Fire in the Belly
A Task for Toth
It is Toth who first notices there are no more birds in the sky.
Despite the best efforts of the Stickyfingers family to contain it, news of a rogue wizard killing the king’s man in the Fire in Your Belly tavern has spread through the ranks. Compounded with Commander Rankor’s doomsaying and subsequent retreat to his home just off the grounds, the numbers at the camp have gone from a miniscule seventy-seven to a mere handful.
To confound the dragonborn more, Bam Evilfighter has disappeared in the night.
Toth discovers the note he left on his bunk, a drawing of Thomas Whitwillow in the clouds, a nonsensical path to a mysterious destination, the word regicide scrawled in the margins. He doesn’t understand it, but then again, Toth never understood much of what that dwarf was saying. In fact, it’s safe to say Toth never understands much of anything, except when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong; what should be killed, and what shouldn’t.
A knock at the door brings the man who replaced the commander. Toth doesn’t know his name, or even his rank, but he accepts the task bestowed upon him with a snaggletoothed sneer: bury the body of Thomas Witwillow.
Toth drags the body to the only person he knows who would help. He props the body on the outside wall, facing out past the fort, towards the ashen plains, and pounds on the doorway. Bristle appears in the doorway in seconds, already dressed, despite the early hour. “I got to bury this dude,” Toth says.
“That’s not important. Come in,” Bristle replies. “And before we get started, what do you know about turning a wild animal into your familiar?”
Before Toth can reply, Bristle catches sight of a slender figure riding into camp: Sy Clausner. The novice wizard slows down as they approach the hitch by the tavern, and in his presence, Bristle and Toth notice that Sy has a certain… glow to him.
“Did you get laid?” Bristle asks.
Sy thinks. “Funny you should ask, Bristle. The truth is, I met a fair maiden in the small town of Atterberry Crossing. A beautiful schoolmarm, in fact. See, I’d had a vision of a book I thought I’d seen years ago, in my father’s library. So I took the day’s journey, and upon arriving had two drinks: one for mind, and one for body. I then discovered the book was gone. Taken by the wizard Kikendoll.”
Toth stares blankly at Sy as he climbs off his horse.
“I’d very much like to confront this Kikendoll figure, as he has something of great personal value to me…”
“Okay,” Bristle says, not inquiring further. He gives a suspicious look around the camp, despite how early it is “Lets go inside…” On the way in, he gives a knowing nod to his sister, Busty Beatrice, who scrubs the countertop down.
In the back bedroom, not five feet from where Thomas Witwillow was brutally murdered, Bristle asks for Toth and Sy’s help. He needs them to ride out with him to Bravewood Garrison to bring back a mysterious artifact. Sy watches Bristle with hungover slits for eyes, while Toth stares blankly at the pattern in the wallpaper.
“Do you speak orcish?” Bristle asks.
Sy thinks, his finger rubbing against something in his pocket. “I can learn.”
“It would help if you spoke orcish. Because there’s going to be a lot of orcs there.”
“Just do whatever the little Bristle says,” Toth says, grabbing one of the bundles of necessities Bristle had prepared for their journey. As he exits the room, Sy tries to make it sound like Bristle farted. His spell backfires, and the floorboard below him makes a pale squeak. It is still early in the day, but there appears to be nothing but embarrassment in the cards for the young eladrin wizard.
As the three prepare their horses from their journey, they notice Commander Rankor has appeared outside for the first time in two days. He’s suiting up for his own journey, just outside his house. He’s looking troubled, his grooming unfinished and sweat on his brow.
“I hope you don’t mind we borrow some horses,” Bristle says.
“Take what you want. I’m leaving,” the commander says. “Myself and these men are riding out. A weeks journey to the castle. The only chance there is to stop this massacre from happening – to keep that madman from sending his entire armies against the Great Dragon – is if I go out and explain it myself. If I’m successful, I’ll send word to you, as a crow flies.”
The commander and his men ride out, but not before Bristle tries to get the last word in. The commander shoots the Halfling a look, then whips his horse. The group leaves Thomas Witwillows body on the ground, left to rot in the midday sun, and take off on their horses on the southern road.