As quickly as possible, I took stock of the situation. Nini and Ding ran towards the nearest cart, where several burly soldier types were trying to drag it away from the flames. Vash and Khalid headed towards the fire to try and douse it, using water and sand. I ran as quickly as possible to an older man on the far side of the camp, who seemed to be trying to help two prone individuals with obvious charring and burn marks on their clothes. He appeared not to be using magical spells to heal them, so I offered my services to help with dressing their wounds and stabilising them. He was grateful for the help, and so I knelt to look at their wounds. One was badly burnt and bleeding, and she needed immediate attention. I called to Khalid, who was busy dousing flames with dirt scooped from the ground, as I knew he was in possession of an alchemical substance that was used for staunching bloodflow.
He directed me to the backpacks on the back of his riding dog, and in a pocket on the side, I found a vial of sticky dark unguent that seemed to be what I was looking for. Using bandages from the open healers kit in front of me, I spread the thick sticky oily substance on them and bound her wounds and was delighted to see her breathing ease and her pulse slow to something more normal. The old man turned to me with gratitude in his eyes, but there was no time to waste on gratitude – leaving him to move his patients to safety, I ran to the wagon that contained the water butt, grabbed a pail and started to help douse the flames on the tent.
Meanwhile, Nini summoned a pony to help drag a burning cart away from the main fire, and once that was achieved, she unhitched the pony and headed off on its back to help round up the animals. Vash was summoning water from thin air and raining it down on the burning branches of the Sultan’s Claw, trying to prevent further spread of the flames. Nini spoke with a camel and guided it towards me, and shouted in elven for me to hitch it to the water cart so that we could move the water closer to the fire. Of course, she hadn’t counted on the camel being utterly uncooperative! Noting my struggles, she headed my way to help hitch the pony to the water cart, while I returned to my flame-dousing duties.
Vash was struggling to keep the spread of fire through the branches under control, but then I suggested we douse the path ahead of the flames to contain it, and soon this had become the method that everyone was using, and we quickly had the fire contained, if not extinguished.
At this point, the fire-fighting was disrupted briefly as Nini reversed the cart into those individuals who were transporting buckets of water – fortunately without causing any injuries, although we all had to leap aside to avoid being crushed, and several buckets worth of water were wasted as they fell to the ground. I clipped the gnome round the ear for her stupidity, but the look she gave me suggested that she would not be dissuaded from such foolishness in the future!
Animal-herding was apparently being coordinated by Ding, who had taken to exhibiting his frustration by using magical powers to variably colour the animals who were not doing what he wanted – a blue and orange-spotted pig squealed as it ran past me, and I am sure I caught sight of a similarly unnatural-looking chicken somewhere in the melee…
In the chaos of the fire-fighting, Khalid managed to lose control of his imp, which was last seen dancing in the flames and mocking him mercilessly. Khalid looked so angry at his loss, that I decided to hold my peace where reminding him of the foolishness of taking an imp as a “pet” was concerned. Secretly though, I was gratified that my original evaluation of the situation had been correct.
Suddenly there was some loud shouting and I noticed that the gnomes had disappeared – Almah shouted from her tent for Garavel, and I was overcome by a sense of dread as I spotted two small forms running to an adjacent tent. What troubles were they causing now?!
I enquired of Almah, who was most unimpressed and suggested I make sure they behaved themselves. Garavel looked like he was receiving a far worse chastising than I, so I made myself scarce. As I left the tent, there was a shout from the adjacent tent, at which I saw two red-clad guards. They had obviously discovered the gnomes upto no good. Sure enough the little pests ran out from under the tent and leapt into a nearby caravan. I chased them and arrived at the door just in time to see them both quaffing a potion each from the caravan contents. A long argument ensued as I tried to explain to the gnomes that their behaviour was unacceptable. Apart from some gibbering and gesturing from Nini, they seemed contrite enough (or as much as I could expect), so I (foolishly) let them leave, with nothing more than another clip around the ear. It was as I climbed down from the wagon that I saw the result of Nini’s gesturing – my boots were a bright pink colour, which despite my attempts to remove it, seemed to ingrain the leather to its very core.
To say that I was unimpressed would be an extreme understatement and so I went in search of the little pests, only to come across a gathering, consisting of Almah, Garavel, Khalid and the older man who I had helped with healing, who was introduced as Zastoran. The latter was explaining how he could not heal the injured individuals as the potions he had prepared had been stolen. I explained that it was the gnomes’ fault, and Almah was most unimpressed…to the point where I thought she might be considering them harm. I drew her attention to what they had done to my boots, and despite the mockery of a couple of guards, I felt it defused any aggression that might have been imminent.
At this point a lanky, scruffy ill-kempt individual arrived in camp. Garavel introduced him as Dashki, Khalid asked him where he’d been while we were fighting the fire, and he said he had been out “hunting”. Garavel said he was Almah’s guide and gnoll expert, which calls into question why I am needed – truly the situation felt as if it were progressing from bad to worse! Nini claimed she’d seen him lurking around the tents earlier while we were fighting the fire, and while I was grumpy with her, I had no reason to disbelieve her. I decided that Dashki’s suspicious behaviour should be investigated as soon as possible…
The ashes of the fire having cooled enough for investigation, the charred remains of a body was discovered in the ruins of the caravan. Almah was obviously upset by the discovery and left for the solitude of her tent. Garavel informed me that it was Eloais and he had been Almah’s seer. Ding came to pay his respects, and I checked the body for signs of foul-play. He seemed like he had died from breathing smoke, and from the number of candles remaining inside, the fire may have started accidentally. However, the door of the caravan was locked from the outside, and inspection of the ground showed the tracks of a creature, whose feet resembled a large chicken. I was sure I had seen them before, but in my consternation, the name of the creature escaped me.
I called for a second opinion from Dashki, since he was supposed to be some sort of expert (and it was a good chance for me to test his skills), but Garavel called myself, Khalid & Vash to a meeting with her before Dashki responded to my call. However, this was not before I had noticed him on the far side of the camp, engaged in some sort of conversation with Nini. She seemed to be offering him some small edible items, which he took with some concern, but upon eating them, his behaviour towards Nini seemed to lighten. He cast me a glance when called that suggested that these feelings did not extend to me…
Of course, Ding jumped at the chance to offer his services as Almah’s new oracle, but fortunately we had a short time alone with Almah before he arrived as he had to fetch his fortune telling deck first, during which she informed us that we really needed to keep “our gnomes” under control.
During this chat, Garavel left the tent and we heard him talking to someone round the back of the structure. He returned and said that the gnomes wanted to see me – with trepidation I rejoined the little folk outside, and Nini confessed she wanted to return my boots to their former colour. I acceded and was initially grateful when my armour and boots returned to a more drab shade, but then was horrified to see the patina grow shiny and glossy in the extreme. Nini seemed most amused, and commented on how much better my armour looked now that it was super-shiny and clean, but I certainly wasn’t as amused as she and her brother! Only my deference to our employer allowed me to stay my hand and prevented further chastisement of the gnome siblings on my part.
Despite my having left them to their giggles, the gnomes continued to be frustrating in their interruption – Nini especially claimed to know the cause of Eloais’ death, suggesting it was due to “Pugwaffles” – and in the end, Almah, seeming to assume that I was in some way responsible for their actions and disappointed when I denied such a thing, offered me no less than a small fortune in gold if I would take responsibility for their behaviour. Hard though it was for me to agree, the sum involved was definitely far more than I could have hoped to net from this contract, and so I agreed. I am, however, certain that no amount of monetary recompense is going to be worth the stress and peril that the gnomes will bring to me!
Almah also requested that we investigate the death of Eloais and while the gnomes’ constant suggestions of pugwaffle involvement seemed far-fetched, it reminded me that I had indeed heard of a creature called a pugwampi which are well known to gnolls as being irritating creatures, full of spite and malice, and certainly capable of causing the sort of havoc we had experienced in camp. Almah was dubious and informed us that we should forget the nonsense about pugwampis, and look to those in camp as the source of the trouble. Having promised Almah that we would investigate the issue further, I left her tent with Garavel and took the opportunity to ask him of his own feelings towards Eloais. He reacted without emotion as I had come to expect, but had certainly shown a slight reaction when Almah had described Eloais as her “best friend and most trusted advisor”. I suspect that Garavel harbours feelings for Almah that he will not, or can not express. He did express his mistrust of Dashki, but said he would support all lines of investigation and we should certainly pursue the possibility that the fire was started by pugwampis.
I returned to the remains of Eloais’ caravan to search for more evidence of the tracks I had found earlier. As I suspected, there were many such tracks not far from the camp, and leading off into the darkness. These were accompanied by the tracks of a hoofed animal, possibly a goat. My assumption proved correct as I met with the camel herder, Hadrod and his wife Hadrah. Hadrod was near inconsolable at the loss of his favourite goat Rhombard, and I was at a loss as to how to ease his suffering as he berated me for not helping them round up the animals earlier. Before I could help myself, I had offered to help locate his lost animal in addition to the other tasks that had already been thrust upon me that night!
Not wishing the trail to go cold, and fearing that the longer I waited, the more chance there would be that the goat would be found dead, I left word of my intentions with Hadrah, and set off into the night following the trail of the pugwampis, if indeed that is what they are…