Hey everyone! We made it to the double digits! This is great because often in the past I’ve lost focus/willpower/whatever to stay with a project and they just kind of fizzle. But I’ve loved doing this and the responses I’ve been getting have been amazing, so thanks to all about 20 of you who read! Now, back to the important, not-real stuff…
The gang unloads their belongings from the wagon train after being allowed through the great bronze gates of Ellandale, which sprawls before them in all it’s white stone glory. To those not used to major population centers, (Magnys and Rhai particularly), the ground seems to thrum beneath their feet, charged with the presence of just so many stories. And behind that, the charge of magic in the air, magic somewhere in the city beyond being practiced openly. Freely. They make their way further into the city, and as warehouses and travel depots give way to open marketplaces they see a spectacle they were not prepared for.
There’s a boom, a searing multicolored flash, followed by cheers and applause. A showman in an exuberant costume bows before a crowd of people in the market square before preparing to cast the firework spell again to further oo’s and ah’s. The square is packed, couples stroll through the market stalls, children play games at booths and eat treats being sold on every corner. There’s dancing going on down the street, and music everywhere.
“Did you realize we’d be getting here just in time for the Harvest Fair?” Tomlain asks the group at large, clearly considering himself too old for such games and temptation to join in showing on his face anyways.
“Whatever it is, this’ll help us blend in.” Eogred responds, eyeing a crowd pass by dressed in extravagantly colored costumes and masks, some even changing color as he watches. “Nobody’s going to pay us a second thought with all these weirdos around.” Night begins to fall as they push their way through the fair to some of the less occupied parts of town for a place to stay after their long ride. Naturally, they find themselves in a tavern later that evening discussing what their next move should be.
“We still don’t have anything concrete to go off.” Garrick says over the debris of empty cutlery on the table in front of him. “Ellandale has one of the finest arcane libraries in Adrium, but that doesn’t help us until we have a solid line of inquiry.” The group recounts the events so far among themselves, looking for a thread to hold onto.
“Wait,” Elessana says eventually, looking to Tomlain. “When that child spoke at the end, or when whatever it was spoke through the kid, you knew it was speaking Draconic. How did you understand it? Where did you learn it?”
“I…um. I don’t know?” He responds, uncertainly. “I just understood it. I barely even registered at the time that it was weird.” The last part he says almost to himself in dawning comprehension.
“Ok, this is going to sound weird,” Beleg chimes in, “but nobody in your family is a dragon, are they?” He gets a half dozen blank stares by way of response. “I’m just saying, don’t dragon bloodlines, you know, sometimes intermingle with mortals?” He winks to indicate subtlety, but over-exaggerates it, as if he’s already forgotten what it’s supposed to mean. “It could have been a thousand years ago but, maybe you have a dragon ancestor?”
“I don’t know… I’m an Erskander. My family’s carved their way through enough of them back in the Dragon War that I bet there are still some who held that grudge for the last few millennia. I can’t really see any of them striking too kindly with the enemy. You know how my dad is kind of over-the-top about magic? That’s basically how my ancestors felt about anything supernatural. They’d tolerate it but they never had anything to do with it personally if they could avoid it.” Tomlain explains.
“Until you.” Maghana says from her corner.
“So it could be worth looking into the history of the royal line, maybe it’ll give a clue as to where your you-know-whats come from.” Elessana finishes.
“I’d like to know where to find out more about this “Sage of Lies” we’re supposed to be looking for too.” Magnys pipes up from a near-food-coma at his end of the table.
“Well, if he’s a soothsayer, bone-rattler, or wizard, he’s probably in Ellandale.” Garrick responds. “Though now that I think of it I don’t think there are any true wizards left in Adrium…”
“Speaking of which, I think we should take Tomlain to the Mage’s Guild and apply for a tutor. Maybe a real teacher’ll have a better chance of progress with him.”
“Their main offices are located in the center of the city at the Ardent Conclave.” Tomlain reads off of a tourist brochure he acquired. He frowns. “There’s also a notice on here saying the docks are off-limits to “all without authorization” due to plague…” The conversation dissolves into separate ones as plans are made to split up and go about their business the next day, covering the most ground.
They decide their best bet is to start with the library the next morning, while Rhai and Elessana split off to take in the word around town and buy some supplies. On the way to the library however, Maghana notices a worthy diversion. Her eyes light up and the corner of her mouth twitches at the sight of an incredibly rich and careless-looking gentleman saunters down the street past them. Before the rest of the gang even notices, she merely isn’t by their side anymore. She blends with the crowd, no mean feat for a tiefling even in Ellandale.
Maghana notices two bodyguards flanking the man, their dull grey tunics making his bright yellow robes stand out like a lighthouse. She frowns, they don’t look half as oblivious as he does. Suddenly she feels a hand on her shoulder and goes stiff, thinking how could I have been caught already?
“Play along.” Comes Eogred’s voice whispered to her. He removes his hand from her shoulder and makes a bee-line for the rich man.
“Bill?” He practically shouts after him. They pick up their pace as Eogred matches them, half-jogging up to them. “Bill Huggins!? Is that you?” He fakes a look of joy, mirrored by the man’s look of confusion. “BILL! It is you! Man how the hell are you!?” Eogred continues to accost the man, sidestepping his bodyguards until one of them finally secures him in a choke hold. “Bill… are you mad at…me?” Eogred keeps up his ruse as he’s shoved away, finally giving up and waving goodbye to the man who is certainly not Bill Huggins. He rejoins the group to some confused looks.
“Someone you know?” Tomlain asks. Maghana rejoins the group as well and Eogred catches her stow a coin-purse, full to bursting, into the folds of her robe. She smirks back at him.
“Oh, something like that.” Eogred responds, ruffling the prince’s hair, feeling reckless.
They spend the rest of their morning pouring through the oldest tomes in the back of the library on anything they can find related to the royal lineage in the time of the Dragon War. They learn what they’d already known, that the war was fought between the mortal races of the land of Adrium against the chromatic dragons of that land who’d often cross paths with each other due to the small size of the continent. Before long, the lines between chromatic and their more peace-loving metallic cousins were forgotten and all dragons were hunted to extinction, or worse. What dragons survived evidently fled east, harboring resentment in their hearts but lacking the numbers to retaliate further. Nothing in these dry histories seemed to suggest any kind of dalliance (big Beleg wink) between one of the royal family and their sworn enemies. Eventually, time making fools of them, they decide to get along with other business.
As they leave the building, out of the corner of his eye, Eogred notices a flutter of a green cloak going down an alleyway. It makes him feel uneasy. Of course, a lot of people wear green, he reassured himself, it doesn’t mean it was… But still, he couldn’t help but feel that someone had been watching…
Meanwhile, Rhai and Elessana take in the full glory of the market square of Ellandale at Harvest time. Elessana practically has to put Rhai on a leash when she looks at the various ingredients offered while Elessana keeps an eye out for anything useful. Eventually they find a shop that, for a fee, is able to identify some of the artifacts they found in the mushroom cave. The shopkeeper examines the poncho-like cloak covered in tacky multicolored patches and proclaims it to be a Robe of Useful Items, and that the patches could be removed in times of need to become the items that were enchanted into it. Then, taking the sack of dust that Beleg had also identified as magical, the shopkeep proclaims it to be genuine Dust of Dryness– capable of rendering great quantities of water into a single marble-sized pellet for later use.
Their newly identified possessions earmarked for later use, they hear a commotion in the street as they leave the shop. Instantly alert, Rhai not having forgotten her attempted kidnapping the other day and Elessana seeming on edge since they arrived, they exhale when they hear music being played, the last notes of a song winding down.
“…thank you, thank you good people!” Comes a jovial voice. The crowd clears to reveal it’s owner, a tall and strapping red-haired human man in the process of stowing a lute over his shoulder. “No no, I couldn’t possibly…” He catches the eyes of Elessana and Rhai and, seeing the newcomers, changes his mind– “Ok, well there you have it, one more song!” He flashes a smile of perfectly white teeth at his group of admirers and launches into seemingly a crowd favorite, “The Lost Bow of Tahandra.” It’s your standard pre-Dragon War kind of mythic ballad about a young bard named Tahandra who follows a hero, becoming one in her own right in the process, before finally laying to rest her magnificent bow/harp in the foundations of what would become a great city. He wraps up the song and the crowd disperses as people suddenly remember where they’d been going before he showed up.
“Afternoon.” The bard says, approaching them. “and seeing as how you missed the into, thought I’d come over and introduce myself. The name’s Red.” He extends a hand, which Rhai takes and shakes, having found the music pleasant enough to boogie to. “Now if I had to guess, I’d say the two of you were from out of town. This your first time in the Magic City?” He asks good-naturedly enough, but Elessana at least has learned to be cautious around people who seem happy to see you.
“Yeah, just about. Not a bad town.” Rhai says coolly.
“You know, I get requests for that song all the time. “The Lost Bow,” all that. The people here love it cause they think the city the bow’s foundation lies at is Ellandale of course. Baseless rumor right?” Elessana cocks her eyebrow up at him. “Well, you never know. Never seems to stop you scrappy adventuring types from searching. I think that’s what I like so much about the lifestyle. Some good friends of mine were adventurers once upon a time.” He turns to leave and bows. “Anyways, thanks for listening. I’m playing a few more shows for the festival, you should look me up!” He flashes another smile and wanders off, whistling.
“What the hell was that all about?” Elessana asks.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to see one of those shows right? Fucking dope.” Rhai replies, not ready to take no for an answer.
Garrick, Beleg, and Tomlain make their way to the Ardent Conclave, the central hub of activity of the city for all things governing and institutional. The Mage’s Guild keeps offices there alongside numerous other private institutions as well.
“So, how exactly are we approaching this?” Garrick whispers to Beleg as they wait in line to be seen.
“Relax, you’re worrying too much.” Beleg whispers back confidently.
“But, what do we tell them?”
“The truth. Or, some of it. We’ll just see what’s available, get some referrals, that kinda thing.
Finally they reach the admin desk and a young human man addresses the three of them.
“Are the three of you members of the Mage’s Guild?” He asks, preparing to leaf through a guild registry. Garrick mumbles about having let his lapse a couple years ago and Tomlain looks merely confused.
“No, we’re not members. Is that a problem?” Beleg asks.
“Not per se. Are you interested in joining? If so, it’s merely a matter of making the appropriate due payments and–” Beleg cuts him off.
“We’e not really here for that. It’s more services we’re after, and we’re willing to pay in kind.” Beleg says, holding a hand up to stop him.
“And what… what kind of services would those be?” The human replies, perking up a little.
“My um, associate and I are actually looking for a tutor for our other…associate. Tom.” He says, motioning to Tomlain. “He’s demonstrated…” he pauses, choosing his words carefully, “abilities seemingly beyond our respective fields and we’re wondering if you’ve got anyone on hand that can handle his unique case.” The clerk eyes the group thoughtfully.
“And you want to pay for these services in kind you say?” He asks.
“Anything you need done, no matter how dirty, that’s kind of what we do. Professional adventurers, you might say.” The clerk closes the guild registry as Beleg speaks and sighs.
“While your offer is intriguing–to say the least– to be candid, much of the Guild’s resources are tapped at the moment dealing with the plague on the Waterfront. I know of someone who specializes in particularly “unique cases,” as you say. She’s not a direct affiliate, but she’s a widely regarded authority no matter how much her freelance status annoys the higher-ups. She’s doing on-sight research at the docks for the foreseeable future, but if you leave your names and an address we might be able to arrange something for the future?” He fetches a pen and begins to jot down a note.
“Better than nothing.” Beleg says. “This is Tom, he’s Garrick, and I’m Beleg.” At this, the clerk does a double, then triple take. His hand slips and he blots ink all over whatever he was writing. He begins to clean it off himself all the while sputtering.
“What? S-surely not…the Beleg?” He looks up at him with wide eyes and a touch more color in his cheeks.
“You’ve heard of me?” Beleg asks while Garrick facepalms.
“Heard of you? I’ve read everything you’ve ever written for our Archaeological Journal! Your work on the Vanished Culture inspired my Guild thesis! And then when you disappeared…” His voice trails off.
“Oh right.” Beleg says, thinking back on all those Mage’s Guild-funded expeditions, realizing his error for someone trying to lie low… He thinks as fast as his addled mind can manage. “Listen, what’s your name?”
“Daven.” The clerk says.
“Daven, good. I’m not really… that is to say, you don’t need to tell anyone I’ve been here, do you?” He asks coyly.
“I mean, it’s great that you’re back isn’t it? You’ve been missing for months, nobody’s seen a trace, and the scene at your dig sight when they found–” Beleg interrupts Daven again.
“Exactly, the dig sight. Would you understand if I were to say that some, er, some things happened back there that I can’t talk about? Things that look particularly bad for me? I’d rather not, you know, draw the attention of the Guild’s leadership, in case they’re already looking for me. You know?” He asks, leaning in closer.
“I mean, I don’t…” Daven stammers.
“And if keeping me secret causes you any degree of distress, I’d be happy to make it up to you any way you care to mention.” Beleg says, patting his shoulder. Daven looks down at his feet, conflicted, perplexed. Finally he looks back up at Beleg.
“Dinner, tomorrow night?”
The gang re-assembles back at the inn they stayed at the previous night to compare notes. Eogred’s picked up a newspaper with “The Daily ‘Dale” emblazoned at the top, on his own solo wanderings. He shows Elessana one of the ads at the bottom while they’re taking their seats.
“Arena combat, see? Might not be a bad way to earn some gold.”
The rest of the group takes their seats and they begin to discuss their next move.
“So the library was a bit of a dead end, if anything it more solidified the fact that Tomlain apparently didn’t get his powers from a draconic bloodline. Any mention of a Sage of Lies over at the Mage’s Guild?” Eogred asks.
“Not yet, but I’ve got a potential foot in the door on more information. I’m meeting one of the clerks for dinner tomorrow and we’ll discuss it more. In the mean time, I think I’ve found a lead on someone who can help us make sense of some of this.” Beleg answers, filling them in on the specialist Daven mentioned. “Only problem is, they’re busy with the plague.”
“Sounds serious.” Eogred says, “they were talking about it all over town while Maghana and I were out.”
“And if the Guild is working on it, it seems to me that whatever’s causing it can’t be natural.” Garrick says.
“Are you suggesting something in that?” Rhai says over the lip of her mug.
“I think he’s saying if we look into finding out what’s causing this plague, we have a much bigger shot at answering some of our own questions.” Elessana asks, meeting Garrick’s eye. “Is that about it?”
“We’ll need access to the Waterfront.” Maghana says, looking out the window at something very particularly.
“Maybe Beleg can finagle something at dinner with his Guild contact. Otherwise we can offer our services to the guards and see if they’ll let us in?” Eogred suggests.
“Wait, hold up…” Magnys says, stirring from a long silence. “Beleg, is that meeting a date?”
Before Beleg has a chance to wonder whether to be embarrassed or not, forgetting how normal people tend to react to these things, Eogred cuts across (while Tomlain smirks).
“Maghana, what are you looking at?”
“There’s a man in a green cloak on the street. I think he’s watching us.” She says, inclining her head in the man’s direction ever so slightly. Eogred whips his head around before he can slip away, eyes going wide.
“Well I’ll be an orc’s breakfast…” he mutters.
“Do you know him?” Rhai asks, standing on her stool now.
“It’s the Bill fucking Huggins.”
Eogred gets up from the table with a start and runs out into the street after the green-clad, hooded figure. He slips into an alleyway and Eogred follows after, calling “Bill!” The figure stops, turning to face him and lowering his hood revealing tall pointed ears and long fair hair down to his shoulders. The elf appraises Eogred.
“Eogred. It’s been a long time.” He says.
“Well yeah, I thought you went, well, back. What are you doing here? And more importantly why the hells were you following me?” Eogred speaks to him with an easy camaraderie, but a hard edge finds its way into his words at the end.
“I didn’t want you to know I was in town until I was sure, but, well… How long have we known each other?” Bill asks, suddenly meeting Eogred’s eyes.
“Well, a long damn time, but you’re not explaining anything.” Eogred folds his arms.
“I’m trying. Tell me, does this war make sense to you still? Does anything?”
“The war, what about it?” Eogred replies.
“The war between a major world power and a small island nation, the war we fought in when the two of us were still green enough not to question it– how is it still going on?”
“If you’re trying to explain something you’re doing a real bad job of it Bill.” Eogred says, trying to see where this is going.
“I’m saying something’s wrong. Something is going on that someone doesn’t want the world to know about, something that’s keeping the world locked in unending war so everyone has an enemy to fear and, and plenty of bad shit is going on with that fear used as a justification. Myself and a group of, shall we say “likeminded” individuals, have tasked ourselves in finding out just how high this conspiracy goes. When I heard you were in time I knew it was fate. I knew it mostly because I was about to go north to try and find you. We need your help. But we can’t talk here, we need a safe place and I swear to the corps we served I’ll come clean.” Bill raises his hood and begins to trudge off down the alley. “We’ll be in touch.” He turns back one more time.
“And Eogred, it’s good to see you.”