Chapter 16: One Big Family

How to be an Adventurer—Large Cities and You

Large cities are a different breed of dungeon, adventurer and full of their own set of traps, monsters and unlikely encounters. Areas still go down, but they also go up and things often go sideways. Cities are realms full of merchants, lies, treachery and a good amount of deceit. Be on your toes.

Cities are also a place of treasure, though the means of its procurement are very different and often illegal. Take care to judge your situation wisely—fortunes can be made but, so easily, can they also be lost in these gilded places we often call home. Stack the odds in your favor whenever possible and also be on the lookout for others who are doing the same.

And always, always, find the tavern. For adventurers, there is always a place full of people ready to give you a coin for good competition, music, or simply the right tales. Such a place is often well-made for the party of four or five heroic folk and even better for the skulker of the group, whose fingers find themselves within the purses of others more often than not.

As a final word, be prepared for the worst, for unless the majestically divine, handsome and intelligent overseer of your adventure is also your nanny, you may well find things going out of hand. Be prepared to run and keep a nice deposit of cash at the ready in case of emergency.

If you follow this advice, you should be wealthy and with powerful assets, in no time.

***

In the morning, they arose, bleary-eyed and peered out the door to the world beyond.  It was a sunny day and everywhere the grass and ground glazed in thin ice. Moving out into that frosty late morning felt good, even companionable and the birds chirped agreement all about them. Overhead, a flock of geese flew in V-formation.

Coins clinked reassuringly within their bulging sacks, well buoyed by their success and they all nodded at each other.

Bern opened and closed his hand, imagining a dagger within it. Killing people. That’s what I’d be doing right now if I got finished training. I’d be taking money and killing people I don’t know, then dressing up fancy. I’d give some of that money to the street kids, but it would be dirty money. It wouldn’t be right. But how I grew up wasn’t right either, he debated within. I deserve to be posh, with posh things and people looking up to me. I should just take my cut, go back and take up the black mantle. I deserve it.

He shuddered. But, this here. I can make so much money, help people and maybe life will be dirty and difficult. But it would be right. Right? He shook his head. A life of easy living and respect, or a life of zombies and morals?

Next to him Carric scratched his chin over and over again. That was amazing! Scary but amazing! Who would ever think that I could fight monsters? Not that jerk brother of mine Natan. He paused his scratching as a revelation hit him. Not me either! Can I actually do this? Maybe tag along, write some songs and stories and even be in them?! Mother, though, she’d worry. So would Father. And I probably just got lucky.

He gazed up into the sky. Someone up there just please tell me what to do.

Tracy danced and swung his arms about. La la la, his three ids sang. La lalalala. I bet Coraellon wants us to keep doing this, his female id broke in, ruining the song. Tracy stopped dancing and cupped one ear. But will they want us? the male id asked. Yes we seem to make them angry and annoyed, the androgenous id added. Tracy’s face contorted in sudden worry, all happiness gone from his step.

Yenrab watched their faces as they all walked together. Wrinkles of deep thought and conflict etched their faces as they walked. Each of them scratched at their chins and cheeks, clenching their jaws and hands absentmindedly. If they had been tribal portraits they’d have been drawn with thought clouds overhead. 

I didn’t think they had it in them, he thought to himself. But now, well, damnation that book was right. These are my fellow adventurers if they’ll have me. That adventure was amazing! 

The day was spent in silence and marching. The sun overhead melted the ice and frost into a muddy slop, but no one complained. It glooped and glopped about them. Tracy tottered and fell, then Yenrab caught him. They smiled at each other and Yenrab put him back on his feet.

They didn’t speak until sundown. The four of them had gathered the driest bits of scraggly pinyon they could find and they now sat over a sodden and smoky fire, its blaze weak, but its warmth welcome.

“Well guys,” Yenrab said, standing up and spreading his arms outwards. “I think it is time that I ask you a question.”

Carric started a bit. Bern’s eyes shone and Tracy started shaking his fists excitedly as if he were waiting to see if he had won a prize.

Yenrab regarded them with a smile, his young face bearing a weight of wisdom well above his years. “So, do you want to be adventurers?”

Carric and Bern spoke at the same time, stopped, started again and Yenrab intervened.

“Carric’s been here longer. You first, Carric Smith.”

“The book is all about becoming an adventurer, right? And that’s what you are doing, Yenrab, right? You, yourself, you want to be an adventurer?”

Yenrab nodded. “I wasn’t sure at first, but I knew that destiny or fate wanted me too. And now, for sure, I know that this is where I belong. I believe both the Great Bear and my avatar, the Gamer, have chosen me to be their hero for some reason and I plan to do them justice. Also, ya know, it’s growing on me.” He pulled coins out from the pack and played with them in his hand as he said it.

“That all gets divvied fair shares, savvy?” Bern admonished. He covered his mouth and his cheeks tinged red.

“Yeah, I savvy,” Yenrab chuckled. “Carric, continue.”

“Well, I was thinking that maybe we should, uh, we could follow that path together. I’m in the book and I didn’t think I should be, but now, with everything that happened in the ruin, I think maybe I am—”

“You are, Carric Smith and I’d be happy to have you.”

Carric smiled at the large half-orc.

“Besides,” Carric added, “I can still play shows at taverns. Adventurers go to a ton of taverns. Who says I can’t be an adventurer and a musician?”

“Not me, for sure,” Yenrab answered. “Bern, what were you thinking about?”

“Same stuff, really, mate. I don’t really need to go to the underground. Not with all of this swag just lying about for anyone to grab.” Bern paused, thoughtful. “I’ve never really opened up that book of yours. Am I in there?”

Yenrab nodded at him. “You are, Bern Sandros. It doesn’t say much though. It says you are a street urchin gone thief and assassin with a heart of blemished gold.”

Bern scoffed, “Tarnished silver at best, mate.”

“I know, I’m a bit of a handful,” Tracy peeped up. “Everything is so different at home. But I know I am in the book and I know that Coraellon wants me to quest, not simply question. I will join your group of heroes and learn your ways as best I can.”

The others glanced at each other, surprised by the speech. Little did they know that Tracy had spent the whole day preparing it.

“Well,” Yenrab stated smiling, “the book says you are one of us and I personally can’t see how we’d get along without you. Don’t change, Tracy, but you know, just be a little more tactical.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Tracy remarked, his face as serious as they had ever seen it. They all gave a chuckle, eyes rolling with disbelief. Tracy’s eyes lit back up and he smiled at them mischievously.

They were all silent again, sitting about as the fire crackled and smoked, occasionally cursing and moving themselves a bit as the smoke changed direction and puffed into their faces.

Carric stood up and bellowed, “Good gods, people. We need a name!” The rest of them startled then laughed.

“Inside voice, mate,” Bern complained. “What in the gods’ names are you talking about?”

Carric faced them all, his shyness burned away by his exuberation.

“Our group, our party, it needs a name! All of the great adventuring parties have one. There are the Midway Marauders, the Blazing Blue Jays—”

Bern laughed. The others gaped. “Sorry, mates, where I am from, blazing is all about smoking pipe weed. I was just imagining adventurers wandering about ruins all doped up and you know what, never mind.”

Tracy barked out forced laughter and stopped when they all glared at him. “Sorry!”

Carric cleared his throat, “Anyways, so, umm, we need to have a name. Something that sounds amazing. Something that advertises who we are and gets us good quests and jobs.”

Yenrab signaled agreement and stood up.

“The Heroes of the Great Bear.”

“Pah!” Tracy objected. He rose to face Yenrab. “The Crusaders of Coraellon!”

Carric glanced at Yenrab and then at Tracy, flinching back with an unsure glance to Bern.. 

Bern caught that look, tapped Carric’s shoulder and yelled at them both. “Mates, we need to do something we all have in common. We’ve all lost our way, yeah?”

They quieted down and watched, waiting for more.

“We were all seeking something else when the book found us,” Bern said. “And, so, where we were going, we will never get to. Yeah?”

They all nodded. 

“Then it is simple, mates. We are the Wayward Travelers and damned if I know if we’ll ever find our way.”

***

The land around them greened and civilized even as the weather got colder and cloudy. One moment the land they traversed was all desperate scraggly woods and hills, the next it was farms, homes and orchards in between roads and trails cut from terra firma and overlaid with gravel. With a jaunt in their step they hastily made their way to Gennopolis until they were in sight of the city as well as the end of the line of people heading into it.

“Great,” Bern said, flipping the line his finger. His face was dark and gloomy, reflecting the weather about them. “Hey, what’s the hold up?” he yelled, cupping his mouth to make it louder.

“Guards, papers, questions and an entrance fee,” an amiable traveler from the group ahead of them informed him. His smile faltered as Bern stared at him and he turned away.

“So, guys,” Yenrab said, his chest bared and steaming into the joyless sky. “Now that we are all adventurers, what do we do first?”

“I bet the book knows. Did you check the book?” asked Tracy with a smile. “That thing knows everything. It told me that you are a snoop!”

Yenrab laughed and shook his head, throwing water off of his topknot in a circle about him. Tracy, a woman again, flipped out her own long hair and did the same.

“Gods above, yes, so it did,” Yenrab admitted. “I was a snoop. Just one time though.”

“Mates, I’ll tell you what we do. We throw down some coins, dredge up some meat, rally around some beers and we make merry!” Bern yelled, already feeling the greasy meat between his teeth and the amber liquid pour down his throat.

“Sounds like a dream come true, Bern,” Carric announced.

“We’ll need to meet some ladies as well,” Bern added.

Tracy looked confused. “I can . . .”

“NO!” they all yelled at him. The traveler from before peeked back with fearful eyes.

“It’s alright!” Tracy consoled them. “We’re heroes!”

“Ya know I don’t think we are heroes yet,” Yenrab said. “At least not to them.”

“Oh, okay,” Tracy said. “Sorry.” 

“Tracy asked a good question and I think we all kind of cut you off there, Yenrab. So, mate, did you read the book on this?” Carric asked.

“Yeah, ya know, I did do just that. There’s a new chapter, ‘How to be an Adventurer—Large Cities and You.’ It kinda goes on and on, but it said big cities are their own adventure and also a place to find other adventures and, oh, be careful because they can be dangerous too.”

“Damn right, they can be,” added Bern.

“So,” Yenrab continued, “that’s what we do. We go adventure in Gennopolis unless we find something better.”

“Yeah. Yeah! The Weeping Widow!” Carric gushed. “Oh my gods!”

“Meh?” Yenrab sounded. Comprehension, though, dawned in the eyes of one Bern Sandros.

“That’s here? Hells yes, we are going to the Weeping Widow. Gods alive, that’s the place where all the good ones get their go, isn’t it?”

“So the ballads always say,” hedged Carric, now suspicious as to the veracity of these tales. Still, he couldn’t help but feel excited.

“Yeah? Alright, to the Weeping Widow we go.” Yenrab glanced once at Tracy to seek the wild mage’s vote, but she was busy waving her arms about oohing and aahing and that wasn’t something he was going to wade into.

***

The youthful guards at the gate wore long swords at their sides and were armored in chainmail. They took turns yawning between scornful glares at their dockets and the line before them. The line past those guards and through those formidable double doors progressed quickly.

Yenrab nodded with satisfaction. The soldiers were not at all happy to be out here in this weather, taking coins and waving people through. Weapons were not checked in at the gate as they had been the last time he had come, so long ago, on the trade mission from his tribe. Things had changed.

When their turn finally arrived, neither of the guards even glanced at them.

“Name?”

Bern, who had taken in the whole situation, flashed a look of disdain at the rest of them.

“I am Yenros Yendros, a half-orc barbarian.”

“And your friends?” The man didn’t bother to look up, simply watching Bern’s feet mush mud, while the other paged through a tome, seeming to study something.

“They are my children.”

The guard finally raised his head. Tracy tapped her breasts and they sank into her body, as a goatee sprouted. He frowned.

“I . . . I’m going to have to ask you to contribute an extra gold piece to the ‘I just didn’t see that’ fund,” the guard mumbled, his face a comedy of confusion as he stared at Tracy’s new body.

“Here’s one and a few more, my friend,” Bern said, dropping a handful of coins into the guard’s outstretched palm. “Let’s go, kids.”

Tracy winked at the guard and wiggled hir butt as ze wandered away. The guard stared at him until he finally fell out of sight, then shook his head.The other guard never did look up from the parchments in his hands.

***

They weaved through the crowded streets of Gennopolis. They had to dodge waste flung from upper windows and more than once did their journeys take them to a dead end, but as eventful and confusing as the trip through the streets of Gennopolis was, they found it. 

The Weeping Widow! A stone and thatch establishment of renown and glory. The best parties had started there. The last greats of Freehold had stayed there! The antics of Bardos the Gnomish Wizard, a man of powerful constitution who flew and threw fireballs, all started here when he fell asleep at the bar and woke in a wagon. Alongside him was Alain, the rambunctious, often murderish, ranger, whose legendary flask of rice wine never ran out and constantly put him into harm’s way. Cain, the split personality wild mage/rogue, who often stole from himself and once accidentally wild-magicked Alain’s rice wine into a shower of piss while he was drinking it mid battle, had his start with them here as well. That particular tale was a chortle and then some, after the retching passed.

Many others, not of the realm, had passed through. Tinkers, bards, rogues, warlocks, mages . . . this was a place of portent. A place that meant something. A place that adventurers—real heroes—were known to frequent. A place where they could sign contracts, brag about their victories and drink the hardest of alcohols with the best of them. 

Bards sang songs of the Weeping Widow, within whose halls many a fortune was begun. Carric scanned the exterior eagerly—yep, sure enough, birds nested within the thatched roof of this adventurers’ abode just like he had heard in the songs back in college. The others simply whistled, while Tracy watched on in wide-eyed amazement, a tourist finding himself in a place that he once thought fictional.

Their thoughts were interrupted by the feel of light fingers upon Bern’s coin purse. Bern slapped the hand of a dirty-faced pickpocket, “Ya! Wotcher! We bleedin’ packing and have a hand in the game, savvy?” 

“I savvy guv!” the boy whined, shying back. Bern grunted and flipped him a coin.

“Get out of here,” he grunted. The lad turned and ran.

The party considered the area in awe, wonderstruck and gaping. Outside of the bar, in this damp and dreary weather, a ring had been constructed. Hunks of particle board, pasted together from shavings and tar, were nailed up like sign posts. A man with deep-dark ink, the kind of ink so black that it stained your soul to look at, brushed names up in the letters of the Nemedian alphabet.

A special event was being held at this special place and here they were to take a part in it!

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Published by Damien Lee Hanson

I am the founder of Damien Hanson Books. Come check out awesome authors right here at my website!

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