We hadn't even left the city yet, and there was already an argument. Acquiring horses had been easy enough, but getting information out of Wanda was a different story altogether. I've before never met a band so thoroughly content with ignorance as the one I've been shackled to by circumstance. Dragons return for the first time in centuries; nobody but me cares to ask why. Chromatic drakes attack the capital city of Aenn; nobody else finds it suspicious when we're led to the Metallic temple. We're press-ganged into joining a nameless dragon cult whose patron specializes in chaos and trickery, but I'm scolded for asking too many questions and demanding answers from our blackmailers.
We owe nothing to these gnomes we'd never before met in our lives. When faced with an almost three days ride to a town we've never been to, across a road plagued with Orc raiders, to meet with unidentified "agents" and "friends" that our guide is reluctant to name. And yet, when I demand to know who we're supposed to meet with, somehow I'm the villain for asking. The others would apparently rather be without any direction whatsoever should we be separated from Wanda. I refuse to be led like cattle to my death. If our illustrious gnome captor were to leave us, like she would have if we'd chosen to warn the fort, how would we possibly explain ourselves when questioned by the authorities?
"Hi, I'm Duncan. I'm a foreign national and spontaneous spellcaster in a land that is ruled by wizards that despises my people. With me, I have in my company a dwarf who is equally likely to hit you, fall over drunk, or start shouting in any given scenario. I'm also in the company of two elves, one albino, that seem very eager to avoid visiting any elven settlements. Oh, don't mind the enormous musclebound fellow who lapses into a gibberish tongue that only he understands or the half-elf druid and his tame wolf, they're harmless. We're here on behalf of a religious cult that doesn't actually have a name in order to warn surrounding lands about the re-emergence of dragons and their subsequent rampage across the capital of Aenn. We have no identification or way in which to corroborrate our story, and are in direct service to a Dragon God of trickery and chaos. You see, the weaker dragons and dragonkin are being mind controlled by a cabal of spellcasters (like me) from Entille (like me), and even the ancient dragons who can resist this effect are terrified of it happening to them and are fleeing the kingdom, abandoning their own relatives. Anyways, we'd like you to give us whatever resources you have at your disposal so our miserable band can attempt to put an end to a problem that Wyrms older than some continents are scared to fight."
I'm sure that would go over well. This is the sort of thing I had on my mind when we made our way out of the city, and it only really went downhill from there. The people who were content to let an unnamed stranger be beaten unconscious and dragged off for torture and questioning suddenly grow a fond appreciation of chivalry, and scold me for questioning the gnome so harshly. The gnome that serves a goddess of chaos and trickery. The gnome that has threatened us with surveillance for the rest of our natural lives should we ever stop helping her. The gnome that was content to remain silent for a three-day fucking ride, letting us sit in silence as we march to a fiery end. The gnome that would eagerly sacrifice us all if it meant the liberation of the dragons. The gnome that, I suspect, could dispatch each of us in turn before we even knew what was happening. But somehow I'm the bad guy.
I try to extract from Wanda such unimportant details as the names of the people we're supposed to meet (Lady Marion and Balazar the Builder), what they look like (A blonde woman and a brown-haired, blue eyed man), and how they are involved with a nameless dragon cult devoted to chaos and trickery (they're agents of said nameless group). When I point out the fact that it's suspicious our nameless conspiracy has infiltrated the local government at the highest level, I am threatened by the dwarf. He wags the severed dragon tail-end at me in a suggestive manner. The same tail end, mind you, that he was only able to get in the first place because I lied to the guards protecting the dragon's body. I tried to get him off my back by suggesting Wanda would abandon his stubby ass and overworked pony if he fell too far behind the pack, and I think he bought it. Unfortunately, a few minutes later he threw an empty cask of ale at my head.
Thrown from my horse and on the verge of unconsciousness, I contemplated exactly what terrible decisions I had made in life that led me to my current situation. I should have never left Entille. Instead of lying facedown in the mud, I could be back home getting myself into trouble with a royal heiress or two. I should have kept my mouth shut about my magic. The one time in my life I decide to tell the truth, and look where it gets me.
As I'm pondering whether or not I have a concussion (and fantasizing about the dwarf's head on a spike), the others react with mild indifference. Our resident swordsman shouts something in that stupid language of his he thinks others can understand but actually can't and rides away to block the road ahead. Wanda gets the albino's attention, and she does her best to undo my splitting headache. After a delay longer than my questioning in the first place, we finally set off again as the sun begins to set.
As the sky begins to grow dark, the foreigner has the bright idea of everyone introducing themselves and answering a few icebreaker questions. The swordsman's is Jager, an unintelligible "explorer" (more like immigrant) from a country I can't be bothered to remember the name of. The elves are Faedi and Raven, and blessedly withhold any further detail. The druid is Zenkarth, a vagrant in search of magic drugs, or something. The dwarf is Thorgrim, who left home and has a deathwish. I introduce myself and ask if knowing where I'm from will prevent them from burning to death in dragonfire.
I bring up the subject of making camp for the night, and Wand a tells me that there is a farmer a few hours away who will allow us to stay for the night. I ask what his name is, and why he will allow six bizarre armed strangers into his home. I am told his name is Adam, that he has two daughters aged five and seven, and that he is yet another "personal friend" of Wanda's. For someone with such little legs, she sure manages to get around. Again, I am scolded by my fellow press-gangers for daring to question the authority of our resident three-feet-tall cultist/blackmailer.
Zenkarth and his wolf spot a pair of kobold scouts monitoring us and then retreating back over a hill. Thorgrim wants to chase after them, while Wanda is utterly dismissive of the idea they might pose a threat. I point out that Kobolds are distantly related to dragons, and that they might very well be controlled by the same artifact that we're supposed to destroy. Kobolds are cowardly and stupid by nature, but that doesn't matter if a large force could be enslaved and mobilized. A large group of dominated kobolds that has been armed and organized could pose just as severe a threat as any orc warband. Maybe even more dangerous, given the race's natural affinity for magic. Wanda and the others ignore me, as usual.
Once we reach the farm, Wanda tells us to wait while she goes inside and negotiates our stay. After about five minutes (guess Adam finishes fast), the gnome returns and tells us to stable our horses and introduce ourselves. While his children entertain themselves with the albino and the druid's wolf, the rest of us greet Adam. I tell him that I'm an exiled prince from a far-off land, and that both my identity and land of origin are a dangerous secret. He and his daughters are enraptured by the lie, and overjoyed to be in the presence of royalty.
Wanda and my companions are less enthusiastic, but say nothing. If they can't handle a tall tale every now and then, they're welcome to return their looted dragon parts. The first dragons seen in centuries, and I bluff our way into harvesting blood and scales aplenty from it. "Thank you Duncan, for making us all unimaginably wealthy. We have some of the most precious materials in existence thanks to your clever tongue and quick thinking. We'll trust you to know what you're doing in the future, and not be so harsh when you ask questions or improvise a lie."
As if. The bastards still have yet to thank me, including Wanda. If I ever meet Aasterinian, I'll be sure to let her know to add Stupid and Ungrateful to her portfolio alongside Chaos and Trickery. We decide on four watches of three hours each, with Wanda taking the first watch. I offer to join her, partially because I don't trust myself not to get even with the dwarf while he sleeps, and partially because I can finally get some answers without five people jumping down my throat for questioning our captor or her religion.
- Duncan Dunhallow