"Condition report, soldier!", the Sergeant barked loudly.
"All... all quiet sir", Guard Tolus replied nervously, with a slight hesitation, not wanting to trigger his superior officer's ill-temper unnecessarily.
"What's that?? Speak up when you're spoken to! Did you see something or not?", Sergeant Slate of the Freeport Militia shouted, as he stood right up in Guard Tolus's face.
"Well.. sir... I've noticed an uptick in the number of halflings running around this area recently. They looked harmless, and some even smiled at me", the guard said, trying hard to not make eye contact, even with his protective helm on.
Sergeant Slate growled unhappily, before turning around abruptly to march away, while Guard Tolus breathed a quiet sigh of relief. There was only one thing Sergeant Slate hated more than trolls, ogres, dark elves, iksar and even the gnome fashionistas that came from all corners of Norrath to congregate in the nearby East Commonlands tunnel - more than all of these, he hated the excruciatingly painful cluelessness of the halflings, always smiling and eating pies wherever they went, even on the eve of their own imminent destruction. If it wasn't for the Kithicor Accords between the leaders of Freeport and Rivervale to keep the evil General V'ghera at bay at their respective borders, he would have gladly rallied up his platoon to storm the halfling city and slay the lot of them, or at least punt and toss a couple of them over their stupid Wall. Secretly he relished the thought that their own folly would eventually lead to their downfall, but strategically he realized Freeport would need their assistance to keep the enemy distracted - even if they were only to serve as fodder to be devoured by the followers of Innoruuk.
Several weeks ago, Sergeant Slate was dispatched by Captain Harzan as a special envoy to tour and inspect Rivervale's city defenses, and to provide guidance and assistance under their alliance - which unfortunately for him, happened to fall on the eve of the annual Rivervale Pie Festival. What he witnessed was shocking to this seasoned veteran guard - the so-called "Guardians of the Vale" in their laughable cloth armor, standing around idly while snacking, while mysteriously vanishing for periods at a time. Meanwhile, the pint-sized city inhabitants went about their merry routines without batting an eye, the ever present sounds of mirth and music from the local musicians cheerily playing in the background of this dystopian paradise.
"Sheriff! You need to get your men on their feet, to patrol the perimeter! Some of your deputies really need exercise! And tell them to wipe that smile off their faces, and to glare with their eyes threateningly at all strangers!" the Sergeant advised.
"We have the Wall. The Wall will protect us", Sheriff Roglio replied dismissively, as he sampled the sweet mudroot pie, which was the favored contender for pie of the year. Sergeant Slate shook his head in exasperation, "Don't you see? The Wall is not going to help you at all, if your enemy is already within in your city! Your deputies have been abandoning their posts, and if you haven't noticed, you have a necromancer sleeping at your doorstep." The Sheriff looked out from his perch high above the city, without even turning around to face the Sergeant. "The deputies probably just stepped out to refill their pie bags, it happens from time to time - I'm sure they'll be back at their post shortly. Just write it up in your report, Sergeant. We'll take your recommendations into consideration. Talk to Marshal Ghobber downstairs if you have any other concerns. Now if you'll excuse me, the Mayor and I have some important matters to discuss", he replied, as he handed the Mayor Gubbin a slice of fresh rhubarb pie.
Marshal Ghobber was startled by the sound of Sergeant Slate stomping down the stairs, and quickly brushed the crumbs from his moustache. "Marshal! You ought to round up your deputies and clear that necromancer out of the city entrance! Scum like him belong down in the sewers, not out on your streets. Don't you find it odd that your deputies have been vanishing? Security for your Pie Festival is completely inadequate!" Marshal Ghobber looked at Sergeant Slate quizzically, "You mean that fellow sleeping in the cave to Misty Thicket? He's perfectly harmless, just look at the peaceful expression on his face. Besides, the children have been watching over him, they really are a curious bunch, if a bit mischievous." Sergeant Slate, alarmed that youngsters were playing with such fire, turned around immediately and departed, ignoring the Marshal who called out behind him, "Oh, are you one with the Wall yet? If your heading that way, you must visit it at least, I'm sure you'll be quite impressed with our defenses." Sergeant Slate gritted his teeth and did not respond, as he briskly departed to check on the welfare of the children.
As a grizzled veteran patrolling the degenerates traversing the East Commonlands tunnels, Sergeant Slate was accustomed and unfazed by just about any bizarre sight in Norrath - yet even he could not believe what was unfolding before his very eyes in the cave entrance to Misty Thicket. A small horde of halfling youngsters, all with blank stares, had opened an unlabeled crate full of pies, stuffing themselves like pigs at a trough being fattened up for the slaughter - while another expressionless group of children chanted while holding candles, keeping vigil around the prostrate necromancer. Concerned, Sergeant Slate immediately confiscated the mystery pies away from the youngsters and shut the crate forcefully.
Puxie, the halfling cleric and head judge for the Pie Festival, was almost out of breath when she ran into the cave. "Thank you for saving these pies Sergeant, I don't know what's gotten into these young'uns. They're not usually this impatient." Sergeant Slate looked suspiciously at the crate, "Do you even know where these pies came from??" Puxie looked all around the box, but did not see any markings, "The label must've fallen off. Maybe the League of Antonican bards had a mix-up with the packaging - no matter, I'll make sure these make it to the judging table!" The Sergeant was too flabbergasted to object at her folly - but almost immediately the catatonic halfling youngsters stood up and started poking and prodding each other aimlessly with daggers, swords and arrows.
"STOP IT, NOW!" the Sergeant yelled, as the halflings froze in their tracks for a fraction of a second, and appeared to snap out of their trance-like state and resume their normal playful routines - including one youngster that carelessly released a lazy arrow from his half drawn bow, which carelessly planted itself into the human guard's knee. Sergeant Slate cursed out loudly as he endured the searing pain, turning all the heads in Rivervale not accustomed to hearing such foul language. He managed to keep his discipline long enough to limp out of the city with an arrow in his knee, muttering to himself all the while, without saying another intelligible word that should ever be repeated. If it wasn't for his bad knee, he would have easily punted any halfling he came across, which would certainly have nullified the fragile Kithicor Accords.
Although this happened several months ago, Sergeant Slate hobbled slightly as he walked away from Guard Tolus, when he heard a familiar voice pipe up cheerfully. "Sergeant Slate? We've been looking for you! Our deepest apologies about your injury - we brought a gift for you, and Sheriff Roglio wanted to let you know that they were very impressed with the recommendations in your report." Slate turned around slowly and glowered at Puxie, as she presented the gift bag to the irascible guard.
"So did you finally expel that necromancer?", he asked begrudgingly.
"Well not exactly, he's still sleeping there peacefully", Puxie replied.
"Are your deputies at least patrolling regularly, equipped with real armor now?" he continued asking, with even more annoyance in his voice.
"Well, kind of. We've cut out the eyes on our deputies' mask to resemble your helmet, so it looks like they're always glaring at you! It's all the rage now, everybody wants the "Slate-Eyes Mask". And thank you for saving that crate of pies - we still don't know where they came from, but it won an honorable mention. The pies were quite savory - one would say almost soulful. Whoever baked those pies really captured our local flavor!" Sergeant Slate threw up his arms in exasperation and started walking away.
Puxie continued chattering away, oblivious to the Sergeant's ire, "Say, have you ever thought of building a wall here in the East Commonlands? It might help you keep some of this riff-raff in the tunnels from visiting Freeport." Sergeant Slate immediately turned around and rushed back to glare over Puxie, shouting down at her now, "You want to see a wall you say?! I'll show you the wall! I AM THE WALL!" he boomed, as he stormed off angrily. "That's it swine, you're outta here!" he yelled angrily at each wolf, bear and orc that dared to cross his path, while mentally imagining himself delivering a crushing blow to the skull of one of those dumb halflings stuffing themselves with pies.
Puxie sat down and watched Sergeant Slate fade away in the distance, leaving behind a swath of carnage and destruction, as the howls and screams for mercy in the distance grew fainter and fainter. The peaceful moonlight illuminated the crimson path left behind in his wake, littered with scores of mangled corpses piled up on each side, the heavy scent of pain and death in the air, connected by a flowing trail of fresh blood and guts. After a long while, she got up, opened up the bag he left behind, and pulled out a freshly baked apple pie to stare at intently. "Well, I guess he's not coming back for these", she said to herself, as she took a bite out of the pie and merrily skipped down the bloody trail while humming, with nary a single ounce of care in the world to weigh her down on her pleasant journey back to Rivervale.