When Yenrab had found out he was going to be a guide, he had been positive that this was where and how he was going to meet his quest mates. The Great Bear would provide his necessary future adventuring companions – or so he thought.
While Carric drank himself too confident, Tracy became more sober as he downed beer after beer, waxing poetic and giving lectures on things nonsensical.
Enough of this, Yenrab said to himself as he got up from the bench and headed for the door.
“Where are you going, handsome?” Myrrh asked, her drunken cheeks flushed red in merriment.
“I’ve gotta poop,” he lied. The way he said it, without shame or idiom, made the woman from Icegard snort and guffaw.
“Around back, Yenrab,” she sighed as she wiped spilt beer from her tunic. She turned and left, distracted by some other friend who was no doubt ready to turn in for the night.
Yenrab pulled back the curtain of a door and went around back. He didn’t actually have to use the bathroom. What he needed was somewhere to think. And read. A couple of outhouses stood here, tall and slender, looking almost skeletal in the moonlit night. He chose the one on his right.
Getting in, he locked the door with a rusty hook-and-nail apparatus, then threw the book open. It cast its own dim glow into the darkness.
Alright, Yenrab, let’s figure this all out. Right here, right now.
He thumbed back to the table of contents and let out a soft and unpleasant gasp when he saw a heading on Freemeetian culture, underneath new entries for Tracy and Carric.
He closed the book.
No, no, no, no, no!
He opened the book, closed it again, sighed and reopened it. He had to see what it said. There was no turning back from this mystery. Finding the entry on Freemeetian culture again in the table of contents, he thumbed to the desired page, making a mental note to check out Tracy and Carric themselves afterward.
Freemeetians—Sentient beings of mostly human and elvish heritage that hail from often buildingless and naked communes nestled within the idyllically soft forests and hills of Elfsmeet.
Well, as life cheats went, this book wasn’t exactly the best of them. Yenrab sighed in frustration, his orcish bellow rocked the outhouse he was privileged enough to be pooping in.
“Yeah, buddy, give it hells!” a drunken man from the pub encouraged in a slur from the outside. He rapped on the structure in brotherly support, threw up and dropped to the mucky soil with a loud and drawn out belch.
Alright. Time to look at his companions, Yenrab thought.
Carric Smith—Being a half-elf in the land of ice, humans and ogres is not a great way to spend one’s childhood. Carric stood out as a child for his gangly weakness and pointed ears and saw a lot of suffering at the hands of non-elven peers. He is kind but wary of strangers and prone to emotional pain.
Great. A sad sack. He turned the page to read on about Tracy.
Tracy Riley—Curious and often confused, Tracy is usually kind but can be equally malevolent if things and situations are misunderstood. A being from a culture that is drastically different from, say, that of a backwoods barbarian who finds spying on new people an acceptable outhouse activity.
Yenrab dropped the book, which closed of its own accord after landing very lightly in apparent mockery of his dropping skills. Yenrab gave it a look, sighed and picked it back up. There had been more underneath the heading of Tracy and the gods be damned if he wasn’t going to use this book to its fullest. Paging through he saw that his own entry had been elongated.
Well, the gods be praised, I guess.
Underneath the original entry was a new bit of information pertaining to Yenrab.
A metagamer and a notorious snoop.
“You know what, Jerold Frey? You can go to the abyss,” the half-orc said aloud, chuckling. What a damn cheeky book this had turned out to be. He glimpsed back down at it, not surprised to see another addition.
And a blasphemer besides.
Haha, well, fair enough.
He noticed another entry labeled Cast of Characters and paged to it. It was full of letters and numbers and terms like Str 12 and Dex 14. It didn’t really make sense and was a mystery that was worth pursuing later. For the time being, though, he focused on the task at hand. Going back to the table of contents he paged to Tracy Riley. (What he glimpsed at was the Character Sheets listed in the article before chapter 1 of this book)
A good person to have in a fight as Tracy is very tactical and sees things from a very different perspective.
Alright. As useful goes, that is pretty useful. It’s a hell of a game you’ve set up for me, Great Bear. He stepped out of the outhouse proudly, making sure not to fall over the man who had collapsed before. I accept your challenge.
The morning was cool and scant with fog. Dew lay lightly upon the packed earth of the village proper, whispering into the morning silence as first Carric and then Tracy shuffled over, faces puffy and eyes bloodshot.
Yenrab instinctively checked them over.
“Are you two alright?” he asked, remembering well the drinking and carousing both had gotten to the night before.
Carric Smith fixed him a stare, his angular face pale and swollen, his jutting goatee doing nothing to help, as he struggled with the contents of his stomach. Then, balling one fist, he hunched over and tried to stifle a long and juicy belch.
“That is disgusting,” stated Yenrab fondly, thinking of his mother, a pang of homesickness lodged in his heart. Carric was good at it, he had to admit, but mom was so much better.
Tracy, meanwhile, tore into his backpack and brought out a vial of red liquid full of tiny stars. They twinkled, cavorted and played with one another inside the crystal sheen of their home. The half-elf ended them in one gulp and sighed, well refreshed.
Yenrab cleared his throat and spat on the ground.
“Hey, guys. Um, welcome to the guide service. We’re gonna be going for a while, so I hope you packed enough.” He stared at their dainty pack frames. “Uh, you did pack enough, yeah?”
“The forest will be my backpack,” Tracy Riley said, his shimmering robes cast small rainbows about him as he embraced himself.
Yenrab stared, as did Carric.
“Yeah, okay, it looks like I was smart to pack extra. And you, Carric, are you set?” Yenrab asked.
Small dark pouches haunted the underside of his eyes as he contemplated the half-orc.
“Kill me,” Carric requested, rubbing his temples vigorously.
“Right. Uh, so ya know, we’re at least two months journey from Gennopolis. And if I remember right, there is a tax to get in, so make sure right now that you have the money needed to pay me out at the finish and to pay your way in as well.” Yenrab paused, rolling his fingers about as he tried to puzzle through something and he sighed.
“Well, unless we all end up as an adventuring party together, but that’d be silly, right?” Yenrab said. Yenrab laughed nervously, then grimaced as they gave him strange looks in return. That was okay coming from Carric Smith. It hurt coming from Tracy Riley though. That guy was a certified fruitloop.
“Yes, well, anyways, uh, so I’ve got months of food in my pack, trapping gear, hunting gear, no tent, but we don’t need one yet this time of year and well, I think everything is set. I’m, ya know, a little nervous since this is my first time doing this job sort of thing,” Yenrab belted out rapidly.
“You’ll be fine. Just believe in yourself!” Tracy said with enthusiasm, swinging his arms up and out into his own arc of happiness.
Yenrab was feeling less sure of this all by the moment.
Time to get going, Yenrab! It’s prophesied destiny with Ghost Dad at the helm. I don’t want to disappoint Ghost Dad!
He cheered up and afforded himself an internal giggle.
Breathing in deeply, Yenrab then let out an orcish huff of air, scattering song birds for miles and jolting Carric Smith into a scared defensive position.
“Yes, we are going to be fine. If we need to fight, I haven’t killed anyone, well, except for that one time, but I’ve proven myself well able to intimidate and scare away most beasts. And I can pack a helluva whack with my axes if it comes down to it,” he confided to them in reassurement.
“I can fight as well,” Carric maintained. He did carry weapons, though none of his gear inspired confidence. He had buckled and strapped on a set of studded leather armor and by his side hung a rapier of good quality, in a scabbard that bore his name in glittering rhinestones surrounded by hearts. The words “Momma’s Little Dumpling” were woven into its edges. Yenrab groaned. There was also a genuine, metal and oak, exceptionally manufactured hand crossbow hanging from his waist. The words “Lil Sunshine” had been carved and painted, quite expertly, into its outward arc. This time Yenrab swore, though quietly since he was a mannered fellow. Carric carried a lute in his hands and a singular tunic pouch on his left breast kept some strange, exotic musical instrument. It had a name, he was sure. He couldn’t remember it though. All he knew was that it was small, handheld and full of square holes.
“Right,” Yenrab affirmed, not wanting to hurt the minstrel’s feelings.
Tracy regarded Carric and spoke out to them both in a theatrical voice, “Appearances can be deceiving, Mr. Yenrab. The lanky great cats of the mountains and forests, after all, are a lot tougher than they look.”
The half-orc grunted and nodded. There was wisdom in those words. He scrutinized Tracy, trying to get a feel for the man. Tracy wore robes instead of armor. Colorful robes that were probably of his peculiar Freemeetian culture. They shone and sparkled, dazzling the eye whenever he turned or twirled. And he didn’t seem to have any weapons to speak of. Despite his apparent wisdom, the man looked to be a tourist with a death wish.
The journey they were to start was going to be a long one. Maybe it was going to even be a dangerous one. And, if chapter one of that bizarre adventurer’s guide was to be believed, these were going to be his adventuring fellows. He shuddered. Perhaps the Bear is challenging me, he thought grimly, as he shifted his frame to a more comfortable position upon his enormous back.
Sometimes, at night, he dreamed of that other being, the Gamer, that gave him his path. The figure was a man, he was sure, a tall and burly man who rolled dice and sat at a table. Yet he was a powerful being as well. A being different from the Great Bear, whose powerful hide and might gave his followers a path and a means but never dictated the way.
The Gamer was a conscience with personality and he tried to let Yenrab know the ups and downs of the world. And this all felt right. The Gamer, whoever and whatever it was, this was what that being wanted him to do. He was sure of it. This trip would provide time enough for the spirit above him to show him a sign or to otherwise guide him to where they, the party, would need to go. And if that didn’t work there was always Ghost Dad.
“Alright, guys, let’s get a move on,” the youth commanded, starting them on their long trek.