Tavern Squad - Origins

Chapter Two

“Woohoo! Adventure! Finally, I’ve been bored and drunk for weeks, my legs have gotten all weak and my eagle eyes are all crusty, but now I get to hone all my senses so we don’t die a horrendous, terrible, grisly, painful death! Isn’t it great!” Hinky said the moment the door closed behind them.

“Dear gods please shut up,” Crop replied.

“No!” said Hinky, “Can you imagine how boring it would be if nobody said anything on this walk? We gotta get all the way to the Gods’ Trench! And we all know Brunthar isn’t going to be furnishing us with sparkling conversation, isn’t that right Brunthar?”

Brunthar offered no reply.

And so the group walked, with Brunthar in the lead by a half step and Hinky babbling unceasingly, towards the Gods’ Trench. They passed a few people, some lugging carts of wood back from the forest, others tending to small patches of land outside of town. Few people stopped to talk, and none asked where the little group was going as they plunged towards destiny itself. Aanmar stepped up next to Brunthar.

“So, do we have any kind of plan for this little expedition?” She asked the diminutive dwarf.

Brunthar shrugged, “Go in Dungeon. Kill things before they kill us. Get treasure.”

“Okay,” Aanmar sighed, “but you know that was the plan that everyone who's ever entered the Dungeon has gone in with right? And they’ve all died or disappeared. So I really think we should develop a plan.”

Brunthar grunted and nodded.

“Oh, great. Okay well listen, all we know is that the Dungeon lies somewhere beneath the ground. We know the soil opens up at some point and swallows us, so I reckon once we get into the Gods’ Trench we should each tie ourselves around the waist and secure the other end to trees and rocks as we move. That way when we get swallowed we might have a way out. Thoughts?”

Brunthar grunted and nodded again.

“Hey you guys talking about rope, because listen, I totally forgot my pack back in the Battered Wineskin because I was super excited to get out of there. So, anyone got any spare rope?” Hinky said, poking his head up over Aanmar’s shoulder.

“Ah,” Aanmar said, “I suppose that’s a good point. Does everyone have rope?”

Crop, Greck’lil, and Brunthar all nodded. Hinky shook his head. Without saying anything Brunthar reached into his pack and removed his coil of rope. With a smooth motion, he sliced it in two and handed the second half over to Hinky, without breaking step.

“Okay, I guess we have the first step.”

The walk was a mild one. Rolling hills slowly grew into taller and taller mountains as the brush and scrub turned into trees and bushes. The sun peaked and began to descend, the shadows growing longer next to the group making their way north. They were no more than a couple of hours walk from the mouth of the legendary canyon when Brunthar pulled back.

“Camp. Sleep,” he said and began unrolling his bedroll. The rest of the group shrugged and followed suit. Hinky whistled himself to sleep.

When they awoke Greck’lil was nowhere to be found.

The group packed up slowly, looking to Brunthar to see what to do. When the last bedroll was tucked into the last pack, Brunthar gave a satisfied nod and began walking up the trail. After a moment the others followed. Aanmar caught up with Brunthar and spoke to him in a low voice. “Listen, I think you might want to address Greck’lil leaving. If people’s morale drops we could have a real issue on our hands, plus there’s also the possibility that we don’t have all the information, and the effects of the Gods’ Trench has extended out here.”

Brunthar shook his head and kept walking.

Aanmar dropped back to speak with the others and gauge how they were feeling, but they had already been distracted by a bawdy tale from Hinky. The group got on, apparently unconcerned with the missing Greck’lil. Aanmar looked disgruntled but said nothing.

An hour later they came across Greck’lil sitting on a rock on the side of the road.

“Well?” asked Brunthar, not slowing as the group passed Greck’lil’s rock.

Greck’lil fell into step beside the dwarf. “Shadowy figures, some bipedal, others with four or six legs. Nothing that looked to weigh more than 200 pounds. None of them got swallowed, so I believe it’s safe to assume they are in league with the Dungeon or a direct part of it. I couldn’t get very close to make out details, which indicates they have some sort of unconscious awareness of people, but only once I got within a hundred feet of them, so they seem to still rely on sight otherwise I would have been noticed sooner. I couldn’t judge potential lethality or the origins of where they came from. They ignored the beasts of the woods, and I didn’t witness them eat or drink. Nothing else about the canyon was out of place,” Greck’lil spewed, fidgeting with his knife as he talked.

“Good, thanks,” replied Brunthar.

“Wait, did you send Greck’lil out to scout? Why didn’t you just tell us that so we didn’t spend the last hour and a half worrying?” Aanmar said, pushing her way up next to Brunthar.

Brunthar blinked and looked up at Aanmar, but offered no response. Greck’lil said nothing.

“Were you worried about Greck’lil?” Hinky whispered to Crop at the back of the group.

“I didn’t even know which one of you was Greck’lil until just now,” Crops whispered back.

“Listen, people, we’re a team now. The only thing we’re doing differently than the fools who died before us is that we’re operating together. We have to communicate,” Aanmar said, exasperated.

Brunthar stopped walking. The rest of the group petered to a halt behind him. “Okay, you’re right,” he said, and laid a calloused hand on Aanmar’s elbow. For a moment the little group was silhouetted upon the little hill they had mounted, the wind blowing gently behind them with the entirety of the Gods’ Trench spread out before them.

And Crop felt completely out of her depth. It is worth noting that, while Crop was indeed an “adventurer” she was relatively new to the gig. She had noticed the swiftly declining rates of mortality, high wealth, and exciting work and decided she’d take up the lifestyle. And she had fit right in when it came to following legendary adventurers around, drinking in various pubs (often for free because the owners owed one hero or another a favor), and receiving praise and adulation. She had surprised herself greatly when she had followed Brunthar out of the Battered Wineskin. When Greck’lil had disappeared that morning she had held out hope that the little group might dissolve before ever actually reaching the legendary and terrifying Dungeon, but that hope had been squashed, and it was becoming abundantly clear that the group fully intended on strutting into the Gods’ Trench. Crop had a habit of getting swept up in whatever everybody else was doing, and she hoped she could make a decision on her own before she got sucked into the ground and horribly killed. But she didn’t want to leave right now, that would be too embarrassing, so she followed as the team made their way down the small hill towards the first sapling growing out of the dark, rich earth.

“I think we should try to kill a shadow,” Hinky said out of the blue. “If there really are creatures or whatever wandering around, we should see if they can be affected by our physical weapons.”

Everyone looked to Brunthar, who nodded. Hinky smiled, slow and creepy, and looked at Greck’lil. Greck’lil gestured off to the side of the road, and the two of them crept into the foliage and disappeared from sight. The rest of the group pushed forward, officially entering the Gods’ Trench. The sun had begun to descend but there was plenty of daylight left, and the fear of being swallowed was minor for a while still. According to the legends they may have as many as three days before the ground would open up.

They had just got the signal to set up camp when Greck’lil and Hinky emerged from the trees. Hinky gave a terrifying cackle and dumped a weird, dark shape into the middle of the circle, and laid a knife with sticky black blood along its blade on the log next to the body. Greck’lil entered the circle silently and sat next to Brunthar. Brunthar looked from the silent Greck’lil to the laughing, eyebrow-wiggling Hinky. Nobody spoke.

“For the gods’ sake, someone tell us what happened,” Aanmar finally broke.

Hinky gave a whoop, “well if you absolutely insist, in such a pleading manner my good Aanmar, I will allay you with the thrilling tale. You see, the legendary Hinky, which is me, disappeared into the woods so smoothly and so quietly that not even the wind could tell where he had gone. The evening was quiet and still, the very birds aiding the passage of the great Hinky –”

“We got close enough for Hinky to take a short bow shot. We saw the shot wounded the shadow so we moved forward and finished it with the knife. Its blood is black, this one has two legs and two arms, it did not have any weapons we could see,” Greck’lil cut in.

Brunthar nodded with satisfaction.

“Hey, come on I was doing the whole epic tale thing. Why can’t you just let me have my moment?” Hinky complained.

“Hm, seems like they’re scouts at best. No weapons is curious, unless these creatures have nothing to do with the Dungeon, but that seems unlikely considering they live in the canyon. I suppose there’s no reason to worry right now, but keep your eyes peeled all the same,” Aanmar said.

And with the first victory won, the group fell asleep for the night.

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