Thrice The Brinded Cat
Here is how we began our story . . . The adventure begins . . .
perhaps not where you might think, though.
Far out to sea the albatross stretches her massive wings against the raging storm, her perfect feathery white tips in stark contrast to an angry purple bruise that is the early evening sky. If it were a clear evening, the albatross would be making the final leg of her long travel in the hot and misty air over the great Glimmersea with the last sliver of a brilliant orange sun dipping beyond the western horizon. But on this trip, she would not be so lucky.
The storm had caught up to her sometime around noon and the past hours had been a battle to stay on course amid the turbulent wind and spattering rain. When the albatross finally spotted land, a new warmth spread throughout her light body, for she knew she was near her goal. She peered northward along the coastline with one cautious eye. She knew that in calmer weather boats of savage men often plied these shores and in the past she had seen great battles there and the men in those giant sailing ships often waged wars against each other. She knew to stay well to the south of those men and their boats as they were likely to shoot a bird, such as herself, out of the skies and serve her up for their dinner. But this evening, only the massive storm surf could be seen for miles in either direction as it pounded the rocky shores with thundering booms that she could even hear from her great height. Mist from those raging waters rose hundreds of feet into the air and formed great plumes of grayness against the dying light. There were no ships of men in sight, they were all either tucked safely away in their harbor far to the north or were sunk to the bottom of the sea by this powerful storm.
So the albatross sped at a blinding pace inland, still hours ahead of the worst of the storm. She flew far above the palms of the Amigdio Jungle. Below her, a dark green carpet of life spread out in its own undulating waves – very much like the gray carpet of sea she had just left behind. Her keen ears picked up the sounds of great apes and fierce jungle cats hidden below – no doubt sounding out warnings to their kindred that a mighty storm was about to break down upon them. The rolling green swathe of jungle was broken ahead of her now by a steady rise of small mountain tops – the largest and tallest of which the albatross made a heading for. This tall, rocky mountain rose out from the jungle and stretched itself toward the mournful sky. She could see where spiraling roads had been carved up the mountain’s flanks and to its abrupt summit. This mountain had once been a beautiful cone-shaped volcano. Somewhere in the distant past the volcano had erupted and the top of its cone had been blown away. Now the mountain’s dormant caldera has become a large crater with a deep blue lake in its center. Eventually people settled in the crater and around the lake and the city of Cauldron had been born. But the albatross knew nothing of history, nor did she care.
As the albatross flew low over the lip of the crater, thick black walls of malachite and basalt rose up before her. Her sudden appearance out of the wind-swept murk and gloom of evening caused a liveried guard in the red and gold of the Empire to shout a cry of alarm as he threw his arms over his head and ducked beneath the crenelated walls. If an albatross’s beak could permit a smile, the bird would surely be grinning from ear to ear. Humans can be most entertaining at times, she thought. She slowed her speed as the wall dropped below her and the city came into site. Tall manor houses surrounded by stately gardens and high iron-wrought fences lay in a wide ring around the outer edge of the crater. This part of the city had been forged from the hard toil of generations of laborers in the nearby mineral mines, the sweltering plantations of sugar cane and coffee and the wet fields of tropical fruit farms. This part of the city was home to the chosen few who had made fortunes from the trade wealth generated from those very mines and fields of sweat. Just beyond this circle of wealth and opulence, another smaller ring of single to three story buildings held a wide variety of artisan shops, guild-halls, swanky inns, towering churches and one many-spired university. Beautiful homes made from black stone and ebon-wood were dotted here and there and tiny parks and public gardens were interspersed amid the buildings. As the lake drew near, the albatross spied her destination.
A tall white pavilion made of wood and canvas sat very near the lake’s shore. The pavilion sat within another ring – a large ring of tightly packed buildings, shanty houses and run-down shops that were crammed all on top of each other as if trying not to fall into the lake itself. The smell of decay and sewage assaulted her sense of smell and she gently folded her wings and softly landed on the top of the pavilion. Her beak tried to smile once more for the albatross knew at last…she was home. The rain began to fall in overly-large warm drops and pelted the stained and dirty canvas of the Lakeside Pavilion with loud pops. Another gust of wind blew in and shook the huge tent like a giant maid dusting out her carpets. The sound of distant thunder rolled and promised a wild night in the city of Cauldron!
The albatross hops to the edge of the great tent that it calls its home and peers curiously over the edge. Yes, it can hear that there is an event inside the tent and there are probably hundreds of people in there, but this is very odd. Four pairs of human legs are laying on the dusty ground below her – sticking out from under the tent walls.
The four of you inched further inside the pavilion, bellies flat to the earth and the thick white canvas draped over most of your bodies. Your faces were pressed so close to the dirt that small clouds of dust puffed up every time you exhaled. The smell of the rich, dark earth below you almost masked the smell of ozone brought on by the encroaching storm. Only your eyes and noses poked out from under the edge of the giant tent as you fought to see what was transpiring upon the stage set up to your far right and at the same time – not be seen by any of the tent’s occupants. Rows and rows of benches and chairs were set up before the stage and every inch of them were occupied. The unlucky stood about the edges of the inner pavilion wherever there was room – you estimate at least 350 people are crammed inside the tent watching the show. By chance, no one had stood in the space near where you lay and an open aisle gave you a clean line of site to the stage and its two occupants.
“Oh, the beast was there, all right,” CC was telling the crowd with an exaggerated swoop of his arm. “We could smell its stench, and as you all know, nothing smells worse than a chimera during molting season.” Most in the crowd smiled with feigned looks of knowledge and nodded and grinned to each other and murmured acknowledgments at this comment. “Ya…riiight,” you think to yourselves, “none of this bunch has ever seen a chimera in their lives and probably wouldn’t even know one if it bit them three times on the hiney!” But that really didn’t matter to the crowd because they had come here tonight and paid good gold coin for a chance to see CC Runderson and his partner Tender tell the tale of their recent foray into the realm of the Hellfurnaces and the duchy of the fire giant, King Snurre. So far in tonight’s tale, the famous pair had saved an entire Halfling fishing village from the clutches of Snurre’s salamander thralls, scaled the slopes of Mount Shagarra, ran afoul of a den of grumpy magma sprites and were now stalking the ancient chimera, Scald, inside its cavelike lair without a torch and in the dead of night. CC’s tale had the crowd mesmerized – and he knew it.
The stalky dwarf turned to his alluring companion, Tender, who sat at the edge of the stage, and he began to tell how the sly elf maiden had covered herself in the beasts offal to mask her own scent and crept deeper into the cave with her wicked blade, Soulripper, at her side…... If you'd like to read more, you can catch up with the story as told by Breanna in her diary. I believe her story begins with the diary entry labeled Starday, Ariday 18, CY 593….