The marketplace was utter chaos. Hundreds of townsfolk scrambled every which way, yelling, screaming, and shrieking. Teeon pushed through the crowd clutching a tan wicker basket overflowing with orange-red apples. A primal roar that curdled Teeon’s blood issued from the apple stand he had just retreated from. Ducking and diving under rows of market stalls, Teeon, for the first time, was thankful for his tiny halfling stature. He bumped and weaved his way through groups of clambering people. Occasionally, an apple tumbled from the basket, disappearing into the sea of bodies. Another roar, much closer this time, punctuated the air behind him.
This is bad. This is very, very bad.
Teeon exploded from the mass of people at the edge of the market. Looking left and right, he decided right, jogging towards a side street. He spared a glance over his shoulder. A burly male orc, bare of chest with blue-gray skin and scowling around a pair of menacing tusks, charged out of the crowd. The scowl quickly fell upon Teeon.
Teeon coaxed an extra burst of speed from his stout but short legs. Must run faster, must run faster!
Racing down the street, Teeon glanced around for something, anything, that could help him lose his pursuer. A howl of rage chased after him. A tabby cat, its calico fur puffed out, went sprinting into a nearby alley. He rushed after the feline and eyeballed the narrow alleyway.
I hope this works.
Teeon pressed between the buildings, his arms scraping against splintery walls. He squeezed the basket, forcing its round shape to be more oblong. Two more apples fell to the ground. Teeon looked back. The orc glared at him from the alley’s entrance. Growling, the orc punched the building, turned, and left. Teeon’s stomach did a joyous somersault.
Yes! It worked!
Moments later, Teeon lurched from the other side of the alleyway onto the town’s main road, his feet sinking into clay-like mud. He looked up and down the street. It was deserted. The buzz of activity from the marketplace was audible but faint. A distant shout followed by a bird squawking emanated from somewhere unseen. To the northwest, dark gray rain clouds of a fresh storm approached the town.
I just need to get to the forest. Teeon trudged down the road towards the south edge of town, towards the forest. I can easily hide there. With the adrenaline of the chase fading away, the weight of the apples was more noticeable, and his arms screamed for relief.
Teeon made it past the last pair of buildings that marked the edge of town when all of a sudden the air was filled with a shrill screech. Wide-eyed, he paused and looked over his shoulder. From around the corner of a nearby building came a blue-feathered axe-beak, a predatory bird the size of a horse often used as mounts by farmers, mercenaries, and raiders. Riding atop the beast and wielding a metal-tipped javelin was the blue-gray skinned orc.
The orc and axe-beak turned towards him.
Teeon yelped, jerking into motion and nearly slipping on the slick ground. Four more apples bounced out of the basket. The axe-beak squawked. Teeon heard the bird’s talons clomping through the coagulated mud.
“I’ve got you now Goldmewoooah,” the orc shouted. A wet thud and harsh screeching followed.
Without slowing, Teeon glanced back. The axe-beak was sprawled on the ground, its legs flailing in the air and its free wing wildly flapping. The orc was shouting obscenities from beneath the mount and attempting to push the beast off him. The javelin had disappeared.
Teeon darted off the road and sprinted to the safety of the forest. His pace barely slowed when he broke past the treeline. Again using his small size to his advantage, Teeon slipped between pairs of trees and raced under low hanging branches, occasionally taking abrupt turns here and there. When the fatigue in his legs threatened to deliver him to the forest floor, he came to a graceless halt and threw himself back first into a massive blueberry bush. Blood pulsed in his ears, drowning out all other sounds. His lungs were on fire, and with each breath, they attempted to burst from his chest. He curled into a ball around the apple basket, making himself as small as possible.
A tavern song’s worth of time passed. The forest remained silent and unmoving beyond the swaying of leaves.
I got away. He choked out a nervous laugh. I actually got away.
Teeon crept from the bush, his clothes covered in splotches of blueberry juice, and surveyed the forest. It did not take him long to get his bearings, he and his friends practically lived in this forest after all. Picking up the basket, Teeon began navigating to where he had agreed to meet Bran and Verna should the worst happen. He kept a wary eye out for the blue-gray skinned orc, but the only creatures he came across were a family of deer and a pair of squirrels. Hopping over a fallen tree trunk, Teeon entered a small clearing nestled in a secluded area of the forest. At the center sat a gigantic oak tree with dozens of thick limbs spidering off in all directions.
“Verna! Bran!” he yelled. “You there?”
No one answered his calls.
He walked up to the base of the tree, staring up into its lush branches. “Hello?”
Still no answer.
They should be here by now . . .
Setting the apples down, Teeon investigated the clearing but spotted no recent signs of his friends. He leaned against the old oak, slunk to the ground, brought his knees to his chest, and rested his forehead on crossed arms.
Where in the Hells are you guys?
Three sweet and juicy apples later, Teeon accepted that Bran and Verna were not coming. He was on his own.
The gray clouds from earlier had rolled in over the forest and with them a cold breeze carrying the aroma of fresh rain. With the basket of apples, Teeon made his way northwest, sticking to the woods until he came upon Briar Creek. He followed the stream out of the woods and into the hills. It was drizzling by the time he reached Honeycomb Lane. Crossing the modest bridge that forded the creek, he followed the lane west.
When Teeon reached the turnoff to Mr. and Mrs. Burrows’ homestead, he veered off the road in the opposite direction, arcing around the nearby hill. He heard the bees and smelled the honey before seeing the hives. The hives rested in four fenced off fields at the base of the hill. Each field held a dozen skeps sitting on waist-high wood tables. Despite the drizzle, a few tiny brown-and-yellow honey bees still dutifully buzzed around their homes. A hundred yards past the beehives, nestled between two other hills and resting on the edge of a thicket, was the backside of a modest two-story wooden house with a thatched roof.
Using the beehives and trees as cover, Teeon crept towards the house and stole into the small shed attached to it. He tucked the apples into a dark corner and tossed a blanket over them. The blanket collapsed a few inches into the basket. He would figure out what to do with the apples tomorrow.
Going around to the front of the house, Teeon walked a few paces towards the entrance and halted, his eyes going wide. Grazing in the small patch of wild grass next to the house was a blue-feathered axe-beak. One side of the creature was covered in patches of dried mud. The beast was twice Teeon’s height and his head could easily fit inside the bird’s large, wedge-shaped gray beak. The axe-beak raised its head and narrowed its purple eyes.
Halfling and axe-beak stared at one another, silently. Lightning pierced the storm clouds. Booming thunder followed moments later. Heavy rain poured down.
The bird of prey turned its body to face Teeon, and a talon raked the ground.
The axe-beak took a step towards him.
Teeon patted the air in front of him. Nice bird, nice giant scary bird. With exaggerated slowness, he moved back a few paces and turned around. As soon as his back was to the creature, it let out a shrill squawk. Teeon made it precisely half a step before a loud bang erupted behind him.
“Hold it right there, Mister,” a stern female voice said.
“You best get your butt in the house right this instant.”
Teeon looked past the house back towards the inviting hills, and for the briefest of brief moments, he considered making a break for it.
“Now, Teeon Goldmead.”
Teeon tore his gaze from the hills and trudged to the door. He avoided contact with the narrowed hazel eyes of the halfling woman leaning out the kitchen window—his birth mom, Jillian. When he reached the front door, the window shutter slammed closed and he flinched.
Placing his hand on the door handle, Teeon glared at the axe-beak. “Thanks a lot,” he said. The bird ruffled its feathers and flicked its mud-covered wing at him. Teeon could have sworn the beast actually turned its beak up at him.
Taking a deep breath, Teeon pushed through the door and into his home. He was immediately blasted by warm air carrying the fragrance of his mom’s baking—honey-glazed bread and cake, honeyed truffles and pie, and . . . apple tarts? Jillian stood in the kitchen doorway, glaring at him from beneath a wild mob of auburn hair. She wore an apron covered in flour and dried patches of honey. Her hands were on her hips, and like a woodpecker, her foot tapped the hardwood floor.
Teeon knelt and spent an inordinate amount of time taking off his muddy boots. Placing the first one under the coat rack, he noticed something that was not normally there—a long, iron-tipped javelin. A lump formed in his throat. His body began to feel warm and itchy. The tempo of Jillian’s tapping foot increased.
With difficulty, Teeon swallowed the lump and removed the second boot.
When he stood, Jillian said, “Living room.” Despite being half a head taller than her, Teeon still shrunk under his mom’s gaze. He shuffled down the hallway, his shoulders hunched and his eyes on the floor. Jillian trailed closely behind him, grumbling about his blueberry stained clothes.
Teeon entered the living room and halted. Deep shadows danced in the corners of the room thanks to a healthy fire crackling in the stone hearth. At the room’s center was a simple, knee-high wood table. Resting atop it were a few sealed glass jars of honey along with a neatly stacked pile of four mud-splotched orange-red apples. Seated on the sofa next to the table was his mother, Helja, a middle-aged dwarf wearing honey-stained beekeeping garments. Her gloves and veiled hat rested next to her. Nursing a tankard and sitting comfortably in the armchair at the far end of the table was a burly, blue-gray skinned orc.
“There’s the man I’ve been waiting for,” the orc said in a gruff but lighthearted voice. He raised his tankard in mock salute and gave Teeon a toothy grin.
“You have a lot of explaining to do young man,” Helja said, leaning forward and gesturing at the apples. “Starting with where you stole the rest of Mr. Grommash’s apples off to.”
Teeon grimaced, suddenly finding the flickering flames in the hearth very interesting.
That’s the last time I ever take a dare from Bran and Verna.
D&D Art Vignette: Apples is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.