Misty Mountain - The Story

Discussion in 'BOARDANIAN ROLEPLAY GROUP' started by Roman_K, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. Roman_K New Member

    [i:09be37a2d6]Few dwarves ever go into the Scalecliff Mountains for ore. Few elves call the forested valleys home. The region has only one natural resource to offer most people… isolation. Seclusion.

    But the Scalecliff Mountains have one continuous export, and records of that trade go back as far as such records go. The main thing to come out of the Scalecliff Mountain range is legends.

    Four hundred years ago, one bardic epic teaches us, a party of dwarven scouts passed near to the Clawspire, one of the highest peaks in the range. They noticed a tower at the summit, where no tower had been recorded before. Wizards are known to build their homes in such places, but few wizards require towers so tall, so grim as the one the dwarves first spied. The words of Augy of the New Vein Mines are recorded in dwarven runes for all to read, should they doubt the tale… the wizard in that tower was no elf, no human… not even a dwarf (though rare, such as do exist!). A mighty ogre, towering over the dwarves with a snarling, brutish face but dressed in arcane robes, laid waste to the scouts and only Augy survived to let the folks back home know. Ogres wielding magic with the skill of a wizened elf would be unsettling news to anyone, but the dwarven clan only thought to avenge their fallen. Their battle, which ended with the ogre’s tower pounded against the Clawspire like iron against the anvil, can still be found on the lips of bards all over this part of the world. Even the nannies to the noble born use the tale, to teach young charges not to talk to strangers – and never be rude to strangers who come to your door!

    A thousand years ago, a flight of giant eagles was seen to come over the wall of the Scalecliff Mountains. The eagles dispersed over the forests, hills, and plains, and it’s said that some men went to hunt the birds, or to tame them. It’s also said that some men are more curious about the reasons of things, and set off to find the source of the birds. Eagles, of all sizes, were known to make roosts in the Scalecliffs, but such a massed flight of such a rare bird had never been heard of before. One party of explorers scaled peak after peak, looking for evidence of nests, and finally found evidence of a sort… but evidence of what they could never be sure. In a deep valley, known on every accurate chart as a wide basin with thick forests of virgin trees and little else, these explorers found the crumbling ruins of a city that stretched across the basin, with only the rare parks of old and ancient trees. The baffled explorers walked down the avenues of deserted city streets, noted the weeds between the paving stones, the collapsing houses, the animals who’d turned a massive city into their own nest… When they returned home and told others of what they found, everyone was eager to see this mysterious city that had never been seen before, but was older than any human city known. The witnesses would attest that the explorers believed what they’d seen, but even the original explorers had to admit that, when they returned to the peak overlooking the basin, all they saw below them was dense, ancient forest that had never feared an axe. In some elven communities, where the stories have only passed down a few generations, “searching for eagles” has more meaning than “a wild goose chase.”

    Legends are the export of the Scalecliff Mountains. Privacy is it’s resource. Nestled in those deep valleys and open basins, perched atop summits and crags, those who have no desire for neighbors often make the range their home. Even the highway carved through the site known as Rockwyrm Pass sees little traffic, compared to similar roads many weeks away that skirt the range all together. Still, those who live in remote or out of the way places often have need of things that cannot be acquired easily. If legends are the export of the Scalecliff Mountains, heroes are the import.

    About two years ago, the Village of Misty Mountain began to suffer the deprivations of banditry. Farmers who worked the fields nearby would go missing, or flee into town at the dead of night, begging for help to save his barn from burning. The bandits, though stealthy at first, soon began to operate in the open. The whole village and all the surrounding farms knew that their idyllic and private world was besieged by orcs. Such bestial creatures were always a threat to those who live on frontiers, and the people of Misty Mountain Village had never failed to combat the orcs and goblin bands that would pass through from time to time. This time, however, the orcs were in such numbers that the village could not fight, and they did not appear content to merely rape, loot, and raze before passing on to somewhere else. This time they seemed to have moved in to stay.

    For the past several months, a few villagers that managed to escape to the world outside the Scalecliff range have gone from village to village, town to town, asking everyone for aid. Travelers have been stopped on the roads and begged, if you cannot render aid then please, at least spread the word to ask for those who can. The Scalecliff range must once again bring in heroes.

    The Scalecliff range might once again give birth to legends.[/i:09be37a2d6]

    * * *

    Sevan DeVelunee, adventurer for hire and swashbuckler by trade, looked on the village of Misty Valley under the noon sun, wiping the road dust from his brow with an expensive-looking handkerchief. He had heard the call for adventurers in this area, as others surely had, and decided this place would be a good start on his road as any other. Hunting orcs would earn him much-needed coin, and perhaps his assistance would help the local farmers and villagers in these dark times.

    The prospect of fame, he admitted to himself with a smile, was a rather nice bonus.

    The newly-erected defences were worthy of notice, thought Sevan as he entered the village, and would have probably been examined further by someone who wasn’t in dire need of clean accommodations. Gods, how he hated the outdoors! “Let me have the hum of a city,” Sevan whispered quietly, drawing a glance from a passer-by, who dismissed him just as quickly.

    [i:09be37a2d6]Let me have the hum of Sigil.[/i:09be37a2d6]

    The walk to the centre of the village was shorter than Sevan had expected, but the need for a clean bed overruled the want to walk through the village. “My pardons, kind sir,” he asked a passing half-elf, “but could you please direct me to the nearest inn?”

    The half-elf, his mixed heritage barely noticeable, merely pointed to the large building not far and hurried away. Sevan, who usually felt at home with the half-breeds of society, merely shrugged and moved on. He wasn’t angry at his treatment. In fact, he wasn’t angry at all these days, or at least tried not to be. Some emotions were better suppressed, he thought, especially when they revealed his tiefling heritage for all to see.

    No, best not to repeat Squire’s Hollow. Some secrets were best kept for as long as possible, because sometimes they related directly to the length of one’s life.

    And Sevan had no wish to die just yet.

    Twenty minutes later he was sitting in his own room, carefully folding his clothes on the bed, and tentatively sat down in the wash basin. The water was cold, as it was expected from a cheap backwater inn, but at least it was there. Soap, on the other hand, was [i:09be37a2d6]not[/i:09be37a2d6] supplied by the inn, but in that Sevan was one step ahead of them. Few knew the importance of soap, but then from Sevan’s experience few knew how to use their noses properly as it is.

    Once he was clean to his satisfaction, and dressed again in his flamboyant attire, Sevan sat down on his bed, the one candle the inn supplied burning brightly to keep the shadows of the falling night at bay for a minute longer. Sevan carefully trimmed his beard and moustache to his satisfaction with the help of a mirror and a small pair of scissors he kept for just that purpose, and laid them aside when he was finished. An onlooker, had there been one, would have noticed that there was no apparent change in the man’s facial hair, but that, as Sevan would have told him, was the whole point.

    Blowing out the candle, Sevan lay down to rest. The tiredness of the road had set in, and it was time for a well-earned night’s sleep. Tomorrow, he promised himself drowsily, he would seek out a party of adventurers to join. A man alone against the orcish brutes had exactly the same chances of survival as a man alone in Sigil.

    None whatsoever.

    * * *

    It was late morning when Sevan was sitting downstairs with his new companions, and what companions they were!

    There was Aidan, a ‘hexblade’, as he called himself. A man of regal appearance but of surly mood, he had invoked instant dislike in Sevan. Arnthé Aparain, a half-elf fighter whom Sevan hadn’t had a chance to speak with yet, nodded to him when Sevan’s gaze met his. Sevan saw much in those eyes, and smiled and winked in reply.

    The elven mage, Narluén, was a strange one. He was young, by elven standards, and kept his reasons for taking up the village’s bounty his own. To each his own, Sevan thought, dismissing that issue from his mind. The second elf, a druid by the name of Sol’Nurvarlanna, a name which Sevan quickly shorted to Lanna, was sitting nearby.

    The dwarven cleric, Azgrim, was sitting a short, but noticeable, distance away from the elves. Close enough to not appear hostile, but far enough as to not being friendly, thought Sevan. Caleb, the monk sitting next to the dwarf, was a complete mystery to Sevan. The man spoke little, did nothing in excess to what he felt he had to do, and revealed, in short, absolutely nothing.

    The young woman, Jitma Mendachia, was sitting next to the surly halfling, Alton. The halfling was easily placed, a rogue out for a quick coin as far as Sevan could see, but the woman was a strange one. She called herself a Soulknife, and showed Sevan exactly when she conjured a glowing knife seemingly out of nowhere. Sevan tried to remember what little he knew of such matters, and decided to try and compare her abilities to those of psionics he had met in Sigil when he had the time. For now, he found himself disliking her, and it was more than just the knife that found its way to her hand a hair’s breadth from his nose.

    The last of the group was sitting at a table of his own. Starek Relner, a shifter by birth and a ranger by trade, was drinking his beer, doing exactly what Sevan was doing just now. He watched as Starek’s gaze passed over the other members of the group, until he finally met Sevan’s eyes, waiting. Sevan raised an eyebrow, and smiled in understanding to show that he understood the shifter’s sentiments perfectly. Starek looked away with no reply.

    His quick review complete, Sevan turned to the tavern-keeper, Otho. He was a large man, well-built, his face bringing to mind smiles, laughing, and tranquillity, and it would have shown such had the recent troubles not hit Misty Mountain Village as hard as they did, putting plenty of worry-lines on the large man’s face. Still, Sevan noted, he seemed to wear his currently stern countenance like an old friend, and Sevan guessed Otho had seen worse than this before.

    “I suggest that anyone needing provisions or general equipment visit Mercam’s store directly to the south-east of my inn,” Otho said, looking over the group. “He’s an old friend, and his prices are fair even in these times. If it’s weapons or armour you need fixed, then Derg to the north is the one to go to. He’s a half-orc, mind you,” he cautions, “but he’s been with us for us for a long time. We trust him, and don’t doubt that anyone who attempts to pick a fight with him will end up in bad trouble. He’s working day and night to supply weapons, armour, and ammunition to the townsfolk in case of an orc raid, but he might just have something to spare for you, be it equipment or the time to repair what you already have.

    “The large temple in the south-west corner of town is normally worth a visit just to take a look at, but if it’s spiritual guidance you’re looking for, Father Andrew will allow any who wishes to worship inside, provided it’s not evil deities they’re praying to.”

    “What god is he a cleric of?” asked Azgrim with interest.

    “He’s not actually devoted to any single god,” said Otho, “which is why allows the temple to be used so openly, and without prejudice. If you want to hear more about this sort of thing, I suggest you ask him.

    “Now then,” he continued, “there’s a temporary building set up in the old village green, to the northwest, to house the refugees coming in from the outlying farms, and a small tent city that sprang around it when the room in the building ran out. Directly north of those is Headman Abram Ory’s house, but he’s generally too busy with the town’s defences to talk with bounty hunters. If it’s something urgent, though, he’s a good man to go to. Also, there’s an apothecary in town, owned by Asaril. She’s an elf, an older than anyone living here. She can be useful if you need healing.”

    Sevan nodded, taking the information in. Beyond that, he and the others knew that other bounty hunters and adventurers have passed through the town. Most have already set off to start collecting the grisly trophies, orc scalps, already. Otho had said earlier that at least two separate adventuring companies have stayed in his tavern over the past week, and a number of lone-wolves as well, operating on their own. He had admitted with disappointment that after a while it became difficult to tell who was with whom.

    “The bounty?” Starek asked, considering the possibilities before them.

    “The bounty for lifting the siege on the town is unknown at the moment,” answered Otho, “but the Headman has promised it to be worthwhile. Each orc scalp is worth one silver piece, which is an average common man’s monthly wage in these parts.”

    “Hmmm.” Starek considered this.

    “Do you happen to have a map of the surrounding area?” asked Azgrim. Otho nodded, and passed on several cheaply-made copies of a local map. It was apparent that he was handing these out to anyone willing to lend the small town a hand, and from the quality of both map and paper apparent that they didn’t cost him too much.

    Sevan looked at his copy, remembering from some talk he had heard that there are enough orcs in the nearby woods for them to live like kings three times over if they but brought back their scalps. “Collecting scalps is a messy business,” Sevan muttered, “Oh, it will keep us in money, but lifting the danger is paramount.” That, he thought, and he wasn’t planning on orc-hunting for the rest of his life.

    “Thank you!” said Azgrim, looking at his own map.

    “Are there any wizards in the town?” asked Narluen, carefully folding the map and turning to the large inn-keeper.

    “There’s two,” said Otho. “One’s a gnome fellow, lives in the tallest house in town down near the church. The other’s a quiet man, named Orvid, who can be found at the temple, usually frustrating Father Andrew. Orvid is something of an unofficial second priest, you see.”

    “Did orcs never attack the village before this latest trouble?” Azgrim asked, still poised over his copy of the map.

    “Oh, sure,” said Otho. “There’s always some sort of trouble from the wilderness, but usually it was just a small raid, maybe a few pigs, once in a while a whole cow… About every few years someone might have a barn, or even a house burn down if he lived too far out, but this is the worst trouble to ever strike Misty Mountain in our lifetimes.”

    “Has magic been used in the battles?” asked Narluen, interested in what he could better understand.

    “Can’t rightly say,” said Otho, “as the orcs haven’t attacked the town itself directly. If they used any magic, I haven’t seen it. None of the refugees who passed through here mentioned magic, either, but then I haven’t questioned that many of them about the raids.”

    “Do you have any ideas as to the reason for the increased raids, friend Otho?” asked Sevan.

    “And did they begin at once, or did they grow over time?” added Azgrim.

    Starek snorted. “Orcs breed. Orcs attack.” he said, causing Azgrim to laugh.

    “None at all, I’m afraid,” answered the innkeeper. “At first it just seemed like a particularly intense spell of banditry, but as more and more farmers rode into town, with a few freshly made widows and orphans as well, we realized it was something worse. We’re at the point where it isn’t fair to call this simple raiding – we are under siege now. Maybe you folks haven’t been to the south yet, but we certainly haven’t received any adventurers from that direction. We suspect the worst.”

    “So, which farm has had it worst?” asked Narluen.

    “Well, the first farms to report trouble came from the south-east,” said Otho.

    “It sounds like the real trouble is down there to the south. Seems we should prepare for quite a battle!” said Azgrim with clear pleasure at the prospect.

    “What is beyond those farms?” asked Sevan with interest, keeping his own feelings on that matter for himself.

    Otho unfolded a map of the region, one that was, Sevan noticed, of better quality than those he had given out earlier. “There’s two major farms to the east of the village,” he said. “Plantations, really, and east of them is just a great thick wood. You can see Misty Mountain rising up over the trees further east and a little ways south. Nobody ever ventures that far these days, but we still have it on our maps from ages gone by.”

    “Interesting…” said Sevan, thinking this over.

    The halfling, Halton, listened with interest to what was being said, but kept silent.

    “To the east,” continued Otho, “the farm on the north is the Briarthorn farm. The Briarthorns came to town a few decades ago. They’re halfling brothers, Barnaby and Isadore. When they got there, we only had two other halfling families, the Greenboughs and the Underroots who live in the north-eastern part of town. The two families have been feuding for a few generation, it seemed, but the Briarthorn brothers each married a daughter from the two clans and made peace between them. They set up a farm out on the east side of town, but mostly they’re ranchers. They raise some of the biggest work dogs you’ve ever seen, and almost every farm in town has at least one Briarthorn hound in it.

    “We haven’t heard from the Briarthorns yet, and I don’t know if it means that they’re holding out fine or not,” said Otho, looking troubled. “Each of those farms is quite large, and easily defended, though,” he rallies.

    “South of the Briarthorn farm is the Bodemen farm. We [i:09be37a2d6]know[/i:09be37a2d6] they’ve seen trouble already. We received the first account of it being orcs that we had came from Hester, old Jebb Bodemen’s oldest son. Jester rode into town with an arrow sticking out of him, and was barely conscious enough to give us an account of what had happened. All the Bodemen boys are famous for being good horsemen, but Jester told us he had barely managed to escape with his life from an orc scouting party. The second Bodemen son, Jace, went out for revenge when he heard about it, and was never seen again.”

    “Jester survived then?” asked Azgrim, cutting Otho off.

    “Yes, Jester survived,” said Otho, not appreciating the interruption. “A few days after Jace’s disappearance, one of Bodemen’s dogs, Briarthorn raised I might add, brought back a bit of reins found in the wood, and it had Bodemen family brass on it. We don’t think Jebb’s second son was as lucky as his first. Bodemen’s only daughter, Rebecca, was sent into town as soon as Jace’s reins were found. She helped nurse Jester back to health and he rushed off back to his father’s side as soon as he could. Rebecca’s still in town, typically trying to help the refugees as best as she can, but she comes round here in the evenings on most days. There’s two more sons out there on the Bodemen farm, Jonn and Jubal, and hopefully the four of ‘em left are alright. They sent in all their farmhands and have been preparing for war ever since Jace was killed. They’re a ranch farm, so they should have plenty of provisions, but we haven’t heard from them since Jester left us to go back home.”

    “Is this another halfling farm?” asked Azgrim, and Sevan tried in vain to hide a smile.

    “No, they’re humans,” said Otho. “The Briarthorns are the only halflings to make a living on the farms.”

    “Has there been any trouble from the west?” asked Jitma, silent until now.

    “No, not yet,” said Otho. “That’s the Lowly farm out there; that place was fortified ages ago. Much to the west of the Lowly farm, the land just slopes away to a river chasm, and it’s rare for any trouble to come up from that way. The Lowly farm is the largest one around, and we haven’t had a single refugee from that way yet.

    “Up to the north are the Carters and the Nichols. The Carters grow cotton and flax, the Nichols are sheep ranchers. To the south is the Michum farm; Bently Michum’s not there, though. He spends his time in town… He’s a bit soft for a farmer. You can usually find loitering around Rebecca Bodemen.”

    “Hmm, it would seem trouble from the mountains,” said Sevan examining the map and making note of the locations of the farms in question.

    “Trouble comes from wherever orcs are!” exclaimed Azgrim, Starek nodding in agreement, and Sevan rolled his eyes. He was committed to them, he reminded himself, and he couldn’t run away just now. If this continued though, he thought, he might just consider this anew.

    “Well, Azgrim,” said Sevan, bringing a smile to his face. “We won’t accomplish much by waiting for them here, now would we? We must seek them out.”

    “I agree,” said Aidan. “Sitting here is getting us nowhere.”

    “I say we’d do best to equip ourselves here in town, and then go scouting to the south,” said Azgrim. “It sounds like that’s where the trouble comes from.”

    “Deer doesn’t look, gets caught by wolves,” said Starek. “Should ask those who’ve been out there first.”

    “A fair remark, Starek.” said the dwarf.

    “The Bodemen girl, perhaps…” said Sevan, musing. “Perhaps Jester told her something that would be of import to us.”

    “I say choose a detour,” said Jitma, “go from the south-east or the south-west. If we don’t run into orc patrols on our way then we will save time.”

    “I’m sure that weapons’-man must hear some news, if an orc is to be trusted,” said Narluen.

    “Listen, skirt boy,” Jitma told him. “I for one do not want to have every Orc in Orcville knowing I’m comin’. Strike them at their hears, before their eyes are any the wiser.”

    “Well then,” said Azgrim, “perhaps it would be best if we found out what information we can hear in town and then meet together again later. Unless we’re to traipse around in a mob asking questions!” he exclaimed, and the elven druid, Lanna, nodded in agreement.

    “A wise statement,” said Narluen, looking slightly surprised to see a dwarf is capable of making such. Starek looked at him askance. “Can’t help his parents,” he said.

    Meanwhile the monk, Caleb, was simply looking from speaker to speaker, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with anything being said. Azgrim, on the other hand, was pointedly looking sideways at the elves occasionally, as though assessing them.

    “I suggest forming two groups,” said Aidan.

    The others quickly agreed. Azgrim, Arnthé, Alton, Lanna, Aidan, and Starek decided to go and see the smith together. The rest would go to the temple, and eventually to the refugees.”

    “Innkeeper? You say that Bodemen will visit here later?” asked Narluen.

    “Rebecca? Yes she comes here in the evenings, sometimes sooner but by nightfall at the latest,” said Otho. “If you need to speak to her, or Bently, they’ll be here by then.”

    “I will stay here,” said Sevan, thinking quickly. “I feel I will be of little use with you this time, and one can try and gather more information here.

    [i:09be37a2d6]That[/i:09be37a2d6], he mentally added, [i:09be37a2d6]and this is where the good drink is located.[/i:09be37a2d6]

    “Friends, shall we meet again in the tavern this evening?” asked Azgrim.

    “Deal,” said Jitma. “I doubt we need [i:09be37a2d6]that[/i:09be37a2d6] much praying.”

    “Until then! Good luck at the temple.” Azgrim told the others.

    “Yes, Master Dwarf,” said Narluen resignedly. “I shall return this evening.”

    “I will await you here, friends, “ said Sevan.

    [b:09be37a2d6]edit: As you can see, it's finished. If anyone has any issues, small as they may be, with the way I saw your characters are portrayed (or even if I missed someone, which is possible, as I wrote this between 1 and 4 AM ), let me know.[/b:09be37a2d6]

    edit2: Added Garner's teaser, which I forgot about for a moment.

    edit3: Fixed a typo Ben (Electric_Man) pointed out. Good typo, though.
  2. Roman_K New Member

    “Friend Otho,” said Sevan, as the last of the group left the tavern, “a bit of your finest would not go amiss here.”

    The ale mug Sevan had drank from but a minute ago stood empty, and in truth Sevan would have liked it to remain that way. It was not the worst ale he had ever had, but it was certainly not the best.

    Otho nodded, and motioned to a serving girl, who went to the back of the tavern, quickly returning with a bottle of wine in one hand, and another tankard of ale.

    “Take your pick,” said Otho. “We’re not a rich village, and these are tough times.”

    Sevan examined the drinks with a slightly downcast expression. It was instantly apparent that the wine would be a good path to take only if he wanted his stomach to vacate his morning meal, so the only thing left was another tankard of the bitter ale. Sevan would have preferred a drink of a quality much finer than this, and he would have gladly paid for it, but he would not insult Otho by refusing what little he had. These were, indeed, tough times in this poor village.

    “I will take another tankard of ale, then,” he said, trying to keep the resignation from his voice.

    Before the serving girl could him his ale, though, Otho waved her away, and took out a small glass bottle from under the counter.

    “We have, however, had an abundance of rye in years past,” he said with a wink and a smile, placing the bottle on the counter.

    Those years must have been good indeed. thought Sevan as he looked at the bottle, a smile of his own creeping to his face. Whiskey was never to be sneezed at, especially not when it was as ages as this one appeared to be.

    “Ah, my friend!” he exclaimed. “T’is indeed a fine choice. A smaller glass would be in order for this fine a beverage. Also, I would be grateful if you were to share it with me.”

    Otho nodded, pouring Sevan a snifter, and a smaller one for himself.

    “To the end of these troubled times, Otho!” said Sevan, and brought the glass to his lips. He drank slowly, savouring the fine beverage with pleasure.

    “Ah, now that I can drink to with pleasure,” said Otho, and downed his glass in one gulp. Placing the empty glass on the counter, he returned his gaze to Sevan, an appraising look in his eyes.

    Otho then did something that shocked Sevan to the core. Still looking at Sevan with the same appraising look, Otho said a word in the Infernal tongue, in an inquisitive tone. The closest meaning in the Common was ‘bastard’, but Sevan could detect no malice in the tavern-keeper’s voice. Otho asked his question with care, showing Sevan that he had meant no insult.

    Sevan nodded carefully, knowing that denying his Infernal heritage would do nothing good. In any case, Otho behaved differently than others that had found out the truth about his ancestry.

    “You are different, Otho,” he said quietly. “You do not judge as others do.”

    “Well,” said Otho, taking a clean rag from under the counter, “it’s not always wise to trust first judgements. Take that fellow with the wild hair who’s with you. He cuts a fine profile, but he carries himself like a…” and here Otho said the same word in the Infernal tongue, but this time the tone was decidedly insulting.

    “I do not know him long enough yet to judge, Otho,” said Sevan thoughtfully, “but he has a certain air about him. A feeling.” Like the way the hairs on the backs of my hands stand up on occasions when he’s nearby. he didn’t add.

    Otho said nothing, and merely polished his empty glass, watching Sevan with that same appraising gaze.

    “I would say that you carry yourself differently than the other townsmen I have met so far,” said Sevan carefully. “Something about you tells me that you have seen more than just orc bands in your life.”

    “Indeed,” Sevan continued, ”I have met few outside my old home that speak… that language.”

    “There’s worse than orcs in these peaks,” said Otho. “Rare you find anything that speaks fiendtongues, but there’s legends enough these places that suggest it can happen.”

    Sevan shuddered at these words, remembering well what those things could be. The streets of the City of Doors were not a safe place, and now an old memory, long buried, came back to haunt him.

    He was a boy of six, playing with a friend, Hanro. Hanro was far older than he, but was no taller than Sevan, as he was a halfling. He came to Sigil through no will of his own, stumbling into one of the many openings that led to it completely by mistake. Hanro liked young Sevan, and tried to teach him what little skills he had. Occasionally he would talk about the home he had to leave behind, the family that he wanted to return to, and every time he mentioned them it was apparent that he was on the verge of tears. At the time, Sevan didn’t understand the significance of a family, as he barely even understood what a family was. In the streets, it was each for himself.

    Hanro treated Sevan as he would treat his own child, and tried to give him a semblance of what his unknown parents had not given him. He knew that the time he spent playing with the boy would have been better spent seeking work, but he could not let the boy, fiend-born or not, grow up without the most basic kindness each child should have. If left on himself, he guessed, the boy would soon revert to acting as his infernal blood willed. Another reason, and one Hanro would never admit to Sevan, was that he reminded him of his own boy.

    Their game stopped abruptly that day, for the empty alley they occupied was no longer empty. Large hands grabbed Sevan and Hanro before they had a chance to get away, and they were both brought to the huge face of a demon.

    The beast licked it’s pointed teeth, and sniffed Sevan. “I like children,” it said in a hoarse voice, using the Infernal tongue, “but not your sort.” Saying that, it threw Sevan away. “Halflings are always a treat, though,” it said to the screaming Hanro, and swallowed him whole. For a few moments the only sound in the alley was a horrible chewing sound, and then the fiend left the alley, it’s feast finished.

    Soon after that, the alley was silent, save a young boy’s sobbing.

    Sevan shook the old memory away. There was nothing he could do for Hanro now, although he would perhaps try to find the halfling’s family one day, to let them know of his untimely demise. Even that course was mostly closed to him, for he could not even know what world Hanro had lived on, not to mention the difficulty of finding a way to reach it.

    “Would you share some of those legends with me?” Sevan asked, composing himself.

    Otho looked thoughtful for a minute, and began to recount an old story.

    “This tale is from the days when the Dwarven Highway was being carved through the range to the north,” he said. “It’s said that while they were blasting their way through one particularly tight gap with the aid of a hired wizard, the wizard suddenly turned a funny shade of yellow, and keeled over dead. The head dwarf engineer was a simple dwarf, for all he knew about surveys and constructions, and went straight forward into the spellblast rubble to investigate.

    “No one’s quite sure what they’d uncovered, as the rest of the dwarves came rushing in with their work tools brandished as weapons when they heard the first scream. They later swore, when reporting to the chief-of-works, on all their honour and the honour of their clans that it was as if some dark shadow bled out from the rocks themselves and attacked them. They fought, and receive many strange wounds, but none were killed.

    “The chief-of-works hired out for another wizard to investigate, and finish blasting the gap, and sure enough after a few days of work he detonated a particularly colourful blast of magic, and then turned a slightly odd shade of green and keeled over stone dead. The dwarves screamed some choice battle cry or another, and leapt in with axe and sword, which they’d kept on hand since the last time, but again, aside from some strange wounds, none were killed, and all could attest only to fighting some strange dark shadow.

    “In the end, they simply carved their way through without relying upon another wizard, and received no molestation… But dwarves are a thoughtful folk, and left warning signs at either end of the gap, advising all who pass not to use magic… just in case.”

    “An interesting tale,” said Sevan thoughtfully, “and one that is best to remember. Some legends have more than just a little grain of truth to them. I believe another drink is in order after such fine a story, friend Otho.”

    Otho poured Sevan another measure of the old liquor. “I suggest you savour that,” he said with a wink, “as that drink isn’t cheap.”

    Sevan nodded with a smile, and raised the glass to his mouth. He drank only a small portion of the whisky this time, as he decided to heed the tavern-keeper’s advice.

    “You still haven’t told me how it is that you know the tongue of Fiends, Otho,” said Sevan, putting down the glass. “As you said, it’s not a very common tongue I these parts, even if the possibility of finding it is there. I doubt any of the beings that speak it would have stopped to teach you, though.”

    Otho chuckled and nodded. “True enough there, but I know many languages, my friend. I had a tutor when I was younger, who was himself something of a linguist.”

    That said, Otho started switching rapidly between languages. Sevan could pick up enough of the content to tell that he was listing a few of his linguistic skills.

    Sevan nodded with interest. “Indeed, t’is a fine tutor you had, and a fine student he had, in turn. I too know more than just a language or two, but my teacher was the street, and the few friends living with me in it. Inn those streets, such as I were not that uncommon, and even stranger still,” he said, saying the last sentence in fluent Draconic.

    Otho looked very thoughtful for a moment. “There’s many a strange thing seen in the great cities of foreign realms,” he finally said, “but I’ve never heard of cities where fiends and fiendtouched walk the streets as common men.

    “At least,” he added, “no city of this earth.”

    “And no city of any earth, as far as I know,” said Sevan. “I hail from Sigil, the City of Doors, though many of it’s inhabitants prefer to call it The Cage. Rightly so, I might add. Through many portals can one reach Sigil, though most you would not recognize as such. Each has it’s own key, and it’s as likely to be a twig from an elm as a certain tune. It’s easy to reach Sigil, at least by mistake, but once you’re there it’s all but impossible to find the way back.

    “Unless, of course,” he continued, “you know exactly where to go. Many denizens of the Planes, both lower and higher, use Sigil as a…central point. Neutral ground, if you will. One can travel anywhere, and some say even anywhen, if he but knows the portals he needs. In Sigil, I was born. In Sigil, I lived. To Sigil, I will someday return, if I but find the way.

    “For you see, Otho, I am here by no will of my own. I made the same mistake many new arrivals to Sigil made,” Sevan said, a sadder smile replacing the customary one on his face, “I whistled a tune in the wrong place.”

    Otho nodded. “Ah, I’ve heard tales," he said. “Never been that far myself, though.”

    “Sometimes I think it’s better to just hear tales of it,” said Sevan bitterly, Hanro coming to mind again. “The City is a deadly place.”

    “Still,” he continued with a sigh, “it’s home, and a home where a few friends of mine are.”

    Sevan raised his glass, and stared at it thoughtfully for a moment.

    “By the way, Otho,” he said, placing the half-full glass back on the counter, “how far have you travelled?”

    “Oh, I’ve seen a little of the world,” replied the tavern-keeper, without going into specifics.

    Sevan could recognize an evasive answer when he heard one, and decided not to press Otho further. He just smiled, picked up his glass, and downed what remained of the drink. The whisky here was fine, thought Sevan as he replaced the glass on the counter, but enough was enough. It was best not to get too drunk.

    “I believe I drank enough of your fine drinks, Otho,” said Sevan, voicing his thoughts, “though not due to lack of want. How much do I owe you?”

    Otho thought for a few moments. “Nothing for now, friend…” he finally said. “Count these last few as a gift for a soldier off to war.”

    “I thank you, my friend.” Sevan said. The lack of a price attached to the drinks made them all the better. “You will have earnings enough when we return victorious, I can assure you,” he added.

    Though he was not certain, he was almost certain he heard Otho mumble something in the lines of “Always the same, that age” but he was certain he had not seen the tavern-keeper’s lips move. There was more to it than just that, but Sevan’s ears could not catch the rest. He decided to say nothing, and to ignore the comment. He was both young and enthusiastic, that was true, but he considered himself to be quite capable, as well.

    A quick glance out of the window told him that he had about an hour left before he should expect his friends to return. For now, all that was left was to wait.

    (Cynical_Youth and Electric_Man, please post your entries now. I will continue with my own after yours are entered. )

    edit: Added bold.

    edit2: Corrected some rather silly mistakes. No real change to the contents.
  3. Electric_Man Templar

    Caleb, Jitma and Narluèn walked south towards the temple, as they walked, Narluèn spoke to Jitma,

    “So, why do you wish to visit the temple, girl?”

    “Like I said,” she replied, “I want to pray. Can't a hired goon have metaphysical worries?”

    “Indeed not, but can you not pray elsewhere? The gods are omniprescent after all.”

    “I am a worshipper of Kaffal, Goddess of the War Dance. A ritual before war demands that I dance naked in holy ground.”


    As they are walking to the temple, they notice a tall, narrow, four storey building. The bottom floor is made of stone but the top floors are wooden.

    “I'm pulling your leg, kid.” said Jitma. Narluèn turned to respond, but was distracted when the door of the house bursted open and a gnome rushed past him, nearly causing him to fall.

    “What are you doing, gnome?” called Narluèn.

    The gnome replied shortly, “Sorry about that, friend!” and continued running down the street. The three looked back to the house and noticed the door closing itself.

    “Hmm,” pondered Narluèn, “that must be the Wizard gnome that the innkeeper mentioned, I shall come back to see him later. But my businees lies with the temple now.”

    “No point in chasing him down anyway,” said Jitma, “he knows the place and has a headstart.”

    Caleb silently looked around to where the gnome ran to, then followed the others as they continued to the temple. An impressive building, it is clearly well built and solid, but as they approach they hear an argument from within. It sounds like an argument between two people who have lived together for a long time.

    “Oh great, I want to pray and I have to play family counsellor instead.” commented Jitma.

    “Let us see what the fuss is about,” replied Narluèn, “I do not remember temples being so noisy elsewhere.”

    Jitma knocked on the door, “Oi, in there, are ya open for business?” Narluèn glared at the girl, “What?”

    “Is that standard temple speak?” He pointed to Caleb, who knelt with his forehead to the ground before rising and entering, “You would do well to learn some manners from our friend here.” said Narluèn before entering the building himself. Jitma rolled her eyes, then followed them into the temple.

    The interior of the temple was simple, spartan, but again displays a fine touch to the design and construction. at the far end, near the a semi-circle of altars, they saw two old men, one in simple grey robes and a blank, emotionless face, and the other in white trousers and a shirt, with a very pained expression. Caleb walked towards the two men but stopped at a respectful ten paces away.

    “Is one of you Father Andrew?” asked Narluèn.

    The man in the white clothes turns, throwing his hands up and muttering exhasperatedly. He looks at them with a tired, weary face but they sensed strength underneath it. “Yes, my children, I am Father Andrew... welcome to this hallowed ground.”

    Caleb bowed standing but didn't say anything. Narluèn answered, "Thank you. I hope we are not disturbing you?"

    Father Andrew looked at Caleb oddly, and shook his head, “It's nothing... just a... just an ecumemical matter... a disagreement with my cohabitant.” as he gestured to the man in the grey robes, who turned and walked away towards the back .

    "My friends wish to pray,” replied Narluèn, “I would like to ask you a question about a wizard who I am told you often see." He noticed the grey robed man hesitate a step as the Father spoke,

    “You all are welcome to pray, merely find a quiet corner and be respectful of any others who might come to seek solace in these trying times, but the only 'wizard' I know is Quindle, the gnome who lives up the street.” While he spoke, Caleb was standing completely still, focusing on him.

    “And what about your friend?” asked Narluèn, “Would he know any wizards?”

    The man replied in a deep monotone, even different letters sound the same, “I know magic.” as he said this, he made a strange gesture with his hands over his head and heart. Narluèn walked over to him.

    Jitma took advantage of the break in conversation to ask Father Andrew a question, “Can I perform a war dance?”

    Father Andrew looked slightly shocked, and stuttered before replying, “If that is the way you are customed to praying, please do so outside. The grounds would still be hallowed there.”

    Jitma walked out to the yard. She bowed to the four cardinal points and started warming up her limbs. A few passing villagers gave her glances as they walk past. Jitma waved at the villagers and wished them “Good morning!” smiling to annoy them. After she had warmed up, Jitma tied up her hair out of the way and materialised a punch dagger in each hand. She started humming a tune, and to the rhythm of the music she makes small steps and wide movements with her hands as the dance progresses, the movements become more and more focused, and an observer can tell that she is giving lethal blows to an imaginary opponent in front of her.

    Inside, Caleb continued to stare silently at the priest, while Narluèn talked to the grey-robed man, “Are you Orvid?”

    The grey-robed man made another questure, this time touching his chest and shoulders, "I am Orvid the Grey, servant of Magic"

    "Are you an advanced servant?"

    Father Andrew shook his head a bit as Orvid made a few more odd gestures, folding his hands across his chest with his fingers taping his biceps slightly. “I know only that I am a drop of water, adrift in an ocean.”

    “As are we all,” said Narluen to Orvid, “but what makes you different from the other drops?”

    Orvid tilted his head a bit and hums, and Father Andrew gritted his teeth at the sound. This was the only answer Orvid was prepared to give, and he just watched Narluèn, who sighed inwardly.

    “Have you noticed any magic being used in these orc attacks?”

    Orvid shut his eyes and Narluèn had the strangest sensation that someone just walked over his grave. “No one has used magic in the village of late, not in any attack. But the orcs haven't actually attacked the village itself yet, and I don't leave the temple.”

    As Father Andrew listened to Orvid, he rolled his eyes, and noticed how intently Caleb was looking at him. “Is... is there anything I can do for you, my son?”

    “Who died?” replied Caleb.

    Father Andrew stumbled over his words again before finding his voice, “Well, we've buried more good people in these past weeks than we have in a year before! So many families have lost husbands, brothers, or sons... and then there's so many families that have been lost all together! I've left many a marker in the ground for those who simply never came home, or never came to town after their neighbours told of fires on their lands. It's a terrible time... terrible.”

    “I am...” Caleb hesitated slightly, “sorry.”

    “As are we all, as are we all!” They all bowed their heads at these words, Narluèn was the first to look up, which drew his gaze to the windows.

    “Monk! The day is drawing to an end, we should make our way back to the tavern to meet the rest of our team. We can pick up the girl on the way out.”

    Caleb looked decidedly relieved when he nodded and followed the elf out of the temple. At the door he turned and bowed towards the altar before exiting. As he left he thought he heard Orvid chuckling oddly to himself. He looked back briefly, but dismissed the sound.

    Narluèn called out to Jitma as they left, “It is time to return, girl!”

    “In a sec!”she shouted back. After having 'killed' opponents in all four cardinal points, she removed the bandanna from her head, made a small nick on her arm and squeezed out two drops of blood on the sweaty piece of cloth. She ran into the temple and said to Father Andrew, “Excuse me Your Holiness, could you burn this on the altar fire? It is my sacrifice to Kaffal.”

    Baffled, Father Andrew took the bandanna, he swallowed a few times but said, “I will see the task done.”

    Jitma bowed deeply and thanked Andrew very much. Skipping down the steps, Jitma joined Caleb and Narluèn, “So, did you find what you were looking for?”

    “I had hoped that the wizard may have told me more, but alas he was very quiet.”

    Jitma snorted, “Wizards. They need more fibre in their diet if you ask me”

    Caleb looked at the two, then moved towards Jitma slightly, who said “Don't worry about anything. I danced very well and Kaffal will see us through this.”

    Narluèn raised his eyebrows, “Well that is good news.” He looked up, “It seems that the sky is not as dark as it seemed from inside. We have some time before we need to go back. I shall go to the gnomes house. You are welcome to join me if you wish.”

    Although he seemed to prefer that they didn't, Caleb nodded, but Jitma decided on another course of action, “I'll go the public baths.” she said, “If I am to be eaten by orcs, I can at least not die smelly.” At which she walked away, innocently asking villagers where the baths were. The few that answered told her that the tavern was the safest place to bathe, as the streams would be probably be befouled by orcs. This caused Jitma to frown, although she thanked them for replying. Eventually she gave up and returned to the tavern.

    Narluèn and Caleb walked towards the gnome's house, although the word 'Tower' seems more appropriate. It is tall and thin with a strong, stone base without windows. The wooden upper floors have windows, but they are all darkened.

    “I wonder why a gnome needs such a tall house?” Narluèn wonders aloud, before knocking the door.

    “He wants it.” answered Caleb dryly.

    They wait a while, but no answer is fore-coming. “It seems he is still out. Any suggestions on what we can do Monk?”

    “Return to the tavern.”

    “Yes, that may be wise. We shall await our friends return.” and they returned to the Tavern, where they met Jitma and Sevan.
  4. Cynical_Youth New Member

    Journal entry by Arnthé Aparain

    I have just returned to the inn after a long afternoon of investigation. Truth be told, it wasn’t that productive, but at least I got to know my fellow adventurers a bit better. Well… some of them anyway. We split up into two groups right away. My group was a strange mix of races and personalities ranging from an independent Shifter to a thoughtful Halfling.
    We had an interesting day, we met a lot of different people. The refugee camp was really in a bad state. The wounded were kept in a very smoky room and seemed to receive little consideration from the other refugees. The survivors we talked to had very little information to give. I think that the ones who fought the orcs are likely to be dead now. The only valuable piece of information came from a drunk refugee, dressed in clothes that are a lot newer than those of the other refugees and I’m convinced he stole the bottle he was drinking from, who told us that the orcs have not yet attacked in broad daylight.
    The armourer was a pretty angry half-orc who didn’t want to talk to us. He claimed he didn’t know anything about the orcs in this area, which I frankly find unlikely, and he reprimanded us rather unpleasantly for interrupting his important work. His assistant, Rupert Lowly, was the same.
    All in all we are hoping to get a little bit more information out of it, but at least now we know we can probably travel safely during the day. I hope we get a chance to talk to the head nurse in the inn this evening. I think she’s from the Bodemen farm, which is where I would like to set out for first. They breed horses and I’m still hoping to find myself a good horse to train and ride. I am not looking forward to walking.

    I was impressed by my fellow adventurers. Azgrim, the dwarf, is pretty diplomatic in his approach and has a real flair for investigation. Without him I don’t think we would have known what we know now. Starek, the shifter, is a rather impatient and independent individual. He left the group on an errand of his own almost straight away. I think he may have headed for the headman’s house. Lanna, the other half-elf, is thoughtful and kind. She is accompanied by a beautiful wolf called Salix, I don’t think any amount of training can make even a dog that obedient. Or that fearsome, Salix certainly frightened the halfling, he didn’t say much! Aidan, the human, seems to be charismatic and intelligent and very useful when he’s not around pretty women.
    I think I can trust them in combat, although I’m still not sure about that ranger.
  5. Roman_K New Member

    Sevan did not have to wait as long as he thought, though.

    The others in the party, at least in part, returned to the tavern. Jitma, and the monk, Caleb, gave their greetings, Caleb giving both Sevan and Otho slight bows. Sevan gave him a brief nod in return, and Otho nodded to everyone in greeting, and took out some clean glasses, just in case. He soon put one of them to use, when Jitma hopped onto a stool next to Sevan.

    “I’d like a pint of your finest ale, Mr. Otho, worshipping makes me thirsty,” she said.

    “My greetings, friends,” said Sevan at last, as Otho put a pint in front of Jitma. “You’re certainly back sooner than I had expected. Otho and I were just having a pleasant chat about the legends that surround this area.”

    “Oh, really?” said the elven wizard, Narluen. “And what sort of legends do surround this area?”

    “Oh, there’s all sorts of legends about these mountains,” said Otho.

    “The mountains!” said Narluen half-wistfully. “Have they always been just a home for orcs?” he asked.

    “Interesting you should ask that,” said Sevan. “It appears that they are a home for at least one other being, and one that’s not very fond of magic-users.”

    Jitma took her pint, and made herself comfortable in her seat to listen to the story, and Narluen turned to Sevan with interest.

    “If we ever head north,” Sevan told Narluen, “take care not to use any of your magical tricks in a certain dwarven-made passage. Digging graves in solid stone is all-but impossible, after all,” he said with a wink, and Caleb nodded in agreement.

    Otho chuckled at that. “The signs are clearly marked at that stretch of the highway,” he said.

    Narluen was now clearly interested. “A being? Any particular kind?” he asked, eyes sparkling.

    “Oh, a shadow being of some sort, it would seem,” said Sevan.

    “Looks like it’s got outside contractors now,” said Jitma, drawing puzzled attention from both Sevan and Otho.

    “Well, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it?” she continued, turning to Otho. “The orcs are using the mountains as a base with the leave of whatever it is that lived there in the first place.”

    “Miss…” said the tavern-keeper slowly, “that highway’s centuries old, and whatever those dwarves found… well, I doubt it has anything to do with troubles of today.”

    “Orcs rarely ask for leave,” added Narluen.

    “And the mountains are vast,” said Sevan. “I doubt they live in that particular stretch of rock.”

    “Well, shadow beings are not famous for their neighbourly feelings, either,” said Jitma, making Sevan smirk. The woman was certainly loathe of letting go of an idea once she held it in her grasp.

    “Oh, if the legend is true, this one only cared for the magic-using folk. The dwarves could pass unmolested, t’would seem, as long as they used no magic in their stone-cutting,” he said, and Otho nodded in agreement.

    “Well, it would be prudent for me not to go there, then,” said the elven mage.

    “Oh, I don’t know,” said Sevan, thinking over the details of the tale Otho had told him. It would be a good idea, he mused, to tell it in full to the others.

    “Seems that in the old days,” he said, “when the dwarves were carving their highway through the mountains, using a wizard to help them, the wizard suddenly turned a funny colour, and fell dead.”

    “The dwarves saw nothing?” asked Narluen, interrupting Sevan.

    “Maybe something bit him,” Jitma added.

    “Oh, they later fought ‘the very shadows’, as they themselves said,” said Sevan, pointedly ignoring Jitma’s comment. “None were truly hurt, though. Some strange wounds, but nothing lethal. The shadow in question wasn’t hurt either, t’would seem.

    “So, the dwarven foreman decided to hire another wizard.” Sevan continued. “That one died, too. This time the dwarves were better prepared, and charged the shadow-being with weapons prepared beforehand. But still no one, except for the wizard that is, was truly hurt.”

    “The wizard died in the same manner as the previous one?” asked Narluen. Sevan only nodded.

    “One turned yellow, the other turned green,” Otho said helpfully.

    “And the shadow?” asked Caleb quietly.

    Good question, thought Sevan, and one no one has a real answer for.

    “Indeed,” he said. “The dwarven foreman decided that the road could be finished without the use of magic. It was done, and the dwarves did not suffer further attacks or injury. Signs were left on either end though, just in case.”

    His tale was finished, but Sevan was certain he had not told it as well as Otho did. He was no bard, no storyteller, and perhaps it would have been for the best if he just told the important parts of the tale, and naught more.

    “The death was instantaneous, the moment he performed magic?” asked Narluen, breaking the silence, and Sevan had to hold back a groan. He could understand the elf’s interest, especially if it had to do with his well-being, but he had had enough of the wizard’s questions.

    “And when did this happen?” asked Caleb.

    Sevan just turned to Otho, and the tavern-keeper heeded the silent plea in the tiefling’s eyes.

    “This is an old legend, friends…” he started saying, but could not finish the sentence before Narluen cut him off.

    “You doubt it’s true?” he asked, and Sevan was sure he heard a note of hope in the elf’s voice.

    “Perhaps it’s only superstition,” said Otho, “perhaps there’s more than just a grain of truth to it. For all I myself know, maybe some here came and slew the shadow some time after – though if this happened, I’ve never heard the tale of it.”

    “So it has been passed on from mouth to mouth until nothing of the original story was left,” Caleb added under his breath, almost unheard.

    “Nothing?” Sevan said, turning to Caleb with a raised eyebrow. “We will see if it’s truly nothing, if we ever head north.”

    “It’s a stretch of the old Highway where wizards tend to move quickly, or hire bodyguards," said Otho. “And, young sir,” he told Caleb, “the original signs are left, carved into the walls of the pass in dwarven runes, and occasionally repainted in the Common tongue for the rest of us.”

    “Have there been any other wizard deaths since?” asked Jitma. “Why do wizards have to hire bodyguards now?”

    “Well,” said Otho, “there’s been no other wizard deaths in that pass that made it into legend, miss, and I’d imagine they hire bodyguards because your average wizard, no offence, relies on his magic so much that he has no other way of defending himself.

    Jitma was clearly not satisfied with the answer, but kept her thoughts on the matter to herself.

    Narluen scoffed. The remark about there being no offence was clearly directed to him, as Otho had turned to him when he said it. He wondered why he mentioned it if there was truly no offence in his words.

    “Wizardry relies on dedication to improving the mind,” he said. “It leaves no time for hitting people around the head, however tempting it may be.”

    Otho chuckled at the elf’s reply, taking it for a joke. Narluen was puzzled for a moment, wondering why the tavern-keeper was laughing about. Had someone said something amusing without him noticing?

    Jitma wanted to ask the elven wizard why should he not hit people around the head with magic, but decided against it. It was apparent he was not too kindly inclined towards her after the “Are you open for business” comment back at the temple.

    “Any other particularly interesting legends?” Narluen asked Sevan.

    “Nothing, really,” said Sevan. “At least, this is the only one Otho had time to mention.” he said honestly. And I’m grateful for it, he didn’t say. He had had enough questions to suit him for the remainder of the day.
  6. Roman_K New Member

    The tavern was slowly filling up, more villagers now entering the tavern. The others were busy filling each other in on what they had done in the city, but Sevan only half-listened to their tales. He cared more for the newcomers to the tavern, and took careful note of those that stood out from the crowd.

    He recognized Derg, the village smith, for there were no other half-orcs in the village, entering the tavern beside a tall, swarthy half-elf. Derg took a tankard of ale from Otho, and went to sit in a quiet corner, by himself. The half-elf, dressed in rich, foreign-looking blue robes, stayed at the bar and began a conversation with the tavern-keeper. He was soon joined by a very tired-looking gnome, but Sevan paid him little heed.

    He turned back to the tavern’s entrance and noticed a young woman, escorted by a rich but nervous looking young man, enter with the general rush. The man was clearly focused solely on the woman, but she, for her part, while not unwelcoming to the attention, did not seem to return it as he.

    Aidan, the hexblade, smiled at the young woman, but she paid him no heed. Indeed, Sevan doubted she had even noticed the man.

    “Sevan?” said Caleb quietly.

    “Yes?” replied Sevan in the same quiet tone, still looking at the couple.

    “That gnome,” said the monk, “I recognize him. He ran into us earlier.”

    “He should have been watching where he was going,” said Aidan with a wry smile.

    “He was the wizard we tried to speak to,” added Caleb. “He wasn’t very cooperative, though.”

    “Really?” said Sevan, turning his gaze to the gnome. “How very interesting…”

    A quick glance showed him that the gnome was currently very busy being friendly to a glass of wine. And another… and another…

    Sevan shook his head, and turned away. He doubted he would find out anything useful by talking with the gnome at the moment.

    “Sevan,” said Azgrim, the dwarven cleric. “That young woman is Rebecca Bodemen, daughter of one of the chief farmers in this town. I don’t recognize the young man with her, though.”

    “Could be Bently Michum,” said Sevan thoughtfully. “Otho said he’s always found around her.”

    “Yes…” said the dwarf, “You might be right at that! Should we go and have a word with them, do you thing? We may have offended the young lady earlier, and we should be very delicate about the matter if we decide to go to her.”

    “Perhaps I should speak to her,” said Aidan, but Sevan ignored him. Instead, he looked down to the dwarf.

    “I should have known letting you lot seek her out on your own was a mistake,” he said, thinking about how ‘delicate’ the dwarf must have been to insult the young lady so. “Still,” he mused, “perhaps not all is lost. Follow me.”

    The dwarf nodded. “Aidan,” he said, turning to the man, “why don’t you just wait here for a moment. I get the feeling she hasn’t taken a liking to you just yet. A more sensible approach is in order.”

    Aidan nodded. “Very well,” he said, though clearly unhappy.

    “I don’t find it all that surprising,” said Sevan, getting up and walking towards the couple, Aidan’s angry glare following his every step.

    Azgrim nodded gratefully to Aidan, and went to follow the tall swashbuckler. Sevan approached the couple, the dwarf in tow. He stopped in front of Rebecca, and gave her a courtly bow. “Rebecca Bodemen, I presume?” he said.

    “Yes?” asked the woman politely, before she could notice Azgrim. When she saw the dwarf, she frowned slightly, and her eyes began to scan the room, finally resting on Aidan. Clearly, they had already met, and the meeting had not been a kind one. The young man with Rebecca looked at Sevan, appearing both surprised and slightly worried.

    “Please, ignore Aidan back there,” Sevan told Rebecca. “He has all the social skills of a rather warty toad, no matter how he might appear to be on the outside. I am sorry to bother you at this time, but I assure you that I do not do so without a good reason.”

    “I say… if I may ask, what would this reason be?” asked the man beside her. His voice, while lacking in confidence, was still strong.

    “Why, the orc raids, my good fellow,” said Sevan in tone that signified it should have been obvious, not giving the man the benefit of a glance, preferring instead to keep his gaze firmly on Rebecca. “My friends and I are planning to set out against the soon, and I was wondering if there was anything you know that might help us in our quest.”

    * * *

    Meanwhile, Caleb was looking intently at one of the tavern patrons, who was ordering a beer mug. He had never had the chance to taste it before, not at the temple of his youth, and he decided to try it now. He mimicked the man’s actions, and to his enjoyment had proceeded correctly. He now had a mug of beer in front of him, and he raised it to his lips, taking his first drink of the bitter brew.

    The taste was interesting, odd on the tongue, and he was willing to try another one. The gnome, who was until now intent on his own drinking, now offered Caleb a glass of the wine he was enjoying, and he nodded in agreement. “Thank you, I’d like that,” he said.

    Aidan merely drank from his tankard, and watched the proceedings carefully.

    Caleb tried the wine, and found it more pleasant to the taste, but still quite odd. He felt a bit funny after drinking it, warm in the stomach, and the room suddenly seemed a bit brighter. This might be why Brother Ashton at the monastery always enjoyed working in the vineyards so much, he thought. He didn’t think another drink would be a good idea.

    Aidan noted the expression on his face. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s an acquired taste.”

    * * *

    At Sevan’s words, the man’s eyes lit up. “Oh, you’re adventurers here for the bounty?!” he hurriedly said. “Oh, this is good news! My name is Bently Michum, good sir, I am now the owner of my family’s estate to the south of the village, and we have recently begun to feel the deprivations of these ruthless orcs! I am, as it happens, in need of stout folk such as yourself to help guard my plantation against any future raids. I’ve tried to hire help from the village, but the men are needed to guard their homes here, and the others who came to town for the bounty seemed to feel my offer was not enough…

    “I do not know if you can be motivated by the desire to help a man in need of aid, but if not, I am prepared to pay your group a sum of fifty gold pieces a night to guard my fields!”

    “I would be delighted to assist you in guarding your home,” said Sevan, “but only temporarily. I am sure the others would also agree to help a man in need, but I fear we cannot remain at guard duty for long. We must come to the orcs, and not wait for them to come to us, after all. Now then,” he continued. “Two questions.

    “One,” said Sevan, raising a finger, “is there any information about the raids that might help us?”

    Bently looked a bit sheepish, blustering for a moment, but the young woman spoke up. “They burned a barn on the edge of his fields,” she said. “That was months ago.”

    “Yes, but most of my field hands heard noises late at night as well!” he quickly countered. “Anyway, I realize this may not be the glamorous work you hoped to do, but I trust you’ll see the sense of my offer. The town’s bounty is merely one silver per orc scalp… I am offering your band fifty gold for one night’s work! Please sir, I am desperate!”

    * * *

    Caleb, his head spinning slightly, turned to the gnome. “Thank you.” he said. “You were right, it was better than the beer. Much better.”

    “Personally, I find wine to be a more refined drink,” Aidan told the monk. “Beer may have many fine properties, but for something with a bit of class about it, a fine wine cannot be beaten.

    “Sadly,” he said with distaste, “this is not such a wine.”

    “And what use is a bit of class?” the short halfling asked.

    “Sir!” the gnome said, and hopped down from his stool. “I beg you to reconsider,” he said once he stood in front of Aidan. “While your understandings of the gift of sweet wines is to be admired, I challenge you to produce a better wine than this. I do not think you are up to the task!”

    * * *

    Sevan considered the Bently Michum’s offer. It was, indeed, an extremely tempting one. He realized, though, that had the man asked for his assistance without offering any reward, he would have accepted anyway. Still, Bently appeared to be a man of means, if one could judge from his clothing, and any funds he could supply would help them greatly.

    “Well, the offer is indeed tempting,” said Sevan, “but I must note that no one has taken it so far. I’m quite certain that we’re not the first adventurers to receive the offer,” he continued with a smile, “and as you can see, we are not the richest lot. Fifty gold divided among our large group can only go so far.

    “So, we now come to my second question.” said Sevan. “Could I convince you to spare more gold for the defence of your home?”

    * * *

    “Why, my friend, class has its place,” Aidan told Alton.

    “Not when it comes to drinking… ‘friend’.” said the rogue.

    “Perhaps not for you,” said Aidan, “but some of us like to enjoy the finer things in life.”

    Aidan turned to the gnome. “While your defence of this drink is admirable, it is misplaced. Where I come from, we have wines that you would kill to try. Wines the likes of which you cannot even imagine.”

    “There is nothing finer than a pint of ale,” said Alton, but Aidan paid him no further heed.

    The gnome touched Aidan on the forearm in a friendly gesture. “The finest wine should not be drunk in the darkest of times… but if you need the proof of it, I would be willing to treat you to a glass or two of the village’s finest reserve.”

    Aidan smiled. “Now, that is an offer that I would be hard pushed to refuse.”

    The gnome reached up to the bar, where Otho handed him a couple of glasses, which the gnome then set on the table in front of Aidan. He then took a bottle from Otho, which he uncorks with deft hands, and poured you each a glass.

    Aidan raised his glass in toast. “To fine wine,” he said, “and to happier times.”

    * * *

    Bently swallowed hard. “I admit, I’ve asked the others. They’ve either said my threat was not as great as that of the others, or simply scoffed at what they considered peasant’s work… Sir, the hour grows later as we haggle. I have a carriage that could take you to my fields before midnight falls, but we must reach a decision now. I could spare… twice my offer? One hundred in gold, if you can clear my farm of it’s threat?”

    “The hour indeed grows late,” said Sevan, “but you’ve just made note of a very important matter. Lady Rebecca’s farm, to bring the best example, is far more in need of aid than yours at the moment. How many attacks have you seen so far?” he asked Bently.

    Bently blustered a bit. “Seem? You mean… personally?”

    Rebecca tutted. “They’ve had one barn burnt, and his workers say they hear ‘sounds in the woods.” she sad. “I’ll tell you truly, we’ve had no worse at my family’s farm, and my father and brothers are strong horsemen. I thank you for your concerns, but I trust my brothers… Together, they’re the match for any grunting brute!”

    Bently looked relieved, and glanced gratefully at Rebecca, but she would not meet his eyes.

    “But what of your brother, Jace?” Sevan asked Rebecca.

    A fiery look appeared in Rebecca’s eyes. “We don’t know that he’s dead,” she said softly. “And even if he is… we’ll make sure those monsters are repaid a hundred times over.”

    “Still,” said Sevan, “your farm has seen the brunt of the raids so far. If naught else, we can see if we can find your brother.”

    Rebecca stiffened. “The Bodemens do not need anyone’s help,” she whispered tensely. Bently, normally trying to be as close as possible to her, edged away slightly when he heard that tone.

    “Miss, I’m troubled,” said Azgrim calmly. “I fear that my companions have twice now offended you without meaning to. Please, can we find some way to put this behind us?” he asked.

    Rebecca looked away. “Maybe if you can help Bently out with his troubles, then…” Azgrim nodded, and kept quiet, not trusting her temper.

    “As you wish, fair Rebecca,” said Sevan, and turned to Bently. “Now then, we were discussing the matter of payment…?”

    Bently rallied, speaking even more shakily than usual. “If you can keep my farm safe, I can pay you one hundred gold, and I’ll take you to the fiends and back to town each day if you need it. That’s in addition to the town’s bounty, too!” he hastened to add.

    Sevan nodded in agreement.

    * * *

    Aidan drank down the wine, and looked surprised. “Sir, I fear I may have done your palette a great disservice. This is indeed a fine wine. Not quite so fine as the sort I could get back home, but not bad at all.”

    As the wine soothed his stomach, Aidan realized that it has subtleties and complexities that he didn’t quite realize. He found himself wanting to take the last drops from his glass to savour it again. Another realization dawned on him. He realized how nice it was of the gnome to treat him to this gift. He was probably the best friend he had in this whole place.

    “Let me buy you a drink,” Aidan said. “I would have liked to repay you properly with a glass of my country’s finest, but we shall have to make do with what we’ve got.

    “It’s nice to meet someone that can appreciate wine. So many people quite happily drink swill if it gets them drunk,” he said, looking pointedly at the halfling. Alton ignored him.

    Caleb noticed that the gnome, Otho, and the half-elf are grinning a bit, though he had no idea why they did.

    The gnome grinned, and patted him affectionately on the thigh, as he could not reach the tall man’s shoulder. “Well, my friend,” he said, “I thank you for your offer. I tell you, our friend Otho keeps the best of his stock up in the rafters, believe it or not. Perhaps you could help me look for it, by giving me a lift onto your shoulders?”

    “Of course,” said Aidan. The gnome was his friend. He helped the gnome clamber onto his shoulders, happy to help his best friend.

    Caleb looked at Aidan, then at Sevan, and then back at Aidan again, trying to decide what to do through the swirling mist of his thoughts.

    “Hmm, I tell you, friend, maybe if we went over there…” said the gnome. “No, to the left, let’s check that rafter… no, now back to the right…” The gnome led Aidan around the tavern floor, occasionally spinning him in circles.

    Caleb turned to look at Sevan again, and tried to formulate a sentence, but the words refused to arrange themselves correctly in his mind.

    Aidan was feeling very dizzy now, and he wasn’t all that sure now that his friend knew what he was doing, as he was starting to lean over to the sides, upsetting Aidan’s balance. Barely keeping himself standing, Aidan stumbled into another table. “Careful, friend, you’re going to have us on the floor in a minute,” he told the gnome.

    “I apologise,” said the gnome. “Just check one more rafter. Quickly now, it’s just there back near the bar!”

    Caleb finally stood up. “Sevan!” he called loudly, and pointed at the stumbling Aidan.

    Sevan turned from Bently, and noticed Aidan’s predicament. “Aidan!” Sevan shouted a big grin on his face. “What in the Nine Hells do you think you’re doing?”

    “Being an idiot,” mumbled Alton.

    Sevan could guess what was happening. The gnome a mage, after all, and the possibility that Aidan hadn’t angered him in some way was slim. This could be fun, he thought, and continued to watch.

    Aidan would have shrugged, had the gnome not been weighing him down. He was helping his good friend, the gnome. The fact that he didn’t know his name hadn’t even occurred to him. “I’m helping my good friend here to find us some of this town’s finest drink,” he said, walking towards the gnome’s latest destination. Most of the tavern was chuckling openly at this point.

    “Have you never seen a man helping a gnome search for wine in a tavern’s rafters before?” he told Sevan.

    “Ah,” replied the swashbuckler, laughing openly. “Alright then, carry on, carry on.”

    The gnome shifts his weight suddenly, crying out. He grabs a rafter and twists himself, sending Aidan careening towards his table, but he managed to catch himself before collapsing onto it.

    The laughter from the tavern was now open and loud, as the gnomish mage hopped along the rafter and dropped down onto his seat by the bar, where he waves his hand, snaps his fingers, and raises his glass to Aidan.

    Aidan felt a strange taste in his mouth, and felt like someone has been playing around with his head. Rebecca appeared most amused, and Bently chuckled. “Good show, Quindle,” he said. Alton watched with amusement, clearly pleased with the way things turned out. “Nothing finer than wine, eh, Aidan?” he said with a grin.

    Aidan looked around the tavern, fuming with embarrassment. “Is this where I’m supposed to throw the coppers, and pat the trained bear on the muzzle?” he heard Sevan say. Aidan forced himself to remain calm, but it was a difficult task.

    “Okay now, we’ve had a bit of fun, but let’s hope that it’s seen as harmless by all sides,” said Otho, speaking up. “Stranger, would a bottle of wine without Quindle’s own additives soothe any ruffled feathers?” he asked Aidan.

    Aidan forced a smile. “Of course,” he said. “After all, it was all in good… jest.” He said through gritted teeth.

    Caleb, distressed with the whole situation, moved as far from Aidan as his chair would allow him.

    Sevan turned again to Bently. “If my companions have no objections, then I agree in full,” he said.

    Azgrim looked to Sevan. “Well, it’s a start,” he said. “I’m grateful for any direction at this point, but we shouldn’t all go. Remember that Starek is expecting to meet us back here. At least one person should stay.”

    “Have no fear,” said Sevan. “I’m sure we can work that out easily enough.”

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