Diamond Cascade and the Quest for Bat-Shit

I’ve had many names. Cosaliades Ebron vel Huyma in the west of Demir, except that might get me killed. Ebra or Caltrop in Gammersbridge. Both wanted men in their own ways. A few wizards from North Horn Ridge might remember me as Tip-Tap. In Osmuld the soldiers called me Vale. If you like, you can call me what the women in the streets of Neverrest called me: Diamond Cascade. On account of my eyes, they said. Pale and glittering and hard. I’m seventeen years old, full of piss and vinegar, I’ve walked a hundred miles to be here and I’ve got nothing except a battered old lute and an urgent need for some new boots. That story’s worth a mug of half-decent ale. Buy me another and I’ll sing you a song.

Nightall 1: Running out of options

I’m in the Fat Cockerel for the fifth night running. I’ve pretty much outstayed my welcome. Free board and lodgings has gone out the window. I’m down to a few free drinks from the bar. I get the message. Pay your way or piss off. Which is going to be a problem. I got enough for a few nights, if I don’t mind eating leftovers, and that’s it. Can’t go back to Gammersbridge. Still too hot. I’ve had enough of scraping a life out here in the country. Quiet it might be, but talk about dull. Same boring dumb-as-shit yokels come in every night without half a clue about what lies over the next hill, never mind other lands. Travellers come through. They throw me coins and looks of pity and next day they move on. Time I did the same.

Nightall 4: Wizards are crazy

Diamond Cascade surveyed the floor. There was a good crowd tonight, come to hear him sing, but that wasn’t what he was looking for. The Fat Cockerel had been a good place to rest his weary feet and take a break from adventure, but the restlessness was upon him once more. With care he chose his new companions. A hunter, mighty of arm, pure of heart. An elf, honed and disciplined in arts both mental and physical. The Wolfgirl, nature’s warrior. There was a wizard too, lurking shyly at the back as if he already knew the Cascade’s desire. When the singing was done, Diamond Cascade approached him. “Wizard, I seek a quest, a mighty one, a test of my strength and will.” And the wizard smiled. “I have one for you, mighty warrior. One whose songs will be sung for a thousand years. If you succeed, that is.”

Well that’s it. I’m broke. I got enough for tonight and then I’m sleeping in the woods. At least, that’s how the evening started. Not how it finished though. Weird crowd. A strange collection of strangers. Let’s start with The Lunk. Big ugly bastard with a misshapen face. Looks like he was on the wrong end of a warhammer. Says he’s looking for a dwarf. Pale with red hair. Didn’t mean anything to me, but I sat and listened and told him about a few dwarves I saw a while back. Got a handful of silvers out of him for a couple of songs. Enough for a couple of nights, I reckon. Then the was Wolfgirl. Caught my eye a bit. Quite pretty. Unusual clothes, not something I recognise. And a pet wolf. Not something you see every day. A shifty looking fellow (we’ll call him Shifty). Hadn’t seen him in there before. Something a bit familiar about him, though. I’ve seen him somewhere before, I’m sure of it. Just don’t know where. Makes me uneasy that. Got too many people don’t much like me.

But what takes the biscuit tonight is Elfboy and his big brother, Big Scary Elf Wizard. They sit and listen and I can see them watching me. And then after I’m done with a few songs and I’m taking a break, Wizard comes over and drops a whole gold coin in my hat and asks if I want to run an errand for him. Well not really, but I can’t sit in the Fat Cockerel for the rest of my life, and anyone who’s throwing gold around has my attention. Had Shifty’s attention too and before I know it, he’s all over us. Wizard says he’s after bat shit and he’s willing to pay a silver piece an ounce if the quality’s right. Best I can tell, it’s four or five days travel to the caves where said bat-shit can be found. We have a bit of a discussion about this. I don’t know exactly where he means, but I get the drift. Seventy odd miles away, all on foot. Most of it’s in friendly enough country but not all of it. And then seventy odd miles back hauling sacks of shit. For a silver piece an ounce.

Why am I even going to entertain this? I mean, he’s asking me to shovel shit. Literally. And then carry it. Well, OK, a number of reasons. First, I reckon I can carry a good fifty pounds of shit. That’s eight hundred pieces of silver for a couple of weeks work, and that’s not to be sniffed at, if you’ll excuse the pun. Then there’s Wolfgirl, if she’s up for it. Wolfgirl is pretty enough to shovel some shit for. Then there’s the Wizard himself. I mean, he’s a wizard. He might know Nommonic. Or maybe not know, but he might have heard of him, or what happened to him. Not that I got much use for a big brother any more, but you never know. If he made it as a wizard, he’s probably got money. Yeah, I know. Not likely really. But hey. No, mostly it’s the money, that and I’ve had enough of trilling tunes for dumb-shit ears in the Fat Cockerel. And it takes us closer to Neverrest. If I’m going anywhere next, it’s there.

So what’s to say about the company I’ll be keeping for the next couple of weeks? Wolfgirl I’ve certainly no objection to – only a matter of time before I slide between the sheets with that one I reckon. Lunk neither  – big, dumb and has money – my kind of travelling companion. Not so sure about Shifty. But if I have to find out his story, better we do it out where there are no witnesses. Having Elfboy along hardly fills me with joy -  looks like a stuck up arse like most elves are. But I can hardly object if Mr Wizard wants to send his agent, can I? So that’s the way it’s going to be. No more Fat Cockerel tomorrow. Can’t say I’ll miss it.

Nightall 5: I made a map

Diamond Cascade arose early from his sleep and set about a plan for his new expedition. Success would bring glory, failure would bring doom, and the lands they would cross were fraught with mystery and peril!

Since I got up early this morning, I made a little map. Lets them know I know my way around. Lets them know I can read and write too. Not sure if that’s such a good idea around Shifty, but we’ll see what happens. I know the road to Neverrest if they want to go that way, but why would you? It just means fighting your way up the river and it’s not exactly the centre of civilisation up there.

I’ve never actually been along the Old North Road further than Leather Bottle Bridge, but they don’t need to know that. From what I hear, there’s still a few farms here and there right up to the mountains. Probably cross-eyed inbred country peasants who’d sooner rob us and eat us than break bread with us. The old bandit camp can’t be that hard to find, though, can it? And I don’t think we want to find Hooky Cave. They say something bad lives up that way. Probably peasant nonsense – maybe someone saw a dwarf and got scared. Still, probably best not to be stopping anywhere near there for the night.

Right. It’s a long day’s hike to get to Leather Bottle Bridge and we’ll have to be leaving pronto to get there before it gets dark.

Nightall 5: Goings-On

Diamond Cascade and his new-found companions quickly made their preparations and set off upon their quest. Little did they know that eyes filled with ill-intent were watching them.

When I’m done with making maps, it’s off to breakfast. Some baldy bloke is sitting down there stuffing his face. Calls himself Barnav. Now, baldy blokes in and of themselves are generally not very interesting. Usually they’re a bit fat, a bit long in the tooth, pretty grumpy and are often found running shops or bars. Come to think of it, most of the time I part with money in a considered and carefully judged sort of way (that is, it wasn’t nicked and I didn’t lose it on a wager), it’s to some overweight baldy bloke. As a breed, they’re simply not interesting.

This baldy bloke wasn’t in the taproom last night though. That makes him interesting for about thirty seconds. There are limits, though, to how stimulated a man can be watching a fat baldy bloke stuff his face. I figure if he tries to follow us, we’ll know. And then it occurs to me that we’re off on a poorly paid expedition to dig up bat-shit and carry it across the country, and the only possible reason anyone would have for following us is so that they can laugh at us.

My mood is not improved by this thought, nor by the realisation that that a) We’re about to hike off towards the middle of nowhere b) It’s winter. c) I have no trail rations. d) I have no tent. e) I have no money to buy these things f) It’s still winter. Elfboy, it seems, has no such concerns. Apparently it’s all “mind over matter”, but that doesn’t stop him hopping off for a backpack full of hard bread, cheese, dried meat and fruit. I’m following him around on the off-chance that some sort of advance payment might be in the offing, but elfboy’s brother seems to have teleported off about some wizard business or other and is nowhere to be found. We’re still looking for him (and for food) when Wolfgirl sort of sidles up to us with a wink and a whisper.

Wolfgirl: He’s up to something dodgy, that bloke.

Me: What bloke?

Wolfgirl: That bloke. In the Fat Cockerel.

Me: Ah. The baldy bloke.

Wolfgirl: Yes. He’s doing something dodgy. Under the table.

Me (somewhat surprised now): What? The baldy bloke?

Wolfgirl: Yes.

Me: Ah. So. Um. What’s he doing?

Wolfgirl: Under the table.

Me: Ah. So. Um. What’s he doing?

Wolfgirl: Something dodgy. Under the table.

Me (getting rather excited by now): What? What’s he doing? Has he got his hand stuffed down his trousers? Is he playing with himself? What? What IS HE DOING?

Eventually it transpires that he’s passed something to Shifty. Or else Shifty has passed something to him. Maybe it’s the secret route to the caves full of bat-shit. Yeah, because that must be really valuable, right? Because if just anybody could find bat-shit then they’d all be doing it. The whole bottom would drop out of the bat-shit market.

Or maybe not. Let’s face it, the bat-shit market consists of one wizard who’s already pissed off somewhere else. Probably gone to send some poor buggers to launch off on a quest for lemur piss.

Nightall 5: Slimeys

Diamond Cascade and his band of loyal companions were travelling along the Old North Road, singing gay songs and speaking eagerly of the mighty deeds they would do while on their quest. As night began to fall, Diamond Cascade’s ears twitched, for over the merry voice of his company he heard a distant cry of distress. Without a pause for thought, Diamond Cascade led his band helter-skelter through the bushes and found a family of honest farmers beset by goblins. Heedless to his own safety, Diamond Cascade wrought slaughter and terror upon the slimeys with his arrows and his songs. Diamond Cascade’s brave followers dispatched the few that remained. The helpless farmers were saved and their injuries tended. They offered up great treasures, all they had, to thank Diamond Cascade for saving them, but Diamond Cascade took only food and shelter and was quickly on his way, for the virtue of saving these noble folk was reward enough.

Actually, Diamond Cascade and his band of loyal companions were travelling along the Old North Road, bickering about the weather, how much shit each one of them would carry, whether the reward would be shared out equally or in proportion to who carried what, and who would do the actual shit-shovelling with the one and only spade that they turned out to have. And it wasn’t a cry of distress from the farmers we heard, it was the squealing of the pigs that the slimeys were trying to steal.

Anyway, without pause for thought, I wondered where Elfboy had gone while Lunk let out a low growl of battle-range, launched himself helter-skelter at the bushes, got stuck, scratched himself to pieces on the thorns and finally sort of bounced off back into the road. Eventually we found a gate.

There really was a family of honest farmers beset by slimeys. I hate slimeys. Lunk, it seems, hates slimeys too. Me and Lunk and Wolfgirl had at them, screaming and shouting and waving our swords. Slimeys are none too brave when it comes to it, and the farmer was laying into them right and proper. We had at them anyway. I think Lunk might have taken one of them down before they broke and fled, but the farmer was more deadly than the rest of us put together until he got a slimey spear in the gut for his trouble. Not too deep as it turned out, since he was still alive and kicking the next morning. Don’t know what happened to Elfboy and Shifty. They showed up when it was all over, Elfboy half cut to pieces. Guess they found more slimeys. Places was crawling with the little buggers. Elfboy looked a right mess, but he was all “mind over matter” again. We got the family back into their house and barricaded the doors in case the slimeys changed their mind about running away. Little bastards. Then we helped ourselves to some food and shelter for the night on account of us not wanting to spend a winter night under the stars with no food and only a blanket to shiver under. We’d have helped ourselves to more too, probably, except the poor bastards were as destitute as us. They had a nice suit of armour lying around. Too heavy to walk off with this time, but noted anyway. We’ll be coming back this way I expect.

What I know about my travelling companions: Lunk

Lunk, it turns out, actually has a name. Or at least, he thinks he does. Stalker. Well now that’s not a real name, is it? That’s a bit like me calling myself Diamond Cascade when I get out my lute and strut onto a stage. If I ever strut on to a stage. If I ever see a stage. As far as I can see, the only thing he’s managed to stalk with any success was a dwarven warhammer, which he stalked right up to when it hit him in the face. Says this happened to him somewhere near where we’re headed, up by the High Peak Mountains. Says he doesn’t remember anything from before that. Well if that’s true, then I already know more about him than he does. I know, for example, that he’s an idiot. I suppose I have to admit, though: He’s not afraid of a fight.

Nightall 6: If you thought wizards are crazy, you haven’t met any Halflings

With light steps and brimming hearts, Diamond Cascade and his crew crossed the Leather Bottle Bridge and began to climb their way into the hills. Rain and thunder did not lower their spirits. Soon they came to the picturesque halfling town of Littlehillz and came upon a scene, wherein one Norch, a halfling of unusually adventurous wit and inquisitive mind was best by an angry mob. Seeing only the flaw of arrogance and not the greatness of intellect beneath, the townsfolk were set upon driving their kin away; and with few possessions of his own, the bewildered alchemist was soon ready to leave. Diamond Cascade watched this sorry scene and his heart filled with pity for the defenceless Norch, who in his wanderings would doubtless quickly fall prey to banditry, beasts or worse. Despite the words of caution from his companions, Diamond Cascade knew it was his duty to protect the sorry fellow. And thus, for a time, an alchemist joined their fellowship.

It pissed down. Cold heavy rain, the sort than finds its way into every crack and crevice, every seam that isn’t oiled and stitched tight. The sort that sucks all the joy out of your soul and leaves you too apathetic and miserable to even sneer at the idiot standing next to you. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, we found ourselves surrounded by halfgits, on account of having blundered into the middle of their settlement without really even noticing. Well, little annoyances, if that offends you, that’s what you get for burrowing into hills and not living in proper houses with walls and stuff. There’s a whole gang of them, all laying into one of their own shouting at him to leave town. I’m just standing there thinking move along everybody, just move along. Nothing I want to see here. Halflings are the most irritating people in the world. Apart from maybe elves, who are pretentious wankers most of the time. A lot of dwarves can be arseholes too, and, come to think of it, so can humans, but halfgits? After about five minutes, all I can think of is how much more I’d enjoy their company if I was chasing them around with a huge mallet and squishing them. I want nothing to do with them, and so of course Elfboy decides he’s going to take pity on the little git who’s about to be evicted from his town.


Now look here. If there’s one thing about halfgits that I know apart from how annoying they are, it’s that they’re fairly peaceful folk. They’re not the sort to throw one of their own kind out of his house unless he’s some kind of serious trouble. So if there’s someone I’d prefer not to spend my time with even more than I’d prefer not to spend my time with a common-or-garden halfgit, it’s a halfgit who’s been thrown out by his own kind for being a troublemaker. Yeah. So what does Elfboy do? Invites him along. So we stand in the rain for the best part of an hour, waiting for the little runt to load about seventeen thousand tons of pointless shit onto the back of a tiny little cart pulled by an inadequate pony that’s probably going to get stuck in the mud about five minutes after we’re out of sight from any help. And hey, guess what, turns out the little runt is being thrown out because he’s an alchemist, and he just blew up most of his house and half a hillside with it. So the cart probably explodes too. Despite my remonstrations, Elfboy is insistent. I suppose I can always walk half a mile behind or in front.

On the bright side, if the halfgit happened to have an accident and all his rubbish were out of the way, you could put an awful lot of bat-shit in his cart. Hmmm.

Nightall 6: The shittiest inn in the world

Bouyant with the speed of their progress, Diamond Cascade and his faithful companions quickly reached the edge of the civilised world, the characterful and colourful Cat and Fiddle Inn. As the setting sun licked the tops of the High Peak mountains and set ablaze the autumn russets of the Haunted Forest, they ate and dined on hearty food and planned their adventure into the wilds.

Meh. A shit-hole but at least it was cheap and I got a room that didn’t leak under the endless barrage of rain. Bloke who runs it could play a few tunes, too. Can’t say I’d recommend the place though. Rat stew and horse-piss beer. Been to enough places like that not to mind, but also been to enough that were better. Am starting to think that bringing the halfgit along wasn’t such a bad idea. For some reason he’s really good at winding up the Elfboy, and that earns him credit from me. Takes my mind off the interminable ramblings of the innkeeper about Thorak au Keldar, high god-botherer of the shorties, righteous buttlicker of Moradin. Am also finding myself seriously thinking about how to get into Wolfgirl’s pants. Still, not going to be proceeding without an invitation, so to speak, as long as she’s got that bloody wolf around her. Good as a chastity belt that monster. She’s called Emerald, she’s a bitch and she clearly doesn’t like me. What can you expect, eh? We all know that diamonds outshine emeralds, right? Stupid dog.

Nightall 7: What everybody needs

Diamond Cascade and his companions made their jaunty way to the log forgotten ferry across the great river, heedless of the perils that might await. The ferry lay stuck upon the other side, beached by the last poor soul to cross and not return. As Diamond Cascade prepared to swim alone across the raging torrent in order to retrieve the ferry for his noble travellers, he spied a brute, a monster, nothing less than a vicious orc. Many of these fould demonspawn had Diamond Cascade slain in the bitter wars of Osmund, yet pity filled his heart, for the poor creature was clearly lost and far from home. With soft words and gentle songs, Diamond Cascade tamed the brutal beast’s heart and it freed the ferry and followed Diamond Cascade, loyal as a dog.

Yeah right it did. Fucking orc. Fucking grunter. Slimeys are bad enough, stab you soon as look at you, but they won’t stand and fight. Grunters, they’re vicious and mean and liable to turn on you at any moment. Looks like this one is only half grunt, but that’s a half too much. How many men have I seen butchered by these bastards? Too many to count. I’ve seen whole companies cut down by ranks of grunters with crossbows and then the same bastards pick up their axes and their clubs and charge. They’ll cut you to ribbons if you don’t take them down first. Only thing I’ve seen break up a good wedge of grunters was cavalry. And then there were the towns and villages. Halfgits hauled out of their holes and burned in great piles. Woman and children thrown on still alive by all accounts. They get into a village, everyone dies. Except sometimes a few of the women, the tough ones with the stamina to take being raped over and over and the luck not to be skewered for their troubles anyway. Then you get things like this fucking half-grunt walking behind me. Ill-conceived monster should have been put out of its misery at birth. I heard a lot of women do that and I reckon they got the right of it. The only reason this one is still walking is that Elfboy insists. Reckons he’s in charge that one. Reckon he’s got a surprise coming one day soon. But he can have the half-grunt if that’s what turns him on. Maybe he likes a little bit of rough this elf.

Got to admit the grunter’s got a broad back, too. Could carry a lot of shit for us. About all they’re good for anyway. If he’s got a name, he hasn’t bothered to share it, so I’m going to call him Thugger.

Nightall 7: Bugs

At last the object of their quest drew close. Diamond Cascade bravely led the way into the hungry doom-laden caves, his companions close behind. Treasure glittered and gleamed, but it was not unguarded, no, and a mighty battle ensued. Diamond Cascade’s troupe were sorely pressed but in the end prevailed and the day and the treasure were theirs!

A cave is a cave, right. Dark and damp and smelly, and yes, there was a pile of “treasure,” a vast and rank pile, and yes it glittered and gleamed, but that was just the reflection of our torches from the shiny shells of the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of creepy-crawlies that clearly think of bat-shit as the best place to live ever. Some of the creepy-crawlies turned out to be quite big. It’s not all that often, after all, that you find yourself shooting an arrow at a centipede or a beetle. That is a seriously over-big creepy-crawly. Elfboy managed to get himself bitten a few times and got quite poorly. As if that wasn’t amusing enough, the halfgit gave him a “potion of healing” that did seem to perk him up a bit. It was probably no more than a good shot of strong spirits, but Elfboy imagines it to be magic. Which maybe it was, since Elfboy has subsequently turned green and warty. Ha!

Stuff like that makes me think twice about the halfgit. Maybe he’s not so bad. Given he’s up against Shifty, Elfboy, the wolf that hates me and a half-grunt, it’s not hard to look good, but he’s not so bad. Calls himself Merlock the Magnificent now which is a laugh. Oh, and I swear I saw him throw handfuls of fire at the creepy crawlies at one point. Took that to be an alchemist trick at the time but now I’m not so sure. Neat, either way.

Nightall 9: Bat-shit Fever

Victorious and laden down with plunder, Diamond Cascade and his companions made their return, scattering wealth and joy wherever they went.

Might have been what happened. Don’t remember it that way. Remember shivering and shaking lots. Maybe one of them creepy-crawlies bit me after all, or maybe that’s what you get for walking off out in the wilderness for days on end in the rain with winter coming, no tent and no dry clothes. Yeah, a dose of the shivers. As I hear it, Thugger threw the innkeeper from the Cat and Fiddle into the river and Lunk has acquired the farmer armour we spotted. Scattering wealth and joy all right.

Still, back now in the Fat Cockerel and I’m starting to be able to focus on my fingers and by tomorrow morning I might even be able to count them again. And then I’m going to count all that gold. All that lovely lovely gold. I worked it all out. Hundreds of pieces of gold and for what? Bat-shit? Got to be more to it than that. Got to be. But once that gold is in my pocket, I ask myself, why should I even begin to care?


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