About to set off on their journey, the party found a new traveling companion strumming a guitar amid the wagons. Jedidiah introduced him as a minstrel—to provide some entertainment on the long road ahead.
The minstrel, who introduced himself as Adam in a thick accent most common from the southern isles of the new continent, caused a bit of a stir. It seemed only the inquisitor and the gunslinger could identify what he was.
“He’s a vanara,” Rosemary whispered to her sister as Adam started to sing as he strummed. Loosey nodded in agreement.
Vanara were a simian race, known for their striking resemblance to monkeys (though it was a grave insult to say such a thing). This particular vanara had a brown coat, and it’s more humanoid head of hair was neatly knotted into long dreadlocks. He wore a simple cotton orange shirt and breeches and carried with him a wooden guitar.
The sisters introduced themselves and asked him about his reasons for journeying.
“To spread the word of Jah,” Adam said, as he reached into a pouch at his side and flicked a handful of seeds into the brush beside them. “And the sacred herb of Jah.”
Adam began to preach about the one love of his god, of Jah, and how they were all a part of this great one love. Rosemary stopped him, explaining that she and her sister were Christians, specifically Catholics.
“We pray to the same god!” Adam explained excitedly. “One love!”
While the conversation about religion was amiable, there were no conversions that day. Meanwhile, Garren and Loosey went back to town to do a little shopping. Loosey selected a bay gelding to travel on, and afterwards started questioning around town for information on his own personal mission.
The next morning, the caravan started its journey west. Loosey rode his horse at point, a rifle still wrapped and strapped to his back while a pistol was in easy reach at his side. Arrok stayed near the middle, riding atop the broad back of one of the oxen. Close to him was Garren. Susan and Rosemary walked at the back of the caravan.
Adam walked in front as he sang and played his guitar. Loosey ended up striking up a conversation with the vanara, curious about his faith. Adam lit a pipe as he walked, offering Loosey a hit, but he politely declined. Adam began to again explain the tenets of his religion.
“Be wary about what you say around the half-orc sisters,” Loosey warned Adam. “They’re devout Catholics.”
As their long trek continued, Garren revealed his origins—while he was a catfolk, he was raised by humans. His adopted father was from Asia, and his mother was from the isles they just left from.
Seemingly in the mood for a bit of personal tales, Loosey told Adam that he was from Tehas, a region of the Land of the Once Great. He was currently on the way back home from a long stint in the Land of the Ancient Kings. Adam revealed he was from a tiny island full of swamps and bayous to the southeast of the Land of the Once Great.
“So what will you do in the event that the caravan is attacked by bandits?” Loosey asked. “If your song and dance don’t exactly work?”
“Oh, them bandits have just lost the love of Jah,” Adam explained with a note of sadness. “They a blood clot. We don’t need to get to dat point, brudda.”
“People argue, nature acts,” interrupted Arrok. This began a philosophical argument between Adam and Arrok, about how gods weren’t one love, but many loves, to which Adam disagreed.
Deciding to let his two faith-driven companions talk religious nonsense (and Garren simply listen and nod occasionally), Loosey left the front of the caravan. As he rode toward the back, he noticed Hobnail and gave him a short greeting.
“What do you think of Adam?” Loosey asked.
“He seems very upbeat,” Hobnail replied after a pause.
“He speaks a lot of love.”
“The world needs more love.”
“There not much love in this world.”
“There’s more love in this world than it sometimes seems, but close your eyes to it and you’ll never see it.”
Hobanil’s words seemed to strike a cord in Loosey and he struck up a conversation. Hobnail formerly introduced himself to Loosey and at Loosey’s asking explained that the Land of the Once Great was the land of his birth and he was returning now after many years of traveling the world.
Garren, presumably bored of the philosophical argument between Arrok and Adam, went to check on the sisters. Due to the lack of much other activity to do on the road, they too struck up a conversation. Garren explained he came to the continent to find his birth parents. Garren’s particular breed of catfolk were not native to the Land of the Once Great but been driven there.
Loosey caught up to them, saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover, Hobnail is a gentlemen.”
After some time walking, Loosey ventured, “…so how exactly do you folks go about fighting? Hopefully I don’t have to use this,” he tapped the wrapped rifle over his shoulder. “And I can just use this pistol.” His hand fell to the piece at his side.
“Stealth,” Garren replied without hesitation.
“I specialize in grappling,” Susan replied. “And I have an axe in case things go bad. Previous experience has lead me to follow a live capture route over killing.”
“Grappling….” Loosey mused. “That’s a dangerous sort of fighting.”
Rosemary finally spoke up. “So you’d prefer your kills be impersonal, from a safe distance?” she asked, eyeing his gun.
“Are you a grappler as well?” he asked.
“No,” Rosemary said shortly. She wasn’t nearly the same bulk as her younger sister.
“So what do you do in a fight?” Loosey asked skeptically.
Rosemary hooked a thumb at Susan and the corner of her lips quirked up, showing her off her tusks. “I chase them to her.”
“And how do you go about doing that?” he said.
“I make them want to get far, far away from me,” she replied.
There was a bit more badgering about her technique, since however would they work as a team to defend the caravan if they didn’t know each other’s strengths? Finally, eyes rolling upward briefly as if to ask her God for patience, Rosemary decided a practical showcase of her methods would shut them up.
She leveled a look at Loosey. Susan and Garren couldn’t see it, the stare reserved solely for Loosey. The promise of violence and righteous anger were channeled in her expression with such ferocity that the gunslinger felt a shiver of fear he most definitely wasn’t used to feeling. He moved his horse a few paces away from the inquisitor.
Once his composure was regained, Loosey inquired roughly about Arrok.
“I’ve worked with him before,” Susan said. “He’s an unarmed fighter with an interesting bag of tricks…”
“I generally try to fight to survive, but not to kill,” Garren mused.
“We try not to kill,” Susan assured. “But sometimes some people can’t be helped…well…they’re not always people…”
Loosey was halfway to the front of the caravan when he spotted a man hiding in the brush along the roadside some forty feet ahead of the caravan.
“We got company!” Loosey shouted.
Arrok scanned the brush along the side of the rode and spotted the man as well. In an instant he had leapt through the air and was next to the man. Entering into a pose as Arrok greeted the man with the words, “The only true test of courage is the last one!”
Arrok barely dodged the arrow loosed by the second bandit.
The first bandit, however, was unable to dodge the bullet that thundered out of Loosey’s pistol as he rode forward after Arrok. A barely noticeable expression of pain on the face of the bandit. With a display of well practiced skill, Loosey flipped his gun and reloaded it.
“Cold dragon strike!” hissed Arrok as he punched the first bandit in the gut, his fist glowing and sparkling with a faint blue energy. Frost began to encompass the man, already dead from Loosey’s bullet to his throat.
“Your last test of courage was not sufficient,” the monk told the corpse flatly.
Susan belatedly ran up to Arrok, but spotted ten more assailants surrounding the wagons. Her sister lagged behind, her breastplate slowing her down. At the same time, Hobnail swiftly dismounted his horse after galloping to the front, Garren not far behind.
A two lines of bandits stood in on either side of the road ahead of them, arrows notched and aimed for a volley. A man with nicer weaponry than the rest stepped forward and declared loudly, “You can give up now and give us all your loot!”
Rosemary snorted derisively.
“Desperate men employ desperate measures,” Arrok sighed, magically wrenching the very earth from below to form a small wall to shield himself and Susan as the bandits loosed their arrows. Several plinked off the stone shield, but most flew wide of their targets. One grazed Garren’s cheek as he deftly avoided two more.
Adam, wholly unhurt by the volley, ran up, waving his arms.
“Keep peace, bruddas!” he begged, hoping to sway the men through more diplomatic means. “Put down your arms! There be no reason for violence!”
Enraged by the death of their scout, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Taking his cue from Hobnail, Loosey heeled his horse to the front of the caravan. Arrok, the stone wall crumbling before him, burst forward and sent a blue-wreathed fist into the leader’s face, killing him instantly.
As the frost covered bandit crumpled to the ground, Arrok looked up at the others and said, “You should not be frightened of me, but of the sisters.”
On cue, Susan came charging into the fray, her dark cloak flaring up behind her as she growled with a large-tusked grin, “’Sup.”
Hobnail came forward, driving a fist into another bandit’s face, killing him, and then turning as he drew a hand axe from his belt.
Rosemary’s falchion dug deep into another man, but not enough to fell him. In retaliation, he dropped his crossbow and came at her with his sword, grazing her arm.
Behind her, Garren completely vanished. A man to their left let out a wet gurgle, his neck gushing dark blood. Garren mysteriously appeared behind him as he fell, claws dripping. A bandit tried to level a shot at the catfolk, but he missed widely. The arrow sailed over the caravan, the Spokeman family taking cover. Similarly minded, Adam took on a defensive position, determined to not harm anyone during the fray.
The men in front of Arrok and Susan attempt to attack, but the arrows, and an ill-placed sword swing did little to harm the barbarian or the monk. Arrok’s fist found another target, causing enough internal damage to severely injure the bandit but not quite kill him. Susan’s axe was more effective, two hacks and the bandit fell in several pieces.
Seeing Rosemary having a bit of trouble, Hobnail hurled his hand axe at the bandit swinging away at her.
Rosemary’s only warning was Hobnails horrified “Shit!” before the tumbling axe hit her thigh with a sharp flare of pain.
Bleeding and hurt, Rosemary lifted her gaze to the three bandits still around her. Channeling the pain, she made a gesture with her hand, a faint shift of magic in the air empowering her. Teeth bared, eyes wild, Rosemary pointed an accusatory finger at the men.
“Those who have forsaken His holy word, who have been deceived but willingly walk amongst the legions of murderers, of unrepentant sinners, of liars, may they be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone!” she screamed at them, divine righteousness so tangible that the bandits before her began to scream and quake, flames engulfing them. The unfortunate man before her began to froth blood while another’s eyes melted in the divine flames.
The display of her divinely-sanctioned fury was a deciding factor for their fellow men. The surviving bandits fled towards the woods, yelling profanities, Arrok and Susan quick to follow. Few noticed the bandit with kidney damage, falling down beside a suddenly visible Gerran.
Except for Adam.
With stumbling steps, he fell before the slain, openly weeping over the carnage and death.
“Why, brudda?” he wailed tearfully. “There was no need for this, brudda…”
Garren and Rosemary looked over the fallen bodies; Garren murmured a quiet prayer for souls of the men he killed while Rosemary quietly prayed for forgiveness. She then let out a grunt, dislodging the hand axe from her thigh and handing it to Hobnail. He took it and apologized profusely for his bad aim.
Adam started dragging the bodies into a line, sniffling and brushing back tears as he prepared their bodies for burial. The men of the caravan began relieving the bodies of their possessions while the women dragged away Rosemary to tend her wounds.
Loosey solemnly walked up to Jedidiah and muttered, “Problem neutralized.”
Meanwhile, Arrok and Susan pursued the remaining three bandits. The slowest had his spine shattered from a devastating blow from the monk. With a terrifying leap past them, Susan blocked the other two bandits, forcing them back towards the monk. With their path of retreat blocked, the two remaining bandits fought back desperately. Arrok took a deep hit to the shoulder, while Susan’s armor and inherent durability protects her from their blows.
“Mine begs for death, keep yours,” Arrok said to Susan.
A strike to the face felled Arrok bandit, though not enough to end his life. The second was cut down with two swings of Susan’s greataxe. Apparently, Susan did not particularly caring whose target actually begged for death.
Bloodied and sweating, Susan hefted the unconscious bandit onto her shoulder while Arrok dragged the dead behind them as they returned to the caravan.