Toria’s curiosity comes at a heavy price…
The heavily laden wagon rumbled slowly through the mountainous terrain, following seldom used trails. It drove well ahead of Toria as it rolled down into a canyon but she was able to catch up as the dreybeast struggled to ascend the switchback path on the other side. After several miles of travel, Toria found herself in a forest she had never seen before.
[Skill check: Hiking 10, rolled 6.]
The travelers slowly made their way into a gorge lined with scruffy pine trees. A deep but narrow river of clear, sparkling water flowed down from the mountains and disappeared around a bend between two broken cliff faces. The ground was littered with pine cones and needles.
[Skill check: Stealth default IQ-5 +4 (10), rolled 17.]
A massive crack in the tallest cliff face widened into a cave at the bottom. A small cothold had been constructed in and around that cave. The living quarters were sheltered under solid rock, while the animal pens were built halfway between the cave and the river, on a flat, stony area where few trees had grown.
Toria guessed that at least three families lived at the cothold, since it was quite a bit larger than the one she grew up in. She could see movement in the shade of the cliff but couldn’t make out much detail from such a distance.
The wagon pulled up in front of a sturdy wood barn. The two mountain men hopped down, one opening the barn doors while the other guided the dreybeast inside. The stolen goods rolled out of sight.
[Attribute check: PER 11, rolled 13.]
Suddenly, a pair of strong arms wrapped around Toria and a heavy weight pressed her toward the ground. “Well, hello there, Holder girl…” a woman’s voice hissed in her ear.
[Attribute check: ST 8 versus ST 12, rolled 9.]
Toria struggled to free herself but the woman was quite strong.
“Be still!” the woman shouted, “And you might live to tell the Harper, eh?”
The stranger planted her feet and held Toria, squeezing tighter until it started to hurt. As tears crept into her eyes, Toria was forced to give up. She was able to catch a glimpse of her attacker. It was the black-haired woman from the cave. Toria hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t on the wagon when it stopped at the barn.
“Behave yourself or I’ll let my brother deal with you and you won’t like that,” the woman purred in a sarcastic voice, “He was born under the Red Star.”
She took a firm hold of Toria’s upper arm and led her down to the cothold. Her grip was strong — she was obviously accustomed to strenuous physical labor. Now that Toria had a chance to really look at her, she could tell the woman was younger than she had first appeared.
“Tarrik!” the woman shouted as she yanked Toria into the barn. “I caught her!“
The slightly younger and shorter brother finished lowering a crate of stolen goods onto a hand cart. “Is that our little wher-sport? Jagger, come see. It’s no guard, you owe me a quarter Mark.”
The older brother stepped out from behind the wagon with a hefty pry bar in his hand. He fixed Toria with a scowl that would wither a wild parsnip. The girl could feel her blood run cold as the man approached. The thump of his boots on the hard packed dirt seemed ominous and loud.
He stopped right in front of her, towering over her, and asked, “Gimme one good reason why I shouldn’t sell you to my cousin across the mountain for a better dreybeast?”
[Attribute check: Will 10, rolled 6.]