The sun shone gloriously over the Kingdom of Amorynthia, and it seemed that the whole land was basking in the warm embrace of Summer. It was barely midday, and the townsfolk of Woodsend were revelling in their day of shunned responsibility; opting instead to rejoice in the spirit of Summer and in celebration of the day's importance. Dining furniture had been moved outside of the homes it ordinarily occupied and arranged lengthways down the streets in preparation for a communal banquet. Yes, it was fair to say that festivity was in the air on this day in Woodsend, with colourful garlands strung from each window and music playing on every corner inviting passers-by to share in a joyful jig. But the frivolity was to be expected: after all, it was not every day that the town played host to Royalty.
Avarielle WheelerAvarielle Wheeler looked over the parchment in her hand with an air of disinterest; the words "KING VALDEZ" were the largest scripture on the document, which contained details of her imminent mission to the North and instructions to meet in the town square of Woodsend. The name of the town hung heavily in her heart as she glanced up at the building across the street. Her mind was transported to a different time; one of innocence, laughter and amazement. She recalled the first time she'd seen magic, and how she'd wondered at the meagre fireball that boy had conjured all those years ago, outside this very house.
But, Ava reasoned, the passing of time was an inevitability that brought with it the winds of change. Elymas was not the child of innocence he had once been; he had proven that much at the Tower. Rage burned within her at the thought of the betrayals she'd been subjected to. And for what? She had little to show for it, other than the damned invitation she held between her slender fingers. She screwed it up impulsively and stashed it into her robes, turning her back on the quaint house that homed some of the only fond memories she had; now stained with bitterness and locked away in a part of her mind that she only delved into during moments of pained nostalgia such as this.
As she made her way back through the cobbled streets and out into the town square, she noted that the rest of the group seemed to have already arrived. They stood tall and proud, looking for the most part like they collectively bore a chance of surviving this decidedly daunting expedition. Ava had no doubts that their mission would bring about some degree of tragedy; one does not venture north of the Amorytes without expecting to lose the lessors. Aware of the dangers that lay ahead, Ava had but one concern: to ensure she was not among the weak.
The party were gathered in anticipation of the King's arrival; and they were not the only ones. His word had been that he would arrive personally when the sun reached its peak, and as the townsfolk gazed upwards into the cloudless blue expanse, they knew it was time. The air hummed with trepidation.
Avarielle kept her distance from the rest of the group, standing further back and blending in amongst the crowd as she watched. They seemed silent and the group dynamic was lacking; though she assumed that the King would formally introduce them to each other upon his arrival.
And yet, it soon became apparent that there was to be no arrival. Out on the horizon, a lone horseman brandishng the Royal red and gold colours made his way into the town; he brought with him no guards, no fanfare and - most disappointingly to the people of Woodsend - no King. They began whispering and mumbling to each other as the vast crowd began theorising as to what might happen next.
"I come bearing word from His Highness, King Valdez III," the messenger announced, rather unsurprisingly, as he drew close to the group. They seemed to shoot each other suspect glances that revealed their concerns. "King Valdez has opted against appearing personally today. You are Royally expected to introduce yourselves and collaborate on forming a strategy for your venture North, by word of the King, to the Dwarven settlement of New Kelda, where our good King hopes to amend the strained relationship of our people." The applause from the gathered townsfolk was mild at best; whilst something angry stirred within Avarielle. Instantly, she stepped forward.
"And what is so important that our Good King was otherwise engaged?" she spat, using all the spite she could muster when addressing the tyrant as such. "If His Highness had not noticed; we gathered here are offering our services in a most perilous venture with no knowledge of what he wishes for us to achieve." What she said was true, other than the notion that they were to visit New Kelda on a diplomatic mission, none of the adventurers had been given any further information. "Are we just expected to waltz into the North on blind faith and the promise of gold?" The crowd began to grow uncomfortably quiet as the mage said what most were likely thinking.
The messenger cleared his throat, withdrawing a scroll from his pouch. It was bound in a steel case, and from the runes carved along its side Ava deduced it was likely sealed by magical means. "You are to deliver this document to the rebel leader in their city." he said curtly, handing the scroll to a scrawny-looking young man with mousy, shoulder-length hair; to Ava's surprise, he seemed to be part of the mission. She wondered how an obvious weakling such as him had made it onto this mission... But she soon scolded herself. She of all people knew that power came in many forms; perhaps he would surprise her. "That is all that the King requires of you, and on behalf of the Royal Household and the City of Ryth, we wish you the luck to carry out the task efficiently."
With that, the messenger turned on his horse and galloped off along the same path upon which he had entered the town, the stallion's hooves threatening to shatter the cobbled earth with each footstep. Avarielle scowled in contempt, her eyes narrowing with fury as she watched the man shrink into the distance. Dejectedly, she let out a sigh, and turned to face her new allies.
"My name is Avarielle Wheeler." she said, withdrawing her invitation to prove she was a valid member of the party. "I think we'd better find someplace to discuss the matter at hand."
Soon enough, the Crooked Hatchet Inn had been cleared out by its obliging owner; with the pub to themselves, the King's recruited mercenaries would have the privacy they needed to introduce themselves and plan the first steps of their journey. Where would they head first? Were they to stay in Woodsend for the eve, or begin their quest in haste? And what of the scroll given to young Damian, its secret contents kept secure with a magical seal? Whatever path they opted to take, it was sure to be one full of surprises...