Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 3

Madame Freia finds Rowan after her performance and happily tells her that she is welcome to play at the tavern when she is able.  In addition, she informs Rowan that her room tomorrow evening, should she wish to stay again, will be free. The night wears on as everyone becomes acquainted with each other over pints and drinks.  Eventually, the other patrons slowly peel off to their rooms or the streets.

The newly acquainted adventurers are preparing to bunk down for the evening in their shared room when one of Freia’s daughters peeks inside. She enters, looking nervous or excited when Sebastian opens the door wide.

“Pardon my interruption,” says the Halfling, a girl named Reece, just shy of adulthood. “A chap just came into the common room downstairs and asked me to fetch you. Something about some coin needing to change hands for an easy job.”

She plays with her curly red hair nervously. “Mother said to fetch you lot, who’ve just put your name down on the board. Best get yourselves dressed for work if you want to earn some coin.” She eagerly waits to see what the answer will be.

Rowan sits on her bunk, brushing her long hair as Reece delivers her message. Thinking to herself that if she’d had a sister, perhaps she’d have been like Reece, she smiles up at the slightly younger woman. “Oh, thank you! We’ll be right down!” She leaps to her feet and puts her comb away in her bag. She dons her leather armor, straps her rapier to her hip, and looks through her bag to see what else she might need.

She sits lacing up her boots while the others gather their things. She grins mischievously at Sebastian, “Let the adventure begin!” She knows she shouldn’t be so excited, because an urgent mission most often meant that someone was in dire trouble. But she can’t help herself. She wants so badly to help people, and was so eager to see her new friends in action. She begins humming a melody as she finishes lacing her boots, and attaches her flute and a few other things to her belt.

Sebastian wastes no time in gathering his adventuring gear and his prized spell book, wrapped in wax sealed leather. His arcane focus, a clear Crystal orb with circling mist inside as well as his healing kits. He looks to the others. “We better bring some torches, I for one can’t see a lick in the dark. Also if you don’t mind I would like to perform a benediction, asking for blessings from Aesis, Geaos and any other gods you worship for this our first quest as an adventuring company. Do we need a name? Like “The Shields of Starvale” or anything else for that matter. “

“Yes, Rowan bring your pipes, we may need them, or those we find may.” He gives her a knowing wink. “Yes, let the adventure begin!”

“The Shields of Starvale,” Rowan muses, as she adds her healing kit to her sack. Or perhaps ‘The Guardians of Starvale’ or, since we might adventure in other places, perhaps something more generic.” She suddenly smiles at Sebastian, “I love that you want us to have a name. It makes us sound almost like family!”

She comes nearer to Sebastian and says, “I would welcome any blessing you care to impart. As for torches, I agree. I cannot see in the dark either, although, if our torches run out, I can help with that.” She gives him a saucy wink, whistles a few notes, and four bright motes of light surround them, each about the size and brightness of torchlight. She sends them to the four corners of the room, and watches them with pleasure. Rowan still finds the thrill of magic new and exciting, and almost can’t believe that she can bend the forces of nature to her will. She lets the lights flicker, and grins at the men. “Shall we?” and she gestures flamboyantly at the door.

“We shall” Vellk stands grabs his dark stained deer skin rucksack that he acquired while ransacking an orcish encampment a while back. A well-made pack is a life saver at times. Finally, he checks his battle axe, settling the well balanced weapon at his hip.

“I knew there was a reason I liked you so much” he leans down and gives Rowan a small kiss on her cheek and whispers “Those lights are beautiful.” Standing back up to his full height, he motions to Vellk then gives the proper salute. He asks everyone to gather hands and bow heads in respect.

“Aesis, goddess of magic, hear our petitions. Know we come to you to seek your blessings. This world is yours and we would be lost without your very essence, please tell Geaos he still has worshipers as well. Please give our spells potency to overcome our foes and bring fame to your name. Lend strength to our weapons and magic to our days. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do.”

After respectfully bowing his head to receive the blessing, Hajima turns his mind to more practical matters. He sets aside his backpack but still leaves the shoulder pouch on. He takes out a pair of hip quivers and straps them to his belt. He then removes a third set of crossbow bolts and puts them loosely into his pouch, along with a smaller kit that clinks metallically. Throwing back his long leather coat, he loosens a military issue rapier in a sheath behind his back. Putting on his wide-brimmed hat again, he picks up the long wooden case with a soft grunt and nods at the group with an eager grin.

“Well, folks, it looks like it’s finally time for a bit of action. Let’s see what this night has in store for us!”

As they move to the common room, they see a hooded figure alone at a large table. The figure motions to them as they descend the stairs. The figure keeps its face obscured by his hood and speaks in a low voice, obviously disguising it. He greets them, throwing back the hood to reveal himself as an older half-elf with greying brown, shoulder length hair. He refuses to provide a name, but identifies himself as a member of the Weavers, an organization dedicated to fighting evil wherever it hides. He wears a brooch that confirms his ties to the Weavers, a tiny silver loom strung with golden wire.

“Greetings, adventurers. I have a task that I believe could be well suited to you, however it must be done tonight.” He stuffs and lights a wooden pipe. “The Weavers have captured a merchant that was going to illegally purchase a red dragon egg. We want your group to pose as the merchant and his hirelings.  If you accept the mission, you must go to the buy site, make the transaction, and place a magical pin on one of the sellers so that Weavers can track them back to their lair.”

“The captured merchant that the sellers has a scarred face, an older human male. We believe that the sellers have not seen the man and could therefore be duped by an imposter. The rest of you could act the roles of bodyguards, assistants, porters, and so forth.” The Weaver produces a small sack of fake diamonds that should be used to buy the egg. “These fake gems are basically worthless, but good enough to pass a cursory inspection.  We don’t expect that these buyers are overly intelligent.”

“At some point during the exchange, one of you must place a small silver pin infused with magic on the seller or one of the crew. Once that is done, we can more easily scry on the sellers and learn more about their operation.” Seeing their interest piqued he takes draws upon his pipe and blows a lazy smoke ring.

He continues outlining the plan. “No real names are used in these types of transactions, so the two parties should refer to each other as buyer’ and ‘seller’ which will make things much easier for you.”

Seeing that several of the adventurers have questions, he holds up his hand, announcing he will not hear questions until he outlines the job completely.  “Wait until you have heard me out entirely before asking questions.  There is more to come and I abhor repeating myself.”

“Once the transaction is complete you are to bring the egg back to the stables behind the Boiling Kettle, where will meet you and take possession of it.  Under no circumstances should you fight the sellers or harm the egg. The point is to track the sellers, so killing or capturing them is counterproductive.  For completing the task successfully and as instructed I will pay two hundred gold pieces.”

He leans forward, exhaling smoke out his nostrils and as he does so, a log snaps with a loud crack in the fire, settling suddenly and sending a shower of sparks up the chimney.  “So, are you up to it? Time is of the essence as the meeting is scheduled to take place at midnight, which as you all know is not far away.”

Hajima listens patiently and attentively while the Weaver outlines the mission details. Once the briefing is concluded, he nods and says “I’m in. I think myself and my new friends here are more than capable of handling this task. I’m not the handsomest or prettiest face in the bunch, nor the quickest of wit, if’n you catch my meaning. My skills lie elsewhere. So I’m probably best suited as the bodyguard or porter. However, I do have some quick hands when the need arises, and I may be able to plant that pin for you.” Hajima then looks to the others to see if they also accept the mission and what roles they feel best suit them for completing the objective.

Rowan looks thoughtful. “Well, if the merchant is expected to be a man, I certainly cannot play that role, but I will help in any way that I can.” Looking up at all the tall men around her, she laughs and winks at her friends, both new and old. “I don’t suppose I look much like a bodyguard either! Perhaps I could be the merchant’s assistant.”

“Perhaps Vellk’s battle wounds are sufficient to convince these nefarious scoundrels that he is this buyer.” mutters Tuskor, with a slow glance to Vellk. “I would perhaps be best suited as a protector of such a man, however, it might be wise to speak with the captive first. Just so as we’re clear as to what our ruse must entail.”

The agent speaks at this, “The merchant has been spoken to by Weaver agents and I have relayed their findings. There is no time to go to the merchant’s current whereabouts and if we did he’d most likely have been moved on. Such is our cautious way.”

Rowan’s brow furrows, “Sir, having never seen one before, just exactly how large is a dragon’s egg? And can we carry one without raising suspicions on our return? We might need a container for it, and, well …” She pauses while she thinks a moment. “How fragile is it? Is it anything like a chicken’s egg? Because carrying something like that …” Again she pauses, obviously concerned. “I wouldn’t want it to break.”

Hajima speaks up while Tuskor ponders the nature of dragon eggs. “Very well. I will play the role of porter and attendant then. Who among us shall plant the pin on this scoundrel once we make contact?” Hajima looks at Sebastian. “Perhaps our spellcasting friend here has the nimblest fingers for such a delicate task?”

“I wouldn’t worry little one, imagine how tough a chicken egg would be if a chicken grew to the size a dragon”. Tuskor turns to the others “Very well, are we all prepared? Vellk will pose as this human buyer, whilst Rowan is his assistant and Hajima in possession of these diamonds”.

Tuskor glances over to Sebastian “We shall hang back as bodyguards, perhaps we could simply attach the pin to the bag of diamonds if the risk of being caught is too great?”

Vellk looks up, his brow furrowed and faces the Weaver. “Sir are there any identifying marks so we are not duped in much the same way we are doing to them. Does the egg even matter since the pin seems to be the focus?”  He grins, striking a theatrical pose. “Friends, I have often thought about acting out a grand performance.  I shall take on the challenge, there was this play once in my youth where I played a grand oak…”

Sebastian smiles, “I am light on my feet and nimble of finger; I would be happy to plant the pin my friends.”  He pauses for a moment in thought, “However Malachi may be able to be our best bet in getting the pin planted or slipped into a bag.” He motions to where his invisible friend is. “Malachi is very helpful I would be glad to assist.”

Tuskor nods at this suggestion and then looks around cautiously; wondering if the conjuration is nearby. “How long does this sorcery of your last?”

“Until I see this ‘invisible friend ‘ I will question your sanity sir.” Vellk says, smiling mischievously.

“It lasts for an hour each time I draw him from the ethereal plane. I can summon him with a ritual which doesn’t deplete my reserve, or I can summon him in an instant if the need arises. “

Vellk abandons his levity, becoming serious.  “He sounds like he might be of some use. Can he hold a torch when we don’t need him to be so sneaky?”

“Just imagine. A real dragon egg. I do think it must be important not to let a red dragon get into evil’s hands. Perhaps we should do this. Whoever gets the egg, quickly put it in my knapsack if it will fit. Then, if things go sideways, I can get it away while the rest of you cause a distraction. I am very small, and am easily overlooked when there are big people around.” While saying this, Rowan takes her very flamboyant, curly, red hair; twists it into a rope, and quickly pins it on top of her head in a loose bun with a couple of sticks.

“That way we can ensure that both parts of our mission have the best chance of success.” She looks earnestly up at the others, for once looking quite serious. Amazingly, she actually looks different without her flamboyant motions and expressions and hair, and the others can see that she might be able to slip into the night unnoticed.

“It seems as though we have a strategy, and if that fails I’m sure we are capable enough to thwart these sellers”. Tuskor turns back to their task-giver “Where is this meeting place again? We shall leave at once.”

“Our plan is sound. The instructions were to avoid a confrontation, if possible, else the Weaver’s hand will be tipped. If there is a problem, we must make it look natural and not at all staged. Perhaps a distraction, so that Rowan and Sebastian can complete their critical roles.” Hajima ponders a moment. “A clumsy attendant such as myself, or an overly sensitive bodyguard could do the trick and divert cautious eyes.”

Hajima looks at each member of the group and sees the resolve in their eyes. “I believe we are all set then. Gods – or goddesses – willing, we shall succeed and earn ourselves some easy coin and a new tale to tell.” He then looks back to Tuskor. “And if our contact here dares to play us false, well… Let’s just say that we will have ourselves a proper reckoning later.” Hajima pats the wooden case at his side suggestively and peers intently at the Weaver. “We will find him. And he will sincerely regret crossing us. This I can guarantee.”

“I do not think that will be necessary Hajima.”  Tuskor says, meeting the mysterious Weaver’s eye.

Hajima then blinks and smiles at the group once more. “Shall we be off then? Midnight is fast approaching.”

“I am ready, if we have all the information we need then let’s get moving.  Time is of the essence.” Sebastian moves to the door opens it and holds it for his companions.

Rowan winks at Sebastian as he holds the door, and says quietly, “At the right moment, perhaps you, with your invisible servant, will be inspired to a wee bit o’ extra stealth.” She smiles brightly, and then schools her face into a more neutral expression as she leaves the inn.

Tuskor nods at the half-elf and walks out the door.

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