Harvest Moon 1, AS 632. Hopeful Hogs Tavern, Aphysbia City, Kingdom of Farrus, The Sundered World
In a run-down tavern in a run-down part of a run-down city, four female adventurers sat at the same table. Not by choice, to be clear. Rather, every other table, chair, and overturned crate that could hold a person was already occupied with pickpockets, conmen, ruffians, and general scum, celebrating the beginning of the harvest festival as a time ripe with easy prey. The only reason this table had room for the four heroes was because one of the seats was occupied by a figure shrouded in a black cloak that covered every inch of the body. This figure gave off an almost palpable aura of menace. The aura that said, ‘If you sit too close to me, you will become pulled into dangerous adventures that will get you killed in a variety of creatively painful ways.’ The common people knew better than to sit at a table with someone projecting such an aura. But adventurers are not common people.
These four adventurers were strangers to each other and to the hooded figure. Thus, they sat in silence for several minutes, covertly examining each other behind the cover of their cheep ale. Eventually, the tall, muscular half-elf in green armor and with a carved wooden sword leaning against her chair spoke first. “Behold, I sayest it best we make known our identities,” she said brightly to her companions. “I am known as Erenata Vallanodauter! Hero of the Great Tree, and warrior renowned for feats of skill, valor, and, um,” her accent seemed to slip while she struggled for another word, “Skillful valor! So who mightest ye all beist? Especially you, short person.” Her last sentence was directed at the gnome sitting to her left.
This female gnome was a stark contrast to Erenata. While the former was dressed in eye-catching clothing, the latter’s clothes could easily have been mistaken for a pile of rags if she didn’t move. At her side was a knobbed walking stick. On first glance, the stick seemed to fit with her general appearance, but on closer inspection, two things appeared strange about it. First, it was covered in large scorch marks. Second, if one looked closely, there almost appeared to be a glint of bright blue reflecting out of it, almost like a sapphire was imbedded deep in its hilt.
Presently, at the prompting from Erenata, the ragged gnome opened her mouth. She appeared to say something, but she was so quiet that Erenata had to ask her to repeat herself. This occurred two more times before the gnome finally summoned the courage to raise her voice enough to be heard. “I’m Descartes.”
The black-haired human woman sitting across from Descartes chuckled mockingly. “I guess you’re just as shy as you look,” she said as she polished a thick, dangerous knife. Although she wore a black cloak, she had several more knives visibly strapped to her black leggings. Based on the suspicious bumps in her cloak, she had even more hidden away.
Descartes turned bright red at this response. “I’m so sorry!” she said.
The fourth woman, another human but this one with brown hair, rose to her defense. “Even if it’s just in a game, don’t make fun of Dinah like that.”
Erenata and the black-haired woman with the knives exchanged looks. “Dost you mean ‘Don’t make fun of Descartes like that?’ In this world, I dost not know any Dinah.”
The brown-haired woman who had jumped to Descartes’s defense said “Oh, goodness, yes of course. I’m sorry, this will take some getting used to. Oh, I guess I shouldn’t say that in character, either…” She trailed off in confusion. “I am Rachel!” she finally said brightly. “I am a cleric, which means I will support you and heal your wounds. I can tell this is going to be fun!” This Rachel with the long brown hair was a short woman with a large forehead.
The woman with black hair and a lot of knives spoke next. “Very kind of you to offer unlimited magical healthcare to a bunch of people you just met.” She finished polishing her knife. She put it away, then pulled out another one, even larger than before, and set to polishing it.
Rachel, the cleric, said “But I thought we would be traveling together. Fighting monsters and solving mysteries.”
The black haired one raised an eyebrow. “I don’t remember agreeing to that.” After pausing for a moment, she continued “the name’s Appraiser.”
“It is so wonderful to meet you, Appraiser,” Rachel the cleric exclaimed. “You too, Erenata and Descartes.”
Appraiser nodded. “But there’s one more,” she said, using her knife to gesture at the man in the all-encompassing cloak. “Who are you?”
The man spoke in a curious voice. He sounded like an undergrown teenager imitating the voice of a sixty-something chain smoker. Who was a reanimated corpse. “My name is not important,” he croaked. “Instead, I bring a quest for heroes such as yourself.”
“A quest?” Erenata said excitedly. “Excellent, good goodfellow! I have-est travelled long and far to follow a great quest. Pray tell, tell us.”
The hooded man croaked again. “A day’s journey south of this city lies a network of caves.”
“Caves?” interrupted Erenata. “But I thought the terrain around this city beist all flat grassland. How art there a network of caves in that environment?”
“Maybe they’re magic caves” rasped the man. “That’s not important. But what is important is the shepherds nearby have seen a large number of goblin raiding parties recently. It is believed that their base is in the cave system. The quest is simple: scout out the caves and drive away the goblin’s leader. You will be paid handsomely for your efforts.”
Appraiser said, “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Erenata nodded in agreement.
The hooded man chuckled. In his young-guy-impersonating-an-old-hoarse-guy voice, the sound was unsettling. “Confident, eh? That’s good. But first, you have to survive.”
“What do you mean by that?” Rachel the cleric asked.
“The show is just getting started,” the man replied.
Just then, the door to the Hopeful Hogs Tavern burst open. Three men dressed in rumpled City Guard uniforms stumbled in. They were clearly drunk from the way they walked, and their stench was noticeable even across a room full of unwashed men. The three scanned the tavern once before making a beeline toward the table with the four adventurers and the hooded man. One of them, who appeared to be the leader by default of looking the least stupid, began talking. “Hey there ladies,” he slurred, “lovely evening, isn’t it?”
Erenata rested her hand on her sword. “It was,” she replied.
“Was?” inquired the leader. He grinned, showing off his rotting teeth and painfully bad breath. “’Cause we came along, it’s about to get a whole lot better.” The other two thugs guffawed stupidly. “Do you knows who we is? We are the Thunder Trio! We’z famous around this town. You should be honored to talk to us.”
Rachel the cleric now spoke up. “Do you men need anything? Or any help?”
The leader of the ‘Thunder Trio’ laughed again. “Well, since you should be so honored to talk to us, how bout you buys us a drink? And then lend us a little cash? And then,” he leered openly at Rachel, “something else to keep us occupied tonight?”
While this exchange was happening, Erenata and Appraiser stood by with their hands on their weapons and their guards up. Descartes, however, was doing something curious. The quiet gnome woman who hadn’t said anything since her introduction grabbed her staff. She muttered words under her breath with her eyes closed in concentration. Just as the leader man leaned uncomfortably close to Rachel, Descartes opened her eyes and thrust out her staff at the Thunder Trio.
Because space was so tight, she smacked Erenata on the back of the head with the wooden staff as she did so. Still, a bolt of fire erupted from her staff and engulfed the leader. “Aaeeee!” he screeched, sounding like an undergrown teenager imitating a drunken thug who was imitating a terrified little girl.
At the sight of the leader’s head catching flame, the other two men simultaneously exclaimed “boss!” They rushed to put out the fire, but there was no need. The flames around the man’s head disappeared as quickly as they came. The man’s face was cartoonishly darkened with every piece of hair burnt off. Based on the volume of his yell, however, there was no permanent damage. “You’re dead, shorty!” he roared, swinging a rusted broadsword at Descartes, who was now cowering in her seat, clutching her staff.
Erenata jumped between them to parry the blow with her own carved wooden blade. “Behold, compatriots!” she exclaimed to Descartes, Rachel, and Appraiser. “It dost appear that we are fighting!”
Enraged, the burnt leader struck with his sword again, this time targeting Rentata. She blocked once more, using the momentum of the strike to empower her counterattack, scoring a hit on his elbow. The two exchanged more blows.
By this point, the entire tavern was aware of the fighting. Those sitting in seats closest to the battle jumped away to give them space, but the rest of the patrons began cheering and taking bets. The bartender halfheartedly called out “Don’t wreck me bar too bad” before leaning on the bar to watch.
The other two thugs now approached the battling pair of Erenata and the leader. Their attempts to aid their leader were short-lived, however. Descartes pointed her staff at the one on the left. She muttered the same magical words she had said before, causing this one’s head to also catch fire. The flame extinguished just as quickly as before, but this flunky was not as tough as his boss. After the fire went out, he collapsed to the floor, either unconscious or dead.
The thug on the right cried out in anger. He ran toward Descartes, drawing a thick club from his belt. He was promptly stopped by a large knife held to his throat. In the commotion, Appraiser had left her seat and snuck up behind him. With her dagger pressed close to the neck, she leaned in to whisper into his ear. “You clearly aren’t real guards. Your uniforms are disheveled and you’re drunk while you should be on duty. So if this fight continues long enough to attract the real guards, how merciful do you think they will be to a bunch of thugs dressing up as them, raising a ruckus and attacking a bunch of women? Not very. So why don’t you all clear out of here before things get too messy?” The man nodded dumbly.
Meanwhile, Erenata and the leader were still fighting, but the fight was growing sloppier. Both had landed hits on the other. Erenata was lightly bleeding from several wounds, while the leader of the fake guards was severely bruised of several parts of his body. Rachel had watched the entire altercation in dismay, but she exclaimed “Oh, Annette—I mean, Erenata! You’re hurt! That means I should heal you, right?”
“Yes—please—do—I—could—use—the—help—if—you’re—not—too—busy” Erenata grunted, each word punctuated by a strike.
Rachel nodded, pointing her finger at Erenata. “Heal!” she commanded. A brief flash of light surrounded the wounded Erenata. When the light disappeared, several of her wounds disappeared. She attacked the leader with a renewed vigor. After a few more exchanges, she struck the leader on the wrist, forcing him to drop his sword.
That was enough. Realizing he was outmatched, the leader turned and ran for the door, calling out “I’z will not forget this! The Thunder Trio will have its revenge” over his shoulder as he left the building. Appraiser withdrew her dagger from the one she had intimidated. He scooped up his charred companion and followed his leader out the door. The entire fight had taken less than a minute.
A round of cheers erupted from the tavern’s patrons, although it was disrupted by coughing. Descartes’s fire magic had ignited several small fires around the tavern that those nearby were hastily putting out. Through the hubbub, the bartender called out “That was a right impressive performance, lasses. How bout a round on the house?”
“What’s the name of your group?” called a voice from the crowd. Several others asked the same question. In response, Rachel struck a pose that was clearly supposed to look impressive. “We are…the Sunviewers!” she said dramatically. Erenata and Appraiser shared a look, then shrugged and nodded. Descartes also didn’t show any signs of disagreement. At that, the crowd roared in approval.All four simultaneously noticed one absence: the mysterious hooded figure was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a note. As the bartender approached with the round of ale, Appraiser held up the note so that the other Sunviewers could read as well. It said Cave network to the south. Don’t forget. -C.