You left the last vestiges of civilisation behind days ago; a few isolated outcrops of farmsteads and hamlets, perched on the precipice between known territory and no man's land.
The Stolen Lands.
Following the South Rostland Road, your small party has slowly moved west and into the open wilderness expanse of these untamed regions. The fields of grass grow long and unkempt, the road cutting little more than a narrow slit amidst their green waves that toss and turn in the wind. The forests are wild and powerful, untouched by the woodsman's axe and growing to towering sizes. Society has no say in the order of these lands. Mother Nature rules supreme, unchallenged by the advances of time and progress.
In the distance, however, a shape completely foreign to this landscape begins to come into view, as out of place as some alien artifact erupting from the earth. A shape that was not moulded by time but forged, crafted by the hands of men. A solitary bastion of civilisation, standing tall and proud amidst the unchecked expanse of the Stolen Lands.
Oleg's Trading Post.
You were told of this place before you set out from Brevoy over a week ago. It stands as the perfect springboard for those such as yourselves, seeking to venture out and explore the unknown forests and trails of the region known as the Greenbelt. It marks the end of the first leg of your journey.
And holds the promise of the next part's beginning.
It's been about a month since Malkus left Old Prosperity. Roughly a month anyways. Or maybe a week? Honestly, he hasn't been keeping track of time. Malkus just knows he's been traveling with Lelia long enough to know there wasn't any turning back down. While they haven't really found any trouble, Malkus has been growing slowly more paranoid the longer they traveled. Being outside of the city... It was a strange feeling for him. At least in the city he knew were the trouble was at. He knew where to go if things get too rough, and where to go if he wants to work out his frustrations. But out here it was uncontrollable. He didn't know where the danger was. Malkus couldn't get a read on some of these people. He was, of course, a stranger. And he didn't like the idea that he doesn't know what's happening.
The only thing that brought a bit of comfort for the fighting orc was the sight of Oleg's Trading Post. He's seen a few on the way here and brought the familiar feel of a tavern under his feet. Certainly better than mucking about on dirt roads or rocks. "There's the place. We should head inside and find a tavern. How you holding up?"
Ivan had been lucky enough to tag along with a caravan to this point, the clattering of a wagon-wheel along the dirt roads was a small comfort to him. Though it was as far as he could get in such a way - they were just getting to Oleg's and going back. After thanking the caravan-leader and caravan-members, Ivan stepped off - looking onto the trading post that may be the last vestige of civilization that he'd see for a while. His arms quickly became covered in goosebumps as a result of this thought, Ivan having to rub them off to get them to go away.
"What am I even doing out here? I don't know anything about surviving in the wilderness," he accused himself - one of his hands rising to rub against the side of his head in a futile effort to settle his thoughts. He had been standing out here for quite some time suffering some a minor panic attack as a distraction became available. A burly-looking half-orc and an exotic-eyed beauty headed up the trails. "Did those two walk here?" His shoulders slump. "I'm out of my league." With that, he sighed to himself and headed inside.
"There's the place. We should head inside and find a tavern. How you holding up?"
“Don’t worry, I’m not as breakable as I look.” She teased as she picked leaves out of her hair. However the sorceress was happy when she heard her companion’s words. Sure, she’d spent most of her life in the roads. But this wasn’t quite the same. Her back was still a little sore from last night, she’d forgotten to clear the space she threw her bedroll down on. Leila drew even with the taller green fellow with her and looked the building over. It wasn’t all that impressive, but out here it was almost a castle. A smile slid over her lips as she watched the activity around it for a few more moment.
“Do you think they even have a tavern?” She inquired, exotic eyes looking over the establishment. After a moment, the woman shrugged, tossed a smile at her companion and climbed over the low stone wall so that she was on the other side.
“Let’s go find out, shall we?” Her eyes sparkled a bit with excitement.
Perhaps travel was not the best of pursuits for a half-blind woman and her dog. Sylvia hadn't traveled this far alone; her father had sent with her his blessing and a friend, who, in goodwill had offered to accompany her at least to the trading post so she wouldn't get lost. As they ambled up the hill towards the trading post, she could certainly smell it before she saw it, and hearing it came next. It wasn't until she was only a small distance from Oleg's that she could actually see the building. Even then, everything seemed to be covered in a hazy grey fog that didn't clear unless she held something right up to her face. Elliot trotted faithfully beside her, a rope tied around his neck and held in her hand more for her safety than to keep him from running away.
Inside the trading post was most certainly overwhelming for Sylvia, and as her clouded eyes desperately searched the area for a tavern, her father's friend bade his farewell and began to head home. She was now alone with Elliot, and she did not know where to go. A part of her wished that he had stayed with her longer, but another part rejoiced in the freedom she had just been given. She could do whatever she wanted now; no one knew who she was, or her story. She saw the shapes of people pass around her, and stopped a pair of people that didn't fit in once she was able to take a better look at them. One of them, she noticed, was green.
"Do you know where to find the tavern?" She inquired. If it was close, she'd look like a fool unless the white film over her eyes was noticed. She moved her shoulder, adjusting her bag to a more comfortable position.
"Of course they'd have a tavern. Where else are people suppose to go to forget they volunteered to be in the middle of no where?"
Malkus was just joking of course, but still he did feel somewhat regretful for thinking a city orc like him would make it in the wilderness. He was trained to fight other humanoids, not wild animals. He knows how to navigate the streets but doesn't know where north is. He could scar off a gang of muggers but bears have hardier wills than most thugs do. But he kept his insecurities to himself. The last thing he needed to do was show weakness. As Lelia hopped over the wall, Malkus jumped over as well, doing a front flip just to show off.
The two characters continued onward and sure enough there was a tavern of some sort not too far away. He couldn't make out a title of signboard, but fro the smell and sight he'd call the tavern "The Shit Hole" for all the shit and holes that seem to dot it. A crude joke in Malkus's mind, though he'll just keep it to himself. As he and Lelia approached a woman called out. Immediately Malkus's hand balled into a fist on instinct. He turned sharply to the voice only to see what appeared to be a woman with a dog (Sylvia & Elliot). Almost immediately Malkus relaxed his fist, but still put himself between the dog and Lelia. The woman must be blind if she couldn't notice the tavern (And she was, sort of, not that Malkus actually knew that) if she couldn't see the place right in front of her. "Yeah. I'm about to head over there myself." Keeping a close eye on the dog Malkus gently nudged Lelia towards the tavern.
Just because the woman before him was possibly blind didn't mean that Malkus was going to underestimate her. More so since she did have what looked to be a trained guard dog, and Malkus knows all too well how dangerous they were. And who knows what other secrets this woman has. If this was back at Old Prosperity he might have known this woman and would be able to make a better judgement on her. But she's a stranger in a strange land, so Malkus wasn't taking any chances.
It was almost immediately as she asked the question when the smell hit her - a distinct mixture of sweat and ale - and the sounds, of laughter and yelling. Definitely a tavern. Only then, when she looked closer, did she actually see the building and recognize it as a tavern. In her hometown, she had been able to navigate quite well from memory of locations. Sylvia was not awarded this luxury in strange new lands. She smiled at him and his response to her question.
"Would you mind if I accompany you and your companion?" Whether he replied in favor of this or not, she followed them into the tavern with Elliot following closely at her heels, as was her original plan. She looked at the pair again, curiously, and wondered why a tall, slender...woman had traveled with an even taller, green man. Humans weren't normally green, so perhaps he was an Orc, or a Half-Orc, or four Goblins standing on each other's shoulders and wearing a costume. As she drew closer to the tavern, she was instantly in disfavor of her clouded vision allowing her other senses to work better than they normally would, because 'other senses' include smell, and the tavern smelled like a stable of wet horses and hay. Sylvia wrinkled her nose and brought her free hand up to cover it, but forced it down to refrain from looking childish. She was 18, not a child, and if she couldn't stand a foul smelling tavern, what would she do alone in the Stolen Lands?
Being alone in the Stolen Lands wasn't her goal, and she hoped that companions and acquaintances could be found in this very tavern. She knew her chances of being recruited to accompany others into the wilderness was slim, but she was prepared to show her worth to anyone who doubted it with the longsword strapped to her side and a few choice words.
Leila had grinned a bit, amusement flashing through her eyes at her companions flip. But followed behind him without a word, just a minute shake of the head after his back was turned to her. Her amusement lasted her a bit as they made the trek to find the tavern. She was once again glad for her own long stride as she managed to keep up with the taller man. As they approached the tavern, Leila crinkled her nose at the smell wafting off of it. But after a moment she was able to make her expression at least neutral. It wasn’t the nicest tavern she’d ever visited. But she was sure there were worse establishments…somewhere.
As a voice called out to them, Leila turned around in time for a green mass to make its way in front of her. Leila blinked before the Aasimar leaned out from around her companion to see what was going on. At the sight of the dog, she understood and another smile pulled at her lips as she looked up at the man beside her. How sweet of him. She offers a smile at the dark haired woman, however, her eyes lingered on the other’s eyes. The woman was blind? What was she doing way out here? The Aasimar jumped a bit as she was nudged. For a moment, she paused, trying to garner what was wanted before she moved in appropriate direction. However, soon she was dodging around her companion to walk next to the human seeming woman. She did however keep the woman between her and the dog. She’d been chased by plenty of them to know not to get too close.
“Of course you’re welcome to join us.” She chirped, a bright mile in place. “I’m Leila and my friend is Mal.” She continued. As they entered into the tavern, again Leila’s nose crinkled. But she pushed on. “So what brings you way out here?” She asked as they made their way towards the barkeep.
Ivan leaned over the counter, making assorted smalltalk with one of the folks running the post. Nothing really probing, the same sort of banter folks use to get to know one another - spiced in with a few silly jokes. If it was one thing he knew he was decent at, it was socializing... and hiding his crippling sense of self-doubt, but that was a battle for another day. He tilted his head as the owner moved to go back to work, nursing his own drink to calm his nerves - spotting the two from the road, with another in tow.
It took a few moments for Ivan to properly judge them, now that they were near. The half-orc looked fierce, with bony ridges along his brows and thick tusks. Built with a great deal of muscle - though he didn't move like a thug. No, if Ivan squinted - it looked like he moved with purpose. He wouldn't exactly call it grace, but it had a method to it. The exotic beauty he had been travelling with was just that - though Ivan took note of her eye color. He couldn't see armor on her - perhaps a noble and her bodyguard... or a noble eloping with her lover? He smirked into his drink, entertaining the thought and story behind it with a chipper expression. The final was female as well - travelling with a canine. He took note of her... impressive build. He could almost count out training-bruises (real or imagined), and her equally-notable murky eyes. His eyes glimmer with conceptualization and theory for a moment as he accidentally matches the half-orc's wary gaze.
Naturally, Ivan plays it up. He raises a hand in greeting, smiling away. "Hello! You folks walked here? That takes a good bit of skill. I came here on one of the caravans, instead. The name's Ivan. Can I buy you folks a drink for the cost of suffering my curiosity for a moment or two?"
Taicho's wanderings had lead him across the Stolen Lands over many years, through wilderness and foliage of all manners, however he had encountered no sign of any civilization. Apart from the uncommon sight of a bandit or four which he had been able to sneak right past, the Stolen Lands were a barren place for a Tengu such as himself. However, the thought of nature itself being his only friend comforted him somewhat; the nights spent traversing the Stolen Lands with it's cutting winds of frosty cold, slicing against the feathers that covered his body helped give his travel purpose, that was, to find others who were not ready to brutalize and murder in order to make a profit.
However, after many nights and days of travelling he had found what he had wished for since the day of his escape; a place to find allies and call home. That unlikely of dreams came in a sign of three simple words, stated simply in carved wood lettering. "Oleg's Trading Post." A tavern upon a hill, it was symbolic to the Tengu. He had climbed the hill of previous adversity and triumphed, but now, he had to face whatever new challenges came in the form of the tavern. With that, the Tengu sprinted onward, and into the tavern doors.
The noise was first to assault the Tengu- yelling, cheering, and various chairs and bottles either being moved to be drank, or to be thrown at adversaries. Many patrons of all sizes, shapes and species, sat around with various other cohorts, discussing triumphs and failures of their own. But the Tengu had no need to join them as of yet. So, with nourishment in mind, he headed towards the barkeep. "A pint of ale, please. I've walked a long way." As he waited for his pint to be served, he took a look around to gaze at some of his nearby patrons. A fierce orc, a seemingly curious man, and two human women, one accompanied by a dog and one not. What an interesting spectacle indeed. "So, what has your curiosity piqued?" Taicho exclaimed, eyes aimed at the man who announced himself to be Ivan.
Malkus simply sighed as Lelia took the opportunity to introduce them instead of heeding his subtle cues. Perhaps it was just because he was paranoid, but he still didn't want Lelia interacting with everyone. Still, so harm done so far. Malkus simply sucked it up and continued into Oleg's trading post.
Malkus had to take it back. It wasn't just the tavern that was a shit hole. The whole place was. He had thought the place would be bigger, but... He's seen dead end alleyways with more space and accommodations. A worn wooden fortress with vagabonds and a couple of merchants. He supposed it's what he should expect for a remote outpost. Still disappointing. "Hmph." Stamping his foot into the ground, he was at least glad that he doesn't have to muck through mud anymore. It was mostly dry dirt. Looking around Malkus noticed a couple of tables not too far away, with someone who was serving alcohol to a shady fellow. Immediately Malkus looked at the man to discern what sort of weapons he had, and what he might have hidden away. (Perception Check)
Shortly after Malkus got himself, Lelia, and the strange woman a table for themselves. But after he did so the shady man by the name of Ivan offered to buy them drinks, if they would be willing to listen to him. Malkus always enjoyed cheap goods, though he watched the man carefully. "Heh. You're going to regret that. Absinthe! Or if you don't have that, mead. Whole bottle." Giving a smirk at the stranger Malkus crossed his arms and then looked at him. He didn't actually expect the man to purchase his insane order, but he had to establish a certain pecking order. Force of habit really. "So what is it that you want?"
The woman and her friend - Leila and Mal - seemed to be polar opposites. While the man gave off an unfriendly air, the woman seemed amiable enough. Elliot seemed relaxed enough, so Sylvia didn't view either of them as threats to her person, at least not while Leila was around to keep him in check. Still, the oracle made a mental note to learn more about the orc.
"I'm Sylvia, out here to prove my worth." She didn't say more about exactly what kind of worth she was trying to prove. "Some do not believe that I can achieve my goals, because of my sight, but I say otherwise." She looked down at her dog, his familiar shape easily identifiable from a distance, but this close she could even see some of the colors in his fur. Her examination was interrupted by a man's voice, coming from a little bit aways, exclaiming his curiosity. She didn't consider herself to be particularly interesting, but the pair she found herself with certainly was. The two of them didn't seem to fit together visually, like two puzzle pieces forced together the wrong way, but their interactions made her consider otherwise.
"I don't drink, but I'll talk." The oracle meandered towards the voice of the other man, if only in an effort to get close enough to actually make out his form. He wasn't as intimidating as the orc-thing, but she could make out the shapes of weapons - he was armed. His skill at using those weapons was still to be determined - but Sylvia wasn't quite sure of anyone's skill at arms except her own. For all she could know, the intimidating orc was useless at fighting - but his large build made her hesitate to even use that as a reasonable example.
Tilting his head up, gazing around for someone who would be able to serve the half-orc his drink... seeing no one, he shrugged and said: "I'll have to get you that drink later, but I'm a man of my word. As I said before, my name is Ivan - Ivan Medvyed." Ivan grins, nodding his head. "What I want? Loaded question, really. I want a lot of things: good food, great drink, better company, and several million gold pieces to pile up and pretend I'm a dragon atop. For now, though, I could settle on the company aspect of that."
"You folks don't look like traders. I'd hazard to call you mercenaries, though - a mercenary probably would have bowled me over sooner than look at me. So I appreciate it that you folks are not doing that. If I'd hazard a guess, I'd say you folks are out here because of the Regent's decree - right of exploration to the lands south of this very trading post. I'm in the same figurative boat... and it looks like it might just be us."
Voices coming from elsewhere in the post, echoing as soon as Ivan finishes speaking. A few hissed whispers, followed by rapid footsteps.
Suddenly the doors of the post's main hall are being forced open, revealing two figures with crossbows levelled at the group assembled round the table.
The one on the right in a gruff-looking man, dressed in simple trader's garb and with a heavy-set jaw; he glowers at the group sat around the time, eyeing each of them suspiciously. The crossbow is steady in his hands, pointed first at Malkus and then swinging to the nearby Taicho. Next to him is a woman, a nervous look about her face. Her blonde hair is pulled back by a bandanna, and she's looking to the man beside her every few seconds, eyes wide. “No sudden movements!” the man growls, “Who are you all? More of Happs and Kressles' thugs?” “Oleg, they don't look like them...” the woman whispers, her eyes drifting across the group as her crossbow lowers by few inches. “We need to be sure,” the man retorts forcefully, before pointing his weapon at Leila. “You! That necklace you're wearing! Show it to me!”
At the sudden opening of the doors, Leila had spun around, leaving the conversation behind to swallow nervously at the sight of the dual crossbow wielders. Her own eyes darting between the two of them. Her shoulders stiffened when the crossbow was leveled at Mal. Immediately she began to pray to Desna for her infamous luck. She had drug the half orc out of the slums. His death was on her hands if he came to his demise while on this adventure. However, it wasn’t too long before the crossbow was leveled at someone else and a little of the aasimars tension eased. It’d be tragic if one of these new strangers died, it would, and she’d rather avoid any possible deaths. But at the same time, it was better a stranger than someone she cared for.
“No sudden movements!” the man growls, “Who are you all? More of Happs and Kressles' thugs?”
“Oleg, they don't look like them...” the woman whispers, her eyes drifting across the group as her crossbow lowers by few inches.
“We need to be sure,” the man retorts forcefully, before pointing his weapon at Leila. “You! That necklace you're wearing! Show it to me!”
Leila’s hand instinctively reached up and grasped the pendants hanging at the hallow of her throat and her hearts started pounding as he grip became nearly white knuckled. Her mind scrabbled, trying to figure eout what she should do. Should she blast them with an ice ray? Part of her wanted to do that, to resort to basic defense like a beast cornered. But no, these people were scared, they probably weren’t bad.
“Sir,” she began as she tried to relax her grip on the pendant. “I’m not entirely sure I know what a Hap or Crazzle is.” She began and made her face soothe into a smile as she pride her fingers out from around the pendant and lifted the chain so the strange colored gem would catch the light. The gem matched the swirl of her eyes, nearly perfectly. “This is a gift from my late father, what good would you have for it?” She asked, the smile showing the opposite of the fear swirling in her breast.
“Better yet, why don’t you tell us what a Hop and Crazzle are, maybe we can help you with their thugs?” She offered instead, anything to draw the man’s away from the pendant hanging at her throat.
"It's something along those lines. Exploration of the Stolen Lands just happened to fall into my hands, so to speak." Malkus responded to Ivan. He seemed rather pretentious, but he knew what Ivan was trying to get to, or at least the orc figured he knew. Ivan wanted to join with them, perhaps get this random assortment of characters together for form a party. Malkus didn't trust strangers, but people don't start off as friends. He'd still keep a watchful eye and stay at arms length away from most of them: Even Lelia didn't know everything about him, and that was because he figured some things were best left to one's imagination.
Suddenly than two people arrived, a man and a woman, one with a crossbow. The crossbow was aimed at Malkus at first, and he snarled. "Make your first shot count. You won't get another." (Intimidation) One of the other crossbows drifted to a different person, a Tengu, which made Malkus a bit more relieved. And yet despite this tense situation, Malkus was rather at ease. It was familiar. He was no stranger to hold ups and he really hoped these people were trying to rob them. He ran ideas through his head how he could handle this fight. The first thing he'd do is toss this table onto the side, creating cover for himself and Lelia. No doubt the other two would try to move around, which would give Malkus the opportunity to hurl one of his daggers at whoever came into sight. The woman didn't seem entirely interested in fighting, but the man, Oleg, did, so he would have to be dealt with first. But than hearing the name Oleg, Malkus realized that he was the owner of this establishment. This got a sigh from the orc.
When Oleg demanded to see Lelia's necklace, the half-orc shifted his body to provide her cover. He may not be much bigger than she was, but he was bulky enough that she could hide behind him. "If this is how you treat guests, than you don't want us as enemies. Let me guess, Happs and Kressle are a couple of bandits who live near by, yeah? Extorts you and your wife here for protection money? Then you better drop your weapon and explain things to use. Otherwise you're about to make things much more difficult for yourself."
"H-hey, whoa now. Let's not get hasty." Ivan smiled, holding his hands up with his palms extended towards the two. "We're not anything more than a handful of explorers. Your trading post is where we were going to supply ourselves for the trip." He glances around for a moment, "...Though I'm going to have to apologize - I just assumed you were poor housekeepers as opposed to 'there was trouble'. Guess it doesn't always look like this, huh?"
Making a point to look as harmless as possible, he shrugs. "Though the orcblood gentleman has a coarse way of speaking, he's not wrong. We'd be more of a help than a hindrance to you if you gave us the chance."
Sylvia heard the commotion before it registered in her vision, even as she turned towards the large building and the people that emerged from within. The duo, while she couldn't quite make out the detail of their faces or their colors quite right, were definitely wielding crossbows. Elliot could feel the tension in the air and a small growl came from the dog, but a nudge from the oracle quieted him up, despite her hand now resting on her longsword. Her weapon stayed sheathed, however, as the crossbow was moved and pointed at the other strangers and the hostility proved to be out of fear rather than for the sake of itself. She wouldn't attack them unless they attacked without provocation, a sentiment which had been interrupted by the first words out of Mal's mouth.
Sylvia stood there quietly, partially watching and mostly listening to the events transpiring around her, but thinking carefully wasn't her strong suit. Instead of waiting for the pair to reply to anything that was just said, she took a step forward and decided to add onto the previous statements.
"If we really meant you harm, would we be talking about trying to help you with your problem?"
The woman inches back at Malkus's words, eyes widening even further, but her husband stands his ground. As the rest of the group explains the situation, however, he slowly lowers his weapon. “Fair enough,” he mutters gruffly, the crossbow still at his side, “The Stag Lord's forces all wear pendants bearing his symbol. Thought that's what you had round your neck.” He motions towards Leila.
The woman smiles nervously, likewise lowering her crossbow. “My apologies for the misunderstanding. Can't be too careful out in these parts, though. No soldiers or town watch to call upon if you find yourselves in trouble.” “And trouble has a habit of finding us,” the man grunts. “My name's Anna. This is my husband, Oleg. You all must be the adventurers out to explore this region. They sent word you might be coming.” “Sent word you might be willing to help, too,” Oleg rumbles, “Since those useless bastards back in Brevoy still refuse to send any troops, despite the fact that we're getting robbed of most anything they're shipping to us. How in the seven hells am I supposed to run a business if I've barely got enough supplies to keep Anna and I fed?”
Now this was something more along the lines of what Malkus was used to. Hired to go clear out some thugs? Right up Malkus's alley. All he needed now was a corrupt official and some stone walls and he'd be right at home. "I'm not promising anything until I get more information about this 'Stag Lord', who the Happs and Kressle are, and how much this is worth to you." Malkus wasn't a miracle worker. He'd be fine throwing himself into the line of fire, but he wants to be appropriately paid for his services. Everyone else might be willing to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, and Malkus wasn't exactly just going to ignore Anna and Oleg's plight, but this was a risk that he wasn't willing to take if all he was getting out of it was the appreciation of two broke merchants. "If business is doing as bad as you say it is, where's the profit in saving this place? A place to rest our heads isn't going to do us much good once we're weeks deep into the Stolen Lands. Money isn't going to be much use either, unless animals around here likes gold."