I have cast my gaze over the world of Iphira for a millennia. I have seen gods struck down and kings ascend to take their places. Though I dabble in the affairs of the greater cosmos, its unending nature annoys me, which is why I find such amusement in the fleeting lives of the mortal. Years ago, while surveying the human kingdom of Epeon, my gaze lingered over the trite hamlet of Raven’s Crossing. I’m still unsure what drew me to such a mundane sight that evening. The sun had dipped low in the sky as farmers returned from their fields and a pair of weary merchants stashed their goods in a small barn. I thought it impossible for the scene to be more banal when, much to my glee, the town was finally woken from its lethargy. A young boy, crying as he ran, bolted from a tall field of corn and ran up to the inn that rests at the edge of town.

“Beholders! Beholders in the field!”, the child wailed as he threw open the door. He immediately latched onto the waist of the surprised innkeeper who held the boy by the shoulders.

“Now James, what have I told you about the boy who cried beholder?”, the inkeep sternly asked.

“I promise! There really are beholders out there! The big floating eye with little eyes poking out, just like in the stories!”

As the inkeep stood disbelievingly over the child, several of the inn’s patrons gathered around the open door and gazed out across the road towards the field.

“Oh my gods”, one grimy peasant gasped, as more folks crowded around the doorframe.

Peeking between the heads of the townsfolk, one could have seen the three massive spheres with rigid stalks poking out, floating slowly across the open field. A muscled woman with wavy honey blond hair, pointed ears and a bow in hand pushed aside several common folk as she strode up to the window, removing it with a swift kick of her boot. She notched an arrow as she stepped through the hole, pausing only to glance back at the crowd expectantly. Spurred to action, several villagers ran out of the door calling for the town guard, while five more peculiar characters joined the brazen half-elf as she stood resolutely in front of the inn. It was at this point, purely by chance, that I first witnessed what would become a perpetual interest of mine.

An arrow flew from the audacious archer and grazed the edge of the beholder which, to even my surprise, popped loudly with a plume of green dust that slowly settled down onto the ground. Two tall men of equal height, but entirely disparate builds, glanced at each other and with a nod ,split up. The first man, broad and armored in a polished breast-plate, charged headlong towards the two remaining creatures, brandishing his warhammer and shield. The other man, thin as a reed and garbed in a neat shirt and trousers took shelter behind a covered wagon as he muttered an incantation and reached out his hand. Underneath the second beholder a spectral hand, glowing with pale light emerged from the earth and grabbed the flesh, bursting the creature in an eruption of powder.

A goblin, small even for his kin had raced out of the inn with an excited fervor. Upon seeing the quick work made of the first two beholders, the creature flopped on the ground disappointed and began grumbling in broken Common, spinning a dagger in his palm. The other two figures who guarded the entrance to the inn made for an uncanny sight, even for a being as enlightened as myself. Upright and garbed in humanoid attire, was a female Tabaxi, or “catfolk” as the commoners preferred. To her right stood a darkly feathered and raven beaked Kenku. It would be rare to have seen but one of these two beings… the two together, was immediately conspicuous.

With two beholders already dispatched, the armored man closed in on the final monstrosity. Though perturbed by the unchanging toothy grin and unmoving eyes of the creature, he shook off his doubt and drove his warhammer into the beholder’s large eye. The creature immediately gave way and the explosion of spores filled the warrior’s lungs. He doubled over hacking as the dust burned his airway. It took nearly a minute of incessant coughing but he cleared his lungs as his impromptu allies gathered at his side.

With several townsfolk emerging to shower them with praise and thanks, the heroes introduced themselves to each other. Making acquaintances being awkward enough,  I won’t bore you with the exact details of the conversation. The half-elven archer was Ruby, a ranger from the elven lands of Tol’Kalanar, while the armored warrior choked out the name, “Volech” with an unusually gravely voice. The gangly gentlemen: Dr. Dietrich Klein, his thick accent betraying his roots in the lands of the buffer lords of Epeon. The tiny goblin gleefully screamed “ME GHAZGROT” and the Tabaxi shrugged saying, “just call me Captain”. When the eyes finally turned to the Kenku, the beak opened and out came a surprising “Shhhhh”. The Tabaxi interjected briefly “She does that whenever anyone asks for a name… we just call her Shush.”

With the names out of the way, the grateful townsfolk ushered the peculiar travelers back into the tavern where drinks were handed out. Ruby downed her ale and immediately turned to the child with a soft smile “Where did you first see these creatures?”

“Well, I was out in the fields looking after my goat Roger, when he fell down into a pit. I was about to go down to fetch him when those beholders came out of a little tunnel at the bottom. I turned and ran back here and I guess they followed me.”

“Well first off honey, they aren’t beholders.” Ruby chuckled “Otherwise we would have all been killed immediately. No, they seem to be some kind of spreading spore that takes on a similar form. I’d recommend you folks cover your faces and try to kill them from a distance should they return.”

The bartender chimed in, “James, why don’t you go run along to your mother?” After the boy departed, the bartender turned to the group, “My name’s Johnathon. Listen, I’m not sure what those are but we’ve seen them before, just never this close to the town. I know you guys are just passing through, but seeing as you’re the type to run towards danger, do you think you could go poke your head into the tunnel and see what you find? Business has been pretty good recently, and I could pay each of you two gold just for bringing me back any information we can use.”

“Ghazgrot get goat?” All heads turned to the goblin perched on a bar stool, swinging his legs wildly while still fidgeting with his dagger.

“Well I suppose if you find it alive, I could give you Roger…”

“GHAZGROT GET GOAT!” the goblin jumped off the stool and began marching out of the tavern with fearsome resolve.

Ruby nodded at the bartender, “We’ll see what we can do” and strode after Ghazgrot, the kenku immediately leaping up to follow. Dietrich leaned in to whisper to Volech and the two rose and exited the tavern, the human stopping for a moment to retrieve a small bag from within the covered wagon parked outside. The Tabaxi, facing looks from the villagers, sighed and finished her brew, before slinking out the door in the way only cats can. Just as the group caught up to the goblin, he stopped dead in his tracks and thought for a moment, only to turn and bolt back into the tavern.

“Ghazgrot need fork.”

“Well I mean, sure you can have one.” Johnathon handed over a simple iron fork. “Why do you need it?”

Ghazgrot admired the utensil and smiled a toothy grin. “Goat taste good!”

To be continued…