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Savage Al's El Doradoby Terry Bigrigg
The group of intrepid adventurers are finishing up their breakfast near the town well, relaxing and enjoying the company of the local gentry. Just when they are about to finish and go about the day's business, a faint, distant cry is heard.
Looking towards the prarielands that lie beyond the northern most orchards, the group spots the reason the mornings tranquillity was interrupted. It is a young boy, pointing and running out into the fields of tall grass. You can not make out what he is shouting, but his gestures can mean only, "Come here, quickly!" Looking beyond to see what the boy is pointing at, the group spots a lone rider approaching very slowly from the northwest. Together, rider and mount are a black silhouette against the golden plains. From the shape, they assume this can only be some kind of humanoid figure, slumped behind the drooping neck of a horse....exhausted or dead.
Some of the wary villagers begin to grab such items as rakes and pitchforks and move cautiously in the direction of the rider. Other villagers look to the group of strangers that arrived the previous day, waiting to see what action they will take........
The citizens of Escudo do not have to wait long, as the travellers make haste towards the boy first, making sure he is moved to safety, and then the lone rider. The Lupin, Andre, and the Rakasta, Nigel are first to reach the boy, who is a bit frightened at first of the "furry-men" and their fast approach. "It will be alright. Go back and find some cover, " Andre says reassuringly, patting the boy on the head, then continuing towards the rider, his nose in the air searching out danger. Nigel adds "We'll handle this don't worry," and then asks of Andre whilst walking beside him, "What or who do you think it is?" Both "men" check wind and sniff trying to pick up on any scents that may reveal dangers. "Moi, I think it's someone who had a rendezvous with some 'noids. Two of us had such encounters, you and the Gaucho. A third would not surprise me. Anyway, let's go and see what it is."
The others follow behind the Scout and Honourbound. Joben scans the horizon, mace in hand just in case there is trouble as he runs toward the horse and rider as fast as his small legs will tote. Caesar soon appears, passing up Joben. Soon after Caesar has come and gone, Joben hears the rumble of hooves coming up fast behind and moves out of Wesh's way just in time to avoid being trampled by the Gaucho and his steed, Mingo. Arturo, not being accustomed to early mornings, rises from his slumber just in time to notice the other strangers taking off into the fields. Wanting to be where the action is, he slings his guitar over his back, loosens the rapier in its scabbard, and takes off, passing the huffing and puffing Rawdon. Tortles aren't exactly know for their speed of foot after all. The Tortle and Halfling make the rest of the "marathon" together.
As the adventurers approach the rider, they all notice it is a woman, dressed in earth toned clothing, leather armour, and a crossbow slung to her back. She is slumped forward to allow her mount to support most of her body. She is in bad shape and is barely hanging on to the horses mane. They too spot three obvious wounds; her shoulder and her side looks to have been hit by arrows. Her trousers are slit just above the knee, revealing a crude, blood-stained bandage- her thigh swollen round beneath it. As the party gets closer, she wearily lifts her head, looks to the group and says in a raspy voice, "Water!". She then looses her grip on her horse and falls from the saddle....unconscious. Nigel, thankfully, is close enough catch her before she hits the ground. Looking up to Andre, Nigel asks "Do you have your waterskin with you?" Andre nods in the affirmative, handing over his waterskin. "Joben! Come quick we need your help, " the Honourbound exclaims. Looking quickly about for signs of attackers he then asks Andre "Do you see any signs of pursuit?" Andre sniffs the air once more, "No, if anything was chasing her, they are gone now." Joben arrives winded, but looks to the rider immediately. A dim golden light emanates from his hands as he mutters prayers of healing over the rider. Initially, she seems to improve. The woman blinks and looks around with unfocused eyes and speaks in a gasping voice, "Please! Swear to complete............my mission. My life is fading......the poison....Swear to me!" At about that instant, the swashbuckling Arturo arrives on the scene, just in time to hear the pleas of a damsel in distress. He kneels by her side, takes her hand and kisses it, and passionately announces, "My valiant lady! I give you my oath that I shall complete the mission - even if it means the end of me! I also promise to immortalise your brave deeds and daring in verse and song ... and cast down the evil that dared to do this injustice to you. Pray tell me! Who did this? What is the mission?" The other simply look at the bard, knowing he means will, but thinking that before one pledges to a quest, it might be well to know for what one is volunteering. For some reason, although Joben used healing prayers on her, her condition continues to worsen and she again passes out. Joben determines that although her situation is dire, moving her should not pose further danger. After all, she made it this far already from who knows where. "Lets get her to the village." The group gently carries the rider back to Escudo.
Back in Escudo, the villagers have made available a bed for the wounded rider. While the others wait for news outside the modest hacienda when she lies, Rawdon and Joben hover above the woman, trying to determine what is slowly killing her. "You say she muttered something of poison?" Rawdon asks. Joben nods and adds, "If she has been poisoned, there is nothing I can do for her now." "She's probably been poisoned by the arrows. I have some knowledge of how to treat poisoned persons, let me see what I can do." Rawdon states. After some checking and pondering, Rawdon concludes that the poison was not delivered by the arrows. The wound at her leg is swollen round....an indication that she has been stung by something. The poison in her veins is no ordinary toxin .. it is magical in nature. Rawdon shakes his head and announces, "She needs special attention and she needs it within the next few hours or she will surely perish."
Nigel them turns to the villagers who are gathered about and asks "If there's a wagon in town, I beg that we be able to use it. Perhaps your Don Luis can aid her and save her life." The villagers are only too happy to help and the scurry off to bring a wagon and one of the villages finest ponies. The group carefully loads the woman into the wagon, ensuring her comfort. Nigel, addressing the Elder, says " I regret not being able to aid you in the promised chores, but we must get this women to the Don." grasping the Elders hand in friendship he adds, "Perhaps this will be payment enough." as he presses two Oro into the mans hand. Turning back to the group Nigel asks "Who will accompany me to take this woman to the Don?" waiting a moment for responses. All the travellers commit themselves to the womans safe arrival at Torre de Manzanas. "Then quickly grab your things, we don't have much time!"
Two miles travel down another dirt road to the southwest and a single tower surrounded by high stone walls dominates the landscape. The party has arrived at Torre de Manzanas. A moat surrounds the fortress and the drawbridge is currently open, but with four guards manning the outer guard shack. As the group gets closer and closer the guards recognise the woman in the wagon. "Maria!", one shouts as one other guard rushes inside and yells, "Miguel, come quickly!" The other two guards ushers the band quickly inside the walls of the castle. Airing on the side of caution, the raise the drawbridge.
When entering the courtyard, the adventurers spot a crimson bearded Dwarf, dressed in vivid coloured, fine clothing and a large brimmed, feathered hat, sprout the wings of a butterfly and fly down from the ramparts. He then rushes to the woman and looks her over, "Praise Valerias, she still lives. Senor Manzanas!!! Come quickly! Maria is badly injured!" The party looks on as the authorities of the castle have things well in hand.
Soon after the Dwarf calls out, a handsome man in his late thirties appears on the battlement. He appears young and vibrant with just a touch of grey at his temples. His skin and hair, like most who call the Coast their home, have been tinted red by the vermeil that is prevalent in the air and even from the courtyard you see his eyes seem to glow faintly red. He rushes down the stone steps to the side of Maria. With obvious concern in his voice speaks, "We must get her to the chapel immediately!"
With that the guards and Miguel lift Maria and quickly spirit her away to the chapel. The dwarf motions for the party to follow and they obey. Once inside, a Priest arrives and examines Maria's wounds. "My lord," the healer states, "her wounds are severe indeed. I fear she is poisoned and nothing I can do will help, but a potion form the stores might." The nobleman nods in agreement and the healers assistants take off to retrieve the necessary medicine.
A few moments later the assistant arrives with an ornate jar containing some sort of ointment. The healer takes the substance and rubs it on her wounds, uttering prayers all the while. After the treatment is complete the healer announces, "The danger is past, though she is exhausted and dehydrated, Maria will make a complete recovery."
The Lord then turns to the group and extends his hand, "My thanks to you all for your quick thinking and rescue of Maria. Forgive my rudeness for not introducing myself when you first arrived. I am Don Luis de Manzanas....Crimson Inheritor and Lord of these lands." Taking the Don's hand Nigel bow's and states, "Nigel Blythe: Honourbound Company of One at your service my Lord." After a moment Nigel adds, "Excuse me for asking Don, but Maria mentioned a mission that she wanted us to undertake and make sure it was completed, do you know of what she speaks?" The rest nod in agreement, happy to let Nigel do the talking. Even the normally talkative Joben, now thrilled to be in the presence of his lifelong hero, falls silent, watching the Baronet's efficiency with obvious admiration.
After warmly greeting each adventurer, Don Luis addresses the inquiry about Maria's "mission", replying, "Of course, I will inform you of her mission, should you choose to pick up where she left off. This, however, is no place to have a conversation. Let us retire to my study and leave the chapel to the healers and their work." A reassuring nod from the Priest, causes Don Luis to let out a sigh of relief. "Miguel," he says, "Stay with Maria. When she comes around, ask her what she discovered and then bring the news to me. I shall be with our guests in my study." The Don's castellan nods in the affirmative while patting Maria's hand as she lies on the healers table. "What of Orlando?", the Baronet asks before walking away. Miguel simply shakes his head and replies, "I don't know...perhaps Maria can tell us of his fate when she awakens." The Baronet nods in understanding and then leads the group out of the chapel. Upon arrival at the Baronet's study, the party notices that the room has been prepared for visitors. There are enough seats for each person arranged around the Don's ornately carved desk. The room itself is quite large for a study, so they guess that Don Luis spends much of his time in this chamber. The floors are made of a dark hardwood and large windows stretching from floor to ceiling can be found between the many bookcases that line the walls. A few of these windows are open, causing the sheer white curtains to blow a bit in the cool breeze. Many of the bookcases do not contain books, but pottery, jewellery, small statues, and pieces of art; all of which have an ancient and exotic appearance. In one corner of the room you see a large head that looks to have been carved out of solid stone. On a pedestal behind the Don's desk you notice an ornate mask that appears to be made out of stone. As he walks to his desk to sit, he pats the large stone head. "The builders found this when the castle was originally constructed, and its the largest piece in my collection," he says as he then glances over the entire room. "Please, come and sit. Can I offer you any refreshment? Water or Wine? " Each member requests the drink of his choice, but Caesar looks a bit disappointed. He wonders to himself "Wine and water? Is that all these land-lubbers drink?"
After the initial pleasantry is out of the way, Don Luis gets down to business. He asks the party about just how you came to be in the area, how they happened to find his Scout, Maria, and wishes to know anything she had to say to them. After the group relates their stories Don Luis he says, "Then I suppose I shall have to tell you of Maria's mission, as I'm sure the suspense has been eating at you since you left Escudo. I have spent the past few years searching for another artifact to add to my collection here; a set of magical bracers. These bracers are, supposedly, able to protect their wearer from harm, but they may also hold other powers yet unknown." That being said, Miguel appears at the door to the study with a map case, the group recognises as Maria's. "Senor Manzanas, a word if you please," the Dwarf says. "Miguel, you are among friends, no need for private chats, please, what information do you have for me?" Don Luis asks. The flamboyantly dressed Dwarf then approaches the desk and dumps the contents of the map case on it. "She found it, Senor Manzanas. The ruins were indeed where the legend said they would be. The Bracers should be there as well, " Miguel reports. "That is wonderful news, Miguel!", Don Luis says excitedly. Miguel then reports, "Yes Senor, but you see, there is a problem. Apart from whatever creature poisoned Maria, Goblinoids are also all over the area." Miguel pulls open a handmade map and shows it to Don Luis, "See, there is even a Gosluk Camp not far from the ruins." "We must hurry to recover the artifact then, else the Goblinoids may take it or destroy it, " Don Luis concludes. He then looks to the stalwart band gathered in his study. "What say you? I know I'm no damsel in distress, but can I convince you to continue Maria's mission? Will you ride into La Pampa Rica and recover this artifact for me?"
The group agrees to help Don Luis, but Wesh and Caesar need more encouragement, "What does it pay? What's in it for us?" Don Luis casts a somewhat disdainful eye towards the two that appear to care for nothing but rewards. "You need not worry about compensation. I assure you once the item is safely in my possession, you will be rewarded." He then continues, "Wonderful, I'm so glad you've decided to help. You should leave as soon as possible." He then glances at his Dwarven castellan, "Miguel here will accompany you as well. He knows about the mission and should be able to recognise the Bracers when you find them." The Dwarf tips his hat and bows toward your group, "At your service, of course." Don Luis orders that his cooks prepare a banquet before the group departs. Over the remainder of the day and night, everyone partakes of the finest foods and wines the Don has to offer. They are also offered rooms at the castle to rest a bit and relax, with the understanding that after refreshing themselves sufficiently, they will make ready and embark on your task.
The band is given time to arm and equip from the castles armoury and given an adequate line of credit from the local marketplace. Basic weapons are available from the citadel's smiths and leather and chain mail armour can be acquired as well. A horse is offered from the stables for each member of the group who needs one. Of course the Tortle poses an interesting problem, but the group remembers that they still have the wagon from Escudo. Rawdon will not have to walk after all.
Having filled their backpacks with any equipment they might need for the trip, the gates of Torre de Manzanas lie open....beyond that, the wild frontier land.
Wesh takes off to ride point while the rest provide the wagon and its passengers with protection.