Back In Ganse
It took the rest of the afternoon, a night under the stars, and a few hours the following morning, but the companions eventually reached the bleak and quiet Ganse. Having to move at an incredibly slow pace, often stopping to rest as they hauled their spoils, while being ever vigilant for possible thieves and of course, other bandits, the companions allowed themselves a few smiles when the dingy, nearly abandoned, mining town’s walls, were once again before them.
After a few minutes walk the adventurers came upon a bizarre scene, some mad god’s idea of a settlement! It took a few minutes for their senses to adjust, and finally they realized what they had come upon. The signpost nailed to a particularly tall laurel stump helped as well.
“Qil’Vanaros’ Endless Dream Journey, Cutthroat Freakshow & Traveling Emporium. See the Wonders of the Nine Realms! Come One, Come All!!”
“Come witness the Dragon-Child!! The World’s Biggest Dwarf!! Lady Stick!! The Fire-Eater!! The Four-Legged Girl!! The Pickled Punks!! Hanging Kang!! The Living Ghoul!! Vallace the Whipmaster!! The Poisonous Boy!! The Centaur Princess!!
“Many Other Oddities, Curiosities, Horrors, and Wonders of Distant and Exotic Lands!!”
The sign seemed a bit amateurish, as if it was put up not by the proprietors of the traveling troupe, but by some local in his or her excitement.
The companions gazed upon the chaotic scene before them. Stretching along the normally featureless field surrounding the approach to Ganse, nestled like a noose around the town, was what appeared to be another town, though not a permanent one. Wagons, carts and tents took the place of houses and homes. Everything seemed temporary. From a distance, the caravan trains and jumbled stalls lining the huge meadow looked like fattened, lazing caterpillars to the companions. The whole place in fact seemed pregnant with anticipation.
It was late morning. As the companions made their way among the gypsies and their endless stalls, they noticed that half the folk were only stirring now, shaking off hangovers and worse ailments from the previous night. The other half, the carnies and merchants, seemed to be preparing, rushing around in frenetic states, setting up stalls, wheeling strange cages, readying small arenas for gaming and competition, and otherwise engaging in organizing and arranging everything for the evening’s coming festivities. There was even what looked like a huge, mobile inn, constructed to resemble a sea going vessel on wheels! The Landlubber, the sign read as the companions walked by.
All in all, there seemed to be more people outside the town walls, then the companions ever remembered there being inside the decrepit town.
Talia was unsurprised. She had even met Qil’Vanaros once, when Konos had introduced her to the quarrelsome elf many years ago. In fact, Talia knew this life well. Traveling the Hills of Holubuska, trading goods, and occasionally entertaining the local hill-folk, who were made up of dozens of xenophobic tribes, normally hidden among their beloved forested hills, but crawling out of the woodworks, for the most famous caravan of all, The Endless Dream Journey. Ganse was the last stop on the “western leg” of their annual migration. This was the last and best troupe of the season. Soon, winter would come to Ganse.
The good news, Vee thought as he stared upon the weird convention sprawled out before him, was that he would probably have little trouble unloading some of the companions spoils here. Barter and trade would be alive and well in a place like this!
Vorodon wasn’t sure what to make of this. He was still uncomfortable among all these new “friends”, and now this. Would he be welcome here? The half-ogre pondered, and hoped to find his kin among the town guard.
Tristan looked upon the scene with some disapproval, the familiar grimace surfacing on his face. A den of iniquity, wonton pleasure, perverse entertainment, and no doubt thievery, he thought as he walked.
Moruz was silent. He needed to rest. All the holy healing under the sun and moons, could not take the place of a long deep sleep right now, the Ouzquin Dremorix thought, as he kept one vigilant eye on anyone and everyone approaching the group, or staring at the chests too long. Two particular individuals had stared longer and harder than Moruz would have liked. He made mental note of both, a blonde-bearded dwarf, and an exotic, clean-shaven man, with bright crimson paint decorating his spooky, olive-toned, vulture-like face.
Dujek and Kadarin were quiet for a moment, Kadarin busy calming down Mouse, who seemed anxious and frightened at seeing such a large group of people, while Dujek kept peppering Koschei with telepathic questions but only receiving gibberish and mockery in response from the weird little lizard. Apparently, it had been in a foul mood the past two days.
Eventually the band of bandit-slayers reached the town proper. Many locals and gypsies had stared, wide-eyed, at the chests the group was hauling as they were making their way, somewhat comically, along the thoroughfare. None stopped or hindered them however, though Vee smirked and mentioned that every thief west of Nimz must have heard of the “Company of the Treasured Chests” by now. The gates were open (Aerex liked to think it was especially for him and his posse), and they had finally returned to where it all began for them, nary a week ago.
The first order of business on everyone’s agenda, the one plan they could all agree upon, was that they all needed sleep, lots of it. Their bodies and minds needed rest. It wasn’t long before they found themselves in the grimy, upstairs rooms of the newly refurbished Harpy’s Kettle. The following morning the companions met in the common room, rested and anxious to unload their loot. Kadarin was consulted, and announced to the gathered that he would need pricey gems, one for every item the companions suspected may be magical. Aerex meanwhile, had asked the new barkeep, one Blodrus the Lame, for several large sacks the previous night, and was now sitting in the taproom with two stuffed sacks of bandit heads. By Jantir’s Legions! He would enjoy delivering the heads to the city guards.
Glordren and Jjuldae had struck a strange bond. The two mismatched travelers had meandered along with the Endless Dream Journey caravans west, finding themselves on the outskirts of some misbegotten town called Ganse, where Qil’Vanaros’ carnies and the thronging mob of merchants, traders, and groupies that followed them set up camp once more, outside the city walls. Whatever was following Jjuldae had not yet confronted the druid, and despite the dwarf’s occasional urging, Jjuldae knew that turning the tables on some wild, demonic beast, among the hills and forests that made up its element, hunting the hunter so to speak, would prove imprudent. It was this thought, among others, which allowed Glordren to at least convince the druid to accompany him on a visit to Ganse, though the dwarf could tell that the druid loathed urban sprawls and the “swine-herds” which dwelt inside its walls. At least whatever was following him, Glordren reasoned to Jjuldae, would probably not be so bold as to attempt some sort of murderous attack inside the walls. Glordren was not himself sure of his own reasoning, but had his own motives for traveling to Ganse. It was north of Ganse, only a week’s travel, where the mountains rose up. Hidden among the peaks of the Great Escarpment would be the legendary and fearsome Waterfall of Madness. And somewhere below it, according to his Akhanag-Marato scroll, was marked the ancient dwarven temple-tomb Glordren wished to explore. Ganse would be a good stop. Glordren had heard of the far-off town. It was once a mining metropolis, phosphorus mainly, but all kinds of alloys and oddities came from the honeycombed badlands west of the town. A decade ago, all operations had ceased due to some great calamity and subsequent explosion. The countless mines closed, thousands of folk moved away, and Ganse was now a town in decline.