Kah and Celestra had been walking for a while in silence, following a forest road which would let them loop back around to the area around Q’art Hadash. They didn’t have much idea of where to start their search, so following the road seemed as good a course as any.
Celestra suddenly had the wind knocked out of her when Kah impacted her chest with his granite-like forearm: he had heard something up ahead, beyond a curve in the road. Rubbing her sternum, Celestra listened as well, and quickly fixed on the sound of bickering coming from fifty yards off.
“How could you just leave him?”
“Leave him? He weighs ten thousand pounds! What was I supposed to do, carry him?”
“Splash some water on his face, maybe use some of those smelling salts you always carry around!”
“Those are for romantic encounters only. Only!”
Kah and Celestra exchanged glances: this was an odd group to stumble across.
Still, they didn’t know these people, and the times were such that caution was important. Creeping along the road until they could peer around the bend, Kah and Celestra’s suspicions were quickly confirmed: the strangers were huddled around a wagon which they had clearly stolen, and were going through its contents as they argued. It looked like a human woman, an elf, and a dwarf. A gigantic beaver stood off to one side gnawing on a tree, though whether it was with them or simply wild wasn’t clear.
Gesturing silently, Kah motioned for Celestra to move through the woods and flank them. A few moments later, he did the same.
In the middle of their bickering, the strangers suddenly froze when a deafening roar tore through the air. An unnatural stillness descended over the forest then, and the strangers scanned the trees to try to find the source of the terrible noise.
“Did… did you hear that?” whispered the elf.
“Of course I heard it,” hissed the woman, “it was like an avalanche. Now shut up and find where it came from.”
The strangers slowly fanned out, peering into the forest. All three of them jumped, though, when the bellowing voice returned, “What are you doing here?!”
The woman gestured to the elf for him to move into the forest, while the dwarf took his warhammer in hand. Then, she raised her voice and shouted, “We’re simple travelers, merchants on our way to Tevesta. Would you offer us harm?”
At that, Kah stepped out of the tree line and onto the road, revealing himself. “Simple merchants have nothing to fear from me,” he said, slowly and menacingly drawing his sword. “But you are thieves.”
“If we are,” said the dwarf with the hammer, “you might do well not to anger us. A fight could break out.”
Kah grinned. “I love to fight. But you would do well to stand down, if you value your friend’s life.”
At that moment the elf, who had been creeping through the woods to ambush Kah, found Celestra’s wolf mere inches from his face. He spun and tried to get away, but the wolf was on him before he could take three steps.
“Ned!” shouted the woman, summoning a huge thorn of wood and hurling it toward Celestra’s wolf. It missed entirely, slamming into a nearby tree.
The dwarf, standing in front of Kah, lifted his warhammer to attack the barbarian, but he lifted it too quickly and was pulled backward by the heavy implement, falling onto his back and dropping the hammer head onto the woman’s foot behind him. The giant beaver, apparently fond of the woman, charged the dwarf and pounced, while the woman howled in pain.
As the elf struggled with Celestra’s wolf, and the woman cradled her injured foot, and the dwarf tried to defend himself from the giant beaver, Kah sent a puzzled look over to Celestra in the woods.
The enemy seemed to be defeated, and neither of them had even delivered a blow.
Half-heartedly, and more than a little confused, Celestra summoned vines to bind up the strangers so they couldn’t escape, or hurt themselves any more than they already had.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” the woman sighed as the vines constricted around her. “Twice in one day…”
“Twice?” Celestra asked as she emerged from the forest. “What do you mean, twice?”
“It’s not important.”
Kah leveled his sword at the woman’s chest. “Speak.”
Rolling her eyes, the woman explained, “Let’s just say that this isn’t the first time today that we’ve gotten our asses kicked. Some elf ninja and a dwarf who can’t stand up attacked us in a cave this morning for absolutely no reason–”
Kah growled a warning.
“Ok, we were stealing their stuff!” admitted the woman. “But after we gave them the fight of their lives they were enraged by how close to death we brought them, and we barely escaped with our skins intact. They were going to kill us just for defending ourselves.”
Celestra leaned in toward the woman. “What is your name?”
“Narissa, the Great and Powerful.”
“Alright, Narissa, now tell me: where exactly was this cave?”
Narissa regarded Celestra for a moment, apparently sizing her up. “I’ll tell you for three hundred silver.”
“No,” Kah said.
“Ok, one hundred silver.”
“Ok, I’ll tell you if you let us go first.”
“I’ll tell you now, and you’ll let us go afterward.”
“How about I tell you now, and you don’t kill us?”
“Ok fine!” shouted Narissa. “They were due south, about five miles.”
Then, struggling to her feet with the vines still wrapped around her wrists, she added, “But I’ll tell you what I told them: we are power. We are death. We are the chilling grip of the reaper at your throat, we are–”
“The Midnight Shark Dragons!” cried the elf eagerly, still tied up on the ground.
“No we’re not! That is not a thing, Ned, stop trying to make that happen!” snapped Narissa. “But we are gifted with magics beyond your comprehension. I will spare your lives today because you were worthy opponents in battle, but behold this example of our power, as we vanish instantly into the shadow realm. Repassad!”
Without warning, a large puff of white smoke filled the air. Celestra coughed and waved her hand, but Kah, being used to the poisonous fumes of volcanos, was unaffected. He quickly braced for an attack, but none came. Instead, the sound of rustling and footfalls receded into the distance.
As the smoke cleared, neither of the adventurers had any trouble noticing the three strangers and their beaver hustling off down the road, hands still bound behind their backs.
Off in the distance, Narissa could be heard muttering, “I cannot believe you idiots let this happen twice in one day.”