Bardass! Quest 20 – Pride of Harl

Forcing myself to do a Break chapter every 5 chapters never really bothered me until now.  I really didn’t want to split Quest 20 (Pride of Harl) and Quest 21 (A Knight’s Strength) up like this, but I didn’t want to put too much effort into coming up with padding either.  Though considering this arc is exactly five chapters long, I probably should have come up with some padding.

Oh, and hey it’s 2013.  Just as an aside, I did not attend SacAnime Winter this year because I had no interest in attending a con in midtown.  I hate paying for parking.

Quest 20 – Pride of Harl

The Adventurers’ Guild is an organization that spreads across the entirety of Rym.  The mission statement of the guild’s formation is simple: to provide a forum for ordinary citizens, regardless of citizenship, to request aid from those with the skill and prowess to complete those tasks.  Such tasks are formally known as Quests.

Every citizen who files a Quest with the guild pays a listing fee and may pay a number of additional premium fees to expedite the completion of their quests.  In addition, all members of a party that complete Quests must be paid a Reward.  The Adventurers’ Guild assesses the risks of each Quest and recommends that an appropriate Reward is paid according to risk level.  Although adherence to this recommendation is not necessary, most adventurers know well enough to stay away from Quests that pay less than their risk level.  The higher the risk, the greater the reward.

Adventuring is thus one of the most profitable and most dangerous of careers.

Finally, the Adventurers’ Guild keeps a record of every adventurer and assigns them a level based on the Quests they complete and additional outside factors.  This is primarily to match the right Quests to the right adventurers.

Although this guild has no formal base and spreads across all of Rym, ever since the fall of Balken the center of all adventurer activity has been Etrium.  Thus, Etrium currently has the largest Adventurers’ Guild hall in all of Rym.  It is here that a party has been formed consisting of Kent, the Knight-turned-Thief now named Kendrick; Tabitha, a young hazel-haired Cleric from the Sakarlands; Driscoll, a brash, dark-skinned and dark-haired Vigilant and former pirate; and Hayle, a pale Spirit Attuner that doesn’t look a day over 15.

Kent: You won’t be coming with us?
Lunette: No.  There’s something I’ve been looking for.  For a long time.  I’ve finally found it, and I’m not waiting any longer.  I trust you to take the lead.  Unless you think you’re not up to the task?
Kent: Confidence is never an issue with me.
Lunette: I hope you’re still alive when I return from Wynn.
Svennia: Maybe you should accompany her?
Kent: Svennia?
Lunette: What do you mean?
Svennia: I’m saying I’ll take over for him.
Hayle: You don’t even know the details of our quest.
Svennia: Doesn’t matter.
Driscoll: Hey, I respect the hell out of you, but this is a quest that’s going to take some serious muscle.
Svennia: Oh?  So what’s with the two kids?
Tabitha: The Rainbow Mines are dangerous.  It would be reckless to venture in without a Cleric.  Besides, the quest calls for more than muscle.
Hayle: As a high-level Spirit Attuner, I’m sensitive to the subtle shifts in power the Rainbow Mine is known for.
Svennia: Uh huh… And the quest is?
Lunette: A large amount of ore was ordered by the client.  The previous team never completed the order.  It’s this party’s job to enter the Rainbow Mines, complete the order, and if possible, recover the previous team.
Svennia: Well then it only makes sense to take me along.  I’m Harlian.  We were raised to hunt and mine.  I’ll take Kendrick’s place.
Kent: Why do you have to take my place?
Svennia: Because you wouldn’t get a chance to shine with me around.  Go and escort Lunette to Wynn.  I’ve got this.
Lunette: Well, I have no objections.
Kent: It’s just a trip to Wynn.
Svennia: Where’s your sense of chivalry?
Kent: I thought I was supposed to be a Thief?
Svennia: Thieves can be chivalrous.
Lunette: If you’re escorting me, I won’t have to hire anyone else, will I?
Kent: …Okay, I suppose I can escort you to Wynn.  But it’s not like there are that many dangers along the way.  It’s just the Sakarlands.
Driscoll: Hey, if you’re not feeling up to the task, you can stay and I’ll escort Lunette!
Lunette: No thanks.  But Svennia, what makes you want to take on a quest?  Don’t you make enough blacksmithing?
Svennia: I’ve been out of the field too long.  I feel like I’m getting rusty.  If I’m not strong enough to beat Doop, I’ve really lost it.
Kent: Is that really all there is too it?
Svennia: Don’t go thinking too deeply about me.  You might forget to think about that riddle of yours.
Lunette: Oh, that’s right.  You still don’t have an answer, do you?
Kent: I think for now I should focus on gaining some experience.  I can worry about it later.
Lunette: Oh?  What a shame.  I might never get to give you your prize.  Come, let’s get prepared for the trip.  Svennia, good luck.

Quest: Recover the Mining Team and Complete the Order!
–Rainbow Mines–

Recommended Level: 45

Party leader: Driscoll

Driscoll [Vigilant] lv. 45
Title: Former Pirate

Svennia [Brute] lv. 40
Title: Blacksmith

Tabitha [Cleric] lv. 38
Title: Busybody

Hayle [Spirit Attuner] lv. 35
Title: Triple Threat

The Rainbow Mines are located due east of Etrium and are a valuable source of minerals for adventurers.  The deeper you delve into the mine, the rarer and more valuable the ore.  However, the cave network has a unique property in addition to its ore variety: adventurers are affected by a variety of effects that change depending on the time of day and section of the cave.

–Rainbow Mines: Level 1–

Driscoll: Level 1.  Potential effects include lowered morale, quickness, and random blindness.  Well, boy?
Hayle:This is a safe zone.  Let’s continue forward to the next level.
Tabitha: According to the sheet, level 1 contains copper and iron ore.  The last team completed the order for those minerals.
Svennia: What do we need to mine, then?
Tabitha: 15 pounds of tin.  25 pounds of silver.  5 pounds of gold.  And…
Svennia: And?
Tabitha: 125 pounds of adamantine.
Svennia: Adamantine?  How far in is that?
Hayle: Level 7.
Driscoll: Adamantine is the strongest metal in Rym.  Stronger than Astorian Iron.  We need muscle to haul as much of it for ourselves as possible.  Enough of it is worth more than the reward we’re getting from this.
Svennia: Adamantine also only exists in the deepest and most dangerous caves and is difficult to mine without the proper tools.  We don’t have those tools.
Driscoll: No, we only have tools good enough for the rest of the order.  Adamantine mining equipment is worth more than our reward.  That’s why part of our quest details are to discover the last team.  Dead or alive, they’ll have our tools.  Then we use them to mine the adamantine.
Svennia: I see.  If that’s the case, we should definitely haul as much adamantine as we can.

–Rainbow Mines: Level 2–

Driscoll: Heads up!  Iron Lizard!
Hayle: Illusion of Quicksand!  Sink!
Iron Lizard: Gaoo?
Hayle: It’s confused for now.  Strike quickly.

Driscoll leapt and pinned the lizard’s tail into the ground with his spear.  Immobilized, the lizard was an easy target for Svennia’s devastating heel kick.

Svennia: That was short.
Driscoll: Heh, you surprised me there.  You’re surprisingly strong.
Svennia: Iron Lizards feed on metals.  We can expect more of them and stronger ones the deeper we go in.
Hayle: Ah… It’s shifting.
Driscoll: What?
Hayle: The path up ahead is filling with poison.  We have to backtrack and find an alternate path to the next level.

* * *

Svennia: I don’t understand.  Why a maid?
Cyrus: Because there are two lessons you need to learn.  Pride.  And strength.
Svennia: I already have both of those things!
Cyrus: If you think so, then perhaps it’s time you lost them.
Svennia: Lose them?  That’s impossible!
Cyrus: Everything we have can be lost in an instant.  Even things we believe are a part of us.  So!  Dark Lord, what do you think?  She’s an adorable little kitten, isn’t she?
Balken: Cyrus, despite what the Bards sing about me, I’m not interested in children.
Svennia: I am not a child!
Balken: This thing isn’t fit to serve me.
Svennia: W-w-WHAT?!  How DARE you say such a-

Moving faster than the young Svennia could react, the Dark Lord backhanded her in the face with a sharp swing of his arm.  She spun to the ground and stayed there, temporarily dazed and struggling to regain her senses.  She slowly raised her head and gazed at the floor which was now stained with her own blood.

Balken: I am only doing this as a favor for my general.  You will be my servant, and I expect your total obedience.  I put you to work immediately.  Your first task is to clean up this mess.
Cyrus: Kitten?
Svennia: I… obey.

* * *
–Rainbow Mines: Level 3–

Svennia: I see a vein of tin over here.  Let’s get this mined.  Hayle, what’s the word?
Hayle: It’s calm.  The next shift will cause paralysis at random intervals.
Svennia: Well, that sounds annoying.
Tabitha: It’s 15 pounds of tin, correct?  I believe I can carry that much for the remainder of the quest.
Driscoll: Don’t you worry your pretty little head yet.  I’ll do the hauling until we get to the good stuff.

–Rainbow Mines: Level 4–

Svennia: I see gold up ahead.  I think Hayle won’t mind being weighed down 5 pounds worth of gold.
Hayle: I don’t mind, but I don’t think it’s wise to go for that gold.
Svennia: Why not?
Hayle: Dead Ash.
Driscoll: That’s cursed dust that turns you into Revenants, right?  As long as we don’t breathe in fumes from burning them, it shouldn’t be deadly.
Tabitha: Me and Svennia should go.  I’ll protect us with a protective barrier.  It’s only strong enough to withstand one attack, but as long as we aren’t attacked I can keep it up for as long as I like, and it’ll keep out harmful vapors since they’re not strong enough to affect the barrier.
Svennia: Sounds good.  Let’s go.  Hayle, stay at a distance.
Hayle: Of course.  I’m not an idiot.

* * *

Balken: Are you an idiot?
Svennia: N-no, Master.  I just thought…
Balken: You thought what?
Svennia: It might be… unpleasant… standing in unwashed armor all the time.  I’ve never seen you take a single bath, after all.
Balken: There’s a good reason for that.
Svennia: I may be your servant, but you must understand.  I’ve attended to every need you ordered me to, but I still feel uneasy knowing… knowing I haven’t attended to every need left unspoken.
Balken: Is that all?
Svennia: Yes.  That is all.
Balken: Initiative.  I like that.  Very well.  But I’m sure you understand there are many who would like to have the Dark Lord remove his armor in the vain hope that they might strike him when he’s vulnerable.
Svennia: I am aware.
Balken: So be it.  If you really believe you can handle the job… do it quickly.
Svennia: I wouldn’t be able to face my ancestors if I couldn’t so such a simple task.

The Dark Lord removed his helmet.  Svennia was taken aback by what she saw: not the face of a warrior, but a pale, tired face of a young man that barely had any time for rest.  His hair was long, most likely not out of style but because he had lived in his armor for so long he never had time to cut it.  Balken continued, removing his gauntlets, his boots, his chest piece, and his leg armor.

The man behind the armor hardly looked impressive.  No one would have been able to guess that this was the true form of Balken, the Dark Lord.  And this comparatively small young man stood naked before her.

Svennia: How… how do you even move around in that armor?
Balken: Magic, obviously.  It’s a trick I can only use with Obsidian Armor.  Now, are you going to perform your duty?
Svennia: Oh… yes, of course!

Svennia did as she claimed she could, and in accordance to the Dark Lord’s wishes, did so in half the time.  She cleaned Balken’s Obsidian Armor inside and out, and even polished it.

Balken: You certainly work fast.
Svennia: I had to.  Now, how about that bath?
Balken: You’re serious?
Svennia: Absolutely.
Balken: Then I repeat.  If you have confidence… do so qui- what are you doing?
Svennia: Removing my garments.  They’ll only get in the way.  Besides, this is hardly the time for prudence.
Balken: Ha ha ha… It certainly isn’t.

Svennia started by sponging his back, but she quickly learned why Balken gave her warning.  His back was wet for only a second, then became dry before her first pass was completed.  Remembering his words to perform her task quickly, she rapidly moved the sponge between his back and the water tub, making very little progress.  In desperation she lifted the tub overhead and doused him completely in water, then tried to wipe his entire body off in one pass.  It took only five minutes for her towel to be charred ragged.

Svennia: W-wha?
Balken: It’s no good after all, is it?  By the way, it’s pointless to worry about how clean I am.  The heat purifies, so to speak.  I do appreciate the effort… however, you did fail in your task.
Svennia: Y-yes… I understand.

Svennia laid herself down with her back to the floor in a submissive position.  With some hesitation, she ever-so-slightly bent her knees apart.  Balken knelt over her and brought his face above hers.  Svennia turned away, but Balken turned her face forward.  His burning palm stung Svennia’s cheek.

Balken: Do you feel that?
Svennia: Y-yes…
Balken: That’s just from me holding your face.  You’re an excellent servant.  Do you really think I would ruin you over something like this?
Svennia: I…
Balken: Get dressed.  My brand on your cheek is punishment enough.

* * *

–Rainbow Mines: Level 5–

Tabitha: So, you were a Vigilant on a pirate ship?
Driscoll: Yeah.  Me and my crew, we knew every inch of the Wilder straits.  Sometimes we even ferried adventurers and merchants across.  For a modest fee, of course.
Svennia: I don’t think there was anything modest about it.
Driscoll: Ha ha ha!  Perhaps not!  But I ain’t a pirate no more.  Not since the Captain got on the bad side of the king of Rieve Elan.
Svennia: Raven of the Seven Heroes?
Driscoll: Yeah.  Raven passed himself off as the Captain for our last voyage.  Backstabbed nearly the entire crew.  I only survived because I jumped ship and swam to a cove in Wilder not a lot of people know about.  Got saved by a traveling Mage and Cleric.  Couple of beauties, they were…
Svennia: Yeah, I don’t think I want to hear the rest of this story.  What about you, Hayle?  You don’t look like you’re from around here either.
Hayle: I’m from Aria.
Svennia: Aria?
Driscoll: The former Dark Capital?  That’s a shame.  You must have been spoiled silly as a baby, only to lose everything.  Sucks to be you.  At least you had the sense to get out of there at your age.
Tabitha: Aria was also once the Magic Capital.  Is that why you’re such a good Spirit Attuner?
Hayle: Inheritance can only take you so far.  My skill is trained.  And I didn’t have any parents to spoil me.  Since I was a child, I worked as Keeper of the Tomes in the Aria Magic Library.  That was how Balken got started.
Tabitha: Huh.  So, I’m traveling with the next Balken, am I?
Driscoll: Hardly.  By the time Balken was his Hayle’s age, he was a bloody hero.  This kid’s barely a prodigy.  Hell, he isn’t even in a promoted class yet.
Tabitha: Hero?  You realize we’re talking about the Dark Lord?
Hayle: Driscoll’s right, though.  Balken was a hero before he became the Dark Lord.
Driscoll: I guess it makes sense they’d teach you that in Aria.  Outside of there, the only people that know about that are mercenaries and pirates.  And even then, the number that knew Balken was involved is fewer since the real star of those stories was the Magic Knight.
Tabitha: Now that story I’ve heard of.  You mean he was one of the adventurers that traveled with the Magic Knight?
Driscoll: That he was.  But let’s put that aside.  What’s your story, Svennia?  What’s a Harlian doing this far east?
Svennia: Me?  I was… a maid.
Tabitha: Huh?  Someone like you?
Svennia: It was a lesson… or a punishment… or something.  My uncle wanted me to learn what “the spirit of Harl” was.
Party: Spirit of Harl?
Svennia: He told me the key was a Harlian’s “strength” and a Harlian’s “pride.”  And that becoming that man’s servant would allow me to walk two paths.  “Strength without pride,” and “pride without strength.”  Many times I’ve had to bury my pride to serve him.  And I certainly felt powerless compared to his strength.  But I was always physically strong, and no matter how much I had to humble myself, I always had pride in who I was.  I don’t know if I walked both paths or if I ended up walking a different path.
Driscoll: But you don’t serve this guy anymore, right?
Svennia: Well, I haven’t seen him in months.  But I wonder if I’m still serving him sometimes.
Hayle: Just because you walk down a path doesn’t mean you know why you took it.
Svennia: Is that right?  That makes me feel worse, you know?
Hayle: It isn’t a waste.  I think you must have learned a lot from your experiences.  And experience, no matter what sort they are, change a person.  Are you the same person you were before you started on your path?
Svennia: ….no.  But that change doesn’t help me answer my uncle’s question.
Hayle: Maybe not.  But maybe you should be asking why you need to answer that question in the first place.
Svennia: Huh?
Hayle: Ah… It’s shfiting.  Our senses will soon be disoriented.
Driscoll: What?! We might never find our way out!
Tabitha: Hold hands, everyone.  I can cast a spell of focus on myself.  It won’t work on you, so just hold tight and don’t let go.  Trust that you will be led to the correct path.

–Rainbow Mines: Level 6–

The party finally made their way to the end of Level 6.  However, the path to Level 7, the final level, had been blocked by a giant boulder.

Driscoll: Well, this explains things.  We didn’t see any of the previous team on our way, so they must be on the other side.  Probably trapped by a cave-in.
Svennia: Leave this to me.  HaaaaAAAAAAAAHHH!!

Svennia bore her shoulder forward and plowed into the massive boulder as if it were nothing more than a pile of leaves.

Hayle: The last level is the most dangerous.  Don’t follow us until I’ve sensed all the hazards ahead.

* * *

Balken: Why… didn’t you… leave me?
Svennia: Because I’m not satisfied with that kind of ending.  There’s still time.  Should I fight those seven in your stead while you recover?  I brought your armor.
Balken: Absolutely not.  You can’t win.
Svennia: Then what would you have me do?
Balken: Keep me hidden.  And when the opportunity arises… I need to enter the library.
Svennia: As you wish.
Balken: You’re right.  This is not a fitting end… it’s an interlude.

* * *

–Rainbow Mines: Level 7–

Svennia: This one’s dead.  No tools.
Hayle: What’s that?

Svennia approached a pile of rocks in the center of the room.

Svennia: It looks like a snowman made of rocks.  Wait… That’s adamantine!

A loud thump came from behind, and they saw as the exit was blocked off once again.

Hayle: Another cave-in?
Svennia: That was no cave-in.
Loud Man: That it wasn’t!

A large and bulky man with fiery hair and a thick beard stepped forward from the dark.  He was, unmistakably…

Svennia: A Harlian?
Sigurd: The name’s Sigurd.  I did that.
Hayle: You killed the mining team?
Sigurd: Me and my partner, who’s taking care of the rest of your time right about now.
Hayle: Mirage of-
Sigurd: SHUT UP!

Sigurd threw a large stone directly at Hayle’s head, knocking him down.

Svennia: Hayle!
Hayle: . . .
Sigurd: Is that it?  Fragile, aren’t they?  I can see you’re Harlian too, so you should understand.  We’re above the rest of the lot in Rym.
Svennia: You’re no Harlian.  Using tricks like these…
Sigurd: We didn’t escape Harl by sticking with tradition.  Me and Egil over on the other side of that boulder… we’re part of a new breed of Harlians.  We learned to adapt.  And since you’re this far away, I think you might be the same as us.  How about you join us?
Svennia: Not interested.  And I’ve got a job to do.
Sigurd: Fine by me!  If you’re not a part of the new breed, then that just makes you our bitch to use.

Sigurd lunged forward and delivered an uppercut that Svennia easily avoided.  She responded with a clean kick to Sigurd’s head.

Svennia: Go to sleep.
Sigurd: Right after I’m done with you.
Svennia: What?
Sigurd: Nice view.

Svennia jumped back, but Sigurd grabbed her ankle and pulled her close.

Sigurd: You’ve gotten used to playing with these weaklings, haven’t you?  That makes you weak, too.

With her free leg, Svennia stomped Sigurd’s face and freed herself.

Svennia: Believe me, I’ve fought stronger.
Sigurd: Maybe.  But I don’t believe for a second you’ve ever won.
Svennia: There’s always time to change that.

Svennia advanced slowly with a guarded stance.  Sigurd stood unguarded in anticipation of her first strike.  Svennia delivered a short punch to Sigurd’s gut, not fazing him.

Sigurd: Like I said.  Weak.

Sigurd raised his right fist to strike at Svennia, but she used this new opening and jumped into his arm, gripping it for leverage as she flipped under, slamming her foot into the back of Sigurd’s head.  Sigurd fell forward, Svennia’s body flowing with it.  She applied extra pressure on Sigurd’s body as his face was planted into the ground and gripped tighter on his arm.

Svennia: Tough Skin only works on frontal attacks.  Who’s weak now?
Sigurd: Heh heh heh… What a shame.  I wanted to play with you.  Now I have to ruin my toy before I have the chance.

With his free arm, Sigurd shoved something into his mouth.

Svennia: What was that?  Was that a…
Sigurd: Berserkers can only unleash their true power when their morale reaches its peak.  But in a losing battle like this…
Svennia: Bloodshroom?!

Sigurd’s body increased in mass, shattering his armor.  Effortlessly, he rose to his feet and gave Svennia a headbutt, dazing her for a second.  It was enough for him to lift her up by her arm.

Sigurd: Let me show you how it’s done!

All he did was tighten his grip.  It was all that was necessary to snap her arm.

Svennia: AAAAAAAAGHH…
Sigurd: I enjoyed that.  Maybe I’ll have fun after all.

Svennia couldn’t remember the last time she shed tears.  It frustrated her to know all it took for it to happen again was something as simple as pain.

She knew she was stronger and smarter than Sigurd.  But against a Berserker, there was nothing she could do.  Not with a broken arm.

Sigurd: I should have torn you apart by now.  But there are so many ways to go about it.  Maybe I’ll just give it enough time.  The Berserker will fully take over… and instinct will take care of the rest.  I look forward to seeing what I’ll choose.  Any last words.
Svennia: H…
Sigurd: Hm?
Svennia: HELP ME!
Hayle: Illusion of the Beast!
Sigurd: What’s that?  A minotaur?  Down here?  You’ll not have my prize!

He tossed Svennia aside like a rag doll and charged at the pile of adamantine.  His punches did no damage to the pile, but he continued to assault the imagined beast.

Sigurd: HRRRAAAAARGH!

The Berserker form had completely taken over his mind.  He had no thoughts other than destroying the foe before him.

Hayle: You can do it.  Shatter the boulder.  Run.
Svennia: Sounds like a good idea.  But I’m not running.

Svennia limped to the boulder and gave it a powerful kick, destroying it.  Beyond the opening stood Driscoll and Tabitha, along with the fallen Egil.

Driscoll: Svennia!  That guy sure did a number on you.
Tabitha: I’ll heal you.
Svennia: Treat Hayle first.
Driscoll: Do it.  Let’s finish off this one.
Svennia: You stand down.  I’ll finish my fight.
Driscoll: What are you, stupid?
Svennia: No.  Just stubborn.
Sigurd: Aaagh… Aagggh…. Guh… Wha… What….?
Svennia: Berserker form wore off.  And so did its painkilling effects.  Your hands are useless, aren’t they?
Sigurd: Gggh… So, you beat Egil.  Now you’re going to gang up on me?  Like dogs?
Svennia: No.  We finish this fight on even grounds.
Sigurd: You had help from that brat.  You already lost.
Svennia: You lost long before you met me, you coward.
Sigurd: How have I lost?  Don’t say it was because I ran.  Everyone wanted to run.  From that ridiculous sluggart of a Chieftain.  Egil and I succeeded!  We’re winners!
Svennia: No, you lost not because you ran.  You lost because you never fought.
Sigurd: There is none that can defeat Arbel.  What choice do we have, if not to flee?  To die sooner by challenging him?
Svennia: That reasoning is why you’re weak.  You gave up before you even tried.  Strength comes in all forms.  And a lack of strength is no reason to relinquish your pride to another.
Sigurd: What would you know about pride, you little bitch?
Svennia: More than you at the very least.  And I’m a kitten.
Sigurd: My fists may be no good, but at least I have both my arms.
Svennia: You sure can brag with the best of them, at least.

Svennia took a defensive stance, for what little it was worth with only one working arm.  This time, Sigurd took the first move.  Before he stepped into range, he leapt into the air, hoping to strike her head with his elbow while avoiding Svennia’s counter attack.  Sigurd was no fool; he learned that Svennia’s specialty was in kicks, so he adapted to attack out of her effective range.  However, Svennia did something unexpected and leapt at the same time as Sigurd and delivered an uppercut to him while he was in midair and unable to dodge.

Sigurd: D-damn… I thought…
Svennia: You thought right.  But these beauties are good for jumping, too.  And for…

Svennia slammed her foot into the ribcage of her fallen foe.

Sigurd: GWAAGH!
Svennia: Stomping.  Now, I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t bring your own tools.  You planned to use the mining team’s tools to dig up all this adamantine.  Who told you about it?  Whose plan was this?
Sigurd: Gggh…
Svennia: We’re going to have to haul all this metal up along with the corpses of the previous team.  I’d rather not haul a couple more bodies.
Sigurd: Just a… red… b… ggghhhg…
Svennia: What?
Driscoll: Is it a shift?
Hayle: No… It’s… high level song magic!  Cover his ears!

It was too late.  Sigurd coughed up blood, as did Egil, who had merely been knocked out.  Both were now dead.  The remaining four covered their ears as well.  As they did so, they scanned the area for a Bard, but no one could be seen.  Finally, Hayle removed his hands from his ears.

Hayle: I think we’re okay.  No song is that strong without a catch.  I can see it.  The glyph of “loyalty” marked on his body.  It’s used in Hex Magic.  The song is probably something that kills people that break their oath of loyalty.  Though I don’t think his broken ribs helped.
Svennia: Yeah.  Hayle, keep focusing on the status of the cave.  Tabitha, look out for that Bard, if it’s still around.  Driscoll and I will gather up the adamant- AAGH…
Tabitha: I think I should heal your arm first.
Svennia: Y-yeah… I think you should.

The party was able to complete their quest and receive their reward.  The party had a small celebratory feast down at “the pub.”

Driscoll: I don’t ever want to go down that mine again.
Tabitha: Agreed.
Hayle: Never again.  I almost died there.
Svennia: I suppose…

Ever since the rise of the Seven Heroes, Svennia always had the opportunity to return to Harl, but only did so once to reforge Balken’s Obsidian Armor into the Obsidian Lute.  After looking at her former homeland, she never wanted to return again.  The people were dreary and fearful, even if their way of life hadn’t changed.  Arbel’s isolationist policies and “only the strong survive” mentality didn’t change what people needed to do to survive, but how much effort they had to put into it.  There was more competition for game, and those who couldn’t compete either starved or turned on their competitors.  For a people raised on face-to-face combat, the street duels and blatant ransacking was as close to thievery as they could get.

Despite her words, Svennia didn’t blame the two Harlians for running.  She was disgusted that Harl had fallen so far that their people had no pride in their own homeland.  Even when she served under Balken, she thought such work was beneath her because she was a Harlian.  Harlians were supposed to be stronger than all others, capable of instilling fear in others through reputation alone.  Larger, tougher, fiercer warriors, and known to face even the most hopeless challenges head-on and win, in brash defiance of conventional wisdom.  Harlians were superior.

Was the spirit of Harl truly so fragile that it has come to this?  Svennia’s former consolations now seemed meaningless.

Svennia: I think I’m going to get a haircut.
Driscoll: What?
Hayle: Harlians traditionally cut their hair after facing defeat.  After doing so, they grip their shorn locks and present them in the place of their defeat and make a vow to return once their hair has regrown and avenge their defeat.
Driscoll: But we just had a victory.  Why should you cut your hair?
Svennia: I just gave up.  I don’t care about what my uncle wanted me to learn about the spirit of Harl anymore.  My strength and my pride are my own.  They don’t belong to Harl.  To the depths with Harl.
Tabitha: Is that so?
Hayle: Heh.
Driscoll: I’ll drink to that.

The party reciprocated the toast and drank a glass.

Driscoll: Ahhh… And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a fiery-haired lass waiting for me to light another fire in her loins.
Tabitha: You’re excused.
Hayle: Why couldn’t you have left on a high note?
Driscoll: Hey, no need to be jealous.  One day, Hayle… you’ll become a man.
Hayle: Just go.

Svennia stopped by the blacksmith shop before heading back to the inn.  She stood and gazed at a small blade for a long time before muttering her thoughts aloud.

Svennia: I wonder if he’ll recognize me.

* * *

Fiery-haired woman: It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Driscoll slept motionless, face-first into his pillow.  The woman he had taken to his room stood over him, his bag of mined adamantine slung over her shoulder.  At her hip was a wooden flute – a weapon often overlooked because bards can’t sing while playing them.  But it had its uses.  The woman fiddled with her obsidian necklace before continuing her unheard taunts.

Seci: You see, I can’t make an adamantine golem without adamantine.  Such a shame I have to settle for this, but you had to go and wreck my boys.  What’s this world coming to if you can’t trust Harlians to get such a simple job done?

Next time, on Bardass!  When Balken attacked the kingdom of Rhea, Chelsea was taken out of the castle and hidden away in the forest, where she was raised among nature and her four trusted beasts.  She became a hero and returned triumphantly to Rhea and ruled there, but what exactly is the nature of the savage girl known as Chelsea the Feral?  The story of her upbringing and the fate of the forest kingdom Rhea will be revealed in Break 4 – Chelsea the Feral.

 

One thought on “Bardass! Quest 20 – Pride of Harl”

  1. No cosplay photos!? Darn.

    Another thing about mining adamantine is the constant risk of finding Hidden Fun Stuff. Then your fort will probably collapse.

    (I was considering asking how Balken dealt with his excretory needs, but …)

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