in the valley below. It isn't a particularly impressive sight, though... despite the name, the town appears to be little more than a sleepy little mountain town. Single-story wooden buildings, cobblestone streets, and very little in the way of glowing neon signs.
Indeed, if it weren't for the horde of zombies milling around outside the large, heavy wooden gate in the stone wall surrounding the town, there wouldn't really be anything to write home about.
"That's not normal, is it?" Eleihoff wonders.
Gideon gains a smile once more. "Finally, something to fight!" With a laugh, he heads towards the zombie horde.
Wolfgang draws a misshapen lump from his side and cries out, "Eat cold steel and hot wrath!" The lump begins to morph... into a heavy crossbow. He looks surprised. "Oh, come ON!"
"Just don't hit me with it!" Gideon says.
"Hmm. This could be a bit unfortunate. Good thing I brought my dagger with me." Reginar hefts the weapon in question.
"EEP!" Credance gasps, as she catches sight of the zombies herself.
"You all right, lass?"
"I -um- I'm not very good with undead."
Eleihoff looks shocked at this admission. "What?"
As the Party nears the gate, the zombies continue to mill about... the closer they get, the more they notice that the zombies don't really seem to be doing anything.
"It's all right, lass, these undead don't seem to be very good at being undead," Reginar tells Credance.
"...wait, what? Is this Halloween? Or did someone decide to make a music scrying program?" Wolfgang looks confused.
The undead, while every bit as scary and foul-looking as normal, don't seem to be reacting to the Party's presence... indeed, they don't seem to be reacting to anything. As the horses (and Gideon) pass into their midst, they simply continue shuffling around like retirees at a rest home.
Eleihoff offers, "Maybe they're new."
"New zombies, untrained? Works by me." Wolfgang just pushes his way through the zombies to enter the town. His weapon morphs again, this time into a glaive.
Credance follows. One could almost swear they hear her muttering, "Please don't let them kill us, please don't let them kill us, please don't let them kill us..."
Gideon decides to punch the zombies anyway. Dashing up to the nearest zombie, he hauls back and punches it in the face with all his might. The zombie's face crumples beneath the mighty punch. As he pulls his fist away, a sickening *splutch* sound is accompanied by a few choice bits of facial anatomy sliding off his knuckles. The zombie, for its part, reels a bit, but continues moaning and shuffling aimlessly. "They don't fight back. How boring."
"Strange." Reginar pokes another zombie with his dagger, which responds with equal enthusiasm (i.e. none). One zombie shuffles into the rear of Credance's horse, then continues trying to walk through the obstacle like a video game bot with a pathfinding problem.
Wolfgang comments, "I have the distinct impression that they're waiting for instructions from a super-powerful being, like a deity or something."
"Really...? Well, they should get about it soon. It's no fun if they don't fight back."
"Well, yes. You'd almost think they weren't ready for us. Maybe the high-speed horses got us here before they were ready."
"Except I ran here."
Eleihoff says, "They might just need their morning coffee."
Credance knocks on the gate. Almost immediately, a whiny voice comes from the other side. "...uh, who is it?"
"It's -um- us, from the Church of All Worlds."
A pause. Then... "...oh, okay. Hang on." The gate slowly hinges open... a lone guard stands on the other side. He's a skinny fellow, lightly armored and holding a pike. "Welcome to Cityville."
"Th-thank you. I'm Credance Morwen, and I've got some -er- 'Chosen Ones' with me."
"That's nice. Pay no attention to the zombies, they're (mostly) harmless. Please, come in."
Eleihoff asks, "Why are they here, though?"
"Yeah, what's going on with the zombified people?" Wolfgang maneuvers himself and his horse through the gate.
"...saaaay, are any of you strong?" Gideon eyes the guard... tries to see how strong he is. Credance enters the town and hops off Brimstone. Reginar follows the group through the gate and swarm of zombies. After a moment, Gideon follows along, looking less angry than a little bit ago. Eleihoff wanders in after them, still on his horse. The guard pushes the gate closed again (with much effort) after the Party has passed through. Wolfgang sighs, then quietly brings his weapon close to his mouth and whispers to it... whereupon it resumes its lump shape and he re-holsters it.
"So, now what?" Gideon asks. "You go look for your sage?"
"I'm still curious about the zombies."
The guard addresses Reginar. "Yeah... um, sorry about that. Ever since we lost contact with the gods, all sorts of strange things have been happening here lately." He sighs. "A few days ago, there was a huge thunderstorm, and then all of a sudden we had undead pouring out of the cemetery." The guard gestures up the street... there are more zombies shuffling listlessly up and down the street, bumping into streetlamps and buildings.
"That's one of the stranger things I've ever seen," Eleihoff notes.
Reginar says, "Well, at least they don't seem too dangerous."
"They haven't attacked or anything, but they're all nasty and gross... and they smell really bad... most folks are holed up from the smell alone. Normally, we'd ask the Church to take care of them, but... well, you know."
"It'd be more interesting if they did attack." Gideon sighs.
Wolfgang notes, "It'd also be very disgusting."
Gideon shoots a glare at the rest of the Party. "Ever since I got lumped in with you guys, it's been borin'."
Credance looks at her feet. "I'm really not very good at undead..."
Wolfgang asks the guard, "All right, do you happen to know of any sages here in town?"
"Sage?" The guard blinks. "Well, we've got a really old guy who likes to mutter things under his breath..."
Eleihoff says, "Close enough."
"You should go ask Jen at the bed and breakfast. She knows everything about everybody in town."
"Jen at the bed and breakfast. Okay." Wolfgang dismounts and heads for the bed and breakfast. Reginar also dismounts and leads his horse off. Eleihoff follows suit.
"Yeah, yeah." Gideon heads out, looking around for something else.
"But... I suppose I should try and do something..." Everyone pauses at Credance's comment.
"Washing the zombies?" Eleihoff suggests.
"We'll deal with the zombies in a bit. Right now, let's see what we can find out."
Credance ignores Eleihoff and Wolfgang and fumbles amongst her many chains and symbols. "I pray for Divine Favor in this matter! ...um, please?"
As she prays to the heavens, a magical aura surrounds her. Divine energies swirl, and suddenly, suddenly...!
...suddenly, she has an innate sense of which direction Jenny's Bed and Breakfast is. Almost due east, in fact.
Eleihoff says, "Well?"
"I -um- I'll try again l-later..." Credance goes to the bed and breakfast. Eleihoff, Wolfgang, and Reginar follow, and Gideon wanders off.