The Long Road Home

Tidings of War

The prelude to change

The noise of the Summer Festival was practically all consuming. Violence and music pervaded every aspect of the gathering, and everyone great and small joined in the festivities. The alcohol flowed, the blood was spilled, and the season was invigorated by it. All was set to be the start of a fantastic summer. So of course things got worse. A commotion by the front gate drew my attention. I headed that direction and found only imminent but unsanctioned violence. I saw the freehold sheriff across the field, well out of eye and ear shot, and decided immediate action was necessary.

I adopted my best impression of the sheriff, the one I only used when he was nowhere around, and barked out a command to cease the squabbling. The gate guard Godwin, a large blue ogre with a fascination for collecting snow globes, laughed at the interloper. “You’ve done it now. He’s on his way.” I rounded the copse of trees, leaning slightly on my cane and adopting what I hoped was an intimidating sneer. Godwin never even blinked as he immediately fell in with the ruse.

I asked in a calm voice, “What seems to be the problem here?”

The interloper, later found to be named Hound, was of the fanatical variety. Bad news etched itself all over his being, from the briar tattoos to the hook at the end of his arm. “I’m lookin’ for someone. I’m gonna go in there and get him. So either you can let me in to get him, or I’ll just kill ALL of you to get him. He broke his contract. I’m here to bring him back to fulfill it.”

Alarms went off in my head. Privateers don’t normally care who they’re stealing, and loyalists don’t usually care about stealing folks to begin with. If this were a loyalist privateer, he could be very bad news. No matter the threat, there was no way I or any others in the freehold were turning over one of our own. We would all die first. Stalling, I asked for a description, and he gave me one in great detail. It rang a few bells, but nobody in particular stood out, though admittedly I was still fairly new to the freehold. I took a moment to note that while I had been speaking with Hound, Godwin had blessedly summoned additional knights, including the sheriff I was currently imitating. Thankfully none broke the ruse and allowed me to continue.

“I’m sorry, but there is no way you are taking anyone here. It’s just not going to happen.” He snarled as I delivered this news, and stalked away. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, everyone present went back to their duty, with Godwin giving me an exaggerated wink. I made for the bar and ordered a drink. No sooner than I sat down to wait for my drink than a guy directly matching Hound’s description, down to the rifle on his back, plopped down next to me.

I half turned to him, “Hey, some guy with a briar tattoo on his arm was looking for you at the front gate. We went him packing though.” This guy got a panicked look in his eye and climbed on top of the truck serving as the bar. I ignored his idiosyncrasies. We’re all scarred, so I try not to judge the quirks of my fellow escapees.

My drink arrived, and before I could raise it to my lips, the screaming started. From on top of the truck, I heard a shout. “We’re under attack!” Then gunfire filled the air. The entire festival erupted in carnage and gore. The king was cut down in moments. My mind raced to make sense of the chaos. I started to make to defend the queen, but she was felled before I could close half of the distance. All around me my friends and allies were being butchered.

Almost as if by divine providence, a hedge gate opened before me. A Wizened stood in the way, with an ogre behind him. My mind racing between fleeing or battling these newcomers was halted when the smaller one took stock of the situation then called out. “We’re finally here, let’s get ready to- WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? Oh my, get in, get in!” He frantically waved me over, and two other refugees fell in behind me. He slammed the gate shut just as the wall of carnage crashed on our location. We made introductions, and he informed us he was Tik-Tok, as was evident by his love of clocks, and the ogre was Big Frank. We exchanged pleasantries as best as we were able while covered in blood and flesh of our friends, and Tik started guiding us along a path that only he could see. Hours later we arrived at our destination, a small town in New Hampshire called Nashua.

Mercifully he bought us food and set up a place for us to stay for the short term. I took a well deserved shower and fell into a deep sleep. Luckily I didn’t dream, and was awakened early in the morning by a knock on the door. I opened it and invited Tik and Frank in, and they distributed breakfast for everyone. He offered to bring us by the local freehold to make introductions.

A short time later we were in front of an old house turned business turned derelict. A thug guarding the front door denoted that this place was more than met the eye. We made our way in, though Tik and Frank said they’d meet up with us later. He also mentioned he would help out setting up Kyle with a job at the local hospital. We went in and were presented before the freehold’s king. We were introduced as “Tik-Tok’s foundlings”.

The king sneered, “What do you want?”

I began, “We’re refugees. Privateers wiped out our freehold and we’re the only survivors. They seemed to be searching for Jarrod here,” and I gestured towards the darkling sniper.

“Searching for him? Why him specifically?”

Before I could go any further, Jarrod began gushing with information. He described Hound in great detail and claimed to have personally killed him. He explained that he and Hound had the same master and that Hound seemed intent on returning him to their master. The more he spilled out, the angrier the king seemed to get, until we were ever so politely ordered to leave. We weren’t ordered into exile, but it was clear that we would not have the protection of the freehold should the privateers track us down again.

Discouraged and alone in a strange city, I offered up a plan. Kyle set out to the nearby hospital to see what Tik had arranged while Jarrod and I split up to search for signs of non-freehold Lost. I saw signs of passing, but nothing concrete. I came to a large park and saw Jarrod frozen. He was nearly running away in panic, and I followed his line of sight to see a large, granite skinned man in the shade of a tree. I approached and called out, “Hey! We’re new in town, and come in peace. I don’t have much to offer but I offer all I have.” I drew out a sandwich I had saved from breakfast and held it out to him. He looked at it for a moment, took it from my hand and then stowed it away in a pocket. He jerked his head and grunted.

We followed him through the park to a more heavily wooded area where he revealed a small hidden clearing. We ducked inside and were greeted by dozens of Lost. A small child offered me a cup of thick coffee. I asked our host if this was a freehold as well, and he shook his head. “No, not quite. We lack a vital part. We don’t have a ready and reliable source of glamour. The bigots in that place across town have a source, but they hoard it. We’ve got plans to take it.”

It looked like we’d fled a battle only to fall into the middle of a war.

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