Chronicles of Koeleth
A History of Trouble
Tom, who was growing rather tired of the recent early mornings, awoke his temporary boarder, and they made the final preparations for their journey. Aside from his armor, weapon, and travel pack, Tom grabbed a couple of maps, in case they were needed, although that should not be necessary while they were on the road. Much to Tom’s relief, Aaron had not pulled any of his usual shenanigans on Collin’s equipment. After a hearty breakfast, Tom and Collin climbed into the cart and set off. Aaron was still sleeping in his bed, blissfully unaware of Tom’s mission.
“So, how does someone so obviously optimistic get a weapon from Sorowa?” They had been on the road for hours when Collin asked this question.
“Haha, it’s funny you should ask that. Someone asked something similar, just the other day. I’m optimistic, which is part of what makes me so sad. I hope for the best, I expect the best, and when the worst happens, it crushes me. Because of this, I’ve developed a sort of duality where I’m sad about the depravity of life, but the good in life brings peace to my heart. How about you? How did you get the attention of Peaz?”
“Oh. Well, my family historically has been involved with the military. Every male in the past three generations has been involved in the military in some capacity, and even a few of the women. Well, I took after my peace-loving mother and adamantly refused to join the army, despite my father’s strong urgings. I really hate violence, as a general rule. Eventually, he relented. Well, Peaz took notice of my strong desire to avoid conflict, and he sent an Erscheinung to deliver the Arbiter to me.”
“Lucky! I got the Einberufung, but everyone I talk to seems to get the apparition.”
“Well, from what I have heard of your companions, you have one of the few ‘negative’ guardians. I mean, Joye does the whole happy thing, so she wouldn’t usually cause pain. Apathos is too lazy to cause pain. Peaz also doesn’t do pain. That Gred fellow probably received an Einberufung, too, though. Unusual that a lesser guardian blessed him, though. He must have been quite greedy, or Lady Desiren passed off the responsibility to Gred. Oh, that Angern girl also likely received a summoning, rather than an apparition. Valro can go either way, and Detremenat prefers summonings, so your Valiant Blades were probably in the same boat as you.”
“Huh. I never knew all that. I knew about Sorowa, but that stands to reason. It all makes sense, though. Anyways, why do you want to go to the White Tower, specifically?”
“As I said yesterday, I am interested in the architectural properties of the towers. Few structures have managed to stand as long as the western towers, and I would like to know why. You see, that is the focus of my studies, and I have traveled all over Koeleth to study the architecture of historical structures. Sometimes it’s artistic, sometimes it’s purely functional. Either way, it’s very interesting. You said you had a minor interest in the towers? Can you tell me what you know?”
“Sure. During one of my missions, I was working with another scholar, who informed me that the towers dated back to 3980, just over three thousand years ago. The architect, Joseph of Bloodcreek, stubbornly refused to work on the towers until they paid his steep price. No one is quite sure what the price was, not even whether or not it was in the form of money, but the ruler of Ramsrest didn’t want to pay it. Eventually, the old man relented, though, and paid the architect. Coincidentally, that is the day that the Jeweled Ram, a gem-encrusted gold statue, was removed from the palace. No definitive connection was ever made, but there was a lot of speculation. With the exception of the Ranger’s Tower, all the towers are still standing, despite having endured a beating in the War of Unification in 4228. By the time the Ranger’s Tower fell, in 5617, the towers had been directly involved in twenty or so conflicts, had housed countless gangs of bandits and thieves, and had been ransacked by vandals hundreds of times. It hasn’t seen any serious action since then, however, and the towers seem to be relatively unharmed, except for the ever present cobwebs. I’ve been to the Shepherd’s Tower on a number of occasions, and I can tell you that it’s a solid piece of stonework. You could spend days there and still wonder what keeps the old place standing.”
“Seems like a much storied place. I can’t wait to discover all the wonders it holds.” Despite his hushed tone, there was a deep wonder in Collin’s eyes.
As they passed through a particularly narrow spot in the road, Tom caught a rapidly moving object out of the corner of his eye. Grabbing his halberd, he jumped off the cart and readied himself, only to realize that it was a doe and her fawns crossing the road behind them. He chuckled at the silliness of it all and mounted the cart once more.
“Sorry, false alarm.”
“At least I know I can trust your senses now. I didn’t pick up on those deer at all until you reacted to them.”
“Yeah, it’s something I’ve had to learn through experience. Got myself into a couple of tight situations by not paying attention to my surroundings.”
“I can see how that would be a problem for a professional warrior.”
“Yeah. It was certainly a hard learned lesson. Hey, it’s early afternoon. We should probably take a break, let the horses rest, and get some food in us. What do you think?”
“Oh. I suppose we have been going for awhile now. That might be a good idea.”
Since they were in agreement, the two travelers stopped along the side of the road in a nearby clearing. Though most of Ramsrest was farmland or fields, there were a few small forests scattered throughout the province. The road to the White Tower went through one of them. The handful of clearings on the edge of the road was manmade. This particular clearing cut out a perfect semicircle in the trees, large enough to house a camp, if need be. This, however, was not the case for Tom and Collin. The two settled for a patch of grass near the road.
“For a supposedly dangerous road,” Collin began. “We’ve had a safe journey so far. I wonder why.”
“Normally, I would say patrolling guards have kept the criminals at bay, but that doesn’t seem to be the case on this desolate stretch of highway. The normal bandits who hang around this road usually belong to a particular gang that I’ve run into once or twice. If they’re around, they might be avoiding me.”
“Are you talking about that gang whose leader you killed?” Collin asked perceptively.
“Yeah. They’re still around, but they avoid Pasture’s Edge and none but their current leader will even get near me, if it can be helped. That only works for the Greedy Grove bandits, though. As to why we haven’t encountered any other groups, well, let’s chalk it up to good fortune.”
The break lasted for roughly an hour before Tom and Collin decided to hit the road again. No sooner had they packed up than a small band of rogues appeared before them. Having come up behind them, Tom had not foreseen their assault. They were obviously skilled, since one of them had even managed to get up behind Tom and put a knife to his neck. Unlike the Greedy Grove bandits, whose faces were familiar to Tom, these bandits wore thick masks that covered their entire heads. The only openings were mouth and eye holes, and shaded goggles covered their eyes.
“Now,” said the one holding Tom. “If you want to make it out of here unharmed, you best listen well. We are going to take your horses and your cart and everything contained within, and you are not going to do anything about it. One of my fellows and I will remain here and watch you both until after that cart has left our sight. If you behave, nothing will happen. If you don’t…” At this point, the highwayman pressed his knife against Tom’s neck. “It won’t end well for you.”
The thieves began rummaging through the cart, checking to make sure no one was hidden within and to see what the value of their catch might be. After a couple minutes, the cart shuttered into motion, and the greater part of the bandit group walked along with it. The knife wielder and another bandit remained, just as he said they would. When the cart and its entourage had passed the clearing, Tom and Collin lost sight of them. Collin looked at Tom with hopeful, pleading eyes. He hired the man for just this occasion, and it seemed like it was amounting to nothing. Maybe he would have gotten a better guard if he had offered more.
Tom was not giving up yet, though. Just as they had lost sight of the cart, the rogues accompanying it had lost sight of their unfortunate victims. Tom knew that the knife wielder would soon let down his guard enough to release his captives. As soon as he did, Tom grabbed his arm and slammed him to the ground. Picking up the knife the thief had dropped, he ran to the other guard, who was taken aback by the warrior’s brazen attack on his enemies, and tackled him to the ground, as well, pinning his shirt to earth with the knife. This thief had a sword, a weapon which Tom was much more adept at wielding. This was fortunate, since the Hardened Tear was taken away from him by one of the others. The other bandit had recovered and was sneaking up behind Tom, but his attempt was unsuccessful, thanks to the warning of the recently released Collin. Tom swung around and punched the man with his right hand, effectively knocking him to the ground again. The other man had managed to retrieve the knife and wobbled to his feet. Tom heard him shift towards him and turned around to get a better view of his assailant. An adept swing of the sword knocked the knife from the rogue’s hand, and a well placed punch to the jaw incapacitated the man.
The other man had fled by the time Tom had finished. Fortunately, he had fled towards the cart to get help, and soon the two travelers saw several rogues rushing towards them. Tom counted seven in all. He was sure they had left one or two behind to guard the cart, but it looked like most of them had shown up for the fight. Immediately identifying which one was holding his halberd, Tom targeted him and ran into the group. He had, unfortunately, momentarily forgotten about Collin, and three of the bandits had broken off from the other four to chase him. Collin found that he could run a lot faster than he thought he could. Tom, meanwhile, had managed to retrieve his halberd, much to the chagrin of the bandits, who found out far too late the power hidden within it. Two of the bandits were scared off simply by the presence of a magical weapon, and the other two were quickly beaten into submission. The group was composed of excellent rogues, but terrible fighters, as far as Tom was concerned. Remembering his client, Tom ran to Collin’s aid. These other two bandits seemed much more adept at combat than their companions, and they skillfully dodged Tom’s attacks. As they were keeping him distracted, the third man slowly snuck up behind him and…whack! Collin knocked the man unconscious with a solid blow from his staff. Just then, Tom overwhelmed his two opponents and pushed them away with a powerful water wall. Tom turned around to see what Collin had done.
“Nice job! Maybe you can fight after all, huh?” Tom congratulated him.
“It was only because he was going to attack you. I couldn’t let that happen. Otherwise, I would be down my only defender.”
“Man, that was fun. Let’s do it again!”
“Let’s not and say we didn’t.”
“Let’s get your stuff back!”
Tom charged up the hill, with a frantic Collin following close behind. The man guarding the cart was none other than the knife wielder from before. Upon seeing that the two men who were to be his victims were coming towards him, alive and well, he simply fled. Tom and Collin reclaimed the cart, and, much to Collin’s relief, nothing was missing from it.
“Is that enough danger for you, Collin?”
“That was a bit too much excitement for me, Thomas. Thank you for your help, though.”
“That is what you hired me for. I’m just sorry we couldn’t have avoided the situation altogether. That could have gotten messy.”
“That wasn’t messy?”
“Well, nobody died, and bloodshed was minimal, so I’d say it was pretty clean.”
“You raise a valid point.”
“Listen, after that, I’m not sure how much longer we want to go. It was pretty intense, so I can understand if you want to stop for the night. It may take us an hour or three extra tomorrow to get to the tower, but that’s the worse that can happen.”
“No, I am fine. We can press on until you feel it is acceptable to stop.”
“Are you sure?”
“Alright, let’s get going, then.”
The two men continued down the road until the world was embraced by dusk. The earlier delay meant that they had not gotten as far as they had originally planned, but Tom had accounted for that possibility. Their arrival the next day would not be delayed. They were still inside the forest when it came time to set up camp. After some debate, they decided it would be better to conceal themselves in the woods then to find a clearing and camp in the open.