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Sword of Serengeral

    • 89 posts
    October 25, 2020 5:26 AM PDT

    Chapter One: They meet in an inn

     

    Foal knows the moment her stealth fails. The conversation within falters into a waiting silence. Three seconds pass, and she hears a soft footstep, closer to the window outside which she is hiding.

    She has already released her grip when an arm appears, a dagger moving toward the place she was a moment before. Foal hits the ground hard and begins to run.

    Not my best fall, she thinks.

    She hears the sound of a man dropping to the cobblestones behind her. Someone big, lumbering along with loud boots. Foal spins a web of shadow into an alley across the street, slides along one wall, and finds another back street behind a row of taverns.

    Clomp clomp, shout the boots of her pursuer. Foal seeps into the corner of a deeper doorway and hides, waiting for the man to pass. Soon he appears: a tall man with wavy hair, a loose shirt with a velvet vest, expensive trousers and those boots that drum upon the cobblestones. He almost reaches the end of the alley when he slows, stops, head turning to one side. He seems to sniff the air for a moment before he turns and continues into the main street.

    Foal releases the breath she was holding. She curses the moment her hand slipped on the lintel, giving her position away just as Boots was about to reveal important information to her target.That will cost me part of my fee, mopes Foal.


     

    Morning in Harrow, a trade city under the domain of Thronefast. A thick line of people shuffle toward the east gate of the city. Among them are wagons bringing goods from outlying farms and villages. One wagon is given a wide berth by those on foot, wincing at the smell as they edge away. The wagon is driven by a burly man with a piece of straw dangling from his mouth. A woman sits beside him with an identical piece of straw in her own mouth. In the back of the wagon, another man lounges among the low, wide barrels. He wears a shapeless leather hat with a large brim.

    When they finally reach the gate, the driver leans over to speak to a guard, who shrinks away.

    "Five tubs of urine for the tanners," says the driver.

    "Yes, I figured that out," says the guard. "On you go."

    The wagon continues, waved on by the guards. The driver calls back to their passenger. “Rough streets ahead. Might be more sloshing.”

    The man in the back lifts the hat from his eyes. "Thanks, I was afraid the sloshing would stop."

    "Never fear," says the driver. He and the woman next to him spit out the straw in their mouths.

    "Clever disguises, both of you," says Jalasko. "I almost really believed you were both urine shippers."

    Some time later, the wagon pulls up outside a building far from any tanner. Jalasko reaches down into the straw around him and pulls out a pair of long knives, a bow, and a quiver of arrows. "Are the guards usually good at keeping weapons from entering the city?"

    "Terrible," says Seesh as she jumps onto the ground. "Everybody in Harrow is armed. The pigeons are armed."

    "Friendly town."

    The burly driver looks him in the eye and says, "I would shake, but you smell worse for the journey."

    "I thank you anyway," says Jalasko. He looks up as a man emerges from the side door of the building.

    "A hot bath is being prepared," says the man.

    Seesh gestures at Jalasko with her thumb. "He's first. Then fresh water."


     

    "What is a halfling doing in Harrow?"

    Crowsinger looks up from the bulletin board she has been studying, looking through the posted jobs in dismay. She sees a tall man—of course he is tall, he's human—in the uniform of a city guard. Dark hair is swept back from his forehead into a tight braid. Some of those hairs are gray with age.

    "Looking for work," she says.

    He grunts. "And what can you do?"

    "I have some skill as a healer, and wilderness hunter."

    "A healer." He smiles slightly. "Herbs and poultices, no doubt."

    "Something like that, yes. Have I… violated some rule of this city?"

    "No, but everyone is staring at you. Your style of clothing and hair is not from around here."

    Crowsinger laughs. "So I've discovered."

    The man's eyes rake across the worn leather armor she wears, the wraith teeth dangling from a cord. He shrugs and looks away. "If you're looking for work with a bit of danger, drop by the Queen's Leg this afternoon. Adventurers usually start showing up in the afternoons."

    "The Queen's...."

    "Leg. Never say those words in Thronefast."

    Crowsinger nods slowly. "I would never."

    The guard grins and walks away.

    After the first two times she is laughed at for saying, "I'm looking for the Queen's Leg," someone finally draws her aside and says, "It's actually called the Throne and Thistle, but adventurers have other names for it."

    "Well, I am an adventurer."

    "So I guessed." He points. "You're not far. Two more blocks, take a right, and you'll see a sign. Painting of a throne with a thistle sitting on it."

    "What is a thistle?"

    He frowns, thinks, then says, "Prickly plant with a ratty pink flower. Pigs love them."She thanks him, musing that the human ruler must be less than beloved in this city. After a short walk, she finds the place. On the sign is a painting of a throne with… she guesses that must be the flower.

    Conversation stops when she walks in, all eyes turning to the door.

    "A little young for the Queen's Leg, aren't you, sweetie?" says one man, and another laughs.

    "I lived seventeen years in Wild's End," says Crowsinger, "and I've been on the road for months since then."

    "Wild's…" a man carrying two mugs toward a table stops and stares. "You're a halfling."

    "Maybe I'm normal-sized," responds Crowsinger, "and you're a twiceling."

    The man pauses, then laughs. "I suppose most are in this place. Corner table, near the hearth."She looks where he nods and sees an empty table. She wanders over to the corner, feeling the eyes of others the whole way, and sits down facing the room.


     

    Foal seeks the most trustworthy sources first—merchants, thieves, young pickpockets. A web of favors connects Foal to different parts of the City. Some of them are complicated, and returning those favors could be a problem.

    I'll worry about that later, she thinks, or run away to Thronefast where I'm nobody. No reason to pay a debt I don't like.

    Jekin is leaning against a wall in his usual place. Wearing a torn vest with his clothes and a shapeless cap in faded plum, he eyes the people prowling the market. Watching.

    “Offday tomorrow,” says Foal. “You always stand here looking for the hapless.”

    “You know why.”

    “I do.”

    “Let me guess. You want to know something about the rich and magical that I couldn’t possibly know.”

    “You might. Kestrel District, past the statue of the horrified horse.”

    "Those people," he scoffs. "Midlevel nobles shagging one anothers' cousins, or their own cousins. Nothing new there."

    “What if one of them is doing something very, very bad.”

    Jekin tilts his head. “Everone that side of the city, they're all corrupt and heartless bastards, how much more bad could it be?”

    “Do you know a man named Iniskill?”

    He thinks a moment, then shakes his head. "If he's done anything exciting in his life, I've never heard about it. Maybe he's good at keeping his head down."

    She thanks him and moves on.

    Fountain Square is so called because of a small fountain in the center, though the sullen water isn't trying very hard. There's a fountain in Shickle District that sprays anyone who tries to get water. It plays with the neighborhood children, offering a cool splash of clean water, then soaks them when they move too close. Magical fountains tend to have a sense of mischief.

    This fountain is non-magical and dispirited.

    Tharko sells buckets. It seems a good business to have near the fountain, but he rarely has customers.

    “Foal,” he says. “I wonder if you’re here to purchase one of my buckets.”

    “I’m afraid I’ve come for another purpose, Tharko.”

    “Yes, yes, that is your way. What purpose might that be?”

    Foal makes sure no one is near. “Heard anything about a noble named Iniskill?”

    Tharko grunts and examines one of his many buckets. "Doesn't sound familiar."

    Foal sighs and looks around the square. Most of the other booths have customers.

    “Thanks, Tharko. I promise I will come and buy a bucket from you someday.”

    “You always say that, yet I don’t recall a sale.”


     

    Jalasko is nursing his second pint when an elf appears in the Queen's Leg. Conversation around him quiets and people stare.

    "Ears have graced us," grumbles a man at the next table. "Now we are all blessed."

    The elf looks around, spots Jalasko, and approaches his table. The elf bows his head and says, "Are you Jalasko of Hadro?"

    "I am." Jalasko gestures to a seat. "You must be… the scholar."

    "Your message was the subject of some curiosity at the archive. I chose to investigate." The elf bows his head slightly. "My name is Eske'drai."

    "Pleasure. I'm waiting for…" Jalasko blinks as another man enters the inn, "him."

    The newcomer is dressed simply, but he walks like a soldier. In an instant he sees Jalasko and walks over to the table with long strides. He pulls out a chair and sits down, seeming to take up far more space than his size would suggest.

    "Nisto Krevin," says Jalasko, "this is Eske'drai, a scholar of the archive in Harrow."

    Nisto nods. "Elf."

    The elf smiles slightly. "Human. Are you a soldier?"

    "Used to be." Nisto reaches for one of the round of drinks someone brings to the table and takes a sip. "Now I'm in the city guard."

    "There's a halfling in the corner looking at you, Nisto."

    "A halfling?" Jalasko looks toward the corner and sees a girl with feathers in her hair and a chaos of colorful clothes. "She looks like a young human who's rolled around in paint."

    "If I were you, I wouldn't tell a halfling she looks like a child." Nisto smiles. "Unless you like a shiv between your ribs."

    "Indeed," says the elf. "They can be testy and rash."

    Nisto turns and gestures the halfling over to the table. She stares at him a moment, frowning, then says "Oh" silently and walks over to join them.

    "You didn't recognize me out of uniform," says Nisto.

    "Why didn't you just say Come join us at the inn instead of just pointing me in this direction?"

    "I wanted to see what you would do. She wants a job, I thought, she claims to be a healer, but does she mean it?"

    "What sort of healer are you?" asks the elf.

    "One who hears the voice of the earth and the songs of crows."

    "Ah, a druid."

    Jalasko looks at the girl more closely. "A druid. That could be useful. Are you looking for work?"Nisto turns and gives him a look.


     

    “This woman was skulking around inside the gates,” says the minion.

    Skulking? Foal frowns. When have I been that clumsy?

    Lord Fuul looks up from his paperwork. “What a shabby girl. Why did you bring her here?”

    “Please be civil,” sulks Foal. “It will make all of this go easier.”

    “What… go easier? You were trespassing on my grounds!”

    “Yes, but that’s not what makes this difficult.”

    “Escort her outside,” said Lord Fuul. The minion approaches.

    “I know you are a busy man,” says Foal while swiping the blade of a dagger across the minion’s throat, “but I need some information,” wipes the blade on a cloth, “about a man named Iniskill,” and then sheaths the dagger.

    Fuul’s chair hits the ground behind him as he stands and reaches for a sheathed sword beside him.

    Foal holds up a hand. “All I want is a tiny piece of information, and I’m willing to pay for it.”

    Fuul grips the hilt of his sword, but doesn't draw it forth. “I will find out who your master is.”“I wish you well in your quest. Iniskill?"

    Fuul snorts. “Fawning powerless lickspittle. He grasps at power by trading in information, and he's made more than one enemy among the gentry along the way. If this is your quarry, then I have no issue with that.”

    “He has my associate concerned.”

    “You just killed my footman!”

    “I do apologize, but my mission is of some urgency.”

    He leaps over the desk, drawing his sword, but Foal dances through the shadows around him and strikes his lower back with the hilt of a dagger.

    “I cannot allow you to hurt me. I have too much to do.”

    From across the desk, he stares, rubbing his back. “That was quite a trick. I would be interested to know how you did that.”

    “I apologize, but I must keep my secrets.”

    He edges toward the door, considering. Foal spins the knife in hand, eyes narrowed.

    “Illusive Egret,” Fuul says at last.

    “A pub?”

    “A brothel. He likes to throw wine at his betters and flatter them.”

    “I most appreciate your help.”

    “Get out. If you come here again, you will be surrounded by swords.”

    “It would not be the first time.”


     

    In a quiet room in the back of the Queen's Leg, the adventurers sit around a table.

    "Are you telling me," began Nisto in a low voice, "that you informed everyone at the archive in Harrow of your quest? Did you tell the Queen as well? The Knights of—"

    "I had concerns about the quality and authenticity of the item," countered Jalasko. "I've dealt with the archive before, and they can be discrete."

    "More discrete than you, it would seem."

    "Rest assured," said the elf, "that no one outside of my inner circle will hear anything of what you search for."

    Jalasko was angry at being called out. "Who is this then? Do you even know her name?"

    Nisto turns to the halfling. "What is your name?"

    "Crowsinger."

    "Crowsinger?" Nisto scratches his beard. "Do you sing to crows, then?"

    "I do."

    "Do they sing back?" asks the elf.

    "In lovely voices."

    "Look," says Jalasko, "now that we're all in a private room, can we get to the point? I traveled a long way and killed several orcs to procure this item."

    The ranger pulls out a large square of parchment, torn in several places, and lays it out flat on the table. Everyone leans in except the elf, whose eyes narrow.

    "This is it," says Nisto, nodding. "This has to be it. If this leads to the place I wish to find, then you have definitely earned your coin, Jalasko."

    "I have no idea what I'm looking at," says the halfling.

    "An elevation map," says Eske'drai, "with rivers marked, and ruins of the ancients. Copied and recopied countless times."

    "How do you know that?" asks Jalasko.

    "Because this style of map was prevalent in the time of Avendyr, even before your people," he nods to the halfling, "first arrived in this world. I think it unlikely that a piece of parchment, even one so damaged, survived that long."

    "The real question," says Nisto, "is can we use this to find the cave?"

    Jalasko can feel the stares around the table. He clears his throat. "This and this," he traces two ragged lines, "are the rivers near Harrow."

    Nisto frowns. "But if this is north, then the city is on the north side of the river."

    Eske'drai smiles. "Four centuries ago, it was. Before Shadikol orcs leveled the city."

    "So we are here," continues Jalasko. "I know these hills well, and this lake. If the path up the mountain begins just south of the lake, then I have some idea where to go."

    "What about this?" Crowsinger points to a hole in the parchment. "Is this along our path?"

    They look to Jalasko.

    At that moment the door opens and a young woman enters. She wears a shabby patchwork cloak and hood, and shaggy hair covers her eyes. She closes the door and looks around the room.

    "Foal," begins Nisto.

    "Friend of yours?" Crowsinger asks.

    The woman suddenly draws a dagger and leaps at the wall behind Nisto. She plunges the dagger into a space between two boards.

    Someone howls on the other side of the wall.

    Everyone is on their feet in a moment. From the kitchen, voices, and then a scuffle. Soon the barkeep steps into the room, holding a dagger in one hand.

    "I apologize," says the barkeep. "It seems that someone was eavesdropping on your conversation. I take pride my establishment, and I promise this will not happen again."

    He leaves and closes the door behind him. Those who remain in the room look at one another.

    "I have a report." Foal wipes her blade on a cloth. "Is this a bad time?"

    "Can I ask…" Crowsinger looks around, "who hired who in here?"

    Jalasko blinks. "Nisto hired me, I contacted the archive, and…" he looks at Foal.

    Nisto sighs. "I hired Foal, and I thought a small group could meet here quietly in neutral ground."

    Eske'drai says mildly, "This is an adventurer's inn, you brought a secret map to the famed treasure of Serengeral, and you think you can keep a secret here?"

    Nisto looks angry for a moment more, then shakes his head and sits down. "Forgive me. I am new to conspiracy." He rubs his temple. "Foal, have a seat. What have you learned?"

    She sits down facing the door. "I visited the Illusive Egret."

    Nisto looks up. "While working for me, you decided it was time for a night of pleasure."

    "It wasn't night, and perhaps I will, after you pay me." She yawns. "Iniskill was there surrounded by admiring, well-paid faces."

    "Just… enjoying himself?"

    "Bragging that he will soon be in possession of a remarkable artifact."

    Nisto slams the table and rises again. "Can no one in this cursed city keep a secret?"

    "No," says Foal.

    Sitting back down slowly, Nisto looks up and meets the eyes of everyone around the table. "I intend to seek this treasure that has lain in hiding for centuries. I need people brave enough to accompany me on this journey. I need you," he looks at Jalasko, "to help me find the cave, you," looks at the elf, "to help me decode any clues within, and you," looks at Foal, "to disarm any traps we find."

    He looks over at the halfling. "Are you truly a druid?"

    In answer, a small white fox appears on her shoulder.

    "Did you say you are looking for a job?"


     

    Choath nods to a soldier on the city wall as he approaches the battlement. He whistles an old tune as he watches the party ride south out of the gate. He will allow them half a days' head start before he follows.

    He is surprised that Nisto managed to pull together a group of adventurers on short notice. Including an elf from the archives! Idiot, thinks Choath. This is quite out of hand.

    A guard approaches him and bows slightly.

    "My lord Choath."

    "Is it done?"

    "Iniskill now rests peacefully in the sewer, my lord."

    "Fitting." Choath clears his throat. "You and the others should be ready at the stables midday."

    "Yes, my lord."

    As the guard retreats, Choath allows himself to whistle again. This will be an adventure.


     

    continued in chapter two:

    https://seforums.pantheonmmo.com/content/forums/topic/12485/sword-of-serengeral-chapter-two

     


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at February 4, 2021 7:19 PM PST