Rem knew the area between his mansion and the fishing village as the back of his hand. A two cargo carts wide, well maintained, cobbled road connected the city of Krart and all outlying settlements, most of which were temporary. Indeed during the longer part of the Turn, or eleven months out of nineteen, the land, rivers, as a matter of fact everything except The Old Forest, was frozen stiff. The Frost weaved its deadly web, its furious, gale winds wreaked havoc upon all – even the strongest of magicians dared not face its blue snow. Only those fortunate enough to have a underground house, well supplied with fuel, food and other necessities, could survive the devastating Krartian weather. Some sages claimed that it wasn’t so and in hallowed antiquity, there were more seasons than the Frost and the Warmth. Rem always chuckled after reading another one of their newly published scrolls – no matter how the weather was back then, they were living in the here and now. You either adapt or die. There was no in-between for the citizens of Krart and even the monstrous denizens of the Old Forest.
Right now, the weather was nice and warm. The last four months of the Warmth were a time for everyone to prepare, gather their last harvest, fix whatever damage that their shelter had suffered during the last Frost. That and stock up on fuel. As a matter of fact, Rem could see priests of the God Iroh who carefully collected the chopped down trees, marked for firewood the previous Turn. While he was running, Rem could only wave to the forest rangers and acolytes, who barely saw him through the thick, over-planted forest. Perhaps after this job, he should visit the temple? Irohans were all a little bit overbearing and somewhat pompous in their manner, appearances, even the way they acted. Although he bowed to Iroh, Rem was a kannite. His chosen deity was Kan – he who gave life, protector of children and the one who sheltered your soul in afterlife. The one who could bring the dead back into the world of the living, had they had not fulfilled their purpose in life. Yes, Rem decided to visit both temples, buy enchanted fuel from the Irohans and see how his friend, priest Zaratos was doing. Perhaps a gift was in order? The powerful, ancient mummy, loved to craft toys for the children living in the poor worker’s district. If Rem could procure large fish bones and in sufficient quantity, the blessed undead would be most thankful. During the Festival of Life, after this Turn’s Frost had ended, the undead walked out of their own city quarter and gave gifts to those children who suffered the most. That was Rem’s favorite festival and as a kannite himself, he tried to aid his temple as best he could.
Now, after an hour of easy running, Rem entered the fishing village and the soles of his boots touched mud for the first time since... yesterday. The man smiled, inhaling the aroma of freshly fried, boiled and grilled fish, his gaze instantly locking a food stall where the Hoods usually left one of their number to scout who entered or left the village. Trying not to step in one or another mud filled puddle, Rem calmly walked up to the stall and smiled, fixing his rebellious braid before addressing the vendor:
“Could you please tell me good sir, where may I locate the Floating Shop? It is, I hope, still afloat?”
The wrinkled old dwarf’s stocky arms gestured towards the end of the village wharf, while his mouth, partially obscured by the long, traditional for fishermen mustache, muttered back the proper answer:
“Certainly my good sir! It is still very much afloat and sailing, even against the strongest, warm winds. Now, may I interest you in some grilled fishies?”
Rem politely refused, using the proper hand sign which to the six well hidden and armed to the teeth Hoods meant that he was not being trailed by an enemy. The solver of problems saw how they snuck back into their concealed spotting positions, while one of their scouts walked openly on the street. The boy, who looked and acted exactly like a proper fisherman’s apprentice, gave Rem the sign to follow him. Most people who knew little about the Hoods, like the ordinary man or woman on the street of Krart, couldn’t imagine that most of the usual city legends which they were fed were purposely faked. There was no “Floating Shop”, there never was any central base of operations or anything centralized for that matter which could be easily located and destroyed. The Hoods were vigilantes and they were indeed everywhere. You never knew who was working for them and many corrupt officials, cheating traders or criminals never woke up after laying to bed once they were marked. That job Rem did for the Hoods last Turn was another one of his freebies – the cheating merchant he snapped the neck of, had been slowly leeching off some of the poorest denizens of the Worker’s quarter. With the memory of that whining, slobbering fat elf, begging for his life, the solver of problems followed his guide into a restaurant and sat on one of the free tables. The server, a fine looking dwarven woman, soon stood next to him, her notebook opened and pencil in hand:
“What would it be, hun? Baked giant cod, or turtle soup? Both are today’s specials and very tasty. If you have the coin to spare, I will call the chef himself and he’ll cook something special for you on the table.”
“Yes please, call the chef. I am indeed in a mood for something rather special today. As a matter of fact, could you please tell the chef that I’ll pay good coin for his forest fish special.”
The server gifted him with a shining smile, winked and after leaving a complimentary bowl of fish jerky, quickly dashed to the kitchen. Rem stuffed his mouth full of dried fish and while he waited for the local Hood chapter boss to emerge from the basement, ordered a flagon of beer from the bar. Those sneaky dwarves, the little bastards knew how to run a business, yes they did! That “free” dried fish was so effin dry, that patrons simply had to order a drink and chase away its saltiness. He didn’t mind though, supporting their family business was always a pleasure and the money, he should have coins by the chest-load before this Frost wove its deadly blanket.
Another bulky, yet shifty looking dwarf came out of the kitchen wearing a cooking apron and a chef’s bonnet. Compared to most dwarves Rem knew, this guy was absolutely jacked! If that wasn’t enough, to the trained eye of someone like himself, this dwarf’s movements seemed almost purposefully slow. He was certain that if push came to shove, that beefy dwarf could run as fast as him, or even quicker! The man was named Bortom and was in fact the same Hood who contracted Rem to solve their merchant problem. Good, then he need not offer useless pleasantries but ask what he wanted to know. Bortom pushed a portable alchemical grill next to his table and after turning up the heat, slapped a large, cleaned up and brined cod on it. While the fish sizzled, his host sat next to him and unrolled a small map which was masked as a embroidered tablecloth. The ordinary on first glance, yet very magical item, he activated by uttering a dwarven tongue-twister and with insane speed nonetheless: “Fresh fishy fish, hundred wriggling little fishies in a fish basket!”
“Whad’ya want to know Remmy boy? My missus told me, you be looking for some fresh forest fish, innit right?”
“Indeed, that is some elusive and very fresh, recently floated out of Krart fish. Hope your suppliers know where I can fish for it?”
“Bah, freshly floated he sais! Give specifics boyo, that ya know, there be many fishies in and out of the water. Forest or no forest, they be needing their moneys them suppliers of mine. Member, you can order from them suppliers only once, Remmy. They can’t be hunting for forest fishies forivar, ya know!”
Rem deliberated while Bortom swiftly turned the cod and sprinkled it with fish spice. Distancing himself from the mouth watering fragrance of the sizzling fish, the solver of problems carefully examined his options. Rem had to decide how big of a helping hand he was willing to pay for.
Something stank to high Vortex and if Rem had to go after those bandits, he’ll be damned to do so without backup. Just in case that certain somebody, who lost their oh-so-expensive and important chest so easily, omitted an important piece of information. Rem was no fool, neither he was overconfident. He would ask the Hoods for full assistance – not only a scout team but one of their war bands, just in case. It was clear that he had to pay good coin for that and be indebted, owe the Hoods a favor. Dead men spent no coin, only undead could do so and Rem loved his fleshy self too much to become one of the blessed so soon...