Far to the south of Mithrendain lies a mysterious place known as the Lake of Dreams. Hidden away deep within the High Forest and only known to the slim few lucky enough to stumble upon its location, the natural beauty of the lake and its surroundings are unmatched anywhere in the land of Faerûn. The waters of the lake lay so still as to give image of a large mirror in the earth, reflecting the stars and moon upon its clear turquoise face. The grand trees of the High Forest surround the lake, standing far above the earth, their deep green canopies forming a great wall as to protect this hidden paradise from the influences of the outside world. On rare occasion one of the few with knowledge of the lake will come to gaze upon its enchanting beauty and enjoy the peacefulness of the oasis that exists amidst a sea of chaos.
Adjusting his position he knocks the boat a bit, causing it to rock side to side in a slow and gentle motion. He gazes up at the stars, taking in the peaceful bliss of the cloudless night. In a world filled with hate and corruption it's these hidden places of natural beauty where he feels most at ease. Lowering his gaze, he smiles when his eyes fall upon her, the pale moonlight reflecting off her silken blonde hair creates the appearance of a golden halo around her visage. He runs his fingers through her hair, caressing the soft skin of her cheek as he leans back and closes his eyes. A light wind sweeps his hair aside as the world begins to fade from his view. The world slowly fading to black, the wind grows louder and begins to speak.
"Time to wake up boy."
Ignoring the voice he rolls onto his side and is suddenly jarred awake as his body is shaken quite vigorously. Fearing that the boat had tipped over he leaps to his feet and then pauses for a moment as his brain puts effort towards to figuring something out.
"How am I standing? And why am I not neck-deep in icy cold water"
He opens his eyes, finally beginning to realize his surroundings and jumps back in surprise when he finds a very hairy dwarf staring him down mere inches away from his face.
"Rise and shine me boy, time for us to hit the road"
Clutching his chest, attempting to calm his racing heart, Laire responds short of breath and annoyed.
"By the gods Urist, never do that to me again! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
He smacks the short man on the side of his head, irritated by his own embarrassment and collects himself.
Urist replies whilst rubbing his head, a sheepish green still upon his face, "couldn't help meself lad, you seemed t' be havin' quite the enjoyable dream there. Now get up and grab your things, we're heading out. We've got a lot of distance to make-up after our recent distractions."
With a sigh Laire grabs his gear, tightening his knife belt and throwing on his pack and traveler's cloak. He places his two blades back in their appropriate holsters on either hip then thanks the owners of the home for their hospitality and bids them farewell before running outside to join his awaiting companions. To his slight surprise, it appears that the two from yesterday will be joining them as they too stand there waiting to head out. He thinks to himself, some conversing must have gone on while he was buried in his memories. As he laces his boots for travel, Laire notes the rest of the group leaving, Urist pausing only to enthusiastically wave him forward. Hurrying to finish, he stamps his feet to settle them, and sprints towards his departing group. Opting not to talk to the complete strangers that have joined them just yet he walks up alongside Urist and decides to question him instead.
"So what's the story with the two new recruits?"
Urist looks back at him, slightly confused at first before realizing, "Ah yes, I suppose we forgot to mention it to ye, Sariel and Aluthyra will be joining us from this point onwards. It appears that they have a bone t' pick with that Nazin fella we've been hired to take down. Oh and I'm assumin' you'll be wantin' t' know which is which yes?"
Laire responds, nodding. "Well yeah, might make communication a bit easier."
Urist nods in understanding and motions to the two ahead of them. "The one on the right there, the cleric of Corellon."
"The uptight one from yesterday."
Urist can't help but chuckle at this interjection. "Yes, that one, she goes by the name Sariel. And her tiefling friend, that'd be Aluthyra."
Noting this to himself, Laire continues. "I'm assuming she's the one that managed to take out two men in one shot yesterday?"
"That'd be her, yes. A little frightening when you think about it actually, she may even be able to give Roland there a run for his money with skill like that." Urist nods towards the elf walking slightly distanced from the others.
About an hour's travel goes by with little event and few words exchanged, everyone still somewhat tired from the exertion of yesterday. The worn, wooden rooftops of civilization break over the horizon in the distance, bringing slight relief to the company as they near their intended destination. They pick up the pace, hoping to reach the city before noon so that they can restock on supplies. From the distance, the city looks entirely normal. Lacking prior knowledge, one would never be able to tell that this city had become the target of one man's mad plot to overthrow a king. One detail does appear slightly off however, one that would be easily overlooked by the passerby. The roads and streets lack life, the eerie silence both peaceful and disheartening to the adventurers.
Few people are found wandering the city interior, the remnants of those who refused to leave or lack the ability to do so. The majority of those they see are soldiers garbed in the traditional colours of the Harkenwald militia. The somber faces of men preparing for war. Men who have left their families behind, vowing to return home when the evil is vanquished. These men have chosen to throw their own lives on the line to protect that which they hold dearest. Many of these men will never again return home, this sad truth of war prominent in their minds as they trudge onwards. The sight is both heartening and depressing; it rips happiness from ones heart and replaces it with the ever hotter flames of a warrior's fighting spirit. The image of the soldiers renews the resolve of Laire and his companions, having now found their reason to fight, and they walk onwards to the center of Harken. There they shall speak with the king himself and there they shall decide upon their strategy to bring this war to as quick and as peaceful an end as possible.
They make quick work of getting to the city's center, the immense stone structure of the hall of kings looming over them. The gothic appearance of its visage intensified by the great shadow it casts over them, the large keep exudes an air of that which has seen many wars. Thyllan at the forefront of the party walks forward and pushes the large wooden doors aside as they enter, a resounding creak echoes through the incredibly spacious room. A pair of guards attempt to stand in their way and stop them but they nudge them aside, completely oblivious to their presence. One man of obvious authority steps forward from the grand table at the center of the room, his face in a scowl, annoyed by the sudden interruption.
"Halt! Who dares barge in on his lordship? We are extremely busy at the moment with preparations for the coming war and have no time for such interruptions." He speaks with a thick, rugged accent, spitting a little with each word. His gray and grizzled beard obscuring the anger in his face, his cheeks turn a bright shade of red as he yells.
Laire goes to speak, but is cut off by Sariel as she steps forward. "We would be the group of adventurers that have been kind enough to decide to offer ourselves to your cause and we recently just dispatched a good dozen or more of those damned mercenaries in our attempts to get here, which is probably more than you yourself have done in the last week. Now if you'd care to accept our offer I suggest you sit your ass down and shut that mouth of yours before we change our minds."
The man, completely blown away by the response, stands with his mouth agape for a moment before he finally attempts to stutter in a rebuttal. "N-n-now listen here missy!" but he's stopped short as a tall, handsome man steps forward and puts his hand up to silence the veteran soldier.
"You'll have to excuse my friend here; this battle has been very stressful on us all with many a sleepless nights as we attempt to bring about an end to this calamity. Angus here is my most trusted general and my right-hand man, he's seen more than his fair share of what this war has to offer. I am Lord Darr, earl of this land." His voice is that of a man of wisdom, one who has experienced many of the world's secrets and yet it contains the elegance of royalty in the eloquence of his pronunciation, a voice that would cause many a women's hearts to flutter at the very sound of it.
Laire speaks this time, not allowing Sariel another chance to cut him off. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance your majesty." he bows slightly, "We hail from Fallcrest, sent by the mayor to come assist you in these troubled times. Unfortunately though, we encountered much hindrance during our travels and will require a place to rest and replenish our supplies before we can be of any real assistance to you."
Darr nods in understanding, "Of course, I shall get one of my men to escort you to the market. As for a place to rest, we are rather lacking in rooms at this time but you are more than welcome to set up camp anywhere around town." He raises his hand to stop them before they leave, "However, if you are going to assist us in these matters then first we must discuss strategy."
Motioning them over to the table, Darr brings their attention to a rather large map of Harkenwald and its surrounding area, each of the major cities drawn across its surface in full detail. The map is scattered with pins and markings of known enemy contingencies and allied forces. The Iron Circle mercenaries, marked with small wooden figures, consume a massive majority of the layout, appearing to hold a large advantage over the Harkenwald militia as far as sheer force of numbers is concerned. One point stands out amongst the rest however. Just to the northwest of Harken there stands a large concentration of the forces for both sides, and this is what Darr draws their attention to first.
Pointing to the mass of troops, Darr beckons for them to come closer. "As you can very well see, we have concentrated the majority of our forces here at Torr's Hold. This is where Nazin hides himself, ever since he took it over 3 moons ago." He sighs, looking greatly disappointed. "Unfortunately for us it is a near impenetrable fortress and with our current numbers we have no hope of breaching those defensive walls. We need reinforcements."
Thyllan leans back, crossing his arms. "And I suppose that's where we come in?"
"Indeed" motioning to the map, Darr points out two locations "Here to the south, far into the forest, there is a large encampment of elven nomads. They have the best archers in the land and a great number of excellent healers that could desperately use. And to our north here lies the dwarven underground city of Hammerfast. They have always helped us in the past, but from what our scouts report they are having their own problems fighting off an infestation of Bullywugs. If you assist them in this matter then I'm sure they will pledge their swords to our cause."
Urist step forward, pressing his fist to his chest in a pledge of loyalty "You'll have those men your lordship, we cannot allow this man to continue his rampage."
Nodding in approval, Darr motions them to the door. "I look forward to the good news. I know I can trust you with this. Now if you'll excuse me I must discuss some matters of a more delicate state with Angus, Richard can escort you to the market." He calls over one of the guards positioned at the door and relays the order.
The armored knight bows as he introduces himself. "Commander Richard at your service gentlemen-" Sariel coughs. "And ladies. Lord Darr has informed me that you require an escort to the market so that you can re-provision yourselves, so if you would follow me then I would gladly lead you there."
They head to the great wooden doors and exit the hall, leaving the earl and general to their discussions. Richard navigates the winding roads with ease, leading them through the city to what remains of its once massive market district. Once there he bids them farewell and directs them to an old tower on the south edge of town where they are welcome to set up camp if they wish.
They make haste of locating the general goods store and find it with quite a bit of ease, a small establishment called "Halfmoon's Trade Goods". Laire pauses for a second when he sees the name, and happens to catch Urist's attention as he falls behind the group.
"Somethin' botherin' ye boy?"
Laire contemplates for a moment, "Not sure, this place seems familiar somehow but I can't put my finger on why."
With a shrug he continues forward, following behind the others as they enter through the small front door of the building.
A bell chimes as the door swings open and they're immediately welcomed by the smiling face of a rather elderly looking Halfling woman.
"Welcome to Halfmoon's Trade Goods, I'm Seldrin Halfmoon! How can I help you fine adventurers today?"
Laire almost falls over in his tracks, the shock on his face quickly turning to an impish smile as he tries to contain his laughter.
Urist looks over at him once more, with a slight serious expression on his face this time. "Whass the matter with ye boy? Get a hold of yerself."
Laire lets out a muffled laugh, desperately trying to hold back his amusement. "Pfft… I can't help it… keh… Did you notice the name Urist? Does this lady not seem familiar to you at all?" he snickers a little, covering his mouth with his hands.
A brief pause from Urist, but his face seems to light up when he finally realizes. "Why, she bears a striking resemblance to that Halfmoon fella back in Fallcrest that Thyllan went and frightened so much that he damn near wet himself."
All Laire can manage at this point is a nod and a muffled 'mhm' else he may just burst at the seams.
The little shopkeeper takes notice of the ruckus and with a raised eyebrow questions if everything is alright with those two.
Laire, finally managing to regain his composure responds with a nod. "Everything's fine Miss, now let's get done to business shall we?" quickly wiping his tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Indeed. Now what is it that you might be looking for?"
Sariel jumps in, leaving no room for anyone to speak up. "We require a few days rations and I happen to be in need of a new holy symbol for my healing rituals, the last one was lost during a scuffle with some bandits you see."
The Hafling seems almost overjoyed and runs off to the back of her shop. "Ah, yes, I believe I have exactly what you are looking for."
Meanwhile, as the shopkeeper rummages through her goods, a small object happens to catch Laire's eye from one of the shelves. The sunlight hitting it at just the perfect angle sends the slight glint of metal and glass into his eye.
"Pardon me, but while you're at it could you grab that interesting looking piece sitting on the shelf there?" He points in the direction of the object, "I'm slightly curious as to what it is."
"Absolutely." She replies "I'd be more than happy to grab that for you.
Not long after, she comes back with a stack of wrapped packages filled with dried meats and breads, enough to last about 5 days when divided amongst them, along with two small metallic objects. The first she places in front of Laire, a small star-shaped blade with five points, each of which is hollowed out and has a small needle tip at the end. At the center appears to be a small hollow glass globe that connects to each of the blades and has a very tiny stopper on one side that opens and closes with a lock.
He twirls it in his hands a bit and inspects it closely. "Just what is this strange contraption?"
She replies with an all-knowing smile. "Ah yes, that right there is a deadly weapon crafted by a very young alchemist that passed through here a while back. It is a throwing blade meant for silent assassination, and that little glass ball in the center, it's to hold poisons that leak out of the blade tips through those needles when they've hit their target."
Without even taking his eyes from the piece he continues to ask. "How much?"
"3 gold pieces"
"Done." He slams the money down onto the table without a second thought and quickly pockets the item.
The shopkeeper now turns to Sariel with a smile and holds out a small white-gold pendant shaped in the likeness of sun. "This here is the light of Corellon, 'tis a small amulet blessed with the magics of Corellon himself. The say it holds great power that only a truly devoted follower of the path of purity can unveil."
Catching wind of this conversation Laire thinks to himself. "Likely story there and I bet this uptight cleric is just dense enough to fall for it too. Oh well though, I think I can work with this so-called 'great power'." He then decides to play a fun little joke on the two and reaches for the pendant. "Mind if I take a look? Something about this pendant seems a little off to me…"
The shopkeeper slightly put back by this replies with a huff. "Well of course, but I assure you that my goods are only of the finest quality."
Timing this perfectly Laire continues to reach out for the amulet and just as he grabs a hold of it, he and the amulet vanish right before the eyes of everyone in the room. Silence fills the room as everyone, now completely shocked by what just happen, just stands there and stares at one another in amazement. The shopkeeper, in her old age, faints from the sight of what had just occurred in her store and collapses onto the floor with a dull thud and a crash. The others, not exactly sure what to do at this point, shuffle their way to the door, scratching their heads and mumbling to each other in confusion and slight worried tones. To their surprise however as they step outside they find Laire, leaning against a tree with a sheepish grin on his face as he tosses the amulet up and down in his hand. "Gotchya."
Sariel stumble with her words a bit out of sheer anger and annoyance. "What? How? Just what the hell do you think you're doing Laire? Are you trying to get us all thrown in jail? I mean seriously! That poor old woman just passed out in there, probably traumatized by your idiotic little prank."
He tosses the amulet to her with a chuckle. "Relax would you? No harm done, she'll never know what happened, and hey, you get a free amulet out of it. So how about a thank you?" He walks past her with a smirk and continues on down the road. "Now how about we go find a place to set up camp? I'm getting kind of tired."
Completely flustered and irritated by the man, Sariel manages no more than some annoyed stutters in response while he walks away. "Idiot."
Not long after, the group finds their way to the small, decrepit ruins of what may or may not have once been a guard tower. The ceiling of the first floor seems intact enough however and the room is just wide enough to fit them all with little discomfort. They decide to hold here for the night and set up camp with a small fire to warm the cold interior of the fallen stone structure.
The others make their way to bed, Sariel and Laire holding watch as they do not require sleep and merely meditate to regain their lost stamina. Laire, being bored with sitting and not feeling all that tired however, decides to do a little investigating and goes to check out the upper floor of the small tower.
He stands without much effort and quietly makes his way over to the edge of the broken ceiling that separates the two floors.
Sariel grumbles to him as he walks off. "Just where do you think you're going?"
"Oh shut up and mind your own business would you? I'm still in the mood for a little fun so just go back to your boring watch duty."
He takes a few steps back and after measuring the distance between the two floors he makes a quick sprint forward and jumps up towards the stone ledge of the second floor. Having misjudged the distance slightly though, his legs collide with the ledge and he stumbles slightly as he tries to regain his footing. He brushes himself off, hoping that little accident won't leave any bruising in the morning and silently looks around while his eyes adjust to the lack of lighting from the fire. The room is dark and other than some dusty tables and a chair or two the only thing that really catches his eye is a small dresser in one of the far corners. He approaches it slowly, careful not to trip over anything else and makes his way over to the small wooden dresser. Kneeling before it, he wipes some of the dust of and fumbles with the rusted handle a bit in his attempt to pry the thing opening.
After some effort it opens with the sound of creaking metal and the splitting of old wood and reveals a mostly empty interior other than a dusty old traveler's cloak and what appears to be a small golden ring. After dusting the robe off, he decides he's taken somewhat of a liking to it and throws it on after discarding his old one into his pack. He pockets the ring, deciding it's too dark outside to get a good enough look at it and decides to inspect it more thoroughly in the morning. He walks to the edge and drops back down to the ground floor without so much as a sound and makes his way back to his bedroll. He watches the stars from there, images of a faraway home and old memories flooding his eyes as he fades out into a deep trance.