By Jason Niehaus
Part 1 - Call of the Monkey God
The Ducal palace was a bustling hive of activity, the first annual "Hero's Appreciation Dinner." The dinner, the brainchild of Duke Eltan, was originally created to honour a brave band of hero's who saved his life and adverted a bloody war with Amn. Like so many celebrations it grew during the planning as each duke had a party they wished to invite, then wealthy merchants requested permission to invite bands in their employ, soon half the adventuring bands in the Sword Coast were invited to the Ducal palace, including the Raging Fools.
"Don't wear that robe Lordin, it's covered in grime!" Vadriana scolds Lordin, who has been wandering around the groups suite leafing through one of his many tomes. "Wear your good robe, the one with golden embroidery."
"Huh?" Lordin stops his meandering to look at the cleric, "Must I? That robe is so hot, can't I just cast a cleaning spell on this one?"
"No, that robe is all threadbare and ratty, change it." Before Lordin can respond she's off to prepare the other members, leaving Lordin to shrug to himself and return to his book.
She finds Thorin, Yurt, Jasper and Hanuman, not surprisingly in the taproom, Thorin is trading stories with a burly caravan guard while Jasper, Yurt and Hanuman are playing darts, Hanuman is beating the other two soundly.
"What are you people doing down here? Thorin, polish your armour, Jasper get out your good jerkin and that new hat I bought you, Hanuman groom yourself and get that vest I had made for you. Hurry! This is our chance to make friends is high places. Remember first impressions are most important. Yurt, clean your armour and repair that headdress of yours. Were's our elf?"
Jasper is the first to overcome the shock of Vadriana's diatribe and ventures his guess as to Shiasta's current location. "Try searching in one of the many parks and green spaces that grace this city. Elves seem to be more comfortable in woodland settings." Before the gnome can complete his, lengthy, thought, Vadriana has left the taproom to find Shiasta.
"It's your turn shorty, beat that throw you stubby imp."
"Shorty? I'll show you, you walking pile of flea food!" Jasper angrily turns back to the game, and promptly buries a dart into the wall, causing his friends to erupt into fits of laughter.
Storming through the street, Vadriana mutters to herself, "Of all the times to commune with nature! Am I the only one in this group who cares about our future?" Her mutterings are interrupted by a slight hand placing itself on her should, causing Vadriana to jump.
"Please Shiasta, try to make more noise when you approach me from behind. You took two years off my life, which is a lot for us humans!."
"I am sorry friend Vadriana, I will try make more noise, maybe I should stomp around like Thorin?" the elf smiles at her joke
"Shiasta, do my ears deceive me our did you make a joke?" the elf nods assent "Will wonders never end. If this is a night for miracles mahapes the others will try to be ready for tonight. I've so much to do, I fear I can't be den mothering them all night." She sighs and looks at the worn cobbles on the street.
"Fear not friend. I will make sure they are ready,
you attend to your needs."
A gleam of hope appears in the young clerics eyes "Really? Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!" With that she almost skips down the street to the dress shop. Shiasta shakes her head at the task she has taken on herself to perform.
Back in the Three Old Kegs, the Fools current home, not much has changed. Hanuman is still winning at darts, Thorin has started a new story, the one about the goblin warren they cleared out last year, and Lordin has started a new book.
"What are you all doing? Are not you supposed to be getting ready for the dinner tonight?" The elf's voice is quite yet somehow manages to arouse feelings of guilt in everybody.
"Bah! Hobnobbing with puffy-fluffy pantalooned fools taint me idea o'fun." The others nod agreement with the dwarf.
"Nor is it mine stout one. But it is important to our friend and companion, Vadriana. We are her friends and as such should try our utmost to let her enjoy it. How many times has she accompanied you drinking dwarf? Our to the fighting pits with you Yurt?" With some well placed guilt, she has succeed in accomplishing what a day of pleading by Vadriana failed to, motivate the group to clean themselves up. Her mission accomplished she goes upstairs to confront the absent minded mage.
"Lordin, change into your good robe or I will personally see that your right hand will never work again!" Lordin stops short, he is quite sure this is the first time the elf has ever raised her voice.
"You can do that? How's it work?" She tells him all the grisly details and Lordin pales considerably.
"Amazing, and you would do that to someone? To me?" she nods "I'll just go change then. Good day." He stumbles into his room, noises associated with frantic searching emanate from behind the door, Shiasta smiles to herself and retires to her room to find her good green tunic and comb her bright orange hair.
Five hours latter the party is ready. Lordin looks exceptionally regal in his blue, gold rob, his white beard neatly trimmed (courtesy of Shiasta's dagger) and his long hair braided down his back. Thorin literally gleams in the setting sun, every inch of his armour polished, every dent and scratch repaired and his beard and hair braided in the manner of his people. Yurt stands tall, the polished black granite of his magical chailmail gleams much like Thorin's armour, the vibrant colours of his headdress glow with a light of their own. Shiasta is just beautiful in the manner of all elves, her orange hair doesn't even seem out of place tonight. Jasper resembles the successful jeweller he once was, his new hat making him seem taller, and his prize ring is worn upon his right hand. Hanuman is cleaned and wearing the "darling little vest" purchased by Vadriana, his constant adjusting of it makes it obvious that after tonight the vest will 'mysteriously' disappear.
But it is Vadriana who steals the show, her dress, a beautiful pale blue, transforms her from the sisterlike companion they all knew her as, into a magical princes. As she descends the stares the Raging Fools stop their small talk and stare, Shiasta smiles that knowing smile common to all elves. Lordin's jaw starts to move, but no sound comes out.
"My dear little Vadriana, you look truly beautiful tonight," translate Hanuman on behalf of Yurt, "Please accept this gift." The giant man reaches up, removes one of the magnificent feathers of his headdress, and places it in her hair.
"Why thank you Yurt." the young woman blushes slightly as she brushes her hand over the feather.
"Please, I wish you to wear my ring tonight. It should be displayed on you, the only thing of greater beauty that I have seen, not on a little frump like me." Jasper places his prized ring on her finger, and adds "I will of course, require it's return when the evening is compete."
"I'm speechless, thank you Jasper." She holds her hand up to gaze at Jasper's master piece. "Well, it's time to be going, mustn't keep the dukes waiting." She brushes past the group and is off to the palace, the others follow, except for Lordin, who is still rather incoherent. Thorin chuckles to himself and nudges his oldest friend.
"Come along mage. We've a party to attend."
"What, Oh yes, the party. Come Thorin we have much networking to do."
"Networking?" the dwarf raises a questioning eyebrow.
"I read it in a book. I'm not sure what it means, but it's what one does at these functions."
"If it involves ale, ya can count me in."
"I think it might."
"Then come along. We've much networking to do!"
With that the two friends laugh and hurry after the rest of the Raging Fools eager to network all night long.
The area outside the Ducal palace was full of nobles, wealthy merchants and their sponsored adventures milled about, waiting to be announced by the heralds.
"Were is our sponsor for this evening of foppery?" grumbled Thorin, scanning the crowd for Leorion Kwal, a wealthy merchant who was impressed with the speed the Fools cleared out a nest of spiders in one of his warehouses.
"He is over their, friend dwarf, by the portcullis."
"Well, best to be gettin it done with, lets go." grumbled Thorin as he plows his way through the assorted nobles.
As the near Leorion, he begins waving at them, "Ho Fools, over here! Hurry we are next in line to be introduced. I was afraid you would not make it. Hurry, hurry." The merchant keeps talking as he herds the group towards the door and presents his card to the door man.
"Announcing Leorion Kwal and his guests, Lordin Granderson, Thorin Goblinstomper, Jasper Gnarlson, Yurt, Hanuman, Shiasta the elf (no one could ever properly pronounce her last name) and Vadriana Oran, The Raging Fools!" announced the footman, and the networking was on.
Given the Fools behaviour at previous social functions, they behaved exemplary in the grand ball room. Lordin mingled with the mages and nobles, discussing magic, philosophy, history and assorted other topics, learning much (including the actual meaning of networking) and teaching a little.
Thorin found a group of adventuring dwarves, who immediately started trading war stories, ranging from battling giants to a valiant battle with two kegs of strong dwarven ale. They eventually wandered off to the greens to drink under the stars and talk of mines and treasure.
Jasper, wearing some of his better creations, attracted quite a crowd of young women, requesting commission of the gnome, most of which were turned down, the commissions he accepted got dirty looks from the other women. Eventually the business offers faded and he was able to wander and talk to the few gnomes and craftsmen present, trading trade secrets and discussing the developing trends in fine jewel and gold work.
Vadriana was immediately cut off from the rest of the group by a pack of eager young nobles, each trying to out fawn the other and gain her attention, much to the chagrin of Lordin. For a farm girl she took to the situation like a goblin to a cave. She succeed in drifting away from the young fops and gravitated to the elder statesmen, and imediatly charmed them as if she was socialite born to this kind of thing. Soon she had numerous wealthy merchants and nobles wrapped around her finger.
Yurt had a much less enjoyable time. The giant mute spent the night avoiding the stares and whispers of people too afraid to approach him, and those who did work up the nerve to talk to him wanted to know if they could purchase Hanuman or in the case of one drunk, if his colouration was due to goblinoid ancestry. Yurt reached out one giant arm and lifted the sot off his feet, he was about to toss the man throw a window when Shiasta placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"No my friend, we must not ruin this evening for Vadriana. Come, let us walk in the green, for I have felt the stares of others all night and do not appreciate it either." The giant nods and follows the elf out, but not without giving Hanuman a parting thought.
"Wise one, that one has caused great dishonour to
me and the Great Wise One, see he never does so again."
Hanuman smiles a wicked smile, displaying all his canines in an almost vicious manner. "Your will is my command oh great one," he laughs as he jumps off Yurt's shoulder and into the crowd. Shiasta raises a questioning eyebrow which is met by Yurt's reassuring smile and nod. With no further words the two walk into the garden.
Meanwhile, Hanuman follows the drunk back to the bar.
"What an uncouth lot that feathered goon is. He actually threatened me bodily harm." complained the noble as he picked up another wine, obvious to Hanuman's deft paw dropping a pinch of a special mushroom that causes terrifying hallucinations when ingested, but leaves no lasting effect. Hanuman almost pitied the man, being beaten by Yurt would probably have been less traumatic. His work competed, and his companion with no need of him, he scampered off to the buffet table. And the evening continued uneventfully until a young drunk started raving about bugs crawling under his skin and had to escorted out.
Near dawn, something amazing occurred. Hanuman dropped the apple he was chewing on and ran screaming into the garden. The remaining Fools broke off their conversations and ran out after their monkey companion. What they saw would stay with them for the rest of their lives. There, in the middle of the palace garden, was Yurt, sitting with legs crossed staring into space, his black granite armour pulsed with light of it's own, each feather of his grand headdress burned with a bright blue and yellow flame, his spear, which he had not brought with him, floated, suspended in the air before him, the blade burning with the intensity of a small sun. Beside him was Hanuman, prostrating himself to the image Yurt was staring at.
Before the two, floated what could only be a god. It appeared as an old, bearded monkey, but it stood upright like a man and grasped a spear in one hand and a scroll in the other. It appeared almost translucent and ethereal, yet at the same time infinitely solid and eternal. He looked at each of the Fool's and smiled. It opened it's mouth to speak when another force appeared, crashing into the monkey god with a resounding clash and explosion, destroying half the garden. Suddenly, above the spires of the Ducal palace appeared a giant, pulsing, red feline headed female, she roared in an unknown language with a voice that shook the palace, and to punctuate her point threw a bolt of power at a tower, disintegrating it. This apparition was greeted with an angry shout from Hanuman, in the same language, and a glare from Yurt that would cause a dragon to reconsider.
And then it was all gone. Yurt's fire, the apparitions, and the quite state of awe, as the palace erupted into a panic frenzied and Yurt collapsed. The Fools rushed to their fallen comrades side. Vadriana muttering a prayer to he god for healing. They crowd around their friend, none of them knowing exactly what to do. A sigh of relief escapes each Fool as they see Yurt's eyes flutter open, followed by some gasping as Lordin and Jasper had forgotten to breath while watching their friend. Then mute was immediately assailed by questions concerning exactly what had happened, the questions clamoured against each other resulting in an incomprehensible babble, a babble that ended with Yurt making his gesture for quiet.
"I have to go home." whispered Hanuman.
The Raging Fools, for the first time since their conception, had no idea what to do next. They just stood there, seven silent sentinels amidst a world of chaos.
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