On the eve of the second full moon after his 24th birthday, Tilo bid farewell to Hollyhannah and the Pyr Whores for the last time. He had spent 185 nights under the docks, and although he felt at home each and every night, the time had come for him to move on. Finally he had a plan and purpose, however vague and ill defined, and he had screwed himself to seeing it through. The life of an adventurer he had chosen. And all adventures require a first step to begin.
He packed up his things and gave thanks and salutations to his adopted family with a quick determination, and headed out into a cool, clear spring night. He had said his goodbyes privately to Hollyhannah much earlier, and although she had known he was leaving for some time, she preferred not to be present when he made his final farewell. Despite the affection that had developed between them, Tilo had no illusions about the limits of their relationship. One of their earliest intimacies had involved her sharing the story of her long, lost love, Moss Hobbin. Hobbin had been her first and her last true love, and his disappearance (along with his small band of halfling adventurers - the Grey fellows) 5 years earlier had left an unending ache in dear Hollyhannah. She would continue to share her body with strangers and her bed with close friends, but she would never again share the gift of her total commitment to anyone else.
Tilo's plan was to reach the city limits that very evening and spend his last night in Northwaite in a small grove out under the stars. It would be his first night alone in 185 nights. But part of him longed deeply for a taste of the solitude he had previously loved so much. It is something of an incredible feat that Tilo had been able to prepare his daily spells without the proper privacy befitting a magic user. And the acrid pungency of the slime that coated the rocks and under-planks of the Pyr docks would certainly not be missed. Even more, Tilo had always found it best to mitigate the inevitable pain that comes with leaving loved ones whenever possible. And, following the advice of his mother, Cora, Tilo made sure to "leave before leaving" this evening. This was her sage suggestion offered frequently to her many children when they started to grow old enough to love others and, therefore, old enough to suffer when those relationships are sundered. Her expression was her way of instructing her children to empty themselves of emotional and affective attachment through small rituals, whenever leaving was too painful to bear. A quiet, warm night. Blazing stars overhead. Tall grass serving as a body-sized pillow. This was how he wanted to remember leaving Northwaite. This was how he had planned to leave before leaving.
It seemed to him that he had just drifted off to an instantly deep sleep, only four hours after he left to docks of the Northwaite and his friends for what he assumed was the very last time, when the startling sound of Hollyhannah's voice brought him back to life.
"Leaf...Leaf...You must hurry," she pleaded. Tilo had told her of his plans to spend the evening outside the city proper, but the shock of seeing her in front of him now was concussive and literally stunned him speechless for several moments. Despite his exhaustion and confusion he could instantly make out a sincere desperation in her eyes and voice.
"It's Felix...," she broke off and gasped, completely out of breath. "The Myrr Gang...Look I don't really understand the details, but, Tilo, they've destroyed out homes and...they've taken Felix."
Tilo rose to his feet, dressed in a flash, and pressed the slender girl for all the details she could recall on their way back into town. Because she had refused to be there for his final goodbye, she had personally escaped the assault. As she made her way back under the piers, she had observed the thugs and villains as they fled into the night. Hurriedly ducking out of their way, she counted a mixed company of two halflings and four humans. All looked to her to be of the roughest sort. And had it not been for the curious, gnome-shaped and gnome-sized bundle that two of the humans struggled to carry, Hollyhannah would have let them pass from her view. But, sensing that something was afoot, she kept her distance and followed the gang across the town center of Northwaite, ultimately ending their skulking in front of a low, dark warehouse off a dank, trash-strewn alley. Hollyhannah had barely heard the solid oak doors bolt shut that she began sprinting her way back to the docks.
"Everything Tilo...They destroyed everything."
There was no holding back the tears as images of the destruction of the Pyr shanties jumped to her mind's eye. "Most of the Whores are bruised and some were beaten pretty badly, but at least no one was seriously hurt or...dead. At least...that we know of." This young halfling beauty, jaded and rough as she had become, adored the old gnome Felix. Tilo completely understood this devotion and affection and would himself do almost anything for the sage trickster of the Pyr whores. Adopted father, mentor, philosopher, cheat and prankster, Felix had touched each of the whores in different ways.
And through Zinnalynn, Hollyhannah's deep suspicion was confirmed - it was Felix that the thugs were chiefly after. "Zinny told me that they stormed the docks and broke up the place to cause a chaos and flush Felix out," Hollyhannah continued as they crossed over into the merchant district. "Even more, she thinks she recognizes one of them, and says he's part of the Myrr Gang who've been laying low and doing some secret muscle work for Dobb Beasley. She says that their a rough set of hoodlums, Tilo. She says she's worried about Felix's life."
The two former lovers proceeded at a steady run to the warehouse where Hollyhannah had last seen the bundled Felix. They were gasping for air as they turned into the alley, where Zinnalynn joined them from her hiding spot in the shadows. Her report that no one had entered or exited since she took up sentry boosted Tilo's confidence. But he knew that he was very soon going to have face a bald reality -- these three halflings were going to have to match themselves against at least six nasty opponents. And he had no plan.
Climbing upon a small abandoned crate outside the smaller than typical warehouse, Tilo was able to carefully peak into small exterior vented window opposite the massive and intimidating door. All heart immediately left him. Not six figures, but what looked like nine and possibly ten forms were visible through the layers of muck and grime on the small window pane. It was a very tough spot indeed.
Magic users live and die by the spells they prepare, and from the moment he was able to determine that his services would be necessary in this affair he had been actively cogitating on his study session that morning. His choice of strategy would crucially depend on choices he made nearly 14 hours earlier. And, as it turns out, this day he had prepared and spent several spells in the morning hours working one last shift in "loss prevention" for a local sword forge. And, to make matters worse, he had sacrificed some morning preparation time for a bit extra sleep, and had, therefore, not prepared all the spells he possibly could have. (He had, in fact, grown rather lazy in his intellectual morning ablutions while living amongst the Whores.)
While Tilo sunk down against the wall of the warehouse contemplating his best chance for securing the release of his dear friend, the ears of the three huddling halflings piqued at the growing commotion on the other side of the door. Voices were growing louder and clearer. It was a fight, they each determined in short order. A fight over booty and ill-gotten gains from a variety of heists. Tilo could make out some voices as they harangued over goods pilfered from the Pyr shacks as well as other voices, all human, who spoke of another haul. This gang, it turned out, had undertaken two ambitious heists that day. In addition to everything of value they could carry from under the docks, the other members of the Myrr Gang had at the same time overtaken a transport containing packages and mail parcels just arriving from Southwaite. Now the argument beginning to break out inside the warehouse was how to divide the spoils. And the rancor was growing by the minute.
As a table crashed inside, Tilo's eyes met those of Zinnalynn and Hollyhannah. Each large, round halfling eye flashed the same recognition. The level of violence inside was quickly escalating. They were sitting outside a powder keg that was set to go off. Tilo jumped back on the crate and strained again to make out some definite detail in the room. Blocking out the presence of his two companions for a moment, the young magic user focused all his attentive power upon on particular object that he could just barely discern to be sitting on a table just below his perch. He knew he would have one shot to make this work, and he also knew that this was almost the longest of long shots. But his options were limited and time was so very short.
A scream. An enraged roar. A struggle followed by more painfully screams. And moments later what can only be described as total war broke out on the other side of the oak doors. Almost as suddenly all fell silent. With a boost and a push Tilo had secured Zinnalynn's entrance through the small vented window, and once on the other side she saw how each member of the Myrr Gang had fought and slain at least one other, with the end result that all members lay dead inside the warehouse.
"They took care of themselves. I just provided the match," Tilo said to Hollyhannah as they stood against the warehouse door waiting for Zinnalynn to unlatch the lock. Even though it was dark his small grin didn't escape her attention. "They didn't trust each other. So when tensions are running high and greed is in the air, what is likely to happen when one person finds themselves literally stabbed in the back?" He tried to act confident after the fact. But his successful casting of Mage Hand to guide a thrown aside crossbow bolt into the fatty tissue surrounding one gang member's kidney was pure luck, and he knew it.
Once Zinnalynn had the heavy doors open from the inside, the three friends had found Felix in moments, hidden behind another set of doors in a closet set off from a back office. Hollyhannah released him from his bonds and helped him to his feet, only to hear the old gnome chuckle at the carnage that lay before him.
"My thanks, dear friends. My thanks indeed," he said. "This was a sour bunch of low-life fools and hoodlums, and I don't mind saying that I can't imagine a more fitting end for each."
Felix proceeded to tell the inquiring friends that he had been solely responsible for bringing about the destruction of the Pyr Whores. He had, he explained, tricked the scag Dobb Beasley into employing these thugs for a daring intercept mission of the Southwaite Courier transport. Such a mission was beyond both the ability and desire of Felix himself, but he had gotten word that a single, fabled rare stone coveted by Gnomes of the Hrothgar -- a Critical Mirror stone -- was to be arriving in Northwaite via this afternoon's transport. Felix apologized for allowing his desire to possess the Critical Mirror overwhelm his judgment. He had convinced himself that Beasley and the Myrr thugs would be unable to trace him back to their home.
"Clearly you were wrong and overconfident in your skills, old gnome," offered Tilo in a flat tone.
"It was a simple Disguise Self, Master Tealeaf," shot back Felix in mild anger. But just as quickly revised himself, saying "I suppose that is right. Yes, that is the only answer. Someone, somewhere saw through my illusion. They knew me and I didn't have the wits to recognize I had been made." The gravity of the injury he had caused to those who loved and trusted him was beginning make its force felt for the first time.
As Felix explained the details of his spoiled swindle of the Myrr thugs, Tilo could tell his mind was still somewhere else, plotting and scheming. "Old hooked nose, what's on your mind?" Tilo muttered.
"We must soon be off, but there remains the matter of the loot the Myrr heist. They've destroyed our homes dear ones...Shouldn't we be compensated for their injustice and our loss?" answered the Gnome, his eyes tracing the outlines of several large wooden boxes occupying the center of the central warehouse.
In honesty, the halflings took very little convincing. And with a great haste the four friends tore into the boxes and sacks that filled the room's center
"And while we're searching, where might we find the Critical Mirror stone? I'd love to lay eyes on it," Tilo continued to press Felix. It was very unlike the usually wise gnome to act in such a careless way. And Tilo felt an obligation to make sure that he make some sacrifices to help make restitution to those whose fate he had selfishly linked to his own. In response he heard the gnome's familiar chuckle.
"We'll have to wait a day or two before that stone makes it appearance," he snorted, giving his small potbelly a quick rub.
While Tilo and Felix had this exchange, Hollyhannah sat motionless on the floor, holding in her hands a single letter while all around her were strewn the contents of the hijacked transport. It was Zinnalynn who noticed her shock and gently called to her friend.
"It's from Hobbins," Hollyhannah replied. Here voice was remarkable for its blank, matter of fact quality. "He lost his party in an attempted to cross off the peninsula. He writes that he crawled his way back down the mountains and dropped into a deep sleep, only to have been awakened recently in a hostel in Southwaite."
"He's alive, Zinny," she continued reading," and he's coming for me just as soon as he can travel." From that moment, Tilo and Hollyhannah never touched again.
The four former residents of the Pyr docks made their way back across town in shock and silence, with several large sacks containing gold candlesticks, various coins, and a wide array of odds and ends that could fetch a small exchange in the markets and pawn shops. What they found was a high tide, flooded structures, and a few lingering residents hurriedly gathering their remaining belongs and setting off into the night in search of new homes. With a somber reverence, they proceeded to collect and divide the loot between all those who remained.
And, after taking for himself only a small, leather bound book, Tilo slipped out of sight and out of town while his closest friends, Felix, Hollyhannah, and Zinnalynn began the long task of gathering up what remained of the things of their lives. All knew that they could never call the Pyr docks home again.
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