The 4th of Kythorn, Year of the Staff
The rain drizzled down on the companions as the new day dawned, the gates of the city of Loudwater opening before them as the set back out on the road. The dwarvern guards eyed them and even their thick beards dripping with water dropplets didn't hide the sneers they had for the two halforcs as they passed, Silri giving the dwarves a similar look over the gauze covering her mouth, if somewhat lacking the distrust over more distaste.
Her dark eyes looked back to Kip and Ahput-Ki, the halfling and the two half orcs saying goodbyes to the strange earthen Hanner, who had spent most of the night in the quiet company of a local druid than revelry with the now hung over half-orcs, the foreigner choosing to stay in Loudwater rather than venture with them.
Pulling her hood closer against the misty rain, Silri looked to the others. "So which way?"
Kip's small hand waved to Hanner until the earth genasi, dripping mud from his exposed skin, slipped out of sight back into the city. He looked uncharacteristically sad as he mumbled, "Poor fellow, but who is going to look after him now?" The young halfling recovered quickly, however, and looked up at the elven dancer, "It would be my pleasure, milady, to escort you to Waterdeep, lest we chose to detour for fame and fortune," he grinned, dark eyes twinkling.
The halfling referred to the crude map that one of the half-orcs had tucked into his pocket, having been told by Hanner of the proposed course of action - after the earth genasi had recovered from the previous night's revelry. His ears had perked up, as always, with the mention of possible treasure and mischief, and his determined mind began churning out a plan to get a look-see at the strange map.
The group looked largely ill-at-ease with leaving the city during the cold and miserable mist, but assurances from local clerics who claimed intimate knowledge of the weather had claimed that the mist was just a prelude to a stormfront that would harass the Loudwater area for at least a week or better. So, given the impatience of the half-orcs (or, more accurately, the impatience of the villagers concerning the half-orcs), the companions decided to leave during the beginning of the storm and hope to push through it along the way.
"This is not weather," grumbled Ahput-Ki bitterly, wrapping himself more tightly in his woollen cloak. He had purchased himself some local clothes in Loudwater, but he still looked slightly odd - dressed in tweed trousers and with an oversized plain brown shirt, though still with his sandels. "This is a curse sent by the gods to torment us."
Kratos snorted in response. "It is only the rain." He managed a half smile at the human, while the rain spattered across his broad forehead. "Sometimes rain is just rain.
"Bah," the southerner responded. "In my country, rain is rain and it is not happening very often. This is not rain. This is the sky dribbling on our heads with no promise of ever stopping." The coolness of the day was obviously getting to Ahput-Ki despite his more sensible attire.
Alexis couldn't help but smirk. It was only ran and complaining about it only reminded him of his old teacher. He too was not rains best fan, but Alexis thought it a secret blessing. While he liked Kratos he couldn't help but wonder if this would help his smell.
Splendors or Snakes?
So they began trodding down the path, little mud from the hard packed earth kicking up and clinging stubbornly to their ankles. Their path took them straight away from Loudwater, the surrounding houses and farmlands rapidly thinning and giving way to the wilds.
Though the mist eventually pushed through their clothes, soaking them and turning moods foul, the Kipster seemed undaunted. He whistled an upbeat tune, occasionally breaking out into a whispered tune, "Waterdeep! Waterdeep! Where I lost my love but found my fortune! Waterdeep! Waterdeep!"
They crested a small hill, the driving mist seeming to abate just as they viewed the valley that held the split in the road where they'd have to ultimately make their decision on whether to pursue whatever the map promised or head straight to the City of Splendors.
Kip crossed to the opposite side of the adventurers, obviously making his vote known as he veered towards the direction that led away from Waterdeep.
Exotic eye's glanced at the divided road, then to the halfbreeds and southern foreigner "East to snakes and sorcerous naga, or west to the decadence of the city of splendors. I could understand your concerns of the prejudices of men, even as I fear the dangers of a ruin of serpents, but from what I hear, the city could hold more danger and rewards." Silri knew she was laying it on thick to get her way, but if these thugs wished to go into the shadow of the eastern side of the High forest, they had better start showing some conviction in their desire.
"For me, all directions are one," Ahput-Ki put in. "My home is so far away that it will take me at least a year to return. Any delayings will not be making much difference. Waterdeep would get me home faster, but as I said before, my people believe snakes to be an evil omen. Perhaps it is the will of my god that I should do battle with them here. I will leave the decision to others."
He folded his arms across his chest and looked to see what the others would say, if anything. Then he cocked his bald head at Silri as a thought struck him. "Why do you say, naga? The map said only snakes, I am thinking."
Kratos listened to the others talk intently, and could not help but grin at the mention of the map he carried. Kratos knew it would be no trouble to take the others to where he had found the map. He also liked the idea of suddenly becoming a valuable member of the group, it's guide. The sooner he started earning thier trust, the better.
He dug under his tunic and fetched out the map, untied the cord, and held it out to the halfling and the elf. "You tell what map read. Kratos good fighter, and strong. Kratos no fear snake. You will see."
Kip turned back, quickly hiding a sheepish expression that let slip that he thought that east led to Waterdeep, "Lemme see!" he said, fairly hopping to get an angle on the map held out by the tall half-orc. "Bah! Treasure map! Where buy?" he asked Kratos, leaning over to whisper to Silri, "I've seen this kind of thing before. Scrawl some words and a map on paper and sell it to guillible would-be adventurers. As if anyone would write down how to get to their riches," he rolled his eyes and looked back up at Kratos.
"Kratos no buy. Kratos find on body in river." The half orc looked down at the halfling, doing his best to seem unthreatening. He was well aware of his size as well as how some might find it intimidating. "Kip think map worthless? Elf too?"
Her dark eyes flashed with irritation for the half breed orc, but her eyes softened slightly as she shook her head, at Kratos mainly, but somewhat for Kip. "Your a strong one Kratos, but your courage in the face of snakes is the least of my concerns." Reaching out with a golden hand, she pointed one long slender finger on the map to the north east of the ruins, at the edge of the map.
"Around there is a little known city, called Ascal Horn in its time, but now it is known for what the residents released to protect themselves." With a fast step she was in his face, her arms outstetched, hands mimicing vicious talons. "Hellgate Keep!"
Kratos had not expected the dramatic turn in the conversation, and even fliched slightly as the elf screamed in his face.
Turning away, returning to a more casual pose, she looked to the road towards Waterdeep. "It is like a disease on this world, a festrering wound, ruled by evil, and gathering like evils into the fallen elven lands around it. I'll admit, that my guess of Naga, was just a guess, but I will tell you snakes alone would not infest that place without something more in control. I could have said Yaun-ti, or perhaps a Marilith, but being a northener and not one to see intrest in the studies of the arcane intricacies of the planes I assumed such creatures would be meaningless to you."
She shook her head, her braids and viel wavering. "If you had said a ruin of spiders, I would expect an ettercap, or even drow to be involved in some way, but in the shadow of Hellgate Keep... your couragous demise might make a good story to tell in Waterdeep."
"Kratos mean to make it so." Kratos said as he folded his arms across his chest. "You think Kratos just orc. Dumb, stupid orc. Stupid Kratos. You think Kratos not know Hellgate Keep? Kratos live whole life in High Forest. How Kratos NOT know Hellgate Keep? Is forbidden place. Once seat of great evil and power, now broken and spoiled. Guarded by trees of old. Kratos know Hellgate Keep."
The huge half orc looked from companion to companion, one to the other and finally looked back to Silri. "You no want to go to map? No go to map. You want go to city? Go to city. Is same to Kratos."
Her braid waved as Silri shook her head, "Not stupid Kratos, no one survives a place like the High Forest for long, no matter how big his..." her rich green eyes trailed appreciatively up one arm, across his broad shoulders, and down the other, "luck, if he has no brains."
"You don't need to tell me your strengths arn't only in your arms, companion Kratos," she finsihed in a low voice before looking to the others for the final decision, the smile in her eyes a tiny bit more genuine than that on her lips at the thought of an old saying, 'Praise a fool and make him useful'.
"Well... that's settled then, isn't it?" Kip said cheerfully, and he began walking the correct way this time. He turned, walking backwards, "Well, c'mon then! Waterdeep waits for no halfling, elf, half-orc, or errr... umm... Ahput-Ki!" Kip said laughing, his good cheer despite the inclement weather likely grating on more than one nerve.
But his laughing was interrupted by treacherous stone, slick with mud and loose from the trampling of hooves and carts. The rock slid out from beneath his foot, sending the poor halfling's backside into a deep and muddy puddle. The resulting splash fell short of the rest of the party.
Kip muttered, much to the amusement of the others, "Great... the only part of me that wasn't wet yet..." But what laughter was being made at the hapless halfling's expense stopped as those of the group with sharp eyes locked on to something happening behind Kip.