Stacks locked the door to his apartment, leaned against it and gazed down the dimly lit hallway. The sunrays were cutting through the windows amusing any who would watch the late afternoon show. The sunlight reflected off the millions of dust particles in the air making the sight rather magical. As dust and filth danced around in the air, Stacks could only think of how truly filthy his apartment, the hotel, all of Bloodstone for that matter, really was. He caught himself; laughed at how distracted he has become and continued to make his way down the hall to the stairs. When he arrived at the top of the stairs he couldn’t help notice how loud the streets where this evening. He made his way to the bottom of the stairs and through the lower level of the inn he called home. Stacks could see he was right, Bloodstone was alive with all her people moving about like rats in a hot barrel. He knew why. Everyone in town was taking advantage of the unusually agreeable breezes coming off the bay. He smiled when he reached the streets noticing the natural bouquets of filth, despair and sea air. He noticed the amazingly grotesque bouquet from the streets of Bloodstone seemed to be diminished if only for the evening. He pondered how long these cooler spring nights would last. He hated to think of the summer heat and how soon, it would return to Bloodstone bringing with it those notorious hot and humid weather patterns ripe with powerful storms. The storms of Bloodstone were nothing to take lightly he reminded himself, for no other reason than to assure himself he was ready for them. Laughing again to himself he remembered those storms were the only way Bloodstone seemed to clean herself up in the heat of the summer. Good or bad he decided to leave the weather alone for the time being and to simply enjoy the night.
He made his way across town, keeping to himself, as he ate something not too terrible on a stick. He hoped it was meat.
“Looking for a game sir?” shouted a female voice from above.
All sorts of voices came from above in Bloodstone as many of the buildings were built on stilts or the building below to avoid the seasonal flooding.
Stacks looked up and noticing he was under one of the Golden Star’s ladies. She was sitting on the porch railing calling out to all who would listen to her solicitations. She no doubt was working the crowd below enticing them to take a chance at Fanegarden’s gambling tables. Perhaps it was her or his thirst but he decided he would head up and grab a drink. The Golden Star had a reputation of running honest games in a relatively well kept establishment, boasting some of the better wines and beers of Bloodstone.
The Golden Star was full of the usual unsavory characters and some of the newly arrived university types and their mercenary protectors. Stacks recognized one of these university types in particular, Professor Addlesmith from the University of Corvis. He had recently escorted Addlesmith to the Dig, not two weeks ago, an archeological site just over a day and half north of Bloodstone. He was surprised to see him back in Bloodstone so soon. The man could hardly wait to get to the site and wouldn’t shut up about the importance of it. Stacks thought he might sit down with the man as he may have news from the Dig; perhaps the man found something worth talking about.
As Stacks continued to gaze at the faces of the crowd he couldn’t help but noticed a new comer. Stacks had always had a keen attentiveness of those around him. Being able to differentiate between those individuals worth paying attention to and others, let’s say, less dangerous. At times he could determine their goals and motives before they themselves even knew what they were after. He almost made a living doing this. Being able to detect a man’s intentions, especially in an environment like Bloodstone, is what kept Stacks out of harm’s way most days. And this particular man had the look of a gunfighter based on the two pistols he carried. However, what made the man worth paying attention to was how he controlled his table, care to wins and losses, to not draw unwanted attention; he was good at that too. A calm and almost anticipation for something to happen on the man’s face is what made Stacks nervous. It was as if the man waited patiently for a reason to draw his weapons and show an unlucky fool he knows how to use them.
Stacks spent the night gambling and enjoying the lighter side of Bloodstone at the Golden Star. The new comer seemed to like the place himself, slowly and deliberately building a 3 gold profit. As the night continued, Stacks enjoyed watching the crowd and kept his eye on the new member of the town. Mr. Grimes, he discovered, was his name. He seemed to have a way with the cards and was rather comfortable in the chaos that is Bloodstone.
By the time Calder was highest in the sky, a dwarf, Stacks knew as Ecken Garlav entered the Golden Star.
“Mr. Fanegarden, are we to continue this game of cat and mouse” Garlav spoke quietly as he entered the large gambling hall with his pirate crew from the Eclipse flanking him.
Garlav’s men smiled as if they knew something the rest of the gambling hall didn’t. Many in the hall began to watch but others, on the other side of the room, were still going about their nightly business clueless of the trouble that just walked in the room. The new comer, Jack Grimes, seemed to recognize the threat almost immediately. He folded his hand and began to gather his winnings if ever so cautiously. Stacks simply took a position of defense and watched for trouble.
Fanegarden paused for a moment as he noticed some of the people watching him. He then spoke smugly,
“Garlav I don’t owe you a thing. It seems your fool captain does not realize there is change coming to Bloodstone and soon you and yours will have to find a new place to hide.”
“You build your house before you count your stones Mr. Fanegarden, This place is hardly under Cygnaran rule. We are simply being blessed with honored guests from the universities’.” Garlav raised a hand to Addlesmith and his students as if to toast them.
“I believe it is you who is blind to the larger picture. Soon the wars will be over and this town will be brought under Cygnaran rule. I have no doubt this mess in the North will be worked out sooner rather than later. I have paid my taxes to the crown I will not pay any more to you or your captain”. Fanegarden temperament seemed to be rather arrogant, Stacks thought to himself. Not a wise choice when dealing with Garlav.
Garlav smiled a wicked smile.
“Very well Mr. Fanegarden. I shall be on my way. You seem to have insight no one can match. “As Garlav spoke his men behind him looked puzzled and lost.
“Make ready the ship men it seems we have work to do elsewhere.” Garlav moved towards the door. Took a few steps then turned quickly.
“But before I depart.” Garlav turning on his heels as he spoke the words. “I ask all of you to… move on for the evening. I fear this place has become too congested and it may simply fall off its platform into pieces … one day soon. Good night Mr. Fanegarden. Our game s has come to an end. It was a pleasure in deed.”
Fanegarden looked a bit puzzled and gestured to his men to watch the Garlav and his pirate ensemble as they left. And they did indeed leave. One by one they simply walked out the main door. No commotion. No one was harmed. Stacks noticed Fanegarden’s smug smile as the feeling of victory settled over him. Had he really won the battle, Stacks thought to himself. Fanegarden seemed to calm himself and as he did he grew in caution. Stacks noticed how he decided that he told his men to stay alert and posted men outside the door and sent others below just in case.
The room picked up where it left off before Garlav entered. People were laughing and drinking as if nothing had happed. Jack decided he may be able to get in another hand or two so he sat back down and began to settle in. Stacks on the other hand new Garlav was not a dwarf to take lightly. The way in which he surrendered to Fanegarden did not sit right with him so he began to move towards Addlesmith and his students. Something told him to help these poor souls get out of this place before anything bad really did happen. As he crossed the room dodging people in the crowed he thought her hard cannon fire in the distance. He turned towards the door to see what the sounds were as a man opened the door in a rush and began to speak. No words made it out of his mouth as a cannon ball tore through the man and another ripped through the southernmost wall splintering it and disintegrating the poor sole who sat near it. Stacks really did hate being right sometimes. He thought he had more time but Garlav was one not to waste time and to Stacks horror was going to punish all who ignored his advice.
Another cannon ball smashed into one of the main pillars and two more bounced thought the room ripping off limbs as they went and exploding in the back half of the room. Stacks began to push thought the crowed and gabbed Addlesmith and his students. He wasted no time moving through the room as Addlesmith shouted.
“We need to take cover don’t you think? I thought in times like this you soldier types take cover”
Stack turned to see the man was actually smiling like this was some kind of play and all around him were actors.
“There will be no place for us to hide in a second or two. Keep your team moving as fast as you can; our only chance is to get outside and as far from here as possible”
The new comer, Mr. Grimes, seemed to be doing the very same thing. Moving for the exit with reckless abandon they all meet at the door and swiftly made their way out as three more cannon ball entered the room and exploded. The sound was defining and the cries of those inside even worse. When they reached the bottom of the stairs Stacks and Mr. Grimes pushed Addlesmith and the others forward keeping them running at a breakneck pace. They all continued to run until they heard the Eclipse’s entire broadside of canon rip the place to pieces climaxing in a large explosion. The Golden Star was simply leveled with all who were trapped inside left to die.
The lucky ones who got out tried to save those inside but the ships kept up the bombardment.
“Caption Oreblood is making a point” Stacks said out loud.
Just then a rat the size of a medium dog ran out followed by many others from the just underground. The building next to The Golden Star had caught on fire, the nest of rats were struggling to get out. Some began to attack the crowd. As Stacks moved to protect Addlesmith he heard gunshot after gunshot as rats fell one after another. Grimes stood there calmly shooting all the rats. Stacks thought for a moment, as he hated using his mage abilities in front of others, but decided the situation had actually gotten worse. He spoke the words he had been taught and a ring of runes circled his hand. As they glow bright, a shot of arcane energy shot from his hands and engulfed a rat. The two stood side by side clearing all the rats they could until one blew up.
“Skiggs! Great !” Stack shouted over the other explostion. “There must be gunpowder stored in the bottom of one of these buildings. These rodents, believe it or not, like to eat it. It turns them into a bomb with an awful disposition. We need to get these people away from here.”
Grimes was more interested in getting himself, out of there, but moved to intercept the Skiggs and give Stacks time to help the others. Besides, he thought to himself, having a sorcerer with him would be beneficial under the circumstances. Stacks cast a spell once more and Addlesmith and his students were lifted by the very winds around them and moved safely out of the way. Stacks and Grimes ran after at the entire building blew up in torrent of flames and destruction.
When Stacks and Grimes stood they were looking at each other with that wired feeling they should be introduced but no one was there to do it. Just then Addlesmith walked up with an almost youthful exuberance.
“You two know how to handle yourselves.” He said with almost proud face. “I would like to hire you both to get us back to The Dig but we have to leave tomorrow and move fast” he continued on.
“I believe I can help” Stacks replied.
“How much?” asked Jack.
“What” Addlesmith almost forgot notiung his Bloodstone is free especially protection through the Ditches.
“How about 5 silver?”
Jack walked away.
Jack turned “two”
Addlesmith thought about it. “Fine” He hated paying that much but his protection seems to be one of the unlucky ones were currently still inside, if you can say that, the Golden Star. He had no choice.
Jack walked up the dusty hillside road looking down at the town of Bloodstone. This place didn’t fall short of the stories he thought to him. Just last night he was almost blown to pieces in some sort of gang/pirate related incident he still didn’t understand. What made it humorous and almost welcoming was the fact no one seemed to care much one way or the other. Well after they put out the fires of course. People did seem to be a bit ruffled around the edges with the town almost going up in flames. It’s to be expected. But there was no fall out. No cry for “justice” or what have you. Yes Jack couldn’t help but think to himself how this place was going to be very interesting. He just wondered how long he could hold out here until he was forced to move on.
As Jack came to the top of the hill he noticed Stacks sitting there checking his gear while he waited. Stacks raised his hand and stood as Jack was close enough to talk. The two exchanged empty words. They were still figuring each other out. Both were capable mercenaries but they had different paths. As continued their discussion Addlesmith’s team was seen moving slowly but deliberately up the hill. Stack couldn’t believe Addlesmith still kept that awful excuse for a labor jack. The last time he took Addlesmith to the Dig it cost them hours as the jack was simply too old to keep up.
“I hope Addlesmith paid someone to fix that walking scrapheap. I don’t know how he keeps it working” Stack said out loud trying to wave off his frustration.
Jack just smiled. He didn’t care one way or another. The money promised to him would be worth the pain of a slow pace.
“Addlesmith I hope you found someone to fix that heap” Stack shouted to Addlesmith.
Addlesmith could hear him over the heavy steps of the jack with the distance between the two men but Stacks could not believe he was wearing a leather helmet with goggles on.
“By Morrow this man is impossible. He thinks this is all a game or something” Stack didn’t know why Addlesmith almost childlike manner in the face of real danger bothered him but it did.
Jack kept smiling. He was going to like this show. Just a slow walk in the park with money at the end.
Addlesmith’s team stopped with the loud release of steam as the Jack release some of the pressure built up inside its boiler.
“Hello my would be protectors are you both ready? You seem to travel light?” Addlesmith couldn’t help but recognize the two men had considerably less than his team with a loaded up wagon and Jack.
“I was just telling Jack here” Stacks said deliberately “I hope you found someone to fix this rusty beast you call a jack so we don’t take too long. The Ditches can be a very dangerous place and we don’t want to be out there for days on end.”
“I did!” Addlesmith exclaimed with large smile on his face. “Took Borus here to that mechanic…umm… Pug. For very little money he did wonderful things with it. Borus is back to new…well more or less” Addlesmith scratched his head as he gave Borus another look hope the two other men would agree.
Stacks knew Pug and new his work was good. He hoped the Gobber was able to pull off a miracle and give this thing enough fortitude to make at least one last trip. He did not want this thing to slow the down.
The sun was hot as the adventures moved slowly but surely through the badlands known as the Ditches. Jack and Stacks did not like high walls and winding paths that made up there route to the Dig. It left them vulnerable and easily cornered. The two men looked up more than anything else and tried to not to listen to Addlesmith’s continuous ramblings about the Dig. They constantly had to remind the Professor and his students to quiet down. The Jack made enough noise as it was but the noise it made was consistent and easy enough to discern from other noises. The continued on for until the sun began to slip behind the high walls enough to make the valleys they were grow darker than the day really was. The team was growing tired and the Stacks new they were close to a watering hole but was beginning to get that feeling that they were being watched.
“Just up head we can camp for the night”, Stacks told the party.
Addlesmith sat up in his cart with a smile. “Seems we made it thought the first day without any trouble, not to bad”
Jack spotting something jumping over the pass in front of the group spoke up “Most things that mean to do you harm come out at night so I wouldn’t say we haven’t found trouble” He glanced at Stacks, “Did you see that up ahead?”
“Yes and we have some above us and behind” Stacks grabbed his rifle and told the group to take cover on the wagon but keep moving. “We are no doubt being watched but we need to get out of the narrow pass. Addlesmith time to see what Pug did for Bores. Let’s pick up the pace.”
The small wagon and Jack began to move at runner jog and Stacks and Jack ran alongside. As the got closer to the area Stacks called the watering hole Jack could see a large well with buckets next to it. “That the watering hole?” he asked questioningly.
“Yep, with caravans moving back and forth from the Dig and Bloodstone over the last month or so this well is getting a lot of use. I am not surprised we are being watched. I just hope whatever it is decides to watch and nothing more” As he finished his sentence he saw there would be hunters…Dregs. Stacks realized they were in greater trouble than he thought.
“Jack, what do you about Dreggs?” Stack as Jack as he saw 3 more Dreggs pop out from behind pillars of rock?
“Not much, only there a some sort of underground race of evil humanoids.” Said Jack.
“Yep but normally they are out at night and with the sun up they usually don’t come out as it causes them harm. Not sure why there are out this early” Stack did notice they wore layered clothing and kept their face under hoods. “Something is not right”
Just then the Dreggs opened fire and Jack broke for cover “Well I don’t intend to ask them why there are out this fine evening” He shouted over the gun fire.
Stacks took moved for a better shot and gave Addlesmith a quick glance warning them that this was serious. He saw the student take cover and Addlesmith was now holding a rifle. The poor man looked like he simply did not belong.
Jack continued to move to the right flack of the Dreggs as he noticed some above he pointed the new comers to Stacks.
Stacks was already reciting a spell and as the runes around lit up he was propelled by wind and magic to the top of a pillar 20 or 30 feet tall. From his new vantage point he was able to see the group was really in trouble. With 4 or 5 dreggs on the ground beneath him and 4 more up top he realized the only way to live though this was to shoot his way out.
Shots flew by Stacks ears as he took aim at a dregg sliding down a rope from one pillar to another other. His shot proved true the Dregg fell to the floor beneath him. He couldn’t help but think these dregs seemed to be better prepared than he ever noticed before.
Below on the sandy bottom floor Jack continued to move to his left with Stacks at an elevated position to his right. He know the man was capable so he diced to test fate once again. He move into the open and too aim and two more Dreggs and fired repeatedly. He knew he couldn’t last long trying to hide as there were more of them then Stack and himself. Addlesmith was still trying to figure out how the rifle the carried worked when he looked behind for second. The whole thing was rather funny in some way. Another boom from above and to his right meant Stacks was still alive and doing his best to keep whatever was above from making it below. As he looked up he saw two more Dreggs moving on is right below Stacks headed right for the Jack and the Professor’s team. Jack sidestepped and swung aimed his pistols in unison on the two dregs as his leather jacket flared out behind him. He stepped forward slowly as he shot once twice and a third time killing the Dreggs. As he continued to move toward them the rock behind him exploded as rifle shot from across the opening ripped the air as it passed by him. Jack quickly took cover and decided to keep his head down for the moment as he figured out where exactly the shots came from.
Stacks felt like his decision to take the high ground may have been in earnest as he was now fighting 3 more attackers in the open. The only thing working for him at this point was his training while in the service of Cygnar. Make your shots count he keep reminding himself.
Stacks took aim another dregg all the way across the opening and let fly another round. He wasted no time watching the result as the sound of bullets flew by him in what he felt was all directions. He dropped to a knee and swung his gun back behind him as he pulled another round from his bandoleer.
Stacks watched Addlesmith finally take aim then almost fall over as he squeezed the trigger to his rifle. As amusing as it was he was begging to question his motivation for taking this gig. But when he peered over the rocks behind him he noticed the two dregs there had taken cover from Addlesmith’s shots. Wasting no time he stood up and closed in on the two dregs. As each rose to take aim and shot he retuned shots. His hit there mark. Theirs did not.
Stacks looked down and Jack taking cover and Addlesmith almost shooting his Jack in the back with the rifle he carried. He did not know where that rifle came from but he was sure to hide it from Addlesmith if they made it out of this alive. Just then he raised his rifle, and invoked the ruins on the round inside and fired. The round exploded as it hit its target and dregg beside was knocked to the ground. Stacks began to reload as his noticed the dregs on the floor below were all lying dead as Jack reloaded and looked up at him with a look that could only mean…where you want me. Stacks swung again toward the dregg but noticed it retreating in the distance with others in front of it. Seems they had enough.
“Addlesmith! Get your Jack watered and coaled up. We are moving on to the Dig tonight!”
“Sounds like the right thing to do Mr. Stacks!” Addlesmith replied.
Jack reloaded his weapons as he confirmed with himself that this was not the right thing to do.
As the team continued through the night they all could feel the eyes of something watching them. Nothing more did happen as they saw the light of the Dig as they rounded a large rock pillar just as the night sky was covered in an ominous blanket of dark clouds.
“Seems we made it after all gentlemen” Addlesmith was tired but he still had that glow in his eyes like this was all some sort of adventure he was reading about. Stacks decided he hated that about that man.
Iron Kingdoms - 500 Fights