The next morning was a time for goodbyes. The human slaves were splitting up: some heading back to their homes, some heading for Chan Ma Rai in the hope of making a new life overseas, and one heading north on the pilgrim’s road. The party were headed for Terrkan, where they could check up on Reichstag’s wife – which seemed worthwhile after that snake priestess had specifically mentioned her – and could then make their way down the roads to Mae Lin, hopefully working out a way to turn people from stone back into flesh in the way. The elven slaves left early, and together as a group. Their plan was to travel quickly and quietly, return to the jungle as fast as they could, and rejoin the fight to save their homeland.
Even though the elves left early, they ensured the night before they thanked the party for saving them and leading them safely back to civilisation. And everyone was thankful to Therese, who was likewise grateful to the party for their support of her work. When all the goodbyes and thank yous had been said, and enough supplies scraped together to get them where they were headed, the road once again beckoned. Or at least the causeways did – there was no road between Pa Direh and Terrkan back then.
Days passed, and it reminded the party of their early time together: long days of walking, meals amongst the rice paddies, rain after lunch. It was quiet, relatively safe, and also just a little boring. So when they saw an ogre clad in a red cloak approaching them perhaps a day out of Terrkan, they were friendly in their greeting, which was replied to with much warmth. Of course, warmth is only to be expected from a red dragon disciple: though the cloak was red, the ogre’s skin was blue, marking her out as a practitioner. She introduced herself as Pātotaimu – at least, that’s how she introduced herself to Odate.
It had been a while since the ogre cleric had fraternised with members of the opposite sex, but it seemed as though his self-inflicted curse remained with him. Not only was Pātotaimu extremely friendly towards him, but he couldn’t help but feel the need to squeeze as much charm and charisma as he could out of his gruff personage. She seemed to respond favourably, and the two actually shared a tea ceremony together. There was also some typical road-talk – she was able to pass on the news that several of the temples in Ken Ta Ral had been handed over to various schools of magic. Whatever was happening in the ogre kingdom, it was certainly happening efficiently. Of course, that’s what happens when you’ve enslaved the race with administration as their gift.
After sharing some tea and a few significant glances, Pātotaimu bid them farewell, and mentioned that she would hope to see Odate again, welcoming him to visit the lands of the fiery mountains some time. Odate certainly didn’t reject the possibility – after all, who knew where the road would take them – and the party continued for another day, before reaching the west gate of Terrkan. At the sight of the city-sized town, Insight – a name that Ashana had finally given her eagle – shook his head, and took to the clouds. Who knew where he would be going. Ashana frowned, but trusted that the eagle probably just didn’t like built-up areas, and would return to them when they were back on the road.
They were greeted, as always, by an administrator who wanted to know their business for visiting the town, but when Reichstag gave his answer – he wanted to see his wife, Salang – there was an extended period of waiting at the gates for some unnamed reason. It seemed that the gate administrators were waiting for something, which actually turned out to be someone. When a sedan chair finally arrived after not quite an hour’s wait, the curtain was briefly pulled aside to reveal Jiltu, Reich’s husband-in-law, who gave a brief nod, and then bid his bearers to return him home. With that nod, the administrator broke the news to Reichstag: his wife was no longer in Terrkan. She had renounced her position, and moved to Coratka for reasons that he could not disclose (and he couldn’t disclose why he couldn’t disclose them, for reasons he could not disclose).
With that said and done, the only reason to remain in Terrkan was to stock up on supplies for the next leg of the trip, and get a room for the night. Those being entirely acceptable reasons, they were assigned a government guide, who led them first to the officially sanctioned market, where they could do their officially santioned shopping. While Hunter, Odate and Ashana went to the food market, Sage and Reich stopped in on the mud brick emporium. Sage wanted to give her friend Utpressnig a hug – which she did, around his ankle, and he was mightily glad to see her. His wounds had healed somewhat, but it seemed as though his instant return to work had left him with a permanent limp. Still, he was in fairly high spirits, and he and the kender spent a few moments sharing stories.
Reichstag, in the meantime, cornered the brick merchant Roye, who was somewhat less keen to see the blue mage. But Reichstag was in a fairly mercantile mood – he was simply after the information Roye had offered him before, and was now prepared to perform a number of Item spells to assist him with the movement of large mud bricks, as had originally been suggested. But Roye was a little more circumspect this time around. Perhaps it was because the deal was coming to him instead of from him. In any case, he wasn’t prepared to take the bargain, giving the reason that he didn’t have any shipments that required that service at the moment. So Reichstag upped the ante a little – he had that wand which could perform the spell without the need for a mage, and while he couldn’t guarantee how many uses it had, he was sure it would cover the value of the information. Roye’s eyes widened a little – that was a significant sum of in-kind being offered – and so he agreed. While the two both took hold of the wand, Roye named names – it was Jitu who wanted Reichstag dead.
The mage sighed. Of course it was. But now at least he knew. What was he going to do about it? For now, rejoin his companions. Sage wanted to buy a hat, so said she’d meet them at the food market, and Reich headed over to the others. They were dealing with a myconid – Hunter had flat out refused to be part of that, and so was standing off to one side, trying to look inconspicuous – who seemed to be providing a remarkably slow service. However, the food looked more than suitable, its quality unmatched, and the words that were floating into their minds were a steady rambling about needing to know details about the trip and those making it in order to provide the best possible service. They complied, telling that they were a ragtag band of different races and needs, headed to Ken Ta Ral and so needing at least a week’s worth of food.
Once they noticed their official guide was gone, it was too late. Half a dozen ogre guards moved their burly frames into the market, and surrounded the group. They were told they were being charged with murder, and asked to come quietly to the holding cells of the central administrative complex. Hunter tried to pass himself off as a bystander, but the disguise he was able to throw together didn’t cut it. They were marched off with a burly armed escort – all except Sage, who had been busy buying herself a wonderful chevalier with an ostrich feather. She was super keen to show it off to the rest of the group, and so followed them to see where they were going.
While the rest of the party were in a holding cell having their charge explained to them by one of the goblin prosecutors (they were charged with murder; the evidence was the testimony of the myconid trader; they would be found guilty in the morning during the Khan’s court; yes, they could run a case if they wanted, but no, it wouldn’t make any difference; yes, they could plead self-defence, but no, their case was pretty slim without witnesses not involved in the murdering; and the punishment would be slavery to the myconids) and Ashana was wondering whether a stint of slavery was Sophia’s way of teaching her some new form of wisdom, Sage was checking a map that she had of the complex – because yes, she actually found something useful in her pockets – and was then climbing into a third storey office window.
Fighting an extreme urge to look around in there for interesting things – the urge was quelled a little with how thoroughly boring large stacks of paperwork are when you can’t read – she then made her way to what she assumed on the map were little rooms, and so probably cells. Gods knew Sage had seen the inside of enough gaol cells to be able to recognise one on a map. Sure enough, a few minutes after the goblin prosecutor had somehow failed to instil in the group an utter despair about their position, Sage turned up and asked them where their stuff was. They didn’t know – it had all been taken by the ogres. She provided a set of lockpicks to Hunter, but Hunter’s skills with locks was never really high on his agenda, and this was a pretty sturdy lock made to keep thieves (and probably kender) in. So Sage went looking for a solution.
That solution presented itself in the presence of a nearby ogre guard who seemed to actually have the keys. But then it hit Sage – even if she did get them out, where would they go? What would they do? How would they get back to their ox cart, which they had left in the marketplace? Where was all their stuff? While she was thinking about all of this, a polite cough came from behind and above her. It was the guard. He asked in heavily accented common what she was doing, and because she was in such deep thought about her plans she just casually answered, “Oh, I’m trying to work out how to break my friends out of the cells.”
So it was that a few minutes later, Sage joined the rest of her friends behind bars. It wasn’t until she realised that when they had taken all her pouches, they had also taken Barry the rat too, that she started to cry.
Escape seemed hopeless; perhaps not even attractive to some of the more upright members of the group. Options seemed limited. Slavery was not attractive. But then, the party saw something that made them at the very least think that something was going to change…