Without a firm idea of when the caravan would be leaving, the party decided, only slightly under protest, to split into two groups, one of which would travel ahead to ensure they kept tabs on the caravan, and the other would follow from behind. Blueblood, Shu Hui and Utuk took the lead in the vanguard party, and Smith, Vargas and NubNub would bring up the rear. While they waited for information from the interesting and mysterious Vanbenten in their room at the Dodgy Pig, they received a knock on the door from a goblin salesperson. He said that he had heard rumours that the group had arrived in Terrkan, and he had brought for them just the thing for their adventures, guaranteed to be of use to them in their adventuring! He had for sale some highest quality, blessed by the gods, brailing. For only 50 gold pieces, it could be theirs! Of course, none of them had any idea what brailing was – but Smith thought it might have been some sort of writing for blind people – perhaps some message from the gods (where would he get such a crazy idea?), and so, borrowing 20 gold pieces from Vargas, Smith bought the brailing from the goblin.
It was indeed fine, high quality brailing, and for all he knew it had been blessed by some of the gods. The goblin dragged the brailing into the room in a large, canvas sack – all 200 feet of various bits and pieces of sail ropes – and not a boat for miles. Still, since Vargas had copped nearly half the price, Smith gave him half of the sail ropes. Soon after, before they had too long to talk about their recent purchase, Vanbenten appeared, and told the party that the caravan had left only a couple of hours ago. The party made their way out the north gate (the guards didn’t remember anything strange going on), Vargas picked up the goat trail, and they followed it – not too close (after all, they didn’t want to catch up with the caravan too early) and across the flood plains they went. Early on, the plains were still inhabited by goblins – since it was only a short trip to Terrkan. But many of these landholdings was much bigger than those in the more densely populated areas. The causeways were less frequent, but at least they existed for the time being, and so the party continued. It would be quite easy to lead a caravan through here in the dead of night and not get noticed at all. The party decided to get some rest, since yesterday had been quite a big day, and they could easily catch up the caravan tomorrow.
The next morning, as they walked the causeways, who should they see but a lonely wanderer, wearing a woven conical hat, simple brown kimono and dirty brown robe, carrying a katana. Vargas recognised the silhouette immediately, and said simply, “Hey Kage, Pan and Mellvin got themselves enslaved, come help us free them. Just don’t think you can just take charge of the group again – you left, now I’m in charge.” Kage was bemused about this, but told the group simply that he had but one task remaining to regain his honour, so that he could once again don his phoenix robes, and join them. The task was a relatively simple one – a kender he had met on the road had been brutally beaten for sleeping in a haystack belonging to some goblin farmers near here, and they had stolen the kender’s pockets. The kender – her name was Ethani Pollenflower – explained that a kender’s pockets are more than just bags to carry things in – they are like a map of her life, where she has been, who she has met. Vargas cavilled, but since the goblin homestead was within visual range, he decided to ‘lead’ the party to the house, where he knocked on the door, and demanded of the goblin woman who answered that he be given the kender’s pockets back. Of course, she did not speak common. Smith offered to translate, and both Vargas and Kage asked questions of the goblin. The goblin explained that the head of the house, who had the pockets, was still out in the fields planting. In the end, Kage just asked where he was, so they could go confront him directly.
The goblin looked old, and was slowly but diligently planting rice seedlings into the water, when the party sidled up on the causeway next to him. Again, Kage and Vargas took their turns in questioning, cajoling, bargaining and interrogating the goblin. Yes, he had the kender’s pockets. Yes, he had beaten her when he found her. But he also accused her of stealing a holy relic – an ebony stone carved in the shape of a fly. The kender denied stealing anything, sure that the goblin must have dropped the fly, and if anything, the kender had found it and was going to return it after just looking at it a little, and possibly having a nap in the haystack. The goblin steadfastly refused to believe this story, saying that kenders are just common thieves, and can’t be trusted. Now Vargas was beginning to lose faith in the annoying little kender, but Kage tried to explain that kender don’t have the same view of personal property, and that it was a mistake, not a theft. Smith asked a few clarifying questions to get his position clear. NubNub remained quiet throughout. Finally, Vargas asked what the goblin wanted – he said he wanted an apology. How much of an apology? Around 200 gold pieces of an apology. Kage had thought of purchasing the pockets, but did not carry any coin on his person, and was beginning to question whether the party would foot the bill for him – especially since it seemed Vargas had control of the purse strings. What followed was a number of offers that were less than acceptable to the goblin. Smith offered his brailing, but the goblin refused – although he did reveal that he was a retired cleric, and that he could verify that the brailing was indeed blessed by the dark gods. Kage offered his large dining set made from buggalo. Vargas offered a smaller coin ‘apology’. In the end, after some intense bargaining, the goblin agreed to accept the bowls and plates, and some coin, and the brailing. But Smith refused. He said the offer had been on the table, now it was gone. The goblin used this lack of cooperation to drive a wedge between the party, specifically requesting the human’s brailing and making it part of the deal, knowing he held the cards, since he had the pockets they seemed to want so badly. Finally, Vargas offered the whole of his brailing, taking some coin from NubNub, and the diningware from Kage, telling Smith pointedly, “This is leadership.” The pockets were given up, and the goblin laughed. Smith them had the temerity to offer the brailing for the holy ebony fly artifact, and the goblin cursed him with the Fear of Tiyrya… whatever that is.
After the party had moved away from the goblin, Ethani thanked them for their help, returning her pockets, and accepting a small gift from Kage, in his typical fashion. In reply, she offered the party a small ebony statuette of a fly, which she found in her newly returned pockets, and claimed she did not need. She walked away with a typical skip in her step, and the party made various noises akin to grumbling and sighing. Now, with Kage redressing back into his flaming phoenix robes, they were back on the road – and back to tracking the goat. It was much rougher going once they got out past the outlying rice farms. Dry land was hard to come by, there was lots of wet patches and damp spots, which made the centaur’s life far more difficult, and everyone’s rather depressing. However, they did find some natural looking ridges in the plains, which were pushed up out of the dirt, and they could be walked along dryly enough, although they seemed to start and end rather randomly, and move around in many different directions. They pushed on till nightfall, built a fire, and kept watch. It was whilst Vargas and NubNub were changing watches that Nub spied some movement out in the darkness – was one of the mounds of earth moving?
Suddenly, without real warning, a huge, stony beast, something like a shark, but rocky and with large, stumpy legs, threw itself out of the ground in a massive jump, and landed on Vargas, tearing into him ferociously, and causing him incredible pain and carnage. The rest of the party were quickly wakened by NubNub (Smith was particularly difficult to wake) and they charged against the foe who had their ranger pinned. The fight was short, but bloody. Vargas stabbed it from below, NubNub healed Vargas, then himself after nearly being eaten whole by the beast. Smith unloaded cartridge after cartridge of Chu-Ko-Nu bolts into its face, and Kage went toe to toe with the beast, his ki power guiding his katana against its stony hide. Eventually, the hungry monster fell, atop Vargas, who was forced to summon all his angered strength, and lift it off himself, but not until Smith had disected its stomach to see what it had eaten, the contents of which spilled all over Vargas.
The party was alive – barely – and ready to move on. Well, this half of the party, anyhow. One wonders how the forward guard are doing…