You sit in a dark but not unclean tavern in the midst of Ryemouth‘s dock district, on Breetland’s southern coast. Like most Breetish port towns, Ryemouth is full of places like these; places where sailors and dockworkers, hookers and thieves, pimps and johns come to get away and get what they need. This place is better than most; after all, you have a pocket full of coins after successfully undertaking your first ‘skills for hire’ expedition, walking away feeling pretty wealthy and wondering why you waited so long to launch your career. Surely, this is the easiest money in the world. You start to envision yourself very wealthy. Why not? It’s all so easy; just find a ruin that’s ripe for the picking and then, well… pick it clean. Sure there’s a little danger but it’s nothing! That’s why you go with 4 or 5 others. Everyone watches each other’s back and everyone gets rich! It’s a can’t-lose proposition!
Yeah, this place is ok. The food is decent and the ale less watered than most. Even the clientele is a little upscale than what you’re used to. You notice one old man though, who seems out of place. He’s got the look of the poor about him and not just his clothes, but the look in his eyes. He looks at you as if remembering a better time; a time when life hadn’t chewed his ass like a hungry cur finding an unexpected bone. You can tell he wants to talk and eventually you offer to buy him a mug and strike up a conversation.
He hobbles over to you and you notice for the first time that he’s dragging his right foot and his right arm also appears to have been badly mangled. He keeps as much of it as he can in his sleeve. But he’s amiable enough and smiles as he accepts the drink and a seat at your table.
‘M’name’s McDermott’ he says offering his left hand in greeting. ‘Couldn’t help but notice you seem to have had a run of good luck’. He gives you a knowing look and winks and lays his index finger on his nose. ‘Your secret’s safe with me, lad. Aye, I can tell the look of a lad gone adventuring, hell, I remember it well. Cut a dashing figure, I did, once upon a time, before she…’ His voice trails off and a faraway look comes over him. After a few seconds, he shudders, bringing himself back into the present and his mug. ‘Ahh, but that was another time’ he says but you can tell he’s not finished.
You raise your eyebrows in a sign to continue and then sit contentedly while the old timer collects his thoughts, smugly wondering what he could possibly share with you that you don’t already know.
‘There were 7 of us’, he begins, ‘we thought we were going to rule the world. Growed up together mostly, ‘ceptin’ the elf and the dwarf naturally. Hell, Tommy and I did grow up together, he was my youngest brother. A strong lad and good with any weapon he picked up, that one.’ He takes a slow pull from the frothy mug and continues: ‘Then there was Jack, the ’intelligence officer’ as he fancied himself and Clive and Nigel. Jack was a sneaky lit’l git. Never cared for him much but still wouldn’ta wished his end on nobody. Clive had more than a bit of the arcane in him as it turned out. He was always a squirrely lad, but smart, oh, there was no arguing there. In the end he was quite a magician. But at the end it didn’t help him none. Nigel was tops with the bow.’
Again he pauses, takes another long drink, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and looking at you with that sad smile. ‘The dwarf was bad news and no mistake. To our enemies at least. Ol’ Bili. Bili Bad-Axe we called him in the day. Ferocious when angry. Scared the piss out o’ me a few times and I was on his side!’ He laughs and shakes his head and then his voice changes, almost reverent. ’Then there was Tess. Now that wasn’t her full name but none of us could pronounce her Elvish name. Tessa-sumthin’ or other. We just called her Tess. A healer. And a damn fine one. Never been much for prayer myself and we never talked about it but she prayed and she healed! That was always good enough for me.’ Then a whimsical look comes over his face and he shakes his head. ‘She also had the damn finest ass I have ever seen in my fucking life! We always said we would follow her anywhere into battle, as long as we got to ‘follow’ her!’ He breaks into a raucous laugh and slams his fist on the table, laughing until tears appear in the corners of his eyes and you are no longer sure they are the tears of laughter. He wipes his eyes and falls silent for awhile, looking at the table. ‘Callipygian. That’s what Clive called her; some fancy school word. Said it was perfect for her. Never thought to ask ‘im what it meant, just figgered he was right, as usual’, he muses as he seems to momentarily drift back in time.
‘But that was then,’ he says shaking himself out of his reverie. ’We fought our battles, we grabbed our share of the loot, we even had henchmen and folks workin’ for us. Can you believe it? It was a great life.’
‘We got a lead on a salvage mission up north a piece and off we went, confident it would be another Moonday stroll in the park and that much more loot, and maybe even jools! Haunted place. Big deal, we figgered. We done for spooks before and most ended up deader than when we found ‘em. Turns out the place is run by a gawd-cursed werewolf. Yeah, we done ‘im too, but Tommy was bit bad and Nigel was, well Nigel was gone. We couldn’t believe it but there was nothing’ we could do. He just lay there, with all his insides on his outsides, lookin’ at us. Couldn’t even make a sound as his throat was inside out. Just looked at us, pleading like. Didn’t know there was that much blood in a man. Poor Tess was a-prayin’ for all she was worth, but he just slipped away.’ He shakes his head, both hands on his mug, looking into it as if the answers were somehow at the bottom.
‘So, we headed home. Tommy was runnin’ a fever and getting’ delirious. Most rest of us pretty banged up. Bili lost an eye. Pretty Tess could only do so much’.
‘Then she came. Who knew the hairy fucker had a she-bitch? And she came at us like only a feral she bitch looking to pass out her deserves can come. Her first pass was bold; she jumped us on the path and bowled us over like ninepins. We were surprised, unprepared. Clive was ripped from gullet to gonads and was dead before we knew what happened. She finished off Tommy as he lay there… who knows? Might have been the best thing.’ He’s obviously in pain as he tries to finish his tale.
‘Then the bitch got sneaky and truth be told, I think she was enjoying it. She stalked us. At night. One by one. First Bili, then poor Jack.’ He sighs. ‘I’ll never forget the screams…’
‘Soon there was just me and Tess. We followed a river and found it went underground. Gawds but what a dreadful place. And weird. It looked like some ancient city had been swallowed up, earthquake probably, Tess had said. She was usually right ‘bout most things. What a crazy place, an underground city in the middle of a river!’, his excitement growing now as he tells you the tale. ’My first thought went to the loot again before I remembered I no longer had a troupe to command. Just me and Tess in an underground crumbling city half submerged in running water. We made do as best we could and I started thinking we were going to get out of it alive and in one piece. Then that night, just trying to rest and stay dry, we were attacked by the most hideous and vile creatures I’ve ever seen. Half man, half rat! As large as a dwarf and twice as cunning and vicious.’ He starts to tear up again.
He composes himself before continuing: ‘I did all I could. They tore Tess to shreds.’ he says in a choked voice, overflowing with emotion. ’They magicked her, they beat her, they gnawed her. I fought and fought, I must have killed a hundred of the filthy bastards. Eventually I dragged myself back out into the cool night, wet, exhausted, wounded in at least a dozen places. That’s when she returned.’ he shudders.
‘The bitch had her way with me. I felt like a child’s doll as she ripped me to bits and tossed me about like a cat playing with a mouse. It’s a miracle I survived, and I did survive only because she thought there was no way I could live through the mauling she had given me. Well, that and one last squeeze of ointment Tess had given me’, he admits sheepishly. ‘I must have laid there for two days before I was able to drag myself upright, bandage what I could and start the trek home, my right side practically useless.’ He absentmindedly rubs his right shoulder, seemingly out of habit.
He shakes his head again, collects his thoughts and continues. ‘I somehow made it home. It took months and every copper I had to convalesce. Suddenly it was all gone; my friends, my fortune, my future. But I was determined to rebuild it all. I remembered the lost city and all the potential loot it contained. I drew a map so I wouldn’t forget and I set out to hire a new troupe but no one was biting. I guess I don’t blame folks for not wanting to work for a boss with a half useless body. Doesn’t say much for my ability in a pinch does it?’
He shrugs and smiles, toothless and sad. ‘That was all years ago. Here I am; broken and destitute. I tried for years to sell the map but no deal’ he says as he pats a pouch at his side. ‘Still got it but the dreams are long gone. I always wanted to avenge sweet Tess. I even named the drowned city after her: Callipygous. I like to think it means something noble.’
‘So here we are: a crippled old man and a likely lad sharing a pint and an hour. I’ve done what I could to make it all happen but I realize I won’t be able to see it through. So I’ve come to this: all I want is for poor Tess to be avenged and another bottle. The map is yours for the bottle and the promise you’ll avenge my sweet Tess. The last few years I’ve sat here and watched peacocks parade through here and wonder how long they’ll last. Hell, I wonder how many of ‘em are still alive. But you got the look lad. Seems I been waitin’ just for you and yours.’
He reaches into his pouch and pulls out a well worn and creased piece of vellum and places it on the table. He reaches out with his left hand and takes yours again, nods his head and sadly walks away. He stops at the bar and orders a bottle, pointing your way. You give the bartender a nod as he looks your way.
McDermott takes the bottle and hobbles out the door, never looking back. You finish your drink, suddenly very sober. You pick up the map and tuck it away. After a few minutes you follow him out the door, turn the opposite direction, and head off into the night.