"Maybe you should watch tonight's battle," suggested the innkeeper. "You can get a good view from the window."
I crossed over and peered around the shutter, preparing to slam it closed at the first sign of tusks. A crowd of around forty adventurers were gathered around the tasteless fountain, near a couple of opportunistic refreshment stands and some spectators with less sense of self-preservation than I.
An overweight man with a preposterously huge mustache and a massive, jewel-encrusted mayor's medallion strode confidently into the center of the plaza. He stepped onto a wooden platform and addressed the crowd. "O noble warriors of fortune," he boomed, his grand country accent clearly audible even from this distance. "The vile Hairybum tribe are on their way to do all manner o' indescribably awful things to our village. We beseech you ..."
"Skip the intro." A dwarf pushed his way to the front of the crowd. It was the blonde fellow who had accosted me earlier. "We've all heard it a million times. What's the reward?"
The mustache wobbled back and forth in irritation for a moment. "Twenty points for every dead gnoll. The usual arrangement. Hang onto yer receipts and hand 'em in at the town hall to get your logs signed ... what's the matter? Why all the consternation, sirs?"
"There was this beggar earlier on," continued the dwarf over the displeased muttering of his fellows. "Handing out hundred-point rewards for lowest-level quests. There hasn't been some kind of boost in the town budget, has there?"
"Of course not! That individual was most certainly not sanctioned by the town Quest Committee! We cannot afford to hand points out like that!"
"Come off it, Dubbly," said the dwarf. He gestured suggestively at the mayor's glittering accoutrements, then the fountain, then the gaudy shop fronts that were lit up with multicolored glowing signs and advertising boards now that night had fallen. "You've been raking it in with both hands since the Trail started. Now I'm thinking our patronage has got to be worth a bit more to you than twenty points a gnoll."
This provoked a chorus of "yeah"s and "preach on"s from the assembly.
At that point a chorus of roars like the angry moos of a herd of demon cows echoed through the town. From the other end of the Street of Inns I saw a stormcloud of activity rise up, moonlight reflecting off many crudely-fashioned axes and hand blades.
The gnolls were charging towards the village square, an army of snarling monsters in unmatching piecemeal armor. Like the one we'd encountered earlier, these were a formidable bunch: hardened desert scavengers, black of fur and a good foot taller than Garethy's forest gnolls. The leader of this pack could probably have crushed a Garethy gnoll to death between his pectoral muscles.
"Now wait one minute!" bellowed the mayor. "We ain't quite ready yet!"
The gnoll charge slowed and stopped, lowering their weapons and scaling back their war cries into mildly perturbed grumbling.
"You've got to understand," said the mayor, turning back to the adventurers. "Guild tax is climbin' up again. We've already moseyed our way through most of the town plannin' budget for the year."
"So how do you explain that beggar?"
"I ain't got no explanation for that, sirs, I told you, that fella musta been some kinda independent operator. Now, are all these gnolls gonna have to kill themselves or are you gonna be adventurers tonight?"