Riechstag was not well.
Ever since that elf had vomited on him, he had been feeling sickly. Unfortunately, nausea and general ill feeling w were symptoms both of plague and of being spewed on, so Odate was unable to give any conclusive diagnosis. He had called upon Qodesh to remove the disease from his compatriot, and had not felt any rebuke or failure from his god, so despite the goblin’s continuing discomfort the party had little choice but to move on.
Their next stop was Ho Lee, the village of the gods. They couldn’t risk all going in at once, for fear that they might be recognised as a group; and they couldn’t risk Reich going in at all in case he was really sick and contagious. But the best way to rid themselves of the myconid death stink was a proper bath, and they all wanted a bath. So they split into two groups – male and female – and headed into the little village separately: ladies first, of course.
Ashana and Sage made their way tentatively into the village, but need not have been concerned: the one bustling street of temples was almost completely deserted. Gone was the bustle of clerics and acolytes; gone the street preachers; gone the callers and the criers and the masses looking for blessing or wisdom of healing or help. Some noise of activity rose from the tavern in the centre of the village, but there was little evidence of much else. They had heard that the temples in Ken Ta Ral had been given to magical practitioners, but they saw no wizards here. Ho Lee had become a large, empty village, seeing only the needs of any travellers and traders moving between the ogre and goblin capitals and a small local farming population.
They headed to where they knew there would be baths and assumed would probably be empty – the temple of Qodesh. They were half-right anyway: the temple of Qodesh certainly had baths, but it was not empty. An entrepreneurial goblin had set up shop selling baths to passers-by. They weren’t expecting to have to pay, and their funds were extremely limited, but they were also desperate for a bath, so they paid the man and made use of the facilities.
There were only individual bathing cells – Qodesh catered for people’s privacy in the way a public bathhouse normally would not – but this suited the paladin down to the ground. The water was cold but fresh – underground springs seemed to feed the baths, which then flowed over into ditches which drained the water away – and the proprietor had supplied each bather with a towel and a piece of soap root, which were certainly not elements of a normal Qodeshi ritual bath. Still, the soap root helped to wash away the weeks of grime, sweat, sand and blood which had accumulated over weeks, and while it was hardly a rich perfume, at least it stank of clean.
Ashana thought to pay a little extra for another stick of soap root, even after assuming that the kender probably already helped herself, both to take back to Reich as well as to cover the cost of whatever Sage took, and after that they were on their way. Well, almost. Ashana could not leave the village without quickly discovering what had happened to the temple of Sophia – after all, if the temple of Qodesh had become a bathhouse, what had become of the Sophite temple?
Passing by the steps out front was already somewhat disconcerting: torn pages of paper floated out the door on a gentle breeze. Upon sticking her head through the entrance, the paladin saw that it had been mostly cleaned out. A handful of locals were seated against walls, reading whatever had fallen into their hands it seemed, but one particularly enthusiastic spirit was chasing loose leaves of parchment and papyrus, collecting them and after brief inspection was then arranging them in a leather bag at his hip. Here Ashana thought she might have found a kindred spirit, and asked the goblin what he was doing. That is how she received her horrifying answer: “I’m collecting the best and most comfortable pieces of paper for use in the latrines within the temple of Tiyriya. Come along if you want a comfortable and informative crap! Good rates!” His work apparently done for the moment, he tipped out the door. Aghast, Ashana wordlessly followed, and along with Sage returned to the others.
With the soap root and a stream of heaven-sent water, Riechstag was able to have himself a cleansing shower, before Hunter and Odate made their way into town for a bath. On their way in, the two stopped at some of the hovels that stood outside the village proper, hoping to catch sight of the kobold monk, Mkenda, whom they had met last time they were in Ho Lee, and who had helped them find Hunter’s sister. The grizzled kobold greeted them with all the requisite gruffness that seemed common to Qodeshi worshippers, but still asked after Cassi, and was glad enough to receive Hunter’s report that not only had they found her, but she was free of the slave life and was headed up the pilgrim’s path (though Hunter may have left out the small detail that she was heading up there to become a bard rather than a monk). Odate then sought the wisdom of the monk, who had so harshly criticised him when last they met, about the evil and cursed dagger of Tu’eva that he sought to destroy. Mkenda was shocked that the ogre cleric had taken so long to destroy so evil an object, and when Odate explained that the only way was to seek out giant bee royal jelly, and that these bees only live in Vahassa, the kobold’s response was snappy: you could have just bought some at a major city.
Odate was somewhat taken aback at this suggestion. While he wasn’t sure that the kobold was right, the truth was Odate had never once even considered just searching the merchant bazaars for some giant bee royal jelly. His mind had automatically jumped ahead to travelling to Vahassa and hunting down the bees himself. This was a lesson in wisdom for the ogre, and from the mouth of the same kobold no less: you don’t have to do everything yourself.
Still, now that he knew there was a chance that this substance existed somewhere in Manxiga, he was not going to let any stone remain unturned. He thought that there could even be two places the jelly might have once resided here in Ho Lee: the temple of Hesed, due to the jellies apparent healing properties; and the temple of Ra’a, because they like expensive things. They went first to the Hesedi temple – not only would it be more likely to have something left in it (he could only imagine the Ra’a temple had been thoroughly looted), but it was also likely to be decidedly less creepy.
The Hesed temple was far quieter than it had been in times past. But it too was not empty. Apparently, an ogre had come from the capital to set up a small hospital in the now disused building, to service the needs of the local area. There were a few sickly people about, mostly goblins, some suffering farming injuries, others with coughs and pains, and others merely old and looking for some peace. The ogre greeted Odate cordially, and after ascertaining that neither he not Hunter needed any medical attention, he talked about the supplies he had: some bandages, some roots and leaves, some clean water – and whilst he had some honey, it certainly wasn’t made by giant Vahassan bees.
And that’s when Odate decided he would be helpful; he warned the ogre clinician that there was a plague outbreak in Terrkan, and that it was entirely possible that sick people might be making it this way, heading for Ken Ta Ral. And the ogre just stared at him for a while. Finally, when this news had sunk in, the ogre asked cautiously, “How… do… you… know?” And it was suddenly very clear to Odate and Hunter that the Qodeshi had made a mistake. The clinician insisted that they should not leave the temple so as to control their possible infection, and despite all protestations he ogre-handled them into one of the quarantine cells kept in the temple for just such a purpose. Odate knew he didn’t have time for this: he called on the power of Qodesh, and with a single word – “enter” – commanded the ogre to walk into the cell in their place. It wasn’t until Hunter swung it shut that the ogre realised what had happened, and began to shout out for help. As they ran from the temple, down the street and out of the village, it seemed apparent they wouldn’t be searching the Ra’an temple after all.
Their next stop was going to have to be Ken Ta Ral, but they were loathe to travel the roads during the day, and taking the causeways was going to take longer – and with Reichstag possibly still sick, that might be too long. Unfortunately, their plan of travelling the roads at night didn’t turn out for the best, as Reich couldn’t seem to keep himself awake for the night travel. Moreover, despite his illness, he was still a mage, and he was damned if he was going to give up sleep and be prevented from being useful to the party with his magic. So they made their way to the causeways, and got some rest.
Ashana was on watch when the tawdry group of teenagers approached them. There were five in all – two humans, two bugbears, and a goblin who was pretty tall for his age, with pointy ears and a pointy nose, who seemed to be the leader of the ragtag bunch. Two of them had proper fighting daggers, while the rest were armed with simple clubs or cooking knives, which they wore proudly and arrogantly displayed on their belts. There was more than a little bravado in their swagger, and the machismo of the lead goblin was obvious as he strode up to Ashana and informed her, “You’ve got to pay a toll. These are our causeways.” Ashana had seen it all before – during her combat training there were always a few boys who felt they needed to pick on the girls to show how manly they were, and these were no exception. She tried rattling her sword at them, but these teenagers were as inexperienced as they were insolent, and they were sure that the mix of them outnumbering her, combined with them being male, was enough to fix the fight – ignore the fact that she was an armed, armoured and trained warrior, with four fellows (all of whom were asleep, sure, but who were also armed and dangerous).
There’s no need to record the absolute pansting that those boys received at the hands of the party, except to say that one of them literally ended up with no pants; Hunter took all of their daggers; and their goblin leader, Pointy, was unfortunate enough to attract the ire of Insight, Ashana’s newly named giant eagle companion. When the eagle swooped from the sky and grabbed him, all they heard were screams, followed by a sudden silence – and they were sure that he’d been gutted and devoured by the beast. But no, it was more that the goblin adolescent had simply passed out from fear, and then been dropped into a rice paddy a few metres away. Insight still did plan to eat him, but Ashana warned him off that course, and so he instead flew off in a huff and found someone’s goat to destroy and devour. After receiving some healing from the paladin, Pointy limped away quickly after his miscreant friends.
The rest of the trip to Ken Ta Ral was blissfully uneventful, and after two more days of ordinary travel Reich realised that he was actually feeling much better. That didn’t mean he had been healed, but it might – or it could mean that the disease he had was going through a quiet patch. It was probably best to check that out, and there was no doubt some ogre in Ken Ta Ral who could confirm that, even if there were no other clerics in the city. One thing that would certainly be hazardous for their health, however, was if someone were to recognise them as fugitives from Terrkan justice, so they planned to split up and enter the town in smaller groups. After all, a couple of humans travelling together was not remarkable, nor was an ogre and a goblin – and kender were just expected to come and go ad nauseum, as the elves would say. Plus, given the loss of the shields of both divine servants in the party, they suddenly looked very non-descript. The most obvious person now was Reich, in his bright blue mage robes. And while it was surely the case that he was not the only goblin blue dragon disciple in the world, they were still rare enough that if anyone was looking for a goblin blue mage he would be a ringer. Which is why Hunter and Ashana entered the town first, and purchased some simple second-hand clothing for Reichstag to wear during his foray into city life. When they had the clothes, Ashana went back out to deliver it to Reich, and Odate came in, whilst Hunter went to meet up with Soshiki and discuss whether there were any under-the-table jobs that a blue mage might get that would not attract the attention of the myconids.
Once Ashana and Reich had met up again on the opposite side of the gates, they thought of going searching for Odate, but couldn’t decide where he might have gotten to. So instead, knowing only one other trained ogre medic in Ken Ta Ral – the irrepressible Towajina of the southern gate – they headed to the southern side of the city to find her rooms. They were about to step inside when they heard some voices coming from within, and quite heated at that. The conversation was in Ogrish, so neither the paladin nor the goblin could quite pick up what was going on, but there was definitely a level of insistence coming from Nurse Jina, and a gruffness and even a bit of shoutiness coming in reply from some male ogre. Deciding this was none of their business, they waited outside politely for the better part of 20 minutes. They waited, in fact, until their patience was starting to wear just a little thin, but also because after that amount of time they were starting to wonder if it was in fact Odate’s voice that they were hearing from inside involved in that argument. Upon entering the rooms they found that the individual patient checking rooms were separated by heavy leather curtains, but the voices were much clearer in the central waiting room, and so Reichstag introduced himself most politely and apologetically, and pulled the curtain aside.
What they fould was a sight to behold. There was Odate, clearly cornered and berated, trapped by Nurse Jina in a far more compromising position than either would have given him credit for. He was clearly uncomfortable – although whether it was with the position or the discovery was unclear – and while Jina’s intentions were vague but pointing in one direction, Odate’s sudden cry in common was quite different, “Oh, thank Qodesh! Get her back!”
As the mood was mellowed by the addition of two extra people, explanations were made: apparently Odate had come and explained their situation to Jina as a fellow healer, only to discover that she was prepared to use this information to blackmail Odate into providing romantic companionship. She had been quite suggestive on this score, and whilst not forceful, had nonetheless been wearing down Odate’s mighty resolve to the point where he admitted that he did not trust himself to remain alone with her much longer. Apparently, the cavalry had arrived just in time. Now they needed to work out how to defuse this blackmail situation, and keep the information of theri escape from Terrkan a secret.
Sage, meanwhile, was having a wonderful time. Sure, she had been resoundingly rejected from entry into the noble quarter, where the market may well have had, among other things, the royal jelly of Vahassan giant bees. But when she had left that behind in favour of what she could only describe as the knick-knack markets (seriously, a place where they sell glass beads, baubles, shells AND shiny things?), it took her all of about zero seconds to find some other kender, sit down, and start sharing with them all about her adventures – their trip to the swamp mountains, their killing of a myconid, their saving of people who were turned to stone, their arrest in Terrkan, their escape from arrest, the spreading of terrible disease in Terrkan, their killing of the elf in the bamboo forest (so sad), and their trip to Ken Ta Ral.
Sage didn’t even think twice about sharing such news. After all, stories are the same as objects – they belong to everyone.