Randel Silkspinner had seen a lot in his twenty years as a traveling merchant, but the sight that presented itself to him outside the city of Reddragonsville on this frosty autumn morning would, to utilize a rather over-spoken expression, 'take the cake'. Randel had been driving his wagon all night in order to make it inside the city by mid-day, and when he first saw the group of people on the side of the road he simply assumed he was hallucinating, because the situation was far too ridiculous to be real.
His first reaction was, naturally, to blink sleepily and look away, before turning back under the assumption that the people would be gone, just like every other weird trick of the light his sleep-deprived brain had extrapolated into something odd. Surprisingly, the people didn't disappear.
He gave his head a quick shake.
He took a swig of water.
He slapped himself across the cheeks.
At that moment, it finally occurred to Randel that maybe these people weren't just a figment of his imagination, and that somehow, a group of actual sentient beings had managed to find themselves in the predicament they were in. As the fact of the group's real-ness sunk in, Randel's jaw slowly dropped.
There were six of them, by Randel's reckoning. Three humans (one female), one halfling, one dwarf, and one elf. The tall dark skinned human was arguing loudly with the dwarf, the woman, and the halfling, while the elf looked on in annoyance and the blond human played with a daisy off to the side. Shockingly - aside from the elf, who wore a rather travel stained red robe - all of them were completely naked. Furthermore, the two human men and the halfling seemed to be wearing a makeup, and not just a little of it. They had it smeared over their faces like pre-teen girls who had broken into their mother's cosmetics drawer. The dwarf's beard had a strap coming off of it that wrapped around its owner's head, and it took Randel a moment to process that the beard was actually a fake. A naked dwarf with a fake beard. Gods above, Randel wished he could make something like that up. On second thought, no he didn't.
Finally, the dark skinned human was clutching what looked like the burnt remains of the head of a mop in one hand, and was punctuating his words by gesturing with the bit of crispy cloth. Randel shook his head, chuckling dryly. He considered himself a bit of a storyteller (though most people just called him a gossip), so he just had to find out how this situation had come about.
"Ho there, adventurers!" He called warmly, which threw the group into a frenzy of panicked activity. Most of them tried to cover up their nudity. The dwarf turned away, the halfling covered himself with his hands, the woman hid behind the blond (who didn't seem to notice that he was naked), the elf rolled his (her?) eyes, and the dark skinned human simply turned to face Randel unashamedly.
"Hi there." The apparent leader of the group said, his voice sounding both strained and wary.
"Forgive me for my rudeness, but I can't help but notice you're in a bit of a situation there." Randel said, voice barely containing a chuckle.
The dark skinned human glanced down rather pointedly. "Gee, you don't say." He grumbled. "Look buddy, I'm in kind of a bad mood, so if you're done gawking could you kindly shove off?"
Randel threw up his hands in a calming gesture. "Hey there, take it easy. I'm the kind of guy who likes to help. It just so happens that I'm carrying a bunch of clothes to the market in Reddragonsville, and if you don't mind me saying, you folks seem to be sorely pressed for clothes." He watched in mild amusement as the faces of the entire group lit up. "One condition though." He added, raising an index finger.
The dark skinned human frowned. "None of us are carrying any money, not even Vaarsuvius - that's our elven friend -"
"I wouldn't describe our relationship as such!" The elf cut in.
The dark skinned human winced. "Anyway, we're sort of strapped for cash, but if you need a favor some adventuring types could do, I'm sure we could work something out."
"Oh, I don't need too much. I just want to hear the story of how you people ended up like this."
Stunned silence greeted Randel. The group of naked adventurers looked uncomfortably at one another for several moment while the elf just glared frostily at Randel himself.
"Guys?" The dark skinned human ventured.
"If tha' be the price, I'm payin' it." The dwarf declared. "I'd give me last drop o' whiskey for a pair o' skivvies right aboot now."
"We could just kill him and take his clothes. In fact, why haven't we done that yet?" The halfling hissed acidly.
"Belkar, no." The leader rumbled. "No violence."
"Well then we have to tell the story, don't we?!"
"I don't want to relive this nightmare, but I can't just hide behind Elan forever." The woman said. She hugged the man, causing him to squeal girlishly.
"Eep! Haley, your hands are cold!"
The other human muttered something under his breath, shaking his head at the blond and the woman. "Well, Elan is always up for a story, so it looks like you win. Toss us some pants and let's begin this."
Randel chuckled. "Mm, not yet, I'm thinking." He proceeded to fling a blanket at the group. "This is a sign of good faith. Now you all hop up on the wagon and tell me the story as we head in to town, and I'll get out some clothes for you as we go along."
The halfling literally began to sputter in rage, and the rest of the group (aside from the blond, who was now picking apart his third daisy) glared darkly at the merchant, but they seemed to know as well as he that he had the upper hand.
"Wait, can we even go back to town?" The woman asked. "Won't they still be looking for us?"
"Well, yes, but not us us." The leader replied. "I think Belkar and I were girls when things went south, and you were a guy, and Durkon and Elan were… uhm…"
"I was definitely a dude at that point! I plan to stab the elf once for each time he kissed me, so I know!" The halfling asserted.
"Bah, you cannot count that high, cretin." The elf retorted. Then she (Randel was pretty sure it was a she) began to blush furiously. "I… that is not to say that we kissed many times, I merely meant to imply that the halfling is lacking in mathematical skills."
"I can count a lot higher than you might think, ears." The halfling said with a fiendish grin. "Wanna know how many times you're getting stabbed?"
The elf buried her head in her hands. "Out of morbid curiosity, are you including the times you specifically asked me to do it?"
"Look, look, look." The leader hissed, trying to call the group to order. "The point is, I'm pretty sure we don't match the descriptions of the people that the guards will be looking for, so we should be able to get into town alright."
After a bit more deliberation and whining, the group of six boarded the wagon, huddling together uncomfortably under the blanket.
"Okay, so, I know you're not going to believe this." The leader began. "Heck, I was there and I'm not sure if I believe it, but, it all started with a kiss…"