"We think he flew north to the smallest mountain of Giant's reach." The elven woman spoke common with an interesting inflection on the vowels. She was seated at a table in the Three Falcons Inn on the southern coast of Sembia. Her listeners were 2 hulking men in plate armor, veterans of the Vaasa Wars and brothers. A priest of Tempus, the god of battle, a short and stout man carrying a war hammer. The wizard to his left was an enchanter well known in the city. He was also the patron of this group. A red dragon by the name of Agramoreth had stolen his finest work when he hit a caravan traveling from northern Sembia. The last member of the company was a young man carrying a targe and strangely curving longsword. His eyes were a cold crystalline blue.
It was the priest of Tempus who offered the first opinion. "Giant's Run is a death trap between the orcs, ogres, and avalanches. Unless we can find a portal to take us near the cave the blasted wyrm has made his home in."
"Such caution from a priest of Tempus." The wizard, Alruic, said mockingly.
"Such bravery from a mage." The priest, who went by Samos, retorted.
"Enough you two." Said the elf with some exasperation. Those two had been at each other's throats for most of the evening. Only the promise of a dragon's hoard had kept them from blows. The elf, Adrianna, pulled out a map. It had several runes scattered over mountain terrain. "The liches of the Twisted Rune left a number of portals on those mountains. This one," she places a lovely slender finger on one of the runes, "should at least bring us close."
"We're not much fer caring about goblinkin. They all die easy." Said the older of the brothers, Garem.
"Canno' be as tough as Vaasa." Agreed the younger brother Barem.
"Just because you two have the ambition of dying in some godsforsaken place in the midst of battle-" Adrianna muttered.
"I agree with them. We don't have to worry about the goblinkin. But a young red dragon is cause for concern. " Everyone at the table turned and looked at the blue eyed warrior. He hadn't spoken a word until that moment. When the surprise wore off it was the wizard who spoke up.
"If this was a simple task I would have no need of adventurers." he said somewhat irritably. The warrior, Silverkin, didn't respond but held the wizard's gaze for a good long time. "Agramoreth is a young wyrm with soft scales. That he escaped the caravan guards unharmed s inexplicable. I'm bringing all of you to ensure that his streak of good fortune is ended."
"So first we must sail across the Sea of Fallen Stars and trek a good ways into the Dragon Coast. Then, if we find the portal we arrive at the lair of Agramoreth and rush in like fools to the slaughter. Do I have that about right?" asked Samos.
"Our wizardly patron will provide us some protections, but that is the basic plan. With luck we will find the wyrm sleeping and our large friends will take his head before he wakes." Said Adrianna. "We've been over this many times. Now is the time to decide if you will join this expedition. I, Adrianna of the Moon Elves, will lead this quest." She put her hand into the middle of the table. The brother knights were quick to follow. The wizard laid his hand gently on top of the elf's. She pulled it back out of his reach. Samos groaned and put his hand in. Silverkin added his hand to the circle last.
"We leave in the morning. Our patron booked us passage on a merchant ship making a run to the human settlements on the Dragon Coast." Adrianna took her leave of the table and left the thick-headed men to argue and drink until daybreak. And most of them did. But Silverkin and Alruic went to a smaller table to discuss certain private matters. Silverkin had to hustle a few dwarves out of the chairs with offer of drink before they could sit down.
"You wished to speak in private, this is as private as the Three Falcons can become." Alruic took a seat.
"Yes. As you are the patron of this quest I felt compelled to tell you this up front. I am not here to recover your lost toy." Silverkin's dismissive tone grated on Alruic's nerves. And comparing such an artifact to a child's plaything pushed his temper near to breaking. "My true purpose here is my own to know. But you may trust me on this point. I will destroy Agramoreth even if the rest of you fall in battle."
"You are a very crude young man." Alruic said grumpily. His anger having been assuaged somewhat by the promise of vengeance on Agramoreth.
"I would dispute that, but lying isn't really my forte. Now If you'll excuse me I have other business to attend to before we leave tonight." Silverkin got up from the table and made for the door.
"Be careful, boy. The Netherese left any number of foul creatures behind when they departed this fine city. They come out at night to feast on the drunks and homeless." Alruic watched him go out the door, as did half of the patrons. "I may have to find another adventurer before departure." The wizard pulled out a piece of crystal and scryed the most arrogant of his recruits. His spell started just in time to see the warrior cut down a shadowhound. Silverkin casually tossed the beast into the bay and continued down the streets. He had plenty of road to himself, given that shadow beast tended to attack people foolhardy enough to walk around at night. Silverkin stopped in front of a small house near the docks and knocked on the door. Alruic couldn't hear anything through his rudimentary scrying spell but he could see Silverkin speaking to someone on the other side of the door. Then Silverkin started, his back went ramrod straight. Then he did something quite unexpected, he raised a hand and Alruic's scrying crystal went black. The wizard raised an eyebrow.
"So the boy knows a few tricks. He might just be here alive in the morning." The middle aged wizard gathered up his drink and went to his room. The days ahead looked rough, but if he got his artifact back it would all be worth it. It was the height of his craftsmanship and he'd never be able to duplicate it. He wasn't entirely sure how he'd made it in the first place.
The ship Alruic had contracted was not overly impressive. A standard merchant vessel, moderately armed. It's three masts looked a little worn but it's tan sails had no hint of damage. The magically studied members of the small fellowship recognized the symbols carved in the hull. Spells of swiftness and imperviousness.
The crew moved about with brusque efficiency, moving cargo below decks. The salt air covered the smell of stale beer from the deck hands. Alruic boarded the ship to have a word with the Captain before departure. Garem and Barem were conversing with Samos, who was trying to explain why Tempus despised slaughter but loved battle. Adrianna looked every inch the ranger she was. Bow and quiver slung over her shoulder, a pair of longswords on her hips, and the symbol of Gwaeron Wyndstrom etched into her leather armor. Her long black hair was done in a single braid reaching midway down her back. She drew a number of looks from the passersby and the crew but she paid them no mind. Her three male co-conspirators stopped talking entirely to stare at her.
"When do we depart?" She asked after a few seconds of being ogled.
"As soon as the cargo is loaded." Samos said after recovering his wits. Adrianna walked up the ramp to board the ship, sailors and merchants parting before her like commoners making room for a noble. She had an otherworldly quality to her. In a place like Sembia elves were often paid no more mind than ordinary humans. But Adrianna's fey beauty made her stand out, made her seem different. Once she'd even gone so far as to wear a mask in order to avoid the stares and reactions her beauty provoked. Now, at the start of her second century of life she wielded her looks as a weapon. Her dark hair and fine features, the grace of her movements, were every bit as devastating as her enchanted swords.
Garem would have gotten down on a knee and proposed to her the night before if Barem hadn't been there to talk him out of it. Although, at the time he'd only done it so he might have a chance to try first. He thought better of it when she nearly castrated a drunk who tried to grope her.
"How long are you morons going to stare at her? Hurry up and get on the blasted boat." Alruic motioned for them to board the ship and was nearly hit by a falling barrel for his trouble.
"Where's the younger lad? The one with the blue eyes." Samos found them a safe place to stand on-board.
"Not here so he's probably dead. He left the Inn last night." Alruic replied.
"No, not dead. Just praying for death." Silverkin walked up from below-decks, his face an unhealthy pale green. The ship cast off, a sudden imbalance caused a sharp rocking motion and nearly knocked Alruic off his feet. Silverkin went sheet white and grabbed onto the ship's railing. He retched over the side and cursed softly when the boat evened out again. "Tamara, if you have any mercy at all you'll let me die before the next wave hits." he muttered to himself.
"Well aren't you delicate. If you ask me we should dump him overboard now." Adrianna said distastefully.
"Well aren't you delicate." Silverkind said in a tone mocking the elf woman's voice. He didn't even bother to look back at her when he said it. He kept his head over the railing, waiting for the next, seemingly inevitable, surge of nausea.
"Don't worry lad, after a few days you'll get your sea legs." One of the sailors consoled him. The tattooed and bearded hulk of a man slapped him on the back initiating another round of vomiting. "Or maybe not." he said, walking off humming a tune.
"Here, this should take the edge off." Samos chanted a prayer to Tempos and everyone around him felt a rush of strength and well-being. Silverkin felt it too, and it cleared his nausea...for the most part. He pulled a small flask from his belt, took a swig and spat it out. It cleared the unpleasant taste from his mouth and he stood up straight.
"Thank you. I don't know if I could handle two days of that." Samos gave a short bow. His bald head shone slightly in the sun but no one dared make jokes after his generosity. The crew made sail and left the port in record time. The captain asked Samos to join his crew permanently, even going so far as to offer him a payment in gold to leave the company. The priest declined politely, explaining that part of his priestly duty was battle and he was honor bound to see this through.
"A mite shameless, wasn't he?" said Garem. Barem nodded and spat over the railing. Alruic had a charm spell ready to persuade the captain to let the matter drop. He felt the priest would be sorely needed and was not going to give him up until the artifact was back in his hands. Adrianna had left for her cabin below deck rather than put up with the sailors leering at her. Silverkin followed her lead, thanking Samos again for his help. The trip passed without incident. No pirates, not sea creatures or young dragons. The lack of trouble put everyone on edge. The was no such thing as safe passage in the Sea of Falling Stars. It wasn't until they made port that trouble found them. Or would have found them had Alruic not burned half the docks to ash before the ship was in bow range. The crew cheered the wizard loud and long. More than a few of them gave him far more room than necessary. The wizard stood at his full height, which was only about 5 and a half feet. He basked for a moment in the glory of being cheered. He rarely got to do anything so aggressive anymore. When he was young he'd been employed by the Crown as a battle-mage.
"I still know how to clear the battlefield." he said, more satisfied than he had been since the theft of his magnum opus.
"I counted 45 bandits before the fireball. 19 ran off into the woods, 5 of whom were on fire." Adrianna reported. She had an arrow nocked to her bow but found herself without any targets to shoot at.
"Not to upstage ye Addy, but there were 46. Including the wretch on this ship who told them we would be here." Barem said, checking the reaction of his crew as he said it. If any of them were traitors they didn't panic and show themselves.
"Brother, ye can't know that we were betrayed."
"Did ye see what they had on shore. A catapault, one with longer range than ours. And they were entrenched. They were ready for everything abou' this ship. Except for a wizard they could'nae have known we had." Silverkin listened to Barem, all the while weaving his way amongst the crew. His eyes were half closed and flitting back and forth over each and every crewman. His arm reached out fast and grabbed the hair of a burly crew member, his falcata bit lightly into the man's neck.
"And here is our traitor! Lendys has weighed your soul, and found it burdened with deception." His second statement was a mere whisper, meant only for the man he held at swordpoint. But Adrianna heard it too.
"Stay your hand. Let our priest interrogate him. Good Samos, you can cast a spell to sift truth from lies, can you not?" the wizard asked.
"Yes." Samos raised his handaxe in the air and chanted a prayer to Tempus. "Now, young man. Are you a traitor to this ship?"
"No! This dog just grabbed me at random!" Samos heaved a sigh. The seaman felt his spirits lift briefly then sink as Samos shook his head sadly.
"Captain!" Silverkin called out. The man in question came over slowly, not wanting to seem nervous or hurried. "This scum betrayed you and everyone on this ship. It is your right to cast judgment on him."
"Treason means death. But not death here on the sea. This man isn't worthy of being called a sailor. We'll hang this scum on dry land." And so it was that the Captain did deny the traitor any dignity in death. The ship docked without further trouble and the man was hanged in full view of the settlement leaders and the rest of the crew. He was buried in swampland at the foot of one of the smaller mountains in an unmarked grave. The crew went back to the ship and unloaded their cargo, dried meats, spices, even some livestock. The merchants were shouting at the sailors, not happy with any delay in receiving their goods. The din of commerce was quieter there than in Urmlaspyr but no less colorful. Barem and Garem made a few purchases for the road while the others refilled water skins or restocked on bread or cheese. Alruic had been vague on whether or not he could open the Twisted Rune portals so they were packing heavy in case the journey was longer than expected.
"Nothing like an execution to liven up a journey." Samos said miserably.
"It's what he deserved." Silverkin said coldly.
"And just how did you know that he was guilty?" Adrianna had snuck up behind them while they were discussing how the execution was handled. Silverkin shrugged.
"And who exactly is Lendys?" Silverkin twitched slightly.
"No one you need concern yourself with."
"I seriously doubt that, boy. How can we trust you if you're keeping secrets?"
"I could ask the same of you, eladrin." Samos' eyebrows shop up into his scruffy hair. It would do quite a bit to explain the elf-woman's influence if she was one of the primal fey folk. Adrianna's eyes caught fire briefly. She was facing Silverkin but Samos caught the flash of green too and his hand went unconsciously to his mace. Adrianna drew her two longswords and walked closer to her fellow adventurers.
"If either of you have a problem with my bloodline, please say it now."
"Problem? I think I gave you the wrong impression. Your status makes me think we all might live through this." Silverkin declared in his usual callous manner. "But if you think your heritage is a secret from our patron you underestimate his curiosity."
"Can both of you please calm down." Samos stepped gingerly in between them, mindful of the blades in the elf woman's hands.
There was a moment of silent tension, anger and rage burned brightly in the elf's eyes, cold violence and pride was shimmering in the human's. The swords were sheathed in a quick violent motion but the tension didn't subside until Silverkin broke eye contact. Adrianna sighed and let the tension flow out of her stomach and shoulders. "I'm only half eladrin. My mother was Teu'tel'quessir and my father was an eladrin journeying on the World's Tree. Is that enough disclosure for the both of you?" Samos stepped back but his hand stayed close to his mace. Silverkin looked her in the eyes again.
"Lendys is one of the gods to whom I pledged service. She is a god of Law and bargains. I knew that sailor was a traitor because Lendys gives her servants such boons as aid in dealing judgment. Does that satisfy your curiosity?" Silverkin asked.
"No, but in the interest of this fellowship I suggest that what we've just shared stays between the three of us." Adrianna looked strangely vulnerable just then. It wasn't as simple as her posture of the look on her face. It was something in the way she worded her request. Silverkin, who was attuned to things like contracts, legalism, and the sifting of truth from lies recognized the plea in the request. Her heritage was a very important secret.
"You have my word that I will not speak this secret lightly. But if keeping this secret endangers my life I will not keep silent. Understand that I am not capable of breaking my word. Lendys does not allow me to lie."
"You have my word as well, though Tempus doesn't forbid me to lie." Samos added sheepishly.
"Thank you. There are some who would be...put off by my heritage." Silverkin heard the half-truth but he let it go. Not out of compassion, but because pressing the subject would only add unnecessary complication to his task.
"My former warning stands. The wizard is a curious one. He will find out eventually." His callous manner annoyed the elf, but she nodded.
"Thank you for your concern." she said, not believing for a moment that his concern was for her.
"Excellent! Now that that's behind us shall we join the rest of our company?" Samos said cheerfully. The three walked toward the arranged meeting place, Samos trying unsuccessfully to make pleasant conversation. "Is Silverkin your real name?" Adrianna asked suddenly.
"It is not the name I was born with. But it is my name, yes. It is a funny thing, don't you think?"
"Your name?" Samos asked, puzzled by the younger man's question.
"No, this situation. A young red dragon raiding a caravan is nothing unusual, but it just happened to find and take this enchanted object, whatever it is."
"Not really. Such things often happen with no rhyme or reason to them." Adrianna said. Samos shook his head. He did not agree in the slightest. He felt the boy was right. As a priest he knew that certain events were the result of meddling by the gods. And he had a feeling that this may be just such an occurrence. A group of street children began to gather around them, seeing their fine armor and weapons
"Maybe, but the coincidence that brought me here makes me think otherwise." Silverkin said. Then he paused for a moment and reached into a pouch on his belt. He pulled out a few silver coins and handed them out to the street children with a smile on his face. The uncharacteristic act made his companions blink. The children ran off cheering and laughing and the three moved on.
"You mentioned a coincidence that brought you to us. What was it?" Samos asked.
"I decided to come to this city, hoping to find a wizard to help scry Agramoreth. Before I had even found a place to stay I ran into Alruic. Less than an hour in a major port city and I had already found someone else who had an ax to grind with a rather insignificant dragon. It seems to stretch credulity to say that it was mere chance." Adrianna frowned. She hadn't known that. She'd answered a call for adventurers, as had the two Vassans.
"So how did you come to join this company, priest?" Silverkin asked.
"Tempus sometimes sends inspiration to his priests. A restlessness that can only be assuaged by the glory of battle and conquest. I receive such inspiration a mere tenday ago and left my brothers to the north of the city. I came here looking for adventure and battle. If I were to come back having slain a dragon I would gain status among those of my order. Our patron found me my first day in the city and I agreed to join." Samos looked back toward the wizard. The man was examining gemstones purveyed by the local vendors.
"As I said, a funny thing. Much like our compatriots over there." Silverkin nodded at the two warriors who were arguing, not only with a shop keeper but with each other. He walked over to the three shouting men to hammer out a deal that didn't involve someone being punched in the face.
"As is he." Samos said to Arianna. "Lendys is a draconic god, not a human one. But he seems to operate honorably which is all you can really ask of someone you don't know."
"And what would you call a priest of Tempos with a tendency to avoid conflict? Surely that isn't normal." Arianna commented.
"Tempos is the god of battle but also of warfare. Part of war is diplomacy." Samos said in a voice suggesting he'd explained that very thing to many people and was growing weary of it.
"I meant no offense." Arianna said apologetically. Both their heads whipped around at the sound of metal hitting metal. They spun around in time to see Garem throw a punch at Barem who promptly ducked. The blow hit Silverkin just above the eye. The warrior rocked back a step but didn't fall. Cold fire burned in his eyes and the Vassans froze. They were accustomed to brawling with little consequence, even when a whole bar became involved. The sudden murderous look thrown their way was a complete surprise. After a tense moment Silverkin turned and walked away and the brothers let out a breath. So did the shopkeeper who began carefully replacing the more delicate wares on his stand. "Boy looked like we insulted his mother." Garem commented. Barem nodded his agreement.
"Needs to fin' himself a woman who can pull the stick out of his arse." Garem agreed. They regrouped at the town center. The priest and ranger were there first, discussing some esoteric topic. Their wizard patron appeared out of thin air next to them.
"Excellent, it works." the mage said, holding up a purple gemstone inscribed with six runes. "Vendor looked a tad disreputable." he explained. His subordinates gave him a blank look. What mage in their right mind tested an unsure magical device by using it? Garem and Barem sauntered to the other three, each toting a large bottle of what was likely of local manufacture. "Gentlemen, I know I didn't tell you this explicitly, I'd thought it was common sense. Drinking will not improve your chances of success on this venture." Alruic said dryly, looking at the red faces of the veteran adventurers. He was annoyed but not surprised. What was surprising was the smile on Silverkin's face. He had been completely hidden behind the two older men but he was very visible now.
"What's going on?" Samos asked. He sounded somewhere between curious and fearful.
"They bought me something for the trip to apologize for the punch. I returned the favor." the priest saw a wine bottle in the young man's hands and realization struck him. He didn't return the gift per se. He returned the pain visited on him, and they probably thanked him for it. When worshipers of a deity of law held a grudge they could be surprisingly devious. Samos and Adrianna made a mental note not to cross Silverkin lightly. Alruic's face went white with rage. Until Silverkin presented him with the wine bottle. It was a surprisingly good vintage and quite valuable. The wizard, still angry but confused, put the bottle in a bag of holding. He turned and started walking up the mountain. His unusual troop of adventurers followed him without comment.