Beni Profane, self proclaimed "Rat Catcher General" is a 6th level Whitebox D&D Thief who has made a fair bit of coin in exploration and recovery. He affects shirt with a ridiculous silk floral motif, and a well worn scarf of a similar make when not on the trail. He prefers his wine rough and mixed with a bit of pine resin, and has been seen in the company of priests despite his obvious impious nature. The stories Beni tells of his experiences beneath the ground and of the wilds are undoubtedly the product of cheap spirits and other narcotics.
It's been a long time since I've seen the dank halls of Pahvelorn, been on a vacation from the pit. The margins there were never any good once we put down that wizard with the stag demon master and the obsession with making animals out of men. Demon worship doesn't pay, worship doesn't pay in general, but with those things from outside the world it costs more than a few coins to pay a priest's brothel bill and time spent on the autem. Pahvelorn had killed Satyavati, the only sorcerer I ever met that a fellow could respect, and left me the lone sane fellow amongst a band of priests and a spooky spell flinging child. Well compared to the priests the child's tolerable, can't hold her liqour, but she's coming around to the Mother of Thousands perhaps, and with a better understanding about the nature of the world than the vestment wearing fellows. Pahvelorn's margins are scant, but it's still a place for fangs in the dark, so my band and I alighted for better chances.
Off again to Illum-Zuggot, a placid town of pate headed autem stuffers led by a big king priest. A man without reason the king priest, hatred for everything that he might hate, confusion about everything else - only restrained by a fear of doing anything about it because his eternal empire might not be either.
Now in the past the Mother told and befuddled me that I owed a favor up in Illum, and we had gone there on her behalf. Also so one of our own preistlings (the unpreistly one that relishes making anything in the dark run him a salty bath - which I can't say I disapprove of under the earth) could fiddle with the boss priest's books. That's how I came to know that the Mother still had power on this earth, beyond what scraps we give her. A people in her image furred and furtive lives in the woods North of Pahvelorn; I negotiated the deal between them and the priests of Illum. A deal my fellow gnawers at the pillars of the earth got the better of.
We brought a load of goods and made a profit, and the old patrico was happy to see us. His fancy horse whippers refused to do the needful work underground, and he had some places he called evil that he wanted us to make lay down again.
Sure enough a great cliff carved with the semblance of a city and we walked right in. Tombs in there, and a band of wildmen, mastered by the demons of the West, with a few of their black crustacean masters as well. The strange thing was that this was no barrow of Orcus worshipers, such as the one where I found by graveyard special arrows, it was the tomb of various Imperial saints. The priests were all in a fit I suppose. Funny that thier Empire could do nothing to keep out the walking corpses, demons and such. Left that lot to Beni's bow and his companion's strong arms. The Sorcerer girl bought a crazy old man as another body to get in the way of tomb horrors, but surprisingly the old man's proved himself a tough one - and game for any kind of fight.
We did what our band does best, but still lost a some good hands to the demons. Satyvati's former soldier ex-servant Druna - a dour but reasonable fellow, A orphan magician's apprentice and my own apprentice rat catcher Donkey Teeth were left in the ground. I made sure the boy left this earth the proper way: soaked in wine, dagger in his teeth, gold in his pocket and the body trapped for all but the rats. Yet, it was mighty good looting, and the old king Empire talker got enough of what he wanted to be happy. Sadly for a second expedition into the pit the Priest King laid an acolyte on us - more of the Imperial faith than a good son of the dark places like my self feels comfortable with, but the psalmist was willing to wade in and do his part, so perhaps he's a bit less heaven addled than his master in Illum. The haul was spectacular that time. A bejeweled item I pulled from a swarm of giant robber flies, cutting down a pair of the horrible beasts while shimmying up to their nest in a rock would have secured a manor house on it's own. With the demon's furniture and a mess more bejeweled gee-gaws we walked back into the sun (those of us that weren't feeding the little brothers) as rich as a pack of merchants, but ten times more honest.
Now with a full full pouch I did not just aid my own self, I thought about the soul and the world a bit, only as much as a dab dubber, not a philosopher, should. Money always shows a willingness to do the Mother's work, and it's only right that the weakness and the hypocrisy of a heavenly Empire that can't even protect the bodies of its saints from taint should help those it keeps under the heels of fate. I spent a pile of coin as high as my hip on a fancy marble fountain, and to spit in the eye of the rich, had the thing of beauty placed where the rich would never see it, in the depths of the ever present slums. A lovely fountain - thousands of golden suns of marble and carvers hours, made to look like a bowl of holy rats cavorting, so the little brothers and sisters will know they can drink to, though it's in their nature to take even when it's offered (as every offer requires a price). The people will know of the Mother's presence, and her power in the world, when they drink from the fountain. It was a good deed that will endure long after this Yegg's bones are scattered and gnawed clean. It must have been a good deed, because a few days later a man of the old religion volunteered himself to my service. Good fighter, cast in the mold of a lookout and strong arm, it's not my business if he won't tell me his name - he's honest as one can ask and not so afraid of dying.
With so much money afloat in our pockets we had a few good weeks, and decided it was time to carve ourselves a bit of a place in the world. There's an old road, good stone maybe gone, but well drained bed still largely unsullied by trees between Illum-Zugot and the town of Gazmarol. Rich trade once went on the road, but now it's broken and dangerous. I and my companions dare to make that different because where trade flows the world is less hard and now we had the wealth to hire soldiers and laborers to make trade flow. It's the nature of things belonging to the Mother, and coins are her things to, to increase when they are put together, so there it is expected that our coins together would increase with this road building endeavor when we became the offical and recognized road wardens and toll collectors along the new way.
Setting out with a small contingent of the battalion we planed to hire, an old surveyor and several scouts in addition to out normal band of depths walkers we traveled less than a day before there was smoke and screams on the horizon. Now many might think me a quiet man of the retiring type, but too much skullduggery makes a bit more seem reasonable so I ran with the rest towards the sound of ill doing. A small walled hamlet waited over the rise, afire, and I sent my scouts forward to investigate. One didn't come back, pulled into a copse by a large hand. Well priests might suggest vengeance is for the eternal to decide but I know better, and the pack must take care of its own, so we surged forward and soon spotted the besiegers - four giants. Yes they still walk, cruel and stupid, knowing no word for humankind except "meat" we attacked, filling the air with arrows and bolts. They retaliated flinging a cow, a boulder and a tree. Another scout was lost, and I took a bit of beef in the chest. In the end though several lessons were learned. A man can cow a giant if you're fearsome enough and threaten it with snakes. The ensorceled arrows aren't particular about who or what they destroy and the old morglag Tarvis and his man Darullian found in the barrow of the Orcus worshippers was forged to slay giants.
When the dust settled we were short two scout, and bruised, and three giants lay dead, one pledged to peace and releasing his human thralls and another fled in terror. We received a few baubles from the farmers, hiding in a burrow as their stead burned, and a few more from the giants - including the largest cheese I've ever seen. It might seem strange that we pledged peace with the giant, but I suppose that after all the terrors we've slaughtered, a huge cannibal seems almost deserving of peace, and given that the armies of the Necromancer are failing his fortress falling and
Onward into the forest, I, Beni found the road in decent order, and our surveyor declared it an easy repair. We camped midway at the ruins of an old tower, where I will build my own tower to take tolls until a town grows around it. Camping in the ruins a voice awoke me demanding tribute to "The lord of the black armor" and when we asked for more parley a pack of foolish forest men attacked. Last time we met trouble in the forest it was a pack of risen warriors immune to weapons, and having lived through that a few crook shafted arrows from the bows of cast off mercenaries were little danger. Before the ambush could properly get started the ambushers were dead, or captured. I personally put a silver arrow into the bandit leader, a suit of ancient black plate armor animated by foul sorcery, while the foresters were hard men - but what are hard men to a band that's slain demons and sorcerers.
We captured three with divine magic from Parna, the insufferably pious yes man that the king priest foisted on us. I interrogated them, and didn't even have to promise the less pleasant diversions as they were old hands at shifting loyalties. The foresters work for a cult, but are simply lost souls cast adrift by war. Easy enough to suborn against their old masters in exchange for bright Illum Zugot gold. I hired the two talkative and where one tried to trick me into wearing the cursed armor that had led them the other told of an ancient ship presumed full of treasure and stranded in a tree. We marched the whole lot into Gazmarol, noting that the road had been plundered for stone for several miles, and informed that the cult was taking it to build a temple to "the purple worms from beneath". While many call the Mother of Thousands, a cult, you never hear about her followers digging up roads and ambushing merchants in the forest. It's always "great wyrms", "flaming tigers" and "Orcus, Orcus Orcus" with these mad destructive cults, and there are always those who will follow their hollow promises of greatness. No spirit of a humble creature of the world seeks dominion and destruction, and the Mother of Thousands offers only a crust of bread when one is starving, or strong fingers when one is climbing the last 20' to a merchant's window.
Gazmarol is a soft town, afraid of fire, and expert in growing floating, glowing vegetables. They don't taste half bad, but it's a chore to catch one's food from the air like a frog. We demanded to speak with the Hegemon, as is out due, and when we met him he was a boy. Not a bad boy, but not running the town, and in the pocket of a pack of the old, frail and worried. We spoke of out adventures and enthralled the boy, to the annoyance of his elders. They listened when we offered to open the trade route though, and with the Hegemon's blessing we headed back into the woods to plunder the tree wrecked ship. On the way out I took the honest forest bandit into my service and sold the other two's contract's to a caravan going North. The merchants dealt in wild animals, and Tarvis the violent priest thought of buying a pride of lions, but they cost too much, and what's a man to do with lions?
On the way to the tree I caught a man stalking us, and am glad that the Mother has taught me to be curious before I am sanguinary, as it was the Hegemon of Gazmarol. The boy had followed us searching for adventure. Ever since Donkeyteeth died, I've wanted another apprentice, and a king is the opposite of an urchin - but both will stop an arrow. I signed the lad on with a 20 GP price - the same as I'd given the forest bandit. Once we arrived at the tree, we discovered that a local fellow was there before us, a bit of an urbane type, but properly equipped and with a few lines around the mouth that showed he could handle his bow in a situation. We signed him up as a part of the band, on a whim perhaps, but the man. Wraath something, was a local and should have his chance to die like the rest of us...
We moved to the tree and discovered that it did contain a huge ship. Long and lean, a trireme of ancient design, trapped firmly in the tree's branches, which had grown around the vessel. I climbed up and tied a rope, while the rest of the band searched a grave site at the bottom of the tree. They didn't dig it up, but I've never seen a pack of holy-men more interested in plundering the dead. As the priests debated digging up the grave A line of giant spiders trooped from the old ship, and headed towards me. I did the smart thing and fled down the rope, escaping the spiders and allowing the rest of the band, those who weren't poking at ancient grave goods, to pepper the beasts with missiles. One of my ratmen scouts sent a sling stone through the eye of the lead spider, but his companion's squeals of terror attracted the other three. Arrows brought down a second before the spiders attacked, and the first bite killed the squealing ratling, turning him blue with toxins, while the second turned towards me and sunk its teeth into my arm. The fire and confusion of the venom didn't kill me, but instead pushed me into a murderous rage, and I hacked into the spider with my trusty elf saber. The The band reacted now, with it's normal deadly efficiency and soon all four spiders were dead.
As I recovered, with eyes swimming, riding the burning toxin (a bit to harsh to sell in the stews of Illum Zugot), Parna, following his crooked path walked up to the blue bloated corpse of my ratling companion and began trying to "save" his soul - casting it into the outer dark. I lurched to my feet and chased off the carrion crow of a priest, giving the rat man rites that are appropriate to the mother's children. I poured a flask of wine over his body, made sure his pouch was full of gold, and but the ratling's small dagger between his teeth, so that his own would know him, at that he'd lived well before his death. While I was attempting to give proper rights to my man, a branch came hurtling from above smashing me in the chest. As I went down I spotted a flash of scales above and scuttled back from beneath the tree.
We were ambushed of course. A great, grizzled wyvern, twenty feet of thick scales and hissing poisonous death burst from the trees, and took a slash at the new fellow, who managed to dive out of the way of the beast's razor edged tail as it came down and dug a groove 2 feet into the forest floor. Even a bit delerious and with a broken rib, I, Beni, put an arrow into the thing. The little Hegemon's eyes got huge and he backed up - but a giant wyverns a bit of a shock for the first day on the job. I'm not sure if we could have taken the beast, but Tarvis, bloody minded and practical as always, drove a demon haunted dagger into the thing and the knife drank the great beast's soul.
The ship itself was still full of spiders but Tarvis was able to use his magic to talk them into leaving, the spiders' delight at the death of their wyvern rival apparent to all. We looted the ancient wreck and now have a working ballista as well as a fair bindle full of gold and gems. Also aboard were some statutes of strange animal headed gods that the priests declared evil and smashed at. One of them was cursed for his trouble - as I always say, leave it alone if it just wants to stand there after you take it's money.
Returning to Gazmarol the hegemon had seen enough, but we gave him a wyvern claw as a trophy of his adventure, and he snuck back into town.
We bought some wolves and started our war against the worm cult the next night. twenty odd cultists dead by fire, poison, magic and arrows. A well laid ambush lit by a burning stockade. With a pack of wolves on the loose amongst them, I suspect the cult will be more prepared when we return, but terrified. I marked the trees with the symbol of the snake cult as well to confuse things.