And so, with the promise of a 10 gold signing bonus, double normal pay, and quadruple hazard pay, 4 unique individuals, as well as a mob of frontiersmen and down on their luck adventurers and mercenaries all sign up as guardsmen with one Alcori Rudbelder.
Two days later, two candlemarks past dawn, the motley assortment of humans and demi-humans musters outside the Southgate of Tangwell City, as seasoned caravan guards greet them, divvying them into groups.
While most are brought together under one or more of the seasoned guardsmen, a halfling, a tiefling, and two beings of elven descent are directed to the side…and then left alone. Not terribly much for talk, they fidget while waiting a few minutes.
The caravan master himself, along with a broad shouldered dwarf eventually approach them. Alcori and Dagolas exchange verbal barbs, as the group of demi-humans are clearly identified as the caravan’s “Nightwatch”, under Dagolas’ command, and Alcori walks away.
Dagolas asks if they can all see in the dark, and no one disagrees. He asks then if they know each other, and there is no affirmation.
“Well then, you are gunna need to figure out how to work as a team,” he says cracking his knuckles, “Come at me then.”
The four look at each other questioningly.
“Come. At. Me.”
Bruegger Barleyfield walks forward with hand outstretched to introduce himself….and receives a brutal punch to the face mid-sentence.
“Yer na gonna win a fight like that.”
The group moves without coordinated purpose to surround the dwarf, and it is Erinys who unleashes the first telling blow, using her command of nature to unleash a thunderclap – which rolls over the dwarf, causing him some mild discomfort, but knocking out Siddrin who was moving into a position to strike Dagolas from behind. Still not sure what is going on, Fhastranja moves to heal and waken Siddrin, while Dagolas faces off against Bruegger.
With the Thunderclap also comes the attention of both the older guardsmen and the new recruits. Dagolas weathers the storm of the group’s attempt to assault him, repeatedly dazing and knocking out Siddrin every time he makes a move to strike. Eventually understanding each of the adventurers’ skills, Dagolas drops Fhas so she can no longer revive her pseudo-comrades, and compliments Erin after a solid staff strike to his head.
Siddrin, outraged at his treatment draws steel and misses, before Bruegger grapples him, shouting “We get it! We aren’t a team! We give up!”
Dagolas stops, “Alright, first lesson learned, lets get her to the healer’s wagon. You are this caravan’s nightwatch, and we are gunna get you trained to be that. Follow and listen up…”
Dagolas informs the group as to what they’ll be doing, how they’ll be doing it, and the extra training they’ll be getting. The routine starts – Nightwatch sleeps during the day in the healer’s wagon of the caravan. When it stops for the night, Breugger assists Bloodjaw, the caravan’s Lupin cook, and the rest help with basic camp setup. Before dinner, Nightwatch fights Dagolas, learning how to fight as a group, how not to hit each other with attacks and spells, and generally getting beaten sore.
After sparring practice, Nightwatch gets “breakfast”, works to double check camp security, and settles in with Dagolas to watch the perimeter.
So do the days and nights pass.
Some days into the journey, still not clearly aware of what they guard, “trade goods” is what the other guards say. The caravan is met by a strange emissary – a woman, beautiful, winged, and with feathers at her joints and with the clawed feet of a Bird of Prey. Erin identifies her as a Kestrel – a magical half-breed of a harpy and human. The old guards keep any new hires from shooting the winged woman, and she lands upon Alcori’s wagon. He greets and embraces her, then escorts her into his wagon. No one sees anything more of her until the next day, when she embraces Alcori again at the door of his wagon, and then takes flight to the Southeast.
When asked, Dagolas informs the crew that she is a scout for Alcori. Having come from the Southwest, she brought information about the path that the caravan will traverse through the Heldannic Freeholds…away from the major towns and cities, closer to the Menghul Mountains.
When out of earshot, the group considers what it is they are carrying, as Dagolas’ explained that Alcori is willing to pay taxes, but not tithe goods, which is preferred by the Heldannics, and is the reason they will be avoiding the roads and larger outposts of civilization on this part of their route. No one is sure why, and Siddrin’s attempts to gather more info fail to bring enlightenment.
Some days later, while on watch is when they notice the first missing objects. Then notice the clinking as a large hopping rat runs into the darkness carrying a camp cup. Within just a few minutes time, it becomes clear that most of the camp is overrun with the small rats which are pilfering food and shiny objects, and leaving odd objects in their place.
At first the group consider killing the rats, then instead follow the rats, and together they find the lump-like communal hive in a nearby copse of trees. Erin remembers her druidic training, and shortly thereafter speaks with the hive of rats, finding them to be rather like kindergartners practicing communism – “trading” things they have found before for things the caravan has.
Soon, a deal is reached, and several loaves of bread and some jerky later, coins, cups, plates, swords, and other hard to replace gear is returned to the camp thanks to Erin’s rat diplomacy.
While all this occurs, one thing that is noted by the group is at least one rat, paralyzed by magic, against one of the sealed crates in one of the goods wagons. Informing Dagolas, Alcori soon arrives, and with a small wooden wand, releases the paralyzation from the rat, which scampers away into the night.
Neither Dagolas nor Alcori say anything else.
In the process, Fhas retrieves a short sword, and returns it to one of the new recruits, a bestial looking woman, who it is clear at this point, likely has orcish blood.
By morning, the camp is back in order….and Bruegger has pocketed some fine red gems left by the rats in exchange for some bread they took before Erin’s intervention.
And away they go….