Salt and Whiskey
The following days were quiet amongst the party. The sun was high in the sky now and had shed warmth throughout the coastal region when they arrived. While Vylasgarden took a turn leading the horse on the path, Azariah read the tome of documents. She especially took interest in the parts written in elfish. The writing was no doubt ancient but it was not so different from modern elfish tongue. “Listen to this,” she announced. “It says here that ‘the Dark Realm Dwarf was once an accredited dvergar general that went by many names.’ I cannot read the dwarfish name but the humans and sarkany called him Banmor Runesword, and the elves knew him as Baan Veenstra.”
“Man go by many name lead legacy,” Kruzco replied.
“Indeed, if it is true that we are up against the Nekodarz then it is best to assume he does not remember his past life,” Riker followed. Azariah soon smelled a saltiness in the air.
“Do you smell that?” she said to the party. The salty breeze was raw on her tongue.
“Is that… the coast?” Vylasgarden questioned.
“It must be,” Azariah answered. “The smell is reminiscent to that of the sea. We must be getting close.” Azariah was right, they had finally reached the East Coast of the Zion Province. As they came atop a cliff face, they could see the near ocean in its totality. Just below them was a plantation of sorts made up of tropical trees with bright green fruits hanging from them.
“We must be near a settlement,” Azariah stated. “Perhaps we can find an inn to rest and catch our bearings.”
“Aye, and drink.” Kruzco chimed.
It took them nearly an hour to reach beach level, but when they did they finally found a road that lead them to a small village. It was rural, modest, and the locals there were human and halfling of zionder decent. By the looks of it, the settlement had a trade base economy. The bazaar in the center of the settlement featured mostly food based goods and little else. Azariah noticed eyes on her the entire time; this was not exactly new to her when she entered a new place but these people stared at her as if they had not seen an elf before.
“Perhaps we should trade our rations for fresh food,” Vylasgarden suggested and the party traded their rations for fresher foods such as yams, nuts, and shellfish. Azariah particularly enjoyed the vegetables they traded for. She was almost certain that she had never had yams before and the ebugogo merchant that traded with her cooked her yams over a clay oven. Apparently, as she learned, western and southern foods from the Green Province and Civil Kingdoms Province traded well here East of the Zion Province. A local zionder farmer directed them to the docks and described a trade ship with a popular saloon inside that may offer housing for them. Azariah tipped the man with a few union coins, which surprised the man.
“That was a generous tip,” Riker said to her as they walked off.
“We have the coin to spare,” she replied. “Theod-Rah’s advisors gave me an advance before we departed the city.”
“Do you plan to waste it on tipping the entire trip?”
“I plan on making friends wherever I go,” she said sternly. “You should try it.” Within a few paces of the dock the smell of alcohol assaulted their noses which pleased Kruzco so much that he vaulted over two fences to board a boat with a sign hanging from it that read in common tongue: The Witted Clam.
“Let us hope it lives up to the name,” Riker commented as the three of them followed Kruzco inside. It was dim and humid inside, and the smell of mold mixed with the overwhelming smell of alcohol. The patrons seemed to all have been sailors, most of which already diseased with scurvy and tooth rot. Azariah noticed that Kruzco was already sitting at the bar and speaking with the bartender.
“Hitting the hard stuff I see,” Riker said approaching him.
“I already downed four pints of whiskey,” Kruzco mumbled gleefully.
“Aye your bredren be a thirsty one,” the bartender stated with a smile.
“Indeed, he is,” Azariah agreed eyeing Kruzco. “Does your establishment by chance have rooms for rest?”
“Aye,” the bartender started as he began wiping a glass clean with a cloth. “But the locals nun use them for sleeping if you catch me drift.”
“This place is a brothel?” Riker asked.
“Never intend that way. But a livin a livin,” the bartender replied with a shrug.
“Charming,” Azariah interrupted.
“We will take two,” Riker followed.
“Rooms,” Azariah added.
A few hours past but only Azariah and Vylasgarden retired to the sleeping quarters of the ship while Riker and Kruzco stayed at the saloon. The rooms were what one would expect for their purposes. A single bedding made up of loot bags filled with cotton and the wooden floors stained with melted candles.
“This room smells awful,” Vylasgarden said covering her snout.
“I know, its romantic isn’t it,” Azariah replied with a smirk.
Just as Azariah was about to close the door behind them, a stranger appeared before her. He was a shirtless zionder with dreaded hair; he held a bottle in one hand and held up his pants with the other.
“Ah thought I recognized an elf from waaay down the hall. Uh female too. What your name sweetie?” the man slurred. Even Vylasgarden could smell his breath reeking of seafood and whiskey from a meter or so away. Azariah just took his bottle from him and slammed the door in his face. She sat down on the bedding and took a drink from the bottle.
“Something on your mind?” Vylasgarden asked.
“No, just tired and frustrated,” Azariah replied. Her tone was low and raspy. “Let us hope Riker and Kruzco is getting information about the mausoleum.”
Back at the saloon Riker was entertaining the sailors and patrons with songs of sea shanties and bardic tales from “far away.” To Kruzco, it seemed like all that Riker needed to be in a better mood was some liquid courage. Riker sung about two elf sisters who fought over a man that loved them both, a bandit that lost his hands to a crocodile, and a spider that lost a leg every day it stubbornly attempted to eat a beetle. Meanwhile Kruzco continued to get drunk while talking with a group of patrons sitting at the bar.
“You an your friends aren’t from round here?” a sailor asked that sat next to Kruzco.
“Nope. We ’raveled far get’in to where we are now,” Kruzco replied barely able to keep his head up.
“Big spenda too we couldn’t help but notice you paying for you drinks with union coin,” a woman spoke on Kruzco’s right. She wore golden hoops in her ears, her braided hair was wrapped in a bun, and a single red line was painted vertically on her lips. A telltale sign to Kruzco that she was a soothsayer from Principium.
“Aye, we ’ired by the emperor ov the Zion Province for mission,” Kruzco said to her with an arched brow.
“Ooo! What for? A bounty? Treasure? Maybe magic goods? Me boys and I would love to know,” a third person said and suddenly Kruzco found himself surrounded by people. He went and tried to stand on his feet and noticed that the woman had placed her hand into his wallet. He snatched her wrist firmly and scowled at her.
“Would be shame if you los’ that pretty mit ov yours,” he said through his teeth. The woman’s demeanor turned fearful to wickedness as Kruzco noticed a sharp point near his genitals.
“Give us everything you got old man,” she said sadistically.
“You will ’ave to try an ’ake it from my tattered dead hands,” Kruzco barked at her with spit flying.
“That can be arrange,” she said with wild eyes as the rest of her gang began to chuckle. Suddenly she was sent flying by a burst of fire into the bar, crashing into bottles and booze. Kruzco and the gang looked in the direction the blast came from and saw Riker standing on a table pointing his smoking flute in their direction.
“Back away from him,” he said before hoping down the table. Two of the gang members came at him with scimitars that were concealed under their garments. Riker dodged the first attack but the second slashed against his chest. Just as Riker reached for his rapier, Kruzco brought his ax on the assailant’s head splitting it in two. Patrons and bartender alike stared horrified at the scene. “You save me, I save you, now you save me again,” Riker told him once he and Kruzco assumed a back to back defense in the middle of the saloon. “You are not making this even thing easy,” Riker said unsheathing his rapier holding it front guard.
“I make it up to you. Nex’ drink on me,” Kruzco replied as more goons surrounded them.
“Deal,” Riker followed as he lunged toward the nearest goon. His rapier clashed with the goon’s scimitar and he unguarded him by tripping the goon backward onto the floor. Riker downed his rapier into the goon’s chest, pinning him into the floor. Kruzco had toppled a table at a pair of goons flanking him from the left and took his ax to a third flanking his right. The ax sliced the man’s jugular, spraying blood in the air. The two left flankers grappled Kruzco to the floor, to which seemed to be Kruzco’s area of expertise because he managed to fall on top of one and restrain the other in a choke hold. Riker dodged another attack that came behind him and managed to trip the assailant forward where his momentum took him flying into the wall face first. The goon collected himself and tried to stand up but Riker brought a bottle over the goon’s head and stabbed a shard into his neck. Riker then went to assist Kruzco with the final two goons and kicked the one pinned under Kruzco with his boot.
The goon in Kruzco’s hold struggled for air as Kruzco forced the man’s throat closed with his large bicep. The goon clawed at Kruzco’s face but it was no use. Eventually the man was choked to death. Both Riker and Kruzco stood to their feet while panting. “Does anyone… know…where we can find…the Dark Realm Dwarf… mausoleum?” Riker asked anyone still sitting in the saloon. Kruzco noticed that his bartender friend was nowhere to be seen; he probably fled from the mayhem and by the looks of it, many who stayed behind seemed too afraid to answer Riker. “Okay…” Riker concluded. “I am sure he knows…” he said grabbing the unconscious goon he kicked in the face. Kruzco helped carry the goon over his shoulder as Riker collected their belongings from the fresh corpses.