You never really forget the sight of a Tiefling man covered in mud with a string of mushrooms tied around his outlandishly colored outfit. Especially with all the facial scars, a metal left hand, and a weird looking bit of jewlery around one of the horns on his head. The man would rarely speak or approach people, spoke with a weird stutter when he did, and constantly jumbled his words. A new member of the motley crew of mercenaries had made their appearance today, and Echo happily approached them after their intiation had finished.
"H-Hello, friend. New meet good, yes this now nice, good thing. Friend good, gift Echo Echo give . . . give, nice friend new elf is yes you." The elf who'd just joined was confused, having some strange rune on stone shoved into her hand. "Good yes day, hold nice good friend, person sould is good," Echo said before snorting and beginning to drift away towards some trees.
The group kept together like a family. A very disfunctional chaotic neutral family that enjoyed insulting each other and occassionally bonding over good mead. No animosity, just some good old banter. They were good people, I guess. Mercenaries that killed for coin but didn't bother with the politics or moral ambiguity of it. You did a job, you got paid, it was simple. But like all groups, bonds begin to form.
The leader was a great man and tactical genius named Sigurd. A human who enjoyed dual swords and always made sure the job got done. Apparently he was an oathbreaker paladin if you could believe it. He was cruel to his enemies, but he enjoyed the family he had made with the mercenaries, and so kept them safe.
Next was a Goliath woman named Wren, a Barbarian that loved and cherished her great axe and was simple. Eat, drink, fight. Rinse and repeat. She had the most beautiful singing voice, but preferred chopping up bards instead of being one of them. If someone dared talk bad about her family of mercenaries you can bet she was right up front ready to bash skulls.
There was a half elf cleric named Wicker that enjoyed stiching up wounds as well as making them. Not much was known except that had carried an insignia from his time as a soldier. He said he used to be a medic, but not much else.
Then there was Onyx, a dragonborn wizard that loved his books. He'd been banished from some great academy for a terrible accident. He was a hugger, that loved chucking fireballs and giving emotional support.
Next up, and the newest addition, was another half elf named Mira, an assassin that needed a more constant stream of work.
And last but not least was a purple Tiefling named Echo.
Echo was a weird case. Years of psychdelic mushroom abuse, a really bad head injury, and he was quite similiar to an idiot savant. He wasn't actually an idiot, but he could barely speak, and when he did it was jumbled nonsense, but he was an artificer that crafted things with precision you could only imagine. Magic items, armor upgrades, weapon care but not creation, Echo ensured the party never speant a dime at the blacksmith unless it was to get raw materials or new weapons. But he was soft hearted. In a group of mercenaries that killed for coin, Echo always tried to encourage peace, but fought when he had to. With a thunder cannon and a character sheet geared towards weapon crafting, he for some reason never crafted an actual weapon. Just armor, runes, enchantments, and enhancements. He maintained them sure, and made himself bullets, but never made anything meant to kill. Oh well, quirky little bastard could do what he wanted as far as anyone cared.
A few weeks of jobs completed, and Mira is fitting in great. She's rolling with the banter, enjoying easy coin, and doing great. Slowly but surely she's learning more about the party and forming stronger bonds with them.
Sigurd once belonged to a great Order, but differences in their beliefs caused him to leave the order. However, he was framed for a murder of a priest he didn't commit, and instead of try to prove his innocence he butched his fellow brothers that put him up. For this, he became an oathbreaker and a kinslayer.
Wren had joined a great Barbarian horde nearly ten years ago, and descended upon the civilized kingdoms. Out of hundreds of thousands, she was one of the few thousand that survived. They had many victories, but were ultimately crushed when many kingdoms united and fought them in the mountains. Her people came to call it the Night of Absent Screams to ensure that everyone knew her people did not scream or beg for mercy. She became a drifter with no purpose till meeting Sigurd.
Wicker was a solider that had fought against Wren's horde. He was a medic that buried all of his friends, and while everyone celebrated the victory he held the hands of his dying brothers, or buried soldiers that would never see their home again. He was a broken man that turned to Mercenary work, hoping to one day find a shallow grave to sleep in forever.
Onyx was a hugger as always, but like the rest had come from something that was not his doing. His fellow students had grown jealous of his work and advancement, and attempted to sabatoge it to prank Onyx. Unfortunately the prank went sideways and ended up exploding in the face of several teachers. Onyx was shamed, banished, and sought vengeance ever since on the spoiled noble brats that cost him everything.
Finally Echo, who Mira tended to avoid, among the others.
Those weeks turned to months, then finally Mira wanted to know.
"Hey, boss," she asked Sigurd one night at camp.
"No, I'm not offering a raise." Sigurd laugh.
"What's the story with tiefling?" Mira continued. "The rest of you seem pretty cool, but what's up with that one?"
"Who? The stuttering one? Eh, when I fell out with the Order I found him when picking through some ruins. Said he'd been living there for a while. He had all these machines and old weapons, armor, and all this other magic shit. I threatened him to get some and he just handed me some armor saying he was sorry for being a bad host." Sigurd tapped the breastplate he had, "Best suit of enchanted armor I've ever seen. After that I asked if he wanted to come with me. Kept him ever since."
"And?" Mira continued.
"And what?" Sigured raised his brow.
"What was he before you picked him up?"
"Don't know, don't care. He maintains weapons, armor, wagons, and makes things. That's all I care to know." Sigurd shrugged before he continued to tend to the horses.
Mira then went to a little fire a bit away from the main camp and whistled to get Echo's attention. "Hear yes you Echo does. Down sit one want maybe, yes? Things talk careful now of." Echo said outloud without taking his eyes off his weapon.
Mira waved and sat down across from him. "Hey there, Echo is it?"
"Name yes yes, Echo here. Echo make gift for good soul person, here it you enjoy maybe yes please." Echo held out a pocket watch with a smile, his eyes slightly twitching as the mushrooms around his neck had clearly been bitten into throughout the day.
Mira accepted and was surprised at the level of detail. A fully funcitioning pocket watch. "Oh wow, did you make this?"
"Time take make good thing for good soul person, person soul good find use yes time keep." Echo nodded before scratching at his forhead and looking down at the fire. "Speaking hard find I. Head jumble words, pebbles pitter patter, think can't, sorry Echo sorry."
"I think I can understand it all. You're fine. But…. What do you mean by good soul person?" Mira raised her brow.
"You person soul good, see tethers hold you blue glow. That is good, Echo echo see good tethers in all, maintain, make right. Good things, yes." Echo nodded before his eyes glazed over. Mira took a moment to snap her fingers before he snapped back down and smiled at her like he'd just met a best friend for the first time in years. "Friend good yes, sit and speak echo make happy now. Friend good soul yes."
"Echo I . . . I'm not a good person. I killed people for money." Mira stated.
"Echo see tether, tether say good, follow good tether, see good soul person, yes." Echo nodded before looking down at the fire. "Echo tether bad see. Echo know bad, feel it… Still thing good find in person soul yes."
"There aren't any good people in this world echo. . . Simply as that. . . So, off topic before you turn me all sappy what were you before all this?"
"Before?" Echo tilted his head like a curious dog.
"Yeah, before Sigurd. What were you."
"Echo builder!" Echo threw his hands up happily. "Echo build thing big yes. Make great plans. Try library build fill with brain knowlege plan. Not finish, make soon, all learn good thing."
"You wanted to build…. A library? What that's all?" Mira leaned back, looking back at the main camp where the others were eating and drinking. "You want to join the rest of us?" Mira gestured towards the main camp.
Echo shook his head. "Noise loud make by big scary friend Wren. Head hurt all time, but pain more noise make, scratch spiders brain make scratchy poke." He said before as if on queue Wren the Goliath gave a booming laugh, causing the Tiefling to cover his ears and wince.
"Hm…. Well alright then. Thanks for the watch. I'll see you later." Mira nodded before standing up.
"Safe stay friend, have good you and feel better having stay you here yes." Echo smiled.
Mira was still curious, but was too tired to play decipher, no matter how simple the puzzling stutter and language of repeats was. The party enjoyed a solid rest and continued onward. Monster contracts, bounty hunting missions, and escort missions all lead to one goal. A rival Empire in the South that offered good money for an invasion it was planning on one of its neighbors. The merry band of mercenaries were dead set on serving the Sun Emperor for this season of battle, since rumor had it the guy had somehow tamed two great dragons to fight beside him.
So the party continued their march. Finally another month or two in game and Mira sat down at Echo's little side camp again. "Hey Echo," Mira offered while dropping him a few rabbits to cook.
"Friend! Good soul, Echo thanks say yes. Rabbit stew, rabbit stew, rabbit stew." Echo nodded happily. "Oh, friend here make this yes. Fix well." He said before producing one of her old daggers that she asked him to fix. Instead of just fix, he'd gone above and beyond with improving it. The blade was amazingly sharp and replaced with some sort of black metal, the handle reinforced with a grip to make holding it easier, and it hummed softly with magic.
"Whoa. . . What . . . Wow, how did you do this?"
"Enchanted." Echo nodded happily. "Fold tethers in blade. Blade like friend good. Look see? Blade is black, but inside magic not black bad. Magic good." The homebrew game had a system for folding magic into weapons so they could activate certain spells based on some extra rolls. Echo had gone ahead and imbued the dagger with a charge of true strike, though Mira in game couldn't make heads or tales of it.
"Wow," Mira nodded, "Oh, wait, Echo…. I told you . . . You know the rest of the party isn't good either right? We're all bad people killing to make a living." Mira sighed as she saw that Echo either didn't understand or chose not to.
"No, no," Echo shook his head before scratching at a thick scar on the right side of his head. "Good tethers see soul good. Leader man strong, want good world. Lady big Goliath protect Echo bad guys from. Wicker man help make pain head go, give Echo potion cure nightmares. Onyx give hug, good man. Like man good." Echo added. "See tethers, see good. Forced choice make bad, but blame not."
"You," Mira blinked as she put the dagger away. "So you gonna tell me what you did before being a builder?"
"Echo bad life live." Echo sighed. "Bad life. Bad Echo . . . Echo bad, very sorry. Hurt of speak."
"Yeah well… We all did bad." Mira sighed.
"You coin kill for yes. Echo see, many make die yes, but not work you like, no."
Mira sighed. "No . . . No I didn't like the work. But I had the skills."
"Echo know, see many memories in tethers." Echo nodded.
"What do you mean tethers?" Mira leaned forward, curious how he knew so much. Perhaps he'd overheard her talk to the others? He'd always seemed lost in thought so it wasn't really that possible.
Echo excitedly stood up and gestured all around. "Everywhere. Tethers, soul person, linked. Show memory. Echo see memory. Echo read watch and, yes know much see. See good person soul."
Mira raised her brow. "So . . . You see . . . Tethers? And they tell you a person's past?"
"Person, tree, mouse and flea . . . Rhym you see!" Echo laughed. "Yes. Why this Echo party like, find good tethers."
"You . . . There aren't any good people here Echo, but whatever . . . So . . . What was this bad Echo hm?" Mira inquired.
Echo looked down at the fire again. "Bad Echo bad . . . Many hurt thing yes, not good. Bad is this yes. Big sorry."
Mira sighed again. "Well . . . I'm sorry to hear that." She looked back at the group laughing and stood up. "Alright then, I'm heading back. Enjoy the rabbit, Echo."
"Stew good make yes. Friend thank." Echo nodded.
Finally after much travel the party arrived at the land of opportunity. Signing on as a mercenary company the crew has specialized skills that made them perfect for special assignments. So they were deployed all over once the war began. Hitting supply caches. Going deep behind enemy lines to assassinate key political figures, acquiring new and dangerous magic items. The group was doing well, and enjoying some good RnR after a string of hits.
Echo was no where to be found though, and as Mira went off with Wren and Wicker to find him so they could enjoy a drink, she found instead a group of half-orcs standing over a bleeding Echo, looting his little campsite. "What are you doing?!" She shouted, which soon brought Wren and Wicker into fight mode. There was a brief scuffle, but they managed to chase off the other mercenaries without killing anyone. It took a moment, but Echo was alive and Wicker went straight into medic mode to tend to him. "Echo, what happened?!" Mira asked as she looked around the campsite. His tent had been torn, the campfire was destroyed, the soup he'd been making was splashed on the ground, and much of his extra gear was broken.
"Bad tethers…. Bad soul person…. Wanted Echo fix thing. Echo say yes, but they want Echo then make weapon. Echo no make weapon, only fix and make better. Not make no weapon. Not like weapon." Echo grumbled. "Said no weapon, bully Echo word with . . . Then hit. Echo hurt."
"Yeah, I'll bet. You'll be ok though." Wicker added as he started to use a healing spell and even stitch up some of the worse parts.
"You should stay with us from now on." Mira added.
"No, no, cannot, cannot." Echo stated. He then began to squirm and scratch at his head before falling to the ground, "Wicker, wicker, feel thought, bad thing help now. Please, please, please," he said while desperately scratching at his head.
"Shit, here, hang on," Wicker reached into his pouch and pulled a weird mushroom before forcing it into Echo's mouth. "Chew, you'll be ok."
"Echo…. Echo sleep." Echo passed out almost immediately after.
"The hell was that?" Mira inquired before looking at the half elf.
"Bit of magic, watch now as I pull a rabbit out of my hat. The hell do you think it was? Guy's got some major demons so I treat him." Wicker shrugged.
"With what? Puff the magic dragon shrooms?" Mira raised her brow, causing a snort from Wren.
"Yeah genius, not like I'm carrying the miracle cure to PTSD, trust me if I did I wouldn't be here." Wicker shrugged. "The specimen I give him is the equivalent of oh….. I guess you'd say the biggest sedative you can find, and I sprinkle some happy dust so he doesn't have any bad dreams."
"That…. Doesn't seem like a long term solution." Mira folded her arms and looked at the sleeping Tiefling.
"Yeah well, I'm a sawbones, not a therapist." Wicker shrugged.
"Should we take him with us?" Mira looked back up at the others.
"Nah let him sleep it off. He has a way of finding us no matter what. Come on, there's dice and cards going on and I ain't missing it."
"I want to find a man for the night." Wren laughed before walking away.
Mira was worried and decided to stay there for the night. watching over Echo as he peacefully slept.
Good thing too, as the half orcs from before occassionally would pass and drop the odd slur towards elves, or brandish weapons and laugh. Mira merely lit a fire and waited, watching carefully.
More time passed, days, weeks, the war was going well. The Sun Empire had several victories and we had been generously compensated. It was business as usual, until Echo approached Mira. "Friend good soul person, thing make, for yes you." He said with a smile before producing another rune.
"Oh? What is it?" Mira asked as she looked over it, rolling poorly on her arcana check.
"Good luck. Make bad luck good." Echo nodded happily.
"Oh ain't that sweet, he likes you." Sigurd laughed.
"You still have the armor he gave you." Mira scoffed.
"Don't mean nothing," Sigured rolled his eyes. He definitly cared for the tiefling, but had a persona to keep up.
Throughout the travels, he'd made the party some powerful armor, charms, and more. Though the weapons he'd only upgrade, never make. Wren had quite the armor as well, Onyx had robes made from the skin of a rare chamelon creature that changed as he moved to avoid aggro, Wicker had some amazing magic resistance charms, and Mira had been given runes of protection and armor that had touches of a shadowy homebrew monsters skin to give her an edge to sneak.
"Well I like it, thank you Echo," She said before holding it by the string it was attached too. It was a pretty basic rune but hummed with some powerful energy to it. So she tied it around her neck and thought nothing else of it.
Another night, another campfire. Mira joined Echo and shared some freshly brewed tea with him after the others had gone to bed. They talked, enjoyed the company for what felt like hours. "So Echo, you still see the good after all this blood shed?"
"Echo good see soul person friend. See it yes, very good." Echo nodded.
Mira shook her head. "I will never understand it. Whatever. . . So come on. We've been traveling for so long, I wanna know what you did before all this. You wanna build a library. What else? I'm trying to get set up with my own underworld syndicate. You know my history. Come on, spill it." Mira encouraged.
Echo once again scratched at his collar, looked at the fire. "Bad thing . . . Bad Echo."
Mira sighed. "Ah well, it was worth a shot. Hey, for what it's worth, glad your here. . . Alright I'm hitting the hay. You ok here?"
Echo nodded. "Echo watch keep yes, spot eye raven with bad guys will, yes." Echo smiled. With that, the night concluded…. And tomorrow they would face the greatest danger ever.