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Sooo… the town of Combe.

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Since arriving in town I’ve discovered that the inhabitants can be divided into two groups:

1) Idiots
2) Me

And since I’m working for people in group #1, it’s entirely possible that there might be some overlap between the two.

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I’m working with one of the town’s outstanding group #1 representatives, Ellie Cutleaf. She used to work with the brigands and claims she can give me directions to their hideout. She helped them cross-breed dogs with a warg, which is like mating goldfish with sharks. You might argue that it’s unfair to label her an idiot if she’s able to get those two things to mate. But I would have to say that taking a job raising ravenous dogs for people who are trying to kill you has to go pretty far towards getting you elected mayor of idiot town.

A warg is basically an orcish murderhorse, and it kind of seems like cheating for the brigands to keep stacking the odds when they already have us out-numbered and out-brained. Then again, it’s rather sporting of them to sub-contract the warg-breeding to one of the locals. Nice of them to stimulate the local economy before they come in and kill everyone.

My supposed goal is to get Ellie to help me take apart the brigand forces, but that’s just a cover for my secret goal to find Amdir, which is just a cover for my real, actual goal, which is to make enough money to buy clothes that will make people die of envy.

Ellie wants me to go in and kill off all the half dog / half warg things she helped them raise.

It seems like it would be a lot easier to send the person who raised the dogs in the first place. She could walk right up to them and strangle their stupid fluffy asses while they wonder what they did to anger mommy. Nobody would even get hurt. (Except the dogs, who would die horribly, filled with a sense of confusion and betrayal. Which is fine.) But instead she’s sending in a bite-sized stranger.

Trips to Chetwood: 2

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This must be the place. It’s a farm? The only thing around is a dog kennel. So… it’s a dog farm?

I poke around until I spot the half-warg / half-dog beast that Ellie wants made dead. Maybe, being a female, it won’t be as aggressive and I’ll be able to kill it without a big struggle.

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Hi there. Come here girl. Nice doggie, come give auntie Lulzie some snuggly-lovey.

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Shit.

Well, they’re flesh-hungry hell-dogs for sure, but they’re a lot less feisty with their heads off. Once I’ve killed mommy, I look around the place.

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A haystack? Is this a special farm for hay-eating bandit dogs? This is very hard to understand.

I don’t see Amdir or any kind of brigand bossman. So if this is their main base, it’s woefully understaffed. I am suspecting that perhaps this is not actually their main base. I really hope this is because Ellie has betrayed me and not because she’s too stupid to send me to the right brigand stronghold.

Let’s go back to Cutleaf and find out.

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As I feared, she’s still on our side. When I arrive she starts talking about some plan to poison the bandit dogs. Her thinking is that if I can take some poison and drop it into the dog’s food supply, we should be able to get rid of their entire brood of warg-dogs without having to track them down and kill each one personally. Ellie even knows a man right here in town who can provide the poison.

“But… I already killed the dogs,” I protest.

“Well, ye killed the mother, but you’ll still need to deal with the pups they’ve raised.”

“So why was poisoning the food supply the SECOND item on your to-do list?”

“I don’t follow.”

“Did the mother dog eat? Like, food? Sometimes?”

“Oh yes. Like a beast possessed.”

“So if I were to, say, poison the dog’s food supply, wouldn’t that have killed her?”

“Well, no need to do that now since you dealt with her directly,” Ellie says matter-of-factly.

“That’s what I’m saying, see… Look. Nevermind. The point is, I hate you.”

On the upside, using poison is going to be a huge labor-saving effort. This is so much better than hacking through diseased creatures and crawling through godforsaken ruins every time something needs done. Even better is that Leecher Cartwell is right around the corner! I don’t even have to go far for his help.

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Cartwell is the town herbalist and medicine man, according to how humans do things. He makes his living by making medicines, poultices, and other useful concoctions. He’s a pleasant enough fellow. Slightly shy and quiet as Humans go, and he neglects to offer me tea despite having a fresh pot of it boiling away on the stove, but he’s earnest and eager to help. He listens quietly while I explain our plans.

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He’s not eager to concoct poison, but bless his soul, he’s willing to do what he can. “If this will help make things right, then I will help,” he says in his low murmuring voice, “I think I know just the thing! I’ll need fresh honey, blackwort root, and several red berries.”

“Wonderful!” I say cheerily. “Go ahead. I don’t mind waiting.”

I let him do his herbalist business while I help myself to a cup of his tea. It would feel a little ungainly sitting down in one of his enormous chairs, so I take my tea standing. I hope he doesn’t think of this as a rudeness. In the Shire it’s rude to not offer people tea if you have some on hand, so if I am being a little rude it sort of evens things out. At any rate, it’s very nice to meet a professional who isn’t going to use me as his personal errand-runner or assassin. I begin to hum a merry tune as I drink. This feels rather like being in the Shire for once. An oversized Shire where the robbers outnumber the townspeople and the tea tastes like bilge water, but the Shire nonetheless.

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About halfway through my cup I notice he’s still standing there with an awkward look on his face. Thinking he might be upset about the tea, I proffer the cup, “You don’t mind do you?”

“Oh, no. It’s just that…”

“Hmm?” I ask absent-mindedly, looking around to see if he has any biscuits out.

“It’s just hat I’ll need fresh honey, blackwort root, and several red berries to make the poison.”

“So you said!” I nod. I spy some biscuits on the counter-top nearby. Not fresh by any stretch, but I’m not one to complain out loud.

“And I’ll need help getting them, you see,” he adds, somewhat apologetically.

I look around the room, slightly irritated. “What? Are they on a high shelf? You’re taller than me and then some. Should I fetch a stool for you?”

“No, no no,” he laughs. “I mean, I don’t have any of those ingredients here.”

I slam my teacup down with a rattle. “What do you mean?” I ask horrified and knowing full well where this is going.

“I need you to get those ingredients if you want me to make you the poison.”

“What kind of alchemist are you, anyway?” I shout at him through a mouthful of extremely stale and bitter biscuit.

“I’m an herbalist!”

“A whateverist! How can you do your job if you don’t keep ingredients around?”

“I do have ingredients!” he protests. “Just not the ones you need!”

“When I go to the blacksmith he doesn’t send me to mine some ore for him first!” Actually, I haven’t been to a human blacksmith. Maybe that is how they do things around here.

He throws his arms in the air in exasperation. “Well, I’m sorry if I don’t have the makings for deadly poison on hand!”

“HONEY?” I wave the dry and half-eaten biscuit at him accusingly. “Is common HONEY so exotic that you don’t keep any around?”

“No. I guess not. Actually, I’m not sure why I’d be out of that.”

I guess being out of honey might partly explain why he’s such a bad cook. I work to down my mouthful. “You are a very bad herbalist. And I didn’t want to say anything before, but even your tea is terrible!”

“And that’s another thing!” he says raising his voice> “I’m trying to get some work done here, so please stop eating the soap-cakes and drinking all my joint tonic!”

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Well, I had hopes that things were looking up, but now we’re back to murder and tears.

The first item on our shopping list is honey. Now, most people, when they need honey, would go to the grocer and buy some. But Cartwell has marked the spot on my map where I’m supposed to get the honey, and it turns out to be some rube’s back yard. I have to take the honey directly from the the guy’s beehive. Theft it is, then.

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The second item is berries. The berries are free, plentiful, close at hand, and guarded by killer bears.

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Sigh. I should have known I couldn’t get through a day without having to kill a bear. At least this will be quick.

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…unless I have to gather from six bushes, in which case this will turn into a long-term project.

This bushes must be some sort of Dr. Seuss-styled thing where a great big bush will only produce a single berry.

The third item on my shopping list is the blackwort root. Surprisingly I don’t have to fight bears to get it. I just have to hike to…

Trips to Chetwood: 3

…Chetwood and go into a…

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…wolf den and fight wolves.

Remember that I’m getting poison to feed to dogs. I’m poaching bears and wolves so that I can avoid fighting dogs.

I return to Cartwell and give him the supplies, “Is that it?”

He nods, “Yes. I should have your poison in a moment.”

“You don’t need me to go and quest for any other basic items? You don’t need firewood from Mirkwood or a stirring-spoon from Sauron’s kitchen?”

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He looks down at me, “You are not like the other Hobbits I’ve met.”

“Well, you’re just like the humans I’ve met.”

A few minutes later he hurries me out the door with my bottle of poison. With that in hand, I head off to see Cutleaf again to find out where I’m going with this fresh bottle of murderjuice.

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Cutleaf seems satisfied, “You got the poison? Right. Now there will be a lot of guards, so you’ll be wanting to take some friends with ye.”

“Yeah. Friends. I have those. I have so many that they couldn’t come in here with me. They had to wait outside. Which is why you never see them.”

“I’m sure you know best,” she says warily.

“Yeah. So where is this hideout? Please don’t say it’s in-“

“You’ll be heading for the far side of Chetwood.”

Thankfully, dealing with Cartwell has put me in the mood to end lives, or I don’t think I’d have the willpower to get through this.

Next Time: Chetwood, here I come… again.

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Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.

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