Ketchi peered through the shrubbery at the overgrown monastery and grinned. "This must be the place!"
"You think?" Wik slipped an arrow from his quiver and nocked it. "What was your first clue, our friends languishing in cages, the Firebrand graffiti they painted on the wall, or the tribe of hyenafolk slavers who seem to have caught them in the act?"
Ketchi twitched his long moustache at Wik's sarcasm. "Since reports of those curs and other slavers setting up operations in the area have been so prevalent, and I can't really tell if that's Coriv's crew in the cage from here, I’ll go with the big blue crossed swords painted on the wall. Even if that’s not our friends, someone’s clearly in need of our help."
"Keep it down, both of you!" Layali's dark eyes shone like chips of obsidian above her face scarf. She wore the scarf to hide the scars she'd received while a slave for speaking disrespectfully to her master. If there was anything on Golarion she hated more than slavers, Ketchi didn't know what it was. "I count seven slavers. There may be more inside the ruins. We need to free Coriv's crew to even the odds."
"Think the one in the crow's cage is alive?" Wik asked.
"We'll find out later." Layali flexed her hand on the hilt of her sword. "First, we open the cage."
"Diversion?" Ketchi suggested. "I love diversions. They’re my specialty!"
"Crazy gnome," Wik hissed.
Ketchi winked at the half-elf. "You bet your pointy ears. Aren't we all?"
"Valid point," Wik admitted.
"Quiet!" Layali pointed to the left. "Draw them off that way, Ketchi. Wik, you cover him. I'll slip through the ruins and open the cage." She patted the heavy satchel full of weapons. "Tell Darik and Bosk they're our rear guard. When all hell breaks loose, they come in."
"Right." Ketchi slipped back through the underbrush as silent as a ferret to where the warriors were hiding. He tapped Darik on his armored shoulder and took some satisfaction in the big knight's surprise.
"Bloody gnome! Don't startle me like that!"
"Shhh!" Ketchi held a finger to his lips and whispered the plan. Bosk frowned through his thick Ulfen beard, but Darik nodded. "Just wait for the screaming to start, then come running."
"Screaming?" Bosk narrowed his eyes. "Hyena-men don't scream."
Ketchi twirled his moustache. "No, but I do." He slipped into the brush and worked his way around the camp, confident that the slavers wouldn't hear, see, or smell him. The crew had done this many times, and knew their jobs. In this instance, they were rescuing fellow Firebrands—a team of Bellflower tillers—instead of slaves or refugees, but it amounted to the same thing. How Coriv's crew had been captured in the first place did concern the gnome, but not overmuch. In his opinion, prisoners existed to be freed, regardless of who they were or how they got there.
Finally in place, Ketchi peered over a fallen log to assess the situation. The slavers crouched around a firepit, arguing and gnawing on haunches of meat. Hopefully that meat wasn't one of Coriv's people. Smoke wafted from one of the old monastery's chimneys, so there were probably more. No matter; once they freed Coriv's crew, the odds would be in their favor.
Ketchi unwound the long scarf from his belt, quietly cleared his throat, and meowed.
Fourteen furry ears swiveled as one toward the noise. Ketchi grinned and meowed again, louder. Their bloody muzzles rose from their meal, noses sniffing the air. Another meow, and the slavers snarled and spat back and forth in their barking, yipping language. Ketchi didn't need an interpreter. Come on you canine cretins, come and get the nice kitty. He meowed again, and three of the four slavers rose to investigate. The others watched them approach the edge of the camp.
Beyond them, Layali crept along the edge of the monastery toward the cage. Perfect! Ketchi cupped his hands around his mouth and summoned his quirky arcane talent. "Meeeeow!" The sound seemed to come from a clump of bushes some fifty feet beyond his hiding place.
The slavers snarled and strode forth, stepping over the log where Ketchi hid. They had their swords out now, and crouched low to inspect the bushes.
Showtime! Ketchi dashed forth and leaped to scramble up the nearest slaver's back, flinging his scarf up and around his stunned target's eyes.
"Yeeehaw! Ride that dog!" Ketchi dug his heels into the thrashing slaver's neck and belted out a bawdy rhyme. "Oh, I'm a dog rider, a dog rider is me, tra-la-la, tra-la-la-lee."
The slaver thrashed and howled. His two companions brandished their weapons, but couldn't slash at Ketchi without risking taking off their friend's head. The others lurched up from the campfire and charged. Beyond them, Layali worked on the cage lock. Wik stood from his hiding place and sent an arrow into the rearmost of the charging slavers. Darik and Bosk charged from hiding, weapons drawn, but so far, all attention remained fixed upon Ketchi.
As it should be, he thought, belting out another verse, struggling to keep hold of his scarf among his blindfolded mount’s thrashing.
Then everything went sideways.
A cloaked figure appeared in the window of the monastery, her voice crying out an arcane phrase accented by growls and clacking teeth. The slaver Ketchi was riding, and all the rest of them for that matter, suddenly grew in stature to ogre-height. Ketchi hung on and belted out another verse, but drew a dagger with his free hand, just in case. Wik felled one of the enlarged slavers with a lightning-fast volley, but another of the beast-men threw a spear and caught Bosk in the stomach. The warrior folded over like a sawdust doll. Darik bellowed a battle cry and shattered his enemy's shield with a sword stroke.
Ketchi drove his dagger into the slaver's neck and continued his ballad, shifting the theme from one of distraction to encouragement. He sprinkled helpful hints to his allies among his lyrics while dodging the slaver's clumsy attempts to drag him off.
Layali had the cage open, and handed out swords to Coriv's crew as they poured out. Several of them dashed into the monastery, and more shouts rang out as they clashed with the robed spellcaster and any other slavers in the ruin.
Ketchi stabbed again, and Wik felled yet another slaver with two shots to the chest. Then another slaver lashed out with a long whip. The leather wrapped around Ketchi's neck and jerked hard enough to cut his song short and unseat him. He held his grip on the scarf, however, unbalancing the slaver as he fell.
Ketchi landed hard enough to knock the wind out of his lungs, but he got a hand around the whip to keep it from throttling him. The slaver he'd stabbed had dropped his sword, but lunged at the fallen gnome, jaws wide. Ketchi jerked the whip hard and rolled. Slavering jaws snapped closed an inch from his shoulder. The whip wielder brought his shield down hard, and the edge caught the gnome on the knee.
Ketchi howled in pain, "Ayeee, I'll never dance again!"
The shield came up for another blow, but two arrows thunked into the slaver's throat. He looked suddenly surprised and fell backward. The other, however, landed on Ketchi like a fallen tree, clawed hands grasping and jaws wide.
"Bad dog! No biting the nice gnome!" Ketchi drew another dagger and thrust deep into that maw. The teeth closed on his arm and he howled in pain again, but the slaver went limp as it bit down on the gnome’s upturned blade.
The fight was over. Coriv's crew waved from the monastery window and reached out to pull the crow's cage in. The shape inside moved, alive at least. Darik knelt to Bosk, pressing a bottle to the old warrior's lips.
Ketchi tried to pry the slaver’s jaws open, but they seemed to be locked closed. "A little help, please!" He tried again, but failed to pry the teeth from his arm. "I seem to have a dog attached to my arm!"
"Need a hand?" Wik reached down with a knife to carefully slice the seized jaw muscles.
"I nearly lost a hand." He winced as the bite relaxed and the teeth came free. "Thanks! Nice shooting, by the way." Ketchi unwound the whip from his neck and cleared his throat. His knee throbbed, his voice rasped, and his arm was bleeding.
"Nice performance." Wik drew a potion bottle from his satchel and handed it down. "And nice riding."
"I'm thinking of taking the act on the road." Ketchi downed the sweet elixir and sighed in bliss as the pain faded. He lurched up to his feet and tested his knee, then his voice. "La-la-la! What do you think; Ketchi the dog-riding gnome and his canine companions?"
"I think you need to keep the day job." Wik chuckled and clapped his friend on the shoulder.
"Yeah, probably right." Ketchi toed the dead slaver and grinned. "Firebrand's pretty much a full-time gig."
About the Author
As a sailor and gamer, nautical and RPG tie-in fantasy came naturally for Chris A. Jackson. His Scimitar Seas novels won three gold medals from Foreword Reviews, and his Pathfinder Tales novels, Pirate’s Honor, Pirate’s Promise, and Pirate’s Prophecy have received high praise. His magical assassin Weapon of Flesh series hit the Kindle bestseller list. He’s also published urban SF—Dragon Dreams—for Falstaff Books, and horror—The Deep Gate—for Fantasy Flight Games's Arkham Horror line. He's also written tie-in fiction for Shadowrun, Legendary Games, Iron Kingdoms, and Traveller. Visit jaxbooks.com for a look.
About Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.
Tales of Lost Omens: Bad Dogs
Thursday, August 29, 2019