FINBAR the Druid
Finbar the Druid hiked over the Gnarl Mountains on his way to Bex-City of the Magic Towers. Finbar’s cloak was covered in pollen from living in the Enchanted Orchard. Created by the Conjurors of Bex three hundred of years ago, the Enchanted Orchard grew year round from the magical mix of tropical heat, spell struck soil and the ancient incantations cast over them.
Finbar made his way silently among the red oaks and white pines that still grew in enough abundance, even at this height, to almost form a forest. He would occasionally stop and gather the truffles that grew from the base of the older oaks. He could sell them to a tavern he knew of in the First Quintana of Bex; they catered to those who carried gold coins in their belt pouch rather than the copper pieces of the commoners.
Finbar frowned when he came round a corner of the cliff path that topped the mountain. There, opened by a recent storm, was an iced over crevice that held a Half-Orc inside its translucent depths. The tall and broad shouldered creature barely fit inside the icy niche.
Finbar felt magic radiating from the ice. He reached out with his hand at the trapped being and concentrated. A smile replaced the frown on his tanned, weathered face.
“Still you live my frozen friend,” he said. Being a hermit he rarely used his voice except to cast spells or to talk to himself. “This is an ancient bit of mage work that suspends time but does not slay.”
He raised his hand again, this time with the palm facing upwards. The green flames of Gaia flowed more than burned from his hand into the crevice.
The flames lapped at the base of the enchanted ice, turning from a forest green into a more celadon color. The ice cracked and finally tumbled down into fist-sized pieces. A square jawed Half-orc fell from the fissure onto the now warm ground. Finbar dragged the hapless half-Orc away from the cliff, until they were in a clearing just off the path.
He took off his worn leather backpack and quickly set to work gathering pine needles, twigs and fallen branches to build a campfire. He piled pine needles on top of the oak twigs, taking care to pick only the brown dry ones. He reached into his backpack and brought out his steel and flint. He struck enough sparks from the flint to get a fire started.
It wasn’t long until the druid, wise in the ways of woodcraft, had a strong fire burning. He rummaged around in his backpack some more and pulled out a water skin, a tea box and a small kettle.
A few hours later the half-Orc as opened his eyes. “Where am I?’ he said in a hoarse voice.
“You are in the Gnarl Mountains and, up until a few hours ago, under an enchantment that froze you for what looks like an elephant’s age.” Finbar poured him some tea from a tiny pour over kettle into a small clay cup. “Drink! It has some herbs that will soothe your throat and clear your mind.”
The half-Orc propped himself up on one elbow and slowly sipped the green tinged tea. After a while he asked, “I thank you, but I must know who are you, who can break such spells?”
“The towns and taverns know me as Finbar the Druid. My true name cannot be uttered except by the whistling of a witch wind or by the water bubbling over some stones in a brook.”
“I am Huey,” said the rapidly awakening brute. “And my name is what it is, no more or less that that. I serve the city of Bex as a soldier in their Army of the Five Quintana’s.”
He stood and shook his large body. Small bits of sparkling blue ice broke free of his armor and evaporated before touching the ground. “How long have I slept? I was pursuing the Conjuror Nephalt . It was firstday of Midmonth. What day is it now?”
“It is Fifth Day of Starmonth,” said Finbar slowly. “But it is the year you need to know. Nephalt the Conjuror disappeared twenty-five decades ago.”
Huey stumbled up the path to the cliff’s edge, Finbar following in long, slow strides. He steadied the hulking warrior with a hand on the other’s shoulder. Huey looked down on the Bex. The five magic towers shone like dark marble, their oblong stone shapes at least two hundred cubits for the shortest and four hundred for the tallest. The Chaotic Cleric Sozoman had raised them from the earth more than forty-five decades ago when the refugees of Visnor-City of the Shunned, founded Bex.
“The city has changed!” Huey said. “I recognize the Grand Avenue and the Towers, but the Dorro Docks now stretch into the Second Quintana and the city has outgrown its walls on the North!” His sharp incisors, which pushed out and broke the line of his lips on his lower jaw, jutted out in surprise. He then laughed harshly. “The prophecy is fulfilled despite Nephalt’s best efforts!”
Finbar leaned forward on his oaken staff and asked quietly, “Why the sad laughter? You seem both relieved and enraged at your fate.”
“A Wisewoman divined that I would outlive Nephalt by twenty summers and nineteen winters.” Huey knelt by the fire and warmed his hands. “Nephalt believed if he killed me he would die. At least that is what one of his infernal patrons told him. No wonder he chose to keep me alive.”
Finbar pulled out a scroll and opened it. “Fate is not done with you and Nephalt yet. I found a treasure map drawn during your life by Nephalt himself. The same magic that made this map drew me here, to you. I do not seek the gold, though there is rumored to be that and more than a few jewels. What I search for is a key which unlocks a door to another world.”
Huey shrugged. He was an adventurer who grew up in the chaotic city of Bex, where magic was in the very water you drank. He asked to see Finbar’s map and after the Druid gave it to him he whistled quietly.
“This leads to the northern edge of the Dorro Docks, near Williams Street.” he said pointing to Djinni Bay. The blue-green waters sparkled between the large ships and warehouses that made up the largest port in all of Midsea. “If we start walking now we will reach the gates of Bex by nightfall.”
JARLSNELOPIE the Tiefling
Jarlsnelopie stood at the North Gate of Bex, feeling overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. There were more than a few sayings in Bex that kept running through her mind, all of which ended, “like something that came in through the North Gate”.
The North Gate of Bex was the smallest, and most dangerous of them all. It faced the Gnarl Mountains and could only fit, at best; a two-ox cart loaded two bales high. The infamous mountain road that led to it brought mostly indigents, the infamous or invaders. Being a tiefling with horns, red skin and glowing eyes she was regulated to this onerous duty, but this evening, right before the gates were set to close she saw something different.
A half-Orc in heavy armor, with a giant sword strapped across his back, approached the gate; with him was a green-cloaked man wearing a backpack. He walked with a confident stride. The cloaked man had chestnut hair and walked with a stout oaken staff. Jarlsnelopie figured it had to be the famous Finbar, Druid of the Enchanted Orchard. He came to Bex rarely but when he did great happenings were afoot.
The half-Orc was another matter. He did not look about scowling like most of his barbaric kind. His eyes were wide open and full of wonder. His armor also looked strangely familiar. As he got closer Jarlsnelopie sharp Tiefling eyes recognized the symbol on the chainmail. It looked like ones she saw on a monument commemorating a battle that occurred many years ago. Where would the half-Orc get his hands on armor from old Bex?
“Greeting guard!” said Finbar. “We are two travelers who need lodging for the night. Do you know of any?”
Jarlsnelopie leaned forward. Her mother owned a row house in Tiefling town and needed money. It’s why she took a job with the hated city guard, a guard that historically treated Tieflings, who looked like devils, badly. Tieflings like herself.
“Would you be Finbar the Druid?” she asked.
He smiled. “Yes! Have we met?”
“No,” said Jarlsnelopie. “But your reputation meets your description. My mother takes in travelers. I will take you there. We are shutting the gate for the evening.”
“Why so early,” asked Huey. He turned his large head on his even larger, muscular neck and nodded his head behind him at the Gnarls. “The sun is just reaching the mountain tops.”
Jarlsnelopie narrowed her glowing eyes. “For the past twenty years, before I was born, these mountains have produce bandits or bad news. Only Finbar and a few other mountain folk are the only known respectable people to come this way. You wear an old Bex insignia. Surely you know this, unless you come from that time.”
Huey smiled. His sharp teeth and strong jaw looked ferociously friendly and Jarlsnelopie knew there was something different about this half-orc, like he came from a kinder time than this present age of anxiety.
HUEY the Half-Orc
Huey strolled through the streets of Bex. Some of it looked familiar while other things were different. He and his new friend Finbar followed the Tiefling Jarlsnelopie to her mother’s home in a place called “Tiefling Town”. It, along with the different insignia’s and banners, had changed the city he knew from a bustling chaotic place to one with a touch of fear and divisiveness.
When Huey lived in Bex he soldiered for the Army of the 3rd Quintana. They marched against the 4th Quintana Sorcerer Nephalt. Nephalt tried to bring all five Quintana’s under his tyrannical grasp and they had defeated him. Huey remembered chasing him out of the city and into the Gnarl Mountains. Nephalt fled rather than fought Huey because he feared a prophecy that the half-orc would out live him.
Huey wondered if that was why Nephalt froze instead of killed him.
Everyone knew Nephalt the Sorcerer gained his spells from infernal beings who foretold the future, but did so at a nefarious price. Huey fought one of these creatures; a giant frog like creature with red eyes, it croaked to him in the common tongue before it too fled,
“Beware, beware a spell of cold and icy sleep!
You won’t catch Nephalt but across the years you will leap!”
Huey walked to the townhouse where the Tiefling’s mother lived. Her modest home sat in a long row of twelve such homes, built side to side, each one sharing a two-story brick wall. The whole neighborhood had been built the same way a hundred years ago by a wealthy shipping merchant who wanted his workers to live near the docks.
It was a working peoples neighborhood, with many of the residents either employed by the Longshore Luggers Guild as dockworkers or engaged in small time smuggling. The scarlet skinned and horned Tieflings who lived there had little choice. Each looked either more or less devilish than the other and the people of Bex never forgot it.
Huey understood some of this being a half-Orc. Many thought him brutal and violent before they got to know him. Many Tieflings looked at him, averted their eyes and stepped aside from his path. Such was the case when they first arrived at the Tiefling’s home but Huey’s good nature put all at ease.
Huey found Jarlsnelopie’s mother was a kind woman but with a mischievous air like her daughter. He was introduced to a friend of theirs, an orphaned sea elf named Fiona.
FIONA the Sea Elf
Fiona walked to her friend Jarlsnelopie’s home. Many years ago, when her sea elf mother and father died in a tidal wave, she was washed into the Djinni Bay of Bex. A young Tiefling found her floating near the Doro Docks and saved her. This was Jarlsnelopie. It was the beginning of great friendship.
Fiona’s green skin and coral blue hair along with Jarlsnelopie’s red skin and glowing eyes made them very conspicuous companions. Many of the humans in Bex mistrusted them because they looked and acted differently. It kept them from getting some of the better jobs in the bustling city of Bex.
One day, Fiona dove deep into Djinni bay and brought back some silver spoons she found in a sunken Merovingian ships. She could do this because of her ability to breath under water for a few hours at a time.
Jarlsnelopie knew people who would buy the treasure, so she and Fiona helped each other out. When she saw the two strangers take a room Jarlsnelopie called her outside.
“Fiona,” Jarlsnelopie said, her eyes glowing even more brightly in the Bexian dark. “These strangers have a map to a treasure in the abandoned North Charthouse!”
“Do you mean that spooky place on the docks?” Fiona said. “I got inside once by swimming under the docks to a hole in the floor. It was scary.”
“Scary, but filled with treasure!” Jarlsnelopie insisted. “The strangers Finbar and Huey want us to go and get the treasure with them tomorrow. But if you and I leave tonight, while they sleep we can get the riches for ourselves! Just think! I won’t have to work for the guards who hate people like us anyway and you will never have to dive in dangerous water for whatever we can find in those wrecks.”
Fiona shook her head but in the end followed the older Jarlsnelopie into the night. They went down winding cobblestone streets until they reached the docks. They had to take a long route down dark alleys so that no patrolling guards would spot them. They walked to the far end of the docks where no ships ever stayed.
All were frightened of the sinister North Charthouse.
The North Charthouse had sat empty on the Doro Docks for many years, yet it was not covered in lichen or infested with nests of rats. Nothing living could thrive near it. Yet late at night mysterious figures entered and left. During the day it didn’t seem as deadly but some swore it cast shadows even when the sun was directly overhead.
A mysterious fund paid its taxes from an old and notorious banking firm that did business with dark magicians. It kept both the city guard and the curious away. No thief that had entered had ever left, except for Fiona.
So Fiona walked to edge of the dock looked over her shoulder at the haunted house and then looked at Jarlsnelopie. Fiona flipped into the water like a dolphin and began swimming back under the dock. It didn’t take her long to find the opening below North Charthouse and she swam up.
Inside Fiona climbed out of the seawater and onto the rotted floor. She immediately started for the front door to let Jarlsnelopie inside. Suddenly some skeletal creatures, grey-green of skin with claws and sunken yellow eyes charged her. She screamed for her friend.
Finbar finishes the Tale
Finbar woke up, his druidic senses alert. He concentrated, rooting his consciousness in the earth below him, the air around him and the void; from which all magic comes. He felt only the presence of himself, Huey the Half-Orc and Jarlsnelopie’s mother.
Finbar quickly and quietly awoke Huey. Huey put on this armor and they left the house at a fast walk. They went to the Docks in the most direct route.
As Finbar approached the North Charthouse he heard Fiona call out for her friend and saw Jarlsnelopie break its door down!
Finbar flew forward, reading his staff. Huey was close behind, his sword out and swung over his head; readied for a powerful blow.
They entered the Charthouse. Jarlsnelopie was fighting five ghoulish skeletons that seemed more dead than alive. Her sword waved left and right as the yellow eyed creatures tried to encircle her and Fiona. Jarlsnelopie brought her sword across the knees of the tallest one and then there were only four left.
Huey surprised all with a speed one would not think a heavily muscled warrior could possess. Two more of the evil zombies were down before could react.
Finbar flung his hand out and he summoned the green flame of Gaea once again. It encircled one of the undead and it fell.
Jarlsnelopie leapt over the fallen creature she dispatched and stabbed upward at the last one. It fell silently.
Finbar saw Fiona dive into the ocean through the hole in the floor. Jarlsnelopie, Finbar and Huey walked over to the hole. They could hear the ocean lapping at the piers below them.
Suddenly an old box broke the surface of the water. Huey reached down and easily lifted it up, with Fiona holding onto the bottom of it. She let go and Huey placed it down on the floor.
Fiona smiled and waved at the box. “I saw this when I swam inside. Is this what you were looking for?”
Jarlsnelopie open the box with a swipe of her sword. Gold coins and jewels of every color spilled out along with a bright silver key. Finbar picked it up. The key had many glyphs along its stem and seemed to glow in the low light. Finbar slipped the key into one of the many pockets of his verdant cloak.
Then group split the small treasure four ways. Each filled their pockets and coin purses until only the box was left. Finbar put most of it in his backpack. Jarlsnelopie kicked the remains of the box down the hole, making small splashes in the dark water.
“Hold there!” said a voice with practiced authority.
The group turned and saw four members of the city guard arrive. They wore the same red armor as Jarlsnelopie but carried crossbows instead of swords. The one who spoke was a tall, thin, Sergeant that Jarlsnelopie seemed to know.
“That is Bartholomew,” Jarlsnelopie whispered to her companions. “He’s a good man but not particularly smart.”
“What is going on?” he asked.
Finbar noticed Bartholomew scratched at his beard when he was confused. Finbar was pretty sure the Sergeant scratched his beard often.
“I was walking home and noticed these creatures attacking these good citizens!” Jarlsnelopie proclaimed with little conviction but lots of bravado. “We combined forces and defeated them. The Charthouse is no longer haunted!”
The Sergeant looked at the slain creatures and shook his head up and down…very slowly. “Good work Private Jarlsnelopie! I’m going to put you in for a promotion. No more gate duty for you. I’m going to make you an acting Patrol Guard for the Doro Docks!”
Jarlsnelopie smiled, as did Fiona. Huey laughed. Finbar grimaced and then finally grinned.
The ways of Bex always amused Finbar. How this chaotic city could survive so many years confounded him.
Finbar took a breath and thought about how he started his day a solitary adventurer in the mountains and ended it as part of a motley group on a haunted dock over the ocean.
The Druid wanted to take his magic key and his small fortune and return back over the Gnarl Mountains in the morning. He needed to use the key for a special mission given to him by the High Druid. He looked at Huey, Jarlsnelopie and Fiona and wondered if he should ask them to come along.
Finbar yawned. He was tired. He would ask them in after some sleep and a good breakfast.
“Can we leave Sergeant?” he asked. “Private Jarlsnelopie can take us back to our lodgings.”
“That’s Patrol Guard Jarlsnelopie now!” Fiona said. “You’re mother is going to be so proud of you!”
“You’re the one who found the treasure,” Jarlsnelopie said. “She’s going to be proud of you too. You’re practically another daughter to her.”
Huey laughed. “Well if you two sisters are done congratulating each other than you bid brother is tired. Let’s go back to the house.”
Finbar motioned with his staff at the broken front door. All four of them followed as he stepped over its splintered mess and started back to Tiefling Town. The sun would rise in a few hours and if they hurried they could still get some sleep.