Having defeated the hydra and searched the bodies of the Winged Patrol, the group discussed what their next move should be. Vahn discovered an envelope and passed it on to Faelar, who, after opening it, identified it as packet of “letters home” on the deceased Winged Patrol Sergeant and tucked them away for later delivery to another member of the Patrol. Vahn asked what funerary customs lowlanders had, and Faelar was able to relate the burial practices of the Winged Patrol to the group.
Patrol members are burned, their ashes packed into a container, and then buried beneath a construction of their former equipment. Lances are snapped in half to create poles, lassos or lariats strung between them, armor, shields or weapons hung from the line together to form a sort of grisly wind-chime. The thought is that the duties of the WInged Patrol change; in death they no longer wander, but guard the area of their death, serving as both a reminder and a warning that the Winged Patrol protects these lands.
Xarrai carefully ignited the bodies, while Faelar recited a service amid the ash and smoke, and the rest of the party constructed the burial totem.
The party continued their journey, moving away from the hydra corpse for the evening, and found shelter in a huge, lightning-struck hollow tree just off the road. Signs of previous campsites were found inside, but none recent. Places to stop and camp by the road are not uncommon along the oft-used trade routes in the Fringe.
The watch passed uneventfully until Ke’shin’s turn came ‘round. Nose-deep in his notes, only half paying attention, he caught a glimpse of movement down the road, coming from the north. The movement resolved itself into a portly man wearing a grey cloak, hood up, stumbling and swaying as he walked. Approaching them, he loudly hailed the campfire (after Ke’shin had awoken the group) and cheerfully asked if they had any food and drink to share. The group, suspicious, demanded to know who he was. His reply was…unique.
“Isn’t there a saying about being rude to Gods on the road late at night? You may call me Lazarus.” Ke’shin zeroed in immediately, trying to identify if this man might truly be a deity, but only noticed a tarnished gear hanging about his neck, not recognizing the name the man gave.
In a moment of hilarious pique, Vahn inspected Lazarus, smelled the whiskey on his breath, and used Lay on Hands to ‘cure’ him of his drunkenness…then retired to bed. Xarrai retired as well, while Asade and Faelar remained awake to watch Ke’shin pepper the evasive man with questions.
As he cheerfully avoided direct answers, Lazarus took out a series of nested bowls that could become collanders, complete with telescoping handles, and asked for a packet of their rations. Once handed over, he began to make a stew, to which he added a spice packet. Soon a delicious aroma began to waft through the camp, though Lazarus sniffed something else. Crawling over to Xarrai’s travel bag, he went through it, pulling out a bottle of liquor. After examining it he exclaimed “Who’s Fwar?” Ke’shin, taking it from him, saw that an inscription had been scrawled on the glass as if by a tiny claw. “Xarrai, you party hardest. Fwar.” Taking a sniff, he recognized the scent of the Elven brandy they had sampled and mixed with in Archmage Elenia Fyzkik’s tower.
After sampling a little brandy and waking the party members to taste the stew, which was incredibly good (and whose desert ingredients only Asade managed to identify), Lazarus promptly fell asleep. With shrugs, the party joined him.
With the arrival of daylight, Ke’shin sought to more closely inspect the gear-like talisman around Lazarus’ neck, though he was tucked snuggly into his cloak, preventing it from being seen. Using Gust, Asade moved the cloak, causing Lazarus to stir and reveal the necklace. Ke’shin was reminded of Vahn’s hammer, a little, though the gear seemed crude in comparison. He felt no godly investiture in the item.
Last to wake, Lazarus proved a grumpy morning companion, though a little brandy did help to revive him. Seemingly abashed at the previous night’s claim to Godhood, he set off north, saying he was needed at work. Following him, the party listened to him become embroiled in a conversation with Ke’shin and Xarrai about the various aspects of brewing and distilling. He seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject and was happy to share as much as possible about his chosen interest.
Eventually the party reached the edge of Jarren’s Outpost. A huge expanse of city appeared before them, encircled in a 25-foot high palisade wall. Rings of empty ditches encircled the wall, with a strip of earth cutting through them to each gate. The forest surrounding the city was gone; only stumps and bare earth remained for 150 yards outside the wall, stripped for materials or cut intentionally. From beyond the wall, smoke rose from hundreds of chimneys and smokestacks. The roofs of the building sloped gently upward toward the center of the down, giving the entirety a sort of domed appearance.
Reaching the gate, the guards instantly recognized Lazarus, both chiding him and welcoming him back to Jarren’s Outpost. Lazarus’ demeanor changed, becoming more sure of himself and supercilious. Grandly declaring that the party ‘was with him’ he stared down a guard, almost daring him to challenge the statement. Asade went one strong step farther and knocked into a guard as they passed, unmolested.
Inside the walls, people greeted Lazarus’ with a variety of shouts, glares, whistles and hand motions. He seemed loved by some, hated by others, but noticed by all. A couple peopled shouted out “God of the Distillery!” as he passed by, causing his face to redden considerably. “It’s only a nickname.”
Conceding that he owed them all a drink for the night’s meal and company, he offered to guide them to a choice tavern in town. Following him the group saw street after street busy with people, buying, selling, hawking, carrying. As some intersections of the larger streets were raised stone platforms upon which carts stood with goods for sale, though some were bare.
Lazarus finally stopped in front of one building with a swinging sign that declared it to be “The Witch’s Brew.” Going around back, he told them to meet him inside while a valet took care of Animus and Faelar’s horse. Mounts of various types were moored at hitching posts outside the establishments on this street, but Asade noticed one peculiar animal in particular. A lizard, complete with saddle, was perched comfortably on the side of a building, hooded, and unmoving. With a squawked “WHAT IS THAT?!” she ran off to inspect it.
The creature was nearly motionless, only its tail flicking like a bored cats and its tongue occasionally flicking out from between its lips. As she approached and gently reached out a hand to touch the blue-green pebbled skin it stopped moving entirely, and the its skin slowly bleached in color until it matched the adobe wall it was resting on, becoming nigh invisible but for the saddle and bags it wore. Squealing with excitement, Asade produced a goodberry, and after a time the lizard returned to it’s original color and flicked out a tongue to take it.
As Asade joined her companions inside The Witch’s Brew, they took in the sight of a full-scale gambling establishment and bar. Tables of dicing games and cards scattered throughout the room. In the corner a lone musician was badly playing some flutes, sitting on a raised chair. A large staircase near the full-circle bar lead to an open-air second level with a balcony encircling the inside of the building, room doors dotting the upper walls through. Leading them to the bar, Lazarus ordered them all a round of lagers and shots. Dropping the shot into the glass, he chugged it, and the party followed suit. Vahn chugged two. With a last gulp, Lazarus smiled, said his goodbye’s, and left the tavern, heading off to work at his bosses distillery/brewery.
Wincing at the noise of the pipes coming from the corner, the barmaid saw Faelar’s instruments and asked if he played. Not wanting to displace an already playing musician, Faelar refrained and decided to wait his turn. Upon being informed that musicians sat on a dunk tank, and that patrons determined how long a player could play, however, prompted Xarrai to prestidigitate a shot glass, chuck it at an indicated dart board on the wall, and cause the piper to fall, wailing, down a trash chute into the basement. Assuring Faelar that the musician was fine, Xarrai indicated that the chair was now free. Faelar’s performance, though not quite up to his usual standards, was nonetheless incredibly well-received by the crowd, who began to shower the tip jar with coins.
At the bar, Ke’shin inquired of the half-orc bartender as to the whereabouts of the Caravan of the Smiling Boar, the trading group associated with Prulekai. Leaning in close, Klai, the half-orc, became a little hostile, telling Ke’shin that it was both dangerous to ask or answer such a question in this town. Taking the hint, Ke’shin asked if she could tell him anything, to which she looked thoughtful, then informed him that she knew a person who COULD tell him that caravan’s travelling schedule and route, but that she’d need a favor in return. A local fist-fight with another bar’s champion was scheduled for the evening, but her fighter had backed out. If he could provide one, she’d give him a name.
Looking around at the party, they all shrugged, and agreed. “No magic, don’t get caught cheating. You win if your opponent surrenders or you knock them out.” Looking at each other, Vahn and Asade agreed to let Asade take this one, and Klai took out a large brass bell and began to pound on it. With a united screech chairs were pushed back and patrons streamed out of the bar, showing what looked like bloodstains on parts of the now empty floor. “We used to do this in here…but it got expensive,” remarked Klai.
Leading them out of The Witch’s Brew, Klai took them to the nearest junction of streets with a raised stone pedestal in the middle. About 35 feet across and 3 feet high, the raised platform already boasted a halfing in an expensive-looking hat calling out odds. The bookie was declaring a 6-to-1 ratio for any bets taken against he champion before the opponent was revealed. “Grosk” was announced and a large, squat earth genasi with all black eyes stepped onto the stage, raising his arms to the crowd.
Considering the champion, Asade stepped forward, beast-changing into an allosaurus as she did so, letting loose a terrific roar and stepping onto the stage. As people began to scream and run from the square, windows on all the nearby buildings were thrown open as people gaped at the dinosaur now standing center stage. Stunned by the turn of events, the halfling didn’t even move, but when Klai caught his attention, smiled, and winked, he looked down at the group and asked “How do I announce this…thunder lizard thing?” Name provided, he gathered himself, held a wand to his throat and boomed out in a magically enhanced voice “Enter Asade…THE THUNDER LIZARD…NAAAAAAAR!” After a moment of silence, the crowd rushed back toward the stage, screaming at the bookie to take their new bets.
A purple-robed man on the edge of the stage briefly conferred with Grosk, and after waving his hands and chanting, Grosk, too, began to grow in size until he was approximately three-quarters the size of Asade. Sensing that things were approaching a ‘fair’ fight, Asade chose to revert to her half-orc form, and with a shrug, the man in purple robes threw up a shrug and Grosk also shrank. Seeing this, Xarrai began to make his way toward the man, who winked, and then vanished, invisible.
At the beginning of the fight, Grosk bit down hard and began to foam red at the mouth. The opening of the grudge match was merciless, Grosk pounding Asade twice for every hit she delivered. As they traded blows, Xarrai noticed the man in purple had reappeared by the side of the platform, muttering under his breaths, lips moving, eyes never wavering from the 7-week reigning champion. Pointing this out to Vahn, they began to move toward the man, who began to circle the stage, keeping away from them, until they split up, Ke’shin also joining the chase. Faelar ast ‘detect magic’ and noticed that Grosk was wearing a ring that glowed with an enchantment, and headed to the halfling bookie to accost him.
With the goliath, fire genasi and tiefling ganging up on him and telling him to leave, the resolve of the man in purple finally crumbled and he ran off…as he disappeared Grosk suddenly took a knee on stage, panting. In a very loud voice Faelar asked the bookie if he was aware that Grosk was cheating, drawing attention from the crowd nearby. With a growl, Grosk removed the ring and tossed it at Faelar, saying he needed to prove nothing, and that it was just a trinket. Faelar immediately began to identify it.
Seeing Grosk vulnerable, Asade ran forward to deliver a mighty blow, but withheld at the last second as she saw that Grosk wasn’t moving a muscle. She backed off, allowing him a few second to regain his footing, but noted that his mouth was no longer foaming red, and his attacks seemed weaker.
Continuing to trade punishing blows Asade pounded him with elbows, knees and fists. Grosk continually focusing on kicking the inside of her thigh and she finally got a leg, got in close and rammed an uppercut into the underside of his job, flinging him back, where he collapsed, unconscious.
With a roar of victory Asade transformed back into a dinosaur, and the crowd began chanting “Thunder Lizard! Thunder Lizard! THUNDER LIZARD!” over and over. The halfling bookie shrewdly apologized to Faelar, claiming to have had no idea, but Faelar was certain he was lying through his tiny little teeth. Knowing, now, that the ring linked two people’s lifeforces together, allowing them to share blows within a certain range if both people were wearing companion rings, Faelar tucked it into a pocket, idly wondering where the other ring was.
Shrinking back down to half-orc size Asade and the group made their way back to The Witch’s Brew. All along the way the crowds chanted her ring-name, and The Witch’s Brew was soon even more full than when they first arrived. As Asade was served an endless supply of roasted chicken, Klai approached Ke’shin. “I may have swindled you,” she grinned, “But you’ve made me a richer woman and I didn’t lie to you. The man you want is the Jarren, of Jarren’s Outpost. As the most profitable trader in the town he’s our offical liege, and he’s more likely to know the trade routes of various caravans than anyone else in town. Don’t worry, though, your friend you came in with? Lazarus? The Jarren’s favorite brewmaster; I’m sure he can get you an audience.”
Growling over this technicality, Vahn distracted his anger with the brilliant idea to call over a server and asked “For a Thunder Lizard” causing a momentary panic, and then a greedy gleam, to overtake the bartender’s face. Drawing a caricature of a dinosaur on the board and the words “Thunder Lizard” the lady began to mix various alcohols together and then poured brandy over the top, which she lit, declaring that “The Thunder Lizard” was now available for the meager price of 1g per drink.
Asade, meanwhile, was so inundated with drinks from pleased patrons that the bar put out a tip jar for her, labelled with “Thunder Lizard” which soon got confused with where to place money for the drinks. Xarrai, deciding to manage the group’s new prizefighter, quickly declared that all money in said jar belonged to them, and no one countermanded his opinion.
As the group lounged and the patrons drank, rumors bounded about the bar. “The Thunder Lizard is a wingless dragon, come to fight for man’s entertainment!” “How is she eating so many chickens?” “Are you kidding me?! Have you SEEN her true form!?! SHE’S HUGE!” As stories, helped along by dozens of “Thunder Lizard” drinks caroused, collided and exacerbated one another, a slim, well-dressed half-elf with slicked back hair approached Xarrai, exclaiming his appreciation for the fight, and asking where in the world he had bought Asade. Knowing he was treading dangerous ground (particularly with Asade’s hearing) he replied that he’d never tell. With a laugh, the half-elf told him that if he ever wanted to get into some real money to look up the Outpost Colliseum; they had exotic animal fights there worth real gold. Leaving a card, he walked away, and Xarrai burned it up as he held it in his hand.
The group, formerly flush with excitement, but now wearied by drink and partying, retired to bed.