People seemed to enjoy the previous backstory I posted so here is another. This is for a deep stalker ranger.
Thorn in my side
She was sitting toward the back of the group of children. Leaning against the back wall of the ‘pen’. The rain that hit the tarp above them was thunderously loud. It was heavy, and the tarp was dipping as it filled with water. A few of the other children were shuffling about. They didn’t want to be bellow the gathering water nor did they want to be on the sides where they would be pelted with the ice cold water.
Thorn had found a spot and stayed there. She had a small piece of bark next to her gathering rain water. She’d drink whenever it filled or if she wasn’t thirsty hand it to one of the other kids near her. They were all the older children. Ones who had been with the bandits for a while. The ones that knew getting wet was the least of their problems and to conserve energy.
Thorn took a long drink from her bark but as she put it down her eyes caught sight of something. Another one of the children was standing. A halfling so it wasn’t imminently obvious. Jolly had his usual scowl on. His eyes were on something.
When she turned her head. Thorn saw the bandit. All wrapped up snug with a torch in hand. He ran to Faelon’s tent. The nicest tent they had. The elf exited his pale almost amber skin lit up by the moon.
The bandit spoke to him and he clamped the man on the back ecstatically. Faelon then made his way to the pen. As he grew closer and more of the children became aware of his presence they began to move differently. The first to notice began to hide in the back of the pen. As others realised they tried to push past to hide. The smell of fear was in the air. Thorn allowed herself to be pushed forward. Not because she wanted to be picked but because she refused to show Faelon fear.
She simply sat in the mud and dirt and waited. As Faelon got closer a few more of his group appeared behind him.
“Why hello my dearest children!” His words were like syrup. No one spoke. Some were still trying to get away from the elf. But most were now still, watching. “It seems we’ve found work for you! Who would like to go exploring?”
No one spoke. Thorn could hear sobbing behind her.
Faelon waited, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the group before turning back to his bandits. They didn’t care. The man let out a theatrical sigh.
“Alright then… Thorn and Jolly. You’ve got a good track record.”
Finally, Thorn reacted. She looked at Jolly who was looking at her. They shared a nod before the bandits opened the pen and pulled them both out roughly. The rain was ice cold.
“Keep your hands on them till they’re in the hole. Thorn’s Thorn after all.” With that Faelon went back to his tent and the bandit who had just returned to camp lead them off to the ‘hole’.
It was a cave. Cut into a hillside. Thorn could see broken figures cut into the rock around the entrance. A tomb.
“Alright you two know the drill-“
“You don’t let us out unless we find something good.” Jolly said in his usual sullen way. “We don’t get let out if we don’t.” The woman holding him gave him a shove.
“Living up to your name aren’t cha?”
Well he was. Thorn thought. Most of the names the bandits gave them were nicknames based on their bad sense of humour.
Her own name came from the fact she was a wood elf… And her tendency to cause trouble when she though she could get away with it. She was a thorn in one’s side.
The pair holding them pushed them towards the entrance. A quick glance had told Thorn she had no chance of escape. So, she allowed herself to be shoved towards the entrance.
Once they were at the first fork the bandits abandoned them. Sheltering at the front of the cave. Thorn walked towards Jolly and gently took his hand.
“I’ll guide you till we find a torch or something.” He gripped her hand back and allowed her to lead him. As they made their way down the left side and followed it down another fork Jolly finally spoke again.
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Yesterday.” He fiddled with one of his pouches. They were meant to be for gathering things during their trips into ‘holes’ but that didn’t mean that was all they used them for.
“Here.” He shoved an apple towards her. “Swiped some stuff of the table as we went past.”
Thorn pocketed it.
“I’ll keep it in case we are down here for a few days. Looks like there’s a room ahead. But there’s a drop so watch your step.” As they entered the room Thorn let go of Jolly’s hand and started to investigate. She was looking for something they could use for a torch.
The boy was a far better at spotting traps and picking locks then her so she wanted him to have some light.
The room itself was not particularly interesting. Which wasn’t preferable. The quicker they found things the sooner they were let out. Their saving grace was that there was no local wild life. The children weren’t allowed weapons (after all they could use them on the bandits.)
So, they were nothing more then a tasty snack unless the found something (that would be confiscated upon exiting the tomb.). Thorn had yet to find tracks of creatures though. Which meant they might only be dealing with rats. She did however find an old torch and using a stone was able to get it alight.
The room brightened and Thorn got a better look around too. It was an old burial room. Already turned over (not good.)
Jolly walked over to her and too the torch. He then handed her a rusty dagger.
“You’ll be better out front so here. If I find something better I’ll let you know.”
“You sure?” Thorn looked over the blade. The dagger as Thorn looked over it was clearly old. Likely it had been buried with the owner and only held sentimental value.
“I’ll wave the torch and yell if I spot something.” He paused. “Let’s not spend to long here since it’s been turned over. But there might be other weapons.”
They didn’t find anything else of use in the place. They had even looked for the brand. Sometimes kids or those who escaped from Faelon left hidden treasure for other children to find. Usually in the early parts of the hole. Hidden but marked with the brand the elf gave each child’s right arm upon their first night in camp. But there was nothing, they were going to have to go deeper.
Thorn went first, dagger ready. She walked as quietly as possible as they made their way back to the second fork. This time they went down the right entrance. This side smelt of damp.
“Might be some fresh water.” Thorn said. “Good to know if this place has been picked over.”
“It would be our luck that it has.” Jolly muttered. “Good thing you didn’t eat the apple.”
“If necessary we’ll split it. We’ve got a blade to cut it with now.”
“I’d trust your spit over a knife I found next to a skeleton. Even if you don’t give me a fair share.”
Thorn had to laugh at the dry tone.
“I’d be as fair as possible.”
It really didn’t need saying but it was comforting to hear. It was never really said by the children but since they always went down ‘holes’ in pairs. It was expected to be fair with one and other. Better to be working together then suspicious of one and other.
Even then sometimes the bandits were cruel. Sometimes they said the things the children brought back were only enough to get one of them out and tell them to either go back in or fight it out. Thorn had only been in that situation once…
She and One-eye had agreed to go back in.
They had to go pretty deep into the cavern, down the path they had avoided. It was full of web. When the met the spider they were about as well armed as she and Jolly were now.
At least the venom was quick. One-eye was dead within minutes and Thorn had to leave the body behind. The bandits let her out, after all there was enough found for one person.
“Thorn?” Jolly shook her shoulder.
“Thinking.” He didn’t ask. Likely he could guess a little of what was clouding her mind. They kept moving. Eventually they found the source of the damp smell. There was a brook feeding into a small pool. Thorn tasted the water. “Clean.” She looked up at the source but the hole was to small for either of them.
“We won’t die of thirst at least.” Jolly commented. He held his torch up and looked about. Thorn was as well. This was another burial chamber. The brook was new. There was another path leading on, deeper into the tomb.
“Keep going?” He nodded.
“Don’t see why we should stop now.” As they walked they found the last thing they wanted to see. A cave in. It was old but… The bandits sometimes told them stories of the children who got trapped when a cave in happed. Obviously no one went back for them… Why would they?
Thorn didn’t like the reminder but Jolly had a quick look around. He returned with a brass ornamental box. Dented but it was still functional.
He pocketed it and they continued on. That was definitely not enough.
They ended up finding some stairs leading deeper into the tomb. They were broken (likely by what had caused the cave in.) But manageable. Especially with Thorn going first and leading Jolly down. That was when they first saw it. Another bad sign for their kind.
A trap that had been disabled.
“Adventurers.” Jolly said as he looked over it. “It’s too well done to be some random tomb robber.”
“At least this place is unlikely to have monsters.” Jolly dusted off his clothes. Not that it mattered much with how muddy the pair were for sitting on the ground in the pen.
“Yeah, but it’s also going to be picked clean.”
Thorn knew that she was just trying to find a bright side.
“We found the box though. Maybe these guys were only looking for gold or jewels. There might be enough little things for us to get by.” Jolly nodded but didn’t say anything. There was no point dwelling on the fear. Not when they needed each other to get through this.
The pair kept going. They ended up finding another fork. One side had been emptied but they found a pair of daggers in better condition. So, they both now had a decent weapon. The second tunnel evened out. It no longer went down but instead they walked down a long rock hallway.
“What do you think?” Jolly asked. Thorn looked over the carvings.
“It might be where the important people were buried?” The carvings weren’t of any use. They were mostly names in old tongues. Thorn had picked up a little of the languages of old from her trips into tombs but right now it wasn’t doing them any good.
The hall they were walking down had a side exit. The reason they chose to follow it over the continuing was that this side exit had a carved decorative arch.
Very quickly they found walls covered in tombs. Names beneath them. Most were open and picked clean like the pair suspected they would. But they also found trinkets here and there. Little things that were starting to amount to full pockets. Mostly little brass decorations but they were things.
It gave the pair hope as they moved forward.
The path ended in a grand room with a dalius. Atop it was an open tomb.
But what got the pair’s attention was the mass of squirming rats.
“That’s why we haven’t seen any.” Thorn whispered. Jolly threw the touch at the creatures that ran shrieking away from their meal.
It was a monster. Thorn noticed arrows, burns (magic?). The adventurers had come this way real recently then if the rats were still eating the corpse. Jolly picked up the torch and started looking about. The pair could hear the scuttle of rats.
“Keep them back.” Thorn called as she walked up to the creature. She noticed it moving slightly. She was no longer squeamish so the rats eating away beneath the rotting skin meant nothing to her. She was just wary of their teeth.
“Thorn?” Jolly did as she asked but she could tell he was confused. Thorn started to look over the body. She recognised the beast, the large golden beetle like thing. She knew the long mandibles next to it’s mouth would at least be worth something.
“We can harvest this guy a little.” She explained taking out the daggers and getting to work. Careful to dodge the rats. “It’s something.”
“Yeah. Good idea.”
Thorn wasn’t sure how long she was at it but she got most of the claws removed as well as the mandibles from the body and in her pouch without a bite. While she had been working she had thought of something.
“Hey Jolly we need to go back to the start of this little tunnel.”
“Well yeah… it’s a dead end.”
“Thing is I don’t remember seeing tracks leading back the way we came down this tunnel.”
He looked at her for a moment and then followed her lead.
Thorn was right. There were no tracks leading away. Either up the next path or back the way they came.
“I didn’t see any bodies.” Jolly muttered.
“It’s worth looking around more.” It was a tomb after all not a cave. Maybe there were secret paths, paths that would lead them somewhere. The thing was once open they might close and leave them locked inside.
The pair went back to the room. The rats had already returned to the body. They ignored them. The pair looked about the room. Jolly looked for anything odd. Thorn looked for tracks.
“Jolly!” She hissed and gestured for him to come over. She’d found some tracks, but they led to a bare wall. Jolly began to look around it. Carefully moving his hands around till he found an indent and the rock slowly slide to the side.
Jolly then told Thorn how to activate the door before going in to have a look around. It wasn’t long before the halfling reappeared.
“There’s a way to open it on this side too. Come on in.”
It was another hallway. The pair followed it. What Thorn noticed was that the tracks of the adventurers became more and more obvious as they went along. There was more dirt and dust on the ground.
The pair followed Thorn stopping once or twice to readjust the mandibles strapped to her back. The pair ended up stopping in the hall for a rest and to split the apple. Thorn not needing as much sleep took second watch and let Jolly rest until he was ready to go.
They kept walking when Thorn noticed something.
“I… Can smell fresh air!” She called out. Jolly froze behind her. He then ran up to meet her and the pair sped up. It was hope against hope but they couldn’t stop themselves.
They finally came to what looked like a dead end but they could see light seeping through the cracks. Jolly got to work looking for another way of opening the door.
As it opened the pair had to shield their eyes, they were used to the darkness of the tomb.
Finally, when they had adjusted themselves they tentatively looked around. They were in a wood. On the other side of a cliff.
No one else was about. The pair started looking around, but they didn’t find anyone.
Thorn jumped as Jolly closed the door using the mechanism on the outside.
“Are we really-“
“Yeah I think we are.” For once Jolly was smiling. “It was dark when we started and now the sun is starting to lower? We’ve been in there for at least a day.”
They were so far away… Faelon and the others would just assume they had died down there. They had done it before. The sound of material being torn caught her attention. Jolly had ripped his pants leg and was tying the material around his right upper arm.
Thorn got it. Jolly was hiding the brand. She did the same.
“Let’s get moving. Faelon’s heading south so we should keep going north. Hope you can catch food other then rats. I’ve always been terrible.”
“I’ve got it. Just keep an eye out okay?” He nodded. “So, what do you want to do?”
“Let’s find the nearest town, sell what we have and from there…” He went silent. Thorn didn’t push him on it. She didn’t know what to do either. She had never expected to escape. She thought she would die in one of those holes.
As the pair of them walked. Thorn got into hunting. Between the two of them they were able to prepare traps and Thorn was able to deal with the meat. They took turn on watches each night. As days went on it truly sunk in.
They were free.
One night as they ate some rabbit Jolly spoke.
“I have an uncle… The guards sent a letter to the guy after my parent’s death… But Faelon took me away before I got a reply. I’m thinking I’ll send another with the money we make. What about you?”
“I don’t remember anything before my first night in camp.” The burning hot metal against her six-year-old self’s skin was her first memory. “I think I’ll just… travel.”
As Thorn looked up at the stars that night she really thought about it. She would travel.
She’d take a new name and be whoever she wanted to be.
She would free.