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  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Earthdawn-ish | Chapter 1 |



"Ha! Mess with us," Terzin sneered at it, hacking a few extra wounds into it; the hide was pretty much a loss anyway.

After dealing with the toads, there was a corpse to consider. It had obviously been dead for years, not much left but bones and the rags of what had once been leather armor. Terzin immediately began searching the body for valuables.

"We should at least try to find out who it was," Robin objected uncertainly.

"We will," he replied blithely. "Finders, keepers. I'll split it with you guys, we're partners." There was a sheathed knife, a pouch, and mostly-rotted backpack. In the pouch were thirty silver pennies. "Yes!"

None of them had more than ten pennies, most of it in wedges and bits saved up over their entire lives of hard work. The knife was steel, which was rare and probably valuable, too. He dumped out the pack and started going through it rapidly. Robin sighed forbearingly, and looked around to see if any more toads had noticed the commotion and decided to investigate.

"Hey, that looks pretty bad," Terzin remarked, glancing at Jared's wound. "You should bandage yourself up, or something." In the pack he found a grappling hook, much better than the one he had; it was the kind that was all one smooth rod until the grapples snapped out. He felt almost drunk with excitement.

"I don't want to catch you using that anywhere in town," Robin muttered.

Rope, rotted past usability. A hardbound book. An empty waterskin, some paper, a wooden box for a healing kit long destroyed by time.Under the pack's false bottom was a sealed piece of paper.

Harrick went to look at the tree to see if there was anything else inside it. No more bodies, but strong traces of elemental magic. Someone had used Wood Twist to create the hole in the tree and then close it, which had created a weak spot vulnerable to the impact of flying toads. He found a book amid the debris, of middling size and about an inch thick, with a leather cover. It looked like a journal, all hand written. He glanced through it briefly, looked over at the others.

"Would you like me to see if we could get somebody out here?" he inquired. Robin agreed that it might be good to get some help; there were the toads to get back to town, it would take at least three hours to get back no matter what, and it was getting on toward evening. The orc went to work on a flare spell. After several minutes, a streak of fire shot skyward from his hands and exploded above the trees. Again, they were impressed.

Terzin said, "Come here, guys. Here's the loot." He spread it out on the grass.

"This is not 'loot,'" his cousin sighed.

"Yes it is."

"We don't have any idea who this guy is...."

Actually, though, they did. Judging by how long he had been dead, he was probably one of those strangers who had tried to go up the Greenbriar ten years ago, looking for a new travel route.

"He was an adventurer, he would have wanted us to have it," was Terzin's irrefutable logic. In the end, he took six pennies and the knife. Everyone else got eight pennies. "This looks important." He held up the sealed paper. Red wax with an eagle stamped on it: the Aquilar Republic.

He was pretty sure what it was. A Republic ten-guilder credit letter. If so, it was worth more money than existed in all of Crapaud—and entirely worthless outside the Republic.

"We can turn it in and look really good," Harrick suggested.

"That's what I was thinking," Terzin agreed.

Jared looked through the book Terzin had found in the pack; it looked like an ordinary prayer book of Gabriel, thick and sturdy, made to withstand harsh treatment. One of Gabriel's duties was the preservation of knowledge. Harrick continued to flip through the journal he had found. William of Ambervale had written of his attempt with three companions to trace the Greenbriar River north to Gnarl Ford, from their attempts to gain permission to travel through King Daniel's lands, to acquiring maps from a temple of Gabriel, to their stop in Crapaud (where the natives had been skeptical of their odds for success). His notations along the way were quite detailed when it came to things like the number of armed men at castle so-and-so, and maps of such-and-such a town, and even the defensibility of Crapaud itself, the northernmost town on the river—as far as anyone knew, of course.

Harrick paused on a page that expressed shock at the finding of a lost town, and gathered the others around to hear as he began reading aloud. "'Found lost town. Abandoned during the Winter, we suspect, lower sections half-buried in mud but the river has moved away again since. Searched the area, may have found something interesting; will write more later.'"

After several blank pages the writing resumed in a far more hurried hand. "'Situation has deteriorated faster than anticipated. It seems that either there is a new occupant or the priest was incapable of stopping the spell.'" The group exchanged glances, looked at the darkening sky. They agreed that they would stay the night, since if anyone saw his flare and came looking and they weren't there, people would worry too much.

While Harrick continued reading, they set up camp. The author had accepted his approaching death, judging from the notes he had left. "'Wounds continuing to fester. Best hope that the elemental magic I have used will heal me, will no doubt prove unsuccessful. I am being as open and honest as I can in hopes that someone, anyone, will find this and take the appropriate course of action.'"

He and his companions had not been from Ambervale, of course. They were Raelite agents from the Republic, acting on information they had received from a shrine of Gabriel within the theocracy. The former inhabitants of the lost town had gone east when the Winter began, and their descendants still lived in lands held by the Republic.

The town had contained a nethermancer and elementalist of some power, who had built a stronghold beneath the city cemetery. He had planned to perform a ritual that would have allowed him to rise from the dead with the power of the nethermantic gods behind him. The local priest of Gabriel had discovered the plan at the last minute and snuck into the stronghold, probably intending to interrupt at the moment of death to perform the funerary rites that would have prevented the nethermancer's resurrection.

The initiate had left notes of his own; his successor had not read them right away, and then the Winter came. Since as far as anyone could tell, no nethermantic gods had arisen, it seemed likely that the priest had succeeded. However, the Church of Rael had an interest in eliminating anything of nethermancy that might remain, and had dispatched the four to make the attempt. They had encountered much more organized opposition than expected; their plan had been to enter the stronghold and, if the nethermancer was still there, retreat and find reinforcements. This had not happened; William believed that someone new had moved in.

Or the nethermancer was toying with them, of course.

Of the four, two had escaped; one of those had been crushed by something hidden in the shadows of the town, as William fled with something following him. He had hoped to survive the night and reach the town. He had not. William had believed that if there was a new resident, he, she, or it had agents in Crapaud, since it had been prepared for their arrival.

Somewhere up north was a nethermancer's stronghold full of treasure and who knew what else worth looking for. The only reason Terzin didn't suggest they leave right away was because they didn't have enough food for a long trip.

"No one has to know we found the journal," Robin said thoughtfully, looking up from butchering the bull toad; there wasn't much skin worth saving, but she did what she could, and the meat would be handy. This was definitely much more interesting than anything that had ever happened before in their entire lives.

Finished with the journal, Harrick turned his attention to the prayer book Jared held. It looked pretty standard, except for the very thick paper. Harrick did some prodding with a claw and found that each was actually a double sheet, folded back in on itself. The Book of Rael was on the other side. The deception was good enough to meet casual inspection, barely.

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