Non Player Character is a work-in-progress but I wanted to share it while I work on the first draft. Please bear in mind that this is an unedited work, but hopefully you will still enjoy it!
Chapter Three: Astara of the Silver Grove
I watched from the trees as the outsiders passed below. Their steps were heavy and laden in the bog; they were unable to handle the thick swamp muck. I wondered whether they would be eaten by the grove guardians. I wondered whether I should care. And yet I was concerned; not for their lives, but for the danger they brought. Weapons hung from their belts or were strapped to their backs. They were obscured under heavy cloaks, but I could still hear the jingle of mail and the creak of leather. Armour, then, as well.
My grip tightened on the claw gifted to me by The Old One, before she passed: a curved sickle taken from a cruel farmer who’d been poisoning the local wildlife in a scheme for gold and glory, honed over the years and given a handle of blessed ash. I didn’t want to fight these people — they were numerous and of unknown strength and power. But I could not let them pass unchallenged if they meant us harm.
And sadly, many did, these days.
I followed them from the trees, watching closely.
(Pauline: Astara, make a stealth check. Roll a d20 and add your Stealth skill — yeah, the 20 sided one.)
(Me: 22? Is that good?)
‘Are we there yet?’ Said the smallest one. A halfling, by her size, with golden brown hair and sepia skin. I could see a flash of opulent purple fabric under her cloak, and though the others carried weapons, she had a lute strapped to her back.
‘No.’ The man wasn’t especially large, but was broad, and by the bulk of his cloak armoured as well. He rubbed his beard tiredly. ‘We’re obviously not there yet, and we obviously weren’t there yet the last hundred times you asked. The gods have terrible punishments for complainers.’
‘Not any gods I’ve heard of,’ said the golden-scaled dragonborn on the man’s other side. He had a bright shine in his eyes and his stance was far less beleagured than the others. Though there was just as much mud climbing his shins, he seemed as cheerful as if he were taking a stroll through the woods.
‘Maybe not your Gods, Arries, but my god definitely does.’
(Me: I thought we weren’t allowed to use our real names?)
(Arries: I get special dispensation. When you have a name this good, you use it as much as possible.)
The halfling sighed and pressed her hand to her forehead, like a noblewoman in full-swoon. ‘I can’t go on any longer. Carry me, Vandellis!’
‘You’ll get mud on my cloak.’
‘There’s already mud on your cloak.’
‘I’ll carry you,’ said Arries. He offered the halfling a hand, which she took, and he lifted her onto his shoulders.
‘See? At least someone has respect for the leader of this party.’
‘You’re not the leader,’ said the final member of their group. He’d been silent until now and had barely drawn my eye, but now I became aware that his hood was misshapen.
‘Who talks us into jobs and out of tight situations? Who is always the first person to submit a strategy?’
‘Leadership doesn’t default to whoever is shouting the loudest,’ he replied. He glanced up at the treeline, and for a moment I froze, certain that his gaze had landed on me. But all he said was, ‘It’s getting dark. We need to set up camp for the night.’
(Rex: Natural 20 on Perception!)
(Me: Does that mean he sees me?)
I tensed. I did not want these outsiders chopping wood and destroying trees. As the bearded one took a hachet from his belt, I knew that it was time to act.
I dropped down from the tree, landing lightly atop a rock, free of the mud. My claw was loose in one hand and with the other I summoned a wind that threw back their hoods.
Immediately, a rope snaked around my ankle.
(Pauline: Make a Dexerity save — d20 and add your Dex Sav modifier)
(Me: Oh no. I rolled a 1 — is that bad?)
‘Aargh!’ I tried to skip away but it tightened and hoisted me into the air so that I was dangling from a tree by my ankle. I could see the one with the misshapen hood clearly now as his hands sparkled with arcane energy and his eyes glowed a solid purple. It was clear now that what had been hidden under his hood were two curling ram’s horns. His skin was a dusky purple and he bared thick, pointed teeth while he concentrated on his spell.
The bearded one, Vandellis, immediately strode forward and placed the tip of his hatchet against my throat. ‘Can I kill her?’ he asked mildly. ‘I’d really like to kill her.’
‘Not yet! We don’t even know who she is!’ Hanley, the little bard, scrambled down from the golden dragonborn to peer up at me. ‘Who are you?’ She asked. ‘Why did you attack us?’
I stared pointedly at Vandellis until he huffed and eased up with his hatchet. ‘I didn’t attack you. I wanted to see who you are. You’re trespassers in this sacred Grove!’
Hanley looked down at the mud climbing her thighs. ‘This place is sacred? Are we looking at the same place.’
‘Would you let me down?’
‘Please Ram?’ Arries, the golden dragonborn asked. ‘It looks uncomfortable.’
‘Bleeding heart,’ Vandellis muttered.
The demonic-looking man — tieflings, I thought they were called — met my eyes with his. ‘No sudden moves,’ he warned. With a sudden slicing motion with his hands, the rope released me.
(Me: I rolled a 21 on acrobatics!)
I twisted in the air and just managed to get my feet under me, stumbling slightly. The halfling put out a hand to steady me. I flinched at her touch, but she seemed to mean well.
‘We’re the Ninth Rain, defenders of the kingdom,’ she told me. Something about the way she said the words, some trick of her voice, made the words sound laden with destiny.
‘For hire,’ Vandellis added with a dark chuckle.
Hanley gave him a narrow look. ‘We … are on an important mission.’ She looked me up and down. ‘There’s a great threat to nature in this area –’
Arries’s lizard-brow furrowed. ‘There is?’
‘– and we need to pass safely through this swamp to deal with it.’ She looked me up and down. ‘You look like you know the area. Perhaps you could guide us?’
(Me: Do I believe her?)
(Pauline: Hanley, roll Bluff)
(Me: That’s crazy!)
(Hanna: I’m very careful with my skill points)
(Pauline: Astara, make an Insight check opposed to Hanley’s bluff.)
(Me: Okay, I rolled okay but my skill — oh no. 18?)
I considered her words, searching them for dishonesty. I had no reason to trust these people, but thus far they had done me no harm. ‘What evil?’ I asked.
‘I don’t completely know, but our instructions are clear.’
‘Instructions from who?
Hanley hesitated a moment. ‘A priest of Mielikki,’ she said, naming a forest guardian god — one of the elvish ones, I thought.
(Me: Do I still believe her?)
(Pauline: She rolled high. You do.)
‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’ll show you the way through the swamp. But I warn you: this land is sacred. And the creatures in it are not all peaceful.’ I glanced around us. ‘Tread lightly.’