A Day in Varden

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Jorick, Aug 23, 2015.

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  1. As the group of adventurers crested a small hill, they saw the town of Varden laid out before them to the north. It was not very large, probably more deserving of the term village than town, though Varden proper and its surrounding farmland did dominate the valley it resided in. The sun shone over the mountains to the east and bathed the quaint little town in its yellow light, showing the slapdash layout in which ease of navigation may not have even been an afterthought. There was a sort of main path through the town as a continuation of the southern road, with a couple larger buildings near the center, perhaps shops or inns, but the small keep of the local lord was set off to the west with clear space around it, clearly a later addition rather than the seed from which the town had grown, as many lonely keeps became. Despite the early hour, many people were already up and about, most risen with the sun and off on their way to the fields for the day's work. However, there were plenty that wandered around without any obvious goal, and some standing around chatting with one another, which would strike anyone with experience of a rural community as peculiar since this sort of lazing about was usually only seen in a city.

    The people were not the only strange thing about Varden, of course. It was a chilly morning, almost cold enough to cause worry of impending snow, despite the fact that it was the middle of summer. The traveling adventurers would have felt this gradual coldness building from when they got within about a six hour walking distance from the town, and along with it came a persistent sense of foreboding. It was clearly unnatural, but none of the mages were be able to detect anything out of the ordinary that could cause it.

    The southern road into town was the only modern route into the place, and it was not quite a true road, more a dirt path with a deeply scored pair of ruts from cart or wagon wheels. Just off to the left as they neared the outermost buildings, the adventurers could spot a graveyard. It had a worryingly high number of fresh mounds of dirt, easily reaching into the dozens. To their right, a little further on, a large and roughly square area was marked off by a crude fence made up of sticks and branches stabbed into the ground with string wound around them. The improvised paddock held eight horses, and a human boy sat on a stool just outside it with an old hat in his hands. He perked up as he saw that the travelers coming down the road had some horse and he stood eagerly.

    Though they had more or less traveled together on the road, this was less a true group than temporary companions. One of them, a nobleborn human male from the Mactian Empire, spurred his horse ahead of the others and reached the boy first. The man was almost the perfect picture of a gallant hero, with well kept blond hair and sharp blue eyes, marred only by the sour twist to his mouth. He had identified himself as Sir Toleus and said little more to those he had traveled with, though he'd managed some disparaging remarks made about elves and people from Alfhem now and then.

    "Welcome to Varden, mister!" The child looked fearlessly up at the man, on his fine horse with his gleaming silver armor, sword and shield both very plainly in sight. "The stable got full days ago, but I can watch your horse and feed it. It's a silver penny each day."

    "Is that so?" Sir Toleus dismounted and unhooked a bag from the saddle. He rummaged around inside and came up with a small handful of coins, mixed silver and copper. "A clever lad deserves a bit more than a silver penny for such hard work. Make good use of it, boy." The knight dumped the handful of coin into the boy's hat and gave him a friendly pat on the head. The boy grinned up at Sir Toleus, and he spared a brief smile for the child. "Where might I find somewhere to purchase food in your town, lad?"

    "My name's Coren, sir." The knight nodded and waved a hand for him to continue. "Miss Loma makes a lot of food to sell, ever since heroes started showing up to save us, because she said all we have here is the tavern and nobody goes there for the food. Go down the road and you'll see the tables outside her shop."

    Sir Toleus sighed. "That will have to serve. Thank you, boy." He trudged off down the road, heavy armor clanking, leaving his road companions behind.

    A handful of others followed after him, all of them horseless. Three wore thick leathers and furs, two elves named Thal and Tres and a human who called himself Whalebones, and they hailed from Alfhem far to the north. They'd regaled their fellow travelers with tales of past adventures at sea and abroad, ignoring Sir Toleus's snide remarks, but this morning they were different. Their eyes had a glazed over look, and they said nothing as they walked into the town, nor had they said anything since waking. Two others with the same vacant look followed, men who had caught up with the others in their early morning trek and never revealed their identities. A sixth, Kaltassa, a robed Orcish woman who was built like a barbarian warrior of legend but spoke more like a priestess, also quietly made her own way forward, though she wasn't one of those with the strange look. She left her horse and a silver penny with the boy, sparing him no words.

    "Always like this, you know?" A dwarf took a few steps toward the town, then turned round to face the others and spread his arms wide. He was wearing a suit of chainmail that looked like a moonless night forged into metal, and the head of a mithril battleaxe was quite visible over his shoulder despite his bushy red hair and beard. He'd been the longest on the road with the other travelers, in fact serving as a nexus for companionship as he'd asked others if they wanted to share the road, his campfire, and his ale on the trek to Varden. Torgun Falsetooth grinned and gave them all a view of the mithril canine tooth that gave him his name. "All friends until we arrive, but everyone for themselves once we're there. It's the nature of the business, of course. Seen it a hundred times and more. I'll be off to find that Tanos Vir fella and get to work, unlike our poncy, peckish knight. Fare you well, friends, and if I win the riches I'll buy you each a drink or three." With his little speech done, Torgun turned round and made his way into Varden, quickly disappearing from view as he ducked into a narrow passage between two houses.

    The remaining adventurers were left with nothing but choices. Varden was laid out before them, with the main street continuing forward from the road and bisecting it into nearly equal halves, east and west, and only the lord's keep looming up in the west served as a major visible difference between the two. There were many people on the street, but there was no obvious welcoming party to send them on their way to Tanos Vir, and more than half of those near enough to see clearly had the same vacant look that the trio from Alfhem had displayed. There were plenty of people wearing armor and weapons, likely other adventurers drawn in by the Archmage's call for help, though none seemed to be moving with any urgency. Perhaps a dozen feet past the first house that marked the town proper, a human man in bright purple robes was chatting jovially to a sullen woman who seemed uninterested in talking to him. Farther down the main street another robed man, this one an elf in ostentatious gold and silver, was yelling at a man who was cringing against the side of the building, though none of the adventurers could make out his words. Finding Tanos Vir would require at least a little information gathering, and targets for such were plentiful, though mindless wandering through the town was apparently fashionable these days and they could indulge in the same if they so chose.

    In the meantime, however, young Coren the aspiring stableboy stood watching them attentively, particularly those riding horses. The handful of coin from Sir Toleus had not calmed his eagerness it seemed, and he looked poised to launch into another sales pitch to anyone who stepped forward.
     
  2. Kal'Sidus

    Following Torgun's group on a stolen horse taken from an Alfhem stable, Kal'Sidus gazed across the grassy land before him, watching the morning sun make the dew sparkle. Pulling the right side of his hood forward to stop the sunlight from illuminating his face, the thief looked at one of the nearby adventurers. Sir Toleus, the shining example of Mactian prejudice, was the reason Kal kept his hood up during his travels. He was only a Half-Elf, but Kal's ears weren't quite rounded enough to avoid notice, and any good thief must avoid unnecessary attention, nevermind what his mother would think. As the thought of his mother crossed his mind, Kal looked down at the shadows of himself and the horse. The horse's shadow was normal, but Kal's shadow flickered as though it were cast by the light of a roaring fire. His Elf father and Human mother may define him as a 'half-breed', but the sight of his own shadow made Kal wonder if his parents passed their traits onto him in equal measure.

    Waiting for the knight to leave, Kal pulled two silver coins from one his cloak's hidden pockets. Sliding off of the stolen horse, Kal tied its reins to one of the stakes by Coren before approaching the boy. He handed the child one of the silver coins and held the other one before him, just out of reach. "Would you happen to know where Tanos Vir might be?"

    "I don't know anyone by that name," the boy simply replied. "There's been lots of strangers in town lately."

    Nodding in understanding, Kal considered his options. The child couldn't point him in the right direction, but perhaps he still knew something that could help him. If he could make contact with the criminal underworld of Varden, Kal could easily learn not only Tanos Vir's location, but perhaps a recent history of this town. For example- why do some travelers and citizens have glazed-over eyes? "Coren, where do the... bad people in town spend their time? The kind of people your mother warns you to stay away from."

    Shrugging, Coren said "I don't have a mother, and my dad doesn't tell me to stay away from anyone." He looked at the silver coin for a moment, as if considering whether he'd still get it, and Kal sighed. The boy was good for horse-watching, but not much else. Maybe a simple question would do the trick.

    Pointing out the nearby robed men, Kal asked "Could you at least tell me who they are?"

    Coren, again, was useless to him. "No, I never even saw them come into town." Disappointed, Kal kept the silver in his hand and walked to town.

    The purple-robed human was speaking to a woman exhibiting the same unsettling signs of confusion that some of Kal's fellow travelers were showing. He chose to instead walk to the angry Elf. Making sure that the knight wasn't nearby, Kal lowered his hood and walked up to the Elf and cringing Human.

    As Kal'Sidus approached the Elf, he overheard a good deal of the yelling. "Two weeks ago, I said! Are you forgetful as well as stupid? Two weeks ago. Fourteen days past. What happened here? Think, you cringing imbecile!" The man mumbled incoherently in response, drawing a sneer from the Elf. Kal could see that the Elf was male and of the breed commonly called High Elves, those who populated the Chain of Idris. He also noticed that the Elf's robe was cut in a fashion he'd never seen, with a very high collar and the hemline short enough to stop in the middle of the Elf's shins. The Elf breathed deeply for a moment, perhaps readying himself to yell at the man some more.

    "Excuse me, sir." Kal interrupted.. "I would love to listen on as you berate this Human, but I'm looking for someone by the name of Tanos Vir. Would you happen to know where I might find him?"

    The irate Elf spun round to face Kal, brows drawn together far enough to cause deep wrinkles to mar his smooth skin. The cringing man took this opportunity to slide away and dart down a pathway between buildings. The Elf noticed this, and much more: his eyes flicked to Kal's face, then ears, then down to his shadow before finally meeting his gaze. His eyes were a vibrant green, and his mouth twisted into a sour smile. "Oh, wonderful, a half-breed. Your insolence comes as no surprise. What is it you want? That fool mage? If it will get you to leave my presence, I consider that well worth the waste of my breath on a cretin such as yourself. Seek him out to the north. I would tell you to follow the flows of the leylines, but for some reason I suspect you lack the capacity. Now go, leave me, half-breed."

    Half-breed. Kal had expected this sort of talk from the Mactian knight, but not from another Elf. He had left Alfhem for the first time in five years, leaving a city that looked at half-breeds without a second glance. A city full of Elves and Humans, what could you expect? Sure, Kal never declared to them that he was actually a Scion, or that his mother was the Goddess of Shadows as well as a human, but they treated him well enough. Some noticed his shadow, and a few were brave or stupid enough to ask him about it, but they were all thieves and killers, too busy with their own troubles living in the underbelly of society to care who or what your mother was. There was comfort in that feeling.

    Now, an Elf was holding pure blood over his head like Kal's Scion status was something to be ashamed of, like his shadow wasn't a blessing from the gods themselves. "Well, then," Kal said, sliding his hand down his belt, pulling his cloak back to reveal his shortsword and throwing knife. Stopping his hand at the knife's handle, he loosened his grip on the silver piece he still held and smiled. "Thank you for the information." With a lightning-fast throw, he aimed the silver coin directly at the Elf's chest.

    The sneering Elf's eyebrow twitched just a fraction higher as Kal's hand stopped near the blade, but the quick throw did not fool him. His eyes locked on the coin as soon as it was visible and he lifted one hand in a contemptuous flick. The silver coin stopped in mid air, then began spinning, faster and faster until it started glowing faintly red, and on and on it continued spinning until it was a small, red ball of molten silver. "Leave now, lest you wish your coin back. With interest." The Elf seemed bored now, rather than angry, but that molten silver hung in the air between them still.

    After a moment of shock, Kal smiled at the magic, surprised, confused and intimidated by the Elf's abilities. With no magical talent of his own, Kal was easily impressed by magic, and he respected it despite having nothing but contempt for the Elf using it. "To the north, you said. I'd best be on my way." As Kal began to walk past the mage, the molten silver still floating before him, he added "I'm quite sure I'll see you again soon. Perhaps you'll see me as well." Raising his hood up, he began walking north, hoping to find Tanos Vir somewhere down the road.
     
  3. Haywire leylines. Of the catastrophes his mothers old tales had detailed, Loima saw little yet in the town of Varden. Morning still, it's people were at work already. Their daily routines remained a strange concept for the half-breed, but he supposed the common idea of normalcy had been long lost on him. If the looks cast at him were any indication, the townspeople thought the exact same. Loima just wanted to get the job over with. Glares weren't as bad as pitchforks and torches, but it hardly ever took long for them to become so. The half-breed always felt uncomfortable in towns, there were too many people to look at him and too few to hide himself amongst them.

    “Reckon I see this Thanos feller better sooner than later.” Loima stepped up to the dwarf Togrun. He'd darted after him in the hopes of finding a companion to stick by for the moment. “Better than hanging 'round with them. Ugliest bunch if I ever saw one.” He grimaced, cocking his head back to gesture at their (surprisingly handsome) traveling companions.

    “Name's Loima. I'd get started rather the sooner. More time for drinks, you feel me?”

    "Aye, drinks are always a top priority for brave men such as we." Though he made an attempt to hide it, Torgun was clearly confused by Loima's presence. "Er, did you not hear me there? Friends on the road, solo on the job? It's sort of a tradition, you know."

    “Aye, but if we're all looking for the same, it makes little sense to have you talk to the apprentice before me.” Loima responded, though he restrained from further comment. Loima pinched his eyes and sifted the view, a task made much easier by going through the narrower passageways the dwarf had taken.

    “Small town for such a big job.” Loima thought aloud, though he was careful not to raise his voice as high as for anyone but Torgun to hear it. The half-breed took a glance behind them once more, before he whispered; “Think there's a dirty little secret our contractor wants buried along with this?”

    "There usually is." Torgun kept his pace to a slow walk, glancing casually over Loima's less than pleasant form. "Probably the reward is where we'll find the biggest lie. I'm thinking there's no great threat, just some bandits giving the local Lord's men a tough time. I've seen it happen before, and from mages of that fancy Consortium no less." The dwarf gave a hefty snort that rippled down his thick facial hair. "Or mayhaps I'm just a touch cynical. You up for terror and danger if the blowhard Archmage wasn't playing us for fools? You look a bit young and.. unhealthy for the profession."

    Loima was taken aback by the dwarf's sudden concern. He looked at Torgun with wide-spurred eyes. “There's not much honest work for a half-breed. Least when there's rocks thrown at me, this job pays me for it.” Loima replied dryly. He averted his gaze from the dwarf. The mention made his lip quiver.

    “Wouldn't make much coin as a whore, I say.” Loima quipped. “So if terror and danger keep me warm and fed, then aye. I am up for it.”

    Torgun shook his head and let out a deep chuckle. "Well, you've got the grit for it, at least. I'd have to be blind drunk to pay for a night with you, so I can't say you're wrong about your options.". He stopped at a sort of intersection of the little paths between the houses: the main road of the town laid eastward and the track they were on continued going to the west, but another alley crossed it going south to north. The dwarf looked to his unexpected companion and gestured to the choices. "Making decisions is a big part of the whole adventuring job, and they can often make the difference between death and a nice day sack of gold. So, what'll it be, west along the outskirts or north into the shallow depths of this little town?"

    Loima had hoped to tag along and use Togrun for directions. A hearty dwarf generally had more luck speaking to townsfolk than himself. “Now if I were a stuffy mage, where'd I be...” Loima mumbled, as he leaned on his walking stick and stared at his feet.

    Under his soles, Loima could make out transparent currents running through the ground. It was as if tipping his toes in a brook of mana. Mages often sought out ley lines to be closer to magic, so they could be a lead. One flowed to the north, the other branched off a little to the east. Yet there was something peculiar to them...

    “Qeleksima!” Loima blurted out, quickly thereafter covering his mouth. This did not feel like a local lord lying about his bandit problem. This was a bad omen. There was something unnatural, hostile even, gleaming from they ley lines.

    Having only seen Loima look at the ground before behaving oddly, Torgun cocked a bushy eyebrow at the lad. "You alright? Last time I saw someone act like that they started throwing fire at me for no good reason. Give me some warning if you're gonna lose it, last time it took me three years to grow the beard out proper again."

    Loima shook his head, ignoring Torgun's remark about pyromancy. His slip of elvish he'd rather steer away from. “The call. The notice.” He blathered, rummaging his bags to pull out a piece of paper. “He is studying the confluence and its effects on the local populace” Loima read out loud. The dots connected in his head, but in a most unsettling way.

    “North.” Loima said, as he folded the notice twofold. His larger hand caressed the handle of the axe strapped to one of his many belts. “The apprentice must be north.”

    Torgun looked to the ground, then up to the notice in Loima's hand. Jocular and down to earth though he was, the dwarf wasn't stupid. "Oh, mage nonsense, is it? Those leylines the Archmage went on about?" He ran a hand down his beard, tugging on the end of it for a second. "Maybe there's something to be said for giving your rivals a hand now and then. North it is." He turned down the northward path, moving at a slow walk and giving Loima's twisted body another quick glance. "You come kind of mage then? You don't look like a mage."
     
  4. Marco Chaste

    Travelling on foot had proven to be a poor choice, no matter how much that bastard dwarf stable hand was overcharging for his crappy stock. In addition to the usual arduous travelling conditions, the sudden onset of unholy coldness did little to assist Marco on his journey to Varden. It nipped readily through his light summer outfit and bit down hard on his bones. A reasonable man would've brought a coat, but then again a reasonable man would've probably swallowed his pride and purchased that overpriced sumpter. The cold not all bad, it had hardened the muddy roads enough so that the bard's boots where no longer sinking into the ground with every step. Something he had complained for nearly the entire breadth of the trip. Finally cresting the hill to oversee his destination, Marco couldn't help help but feel slightly validated by the presence of the wannabe stable boy. Though the existence of his operation proved that the party was pretty late to the... party.

    Marco stopped to catch his breath and examine the situation. The insufferable Sir Toleus had already taken his leave, no doubt to harass some local wench whom he perceives is in some mortal danger. To be fair, the whole village was in mortal danger. The fact that so many people had elected to stay and potentially perish was somewhat strange to put it lightly, but given the sheer volume of heroes showing up they may have very foolishly believed they were safe. He scanned below to see if there was anything of interest, spotting the furred Alfhemer's. They had proven to be decent travelling companions. Their manners where a little rough, but at least they had something resembling a sense of humour. The bard tromped down the hill after them, holding tightly onto his drum.

    "Hail friends!" He bellowed as he crashed into the silent group. He wrapped an arm around Whalebones, a little out of companionship, but mostly to gain a little warmth. "Where you heading Whalie?" He stated plainly.

    The thickset man remained silent for a long few moments. When he spoke his voice was distant and quiet, as if he was distracted by something else, and spoke in single words separated by long pauses. "Town. Tavern. Drinks. Revelry." Whalebones had been the prime storyteller of the Alfhem trio, so Marco was quit aware that this strange mode of stilted speech was not normal for him.

    Marco arched an eyebrow, "You have a bit too much to drink last night there?" He didn't think it was possible, but stranger things have happened. He turned to address the rest of the group as a whole, "It looks like Whalie here is sick, what'd you guys do to him? 'Cause if you revelled so hard last night to break the mighty Whalebones I'm quite offended I wasn't invited."

    Whalebones did not respond to the question. Thal, the male elf of the pair, said nothing and didn't even seem to be aware of Marco's existence. Tres, a black-haired elven woman who managed to have an obvious feminine figure despite layers of leather and fur, spoke in a slightly more coherent fashion than Whalebones. "No. Sober night. Revelry today. It calls us."

    "Oh," Marco mumbled as his other eyebrow raised to match the first. "It calls you?" He paused to think a moment before sighing, "Oh, By Sharza's tits, have you all been possessed already? You just got here. Er... How about you three follow me, I'll get you to Tanos Vir and we can see what he can do."

    Whalebones shook his head a scant inch to each side and spoke once more in his distracted voice. "Tavern. Revelry. It calls."

    Tres shuddered for a moment, like someone stepping from a warm hall out into the cold of a winter night, but then resumed walking normally and spoke up as well. "It calls us all."

    Thal turned his head as if to look at Marco, but his eyes stayed staring straight forward, leaving him looking over the shorter man's head by a few inches. His voice came as a quiet whisper, almost a hiss. "Calls."

    The trio turned down a side path as they neared the center of town, heading off to the east. About a hundred feet forward, at the end of this path, Marco could spot a building standing taller than those nearby, which all seemed to be communal work stations and storage places rather than homes. There was a large crowd, easily thirty or more people of all shapes and sizes, all standing outside the front of this tall building, facing it and making no noise.

    The bard starred, this had suddenly taken a turn for the interesting. If not completely horrifying. His natural instinct was to throw caution to the wind and run in to see just what madness the building held, but the care for his own life and the natural desire to remain unpossessed prevailed. He was going to need some assistance.
     
  5. Tailing in around the back of the gathering of adventurers who had banded together for the safety of numbers, rode Wrogan, astride Aik, a black gelding of unknown heritage, that seemed to have a bit of draft horse lineage in his warmblood features. Linked with a teather was he re-mount, Klau, a dappled mare. Both of his horses were a bit dusty and shaggy from the long trek, but their equipment was of good leather, their forms solid, and well taken care of.

    Wrogan himself however, was wearing a his normal riding clothing, but his armour was left with his other gear on the pack saddle that Kalu bore. As a few of the group broke away to search their own way, the Orc moved Aik up to a conversational distance with Coren.

    The boy looked up and gave a little gasp of surprise upon seeing the Orc, but he recovered himself quickly and cleared his throat. "One silver penny per horse, sir." Wrogan could hear deep distrust and fear in the boy's voice.

    At the calling him "sir", Wrogan offered a small smirk, and shook his head slightly, "I do not deserve a respectful title, just my name will do. Wrogan." He gestured back to his remount, "I need a farrier to see to Klau, where might I find them young master?"

    Coren thought for a moment, mouthing the word 'farrier' to himself a couple times before understanding visibly clicked in his mind. "Oh, you'll want Garn the blacksmith for horseshoes, he takes care of all the horses in town when they need it." He paused for a moment, chewing at his lower lip, then continued. "The smithy won't be open for maybe an hour yet. I could watch your horse and take him in to get shod, just an extra silver penny and you'll have to talk to Garn to pay for his work later."

    With a slight shake of his head, he looked into the town, and then back to Coren, "Need to see Garn myself first, you understand. I trust my animals with my life, and I am responsible for theirs. Must measure the man, before I trust him with my life." From his coin purse, he rooted through it, passing two copper coins and a pair of copper pennies to the lad, "I'll pay now, and head into town with them to unload, and get the work done on Klau. Then bring them here."

    Shrugging, Coren tossed the money into his collection hat. "The smithy is near the center of town. Stay on the road and you can't miss it."

    "Thank you, young master." The Orc gave the boy a nod, and with a gesture of his knees, motioned Aik into a walk towards the town.
     
  6. Amel Nensis
    the Teacup Knight



    As his loosely defined companions began to part ways, Amel pulled his cloak tighter around himself, trying to keep himself from shivering in the cold. He would have liked to have someone to fight at his side, to talk to—but it was as Turgon had said, each was out for themselves.

    Pulling his gear off his pony, Tay, he lead her over to the young boy and handed over the reins. Quickly rifling through his coin-purse, he pulled out a silver penny, which he handed over, before ruffling the kid's hair with a gloved hand. "You'll get another when she's returned to me," he muttered, already moving off. Thinking back to Sir Toleus's earlier conversation, he decided to follow in the knight's footsteps and get a bite to eat. Miss Loma's certainly couldn't be too far down the road, and if she truly was feeding all the incoming adventurers, she was bound to know a thing or two about Tanos Vir.

    Amel left most of the other adventurers far behind as he made his way down the main road of the town. Easily half, perhaps three quarters, of the people he passed had the same glassy-eyed look that a few of the other would-be heroes on the road had shown this morning, and for the most part they seemed content to slouch against walls or wander aimlessly without seeming to notice anything around them. He made it to the small business district of Varden, some larger buildings surrounding what was more a widened spot in the road than the traditional square one would find in the center of most Holtanian towns, without any trouble and spotted his destination on the east side of the southern end of the area. A long table was set up outside a modest shop, filled with a variety of adventurers and locals, and off to the side there were two fires being tended by a couple humans, one male and one female. Sir Toleus was walking away from one of them and toward a table with a platter heaped with charred meat held in one hand. A short woman, who appeared to be a half breed of dwarf and gnome stock, stood in front of the fires and took money from those who came to get food. Her commanding posture made it quite clear that she was the one in charge here.

    Acknowledging Sir Toleus with a terse wave, the delicate knight approached the woman he could only assume was Miss Loma. "Good day," he started, pulling out his coinpurse and maintaining a relaxed posture. "I'm hoping for directions—and food, of course. Might I ask what you have to offer?"

    Sir Toleus appeared not to notice the wave as he took a place at the table and began eating without conversing with the rowdy lot already there. The short woman was indeed a mix of dwarf and gnome as she seemed, tending toward dwarven nature with her height and craggy features while possessing the thinner frame of a gnome. She looked the newcomer over with a sharp eye. "More than you could hope to pay for, looking at your little purse." She gave him a little wink and grin, and Amel could see that her teeth were made of some kind of crystalline material, perhaps the sign of Scion heritage. "We've got beef and mutton, your choice, two silver coins for a plate, three and we'll heap it high. One more will buy you half a loaf of bread. Don't bother complaining about the prices and how much cheaper you could get it elsewhere, it's the best you're going to find here. I can part with a moment or two to give directions to a paying customer, but I've no patience for skinflints." She held her hand out expectantly and waited.

    A furrowing of his brow momentarily betrayed his annoyance at the prices, but Amel quickly quelled it with a calming breath as he reminded himself that he would only need put up with it for one day.

    "Mutton and bread, then," he responded, passing over three silver coins. "I am in search of a man named Tanos Vir, apprentice to the Archmage Therios." Glancing at all the others gathered, he added, "And I imagine I am not to first to ask of him."

    The woman dropped the coins into a pocket of her apron and called over her shoulder to the man working one of the fires. “Mutton and bread!” Turning back to Amel, she nodded and gestured toward the table, at Sir Toleus in particular. “Not even the first today. I can tell you what I've told them all, for all the good it's done them. Most end up back here complaining about lies and stories, which I can't rightly complain about because it's damn good for business. The others-” She was interrupted by the fire-tending man handing her a plate of meat and half a loaf of bread, which she handed off to Amel. “There you are. You'll likely find Tanos north of town, near the pond the locals insist on calling a lake, which you should be able to see well enough once you get out past the last houses. If you want to take the proper route you can follow the road until it turns into a plain dirt path, then take the fork to the east. I wouldn't recommend cutting across the grazing fields, but if you can handle a few angry farmers and you want to save a couple minutes you go ahead and suit yourself. Oh, and I'm Loma by the way, Miss Loma to the locals. You and your coin are welcome here again if you come back with your hat in hands like the others. Next!” The last was called out to the small queue that had formed behind Amel, and Loma gave him a flat look and a head tilt toward the table that was clearly meant as a dismissal.

    Smiling to show his gratitude, the blonde knight took his plate and made room for the next in line. "Thank you, Miss Loma. Mayhaps I'll return for lunch."

    Turning to the tables, he moved to sit near Sir Toleus; he spoke not a word to the man, however. He could not yet tell whether the man was purposefully avoiding him or not. After all, if that was he case, he hardly wanted to make enemies so soon.

    Pulling a set of pewter travelling cutlery from his satchel, he began delicately cutting apart his food and eating it in small bites. Nevertheless, he kept a cautious eye on Toleus, hoping to discern the man's motives.

    Sir Toleus ate his food in silence, apparently paying no attention to his surroundings. The face of the man working through a plate of stringy beef was not at all an open book, but his mannerisms and appearance gave some hints as to his place in life. Though he ate with his hands as did the majority of those at the table, his nails were kept far cleaner than one would expect from someone fresh off the road and the only sign of rough work they displayed was a set of callouses that Amel, trained in the art himself, recognized as those gained from hard training with sword and shield. His shirt, visible in a few places despite his armor and cloak, was clearly made of fine silk but was stained by sweat and dirt. The cloak was thick wool, the sort that would see a man through a blizzard without much trouble, and his armor was very obviously of the finest craftsmanship. Whatever his reasons for being in Varden, it was clear that he was not the sort who would normally dine among peasants.

    Despite Amel's caution and Sir Toleus's apparent inattentiveness, he looked up about a minute after the Holtanian knight's observation began. The man's blue eyes swept directly up from his plate to Amel's face, held his gaze for a few seconds, and then dropped back down to his food. Amel could not discern any emotion or intent on the man's face as this happened, leaving him with no more information than his observation had already gathered.

    Amel hastened his eating, quickly finishing off the mutton and cleaning off his utensils on what was left of his bread. Rising from the table without a word, he nodded respectfully to his fellow knight.

    He passed his plate to one of the fire-tenders with another thanks, and made his way towards the northern road, in search of the lake, bread in hand.

    He couldn't help but feel a little uneasy. Even as a mercenary, he was used to a relatively regimented life, and was well aware that the common folk tended to be less driven in comparison. Nonetheless, the passiveness of the villagers here disturbed him. If what the Archmage had said was true, then this must be a side-effect of the supposed leylines—and he could only hope that he would be able to resist it himself.

    Amel was starting to worry that this task might be far out of his league.
     
  7. Esther Kaddu

    While many of the other adventurers traveled by mount, Esther walked. She wasn't fond of horses. Temperamental, easily spooked, uncomfortable, and expensive. And as they had drawn closer to Varden, she had appreciated the extra warmth gained from exercise.

    With a satchel thrown over one shoulder and her scythe resting against the other, Esther didn't have a spare hand ready to draw her cloak tighter and settled for simply hunching in on herself. It was by no means the coldest she'd been, but it wasn't helping that it was the middle of summer and she had grown used to the heat.

    Ignoring the young boy's exploitative business pitch, Esther began making her way into town. At some point she would have to make her way to Tanos Vir to find out what needed doing, but for now she was content to find her bearings. With each step she could feel the leylines flowing beneath her feet, like cold streams coursing past her. They flowed north, towards the town, and as she walked she tried to get a feel for what was wrong with them. What was causing all this ruckus in the first place.

    But beyond a general sense of hostility, there was little she could garner. But even that was enough to catch her interest. Hostility was not a feeling she often received from natural sources. People and animals, yes, but not the world itself. Even negative as the leylines were, she couldn't help but smile at the power they contained. No small wonder Varden was attracting unwanted attention. Stopping for a moment, Esther closed her eyes and let them wash over and around her.

    Strolling down the northern road with his bread now stashed in his satchel for later, a pale knight noticed Esther standing in the middle of his path. Recognizing her as one of the women with whom he had travelled, he strode up beside her.

    "Are you feeling alright?" he asked, with a twinge of worry in his voice as he laid a hand gently on her shoulder.

    Startled out of her contemplation, Esther recoiled away from the touch only to recognize the knight as Sir Amel. Gathering her composure back together, she realized she had let her satchel slip to the ground. Picking it up, she flashed a quick smile at the strange-skinned man. "Of course," she answered lightly. "Simply enjoying the... stunning surroundings." Looking down at the ground, she sighed. "To be honest, I was a bit lost inside my own head. You can feel it, right? What's flowing right beneath our feet?"

    Amel tapped the ground with his foot, grinning at her. "Feels plenty solid to me," he responded, teasingly. His face turned sombre. "Something has evidently been affecting the locals—and from what I could tell, the three from Alfhem. I was worried you too might have been afflicted."

    Esther frowned, confused. She had paid little attentions to the people around her as they arrived in Varden, more interested in what could felt than what could be seen. But now that her attention had been called to it, she noticed the vacant expressions and listless demeanor of many of the citizens. "...Strange. And you say three of our group are already like this?" Esther scratched the shaved side of her head."I can only hope it's an immediate weakness of the mind, and not something that may sneak up on us later." She looked around, realizing how lost she had become from her previous wandering. "Do you know where to find the apprentice? He's been here since the start, and may know what's afflicting everyone."

    "I've heard he might be at a lake to the north-east. In fact, I was already on my way when I spotted you." He paused. "Uh, feel free to join me—I know the way, and see little point in leading you astray."

    Esther gestured north. "Then by all means, Sir Amel, lead on."
     
  8. The town of Varden. A quaint one, by the standards of many, but to Marlene, it was just as good a place as any to call a home for many. The woman wore a rather high quality silk and linen shirt underneath her simple, somewhat ragged cloak. Normally they would be accompanied by a long skirt, but given that she was riding, decent quality leather pants simply made more practical sense. The cloak's hood kept most of her features out of the eyes of others, though her nose and lips were visible for others to see. On her back was a large pack, with various cooking apparatus and medicines plainly in sight for the eyes of others to identify her as a travelling healer. Inside it was a couple changes of clothes so she could blend into multiple social situations, depending on where she was going. As she slipped off her simple, perhaps even somewhat dimwitted horse, the small smile upon her sweet lips and the lightness of which she stepped betrayed a naturally jubilant nature to the woman. She reaches into her cloak and pulls out a small handful of silver and copper coins with one hand, while the other grasps the reigns of the horse and leads it towards the stable hand.

    Coren gives her a bright smile and holds out his coin collecting hat. "Good morning, miss. One silver penny for one day." He looks her over and his smile slips into a confused frown as he stares at one of the cooking utensils hanging in plain sight. "Are you... here to cook for the heroes, miss?"

    There was a momentary pause, but the smile didn't falter at all as she handed the boy all of the coins in her hand without hesitation. There was no bribery for information going on here: Just simple generosity. “Certainly, though... Not just to cook, but to heal the sick and the wounded. To ease the pains of this town, and the adventurers drawn here for coin, or glory, or righteous causes.” Marlene pats him on the shoulder and pulls her walking staff off of her horse, before allowing the stable boy to take the horse. “Do you know who the adventurers are all seeking for employment and duties? This would make it easier for me to begin offering my own services as a healer... If not, do you know in which direction they were all heading? Where they are gathering?”

    The boy nods at her answer, then thinks a moment before replying. "The heroes go all over the town. Some talk to Lord Torhen, but I don't know if he gives them jobs. A lot of them like the tavern, but it's not open this early. If they aren't wandering around with that weird look, they're probably at Miss Loma's shop breaking their fast. She gets the meat from my father you know."

    “Ah.” Marlene speaks softly. “I don't suppose you might know where Tanos Vir might be?” She tilts her head a little.

    "No miss, lots of strangers in town lately and most don't tell me their name." Coren shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe Miss Loma knows Tanos Vir. All the heroes eat at her shop."

    Marlene's smile grows with warmth as she exhales softly. She reaches out and ruffles his likely dirty hair, then pats him on the shoulder. “You're a good kid. Keep working hard, I'm sure you're making your father proud... Even if you are racketeering.” Without hesitation she hands the reigns of her horse to the boy, then pats the horse on the neck gently. “Please take care of him. If you do, I'll pay you again when I leave, and you can use the extra money to get yourself a nice meal... Could you point me in the direction of Miss Loma's shop? I'm... Not really sure where it is.”

    Coren gives her a wide grin, with more than a hint of mischievousness to it after the mention of racketeering, which he apparently understood. "I'll take extra good care of your horse, miss. Just stay on the road and head into town, Miss Loma's got a table and fires set up out front of her shop, you can't miss it."

    Marlene nods in appreciation, then silently waves goodbye to the boy and heads into town. Readjusting her cloak to ensure it wasn't falling off, she heads for Miss Loma's shop...
     
  9. Careena and Coco


    Careena and Coco had never been fans of riding horses. Perhaps it was something to do with her Orcish heritage, but for some reason the creatures spooked if she spent long periods of time upon their back. She had long since learned to not much mind the slower pace afforded by walking. You saw more when you walked.

    During the journey to Varden proper, Careena had seen a lot. It was mostly in the camping period that Careena did her studying, but she’d watched the various people who accompanied them. The Ice twins and Fishbones, so jovial and full of stories; the snide human noble, who’d acted so prim and proper, and who she’d happily knock over the head with a kettle; the dwarf, who’d been sharing stories and drinks with anyone who’d sit with him; and the Orc, looking as brutish as they come and yet as pious as they get.

    There were others of course, who flitted around the camp: mostly humans, although it made sense that it was mostly humans since they were so populous. None of them stood out tremendously; some were pretty, some were skinny, some seemed to play the drum; it hardly mattered. Careena had done enough work to know that it rarely made sense to get attached to people in anything more than a professional way. Jobs were both too easy, and ended before you could get chatting; or too risky, and rarely offering the time to stop and natter. There were of course a couple others who were a bit more…showy. The impressively tall Orc, who had arms and shoulders like tree stumps; and the…less-impressive Half-Breed, who when she’d first seen, had made her think upon the gods, and who she might be best thanking for her luck.

    Either way, the journey for Varden had made her think the job would be a standard one. The group were pretty typical, when it came to merce…adventuring work; with a couple exceptions. Actually arriving at Varden dispelled the normality as people started to separate. They’d been given a target, in the form of Tanos Vir, and yet everyone instantly started to separate; making the expedition look far more…disorganised than she’d expected. If Careena had thought about it, she’d quickly realise she was the odd one out: having spent too much time with an adventuring guild had got her used to a certain level of organisation on missions like this. She wasn’t here as an adventurer, she was here as a mercenary; and so was everyone else. They all wanted the riches offered, and the less people they shared it with, the better.

    As the thought slowly dawned upon her, she realised she was amongst the last lot of people to leave the group; having been stood in some trance-like daze as she thought about all the complexities and nonsensicalities of the situation. With only Coco at her side, Careena looked down at the town, seeing a few little groups forming in the distance. One person notably on their own caught her eye, and Careena reached down to stroke her companion behind the ear. The dog grumbled her approval at the touch, nuzzling in closer to the Ranger-woman’s hand. “Keep a bit back Coco, I don’t wanna spook The Orc lass.

    With that, Careena moved from her still spot, ignoring the stable boy, and the purple robed man, and the rest of the people as she focused in on following Kaltassa. The Orc woman had interested her on the road, so following the person that interested her seemed like the most fun thing to do. No doubt, they would be able to stumble upon Tanos Vir together. Careena made sure to stay a good ten steps behind the Orcish woman. She could track her down easily if she tried to run, and she was curious how long it would take the woman to notice her new shadow…and its dog.
     
  10. Town Center
    Kal'Sidus, Wrogan, Marco, Marlene

    Despite heading their different ways mere minutes ago, and despite being headed for different destinations still, most of the adventurers found themselves more or less together again in the center of town. Kal'Sidus making his way north was followed by Wrogan leading his horses to the blacksmith, who in turn was followed by Marlene headed for Miss Loma's shop. As Wrogan passed by a side path, Marco came hurrying out of it and almost into one of the Orc's horses, though he managed to stop himself just short of slamming into it.

    The way north past the central business are of Varden stood mostly open, with more of the vacant-eyes townsfolk and adventurers populating the road. Kal and Wrogan could see two more or less familiar shapes on that path: Esther and Amel from their arrival group, headed northward together. To the east, just a short ways beyond where the road widened a bit, Miss Loma's shop was bustling with the activity of people coming and going from the impromptu eatery set up out front; Loma herself was easily spotted near the cooking fires, currently arguing with a swarthy dwarf who seemed to have a problem with her prices. All four of the adventurers entering the area spotted Sir Toleus standing from the table and heading westward, across the road and down an alley between two buildings. Directly across the street from Loma's shop stood what appeared to be another, albeit less popular, general purpose storefront. A pale elven woman stood in the shadowy doorway, glaring at the scene across the road and muttering angrily to herself; as the adventurers passed by, she stared at them for a moment, glanced up and smirked toward Loma's shop, and then beckoned them over. "You hero types like coin and treasure, right? I've got a job for you and it'll pay well. Come on in and let's have a chat." The woman stepped back into her shop, apparently expecting to be followed.

    A ways further on down the road and on the west of it, a large building made mostly of stone stood in contrast to the wood buildings around it. Though there was no smoke or banging sounds of metal on metal coming from it this early in the morning, the anvil, the tools on the walls, and the forge that a burly man was currently stocking with coal made it pretty clear that it was the town smithy. It seemed a rather normal blacksmith's establishment, aside from a black metal rod hanging horizontally over the entryway to the open work area, held in place by two thin silver chains. All four of the adventurers in the town center could tell there was something strange about it, and Marco could tell there was something magical about it, but only Marlene recognized it for what it was: an enchanted item, and an apparently very powerful one given that the silver chains were themselves also enchanted, which she recognized as being intended to hold the rod's power in check more than to hold it aloft. She couldn't sense anything about the rod itself, perhaps due to the suppressing influence of the chains.

    Tanos Vir was, as far as they could tell, not present in the town center at all, nor did any of them have a solid lead on where he might be. Luckily there were plenty of people around who might have information for them, though they had distractions aplenty if they weren't in a rush.
    West Side
    Loima
    Torgun chattered on about his various adventures as Loima lead the way, following the flow of the leylines. "You should've seen the size of these goblets. I've heard of drowning your sorrows, but they were damned near three feet across, probably big enough to hold a full cask of ale and then some. You could drown your sorrows and half a dozen goblins at the same time! Near as tall as me, too, not even counting the stems. Horrible waste of good gold, if you ask me, bloody ornamental goblets. Pfah, Kaz'Kallorian wastefulness at its finest. Anyway, did I tell you about the time I ended up in bed with an incubus? Crazy days, those, and-"

    He was interrupted by a gurgling mewling sound coming from a westward path between buildings they were passing by. Dim though the light was in the little alley this time of morning, Loima could spot the source easily enough: a small cat standing there, looking up at the two of them. It was grey and white, but its fur was matted with something dark, probably blood. It was an easy conclusion to come to, given the fact that its intestines were hanging out of a huge gash in its stomach. The cat seemed unperturbed by this inconvenience.

    "Sharza's mercy, it's undead." Torgun kneeled down to examine the zombie cat, which nuzzled his hand in a manner that might have been cute if not for the gore. Loima could feel magical energy emanating from the cat, a dark and slimy feeling, but not hostile like the sensation from the leylines. After a moment of getting used to the strange new magic he could sense and echo of it through one of the leylines, off to the west, from near or inside the lord's keep on that side of town. A moment later Loima head the sound of jangling armor behind him, and a glance down the eastward track between buildings showed Sir Toleus headed his way, perhaps thirty feet away and in no apparent hurry.

    Torgun Falsetooth didn't seem to notice the incoming knight. He rested a hand on a dagger on his belt and gave Loima a questioning glance. "Is this what you were feeling with your mage nonsense, lad? A necromancer could certainly be a lot of trouble for a small town, could be what we're after."

    North Side
    Amel, Esther

    Amel and Esther did not make it very far north of the central area of town before encountering something of a roadblock. There was a large group of people standing in the road, clustered around a single house. Glancing in through a window, they could see that the house was apparently empty, with three bowls of partially eaten porridge sitting on the kitchen table. That emptiness seemed to be the source of the uproar. From what the two could gather from the babbling noise of the crowd, that empty status appeared to be the source of the disturbance. A woman cried that she'd seen the family just fifteen minutes ago, and a man said he'd passed by the house not five minutes ago and saw them settling in to break their fast. Now, however, the family of three was simply gone. Another person called out that this was the third time in the past week, which was met with rumbles of fear and agreement.

    Both Amel and Esther could feel the remnants of magic usage from within the now empty house: Esther felt both the slight echoes of power in the leylines and the more direct remnants of the spell in the air, which she was able to identify as some sort of natural and animalistic magic similar to what orc shaman were said to use; the magically untrained knight, however, perceived it as a mix of scent and feeling, the reek of a large wild beast and a feeling as if something dangerous had just stopped watching him, and he knew with certainty that those sensations came from inside the empty house.

    A man wearing armor and a purple surcoat seemed to be trying to get the crowd in order, and he was standing in the doorway to bar those trying to enter; he alone probably wouldn't have been enough to stop the curious and worried people, but he had half a dozen armored men with him also lining the front of the house and that seemed to do the trick. His surcoat bore a simple coat of arms as a badge: a silver sickle crossed over a silver staff on a plain white background. Both Amel and Esther, being Holtanians with some measure of education, recognized it as the arms of Lord Torhen of Varden; Amel noted that the ranking marks on the left shoulder of the man's surcoat were that of a captain. The captain was apparently in the lord's employ, and he was not having much success with the crowd. "Everyone, please, clear the way. There is nothing to see and we're looking into it. Go home, go back to work, go wait for the tavern to open, just go and leave it to us. I will personally make sure to inform each and every one of you of what we find so long as you shut your damnable mouths and go away!"

    A few people wandered off, but most stayed. The majority of this crowd, unlike those wandering the streets, were normal folks rather than those with strange vacant expressions. Those few glassy-eyed people present seemed to be simply caught up by the crowd, trying without much success to shamble through the press rather than using the bit of clear space on the western edge of the road to skirt by it. A human male in bright purple robes stood a bit back from the crowd, watching with a bemused smile but not joining in with their shouting and questioning. He looked eerily similar to the purple-robed man Amel and Esther had both seen near the town entrance, though neither of them had seen the man pass them by on the road north. The purple-robed man looked over to the two adventurers, gave them a slight grin and a wink, then went back to watching the show. Nobody else particularly stood out in or around the crowd.

    The way north was by no means inaccessible to the two adventurers, simply a bit congested with a strange occurrence. They could take the bit of walking room on the west edge of the road, or they could easily slip through the houses to either side to skirt the blockage entirely, but that would perhaps leave them with more than a few unanswered questions.
    East Side
    Careena
    Where the others of the loose group from the road tended north and west, Kaltassa went eastward. She stayed within the borders of the town proper, but only just a building or two removed from the more open spaces around it. There were a few people here and there, mostly the blank-faced people that littered the town, and the others were children or elderly folks going about their own business. After a couple minutes of unhurried walking, Kaltassa stopped, tilted her head back, and spread her arms out to her sides with her palms up. Careena, following behind, could tell that it was some sort of mage work but couldn't discern anything else about it. The robed orc woman resumed walking after about a minute of standing as she had been, now on a direct path eastward with a northern bent rather than following the natural curve of the disorganized building sprawl of the town. She passed beyond the edge of the town after a bit more walking, and she kept on going.

    Careena, still following cautiously along and apparently undiscovered, spotted something odd as she too left the cover of the buildings. In the eastern side of the gentle valley that the town sat in, mostly obscured by a lot of carefully tended trees that appeared to be bearing fruit, there was a squat stone building. She hadn't been able to see it from the south edge of town or the hill she'd crested to get there, probably because of the trees and the fact that the top of the building was covered in grassy earth that acted as a natural camouflage and the stone walls themselves were almost the same light brown color as the local dirt. The building almost looked like it had been just recently pulled up from the earth itself, but it had a settled and ancient look to it that belied that impression. It looked to short for anyone of the taller races to enter without stooping over, but Careena could see steps leading down to an entryway at a depth that would set the ceiling at a comfortable height. The structure appeared to be built into and under the eastern edge of the valley, and there was no telling just how large it might be; what she could see looked to be perhaps fifteen feet across and about thirty long, though the back end melded into the rising slope of the valley so smoothly that it could have stopped there or continued on for leagues for all she knew. Faint, repeated shouts drifted from the building's entrance, but she could not make out any words or whether they were pained or angered.

    At some point during the examination of the building, Careena noticed that Kaltassa had turned around and was staring at her. The thickly built orc woman had no readable expression on her face, but her clearly lucid eyes showed that she was not taken with the same oddity as the trio from Alfhem and many in the town. She called out to Careena, her words very clearly enunciated and delivered in a voice of a much higher pitch than suited her brutish muscles. "Why do you follow me, child? If you wish me harm, seek easier prey for your own sake. If you wish companionship, find another who wishes the same of you. You've no business with me. Go."
     
  11. Kal'Sidus

    In Alfhem, Kal would rarely walk the main streets unless he had some sort of job there. The back alleys and rooftops were his usual taken paths, but this adventure was different than his typical jobs. Beyond possibly having a brief and bloody reunion with the Elf that melted his silver coin, Kal had no ill intentions, and so he had no reason to be unseen. Besides, it was a busy road presumably leading to a busy town square; this was as good a place as any to go unnoticed.

    As he walked, Kal began to notice the large number of people with glazed eyes. Some were wandering aimlessly, most others standing still seemingly without purpose, and all with the same eyes. About half of the faces he saw on this street had the same strange condition, and Kal wondered (and worried) that whatever this was, it was somehow contagious. He made sure to stay out of direct physical contact with these people while walking up the road.

    Entering the center of town, Kal realized that a few of his traveling companions had made their way to this area as well. The battle-scarred Orc on his black horse was nearby, as were a Human male and Half-Elf woman, both unremarkable in Kal's eyes. He respected experience and strength, and couldn't see a strong hint of either in the other two. If he had to choose a companion for some sort of dangerous task, the Orc seemed reliable.

    Down the road a bit was a Blacksmith, but Kal had no interest in that. His gear had never let him down before, and he kept his blades quite sharp on his own. Across the road, a thriving shop and eatery caught Kal's attention. Surely someone there had to know where Tanos Vir was. Considering making his way to the store, Kal suddenly realized that he was already in front of one. An annoyed-looking female Elf was staring at the other shop, muttering. Noticing that she had the attention of Kal and the other would-be adventurers, she said "You hero types like coin and treasure, right? I've got a job for you and it'll pay well. Come on in and let's have a chat."

    Kal's semi-pointed ears perked up at this offer, and he'd already begun following her when he remembered Tanos Vir. Perhaps coin and treasure would help him find someone willing to speak up about the mysterious man's location, or this Elf woman would be happy to share information after the job was done. Either way, more treasure was never a bad thing, and he was interested.

    Taking a look at the three others, he quickly judged their disposition based on their appearance. The Orc had obviously seen some conflict in his life, so he was welcome to accompany Kal. The woman seemed honest, kind, perhaps gullible and definitely not interested in morally questionable work. Judging the Elf woman's attitude, this could range from simple theft or sabotage to murder, and he was sure the Half-Elf wouldn't care for it. Kal had no interest in working with the Human; he looked willing to do morally-questionable things for gain, but he also looked untrustworthy. No honor among thieves if he's one of them, Kal guessed. He'd been burned in the past by men with eyes like his.

    Not wanting to specifically invite anyone to accompany him, Kal shrugged and wordlessly entered the shop. If he didn't encourage anyone to follow, perhaps the job- and its rewards- would be his alone. Less risk, more profit, just the way he liked it.
     
  12. The tales of succubi and giant goblets were an easier topic to Loima than the ley lines. Though grinning along and laughing at Torgun his jovial banter, Loima's foundations were still shaking inside as they followed the way down the ley line. For moments it was a feeling, an instinct, but when the silhouettes formed in between alleyways, another corruption took a more physical form.

    “Nay, it does not feel connected.” Loima's nose wrinkled. Though death was nothing new to the halfbreed boy, his stomach churned at the sight of necromancy. “Cover your mouth and stand back.” Loima said as his hand reached for the handle of his axe. His motions careful not to alert the undead cat, Loima raised the axe above his head. “The dead brim with disease. You cannot allow them to walk.”
     
  13. Town Center
    (Looking for Group. Searching for information on Tanos Vir. Investigating Blacksmith's enchanted item.)​

    Marlene walked through the streets quietly and with ease, looking around at all the empty looking people, she seemed a bit confused. There were numerous distractions in this place. It was almost as though something was trying to take her away from her goal. Nonetheless, with no sign of the person she was directed to in the town center at all, she wondered if there was not some form of intentional deception... That, or if such a person were simply so unimportant as to warrant a lack of notice with everyone else in town. Either of these conclusions was troubling for her, though her thoughts were interrupted as she saw a rather charming looking fellow bump into an orc's horse. A giggle leaves her lips as she readjusts her cloak around herself. Glancing up at the blacksmith's shop, curiosity filled her hidden eyes, as did a small smile. Deception or lack of fame, either way, she could perhaps try investigating something... Form a group as well: Groups gained reputation faster than individuals, and would allow her to maintain her secrecy. The orc seemed an interesting person, so upon noticing that he was heading for the smithy, Marlene tagged along. At a distance of course, she learned more than enough lessons about traveling orcs from her childhood.

    Entering the smithy, she adjusts her hood a little nervously, then drifts over to the smith. "Ah, my name is... Meryl, and I'm wondering something." She motions to the magical rod hanging above the shop. "It's enchanted, but, I don't know by what. Would you mind satiating my curiosity about it? I'm new to this town. I would truly appreciate it, if, you're not too busy, of course."
     
  14. Esther Kaddu & Amel Nensis

    Esther eyed the congregation with a curious eye. Here, it seemed, was where the majority of the unaffected minds could be found. It made sense to her that those still mentally capable would both gather together for comfort as well as take an avid interest in what happened to their fellow townsfolk.

    Leaning over to speak in Amel’s ear, Esther gestured towards the commotion. ”I don’t know about you, but I’m more interested in looking into what happened here than tracking down some mage’s lackey.”

    Amel grimaced in dissatisfaction. ”This mage’s lackey is more than just an idle visit. He may have crucial information.” His shoulders slumped. ”That being said, saving lives is my priority. If you think you can uncover anything here, be my guest. But ah, allow me to handle the Captain.”

    Esther raised her brow. ”My coin is as capable of bribing a soldier for information as anyone else’s,” she teased.

    ”Your tact is most enviable,” he remarked. “I had assumed as a fellow Holtanian that you might have a shred of respect for we who defend it. It appears I was mistaken.”

    ”I show my respect through generous and selective donations,” she laughed and gave Amel a light shove on the shoulder. ”If you just want to talk to him, go ahead. But I’d like to get in that house, one way or another.”

    With a curt nod of his head, Amel pushed his way through the crowd roughly — avoiding causing undue harm, but unrelenting and unrepentant, with Esther trailing close behind. Upon reaching the captain, he he deferred to him with a respectful tilt of his head, recognizing the man’s authority in the area, before offering his hand in greeting. “I am Sir Amel, from the capitol. My companion and I are hoping to aid you in this investigation to the best of our abilities.”

    The captain barely seemed to hear Amel, going on with his spiel of calling for people to leave before pausing and visibly taking a moment to think. He took a deep breath and gave the knight a wary look. ”Well met. I am Captain Holdan of Lord Torhen’s household guard. If you could clear this crowd away, I would consider that a great help to our investigation. We have everything else perfectly under control.” Both Amel and Esther were able to detect the uneasy strains of a lie in his last sentence.

    Please, Esther butted in dryly, ”Adventurers weren’t called in so they could clear crowds. I only just showed up and I can already tell you it was shamanistic magic - or at least something very similar - that caused this. So don’t let professional pride get in the way of our assistance,” she flashed the Captain a toothy grin. ”You are trying to find out what happened to these people, aren’t you?”

    Realizing that something new was going on, many of the nearby townspeople quieted down and listened in. The guard captain grimaced and shook his head. ”Damned cocky adventurers. I’d have a mind to show you the back of my hand if you weren’t right.” He looked round to the other nearby guardsmen, none of which seemed willing to offer an opinion. ”Fine, I’ll take the assistance offered and I might even pretend to be happy about it. Take a look around if you like, though I doubt you’ll find anything we missed.” Captain Holdan waved a hand at the men blocking the door, indicating that they should let the two adventurers through.

    Amel flashed a disapproving frown at Esther's insolence, before turning to Captain Holdan with a smile. "We are most grateful."

    That said, he firmly took hold of his companion's forearm and pulled her past guards holding back the crowd and towards the door, leaning in close to mutter with a tinge of frustration. "Is it truly so hard to be a little polite?"

    Esther yanked her arm away, face briefly darkening. ”If you’re going to lay hands on someone, you should be ready to fuck or fight,” she said. ”And you don’t look like the type for either.”

    Amel shrugged, not deigning her worthy of a verbal response. Instead he approached one of the guards standing at the door. “Are there any more of you inside? Considering the—” At this, he paused, deliberately. Volatile nature of my companion, I would rather avoid any surprises.”

    The guard shook his head. “No sir, we’re waiting for m’lord’s man to arrive and give the place a look. Nobody inside.” He took a half step to the side, clearing the doorway for the adventurers to enter as they pleased.

    Amel glanced at Esther before sliding his shield off his back and entering the building. He kept his hand hovering over the hilt of his sword, but was not so paranoid as to draw it.

    Esther followed the knight inside the building, careful not the let the war scythe over her shoulder knick the doorway. Once in, she immediately made her way to the dining room, hoping that at the source of the disappearance she might be able to garner something from the leylines.
     
  15. Careena and Coco – East Side

    The strangeness of the house was the first thing that truly caught Careena’s attention for a long time. While she took note of the fact that Kaltassa had made some sort of hocus-pocus gesture, she merely filed away the fact that the brutish-Orc woman could probably do magic for future reference. In truth, Careena’s abysmal knowledge about magic meant that she would barely be able to tell the difference between a seizure and a spell.

    But still, the oddity of the eastern house; hidden away behind trees and into hills, was fascinating. She could hear the faintest sound of shouting, but she wasn’t sure if she dared venture into the cavernous space alone. Even if she had Coco with her, it was not an idea that she considered good for her survival. Too many variables she couldn’t plan for, too many corners to cover alone.

    It was about then that she noticed Kaltassa had turned and was now facing the Half-orc. Careena paused for a moment as she looked into Kaltassa’s eyes: her lucid, vibrant eyes. It was good to see that the woman had all her senses about her, because she kind of liked the contrast that Kaltassa presented. She was warrior, but she was also scholarly-type smart person. She wore modest robes, like some sort of priest, but she carried herself like a hero. Perhaps it was just some romanticised image of what an orc could be, but Careena found herself very fond of Kaltassa, without having shared any conversations with her.

    Kaltassa broke the silence between them and tried to shoe Careena off, like an angry parent shushing away a child. Careena smiled at Kaltassa, hands in the air and far away from the obvious bow on her back. “I don’t mean to fight, ma’am. I mean, I don’t mean to fight you. I’m Careena, by the way…” She paused, suddenly getting flustered by her difficulty in talking with Kaltassa. “I’m sorry if I bothered you by following you, but I didn’t have much of an idea ‘bout where to start. I can leave if you really like, but I’ll probably just follow you again anyway. You’re interesting.” She grinned at Kaltassa, obviously meaning for the odd little declaration to be taken as some odd compliment. “By the way, did you see that weird house back there? Kinda spooky, built into the hill, has some shouting people inside it? Don’t suppose you wanna come look in it with me? It’d help to have someone like you there; strong and magic-ee and…stuff.

    Kaltassa's flat stare took on a perplexed twist as the Orc woman cocked an eyebrow at Careena's rambling. "I've no interest in the monastery, child, nor in your... interest." She gave the word a sharp inflection, and even from this distance Careena could spot a subtle drawing down of the brows and faint grimace that seemed to hint at great anger held in check. Kaltassa lifted her left hand as a purple glow suddenly appeared around it, her right hand held loose at her side with the fingers contorted in a way that looked unnatural. "Leave me." Kaltassa's words came in a hiss this time, and along with them there was an overbearing weight on Careena's mind, a demanding pressure on her thoughts that demanded she turn around now and go anywhere else so long as it was not near the Orc woman and her glowing hand. Her body started to move of its own volition to do just that... and then Coco barked and ran forward a bit, growling and standing in front of her, somehow breaking whatever it was that had gripped Careena's mind.

    When the control of her mind shattered, thanks to Coco’s intervention, Careena felt her hand instantly reach for her bow and to her quiver; more on instinct than by actual malicious intent. She didn’t quite understand what it was that Kaltassa had done; magic was far beyond her scope of understanding, after all. With one hand resting on the bow at her back, and one gently tickling at an arrow’s fletching, Careena glared at Kaltassa, trying to judge if the woman planned to strike. After a second or two of tension, Careena drew her hand away from the arrow. “Fine. I’ll leave you to yourself.” She moved her hand down to Coco, placing a hand on the dog’s raised heckles, soothing her with a touch. “I don’t really know why you would resort to messing with my mind, but if you need help later; you need only ask. I’m going to the…monastery.” With that, Careena turned away from Kaltassa, moving to leave the orc to her business. Careena was a little shaken by the quick spell put on her. She valued her mind’s sanctity, and knowing that Kaltassa could defile that sanctity so easily was…troublesome.

    Kaltassa nodded and turned round without another word, heading further eastward on a trajectory that would take her past the stone building on its southern side.

    As Careena got closer to the building, she could see that the trees in front of it were set in orderly rows, clearly not the work of nature. A well-worn dirt path ran through the center of them, going in a mostly straight line from the entry stairwell to a gap between two houses on the edge of the town. The trees on the south side of the path bore red apples while the northern trees appeared to be full of pears; despite it only being the middle of summer, all of the trees looked heavily laden with ripe fruits, which was not seen in normal orchards until the early parts of autumn. Careena could sense an unnatural, but benevolent, aura of power around the trees, though she could not tell what exactly it did it where it came from. The shouts from the entrance grew clearer as well: they were neither pained screams nor fearful yells, just shouts of exertion that came in a steady pattern. A sole shout from what was clearly a very deep voice came first, followed by two higher pitched voices emulating it in near unison. Nobody was visible outside the building, nor could Careena see the yelling people inside from her current position.

    Careena was unsure of what to expect in the little building. Perhaps it was the heavy thoughts of what Kaltassa had done, and was able to do, but Careena’s previous caution was diffused rather easily as she approached the soothing passage between the trees. She felt a certain pleasure from the area; it was a natural delight. The sort of place she could readily have spent a lot of time, if not for all the craziness in Varden. Looking over at Careena, ignoring Kaltassa as she moved on, the Half-Orc gulped. “Here goes something…

    With that, she pushed open the doorway, to the secret stone building.
     
    #15 LimeyPanda, Sep 19, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2015
  16. Synoriel's Shop
    Kal'Sidus

    As Kal'Sidus entered the elven woman's shop he was immediately struck by the scent of incense, a sweet smell that he did not recognize but which was reminiscent of cinnamon. The smell seemed to be coming from a doorway in the far side of the room that was currently only half blocked off by a hanging curtain, through which he could see what seemed to be a storage room full of shelves. The main shop room itself also contained many shelves, stocked mainly with mundane items like needles, cloth, and dried fruits. It was just what one would expect of a store in a largely self-sufficient farming town, there to supply things which they could not acquire locally, a place made to fulfill practical needs rather than to make the owner wealthy.

    The owner herself, the pale elven woman who had invited the adventurers in, was just getting settled on a stool set behind a plain wooden counter just to the right of the door. Now that she was no longer standing in the shadows of the doorway, Kal could make out the details of her feature by the light of the candle on the counter. She had black hair long enough to brush her hips and dark eyes that looked larger than seemed naturally possible. She had the prominent cheek bones of highborn elves, but otherwise her face was all smooth and delicate curves, lending her a look of innocence and vulnerability. That impression was belied by her cold eyes and self-satisfied smirk, the kind of expression that Kal'Sidus was used to seeing on the more successful people who operated in the underbelly of society. He looked closer for a moment and noted a murky haze to her eyes, like a thin layer of fog passing over the surface, but when he was not specifically looking for it he found it almost impossible to spot; he was unsure how exactly the feeling came to him, but he knew without a doubt that this was related to whatever was affecting the blank-faced people currently wandering and loitering around town.

    After glancing at the door to make sure nobody else was entering, the woman shrugged one shoulder and looked Kal'Sidus over with a critical eye. "Just the one then? I suppose that's for the best. I am Synoriel, proprietress of this humble establishment." Her speech was very proper and her tone mildly condescending, just as one would expect from a high elf. "I'll not bore you with the details. Simply put, I want Loma dead. She's been a thorn in my side for far too long and I am tired unto death of her presence." Synoriel reached under the counter and pulled out a small chest, deep burgundy wood bound with golden metal, and did something to the front of it that Kal could not see. She then turned it round and opened it for Kal to see the contents: ten plain gold rings standing in little slots in the bottom of the plush red interior. Magically illiterate though he was, he immediately sensed that these rings had some sort of magical nature. "These enchanted rings were mistakenly delivered to me last week. They sell for thousands of gold coins in the city, but my asking price is a single life. One if you do the deed, two if you can do it without anyone suspecting murder and my involvement, and I'll also give you a thousand gold coins either way." Synoriel looked up from the rings, eyes slowly making their way up Kal's form as a mischievous smile tugged at her lips. "And other expressions of gratitude may be on offer, of course. Do we have a deal?"

    The Town Smithy
    Marlene, Wrogan, Marco

    As Marlene entered and began speaking, the large human male turned from his task of preparing the forge and wiped his coal-blackened hands off on his leather apron. He was pretty much exactly what one would expect of a blacksmith: chest comparable to a barrel, limbs that seemed to beg size comparisons to tree trunks, and a rough face that one desperately addicted to metaphor might liken to the anvil sitting a few feet away. He seemed and amiable enough sort though, and as Marlene finished speaking he gave her a friendly smile and a little chuckle as he shook his head. "The rod? Aye, of course, seems I've already talked meself hoarse about it these last few days. Funny how I sort of forgot it was there until you newcomers started coming into town in the dozens, one or two from every lot coming to ask about it. Just a moment."

    Wrogan and Marco had entered the smithy area behind Marlene, and the smith addressed them briefly. "I'll see to you lads in a moment, after I've sated the lass' curiosity." Turning back to Marlene, he gave her another warm smile. "Meryl was it? I'm Gorrus, Varden's one and only blacksmith. I'd offer to shake your hand by way of greeting, but..." He waggled his right hand in the air for a moment, still streaked with black marks despite the attempt to clean it. "Anyway, the rod, aye. Been here longer'n I have, hundreds of years if you believe the stories. I don't, but everyone says I got no imagination, so take that as you like. Stories also say it's a godly artifact. Some say it was made by the God of Ice, but most agree it was from Sharza, Goddess of Death. If you touch it, the thing's always cold, even in the heat of a summer day. Them God of Ice stories say it's filled with his power and swinging it will make a lot of ice. The ones about Sharza say it's the cold of the underworld and that shoving it in the ground opens a door right to it."

    Gorrus chuckled and shook his head again. "Both are wrong. When I was younger and dumber I took it down and played with it a bit. Swung it around, nothing happened. Shoved it in the dirt, nothing happened. Tried using it to cool my quenching barrel too, and sure enough nothing happened. All it does is make you feel cold, and colder the longer you hold it. Had a dog back then, and he touched the thing and didn't seem to notice anything, so it probably only works on people. I figure it was made by some mage person who went into a desert, wanted a way to cool down without doing any work." The blacksmith gestured to a chair standing by the doorway. "You're welcome to hop up there and give it a closer look if you like. Only been a couple who cared to look after I told them it just makes you cold, and neither of them could find anything else out about it. Now, if that's all, I think the lads that followed you in have some actual work for me."

    As Gorrus turned away to see what Wrogan and Marco wanted, Marlene felt something strange. Magical sensitivity waxed and waned based on a variety of factors, as any mage knew, and at the moment Marlene's was waxing toward the fullness of her capabilities. She could sense that the rod's enchantment was far more powerful and complex than what the blacksmith suggested, that the cold feeling was just a tiny part of what it did. Furthermore, she felt that the chill aura surrounding it had more in common with that of the grave than of natural ice, a coldness mixed with fear and death rather than coldness by itself. Marlene couldn't make out anything more than that, but it was possible that a closer examination while touching the thing could yield its secrets.

    West Side
    Loima

    The axe rose and fell, and the undead cat never saw it coming. The blade severed its head cleanly from its body, and the creature became a natural, motionless corpse. Torgun nodded, not bothering to give the cat another glance now that it was dead. "True enough. Even if it's not the problem we've been called to deal with, I've no love for the undead and necromancers and I wouldn't like to leave one alive. Might be I'll go find them and show them the same care you did the cat."

    "Leave it to me, dwarf." Torgun jumped back in surprise and laid a hand to his weapon as Sir Toleus spoke; the dwarf clearly hadn't heard or seen the knight approaching, and there was more than a little embarrassment on his face. "We Mactians know how best to deal with unfettered mages breaking the laws of gods and men, of course. Why don't you go dig a hole or something and stay out of my way?" The knight swept past Loima and Torgun and made his way westward, past the corpse of the cat and off toward the lord's keep in the distance.

    "Ass." Torgun let the knight and his insult go without further comment or objection. He gave Loima a little shrug. "Another adventuring lesson there: choose your battles, some aren't worth fighting. Insults hurt far less than swords, so better to take the former and shrug it off." He paused for a moment, looking over Loima's malformed features. "Which, I suppose, is a lesson you've already learned well enough, whether you wanted to or not. Anyway, what do you think? Keep looking for this Tanos Vir, or do you want to go necromancer hunting?"

    The Empty House
    Esther, Amel

    As the pair entered the empty house, they felt an immediate sense of abandonment. Somehow, despite it apparently being inhabited less than an hour ago, the building seemed to have the same lifeless feeling as one abandoned for years. By all appearances it was a cozy, albeit obviously poor, little home, but it felt like the soul of the place had been removed.

    Amel entered cautiously, and by simple observation it was clear to him that whatever had happened to the family had occurred without a fight. The spoons in the three porridge bowls were placed neatly in them, not dropped in disorder as one would expect if the family had been surprised while breaking their fast. The chairs were pushed in, whereas he would expect to see them knocked over if there was a scuffle. Moreover, he had the feeling that it had to be the people themselves who had bothered to see to the chairs, since an attacker would be very unlikely to take the time to bother with them instead of immediately fleeing. Off in the far corner of the living area Amel spotted two bows, a full quiver, and a few hunting spears; at least one of the family apparently knew how to use weapons, likely for the sake of hunting for food. An impressive set of antlers sitting on a table near the weapons, clearly intended as a display, indicated that the hunter also took some measure of pride in their abilities. He spotted nothing else out of the ordinary, just the simple trappings of a family home now devoid of its family.

    Esther made for the dining area immediately, probing it with her magic senses. She felt quite a lot more than she had been able to sense from outside, to the point that she could almost recreate the scene in her mind. Perhaps it was just because it was so fresh, or perhaps it was just a moment of greatly heightened clarity for her, or perhaps in that moment she was graced by the gods, but whatever the reason was, Esther was able to read the traces of magic in the leylines like a book laid out in front of her. The family had done something, likely given a prayer before meal given the context, that rippled through those leylines and caught the attention of a very powerful entity. A portal had opened in this very room, and a god had walked out; through this powerful reading of the leylines, Esther knew it was none other than the God of the Hunt, a massive dark-furred feline that she knew was ancient beyond the reckoning of mankind. The god had been in the room for only a minute, and then it had left.. with the family coming willingly with it into the portal. There was a sense that a binding had occurred, and Esther could tell that it was an agreement made willingly by the family. In the last moment before her powerful insight faded, she could just sense the nature of the binding: the family had agreed to become Servitors of the Hunt. From what she knew of her time learning with the Mage's Consortium, mages, theologians, and scholars were unable to agree on the exact nature of Servitors, some saying they were constructs of the gods made to look like mortals and others saying they were chosen from mortalkind and empowered by the gods, so this bit of information seemed to confirm the latter view.

    The strain of the powerful magic reading hit Esther like she'd just run a mile in a flat out sprint. Useful though it was, prying into the secrets of the gods clearly did not come without a cost. She sensed a faint rumbling growl in her mind, more felt than heard. Perhaps it was just her imagination, or perhaps her leyline reading had not gone unnoticed by the God of the Hunt. Either way, she now had all the answers she was likely to get from the magical examination, which Captain Holdan and the crowd outside would likely be very interested to hear.

    The Monastery
    Careena

    Careena found the source of the shouts immediately. The room just inside the door was quite large and had a dirt floow, fifteen feet across and easily forty long with a door set in the far wall, confirming that the building did indeed continue on under the hillside. Three people were performing some sort of exercise in roughly the middle of the room. One was a human man facing away from her and wearing a pair of short, grey trousers and nothing else, his skin a dark brown rarely seen in Holtania and currently glistening with sweat, and his head was devoid of hair. The other two were younger: a human child of perhaps ten years and a goblin that appeared to be in his middle teen years, both wearing similar trousers as the man along with plain tunics of the same color. The human boy was fair-skinned with red hair, green eyes, and a thick crop of freckles on his face and arms. The young goblin had reddish-brown skin and ears that seemed far too large for his head, even for a goblin. The dark-skinned man would throw a punch or kick and hold a position while giving a shout, then the two younger ones would copy his actions, thus creating the strange pattern of shouts.

    This went on for all of about a minute before the boys spotted Careena in the doorway and stopped to stare, causing the man to turn round and look for the cause of the disturbance. When he did so she could see that his face was covered in dark grey scales, making it look like he was wearing a mask, though it was quite clear that they were a natural feature of his face. "Oh, hello, we weren't expecting any visitors." The scale-faced man's voice was deep and warm, and he was clearly not alarmed by the intrusion despite also clearly noticing the visitor's bow and dog. "Can we help you with anything?" The goblin boy gave a confused look, which he was very good at thanks to apparent mastery of the art of manipulating his own eyebrows, and murmured something to the man that Careena couldn't hear. The man simply smiled and shook his head. "No, Korsik. Hush now."

    Aside from the goblin's confusion, Careena couldn't really tell anything of what the people were thinking. She did, however, notice that something was a little off. The dirt floor in the area they had been exercising was packed down and worn smooth in some spots, clearly indicating that they took the same positions to do this regularly; the rest of the floor was fairly well smoothed from use, but nowhere near to the same level as those spots. There was a third spot next to where the human boy stood, but there was nobody using it currently. There was no telling what it might mean, but that was the only odd thing that caught Careena's attention.
     
  17. “Aye.” Loima nodded as he echoed the dwarf's thoughts, “Wisdom for warriors and abominations alike.” He watched Toleus' back as the self-conceited man rode off into the distance. Yet something strange made Loima think. Though Toleus spoke like a knight, the fact he was indulged in mercenary work on his lonesome was an unusual conduct for a titled warrior.

    “There's no gold in putting the necromancer to rest.” Loima reasoned, even if his shoulders shuddered at the thought of letting one roam free. “Nay, we search for the apprentice. Long as he thinks the two are connected, there's one rival less to worry about.” The half-breed had absolutely no qualms with sending the man off on the wrong path. Besides, there was a little something else Loima held high hopes for.

    “With a little luck they'll even kill each other.” The half-breed snickered, as he continued down the trail of the corrupted ley line. Loima suspected a far greater terror than necromancers to wait at it's end.

    "You're a cold one, lad." Torgun followed along, his voice hinting at a strong disapproval that his words matched. "As much as I like to talk about gold and women and the like, there's more to adventuring. Put gold first, aye, most do, but sometimes you've got to take a stand for something more important. You've got to have something good and warm to keep you going through the dark times, else you're just a cold husk with a sword stumbling from job to job. Seems to me you haven't found such a thing for yourself, if you're hoping to see a man die just for being a rude prat. Might want to have a think on that when this here job is over, eh?"

    “There's not much you can stand for on an empty stomach.” Loima protested, but the dwarf's words rang true. He did stumble from job to job, just to scrape by. It was not a nice feeling, but the truth was that Loima did not know much better.

    The dwarf gave a brief chuckle. "True enough. Just keep the words to mind, might be they'll come in handy some day. If we save this place and get a pile of gold from that Archmage you'll have plenty of leisure time with a full stomach, after all."

    “Aye.” Loima gave in. “I'll give it an ear over ale. We got ways to go still.” He said, picking up the pace. “We're getting closer to the apprentice.”
     
  18. Esther Kaddu & Sir Amel Nensis


    After her enlightening synchronization, Esther found herself propped up against the wall, struggling for air. The taste of acidic bile briefly rose in her throat, Esther barely able to choke it down. But even so, she felt elated. Her curiosity had been sated and then some. She wondered what would happen if she spread this knowledge to the Consortium. A fairly major theological question, and she stumbled across the answer by accident.

    Sitting down in one of the recently emptied chairs, she began to laugh. The mages wouldn’t believe her. Arrogant, a trouble-maker, disrespectful; they’d be too preoccupied with their own judgements to believe she knew more than them. Pompous, reserved fools. Not that it mattered. Her search for knowledge wasn’t meant for their benefit, but for hers.

    When her quest for air came under control, Esther found herself feeling hungry for the first time that morning. Deciding it would be a shame for fresh food to go to waste, Esther tied her satchel to her waist, grabbed one of the bowls of porridge, and made for the front door. ”Amel,” she called out around a mouthful of food. ”Are you done?”

    ”What?” Amel, who had been fiddling idly with the hunting equipment, turned towards Esthel. ”There’s hardly anything to see. To be honest, I was under the impression that this was your area of expertise.”

    ”Oh, it is,” Esther replied, ”But for all I knew you may have had hidden depths. Who knew what you may have been able to figure out?”

    Amel’s hand dropped away from the bow, and he walked over to Esther. ”I consider myself a people person,” he muttered, voice dripping with sarcasm. ”And it looks to me like we’ve just missed them.”

    ”Prostrate yourself and you might be able to catch up with them,” Esther said blithely before filling the knight in on the details of their disappearance. ”I can’t be sure the other disappearances people were talking about are the same situation, but if they are?” Esther let the question hang for a moment while she ate a spoonful of porridge. ”My guess would be that what’s happening to the leylines is either amplifying people’s prayers or simply drawing the gods’ attention on it’s own.”

    ”Must you really keep eating that?”

    ”Yes, though I’m willing to share.”

    Choosing to ignore that, Amel pushed past her to the door. ”I say it’s time we pay that visit to Tanos Vir. We can expand our investigation after he tells us what the hell is going on.” That said, the knight slung his shield back over his shoulder and threw open the doors, striding forth towards the guard captain.

    Captain Holdan noted the approach and turned from the still bothersome crowd with an expectant arch to his brows. ”Done already, hm? Did you find anything of note?”

    ”She—” Amel started, motioning over his shoulder at Esther, ”Was able to determine that the family has been taken into the service of a god. Why they were chosen, I have no idea, but their disappearance was not sinister in intent.” At this he drew closer to the captain, so as to not be readily heard by the crowd. ”The other disappearances—is there really any reason to believe they’re related?”

    The captain’s eyes grew wide at the explanation, and he lifted his right hand with his thumb and first two fingers held tight together and pointing straight up, ring and pinky finger curled tight against the palm, with the thumb closest to his chest. As a native Holtanian, Amel easily recognized it as a sign of superstition common in rural areas, meant as a wordless gesture of praise toward the nice gods and a ward against the nasty gods, used whenever a superstitious type heard another speaking of gods at all, just to be safe. ”Chosen and taken into service?” Captain Holdan spoke just above a whisper, awe clear in his voice, and it is very clear he believed Amel’s explanation without reservation. ”The others were all the same, folks just disappeared with no explanation. I suppose it must be the same. Which god was it?”

    ”These ones were the God of the Hunt,” Esther spoke up, ”But there’s no guarantee that that’s the only god involved in this.”

    Captain Holdan seemed not to take notice of the latter sentence. ”Tsirin, Great Panther of the Hunt? Good, good.” He looked down at his right hand, apparently noticing it for the first time, and lets go of the warding gesture with a sheepish grin. ”Ahem, well, I thank you for your assistance. This will do much to comfort the confused people of the town. I’m not allowed to offer pay for this sort of thing, but if you visit the keep I’ll be sure to put a good word in with Lord Torhen on your behalf if you’ve need of anything. Oh, and sorry for being rude earlier, I’ve spent the past week dealing with rowdy adventurers and I may have judged too quickly.”

    ”I understand completely,” Amel sympathized. “It was our pleasure to help out, and should require aid further on, do not hesitate to seek me out. That being said, we have other business we must attend to.” He clapped a hand amicably on the captain’s shoulder. “Take care, Holdan.”

    Amel turned away and motioned for Esther to join him as he continued on towards the lake.
     
  19. Kal'Sidus

    Kal'Sidus entered the woman's shop, taking in the strong smell of cinnamon while carefully noting the emptiness of the room and the unknown number of exits. Life had its sensory delights, but he knew to keep such practical things in mind. A strange woman in an unexplored location offering a likely illegal job in an intimidating way? Not new to him, but the strange experiences he'd had in Alfhem were cautionary tales for the careful, and he knew to keep his guard up; the trouble came from acting natural.

    Leaning on the counter with his back to the door, Kal made sure to look at rest while keeping a hand near his hidden throwing knife. "Vigilance dressed as nonchalance is an artform to the assassin, and an air of confidence speaks volumes to potential employers," Creed once told him, while they ran across the rooftops of Alfhem, towards another potential employer. "Prepare yourself for professional and deadly interaction at the same time, and nothing will ever go wrong- unless you get yourself killed, but that's a lesson for another time."

    Looking upon this woman, Kal'Sidus noticed something alien in her eyes, a shade of whatever the glaze was on the other citizens, and suddenly he understood so much about the danger he was in that he struggled to keep his composure. Influence. Something looms over these people, perhaps sinister and aware. Whether he was jumping to conclusions or breaking the seal on a mystery, Kal could not say, but the fact that there could be something pulling strings on this town and that one of them may be trying to pull his strings was certainly cause for concern. He would hear her out, but barring any sudden witness appearances, Kal was sure that simply killing this dangerous woman would be the safest solution for him. However, he needed to know what she wanted from him so he could find a way to do the opposite.

    The woman began to speak. "Just the one then? I suppose that's for the best. I am Synoriel, proprietress of this humble establishment. I'll not bore you with the details. Simply put, I want Loma dead. She's been a thorn in my side for far too long and I am tired unto death of her presence." Kal nodded in simple understanding, realizing that his previous desire to see the other shopkeep was probably the better option. After resolving this matter, Kal would have to speak to this Loma at some point and figure out whether her success drove this assassination request from Synoriel or if she was angering the eye-glazing influence that blanketed Varden like the shadow of a gathering storm.

    Synoriel pulled a wooden chest out from behind her counter and unlocked it in a way Kal couldn't see. She showed him that it housed ten rings. Something, some kind of energy, came from them. They were magic. "These enchanted rings were mistakenly delivered to me last week. They sell for thousands of gold coins in the city, but my asking price is a single life. One if you do the deed, two if you can do it without anyone suspecting murder and my involvement, and I'll also give you a thousand gold coins either way. And other expressions of gratitude may be on offer, of course. Do we have a deal?"

    Magic rings. Expensive magic rings. Kal'Sidus had sat on the idea of killing this woman long enough. If the sinister force overhead was watching him, it would think that he was greedily killing the shopkeep for the rings. If this influence happened to be connected to Kal's job with Tanos Vir, ten magic rings would come in handy anyway. Knowing that the room still was empty and his target was out of view from outside, Kal leaned forward, pretending to try and get a closer look at the rings, and grabbed hold of his throwing knife. Fast as a bolt of lightning, he threw it towards Synoriel's face, aiming for her frightening right eye.

    Synoriel never ever saw it coming. Despite the slightly awkward angle caused by his posture, Kal was able to fling his knife with deadly accuracy, straight into the elven woman's eye. She remained standing there for just a moment, one hand fumbling at the lid to the little chest of rings as if she was trying desperately to close it, but to no avail. Synoriel fell the to ground with a loud thump, dead without making any other sound. There were no shouts or other signs of concern from outside the front door of the shop. Kal had apparently been successful in his efforts to quietly kill the woman, and now he was left with a small chest of rings and a corpse to deal with.

    Happy to see that there was at least one Elf in Varden without the ability to magically stop thrown objects in its tracks, Kal'Sidus took a small cloth out of his pocket and grabbed the rings, careful not to touch them even with his gloved hands. Their magic was alien to him, and while they wasn't nearly as intimidating at Synoriel's eyes (or, at this point, eye), there was no rush in gathering them. When they were all gathered in the cloth, he stuffed them in a pocket. Tanos Vir might be able to tell Kal'Sidus what these rings did, and Kal would reveal them to him if the mage gained his trust.

    Pulling up the box's felt lining, he found nothing hidden in the box, and closed it. There was no need to carry a possibly magic box with him, so Kal decided to store it behind the counter, out of view. Grabbing the box with one hand and a bolt of darkly-colored cloth from a nearby shelf with another, Kal walked around the counter and stood before his kill. She had fallen to her right, her head just past the far end of the counter. Kal set the box and cloth on the ground beside her and began removing his throwing knife. With some wiggling of the handle and a hard twist, it was freed. Wiping his knife clean on the cloth, Kal returned it to its sheath, and began pulling the body fully behind the counter and out of view. He covered the corpse in the cloth, wiping the small pool of blood at the end of the counter away so no one would find her if they didn't look behind the counter, and placed the empty box in one of the counter drawers, which also held some high-quality sewing needles. With everything as resolved here as it could be, Kal walked to the doorway of the room across from the shop's entrance. If there was a door outside, he would leave and go north for a bit, intent on eventually doubling back and coming to the town center from the north and looking for Loma. If there was no back exit, he would simply cross the room and head straight for her.
     
  20. Careena Strongbow & Coco

    [ * ]

    Careena paused for a moment as she examined the interior of the monastery. Her heckles were already up, thanks to her interaction with Kaltassa, and the strange-ness of the monastery had her feeling on edge without the people inside speaking a word. Still, as she ended up watching the people without being disturbed for a whole minute, she started to figure that the trio; while strange, were not a threat.

    Watching the scale-faced man bicker amongst his small assistants, Careena tried to figure out just what these people were; but she simply couldn't figure them out. Truth be told, they were enigmatic to her. Even though she recognised that the dirt floor had been trampled on repeatedly; she couldn't recall any reason why such a phenomenon would occur, except for the express madness of the people doing it.

    Still, Carena was if nothing else, curious. It had already gotten her into a bit of trouble so far, but what was that to stop her? "Um, Hello Sir. I am Careena: Careena Strongbow. I'll admit, didn't come to Varden intending to find something as...odd as this place, I'm curious tho. Um...Who are you? Are you a god-scion? Why are you three up here, alone?" As if to emphasise her master's point, and to highlight the already strange nature of the conversation, Coco let out a loud bark, as if trying to demand the Monastery's people talk.

    In response to that, Careena turned to to Coco and tapped her on the ear, telling her off for being so loud. "Sorry bout that. Coco gets a bit excitable."
     
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