By Brian Flood
Chapter 62 - Preparations
The Hungry Halfling Inn
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Mid-Evening, 14th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Kjira takes the key that Freda gives her and heads upstairs to her room. Inside the chamber, she finds two simple wooden beds with straw mattresses, a crudely crafted dresser, and a lantern that is bolted to the wall. A small wall-mounted mirror, a clay chamber pot, and a clay wash basin complete the room's simple amenities.
After settling her belongings, the lady mage sits down to study the captured spellbook by the light of the room's lantern. She casts a brief, simple incantation and begins to examine the mystical writings contained within the small journal-sized tome. Kjira finds several interesting spells within the pages of the book. After determining which ones to study closer, she begins the time-consuming process of transcribing the dead Zhentarim witch's spells into her own hand and into her own spellbook.
* * * * *
Dolak returns to the campsite to find Ori still sitting on the front seat of Tomar's wagon. A loaded crossbow rests on the bench seat next to the gnome.
"Have you come to spell me so that I may eat?" asks Ori.
"Aye, Freda at the Inn has a stew worthy o' the name," Dolak replies. "I'd recommend it to ye. After yer done eatin', you've got the first rest. I'll wake ya in the early hours o' the morn. I'll sleep here too, in case there's a problem. Have a good meal." The dwarven warrior then assumes the guard with his battle-axe in hand.
"Are you then only one?" Ori asks, with a hint of confusion in his tone. "Are the others taking the night off?"
"Some o' the others are goin' on a scoutin' party fer the town t'night. Tryin' to figure a way to git us past the roadblock so we can get back on schedule. The mages are goin' to study their spells t'night. Which leaves only you and I fer now. We'll be getting' to sleep-in in the morn."
"Alright, then," Ori replies. "I shall go and get some dinner. Is Master Tomar staying here at the inn?"
"Aye," Dolak says in confirmation. "He rented the merchants room. Lady Kjira rented th' other room. The arena more t' rent. Lucas'll be stayin' at Cy's place. Most o' the others are on the recon."
Ori nods and heads off to the inn to partake of Freda's famous stew. Dolak settles in for an evening of silent sentinel watch.
* * * * *
Cyzicus leads Lucas, Corax, Alani and Darius to his home among the rolling hills east of town. The small band soon finds that the halfling was correct - it is about a mile walk from the Inn to the family homestead. The trip takes a little over a candlemark for the weary travelers.
The companions discover that the homestead consists of a burrow nestled into the side of a hill. Beyond the home, barely visible linear objects hint at the vineyards that provide the family their income.
The yapping of a dog splits the quiet night air. A few moments later, the door of the burrow opens, revealing an older halfling male dressed in a nightshirt and carrying a candleholder.
"Shhhh!" the halfling orders the dog. "You'll wake the neighbors! What is it?"
Looking down the path, the man easily spies the small band of travelers approaching his home. "Hail!" he says. "Who goes there?"
"It is I, father -- your wondering son Cyzicus. I have guests." Cy introduces his companions one by one, then says to his father, "There are dark times upon us father, let us move inside to discuss it further."
"Aye lad," answers the elder halfling. He then turns and heads back into the burrow.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, sirm" Alani says politely as she does a small curtsy to Cy's father. Following the halfing father and son toward their home, the elven scout is slightly apprehensive at enter Cy's family burrow. Having never been in one before, the elf isn't quite sure as what to expect.
Cyzicus leads his friends into the family dwelling. Inside, the others find the accommodations quaint, yet somewhat diminutive of that to which they are accustomed. The ceiling of the burrow is between four and five feet in height, causing the relatively taller humans to bend over awkwardly until they take their seats on the sheepskin carpet.
As the group enters the burrow Alani is pleasantly surprised, not at all expecting that save for the low roof the burrow is really no different then the tree houses of Everseka. "Nice place you have sir. Please pardon my apparent surprise, but this is the first time I have been inside a halfling's burrow," Alani says sheepishly, slightly embarrassed by her own reaction. Sitting cross-legged, the elven scout quiets as Cirrus speaks to his son.
"I have heard the news of the Zhentarim blockade," Cirrus begins, speaking to his son and his companions. "Am I to gather that your homecoming is somehow related to this?"
"Indirectly, or rather I fear the blockade is related to my homecoming. It appears the Zhents have it in for caravans this year. I and my companions are escorting just one such. I promised them our hospitality before arriving and then heard the news. We then offered the Lord our services in establishing just what is going on.
"Sorry to cut this short, but we really must prepare for our scouting expedition. Hopefully, there will time for a more suitable homecoming later. Can you show my companions to a place where they may prepare, father?" With this, Cy moves to his room to prepare.
"Of course," Cirrus replies. The elder halfling leads the party, some of whom are still bent over at the waist, to an adjoining chamber. "I'm afraid this is all we can offer as guests' quarters," the man replies. The room he has brought them to is furnished with a small dresser, two halfling-sized beds, and a similar-sized table and chairs.
Following the elder halfling to the guest room, Alani suppresses her urge to laugh as she watches Lucas and the others all hunched over making their way to the adjoining room. Even though she herself has to walk slightly like a duck, she feels sorry for the humans.
"Thank you sir," Alani says politely as she enters the diminutive room. "Oh, could I bother you for a small bit of soot? Enough so my friends and I can cover our faces in?" the scout asks with a wink and a smile,
Finding a corner in which to sit in and give the others room to stretch their legs, Alani goes about the task of getting her things ready to depart. The elf takes her sword, bow, and quiver of arrows and sets them to the side. Then she takes the rest of her belongings and stacks them neatly near the corner in which she is sitting. From the pile she has built, Alani then begins to pick out other things she might need.
'Might need these,' she thinks to herself as she separates three small pouches that contain her spell components.
'And this I know will come in handy,' the elf says silently as she holds up her dagger.
Satisfied that she has all she will need Alani turns to Lucas. "Lucas I need a favor if you can do it. You wouldn't happen to have another armor spell for the day? If so, would you be so kind as to cast it on me?" the young woman asks.
Lucas replies, "I do not have one ready this minute but I can study it in the early morning so that I can armor you then. Will that work?" asks the conjurer as he prepares himself for his brief rest before having to wake up to relieve Dolak.
"Nay, but thank you anyway Lucas," Alani says as she continues gathering her equipment together. Taking her spellbook out of her backpack, the girl turns towards the black robed mage and hands her book out for him to take.
"Lucas would you hold this for me?" asks the elf. "I believe we are heading out real soon and if something happens I would rather you and Kjira have this instead of the Zhents."
Pausing for a moment as Lucas takes the book the scout continues, "Not that I expect anything to happen. We are just going out and scouting out the blockade. We should be back in the morning, I would think. But you never know," Alani says with a wink.
Turning to Corax, she then asks, "Are you ready? Cy should be here shortly, I hope." Alani looks towards the door, hoping the halfling priest would enter.
Corax glances at the pile of equipment that Alani has lain on the floor. "I had thought so," he says somewhat hesitantly. He glances down at his own garb - leather armor, a grayish cloak, bandoleer of throwing knives and a swordbelt, among other more mundane items.
"Is there a reason you are leaving most of your weapons here?" the rogue asks.
Hearing the words of the usually quite rogue, Alani answers. "Sorry, Corax and Darius; I guess this will work better if we all knew what was going on, "she says with a smile.
"Well, as you know, we are going out to scout the road block. All we are really after is numbers and maybe a weakness, but if anything comes up who knows," the elven girl says as she reaches for her sword belt and fastens it to her hip. "We need to travel light. All we need to do is get in, see what we are up against, and get out. If opportunities come up, we will discuss them then."
Looking to the druid, Alani continues, "Darius, if you can, we need you and Soft Fang to be our scouts. A pair of wolves isn't an unusual sight in these parts. Corax, you and I need to get as close as we can, if Tymora is with us maybe we can find a weakness."
Pausing for a moment the scout sighs. "I worry about Cy though. He has a personal stake in this and it may cloud his judgement. Since we have entered town he seems to be on edge."
Shrugging her shoulder she again talks of the mission. "Take only what is needed. As soon as Cy returns, we are heading out," the young scout says as she turns towards her pack and stows what she is leaving behind.
A few minutes later, Cyzicus returns to the room where his companions are readying themselves. The halfling is dressed in simple peasant garb. His only visible weapon is a dagger that is strapped to his otherwise bare belt. An unfamiliar dog - different than the one that was outside the burrow - trots happily along at Cy's heels.
Cy looks across the room at Alani and asks, "Any changes or will you still be joining Grimhound and I on our 'truffle hunt'?"
"Aye Cy, I am still in for this hunt," Alani answers with a wink. "So what's the plan when we find this truffle patch of yours? Are we just going to stake it out and plan on the best way to get the truffles, or are we going to go in a do a little digging?" Alani asks, curious to what the halfling has planned.
Lucas appears to ponder something for a minute. Then, realizing his mistake, Lucas turns to Alani as he drops his rucksack onto the floor. "Alani, I can help you and Cy out now for your 'Truffle Hunt'. It seems I am more tired than I thought and have forgotten my spell arsenal at hand for the moment," explains the road-tired conjurer.
Turning towards the tired wizard, Alani smiles as he announces that he still yet has magic left in him. "Thank you Lucas, hopefully we won't need it, but it is better to be safe that sorry," she says with a smile and then stands still as the Lucas performs his Art.
The black-robed mage digs through his pouch at his side and quickly produces two leather straps. He moves over to Alani and Cy in turn. Lucas quickly prepares each spell and casts it on Alani and then Cy respectively. Those in the room watch as an aura of light bathes over each of the two adventurers and sinks into their body to disappear from sight.
Relaxing and Lucas' magic washes over her body, Alani shivers uncontrollably as the tingle of arcane energy soaks into her. "Now get you some sleep, we will only be a minute and hopefully we will see you by sunrise," she tells the conjurer.
Satisfied that his spell meets his approval, Lucas moves back over to finish preparing his rest spot for the evening until it is time to rise and relieve Dolak. "Good luck hunting truffles!" says Lucas as he pulls his cloak tightly about himself to start his rest.
Turning towards Darius and Corax Alani asks, "So, are you two coming?"
"I am ready," Corax responds simply. The rogue has taken a cue from the others and has discarded his armor and most of his weaponry. A simple stiletto rests in a sheath against his hip. Surely, there are other weapons concealed on his person.
With a wink and a nod, Alani smiles then turns back to her gear to make a final check that she has what she may need. "We are out to find 'truffles'. I know it sounds strange, but if you keep telling yourself that then if - gods forbid - we happen to get caught and are asked what we are doing, it will come naturally," the elven girl says. "But, unless Cy says different," her eyes cut to the usually silent halfling then back to her pack, "we're going in to scout them out, learn their numbers and strengths," the scout says sarcastically.
Turning towards those gathered the elf continues. "If the opportunity shows itself, I want to give Darkhold a reason for putting a price on my head. Tomar is not telling us everything, and I want to know why," the scout says defiantly.
Cyzicus nods emphatically at all that Alani has to say. Then he asks, "Corax, Lucas, do you have anything to add to that? The only question is do we all go in together or spread out?"
"I'm not so sure that a halfling, a human, an elf and two wolves would appear 'normal' if they were seen together," answers Corax. "I say we at least separate the two-legged scouts from the four-legged scouts. One group of truffle hunters and an unrelated pair of hunting wolves is a slightly more believable scenario, if either group is discovered. Is there to be a rendezvous time and place if we are separated?" the rogue asks.
Cy responds, "I agree, I had originally intended for us to totally separate, except for the canine companions and their masters. But I forgot about your unfamiliarity with the area."
He continues, "I believe a rendezvous would be a good idea. How does an hour or hour and half sound from the time we separate?"
"Sounds good," Alani agrees. "Is there a landmark close by that we can use as a base?" the scout asks as she tightens her quiver and heads for the door.
Cy replies, "Milady, you did not say which you prefer an hour or an hour and a half. How about we plan for an hour; if someone is not there by an hour and a half, we know something is wrong and plan from there."
"Good idea, but let us pray nothing goes wrong," Alani says, the fire in her hints at the girl's anticipation. "Let us also be ready to adjust our plans if need be. Maybe we ought to have a secondary place just in case?"
When no one answers, the group collectively shrugs its shoulders. Then, carrying their meager store of weapons and supplies, the six scouts - three two-legged adventurers and three canines - set out.
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