The Realm of Atlos

Interlude - Meanwhile, Back in Tumbledale... (Part 1)

The Bard

“Afterlife for a Halfling”
by Domino the Bard

Underbough went under, how?
Trying to pick a fight.
A beggar, but he’s wealthy now,
in the Afterlife.
A long way from home, he perished alone, when he only wanted a drink.
He stood tall for his type but was cut to the bone, if only he had stopped to think.
Underbough went under, how?
Being braver than I’d like.
A beggar, but he’s wealthy now,
in the Afterlife.

The Courage of Toblen
Dominique had spent all day trying to compose a ballad in memory of Rask Underbough, and as he finished playing it for the first time he felt an incredible sadness.

It was hard to call this group of adventurers his friends, as he had only met them a few days ago, and even that wasn’t exactly with their consent. However, they seemed to be good people (even the bristly dwarf, Torbjorn), and it was a damn shame that their scuffle with the Redbrands ended up costing Rask his life.

There was also a debilitating sense of guilt weighing on Dominique, since he had been here, at the Stonehill Inn, during the fight, drinking ale, playing music, and flirting with the barmaid. He was blissfully unaware that the kindhearted halfling was being murdered just down the road until they carried his body into the inn.

He could have helped. He might have been able to save Rask’s life, if he had only known…

He turned to the smithy’s daughter, a cute little blonde who had been by his side all night listening to him play and compose.

“I was thinking of changing my name to something with a little more flair,” he said. There was no sadness in his voice, and he was wearing a cheeky smile. “How do you feel about Domino?”

She gave a little giggle, but before she could reply the door to the inn burst open, and four Redbrands stormed in and began speaking to Toblen Stonehill, the tavern’s owner.

“Good evening, Toblen!” said the one leading the gang. “How’s business? I’ve heard you’ve been doing well these past few days thanks to all these adventurers showing up and needing rooms, yeah?” His tone was less than conversational, and almost had a sarcastic tone to it.

My business is none of your business, Brennan,” Toblen replied. In contrast, he was attempting to keep his voice even and conversational, but his nerves were betraying him. Dominique could tell that he was anxious. If the tone of voice weren’t evidence enough, Toblen was also furiously toweling an already dry mug.

“Don’t kid yourself, Stonehill,” another Redbrand said. “Your business has always been our business. And especially so when ‘your business’ starts poking around the woods near our hideout. Or when they show up at The Sleeping Giant and pick a fight, getting four of our guys killed.”

The leader approached Toblen, stepping up to the bar. “Which is actually why we stopped by this evening. We want to talk to these…” He paused for a moment as he pretended to search for the appropriate term, but the quick grin he flashed at his comrades made it obvious he was poking fun at the whole situation. “These patrons of yours,” he continued. “We just have a few questions concerning the, uh…liability in this incident.”

Two of the Redbrands started to make themselves at home, helping themselves to people’s food and drink, intimidating anyone who protested.

Dominique pat the smithy’s daughter on her knee, and stood up. His rapier was hanging on a nearby hook, but the gang members were watching him too closely to go for it. He simply strummed his lute and walked a little closer, trying to seem inconspicuous. The Redbrands gave him a few annoyed looks, but otherwise paid no attention.

“Look,” Toblen spoke up. “They ain’t here. But…” He put down the glass he had been shining and ran a nervous hand over his bald head. “But even if they was, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Oh ho ho!” the Redbrand leader cried out. “That’s big talk from a man who usually shits his pants when we walk in the door. What changed, Toblen? Did you decide you don’t love your wife and kid anymore? Huh? You saw what happened to Thel, didn’t you?”

At the mention of Thel Dendrar, Toblen visibly winced. He had told Dominique many times that the only reason he never stood up to the Redbrands was because he feared for the safety of his wife and child. This concern was validated a week ago when Thel was slain in the street by Redbrands and, later that night, his wife and children disappeared from their family home.

“What you lot did to Thel was straight-up, cold-blooded murder,” Toblen said. “And after the killings last night, we decided that we’re done tolerating your crimes. We’re sick of your bloody stranglehold on this town.” His voice sounded more confident, more sure of itself, but he was still obviously terrified.

“Did you say ‘we’, Toblen?” the Redbrand leader said. Despite Toblen’s best efforts, the ruffian was clearly not intimidated, and continued to mock the innkeep. “Who is this ‘we’? Your wife and kid? Did Tumbledale have a town meeting and not invite us? Or maybe you just have a mouse in your pocket, like that weird halfling fucker that got gutted!” He and his cronies began to roar with laughter, but they stopped abruptly when Toblen pulled out a crossbow from behind the bar.

“We…this town…is done with you,” Toblen said. “The Redbrands can leave on their own or we will drive them out, but we will shelter you cowards and criminals no longer.” He looked menacing holding the weapon, but Dominique could tell that his aim was shaky.

“Toblen, really, what are you going to do with that?” the leader said, almost pitifully. “There are four of us, and only one of you.” The Redbrand took out a dagger and began to absentmindedly turn it over in his hand. “Even if you managed to kill one of us with your only shot, there would still be three of us alive to kill you and then take your wife on the floor next to your cooling body.”

Toblen shook with anger and raised the crossbow. “You shut the fuck up.”

“Come now, stop this nonsense.” The Redbrand leaned against the bar and brandished his dagger before him. “Tell you what. Give me a mug of ale, on the house, and I’ll promise we won’t sell your son into slavery.” He turned, slightly, towards his friends. “Didn’t Glasstaff just say we could use a few younger members?” And they began to laugh once more.

Toblen pulled the trigger and sent a crossbow bolt slamming into the leader’s shoulder. Dominique rushed forward, but wasn’t in time to prevent the Redbrand reaching over the counter and burying his dagger into Toblen’s stomach in retaliation.

Dominique slid to a stop when the other three Redbrands tried to block his path with weapons drawn.

He plucked a chord on his lute, hummed a snatch of a melody under his breath, and thrust his hand forward, palm out and fingers splayed.

It only took an instant, but he could feel the magical elements of the Weave coalesce around his hand, drawn to him by the vibrating strings and vocal chords that had agitated invisible arcane elements in the air of the bar. It felt like multiple streams of water flowing into a cup, building and building towards the rim where it will overflow. Just as it reached that breaking point, Dominique let go, and a wall of force unleashed from his hand with a thunderous clap.

All three Redbrands were sent flying as the thunderwave washed over them. Their bodies crumpled over different tables and chairs as they landed unconscious, their skin crackling with tiny remnants of arcane lightning.

In the time it had taken to cast the spell, the Redbrand leader had retracted his dagger and stabbed Toblen once more. Dominique dropped his lute, and as the Redbrand pulled back for another strike he grabbed the man’s wrist with his left hand and twisted it at an awkward angle. The leader cried out in pain and dropped the dagger, which Dominique caught in midair using his other hand, and effortlessly inserted it into the soft skin beneath the man’s chin.

The Redbrand opened his mouth to speak, revealing the blade that now connected the floor and roof of his mouth, but the only sound that came out was a wet gurgle.

“The halfing fucker,” Dominique said, unbridled rage in his voice. “His name was Rask Underbough.” And he rushed around the bar to stabilize Toblen.

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