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Tavern, Day 1, morning
Semina reflects on her thoughts as she finishes her morning meditation. She ties her long black hair in a knot and brushes off her cloak, after she used it for comfort. Her mind is constantly straying towards the audacious Dwarven fighter named Snorri Steelskin. Knowing nothing of her own background except for her deliverance to the monastery Siltar to the order of Iskgard, at a very young age, she finds it odd that a Dwarf would find comfort fighting above the ground for this long.

Semina has read enough to know that certain clans of dwarfs are greedy, mean natured, and will sell you out the moment payment was involved, but something about Snorri has her puzzled. People speak of Snorri, and how he stayed behind to filter out the citizens of Corade during a raid by goblins. They were attacking all along the outskirts of the unprotected city, and killing everyone in their rampaging path. Not only did he and the other fighters cleanse the city of the goblin filth, but they took no payment for their good deeds.

Snorri seems to be of noble nature, level headed and well a established fighter for his youthful age. So why can't she figure out why he captures her attention? Maybe it is because like her, he is a lone soul among strangers. Could he be hiding from his clan for some unknown reason, or did he need to just come up for air? Why does he continue to fight beside us, looking into death's eyes over and over, instead of heading underground again? She notices his eyes glisten at the sight of profit, but when he fights there is the awe about him while he chops the enemy down.

Semina yawns for a moment, and grabs a bowl of broth with a piece of bread to calm her stomach's griping. She sits down by the fire pit to warm her up muscles, and starts in on her breakfast, just slightly catching a glimpse of Snorri.

Snorri was hungry, bloody hungry. The platter of stew he had wolfed down hadn't been enough to assuage his mighty appetite. At 5'2" he was big for a dwarf, and his large frame needed more sustenance than most. Only his stocky frame and luxurient beard gave away his heritage, otherwise he could be mistaken for a short human. He had decided at an early age that he was more comfortable in human lands than many of his kind - craning your neck upwards all the time gave many of his clan mates a reputation for being irritable, something he didn't have a problem with.

Raising his hand and bellowing for more food and ale, Snorri caught a glimpse of a coweled figure standing some way off. The alien curve of the semi-shrouded face tipped him off instantly. Orc! Reaching for his hammer, Snorri stands, but a better look at the face informs him that this is no ordinary Orc. He had seen this fellow before. Kagan-Zur, the hired killer. Snorri sits back down, deep in thought. Kagan was a strange fish, by all accounts, maybe accounted for by his parentage. Whilst in a wayside inn outside of town, Snorri had heard tell of Kagan breaching the curtain walls of Hellspire Keep - something no-one had done before. What his mission there was, who knows, but he came back again. To make him even more enigmatic, apparently he gave service to some God - odd practise for someone who takes money for killing.

Heathcliffe sat on a wooden stool close to the inn's hearth at play with a corgi. He enjoyed for only a moment the childhood pleasures he abandoned for the guardianship of the untamed grasslands that surrounded his home. In the wilds, the wind blows, the sky rains, there is never enough food for five daily meals, and no hounds. Every animal for itself, so the saying goes. Yet, to the coddled Healthcliff, there was the promise of freedom as eventually his mentor and superiors would barely ever bother him, leaving nature to take its course and more importantly Heathcliffe to his own devices. That indeed did occur and Heathcliffe appreciated this as the virtual independance enabled him on nights where the lifestyle of his investiture grated on him to indulge in more civilized activities such as teasing hounds with food and warming oneself by a fire safe from the mercilessness of the wind.

His thoughts soon began to carry his eyes across the common room and Heathcliffe stared intently at each and every patron's face reflecting on what he has heard about each guest in his travels. So deep are the druid's thoughts that the dog bites his hand and made off with the biscuit. Yet the light chomp proves jarring enough to the halfling's memory that Heathcliffe finally recalls a description, almost forgotten after copious feasting and ribald storytelling, and matches it to a face. There he sits or stands. It's hard to tell with giants.

His name is Thaelie Starslinger, a half-elf and magic-user of some ill repute. It is said that many years ago in a duchy to the north (Heathcliffe never traveled there, liking the warmer southern lands too much to leave for someplace colder), Thaelie Starslinger was an outsider (half-elves are always outsiders) trying to make way into high society. A chance encounter with the duke's daughter turned into an opportunity which the half-elf could not pass up. The affair was kept secret for many nights until surrounded by the dukes' elite guards, the magician made a timely horseback escape with both daughter and numerous precious heirlooms in tow as an explosion rocked the duke's manor and levelled half the buildling.

Finished with the recollection, Heathcliffe thinks to himself, eyes rolling away from Thaelie, trouble is here once again, and sighs. Maybe a life of peaceful but miserable woodland living is better after all.

Starslinger didn't much care for ale, nor mead, nor any of the stronger brews offered in the tavern. He was fond of dry snuff, however, and he carried a pouch of it most days. Lately however, it seemed like it was getting dangerous to indulge in the habit. Just last week, he had been in the middle of casting a relatively minor spell, when an unexpected sneeze resulted in his flaming sphere getting away from him momentarily, and crisping the mane of the nearby merchant's donkey.

Slinger (as he was known by some), was not the most focused of magi, to be certain. He sat at a corner table in the tavern, trying to study a tome on the art of making staffs. He had barely touched his food, and was trying to stay unnoticed. The "little incident" involving the Duke's daughter had caused him to mostly keep out of the spotlight. He dressed in a plain set of clothes with little ornamentation. His oversize bag contained the books and components of his craft, but to anyone looking at him, he was an ordinary commoner. He tried to stay unrecognizable. It was in his best interest.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a familiar face. It was Sander Lightwalker, a pious soul he had encountered soon after the "little incident." Before the castle blew, the Duke's guards were able to fire off a few shots that had hit their mark. Slinger had made it to the next village before passing out. When he sought help at the local temple, it had been Lightwalker who offered help. Knowing that his kind was not always accepted easily, Slinger was relieved to accept Lightwalkers offer of healing and a night's stay.

In exchange for the assistance, Slinger translated some tomes that had been recovered by some of the temple's pilgrims and the two parted on friendly terms.

When he looked up and saw Lightwalker looking in his direction, Slinger raised his hand in a slight wave. He wasn't sure if Lightwalker had seen him, but since he had begun hiding out from the Duke, it was the first friendly face he had seen. It would be nice to reconnect with someone who wasn't out to have him hung.

Naran had never quite been comfortable in a tavern. They were inconsistant. One moment, the patrons might be friendly; the next, they might be fighting. It was almost like the behavior of nobles.

Perhaps it was the alcohol.

Looking around the darkened, smoke-filled room (Hard to read in and smoke wasn't good for the lungs), he mentally analyzed the clientel. It was a pastime of his; other people had always been a puzzle. There was a strong-backed, weak-minded man at the bar, on his sixth or seventh glass. He probably thought of himself as the honest, straight-foward type, but it was clear some sort of desperation was setting in and people got irrational when they got desperate.

At one table, a young man who obviously thought he was dashing was trying to woo a woman who was obviously, to anyone but himself, looking for pretty coin, not pretty words. He could understand the attitude; pretty words rarely did anyone and help. She should find another line of work, however. venereal diseases were simply too dangerous. Unless she had a cleric among her clients. It wasn't an uncommon arrangement among some orders; Cure Disease for 'free' services.

And, over there...Semina, it seemed. A young monk, trained by a monastery from birth, parents unknown. For a moment, a brief surge of rage filled him. To break a vow was absolutely despicable and, for all the talk of some people about love, they often proved willing to abandon their principles the moment they proved inconvenient. Like all too many people...

...But, in any case, both their situations had ended well. His former Master had been fair - And Semina's monastary had trained and raised her to a high standard. She was one of the few people he'd met who was rational and orderly; her thought processes were generally clear and uncluttered. Almost, anyway. She believed in defending the innocent because it was 'The right thing to do'.

She'd seemed horribly offended when he asked why someone would defend an innocent who wouldn't defend oneself in turn. Honestly, it seemed obvious to him. One defended the innocent because the lawful kept society running and without them, access to goods, services and civilized society itself would collapse. But to think one's self indebted to someone who hadn't done a favor for you was simply incomprehensible.

From the corner of the inn, Kagan-Zur, carefully scanned the room, it was an old habit, mark you exits, size up crowd, look for those who possibly pose trouble. From the number of adventurer types to locals, it seemed like word of the Duke's offer had gotten around, no surprise really, times have been rough for sell swords of late. Some of the faces looked familiar, others not, but one caught his eye, a little fellow in animal skins and a coon skinned cap, a halfling. To look at him, playing with a mutt like some carefree child, he was not someone that would stand out as dangerous. But Kagan-Zur had seen this halfling before, and he knew better.

It was over a year ago now, Kagan-Zur had signed on with the now defunct, Red Company, he’d been assigned to spy on one Agha Horse-eater, a bandit, slaver and smuggler who was rumored to be supplying weapons to the enemies of local baron, their client. It was Kagen-Zur’s job to find out if it was true and who these rebels were. After quietly killing off one of Agha’s lackeys, Kagan-Zur managed to befriend Agha and hire on to fill in for the now missing lackey.

A couple of nights later Agha announced to his little band that it was time to earn their keep, they loaded up a cart with crates and headed down a little used trail deep into the woods. They reached the rendezvous spot and Kagan-Zur took point on an outcropping to look for trouble. He never saw it coming.

The woods suddenly erupted to life, trees swayed and grasped at the bandits, grass grew and wrapped about them. Then came the swarms of bees, men screamed and Agha screamed loudest, as his armor began to glow red-hot. From his outcropping Kagen-Zur had managed to stay out the effect of the magics, he also managed to remain unseen. But he saw the halfling, along with a few other men of the wilds types. Over the screaming he couldn’t hear everything that was being said, but it was clear that, Agha Horse-eater had wronged this halfling in some way. In the couple of days he’d known him, Kagen-Zur learned that wronging folks was something Agha Horse-eater did a lot of, but this time, it had been his last.

Sander surveyed the smoke-filled room from under his cloak's hood and caught sight of Starslinger, who waved upon seeing him. Sander nodded in acknowledgment. He liked the half-elf well enough, and suspected the feeling was mutual, though he knew that if Starslinger had any inkling of the type of person Sander had once been, when he had served a very different deity... his thoughts trailed away from his friend as the memories of the things he'd done in that thing's name, the people he'd killed, intruded on his thoughts.

In a desperate attempt to put the unwelcome thoughts out of his mind, Sander looked around the room, searching for more familiar faces. To his relief, his eyes came to rest on Naran Ezer, the wizard. Sander had only caght a glimpse of him once before, and had never spoken with him, but Ezer had quite the reputation. He was revered for his logical thinking, and his impartial approach to his various ventures, particularly tactics. Sander inwardly hoped that Ezer lived up to the rumors about him: the importance of thinking rationally, and not letting your emotions get the better of you, was something Sander knew all too well.

[FONT="Papyrus"]The other patrons take their portions of breakfast, identical from long practice by the inn staff, and eat it quickly in preparation for their day. While Ardendale is clearly growing into a trader's town, it still retains the habits of its frontier days. Quick, bland meals, and off to the fields, the shops, the walls, whatever day of work they have ahead of them.

Of course, it still retains the frontier town suspicions as well. It is quite easy to tell who is here for the meeting tomorrow, as the villagers give you all a wide berth, narrow eyes, and not quite silent muttering. It is also apparent by the higher price you paid for what is obviously the same portion of porridge and dried meat. You hear the patrons around you grumble at the innkeep.

"I hopes you gets a bit more out of the goldbrickers, Tarvin. Layabouts need incentive to moves on!" a nearby farmer growls.

"I'll get the same out of them that I do out of you, Willen. A fair price for a fair meal" replies the proprietor.

"If this be your new kind of patron, you might not get that out of me anymore!" the farmer barks back.

Several exchanges like this prompt the innkeeper to grudgingly pad your bills by a few silver kugats, rolling his eyes and quietly apologizing as he collects it, "Sorry about this, but I have to make money, too".

Finally, the villagers finish off their meals, congregate in small groups for the morning gossip, and start shuffling out the door. The members of your group are obviously the topic of much early discussion, but after a few minutes, the conversations settle back down. There is a bit of a commotion as they start to leave en masse, as it appears someone is trying to enter the building, and not making much progress. A few shouts in Common and Dwarf, a bit of jostling, and a Dwarf in dusty trail clothes finds himself outside the throng and finally able to stand without being knocked about.

Except for several off-duty soldiers and a merchant or two, the common room finally empties, and the daily commotion starts anew outside the walls of the inn.[/FONT]

Warming herself by the fire place and finishing off her broth, Semina senses the tension building in the tavern. She listens to the disapproval from other patrons about the company present, while sitting her bowl back down by the fire place. Although the bar owner holds his own with the village aggravators, Semina finally grows tired of sitting around, waiting.

She walks over towards the one they call Tarvin to return her bowl and mug. Never taking her eyes off the other patrons, she waits patiently for the bar keeps attention. As she places one hand on the bar, she notices the gentleman sitting next to her whispering into another’s ear about what Semina’s business is in town. Semina just smiles a little underneath her black hair, and gladly hands over the flatware to Tarvin, with an extra piece of silver for all the trouble she’s caused.

She begins to head towards the door, but before she could take one step, all of the restless town folk get up off their stools and begin to exit. Semina decides to give them a wide birth, not wanting to draw anymore attention to herself, or get caught up in the stampede. As she watches them leave in chaotic fashion, Semina takes notice of the groans from what she believes is another dwarf headed into the tavern. “Poor guy,” Semina whispers to herself. She hopes he is not stomped into the floor boards, because even though he is heard, you can not see him.

"Moradin's teeth!" Thraim exclaimed once he was free of the crowd, "you'd think that there was a fire sale at the local brothel or something!"

Thraim stood in the doorway of the tavern and made a point of making a harrumph noise as he dusted off his worn leather traveling cloak with his leather hat. He adjusted himself with large movements and lots of noises whistled through his thick black beard and mustache.

Thraim is large for a dwarf; he stands a few hairs shy of five feet tall, and he is very muscular. His eyes are sparkling blue in color. His hair, which is coal-black and long, is pulled back into a pony-tail, and tied with a piece of leather thong. His beard is also coal-black in color, and it is full and long. It is braided, and a piece of leather thong is inter-woven into the beard. He is wearing dark brown leather boots, dark green leather pants, and a brown cloth shirt. He is carrying a worn leather backpack as well. Other than his large size, he looks like a normal dwarf except for the weapon on his waist. Thraim is wearing a longsword on his right hip. He also carries a dagger in his belt, and light crossbow on his back, as well as a quiver of bolts.

Thraim used the ruse of the bluster at the entrance of the tavern to assess the room, and its occupants. After seeing so many locals exit the tavern at the same time, it made him suspicious of entering the tavern. He quickly scanned the common room, and came to the conclusion that nothing crazy was happening but that it was quite a diverse bunch of non-locals. After Thraim finished his preening at the entrance, he looks everyone in the room in the eyes if they meet his gaze.

As he walks up to the bar, he says to the barkeep, "please give me thickest local brew, I haven't had me breakfast yet."

Thraim chuckles at his little joke as he removes his backpack and puts it on the floor under his feet. He sits down at the bar, and looks at anyone near him with an acknowledging smile.

[FONT="Papyrus"]"Well, imagine that!" laughs Tarvin. "Nary a dwarf in eight months, and now two in one day! Since the frontier was pushed back, there isn't much traffic from the Pardash mountains anymore. I can see you aren't from around those parts, but when we had more folks seeking employment to guard the caravans, I had more call for this."

He takes a large mug and pulls from a cask under the bar, swiftly adding two shots of whiskey and a crust of black bread.

"I've only got another quarter-barrel in the back, so I hope you aren't bringing your whole clan in to visit!" He winks at you with a broad grin. Momentarily, he turns to the woman returning her bowl and utensils. "Thank you, miss, I appreciate your patronage".

"I think this is how they used to order Moradin's Mead, but as I said, it has been a number of months since a dwarf has graced this hall." He pushes the mug over to Thraim, but keeps his grip on the handle and after glancing around the common room, leans in a bit. In a lowered voice he says "That will be five silver kargats, kind sir."

Heathcliffe smiles bemusedly at the open candor between the two dwarves as he pulls out some tobacco (grown himself) and begins to smoke it in a fine (for woodland living that is) pipe. Usually, in his experience, dwarf meetings are a little less exciting.

Kagan-Zur sits back in the shadowed corner, slowly eating his gruel. 'There be time enough to get to know these folks," he thought. 'That is if they all get hired, for now best to lay low and observe, people often talk too much, too soon, you can learn more by watching and listening.'

`This', Naran thought, only confirmed his general opinions. Most people wouldn't give a stranger a copper if they were starving on the street.

Once again, helping those who would not help you out of 'morality' was proven completely foolish. And those who professed principles rarely held them in times of stress...Even minor stress.

Oh, he paid.

He also offered a silent prayer to St. Cuthbert to remind the villagers why cheating people is unlawful.

He observed the newcomer...Dwarf, but likely more subtle than most. Although he did not know how to wield them himself, the longsword and dagger were both weapons of skill more than strength. The crossbow was more 'dwarven'.

And once the room had emptied, it also proved easy to see who was likely here to answer the Duke's message.

As the room emptied, Sander decided it would be as good a time as any to converse with Starslinger. He got up as quietly as was possible while wearing a plate of armor under his cloak. As he approached Starslinger, he lowered his hood to reveal his face. He was a young, handsome man of medium height, his curly, dirty blonde hair was so long that it partially obscured his brilliant blue eyes.
When he reach Starslinger's corner of the inn, he greeted him in a soft, humble voice.
"It's good to see you again, though I would never have expected you to come here, considering the events that brought you to my temple."

Semina slyly looks over in the Dwarf's direction. Upon hearing him order his breakfast, she notices a noble look about him, dwarfs are such a proud race. Measuring him to be tad smaller in stature then Snorri, he seems to be just as fierce as a competitor, judging by his choice of weapons. Semina listens to Tavin thank her for the extra silver piece she threw in for the trouble and smiles “you are welcome kind sir.” Bowing her head in both of their directions, she gently glides back towards the fire place now that the tension has died down. Observing will have to do for now, until someone offers a clue as to why the Duke has summoned for help. Approaching with her final step, Semina stops in her tracks. Someone has captured her attention, one from her tortured past. Naran's face says it all, not happy to see her, but not completely disappointed. Weighing her options on whether he would welcome the company, she decides the worst he would do to her is ignore her. She walks in Naran's direction and approaches cautiously. “Do you mind if I join you?”

"It's a bargain and I'm glad to pay it!" Thraim said as he reached into his belt pouch, and put a single gold piece on the counter.

Thraim looks over to the woman that returned the utensils, and gives her a wide courtesy smile before taking a sip of his Moradin's Mead.

Tarvin placed Thraim's change, five silver kargats, on the counter just as Thraim finished his first drink.

As Thraim deftly picks up all five coins in one smooth motion, he smiles at Tarvin and says, "My name is Thraim Glorerg, and I am here to meet the Duke's Proxy to find myself some gainful employment killing gnolls and orcs."

Naran looked up from his...Meal...Somewhat suprised. Semina had always been...Confusing. He wasn't sure why she had decided to talk to him, but she had always had an...Enjoyable effect on his thoughts.

"No" He paused for a moment, unsure of where to go. "Your company is welcome."

(From previous)
"My name is Thraim Glorerg, and I am here to meet the Duke's Proxy to find myself some gainful employment killing gnolls and orcs."

[FONT="Papyrus;">"As best I know, you will have your chance after the Lord Steward arrives tomorrow after... noon..." Tavin trails off as he turns the gold coin over in his hand several times, squinting at it. He holds it up to the light, and brings it in closer to his face.

"By the black soul of the goblin king!" he mutters, as his face lights up. "This is a Dhirvian Luna from Quth Jeldak's reign! I asked my cousin to pick me one up two years ago, before Quth Veltix replaced him." He snaps out of his reverie over the coin, and there is a hint of resentment in his voice, "She's been back several times since then, too, but no coin. This one is the last coin I needed to complete my Dhirvet Prefecture collection!"

He chortles while looking at the coin from several angles. "Tell you what, this is certainly worth a keg of dwarven stout. You can finish the one under the bar, and the one in the back room as well. I don't expect another pair of dwarves through here anytime soon!" He puts the five silver kagats in front of Thraim's mug, and watches as the last merchant pays for her meal and nods farewell to Tarvin. The merchant makes her way out the door, and he indicates the common room with a grand sweep of his arm, turning to address all of you.

"I apologize, humble travellers, but the locals are not worldly, nor are they particularly receptive to strangers." Tarvin looks at each of you in turn, his thumbs hooked behind his braces, and continues in a rich, clear voice. "This time of year is somewhat slow, as the Blue Sun Fesitival is still a fortnight away. Therefore, I offer you each a room upstairs where you will be served breakfast there tomorrow, and better than this farmer's gruel, I assure you" As if anticipating the response, he holds his hands up, palms outward and nods his head forward.

"I know what you are thinking," he quickly begins, " 'the bumpkins are trying to fleece us again'. Nothing could be farther from the truth, my friends." Tarvin drops his hands to his braces again and looks out at your group. "The bit of extra coin I collected for the benefit of keeping the locals from getting upset will cover both the rooms and the meals. I hope you are not too upset with me; occasionally, the villagers need to be assuaged. And as much as I would like to, I can't keep a roof over my family's head on the hopes that enough adventurers pass through to pay the bills." He glances out the window, judging the time by the length of the shadows to be three hours before highsun. "I have matters to attend to and can't return late to serve dinner, so I must be off in an hour, no later. If you have nothing else pressing for me, I will leave early and my wife or the others will attend you. Elsewise, if there is anything I can help you with...?" Tarvin waits somewhat expectantly for your responses.

Thraim raised his mug, nodded at Tarvin, and said in loud voice, "you are a most gracious host! I accept your offer with gratitude."

Heathcliffe looks around the room before meeting Tavin's eyes and warmingly shaking his head. He then continues smoking his pipe and wonders if he acted hastily. After all, he could have asked for some biscuits... Heathcliffe loves biscuits.

As Naran silently added a PS to his previous prayer, he spent a few moments contemplating the innkeeper. Correcting a dishonest action through dishonest means...Certainly a mental puzzle.

Snorri had still not eaten enough, but beggars can't be choosers, so he grumbles quietly to himself and thumps his booted feet up on the table. Crossing his arms on his ample belly, he leans back on his chair and closes his eyes to minute slits. His breathing deepens and levels out. To casual observers, he has fallen fast asleep, but he keeps an eye on the common room through his lashes. Sometimes it paid to keep your competition (or indeed, enemies) off-guard and wrong-footed. Let them think he was a slovenly fool. He had learned early that in the land of the humans appearances were everything and he used that knowledge accordingly.

Content by the welcome Naran offers her, Semina begins to sit at his table. She ponders on how to start up a conversation, but is interrupted by Tavin's offer for rooms for the night. She looks towards Tavin and give him a thankful smile, and bows once more. Since the Lord Steward would not be arriving till tomorrow afternoon, that will give Semina some time to stock up on provisions, and take a look around town to find a place to practice her Dokuen chi.

“Maybe another time old friend, I have so much to do before noon tomorrow.” Semina explains to Naran. Semi-relieved of not having to dredge up the past, Semina heads towards her baggage. Wanting to get a room situated for the night, she picks up her belongings and approaches Tavin to secure her room.

Thraim leaned back on his stool, with his back against the bar so that he could view the common room.

Hmm, that breed looks familiar for some reason, Thraim thought to himself as he took another drink from his mug.

Thraim swished the brew around in his mouth to get a proper tasting of the Moradin's Mead as he looked over at the half-orc in the corner.

Kagan-Zar? No, it was...Zur, yeah that's it. Kagan-Zur, Thraim reflected as he swallowed the brew.

Thraim used to be contracted with the Red Company as a Scout, and he remembered Kagan-Zur. Thraim's contract with the Red Company had ended a couple months after Kagan-Zur signed on with the Red Company. Thraim had rarely seen Kagan-Zur because he spent the majority of the last months of his service in the field. However, Thraim has a sharp mind and rarely forgets a face.

I wonder if he remembers me? Thraim thought to himself and he moved his gaze off the corner, so as not to draw too much attention for looking there.

Thraim looks over at dwarf sleeping at the table and thinks to himself, Wow! He's taller than me. It's been a long while since I've seen a dwarf taller than myself. What in the Nine Hells is he sleeping for? The barkeep has left a whole keg of Moradin's Mead for both of us, and he's sleeping? Hmm, I'll have to do something about that.

Thraim grabbed his mug, and the keg of Moradin's Mead, as he stood up and walked over to the table where the tall dwarf was sleeping.

Thraim cleared his throat loudly and said to the sleeping dwarf, "May I join you, and share this fine Moradin's Mead?"

Naren blinked. "Understandable."

Once again, Semina had left him bemused and slightly confused - Not to mention bereft of decent conversation.

Well, he still had Morovain's Contemplations of Death Magic to finish. It was interesting how he dissected necromantic spells from a moral standpoint, highlighting and expounding upon how each was neutral, or evil - Or, in a few rare cases, good.

Morovain was a very odd duck, as one aquantance of his would say - A necromancer who sought to use his spells for good, even to the point of inventing new spells. Unfortunately, one way or another, none of his spellbooks had survived.

Now, he just had to hope he could concentrate on it.

Unfortunately for that, five minutes later found himself putting the book away. He had kept wondering what Semina would think of this or that paragraph.

Most distracting.

"Well met, Sander," Slinger said with a kind smile.
After offering the next chair to Sander with a motion to sit, he continued.
"Yes, the 'incident' with the Duke's daughter has continued to hound me. I am trying to lay low, but the cost of spell components and the basic staples of survival have me searching for work in smaller villages, lest I run into someone who recognizes me. It is good to see you my friend. Are you here for work or to proselytize?"

'Is that newcomer dwarf watching me?' thought Kagan-Zur and he tried not to show a sliver discomfort under that glance.
'Let them look,' he thought, 'It was to be expected, they see but an enemy, most do, especially dwarves. Still, strange to see two of them traveling independently and so far from their mountains, could it be some stratagem of theirs? Best to keep an eye on them as well, and if it is an enemy they seek, they will find this half-blood a formidable one indeed.'
Kagan -Zur had long come to terms with his heritage, his orc side gave strengths that humans lacked, his human side gave cunning that orcs lacked and great Morrigan, lady of war, gave him the focus to use his gifts to his advantage.

Sander smiled and took the seat offered by Slinger.
"I'm actually here looking for work. In addition to being a healer, i'm rather... experienced in combat; perhaps moreso than I should be." He reflected for a moment on the implications of what he had just said, then resumed speaking.
"What do you make of our alleged comrades?"

A busybody of no minor import, Heathcliffe sits with mouth agape after overhearing Starslinger's admission. He thinks to himself, so it was true! He quickly closes his mouth and looks elsewhere, lest someone catches him leering.

Snorri spies the loud dwarf approaching through lowered lashes and starts as though awakened, when addressed. Rubbing his eyes blearily, he sits up straight, "Interupt my rest, why don't you." he mutters irratably.

"Here, have a seat. Give me some of that brew and i'll forgive you." He picks up his hammer and lays it across his lap. He didn't want any 'mistakes' where that was concerned.

"The Duke's request has attracted more flies than a week old turd, hasn't it?"

Thraim chuckled lightly at the irritation in the dwarf's tone and words, and at the gesture of putting his hammer across his lap. Thraim placed the keg of Moradin's Mead on the table, and then sat down at the table across the dwarf.

"Indeed. The lure of easy money and killing always brings out the dregs," Thraim spoke in a conversational tone as he toss out the contents of the other dwarf's mug and poured him a mug of the Moradin's Mead.

Thraim pushed the mug towards the other dwarf and then poured himself some more mead. Once he finished pouring, he raised up in a gesture of salute to the other dwarf.

"I am Thraim, son of Gimthur, from stronghold Glorerg. It's been a while since I seen one of my kind," Thraim said before he took another sip of the absolutely delicious dwarven mead.

Thraim wiped the mead residue from his beard and mustache with his sleeve and said, "I admit that I am quite surprised to see so many scholarly looking types here for some gnoll and orc killing. Maybe there's more to this job than meets the eye?"

Naren could already tell his concentration was off. The book was engrossing as always; even if he thought ethics far superior to ideals, any well thought-out treatise was worth reading, even if only to see what the opposition was doing. Knowing how your belongings were likely to get stolen always helped in keeping them in your possession, for example.

Besides, '101 Ways of Bypassing Security' was also useful in a dungeon. And better yet, it had a forward by that parties' Paladin, complete with church stamp, asserting that the thief in question was Good in alignment. Paladins were empty-headed idealists, but at least they were almost always honest empty-headed idealists. It generally kept law officials from making too much fuss if they found it.
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Five unlikely companions arrived in the village of Homlett seeking employment, adventure and fortune.

Bael, a necromancer taking his first steps down a dark path.

His childhood friend Adolphus, a cleric of Nehrul.

Loehn, a half-orc warrior whose hopes for the future rarely reach past her next meal.

Shajerx, an elven druid of high morals and rare beauty.

And Pal, a halfling of many talents and infinite irresponsibility.

After doing some odd jobs for local farmers the Five set their sights somewhat higher. They approached Burne, the Lord Protector of Homlett, hoping to gain employment. Burne had just the job for them. He asked them to investigate the nearby moat house, a small keep that is the suspected hub of recent bandit activity.

After considerable negotiation the five agree to the task. In a matter of weeks the power of the moat house is completely broken and Lareth, the master of the moat house, slain. Burne took the oppurtunity to permanently secure the lands around the moat house by granting it and the surrounding lands to the five. This was fortunate because the five had decided to take it anyway.

Along the way the five discovered the complicity of the local traders with the bandit activity and took the law into their own hands murdering them in the night. Shajerx refused to participate in the raid, but did little to prevent it.

Also, during their first foray into the town of Nulb, they burned down the local inn (with all of the occupants trapped inside) in retaliation for a thwarted assassination attempt. Once again Shajerx did nothing to prevent the dark deed (in fact she recommended nailing the doors and windows shut before starting the blaze).

Despite their nefarious activities, the five have managed to come through their first adventure together as local heroes. Already Burne has asked their assistance in digging deeper to reveal the true source of the recent troubles.

But Pal sensing opportunity and concerned with the moral ambiguity of his new companions bowed out of the fellowship and reopened the trading post in Homlett.

Undeterred, the "Heroes of Homlett" returned to Nulb, sensing their answers might be found there. Once again their cleverness was rewarded. None in Nulb knew of their involvement in the fire that not only destroyed the inn, killing 20, but also caused the destruction of several surrounding homes.

Their second trip to Nulb proved fruitful. The source of the evil has been found, and despite the efforts of the mightiest heroes of a generation the nightmare has returned.

Now these four local heroes, bound only by ambition and greed, prepare for their first foray into the Temple of Elemental Evil.

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Posted in The Night Below
Did that really just happen?
The Haranshire is a much more dangerous than it looked a few weeks ago. The competing adventurers who took on Parlfrey's other job have gone missing, abducted or slain by giants (how can there be humans that size?). But more importantly, on the way to the giants' cave, we accidentally found:

A dragon.

A big dragon.

A really big green dragon. "Queen of the Mire" she calls herself. Diaeresis somehow walked up and talked with the thing. I think she is insane. Who talks to a dragon and lives? Much less bargains with it? Somehow the self-styled queen offered to kill the giants and provide magic help for local crops in return for 1000 gold pieces and an arrangement with the locals to provide livestock every week. I tried to make it sound intentional to Count Parlfrey when we got back. Who knows if he bought it? He would be a fool not to jump at the chance to make peace with such a creature, but that means we're going to have to go back down there to deliver the news and gold. I mean, we don't have to. We could leave. I could leave. I could go back to Kuristan.

A dragon talked to me! I think I said something back; what did I say? I hope it wasn't stupid. Sis is never going to believe this story.

Maybe the giants came from the dragon using growth magic on humans? I can only imagine what kind of plants the poor farmers are going to end up with. We should warn the locals.
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Posted in The Night Below
The Thornwood
I'm not quite calm enough to sleep yet, so I'm writing this at night rather than before my studies in the morning. I keep thinking I see those eyes hovering in dark corners here and there around the campsite.

Parlfrey offered us a choice of jobs - we chose to follow up on a local legend involving the defeat of a priest of Asmodeus. The Gleaming Glade, it seems, lies in testimony to that fight some 200 years ago. Nothing grows here except a strange, glowing moss. The dead zone is almost a perfect circle, and the ground has been transformed into a sucking, jelly-like muck. The magic aura isn't uniform, so I suspect some magic items have been swallowed by the Glade. Octan would have a fit if he knew we were going to try and dig things out instead of sitting cross-legged to ponder how the lingering magic here hooks in among that of whatever lies beneath the surface. Well, Octan never had a chance to recover a 200-year-old suit of enchanted chain, worn by the first lord of this land!

We arrived just before nightfall, so we set up camp next to the Glade. Not long after sunset, a sudden chill set in. We bedded down just in time to be roused by a sudden cry - some awful creature approached from the dead area directly into our camp. Its hair was wild and white, its hands clawed, and its eyes were two tiny specks of light among an eerie darkness, so cold! Most of the party scattered, as I had suggested earlier, allowing me to cast Heat-Seeking Fist of Thunder! It was just as impressive as I had hoped - the mighty crack loosed when the fist struck our campfire made our enemy falter, even though Gardenia and Ez's blows were healed as fast as they could be inflicted. The creature caught Ez, draining life from him until William delivered a single blow so mighty that it smote the creature into dust. Perhaps the fighter's tall tales of his exploits during "the war" have some substance to them after all.

We moved camp after that - no fire this time. I hope dawn arrives soon. Kuiper's farmhands were right to think us crazy for coming here.
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It seems our little group has hit the big time. Now we're working directly for the regional official, Count Parlfrey. He presides over the Haranshire from his keep a little west of Thurmaster. The Count seemed pleased with the work we've done so far in his domain, and hired us to track down some missing acolytes of Tir and Freyja in the moor to the north. It would appear that the locals rely mostly on luck to pass between settlements unharmed. Lately that luck has been failing.

Find the acolytes we did not, but their guards were left dead or dying among the rocks and heather. Voras did his best, but it wasn't enough to sustain the one remaining guard against his gruesome and infected wounds. Before expiring, the man tried to tell us about the acolytes' abduction. No more than a minute after the guard expired, his killers showed themselves. Several horse-sized dogs, each with two heads, came at us together. One caught me in its mouth and nearly shook me apart before I was able to wriggle free and get some altitude! I was able to do some judicious blinding with Color Spray, but it isn't quite up to the job against such sturdy beasts.

Once the last dog breathed its last, we limped our way back toward Parlfrey's keep. We arrived in sorry shape, Ez especially, several of us with festering wounds. I did not suffer those, fortunately. The Count's brother, Lafayer, offered to purify the wounds in return for a donation to Tir - Voras tells us that he offered a substantial discount from the usual amount due to our ongoing search for the acolytes. We now await another audience with the Count, perhaps to track down Ranchefus or whoever else is involved with all the kidnappings of late. With any luck, the local rangers will have some information on where the Dead God's followers are hiding.
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