, over the hills.jpg
 – Sneak by. If we can avoid a fight, we will.
“We sneak by.” I say. “Let’s do this quietly, not even letting them know we were here.”
I’m not wasting anyone’s blood on some competition of which faction has the bigger stick, or in this case, wallet. A show of force is meaningless if met with subtlety. It should mean far more than simply crushing the opposition.
For some reason, the others follow my direction without complaint. Red stares at me, her previous impatience replaced by indifference. After a few seconds, she goes along too. I can’t help but feel vaguely unnerved.
With the dense foliage blocking out what fleeting rays of light remain, I’m faced with a realization.
I don’t know how to sneak through a forest.
Sure, Yuki taught me a bit of how to sneak and evade through a city, but out here I’m very much in the dark.
After half a dozen near misses with twigs and animal burrows, Red decides it would be less of a hassle to carry me over her shoulder.
The next hour is an all around terrible experience. The position is uncomfortable and the proximity feels strange. Red is probably wearing armor of some sort under her cloak, as I can hear a very faint creak of metal or wood. It certainly isn’t helping with the discomfort and slight difficulty breathing. The fact that she’s only about as tall as Mystia is similarly problematic.
There are a few close calls along the way. Several times, a pair of mercenaries comes fairly close to us. At least they seem more interested in idle chatter than actually sweeping the forest. It makes sense, seeing as they don’t actually know we’re there.
Once it seems like we’re past the mercenaries, I’m able to freely walk again. Rob and Yuki both get in a few jokes at my expense, but I don’t mind them. We made it through without issue. I’m too relieved to be annoyed by the others’ needling.
I wish I could say we crested the last hill and saw the shining city of Glorium at the base of the mountains. Of course, that’s not how things pan out. As the others go about telling me, Glorium is in the fjord past the mountains. We have to take a pass upward to get through them, then descend a narrow path. We’re only about halfway there, as far as travel time.
There goes my mood.
We camp at the base of the mountains, hiding our fire as best we can. Hopefully, our food will last a few more days.
As always, Red and Rob are the ones on watch, since they don’t sleep, at least in the normal sense of the word. I can’t help but wonder if they talk about things while the rest of us sleep. Rob can understand her well enough, so it’s just a matter of whether she’s willing to communicate. The thought that they might be keeping things from me is something I can’t shake.
I don’t have any energy today. My sleep wasn’t great, especially with the rocky terrain we’re now in. I’m starting to miss civilization. At least we should reach our destination soon.
The path is perilous, just a set of rough stone steps ascending halfway up the mountain. Fierce winds threaten to pitch us off the mountainside and there are no handholds. Only Red and Rob are unaffected, taking the lead. Yuki has a bit of trouble adapting, but Mystia and I have to hang onto each other to progress.
Mystia really has it the worst. I’m very light and not at all strong, but Mystia doesn’t seem to weigh much more than I do. Hollow bird bones, I guess. Her wings only can retract so far, even without the wind trying to drag them open. We only manage to proceed because Mystia wraps her wings about us as a shield. Sure, we can’t really see more than a few steps ahead most of the time, but we survive. My small fire magic at least keeps our hands and her wings from freezing. It’s good to not be completely useless.
It really is nice to see Mystia smile. Usually, she just looks tired unless someone is talking to her. She doesn’t seem to mind the necessary closeness like Yuki would. As a result, it doesn’t feel forced and uncomfortable.
We rest for the night just inside the entrance to the mountain pass. The crags give us some shelter from the wind, much as it howls at us. I can really understand why someone would send a courier instead of travelling here themselves.
Several times during the day, I get the feeling we’re being watched. If I was a little more aware, maybe I’d catch a glimpse of something. As it is, I’m just consumed by an intense paranoia. The maze of crags is almost smothering, like we could be crushed in an instant.
We make it to the other side of the pass by evening, but I want to be out of the shadow of this mountains as soon as possible. Mystia’s music and a crackling fire go a long way toward staving off the shadows, both mental and material.
“What haunts these mountains, anyway?” Yuki asks.
“Wolves,” Rob says, “among other things. Best not to worry your heads over it. We’ve not strayed off the path, so the worst of it shouldn’t mind our presence.”
“What sort of-”
“Can you not, Yuki?” I say. “It’s bad enough already!”
She stares at me, her expression hard to make out from across the campfire.
“Sorry.” She mumbles.
The descent was easier, somehow. The wind was pushing us toward the mountains, rather than away from them. In the brightening dawn, I think I can see a few wood towers in the distance. I guess Glorium is that way.
Thinking on it, the Outlands are weird. There is no sun or stars, but the day-night cycle still exists. The light doesn’t rise or recede from a particular direction so much as every direction. The result is disorienting, at minimum.
We pass through a darker forest after descending the mountain. It doesn’t feel actively malevolent, but the path has been eroded by the trees quite a bit. It’s like nature is almost daring civilization to try to overcome it, knowing the civilization won’t succeed.
Or maybe they’re just fast growing trees. I’m just glad to be away from the mountains.
It’s sometime in the late afternoon when we reach Glorium. The Gate-Town is far from what I expected. It’s mostly low wooden buildings, longhouses, and storehouses. There’s quite a bit of land dedicated to farming, but I’d guess the population is only a few hundred. Other than that, it looks as if the people could just pack up and head off for war. The town is built along the shore of a fjord, with ships of all sizes moored in the expansive docks.
There’s no gate or guards to stop us, just a rough perimeter of wooden spikes. Seeing as everyone we pass is well armed, I can see why they don’t see a need for guards. The people themselves are fairly diverse looking. Though most are humans, there are a mixture of dwarves and even a few of the more exotic sort. They all seem to have a particular confidence about them. Shouts and laughter resound through the cold night air.
Despite the cheer, love of drink, and the abundance of friendly brawls, the residents don’t seem to care for strangers. I can feel several hostile stares almost burning into my back. As long as I ignore them, it should be alright.
Fortunately, we don’t have to bear their gazes for too long. Red knows exactly where we’re to deliver the package, leading us to a somewhat more deserted area. The man I take to be our contact waves us over to a warehouse.
He looks to be fairly young, maybe twenty, with brown hair and blue eyes. A noble, maybe, from his finely tailored coat. The whip and broadsword at his belt and the assortment of throwing knives make it clear he’s well prepared to defend himself. Somehow, he doesn’t seem dangerous. It must be his posture and friendly, almost cocky smile.
“Lo there ladies, disembodied soul. How has the road treated you?” he says.
Red nods, producing a wooden case about the size of her forearm from her sleeve. She hands it to the man without so much as a hand sign.
“All business as ever, eh S?” He looks slightly disappointed.
She says nothing, only holding her hand out for payment.
“Wait, S is the blue, cheerful one, not the red one.” Yuki says.
“They’re both called S.” The man explains. “It’s either a service marketing thing or an odd coincidence.”
“May I ask why there was a dedicated encampment of mercenaries waiting to pounce on us on the way here?” I’m rightly upset about that.
“Did you kill them?”
“We snuck by.” Mystia says. She still seems pleased to have been the one who proposed that option.
“Ah. Just the solution I had hoped for.”
“So why weren’t we told in advance?” It would’ve saved us a lot of stress.
“You’re new to S’ crew. I assume you just didn’t hear the details from your boss.”
I know we didn’t ask, but why the heck would she keep this from us?
“Who were the goons working for?” Rob asks.
“I’d guess either the Signers or the Fated. Both have been mucking up our deliveries of late. The Hardheads aren’t in the habit of hiring mercs.”
“I guess we had something valuable, then.” You don’t hire people to rob couriers just for the sake of ruining the other guy’s day.
“Maybe.” Oh, that smug, knowing smile.
“So, why did we have to do this job anyway?” Rob asks, “It’s all so roundabout. We could’ve taken a Gate right to here. Hell, you could’ve brought your own package when you went through it to get here.”
“Surveillance. Gating right in with the package would attract all kinds of undesirable attention.” He replies.
Well, we can get back to Sigil easily enough, at least.
“You lot are playing a dangerous game, it seems. Best of luck to you.”
“Thank you, spirit.”
“So,” Yuki says, “payment.”
“Ah, right. I really wasn’t expecting more than one courier, but you’ll all be paid fairly.”
He hastily checks a few of his pockets before fishing out a few coinpurses.
“Your business payment,” he hands Red a decently-sized pouch, “And your personal payment.” And a few uncut gems.
Red pockets both with a nod.
“And personal payments for the rest of you. I hope you all accept coin rather than demanding something else.”
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t.” I guess Red uses the gems for some kind of magic.
Each of us gets a good amount of money. Rob has me hold onto its share. We each get somewhere around a hundred gold pieces, which is to say, more money that I’ve had at any point so far, by quite a wide margin. Yuki’s expression is one of almost disbelieving joy. Mystia and I just quietly thank the man.
“Now then,” the man says, “I’d love to stay and talk, have a drink and all that. Shame I’ve got deliveries to make and receive. Maybe some other time.”
With a smile and an over the shoulder wave, he practically melds into the night.
“What an odd one he is.” Rob says. “I wonder who he’s working for.”
“Sensates, maybe?” Yuki says. “He’s wealthy and stylish enough.”
“Please tell me you aren’t falling for the first guy to throw money in your direction.” Mystia says.
“I’m not so shallow as ta go for money alone.”
“But you are shallow.” Mystia grins.
“Not as much as your breathing.” Yuki hisses.
“Kids these days.” Rob sighs.
Red wanders off while I try to keep the others from escalating things.
As it turns out, the town doesn’t have an inn. With the obvious distaste for outsiders, it makes an unfortunate amount of sense. My hope for a warm bed isn’t going to happen, but we can at least set up in an unpatrolled warehouse. Any roof is better than nothing, considering how cold it is.
Being able to feel my feet when I wake up is something I’ve missed. It really is nice to have little things like that back.
“So,” Yuki says over a breakfast of the last of our trail rations, “now what?”
“We should probably head back to Sigil and see how S is managing with hunting that serial killer.” Mystia says.
“I finally pinpointed my fragment.” Rob says. “We don’t have to go after it right now, but we are in the Outlands.”
Either of those might be good, but for some reason, I kind of want to stick around here for a few days. It’s like the air makes my senses sharper and my abilities stronger. I’m not sure how to explain it.
I think if I took some time to train, I would stop feeling like such a burden to the others. My skills are all rough and in need of work.
 – Return to Sigil. I ought to see how S is doing and get our arrangement finalized.
 – Find Rob’s fragment. I have a promise to keep.
 – I need to get stronger. (Any skill but Medicine and Wizardry is fair game. You may take the opportunity to learn to fight with Light Weapons. If you’d like to train a skill with a specific party member, please specify.)
 – I haven’t tested that knife I got from Ran yet…
 – (Write-in.)
I'll be posting Nameless' updated character info right after this, in case you decide to train. The one in the last thread wasn't quite accurate.