At the Tavern.By Comrade Ruck, Lady Beard, Breadsticks, Ma’am, and The Tumbler Comrade Tuck sat impatiently at a corner booth. Yet again, he found himself annoyed at the too-small furniture in this town. His massive frame precariously balanced on a wooden chair, creaking under the weight. He eyed the door. I wish group would hurry up, he thought, and not for the first time. Damn fates, da, for splitting them up. Comrade Lady Beard and Comrade Squirrel were off shopping. Comrade Breadstick was probably at the forge trying to learn how to swing a hammer. Comrade Metalface was off doing metal face things, whatever those might be. Yet again, leaving poor Comrade Tuck to face down this mighty pitcher alone. Da, at least noble bear is up for task, Tuck thought darkly as his mood turned the ale bitter. The little ones came in first. Tuck waved them over to his table. Squirrel moved a little slower as if she was healing from some great injury. Lady Beard seemed distant as she helped herself to his pitcher of ale. “This calls for much drink and stories, da?” Tuck called out boisterously, as he slapped Squirrel on the back.Squirrel winced as she replied “I’d rather not have to repeat myself four times… let’s wait for the others.” In an effort to save the mood, Comrade Tuck continued, “Comrades, there was so much gold that even Baba Yaga would smile.”Lady Beard sighed heavily, “For the last time, Comrade, there is no such thing as a Baba Ya-“Tuck interrupted quickly, not able to contain himself. “That is good comrade, because there was no such gold.” Tuck filled the room with a booming chuckle, earning looks from a fair amount of other patrons. He was content, however, in the small smiles he earned from Lady Beard and Squirrel.—A man in blue stormed into the bar. Tuck tried not to pay attention, but it was hard not to notice as the rest of the tavern went silent.”Hear ye, hear ye, know that the king…” the man proclaimed. Tuck returned to his cups. The man droned on for a while. There were occasionally gasps. Once, someone yelled out for Arladon. Tuck tried his hardest to ignore them. The next time Tuck looked up from his drink, the bar was nearly empty. The man and most of the people had left. One of the few remaining patrons managed to catch his eye and sauntered over.”You there, you seem like a fine young chap. How would you like to help the Storm Breakers in the coming assault?” He said. Tuck knew there was something vaguely disconcerting about that question, but was too drunk to quite figure out what that was. Tired of waiting on everyone else, he spoke, “Da.”—Metalface and Breadstick came in together next. They looked ridiculous in their giant tin cans. Tuck shook his head in derision – how could they expect to fight if they could barely move? Tuck could easily cover twice the amount of distance they could in a normal fight, maybe even three times the distance if they were running. All the noise was frankly grating on Tuck’s sensitive hearing. He tried to understand, though, in his own way. What would he do if he was as small and weak as them? So he tolerated the clatter as they attempted to sit in full armor.”A drink, my friends!” As he poured cups and motioned the waitress for another pitcher.”…Hey guys, looks like we’ve all been busy lately, huh? Well, let me buy the next round and tell you what happened to me, Keltoth,” said Breadstick as he fell into his story. He tried to gather Tuck’s attention as he pointed at his chest and said his name. This was a point of some contention. Tuck paid absolutely no attention to the story and motioned for food to be brought over.Keltoth began to tell his story, frantically waving his arms in the process. Well, after that herald shouted for everyone to get to fighting, I initially went looking for the main force guards to stand on the front line, but got accosted by some old greasy-looking dude, named Vismerk. He recognized me from that time we went through the sewers and took out Revmanie. He said I had to help him with determining if the threat was actually real, or if Lord Berengar was just making stuff up “again” to stir up trouble so he can fight the Virsmen. Well, since he turned out to be a member of the Undermerchant guild, and on official business for the City and Crown, I wasn’t going to turn him down. He had accosted some other adventurers as well and sent us all together to check things out beyond the fields to the west. He gave us a map and we headed out together to the west.Let me tell you a little about my new companions for this little sojourn. We had three lightly armored archers and two other guys like myself wearing our heavy armor. Why send tanks on a scouting mission? We are about as stealthy as the average goon. Anyway, since I’m not very good with landmarks outside of the city, I let them pick our path through the fields, just helping keep us on the right direction, since I always know which way is north. At this point, Spartan interjected, reminding Keltoth of his less than stellar track record. “Shut up, Spartan, I do too.” Keltoth picked up a roll from the table and gave it to Spartan… at velocity. Feeling his point was made, he continued.We ran, not easy in plate and chain, and moved our way through the grain fields to the orchards beyond. We saw initial signs of hoofed tracks not made by regular animals. It had to be the Virsmen. We slowed our pace through the apple orchards, creeping as quietly as possible. The light-armored archers actually helped us “trash cans”, as they called us, to muffle our armor. It worked and we found our quarry, for lack of a better term. There was a group of the Virsmen picking what apples they could, while in the distance, we saw that there were even more of them burning everything! Something has riled these creatures into a frenzy that they are going for a Scorched Earth (Scorched Land? Whatever.) victory against the people of Arladon! We had to report back. Quickly.We started moving back from the lines, avoiding most of the patrols, but we eventually were seen. I’m seriously surprised it didn’t happen before then, considering all the heavy noisy armor. Tuck actually looked up for a moment and nodded sagely. Keltoth took this as a positive sign and continued his story.There was a whole patrol: minotaurs, ram-heads, some sort of gazelle or antelope, and what looked like a freaking buffalo, too! Axes, swords, and spears came whistling out of their sheaths as I stepped forward with my fellows, Zenoah and Stalwart. We held the line against these beasts as our Archers and magical support, Navil, Dezz, and Occidendum peppered them with the special arrows that Vismerk joker gave us. What a slimy-looking dude. Anyway, back to the story. Navil had climbed a tree and was shooting any target of opportunity while Occi and Dezz played “shoot and scoot” on the group below. It was quite humorous, actually, as Navil kept picking apples, eating a couple bites, and chucking them at the Virsmen between shots, while chattering at them. Occi kept up a steady rate of fire while Dezz was alternating between shooting arrows and casting a death magic spell, shooting bone shards at the beastmen. The Rams kept trying to headbutt us, but thankfully Stalwart and his giant ass Door Shield held against them. We killed most of them, but drove off the last two after they sounded a war horn and called all their buddies. This, we decided, was a good time to flee and report back.Keltoth picked up a sausage, acting out every blow, taken and given. Well, with those Virsmen hot on our heels, we lit off for the city and our own forces, just praying we could get back before we got overtaken and turned into dinner for those ravenous beasts. As soon as we were able to catch our breath and slow a bit, we came upon another group out scouts. It was obvious from their tunics that they were part of the Kingsmen, themselves. They were being hard pressed by a group of Virsmen and losing, since they didn’t have defenders like myself and my two bros. They asked us to block for them and offered to take our reports back, assuring we would get credit. I couldn’t have cared less about them, since we already had our report to take back, but the others decided to take the heat off the Kingsman scouts and give our report to them. Oh well, guess we’re gonna whomp some more “cowboys”.We jumped right in. Navil jumped on a stump, actually. Gave him better range, I guess. We had a bunch of the same variety of Virsmen as we saw in the orchard: bulls, gazelle guys, rams, and buffalo. The three of us trash can types stepped up and held them back while our ranged “artillery” kept up the barrage from behind us. Then, a horn sounded and we were almost overrun by more of them! Including some gigantic Swollen Bull or some sort. Well, it charged around me, Stalwart, and Zenoah, attacking Occi directly. It blinded him with some sort of dust attack. Zenoah wasn’t having any of that, so he actually jumped on the thing’s back, trying to either ride, grapple, or hump it; I wasn’t sure. He kept up there for a while, while Occi got back and we took it down as a final massive wave of Virsmen sprung out of the fields and attacked us. The only thing that saved us from being totally destroyed was those fireballs that lit up everything in our area. “Did that happen to you guys, too?” Keloth asked, interrupting his own story. “ It was crazy. We all got toasty from that, I just forgot to get the marshmallows from you again, Zechos.” We kept fighting, making a last stand, knowing that we had to hold or be killed and eaten with rice sauce. Nasty, but finally that cold wind blew up, those horns sounded again, and the cows broke and ran. We were able to dispatch two more of them as they took off running for the hills ahead of the Kingsman Cavalry that came and “saved the day”. Then we picked ourselves up, Navil healing us on the way, and made our way back to the city. I wished Navil, Zenoah, Stalwart, and Occidendum well and came looking for you guys in our normal spot.Tuck gnawed on a bone of mutton absentmindedly. He is still talking? He thought, as he looked up from his meal at Breadstick. “So that’s pretty much it and I came back here,” Breadstick finished. Thank the mother! We can finally talk about me! Tuck opened his mouth to speak and Metalface interjected. “Let me tell you a real story of heroism.” Tuck returned to his mutton dejectedly. As if anyone cared about tin can and little sword. —Tuck’s mind wandered to his own story. The man in blue handed him some red potions and a healer’s kit. “Pass this out amongst those who need it most,” he instructed while pointing at a map to the front lines.Right now, I need this most, thought Tuck as he deftly switched a potion and the kit to his personal bag. Well, deftly for a gigantic bear anyway. Those that knew Tuck might see this as atypical behavior, as he is generally a share with everyone type of bear. However, lean times in his homeland had taught him to hoard where and when appropriate. Tuck hit the road by himself, regretting that he had to take on yet another party to disappoint him. Tuck enjoyed his walk in the sun. Miles of fields had stretched out before him. The breeze tickled his fur, carrying with it the scent of cooking meat. That smells nice. I wonder if they have enough to share?Tuck followed his nose towards a campfire nestled under a small hill. A group of goatmen sat roasting a hunk of meat on the fire. “Hail and well met, comrades!” Tuck called out. The goatmen stood up quickly and picked up weapons. “Easy comrades, easy…” they charged. Tuck took a mighty swing with a noble two-handed hammer. The first of the goatmen crumbled as his sternum broke free from its ribcage and smashed his heart, killing him instantly. The second goatman wasn’t so lucky as the backswing broke a rib in such a way it left him with a collapsed lung and a sucking chest wound. The third goatmen drew forth a bow and let an arrow fly. Unfortunately for Tuck, it flew true, impacting his bicep to the point where lifting his hammer pained him. “No, Comrade. No. This is not the way we fight.” Tuck spoke calmly as if a father was talking to a child who had disappointed him. He strode forward past the goatman drowning in his own fluids and towards number three that was desperately trying to notch another arrow.”Allow me to help, comrade.” Tuck let the hammer fall from his hands as he reached for the bow.—Metalface droned on with his story. The Virsmen hordes were descending on the city of Arladon. The kingdom dispatched a group of adventurers, known as the Chaotic Matrix, to thin the lines of the Virsmen vanguard. The king, although he knew the Chaotic Matrix adventurers were strong and valiant, sent a missive to the most elite force in the entire kingdom. They were known only as the A-Team. The A-Team dispatched Spartan, a heavily-armored warrior with incredible combat prowess, to assist those on the offensive.Comrade Tuck was mildly annoyed at the use of third person narrative. If you had asked his opinion, he would have said it made the metal man seem like a pompous ass. No one asked his opinion, so he went back to not listening.Spartan, along with the members of the Chaotic Matrix, was given the task of staging ballistas on a hill to give strategic advantage to repel and thin the lines of the incoming Virsmen. Spartan made moving a ballista up a hill look like child’s play. Although one of the crews moving a ballista had trouble and slipped during their ascent, Spartan ran down and helped them bring it up with ease. As the Vanguard approached, the ballistas fired on the incoming Virsmen. Spartan fired the first ballista bolt and took the head off a Swole Bull. The Virsmen trudged through bramble, barbed wire, and many strategically placed pits. By the end of the battle for the hill, all the Virsmen had been vanquished and one ballista was destroyed.At this point, Spartan, just realizing there is food, began eating ravenously, he continued to tell his story through the odd mouthfuls of soup and meat.The valiant adventurers had enough time before the main force arrived to repair the defenses and set some more bramble traps. It should be known that not one member of the strike team fell. When the main attack force arrived, the ballistas opened fire. Unlike before, Spartan and another heavily armored hero of Chaotic Matrix, rushed to hold the line. While these two valiant heroes stemmed the tide of the Virsmen, the rest of Chaotic Matrix let loose arrows and magical attacks, the likes of which the Virsmen had never seen. Just before the main forces of the king’s army arrived, the group of adventurers employed a secret weapon. It let loose ancient Eldrich magic against the Vanguard. This devastated the Virsmen Vanguard and their lines broke as they fled the battlefield. Unfortunately, they fled into the oncoming Arladon Army and were swept away like dust under a rug. The battle was great and that hill where the mighty adventurers stood will forever be stained with the blood of those Virsmen. Spartan returned to his comrades in the A-Team victorious and thinking, “The battle was won, most likely due to my assistance.”—“Tuck! Tuck!” Tuck woke up to Lady beard shouting and shaking him. “You had fallen asleep in the middle of Spartan’s story.” She said. Tuck was a little confused, as he had no idea who Spartan was. She must have taken one too many blows to the head. “You jest, comrade. I was awake the whole time.” Tuck replied, shaking his head with indignation. The whole group just accepted this, having known Tuck and his peculiarities for some time. They knew nothing good would come out of disagreements with the bear. Better to just move on. “Well, it might as well be me next. It started with Zechos and myself heading towards…” Squirrel began to spin her tale as Tuck drifted off again.—A wicked grin spread across Calisto’s face, and again, Zechos looked quite guilty. “You may have noticed I’m still in need of a bit of healing… it was quite an experience,” Calisto began. I was just minding my own business, walking through town, with several cult members and prospective members, when we were approached by a guard in the King’s livery. He claimed to need us to recover missing food and supplies. Before anything could happen, Falgor heard the magic word, FOOD. Clearly we would be taking this mission no matter what the cost. In my infinite wisdom, I further questioned the guard before we took off running, and we all received messenger cloaks to help us to be more stealthy, it is a good thing we didn’t just run for it! I continued to become increasingly confused, as the chunky dwarf, Hitaki, kept switching his accents. I was slightly distracted by the constant changes, and wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have, but I did hear that the Virsmen liked to eat other creatures with a rice-based sauce. I continued to be distracted, wondering how to make a rice-based sauce. We walked for hours, though it went by quickly as I continued to ponder a rice-based sauce and Hitaki’s accent – was it changing because he was some sort of spy? Was he Russian? Scottish? Australian? English? There were just so many… We found wagons close to the camp, and we could likely pull them back ourselves, but they were conspicuously unmanned by any Virsmen. Dyannah used her Kitty senses to see what she could perceive, noting older tracks that made it appear that the Virsmen had already attacked and moved on. I wasn’t so sure about the situation, so using my new cloak, I decided to hide in the shadows. Hemlock was smart enough to stealth as well on the opposite side of the wagons, he was able to see creatures lurking in the woods. Unfortunately, Falgor and Hitaki both ran as fast as possible for the food in the wagons. We were surrounded by Impalas, which no one seemed to have a clue what they were. Were they the Virsmen we were warned of? Were they just strange gazelle people? This adventure continued to confuse me, but now was not the time for that, it was the time to go kill things. I was very excited to actually successfully slice and dice them with my sword and dagger. It was a first for me; clearly my training is paying off. Hemlock was the star of the show, though, dual casting an ice dagger coup de gras, killing one in one hit! That Impala didn’t even have a chance to cry out. They continued to fire and attack Hitaki, but that ridiculously chunky, well-armed dwarf was able to avoid almost all damage, though he struggled to inflict it as well. Perhaps the agile Impalas were just too much for him. THIS IS SPARTA echoed through the clearing, again confused, I began looking for Spartan, but he was nowhere to be found… We made quick work of the remaining Impalas. Falgor quickly investigated the food carts, finding a string attached to the back with a jar. Being our gentle, but not always brilliant, giant, he decided to pull the string. At least we learned that the carts had been boobytrapped with bombs. I was able to get three minor bombs, and handed one over to Hitaki, because that seemed like a good idea. He had given me the nut he acquired and I was able to gather two more in addition to it. We dragged the carts back to the camp, only to find mass chaos and battles raging all around. Huge bison men with impressive pectorals were riding goats, armored bulls were fighting beside minotaurs, and magic seemed to fly from everywhere. There wasn’t much of a choice to make; we had to help them. We were quickly facing minotaurs and a swole ass bull. Our tanks rushed forward to attack while Dyannah and I continued to fight them with ranged attacks and Hemlock used his deadly dual casting. We focused our targets on the swole bull, as he was one tricky bastard to take out. Just when we thought we had them at our mercy, big fucking scorpion-wielding impala bastards came into the picture. Here is where the shit completely hit the fan: we continued to slice away at the swole bull, when a scorpion bolt pierced me through the back, followed by a ram horn in the ass. I was raging at this point, and began attacking with a new fury. We were finally making progress and enemies were being cut down left and right. Suddenly, ridiculously huge-ass enemies with a crazy-ass ballista appeared. We fought with all our might, our health leaking away as we continued to make a stand. In the end, we were successful, the enemies ran, whether it was due to our fighting cunning, the blood covering us, or the nuts of our enemies I displayed proudly, they finally retreated. Calisto rubs at her stomach, wincing a bit. Again, Zechos continues to glance at her, tears shining in her eyes with guilt on her face. —In Tuck’s mind he was back on that hill. Tuck sat down and enjoyed a nice meal, albeit the meat was a little gamey and burnt by the time he got to it. If only I had a nice cool ale to wash this down, thought Tuck, as he took another bite. Juice poured down his face, matting in the fur under his chin. “I’m not sure why we couldn’t just all enjoy that. Why did you have to go and shoot me?” Tuck glanced over to the offending goatman. He was a little worse for wear after having his bow snapped in half and force-fed to him. A muffled cry emerged from around the hill, disturbing his otherwise peaceful meal. Tuck moved forward to investigate. Two humans lay bound and gagged on the ground. One of them was attempting to sit and crying for the effort. Both were pretty mangled as if they had been through a great battle. One was even missing a leg.Tuck moved forward to help. Years of working in the medicae and the supplies given to him by the Storm Breaker gave him everything he needed to stabilize the two men before him. “Those bastards ate me!!!” The one missing the leg screamed out. “They cut off my leg and ate me…” this quickly devolved into a loud sob, making Tuck feel more than a little uncomfortable.”Well comrades, you are well enough to get to town, da? I must be getting on with mission.” Both men thanked him profusely, making Tuck feel even more uncomfortable as he walked away.—Lady Beard interrupted Squirrel’s story for minor corrections and questions gaining Tuck’s attention momentarily. It is clear she is distraught, but Tuck cannot tell why. Women…Calisto’s voice breaks the stream of foreign memories playing through Zecho’s mind, “Hmm, sorry?” she says as she tries to focus again on her friends.“I don’t really know where I was, actually…” Her eyes look up at Calisto, but quickly shift to focus on something else. “I may have been there?” She lets out an exasperated sigh, “The memories in my head don’t make sense.” Quietly, she says “The memories I have put me on the side of the Virsmen. They show me helping them setting up bombs and attacking people… I nearly killed good people.” She makes eye contact with Calisto, “Some people I even recognize.”Shaking her head, she frowns back down into her empty mug, “But that doesn’t make sense. How could I have done that? How could I have been a part of the Virsmen forces? I don’t even have horns.” Her voice, strained with fear of herself, “I didn’t do these things, right guys?” —Tuck marched up a small ridge where an outpost lay. Tons of wounded lay on the ground. A large man bellowed orders. Tuck walked straight to him. “I give you this, da?” Tuck handed over the medical supplies, minus a few odds and ends no one needed to know about. Tuck turned around as if to leave.”What is this?” The man said as he rifled through the pack. “Oh, they are medical supplies… I suppose you are wanting payment,” he spoke, unaware the Tuck was already walking away.”Da, I suppose I am wanting payment.” Tuck turned around and walked back. The man handed him a piece of paper.”This should see you right.” Tuck was confused as to how piece of paper would get hiim paid, but said nothing so as not to appear stupid. Lady Beard could explain it when he got back. He turned around to walk away again.”You don’t think you could lend a hand in the coming fight?” Tuck turned around a third time, beginning to get frustrated with all the back and forth. Annoyed and not really having paid attention with all the quick words spoken at him, he responded. “You want me fight?” He asked, raising his hammer with great malice in his eyes. “Yes, you fight over there,” the man said, pointing to a nearby hill. Tuck, confused, walked over to the hill and turned around, waiting for the large man to come over and try to hit him.A horn blew across the valley below and hordes of goatmen appeared like a tide surging against the rocky bottom. Fight with large man will have to wait. Better fight these goatmen first. Tuck raised his hammer and bellowed a challenge. Huh, there is an arrow in my arm. When did that happen?—“…You going to tell your story Tuck?” Squirrel asked, as if repeating herself.”Not much to tell, Comrade. Went for a walk, ate some meat, killed some things. Now it is time to drink!” Tuck said, as he grabbed the pitcher and drained it in one great pull. “Waitress, a round for me and my friends!”

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