By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 75 - Making Plans
Berdusk 1371 DR, Eleint, 13th day (The Maiming, Tyr), the morning hours
Mumadar arranged for a plate of hot biscuits for both the long table as well as the trio at the bar. Portia, Jezbodiah and Matteo partake of the biscuits and their refills, while Mumadar left for his private quarters to see if he can produce a map of the area…
The bald and scar-headed innkeeper returns with a colorful piece of vellum by the time the trio has finished the round of drinks, and the plate contains nothing more than crumbs. Rolling it out on the counter, the innkeeper points out the locations of Berdusk, Scornubel, Qheldin’s Mask and drawing a small symbol on the map with a quill, he marks the place where according to him the Haunted Mill could be.
Other than a rough geographical and environmental description – an area with rolling hills which slope down steeply to the banks of the Chionthar, numerous smaller streams and a couple of small rivers flow from the west into the mighty Chionthar, flowing through valleys covered in deciduous trees like maple, beech, birch, and the like. Plenty of game roams the area, as well as humanoids – goblins, bugbears, gnolls and their ilk.
“Did you draw this map?” Jez asks Mumadar, elven eyes wide. “That’s pretty good,” he adds complimenting.
Rolling the map back up, he hands it to Matteo, who tucks it away as he gestures Portia and Jez to join him in returning to the others. At that moment, Emlyn excuses herself and moves up the stairs to check on Marc – the strange suffering of the young lad weighing heavily on the hin-woman’s shoulders as she quietly but determined exits the room.
“Well Alanna, time to go to another table and hear what the others have to say.” She lets the would-be morsel go and climbs and Jez’s arms. She climbs onto his shoulders and makes herself as comfortable as she can. Before Jez leaves, he takes a still-warm biscuit into his hand.
The trio arrives at the two tables as Immerine has just seated herself, the head of the newcomer’s black wolf resting comfortably in her lap as the animal gazes back at his friend – the woman with elven blood and dressed in travel-stained woodsman’s clothes.
Placing the biscuit on the table, Jez takes a seat next to Skeen and watches Matteo and Skeen banter each other. As she juggles, Jez is patient and considerate enough not to break her concentration. He breaks off a piece of the warm biscuit and gives it to Alanna. This time the aroma fancies her sensitive nose. She swipes the piece of begins to eat it all the while as crumbs and flakes fall on to Jez’s shoulder and onto the floor.
While Skeen watches curiously, she stays more in the background, not wishing to get brushed aside again. “I hate the planning,” she mutters. “Is there anything I can actually do?” Idly she assesses the occupants of the inn as she would anyone, looking to see who would be the easiest mark. Damn, she hated feeling as if she owed these people anything, but she did and she glares at Nik and Ditalidas, then sighs and begins twiddling her thumbs. Standing, she walks by Telsom with an amused look on her face. Moving on past him, her face falling slightly, she picks up a few rocks on the ground and takes them back to her seat where she begins to juggle them.
Telsom watches Skeen with an upraised eyebrow, as the woman settles back down to juggle, he gives her a halfhearted smile. “Bored?” he asks the elven woman. Without looking at Telsom, Skeen answers in a casual voice, “A bit.” Shaking his head, Telsom chuckles, “I’ll have to try to keep you entertained then. Left to your own devices I think you might get into a great deal of trouble with your fight against boredom.”
Skeen visibly flinches at Telsom’s words, dropping the rocks she was juggling. Turning red, she mumbled something under her breath as she re-gathers them, shifting just slightly enough that she could keep an eye on Telsom while she begins to juggle again.
Immerine sits at the table uncomfortably, her eyes shifting to the door and escape. When Matteo finally walks near her nostrils flare and she breathes in deeply. Her face a perfect mask of what she is thinking, the only hint of something terribly wrong is the crease in her brow.
Telsom laughs as Skeen loses her concentration and drops her juggling stones. Blowing the woman a kiss, Telsom shakes his head in amusement and then turns to watch the others with a wide smile on his face. Almost deliberately, Skeen forces her focus away from the paladin and back on the simple rhythm of the stones in her hands. After a time, she begins to relax… just a little.
As he moves by on his way to the table, Matteo seems to ignore Immerine’s reaction to his presence and smiles broadly at Skeen. With a quick glance in Telsom’s direction, he says, “I wouldn’t try that again if I was you, you’re not as good as you think you are. Sloppy technique.”
Skeen stops juggling at Matteo’s words and glares at him. “I’m exactly as good as I think I am,” she says softly, then begins to juggle once more. “Do better and I’ll be impressed.” She adds. Skeen now looks decidedly grumpy. Jezbodiah smiles, “Not Bad. I’d could give you some pointers if you’re interested?”
Pulling up a nearby seat, Matteo sits, nursing another glass of Saerloonian glowfire in his hands. Looking around the faces of his companions, he says, “So, anyone got any plans for the day? I have a couple of things that need to be taken care of. A little stroll through the woods and some ghosts to uncover.”
“Portia’s revelation has me curious about the mill,” Jez says. “If it involves a Lliiran, I’m going to look the place over a see what I can do.” He looks towards the new comers and says, “My apologies if I haven’t introduced myself. I was detained on the roof of the warehouse yesterday and I wish to humbly thank those on the roof for their assistance. I was busy trying to save a comrade and although not successful, to the damage he sustained would have been worse, much worse. Anyway, my name is Jezbodiah Wisp, native of Berdusk, rogue, and sorcerer not but a few days ago. This is familiar and new friend, Alanna.” The ferret squeaks a faint and timid “hello” to everyone. She sees Luna’s wolf and begins to etch anyway for the intimidating lupine. This causes Jez to take her off his shoulders and cradles her against his chest.
Portia, right behind Matteo, just misses what Matteo says to the elf-woman from the warehouse. As she moves past though, her hand drifts to her belt pouch, she keeps a few feet out of the elf’s reach, and she looks coldly at the woman. Once she has settled into her own seat – on the far side of the table and a few seats down from Skeen – she returns her attention to the others.
Skeen smiles sweetly at the rude woman, “You’re welcome,” she murmurs, “I’m so glad I could get you the information you were seeking.”
“Well met.” She says with a welcoming smile to the newcomers whom some of the group seem to have adopted. “I’m Portia Coldspring of Kelemvor. For those of you that care to know,” mostly talking to those that have been with the group since the warehouse, but not ignoring the newcomers, “the ghost that Saer Matteo refers to is possibly the Ghastly Harpist, which seems to be a local legend. I had a visitation the other night that seemed to tell me to investigate it. I also got the impressions of both longing for release and murderous hate.”
Looking about the table, at Immerine, Jez, Nik, Matteo and the others, she says seriously, “It’s my personal belief that there’s more to this Harpist than a simple soul seeking release. That’s part of it, but there’s more to it, and Kelemvor is sending me to do something about it. I can’t help but feel that it’s also somehow tied in with the events we’re already dealing with here in Berdusk…”
The priestess slips the harness for her new hand-and-a-half sword over her shoulder and rests it against the table, having discovered just how uncomfortable it is trying to sit while it is still strapped to her back.
The half-elf nods and watches as she places the hand-and-a-half sword on the table. “If the Ghastly Harpist is indeed a Lliiran, I have a religious duty to see that his remains are repatriated and his soul released to the afterlife.” He looks to Portia and says, “I’ll need to speak to you on the way to the mill. It’s about Lliiran burial rites, or rather a lack of them.”
Matteo nods as Portia trails off and says, “Lord Sillisten has asked that I assist Portia in this matter and I have agreed. Mumadar has provided us with a map to the mill’s possible location, so I’m thinking of getting started relatively soon.”
“However…” He adds, glancing at the newcomers, “…we have also had some interaction with a certain organization that appears to be behind many of our troubles. The Captain has kindly provided me with a map showing possible hideouts in the forest and asked that we check them out. If we could destroy their base of operations, that would swing a little of the initiative in our favor.”
“Two jobs to do. We could do one after the other, but I’m thinking it would be better to split and tackle both at the same time.”
Tarim sits calmly adding new, intricate carvings to middle region of his staff where the older impressions stop. The new images strongly resemble three figures fighting some sort of winged creature, and he seems quite focused on it. The work is demanding as the scale is quite small but he works with minute strokes of his tools and seems to be very patient with it.
Ened’ome sits on his shoulder calmly observing both her young master and the folk who surround the table with huge, dark eyes. She is a quiet little thing but she seems to see everything…
With a slight glance up, Tarim looks at the man for a moment and then returns to his work. “I am not adverse to a stroll in the woods as you put it… I would like to know more though…” The young mage’s eyes then flit to Immerine’s trying to discern the source of her irritation, a slightly concerned expression evident on his face.
Matteo raises an eyebrow and, smiling, replies, “Well, you’d be tracking down wanted outlaws, murderers, smugglers, and the like out of Darkhold. If you could get any information out of them, that would be nice and potentially helpful.” Pausing to scratch one side of his face, he lets his gray eyes rest on Tarim and adds, “Other than that, seeing as how I don’t know you I’m not going to tell you a thing other than give someone who accompanies you a map showing the location of these possible hideouts.”
“Oh…” He adds, letting the soft drawl of his native Sembia creep into his voice, “…The people you’d be tracking are not wanted dead or alive. Just dead.”
Immerine slowly lets her breath out before speaking to Matteo. “Well Lord Ashgale, some things never change. This is Tarim, my tutor. Now you know him. That is Skeen, Kevin and Teryn. This is Luna and this…” She indicates the wolf, “…is Areo. The little owl is Ened’ome. The quiet dwarf I do not yet know.” Immerine pauses before continuing.
“Since you Portia and Jez, now, will be going to the mill. I will go to the forest. It is probably a good thing that you and I not be together.” She stresses the word together. “Now that that is settled care to pass over the map? Or would you prefer someone else carry it?”
“I’ll carry it.” Telsom says with a chuckle, but then his handsome face turns serious. “My skills are better suited to fighting evil men and monsters rather than apparitions and other forms of undead. I’ll opt for the stroll in the woods, it takes me closer to a holy shrine dedicated to my mistress…with the visions and visitations she has bestowed upon me of late I think it a good idea to bring myself closer to a location dedicated to her.”
Immerine opens her mouth to snap at the paladin, but decides differently. Instead, she sticks her tongue out at him again.
“As you say, my lady,” Matteo murmurs to Immerine, reaching into his doublet and handing the map over to Telsom. Swirling the wine in his glass he adds, “It may be worth keeping an eye open for any ongoing construction in the woods. Trade in all goods is down, even bearing in mind seasonal fluctuations; except for imports of timber and construction tools, both of which are up. Caravans carrying these goods seem to be the only ones not currently targeted by the bandits you’ll be chasing down.” Glancing at the newcomers, he adds, “And much of the timber and construction tools are being purchased by somewhat disreputable agents and disappearing east of Scornubel into the forest.”
“If you don’t mind, Saer, I will be part of the ‘forest’ group. I am likely to not only being more useful there, but am more likely to find answers to my own questions from among the living but soon-to-no-longer-be-breathing than from the long since undead.” Teryn’s tone is respectful but makes it clear he is determined and not asking for permission.
“Ya know Matteo…” Replies Jez, “…I had time to search the confines of the warehouse before the guards ushered us out of there. Odd things you say about construction materials when the crates in the warehouse were plum full of the stuff. Very odd indeed.”
“Much of what is not disappearing east of Scornubel...” Matteo replies, “…is coming down the river to Iriaebor and then being picked up by guild factors who send it in the direction of Sunset Vale and Darkhold. It is something to bear in mind when moving through the forest, though not something to necessarily be guided by.”
“Going into the Sunset Vale or the Darkhold are we? I’ll keep that in mind. That and it sounds like ya need a rogue or thief.” He smiles at Matteo and winks at Portia. “Ah, deep into the woods.”
The little fey pulls his attention from the conversations in the room when he notices the elf’s attempted theft. Eyeing Skeen, Puddy ponders whether she performed the stunt out of greed or mischief.
Skeen smiles sweetly. “I’ll be going to the woods too.” She sobers then takes a deep breath and looks at Telsom, “That is, if you don’t mind. I’d explain, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Just as your friends have already made their judgments.”
“I’ve no objections… and my judgment about you was made back at the warehouse.” Telsom says with a half smile. “Oh…” Skeen replies, the wind taken out of her sails, “…Is that good or bad? Naked rape victim doesn’t seem like something very useful.”
Telsom winces at the woman’s words. “I… I can’t express how sorry I am… nor how pained I feel to not have been able to intervene when you needed help the most.” Telsom blinks several times rather quickly and looks away from the woman, choosing a spot on the floor to stare at as he squeezes the hilt of his rapier, his knuckles turning white.
Now Skeen looks confused. “But you did. You all came before the scary man came back. The other men weren’t that bad. Pretty average really. The scary one wanted more than flesh. Flesh doesn’t matter.”
Hesitating only a moment she adds, “You probably won’t believe this, but I wasn’t trying to rob you; just wanted to play a joke. You seem like you have a sense of humor.” She looks at the ground. “I swear on my lockpicks that I won’t try to rob anyone I travel with.”
“Just thought it would be funny for you to look over and have me juggling something of yours.” Skeen has no idea how to deal with Telsom being upset.
“Weren’t that bad.” Telsom mutters before turning to look at Skeen once more. “Weren’t that bad?” He states more than asks. “I’ve played the game of houses with nobility and royalty since birth, at times the deceit was thick enough to choke on… but whatever you’ve gone through in your life that you can make so little of what happened to you… well I suppose I should thank my mother for sheltering me when next I visit Silverymoon.”
Skeen shakes her head and shrugs. “Flesh is flesh. Just don’t let them touch more than your skin,” she says pragmatically.
“When we come across this foul one you speak of I will carve out his heart.” Telsom says with some finality. Spreading the map out on the table before him with his free hand, Telsom releases the hold on his weapon reluctantly as if just now discovering the villain isn’t present and then harshly combs that hand through his hair, his eyes so intense as he looks at the map one might think his eyes alone could bore holes through it.
Skeen shivers. “I somehow don’t think it will be that easy.” Even now, the thought of that man makes her blood run cold.
Kevin, who cannot help but overhear, looks troubled. He, too, wonders at what Skeen’s life has been like, that she can shrug such things off so quickly. He does not know much about the effects of rape on a woman’s mind, but he has a hard time believing that such an ordeal could not leave its marks. Then, she obviously feared this other man more; perhaps this one’s acts so overshadowed his minions that mass rape seemed easier to deal with in comparison. If so, Kevin shuddered to think what this one might be capable of.
Suddenly he blinks as a though occurs to him. Of course – why did he not think of this before? Granted, he had wanted to give Skeen space, since her rape occurred so recently, but he should have questioned her about the people there at the warehouse. Perhaps the others, such as this Matteo that Immerine seemed to hate so much, already did so, but he still needed to ask. “Skeen, would it be possible for me to ask you some questions about that?” he asks hesitantly. “If you’d rather not talk about it, I understand. But it might be important to know who that man was, and what he wanted from you. You said he wanted more than flesh – what did he take from you?” Kevin seems very troubled at the thought, and his worry briefly overcomes his compassion for her feelings.
Hopefully, this dandy of a paladin would not see this as insensitive, but if Kevin’s suspicions were true, this was an important question.
Skeen looks at Kevin curiously. “Nothing. I was to be a gift for him.” Skeen tries to think back and cannot control a slight shudder, even thinking about him. “I saw him once. He was… cold. I got the impression that he had no emotion at all and that I’d not be alive when I left him.”
Immerine watches Skeen as she just shrugs off what has happened to her. She says softly to Skeen, “I knew a man like that once. One who wanted more than blood. He wore this ring and I swore I would kill him for what he did. I never thought it would be possible to find him, but now I am not so sure. I do not know what this thing rape is, but you are right; flesh is only flesh. Those who want more are the true dangers.” Anger simmers behind her green orbs and her hand reaches to the ring she has hidden and clenches it in her fist.
Skeen nods. “I’ll tell you sometime if you really want to know. My guess is you don’t and I’m glad you don’t know,” Skeen says honestly. “I think it would harm you more than me.”
The amusement is still in Nik’s craggy face as he listens to the others converse, but he keeps glancing at Skeen and Telsom. He seems to miss Luna’s question entirely, his attention clearly on the paladin and the rogue. His sunken eyes fill with concern every time they fall on the Skeen, and his right hand tugs nervously at his scarf.
When Portia and Matteo arrive to offer the choice of adventures, Nik listens in silence, only his eyes revealing his fear. The tension between Matteo and Immerine lets some the fear slip into his expression, and he looks away quickly. To cover up his obvious distress the tall bard slinks back to where he left his guitar, fussing with the cover on the precious instrument in a blatant attempt to delay his own decision-making.
It is Skeen’s off-handed comment about her mistreatment at the warehouse that draws Nik’s attention back to the others. His gaunt face filled with horror, and his eyes are bright with shock and anguish. He swallows hard and shivers; then the determination returns to his sunken eyes, his left hand stealing to the worn, empty spot on his belt where his sword usually hangs. As he notices Telsom’s barely-contained fury Nik sighs, his hand falling back to his side. The tall man looks strangely dejected, his eyes bitter and full of the old self-loathing. It is, as if seeing Telsom appoint himself Skeen’s protector has opened yet another badly healed wound in the gaunt bard’s psyche.
Nik turns away and gathers up his leather-wrapped guitar, settling it across his back. The bard sighs again, and his slumped shoulders straighten as he gets a chokehold on his emotions. Turning back to the group, Nik offers them his old manic grin. “I guess I ought to go check out the ghost of the bard, shouldn’t I? After all, I’m even more worthless in the woods than I am in a fight. I’m sure the sounds of me blundering through the underbrush would give the outlaws you seek plenty of warning.” Nik’s smile is wryly mocking, his voice light and seemingly even amused again. However, his eyes betray him, glassy with terror at the thought of confronting the mill’s ghost.
Clearly, the tall bard’s sardonic remark about his own cowardice was not an exaggeration. He stares not at the faces of his friends, but at the wine glass in Matteo’s hand, his cheerful expression now a fixed rictus and desperation creeping into his frightened eyes.
Immerine looks over at the bard her face softening. “Nik, I made you something. Call it a tonic if you will. Just a little goes a long way. Take a single sip when you feel the need. It will send a rush into you. Since we will not be traveling together, I will give it to you now.” The witch fumbles in her pouch for the flask then passes it to Nik. “It is not as strong as the drink my sisterhood makes, since I do not have the right ingredients here. But it will definitely back your resolve without leaving you senseless.”
Nik’s head snaps around as Immerine speaks to him, clearly shocked that someone noticed his blatant fixation on Matteo’s glass. He swallows hard at the witch’s words, an embarrassed flush coloring his high cheekbones and shame replacing the desperate need in his eyes.
Unable to meet her eyes, Nik takes the flask from Immerine. His hand trembles, and he clenches his fist around the flask so tightly that his bony knuckles are white. Still staring at his battered boots, Nik mumbles “Thank you, milady.” He tugs at the scarf around his throat, the shame still stark in his hazel eyes. “I… ehm… I…” he swallows whatever he was about to say, and gives Immerine a wan, feeble smile. “What little courage I possess has come from a bottle for so long…” he tells her, his voice faint and thin and the bitterness raw in his dull eyes. “It’s hard enough for me to face the day without the comforting haze of alcohol, much less willingly put myself into danger. I’m not like you. I may never be like you.”
Nik suddenly seems to realize he is slipping back into his old self-abusive ways, and he forces the bitterness from his expression. “Sorry.” He mumbles, and then finally looks Immerine in the eye. “I may never be like you.” He says softly, determination now glittering in his sunken eyes. “But that doesn’t mean I have to be the same pathetic, worthless drunk I’ve been for most of my life.”
He carefully tucks the flask into one of the pouches cluttering his belt. Giving Immerine a hopeful smile, Nik adds, “Thank you again. I’ll need every bit of help I can get, I’m sure.”
“Nik,” chides Immerine softly, “I never want you to be like me. Never! I want you to be yourself. Your music and tales grow from who you are. You never have been worthless. You are an amazing man of many talents and a few vices. You are human, fallible and repentant. Each day is a new day and it takes more courage to meet the next dawn than you may know. Especially when you have suffered as you have. I am very fond of you, and would hate to see anything happen to you, if you became foolishly brave and obstinate like me. Be yourself. Run from danger and live to tell the tales of those who stayed to fight and die. They are the ones who need you, not the other way around.”
Skeen grins suddenly at Nik. “And you best come back alive since I won’t be there to protect you. I still owe you, Nik. I don’t forget my debts as they aren’t many.”
As everyone starts talking once more and the subject drifts from the topic at hand, Portia frowns. “I can understand trying situations,” she says. Looking at the elven rogue, her _expression softens a bit as she continues with, “I even have a good idea of what was in store for you, Skeen; I was in much the same situation a few days ago before Jez, Matteo, Immerine, Telsom and Tempest, the priest that died at that warehouse, were able to find me.”
“Did you see him?” Skeen asks suddenly and intensely. “Is he dead?”
Portia shakes her head. “I’m pretty sure I was being held for something, but I managed to get free before anyone of importance showed up. There was a man, but I think he was only a guard.” Portia shudders. “He won’t be bothering anyone else though.” With a wan smile, she adds, “they stripped me out of my armor, but they couldn’t take my god away from me. I still managed a couple spells that only needed my voice or my touch. It really is amazing how fast a man will go down if you catch him unawares…”
Then, blinking, she looks at the others about the table, embarrassed at having said the last bit out loud. “Ah, that didn’t exactly come out the way I meant it to,” she says, blushing.
Skeen either did not catch the joke or just did not care, as she slumps at Portia’s answer. “Some of us don’t even have to be asked first.” Telsom says with a chuckle, his good humor returning.
The redhead sighs laughingly at the irrepressible Telsom. “Regardless,” she says, looking about the table at friends, new and old, “we have decisions to make. Who will be going where to do what? I’ve been dwelling on the haunted mill for a couple days now and I’m anxious to get started.”
The redheaded priestess shifts some, her armor rasping lightly, and says, “I’d also like to sort out the gear that we have stored at the moment. I imagine some of that might be rather useful to our endeavors. Skeen has declined any portion of the gear,” Portia casts a curious look in the elf’s direction, devoid of her previous coldness, “but there are several of us here that have legitimate claims to a share. We need to decide that now.” Looking at Immerine and at the mages that joined them at the warehouse, Kevin and Tarim, she asks, “Were you able to sort out what all that stuff actually was?”
Kevin frowns. “Well, I’m certainly glad this man took nothing from you. However, not knowing what he wanted does not help us. Did you at least notice if he was a spellcaster or not?” He pauses. “That was not intended as a criticism,” Kevin says apologetically. “It simply strikes me that this man might be the one who created the darkenbeast and the skeletal warriors.”
“No,” Skeen says sarcastically, “But he wasn’t exactly wearing a sign that claimed his profession either. And my mind was on…other things.”
Then, turning to the red-haired Kelemvorite, “Yes, I managed to identify the magical items,” Kevin says to the cleric. “If you’d like, I can list them and their powers.” He begins rummaging through his pockets. “I wrote them down here somewhere…”
Kevin finally locates the rolled strip of parchment in a pouch hanging from his belt. Its surface covered in tight, neatly spaced writing; it seems the half-elf does not like wasting space. The wizard flips it over and around until he finds the place he had placed his notes on, and then clears his throat.
“Ah, the scrolls I identified previously, but I’ll repeat them now. There’s were two divination scrolls, one of which I used in the examination process. The other is a spell for listening in on thoughts; it’s formally called ‘detect thoughts’ but it’s also often called ‘mindtap.’ There’s a flight spell, a levitation spell, and a scroll of feather fall – not that it actually makes anything as light as a feather…” Kevin spoke that last bit in a slightly irritated tone, and then continued. “One makes things slippery, another misdirects divinations; then there’s a simple illusion spell and a different one to make someone invisible. Then, finally, a spell to enhance someone’s jumping ability and a scroll of mage armor – not real armor, though; but I’m sure that would be obvious.”
Kevin looks around to see if everyone is still with him. Hearing no questions, he continues. “The potions I had a slightly harder time with, but I managed it. There are two healing potions, one for spiritually empowering its drinker, and two illusionary potions – that is, one can allow you to alter your looks, and the other helps you blend into shadows. The last one was the most difficult, but I believe it’s a way to rejuvenate a weakened or cursed character.”
“There are also four wands; two cast the same spell – flame arc, or burning hands, depending on who you ask. Either way it’s the same spell. The third is a wand of magic missiles, which will likely be quite useful. And the last is a wand of minor healing, which I lack the skill to use but I’m sure won’t go to waste.”
“The one set of magical armor has simply an enhancement to its strength and protection, but the shield that came with it was enchanted with an extra property. Basically, it’s less likely to get in the way; it’s lighter and makes less sound even when struck.”
“The necklace grants immunities to most poisons, and the circlet enhances a person’s ability to interact with others. Finally, the crossbow is also enhanced, and can bestow a fire attribute to the bolts it fires.”
Kevin puts the list away. “The only item I was unable to identify was the ring, but Lady Immerine seems to want it in her possession anyway. I believe I understand why, now,” he says to the woman, giving her a respectful nod. He turns back to the group as a whole. “The rest are ordinary, though the armor is well-made, and there are several minor items that Tarim and I, as well as any other spellcasters, would find useful – the sort of thing we use in our spells.”
“Now, may I make a few suggestions as to where these things go?” Kevin asks slowly. “I’d like the wand of magic missiles to go to Tarim, if there’s no objection. The fire arc wands should go to those spellcasters who can withstand close combat, since the fire doesn’t reach very far – and, no offence, my friend,” he says to the barbarian, “but you are even less built for battle than I am, and that’s saying something.”
“As for myself, I found out on that rooftop how ill-prepared I am for the task I have set myself to. Granted, my spells had been selected for a day in a library, not in battle; a mistake I have since remedied. Even so, I’d like to be better armed.” He touches the staff he had since retrieved from the temple. “I’d prefer not to get so close as to have this as my only defense. So, could I perhaps have the crossbow? I know it’s a bit much to ask for such a newcomer as myself, but I thought I’d try anyway.”
Hearing the discussion on the items, Ditalidas indicates to Mumadar to bring the items forward. The innkeeper nods and moves out to instruct his staff to bring out the chests.
For once, the newcomer sits silently as the group talks among themselves as if to watch the interaction of several members. When others chime in for which part of the quest they wish to go on and the words woods slip from the “leader’s” mouth, Luna’s ears perk up as well as her face.
“Saer,” the wood elf huntress addresses Matteo, “I have knowledge about the woods and I would think my abilities in the bow and this sword to be an asset to the group who would travel there. I know I am yet to be ‘hired’ within your group’s service, but I offer skills up to your woodland group if there be no objections from them for me to join them.”
There seems to be a bit of electricity within the small, strong framed elf as the thought of another adventure vibrates through her mind and body. Her eyes float to those who have already spoken they would go to the woods instead of the mill.
“Fine by me,” Matteo replies with a shrug and a glance in Telsom’s direction to see if the paladin has any objections. Telsom nods. “Your presence and abilities will be an asset to our group huntress.” Telsom says as he looks up from his map to stare at the woman for a moment.
Teryn looks at Kevin carefully “Are you Tarim’s teacher in using a crossbow as well as using magic? He was quite helpful in wounding the darkenbeast on the warehouse roof with his crossbow and for that, I am grateful. I’d like to think you both could add significant aerial firepower to our battles whether by spell or bolt.” Looking over to Tarim, Teryn leans forward and squints at the finely detailed carving of the darkenbeast battle the sorcerer is carving “If you don’t mind I’d like to look closely at that carving when you are done, Tarim.” The warrior smiles warmly.
Tarim looks up at Kevin with a wry smile and nods “Melee combat and I don’t get along, that much is true. I think you have the best take on the situation as I am reasonably sure you are the better shot with the crossbow anyway.”
The barbarian-mage’s expression turns to one of surprise as Teryn shows interest in his carvings. “Certainly…” he says agreeably blowing the last of the shavings from the scene and handing the staff to Teryn. “I started that staff about 3 years ago for my father…” He drifts off and a slightly haunted look comes into his eyes. He shakes his head slightly and says, “The wood itself fell from the Grandfather Tree. It landed right in front of me…” The scenes depicted on the staff, range from Tarim’s birth to the battle with the darkenbeast; with all sort of pictures and symbols making up the scenes; some more intelligible to the warrior than others. That particular scene features Teryn as the larger figure slashing into the darkenbeast’s belly with a sword while spell and crossbow bolt fly over his shoulder.
The inn’s staff brought out the chests with the goods recovered from the warehouse and Jezbodiah opens them, eyes glinting in anticipation. A brief discussion follows to distribute the items amongst the team members, but things get arranged rather quickly and soon several of those gathered around are weighed down with the new possessions.
Rolling up the map, Telsom rises from his chair looking at those at the table. “So does anyone else wish to travel into the woods with us?” he asks those about the table. “And just as importantly does anyone have any objections concerning leaving today, say in two hours time?” Smiling, the paladin taps the rolled up map lightly against the palm of his other hand as he waits for answers.
“I’m ready now,” Skeen says with a shrug. “I might need to borrow some money though if we’re going to be on the road long. Food,” she says shortly, coloring at her embarrassment in having to ask for a handout.
“Shouldn’t be a problem.” Telsom says with a smile and a nod to the woman. “I have to run a few errands first to properly equip myself; that is the reason I will need some time before we leave.”
“Actually I do have a problem with that quick a departure. Tarim and I have to purchase a few supplies. After that, I will be ready to leave. It shouldn’t take two hours but I do not know how shopkeeps in this city are.” Immerine seems excited about the shopping trip but very uncertain at the same time.
“Well we can aim for two hours, if it takes longer then so be it. We can meet back here when we are all done running errands.” Telsom says smiling at the witch, his excitement about the upcoming adventure clear on his handsome face.
“I think we should be able to manage within 2 hours time or so…” Tarim offers diplomatically “Which means we should hurry, correct?” The mage stands slowly and stretches causing Ened’ome to spread her wings to balance. He eyes his staff in Teryn’s hands and waits patiently for its return as he gathers his gear and once again brushes his hair.
Jez looks at the other gathered at the table by the time the others are finished, and says, “Good Saer. May I see the map one last time? There’s a few things I would like to commit to memory.” Alanna the ferret, at this point, scampers onto the table and beings to lap vigorously from one of the used chalices.
“Certainly Jez.” Telsom says as he passes the map to the half-elf.
“I suppose we should also get moving,” Matteo says, looking at Portia. “We do not have as far to travel as the others, so will not need to burden ourselves with as much in the way of provisions. Any food we need we can collect by swinging past the guard barracks on the way out of town. Otherwise, I’m ready to leave now.”
Reaching into the depths of his black leather overcoat, Matteo extracts a small amount of coin, which he hands over to Telsom. “Here, this should take care of any mundane needs that you might have.” In his hand, he offers five gleaming platinum coins.
Skeen’s eyes widen at the show of wealth and she takes a step backward, wondering what it would be like to have all this wealth at one’s disposal.
Kevin silently counts the number of people in each group, then considers. Finally, he speaks up. “Since searching for these possible strongholds is likely to take some effort, it makes sense to have a number of people in that group – especially if you find something you might prefer to face with considerable preparation. However, since Immerine and Tarim are going with you, my presence would actually be rather redundant, wouldn’t it?” Kevin turns to Portia and Matteo. “I think my spells are best used in this mill, if you’ll have me. When do we leave?”
Telsom accepts the coins and nods his head in thanks. “Good luck Matteo, and the rest of you.” He says to those accompanying the Sembian.
“Thanks,” Matteo replies, a wry grin on his face. Turning to Kevin he adds, “We’d welcome your presence, Kevin.” Glancing around at the others he adds, “I think we’re leaving almost immediately, so if you have anything that needs doing I suggest you get started.”
Despite seeming to be lost in the carvings of Tarim’s staff, Teryn looks up at Immerine and matter-of-factly comments, “I’m from this town and know many of the merchants, I can help you speed things up if you would like. About all I need is some extra food.”
He looks over to Skeen to get her attention “Did I hear you say you were going with the forest group? I will pick up some food for you too, Skeen, if you don’t mind.” He smiles warmly at the young woman as he holds the staff towards Tarim. “By the way, some of you are ready to get moving right now yet you talked about the goods recovered from the warehouse but haven’t done anything but identify them. Don’t be too hasty.” Skeen nods. “If you like.” She answers casually.
“This is fascinating!” The fighter says with obvious appreciation for the fine carvings covering part of the staff. “I like the work you do, Tarim. Very nice.” There is one more question he asks Tarim rolling the staff carefully in his fingers and examination the artwork. “I can’t interpret everything here, where is the part where you lose your virginity?”
Tarim cracks a smile and nods, a bit of color rising to his cheeks. “Yes, though I wouldn’t describe it as ‘losing’ anything” he chuckles softly. “Aliania was a wonderful girl…”
Skeen colors, “Yes, well, men don’t, do they?” Turning to Telsom she adds, “I’ll be waiting outside.” She stands abruptly and walks out of the inn, slamming the door behind her. Telsom winces as the door slams and then gives a nervous laugh. “I’ll be out in a few moments.” He says to no one in particular.
Letting out a heavy sigh Tarim mumbles, “Not what I meant…” and puts his hand out for his staff, saying “Thanks” wryly. Watching the upset Skeen exit and slam the door, the warrior finishes handing the staff to Tarim “I don’t know who she is madder at, me for starting that line of conversation or you. You didn’t say anything to indicate it wasn’t consensual.” Teryn frowns as looks toward the door Skeen exited.
“Very well,” Kevin says easily. “Just allow me to fetch my equipment from my room. Do you have any idea how long we will be gone? I simply want to know if I should bother bringing my spellbook. If we’re likely to be gone overnight, I should take it and some of the rest of my equipment.”
“I imagine we’ll be gone for at least a couple of days, probably more,” Matteo replies, absently scratching his ribs and flexing his right knee. Putting his hands into the small of his back, he stretches his spine by briefly arching backwards.
“I see. Well, I’ll certainly prepare myself for that.” Kevin says, mentally running through what he would need to take with him. “I assume I can obtain bolts for my new crossbow at these barracks, yes? Then I’ll just be a few minutes.”
Kevin collects his staff and heads for the stairs. A moment later, an orange, black, and white blur shoots out of an overhead branch, startling those who had not known – or had forgotten – that the quiet tressym was even in the room anymore. Kethron flaps his wings twice as he zooms for his master, touching down on the third stair and running the rest of the way.
“Why don’t you head off now then, master Wisp?” Matteo replies, straightening from his stretching. “You should catch up with us at the barracks without any trouble and that’ll save us too many side trips on the way out of town.”
Standing from the table, Jez rolls up the map then coops Alanna the ferret – who obviously squeaks and squeaks loudly enough to protest her frequent handling – with one hand. Telsom holds out his hand for the map as Jez begins to ready himself to leave. Before Jez proceeds to retrieve his gear from the bar, he says, “One last thing, “I’ll need a horse.” With that, he hands over the map to Telsom and moves to the bar.
Nodding at Matteo’s words, Portia says, “Whenever everyone is ready. For those that need to take care of things,” she smiles at Jez, “those of us going to check the mill will meet at the barracks before leaving the city?”
“Just changing suits and checking something at home.” Jezbodiah replies, “I won’t be too long.”
Getting a surprised look on his face, Teryn mutters loudly to no one in particular but looks in the direction of Jez with an unfocused look to his eyes “Horse? I didn’t think about that. I don’t have a horse.” He then turns to Matteo, the clear focused look returning to his eyes “Are you providing horses?”
“We’ll see,” Matteo replies, “Can’t promise anything, but I should be able to manage a couple.”
The forest maiden watches the exchange between the warrior and mage as they discuss the excellent carvings upon the staff, but it only when the discussion of one’s virginity does a hint of laughter hit the emerald colored orbs. This tinge of amusement vanishes quickly when the young moon elf seems to leave in an erupt manner. With a bit of heavy sigh, Luna rises from her chair, looks to Telsom, and speaks, “I am ready when you all are for I believe I am stocked and ready to go.”
Areo removes his head from Immerine’s lap and quickly makes his way to his partner’s side. Large tail wagging with the new excitement and pink tongue hanging from his mouth, Areo sits down at Luna’s side.
Nodding to the woman, Telsom looks to Immerine and gives her three of the five platinum pieces. “I’ll be back long before the two hours have come and gone.” With a nod to the party as a whole, the paladin moves to join Skeen outside offering Ditalidas a polite smile before he leaves.
Immerine looks down at the shimmering coins her lip quivers a bit, “How did you know?” She looks up at Telsom. “Thank-you,” she whispers and takes her staff in hand and nods at Tarim and Teryn that she is ready to go shopping.
Immerine purses her lips then suddenly changes her mind and hurries after Skeen her hand closing on the coins. She says over her shoulder, “I’ll wait in the stable.” Teryn raises an eyebrow at the exchange between Telsom and Immerine but says nothing. When Immerine says she is ready, he stands and stretches his legs. “If you can tell me what you need, I’ll do my best to help you find it” he smiles warmly at the woman. The warrior scans the group and glances back at Immerine then the group again then adds, “Is anyone else coming besides you and Tarim?”
“On the shopping trip? I think Tarim and I are the only two going where we need to go. I need ink, quills and something to write on – if you know the best place for this let me know. I, need to talk to Skeen. I’ll meet you outside near the stables.” Immerine finishes her trip across to the door and outside.
Kevin speaks from behind the two, having returned without most seeing him, “I don’t believe it has anything to do with you.” He says quietly. “At least, other than the fact that you’re males. She may claim it’s nothing, but raped women have often blamed men simply for being that gender. I don’t think it’s personal.”
“To assume to know what a woman is feeling or thinking at any given time is beyond us mortal men. It’s best not to go by assumptions because every day in a season, you’ll be wrong except for once, and on that day the woman will deny your intuition just to keep you in your places. Love women for what and who they are, try to anger them as little as possible and keep them smiling. You’ll live longer if you do.” Telsom says as he stops on his way to the door for a minute to address the men discussing Skeen’s departure, the paladin then resumes his move to join Skeen.
“You people know how to make people feel unwelcome,” Jez says. A tang of regret heard in his voice. “I’m off to change. Matteo, I’ll meet you at the barracks.” As the half-elf rogue exits, the half-elf wizard, Kevin, hefts the pack he had brought down with him. “Well, I’m ready. Shall we go?”
Nodding, Matteo reaches for the last of his wine and drinks the remaining liquid in his glass. “Might as well,” he replies and turns to head for the door.
* * *
Immerine hurries outside and up to Skeen, “Please, wait!” The witch walks forward and hands Skeen the platinum coins. Here, take these. I have three others I got from ‘Lord Ashgale’ when I saved his life. You have even less in this world than I do. So please, buy yourself what you need.”
Skeen stands outside, not near the stables, as she has no horse. She waves the money away with something like a feigned cocky smile. “I’ll get more, Lady. I am in enough debt to you all as it is. I thank you though. Perhaps we shall encounter riches in the forest and then I can claim a share.”
There is a flash of anger across Immerine’s face and she takes a deep breath, “Skeen, I am not going to pretend to understand why you choose to refuse this. I am not a Lady. I am a – Witch of Rashemen. I am not being kind I am being practical. You need food, supplies and a weapon to be a part of this escapade. I need supplies. I have three coins just like these three. We come out even. You owe me nothing. Not even for being rescued. You simply needed someone to help you and we did. Your accompanying us on this trip is payment for this debt you feel you owe us. The information you have already gathered has been helpful, though the ones you gave it to, are stilted and insensitive. Take the coins and be a part of the group.”
Something close to a smile flickers across Skeen’s face. “I have all but the food… Witch, Immerine?” she says, wondering what the woman wishes to be called. “I hate owing people. Maybe you understand that. And I don’t care how sensitive the others are. Just brought back some bad childhood memories is all.”
“If you insist, I’ll take your money, but I will repay it, when you least expect it. Otherwise, since someone offered to buy me food, that’s all I really need at the moment.” She glances behind Immerine, seeing Telsom coming out the door. “Here comes one now,” she adds under her breath. “If he treats me like glass, so help me I’m going to kick him somewhere.”
“It isn’t my money,” Immerine smiles. “I understand better than you may think. Call me Immerine, I will call you Skeen.” Immerine looks over her shoulder at the approaching paladin, “You could always ask me to help, I am sure my horse would oblige you in kicking.” Immerine’s smile gets a bit larger and she warms to the aloof elven figure. “I should get Qwenta and wait for the two following after me too. Luck to you with the paladin.” Immerine starts walking to the stable after she gives the coins to Skeen.
Skeen snorts a sudden burst of laughter. “It would probably hurt your horse.” She then watches as Telsom nears. “And just like that… I drive away the ladies.” Telsom says with a smile to Skeen as he approaches her. “Care to come shopping?” After a moment, Skeen nods. “Yes, Immerine gave me money to use. Will I need a horse? I’ve not ridden much and am no expert.” Skeen scowls at the thought. “I can buy food though.”
Telsom shrugs his shoulders at Skeen’s question. “If you don’t have a horse, you can share mine, or one of the other’s.” He responds with a look over his shoulder towards the door. “If we can get a good trade out of this trinket, we should be able to get both a find chain shirt for myself and a horse for you… with coin to spare.” Telsom holds up the periapt that was his cut of the loot. “I’d prefer to hold on to it, since its effects would come in quite helpful but there are other concerns to deal with that take precedence.”
“Hold on to it then. I don’t need a horse of my own. I can walk, for that matter.” Skeen mutters.
“Whether you accept the gift or not, this trinket will not be in my possession by the time our two hours are up. I was given a fine suit of armor by Ashgale and the street rat but I find it too constrictive, my movement hampered by its cumbersome bulk. A shirt of mithril links will provide me nearly the same amount of defense and won’t hamper me in the least. If I can find suitable armor, my current suit will go to Teryn the wolf.” The last said with a small smile.
Skeen rolls her eyes. “Mr. Virginity,” she mutters, under her breath.
“You seem well learned in the ways of men and women so I’m sure what I’m about to say is all old news to you Lightfingers.” With a playful smile, Telsom continues. “Men in general love to tell and hear tales of other men’s exploits, most often times they are, if not embellished, complete fabrications but none the less they are told. I don’t claim to understand how the minds of women work, and I thank Sune every day for that because that mystery is part of what makes life worth living. Men and women are very different, although I have heard women talk of men before and by all that is holy it even made my cheeks turn red… where we embellish they tend to stick to the facts, and share those facts down to the smallest or largest details as it may be in some cases.” Continuing to smile, Telsom shrugs his shoulders. “While I can understand the question made and the response given I think it was probably a conversation that would have best been left until it was at least just the boys within ear shot…said conversation will likely be highly entertaining and I hope that I am a part of the group when it is brought up. Never fear, the loveliness that is Skeen will more than likely be brought up.”
Skeen shrugs. “I could care less what you all talk about or how big your dicks are or how many women you’ve slept with. It just made me remember something and I wanted air.”
“Understandable.” Telsom says without prying for details. “I’ve only been to one smithy so far so that’s where I plan on heading first… unless you have other places in mind to go to.”
“Ah, you lead. I’m used to that,” Skeen quirks a grin. “Most of my time here wasn’t spent on the street, though I do know the way to your friend’s house now.” She sobers again for a moment. “I remembered something else about him,” she says suddenly. “I saw his right hand. It looked more claw-like than human, covered with scales.” Cold sweat beads on Skeen’s skin at the memory and she cannot control another shudder, her eyes almost unfocused as she speaks.
“I will kill this beast that haunts you Skeen.” Telsom says in small yet reassuring voice. “With my luck, he’s already dead,” Skeen mutters, “yeah, but thanks.”
Berdusk 1371 DR, Eleint, 13th day (The Maiming – Tyr), mid morning
It is about halfway during the morning hours when the decision to split up and investigate the two different leads made and the group is splitting up. Ditalidas informs the group that she will not venture with them outside of Berdusk. The memories of the attack still a little too fresh in the young lady’s mind and the exact threat not known. She promises to continue following any leads that she can find within the city’s walls and somehow find a way to communicate that back to the two groups.
The halfling priestess of Ilmater makes her decision clear as well. For the moment, she will stay at Marc’s side to tend to the young lad’s suffering and see that he recovers from the ordeal at the warehouse. It is then that Ditalidas Jalarghar offers the hospitality of the Jalarghar Spires so both Marc and Emlyn can stay within the guarded compound.
Those that will investigate the Haunted Mill arrange to meet at the guard barracks, where Matteo will arrange some additional equipment and supplies, the others go out for necessary shopping and agree to meet around noon for their departure towards the Reaching Forest.
In the town rumors on the events at the warehouse circulate freely, with wild speculations on who is behind all the events and what terrible things transpired within the city’s walls. Despite the popularity of ‘those who harp’ within Berdusk, there is also some grumbling about their performance, though nothing as far as dissent.
* * *
After the cold spell with the snow and mist of the past days, the day of departure is a pleasantly cool early autumn day, between a blankets of white fluffy clouds patches of blue sky is visible, and all signs appear that the day will remain dry. At the barracks Matteo has been able to arrange for transportation, the Sembian leading several horses – including two pack animals – by their reigns to the others waiting.
The lanky bard looks fearfully at the four-legged animals, but with some coaching from Puddy – once more invisible on the bard’s shoulder – and some of his newfound inner strength, the bard seems to build some resolve and prepares himself mentally to ride.
The red-haired priestess of Kelemvor is almost unrecognizable, wearing her newly acquired armor. With the large hand-and-a-half sword on her back, Tempest’s mace on her belt, and Kelemvor’s symbol prominently displayed on her tabard, she is armed and ready for the mission.
Jezbodiah has changed into a suit of new chainmail, and he appears ready for the journey; his familiar perched on a shoulder curiously peeking about at the martial looking activity in the castle’s lower bailey. As the half-elf waits for the horses, he admires the magical crossbow, testing the cocking and release mechanism.
The least martial looking of the group – with Nik armed with a sword and Puddy remaining invisible – Kevin looks slightly out of place, though it does not seem to bother the scholarly wizard. Reading over some recent entries in his spellbook, the wizard looks up as the horses grooms bring the horses. Packing the book carefully away into the pack at his feet, the half-elven wizard takes hold of the reigns of one of the pack animals to load his precious supplies on.
When all the gear is stowed away and the riders mounted, the team of ghost hunters rides out of the bailey. From a balcony above, a female figure – Captain Zaina – regards the departure and another familiar face salutes the group as they pass through the gates. “Safe travels, and may Helm watch over you all.” Lieutenant Aluar says before moving back into the gatehouse.
* * *
Around noon, the courtyard of the Running Stag once more sees some frantic activity as the second group prepares for departure. Qwenta, Immerine’s horse is visibly eager to be out of the stable again. The agitation of the stallion is infecting the other animals, making them restless. The Sunite paladin is sitting comfortably on his own steed, though he too has to keep a reign on the animal to prevent it from moving out, as the others are stowing away gear and prepare for mounting. No longer is Telsom wearing the banded mail armor, found in the ruined cabin, it appears he is unarmored underneath his tunic, though as he shifts on his mount a silvery glint of some mail or other can be seen.
The mystery of the armor solves itself soon as Teryn appears from the Running Stag’s stable, leading his own horse. The warrior is wearing the paladin’s old suit of armor and despite the difference in size between the two men, the armor fits perfectly.
Mumadar has provided Tarim with two mules, one to ride on, and the other as a pack animal for his supplies. The young barbarian wizard appearing slightly discomforted around the animals, but resolved to master them. Areo’s presence does not make it easier for the animals to quiet down. It is only when Luna – astride on her own black steed – moves towards the courtyard’s gate with the wolf on her heels, that finally the riding and pack animals become calm enough to be mounted.
Seeing everyone else mounted, the elven woman who appears without a mount adjusts the straps of her pack and the longsword at her belt. Skeen then looks up at both Teryn and Telsom. As if weighing the two options she stands for a moment in thought, then with a smile she makes her decision and steps up to Telsom. “I’ll accept your invitation – for now.”
With the clatter of hooves on the cobblestones of Berdusk’s streets, the small group makes their way towards the ‘Wood’s Gate’. After settling his supplies on one mule, Tarim manages to mount the other with some small difficulty. As soon as the group is on its way out of the town, he produces a longhorn from his pack and sets to playing a gentle tune while trying to compensate for the bounce of the mule’s gait. He seems to know the tune and plays it fairly well – for a non-bard anyway. For those who know such things it is an old simple elvish lullaby-type song very pleasing to the ear and easy to play.At first, the mage eyes the bard carefully looking for approval but gradually gets more comfortable with time. Under the cloak of his hair, Tarim watches Immerine thoughtfully.
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