Part 3: Chapter TwoAria wakes to the smell of freshly baked bread and the chipper voices of Mariam and Sapphire. Golden shafts of sunlight stream through the window beside her bed, and she idles for a moment before getting up, watching the dust float in the air in the morning light. Eventually, the low voices of Deepmind and Urk cause her to stir, and with a yawn and a stre-etch, she rises from bed and prepares for the day ahead.
She waves to her two roommates, pouring over a scrap of parchment, before stepping into the hall to see Braxton entering as well. The Orc gives a polite smile and nod. "Morning." Aria is just about to respond when Mariam comes around the corridor from the direction of the common room.
"Good, you're awake! Breakfast is ready. It's a real feast!" exclaims Mariam eagerly. "Come on! It'll get cold if you just dawdle in the hall." With that, Mariam takes Braxton's hand and drags her - well, Braxton allows herself to be dragged - toward the common room.
Minar steps into the hall from the men's shared room, adjusting his belt. "What was that about?"
"Nothing, just breakfast. Come on, let's grab a plate before Urk can get at it."
"Another serving of honest country fare," Minar mutters, but Aria can detect a hint of anticipation. She can't help but smile at his commitment to the act.
The two descend the stairs to the sunken common room. Sapphire is setting a table with plates. Mariam ushers Braxton to a long table where Athtar and Urist are already eating, and they both sit. Aria and Minar take seats across from one another and examine the feast that Sapphire has prepared - large yellow eggs, thick slices of brown toast, juicy ham steaks, and seasoned, pan-fried potatoes.
"Good morning Aria, Minar," says Athtar as he butters a slice of toast. "Are you well rested?"
"Well enough," grunts Minar, who gives Urist a sidelong look. "Urist, did you comb your hair?"
"Mhm?" The Dwarf stops fiddling with his beard. "Sorry, what? No, no, I don't think so."
As they scoop food on to their plates, Sappire returns with two large pitchers - one filled with creamy milk and the other with freshly squeezed juice.
After checking on the other patrons, Sapphire returns and sits at the table with the party. "So what brings you to Dragonholt? Have you come in search of love? Or-" Sapphire gasps and glances around before leaning in close. "Are you here for revenge?"
Braxton coughs and strikes her chest with a fist, having choked on a bit of potato, and Mariam begins laughing. "The love of theatrics runs in the family, I see," mutters Braxton after a drink of milk.
Sapphire blushes lightly and looks back to the party. "Forgive me. Perhaps I gossip with the neighbors a bit too much."
First to one vote
A) Visiting an old friend
B) Just looking for the next adventure
C) Hoping to find gainful employment
D) [Empathy] Perhaps searching for love
E) [Performance] Vengeance!
(First thing to note about being in the village vs. being on a quest - choices in Dragonholt proper do not exhaust activation. I'll still pick who does what action, but having someone make one choice does not make them unavailable for other choices)
Aria glances around as if checking if anyone is listening before leaning in. Sapphire and Mariam also lean closer, and in a low voice, Aria says, "I seek vengeance on the man who killed my father."
Braxton's eyes go wide as she looks at Aria, and Mariam and Sapphire cover their surprise wit a hand. The rest of the party have the decency to keep a straight face. "What-" starts Sapphire, louder than she intended, before stopping herself and glancing around. She continues in a whisper, "What happened? What do you plan to do?"
Aria tries not to let her grin show on her face as she continues. "I was young when it happened, but I dedicated my life to the art of combat. So the next time I see him, I will say to him, 'Hello. My name is-" Just then, she is interrupted by the sound of bells signaling someone entering the inn. Mariam and Sapphire nearly jump out of their seats from the shock.
"Goodness!" exclaims Sapphire as she gets up and hurries to welcome the new patron.
Mariam looks at Aria with wide eyes, "Is all of that true?"
"Must be just a story to get a rise out of Sapphire. Your father wasn't actually killed, right?" asks Braxton, but the concern on her face indicates that she believes her.
"Would've made running away to start a music career easier," mutters Minar to Aria, who lets her grin slip out.
"MORNING," Urk calls from the stairs, wasting no time by closing with the breakfast spread and digging into the ham.
Deepmind follows in her wake and hands Celyse's letter back to Athtar. "There was a message in the letter after all." She lowers her voice to a whisper. "'Plot to kill noble family'. Celyse must've been worried whoever's responsible is having her watched."
"I feared as much. Good work decoding the message."
"URK SOLVED IT," the Orc casually adds before downing a whole egg. "THOUGH CONTENTS OF MESSAGE SEEMED OBVIOUS TO URK, BASED ON SUBTEXT AND CONTEXTUAL CUES."
The table is quiet for a moment as her statement sinks in, apart from the crunch of eggshells under Orc teeth.
"Well," continues Athtar. "We should waste no more time in making contact. I will go to the manor presently and speak with Celyse. It would be better we not go all at once, to avoid drawing overmuch attention."
"Then maybe the rest of us can explore the village?" Aria waves broadly with her glass of juice. "You know, get the lay of the land, that sort of thing."
Deepmind climbs up to the table and begins pocketing bits of breakfast for later. "Whatever we do, don't travel alone. The Swan seems safe enough, but until we know what we're dealing with, we should play it safe."
After breakfast, the party returns to their rooms to grab what they'll need before venturing into the village for the day. When they return to the common room, Braxton is also about to set out. Many of the patrons have dispersed since breakfast, but a few remain in the common room, reading or mingling with one another. Mariam is nowhere to be seen.
"If you have any questions about Dragonholt, don't hesitate to ask me," says Sapphire.
"Where has Mariam gone off to?" asks Braxton.
"Oh, that child couldn't wait any longer and ran off to see the old apothecary's shop." Sapphire shakes her head. "Even if she buys it, it'll be some time before it's up and running. Nasty fire, it was. Lorimor fire is nothing to take lightly."
"Thank you for your kindness, lady Sapphire," says Athtar, approaching their host. "Could you provide us with directions to the Fairfax manor? We have some business there."
Sapphire's face shifts to match his more serious mood. "Of course. The manor is just north of here. If you walk around to the north side of the block and look north you can't miss it. Big fancy buildings on the hill." Sapphire tilts her head slightly. "Is everything alright, dear?"
"Absolutely. Please, don't worry about us." The Elf nods to his companions.
"Thank you for your hospitality, Sapphire," says Braxton as she opens the door to leave.
"Of course, hon," replies Sapphire. "Good luck with the guards!"
Braxton smiles and nods before leaving. The party is just about to depart themselves when Sapphire stops them. "Oh! I almost forgot. If you're going around Dragonholt without a map, you might get lost. It's a small village, but some of the alleyways are a real labyrinth." She produces a folded piece of parchment and lays it out on the counter.
"Let's see," she mutters and scans the map. "Ah, here we are!" She marks a spot on the map with "the Swan." She spends a moment marking numerous other locations for convenience. "Here you are. Don't lose it now," she says she folds up the map and hands it to Athtar. "If you have any other questions about Dragonholt, come back and ask me."
The encounter is complete
(Now things open up - each day in the village is split into eight time units, tracked on the tracker in the second post. The first two units are the morning, the second two are the afternoon, then two for evening and two for night. Time advances by completing 'encounters' in the village which normally start by choosing a location from the map. Once the day runs out of time (or we return to the Swan and go to sleep), we read the entry closing the day and moving on to the next.
The available locations to visit from the map are:
-The Northern Road
-The Dragon Statues
-The Willow Grove
-The Eastern Road
-The Village Green
-The Drunken Hog
-The Countess Inn
-The Village Hall
-The Guard Station
-The Apothecary Shop
-The Chatty Archer
Quite a few stops, huh? Also, some locations are only open part of the day - businesses are usually closed by the 5th or 6th time unit, while pubs typically don't open until the 5th. Different things happen at different locations at different days, so try to make note of upcoming events.
A few general tips:
1) The Village Hall has notices and posters up about things going on in the village, and going there never uses up time.
2) Visiting the Swan in the daytime lets us ask Sapphire a lot of general knowledge questions about the village and the people in it, visiting it at night can be a good way to wrap up a day
3) While exploring the village we might pick up leads on sidequests. Some of these will be presented to us directly by the main story, while others are entirely optional and can be done at any time.
4) A lot of locations offer opportunities for training, which will let us spend that XP we earned on more skills, but we'll tackle that when we get to it.
Okay, that's enough of a tutorial for now!)
First to two votes
A) Head to the Fairfax Manor to meet with Celyse
B) Check out the village hall
C) Report the bandit activity to the guard station
The guard station is used as a meeting place for the village guard and a place to store the few implements of war the village has. An attached annex accessible only from outside serves as a jail cell, though it is rarely used. Behind the building is a training area with several training dummies.
A dull thwack sounds as Minar circles around to the rear of the guard house. "Keep your shield up!" calls a gruff voice.
"My shield is fine," drawls another. Two guards, both human, are sparring with wooden swords and shields, one a woman with a bored expression, the other a lantern-awed man whose face is red with frustration. An orc man, his head spotted with wispy grey hairs, sits and watches them, shaking his head.
"Your shield is fine against Deakon, here, but against a real opponent you'd be dead, Tallea!"
Deakon, the human man, puffs out his chest and lowers his sword. "It's not becoming to strike a lady, that's all."
Tallea rolls her eyes. "An easy thing to say after you've spent all morning trying to strike me and failing." She throws her sword and shield down. "This is pointless. I'm already a better fighter than both of you put together. I'll be back when there's some actual work tat needs doing." She stalks past Minar, barely sparing him a glance, and is soon gone.
The orc man stands stiffly as he notices the newcomer. "Ah," he says. "We don't get many visitors here. I'm Tweegal. That was Tallea, this is Deakon." He nods over his shoulder to the human behind him, who flourishes his sword into an over-elaborate bow. "We represent her ladyship's guard here in Dragonholt. Such as it is."
"Three guards for the whole county?" Minar mutters, then sighs. "So much for getting backup."
Tweegal stomps over to Minar and peers at him with watery yellow eyes. "You're new. Just came in with Sapphire's niece, eh? Through Eventide Forest, no less? How'd you find the journey?"
"Oh, fine," Minar snorts. "Except for the part where forty bandits swept down on us in the middle of the night and tried to murder us all. The whole party of eight of us had to fight tooth and nail to escape with our lives."
"Well, good job, that. Bandits, eh?" He turns and studies Deakon, who appears to be trying on different gratuitously masculine poses with his sword, peering at his reflection in a muddy puddle in the practice yard. "That's not good news."
Minar stares at the old orc, incredulous. "No. It's not." He gradually realizes the guard has nothing else to say on the matter. "So were you thinking of doing anything about it?"
"Hm?" Tweegal seems slightly surprised, considering the matter. "Well, I'll pass it on to the Countess, see what she says."
"Terrific." Minar sighs again. "Well, don't let me keep you from your duty." Without waiting for an answer, Minar wanders back toward town.
Gain one Heroism
(Heroism is another score tracked on the second post., and represents our reputation for good acts in the village. When we fill the Heroism meter, we gain benefits, like fame and XP points or more stamina.
We can also choose to spend time at the guard station training to improve our combat and physical skills, but we'll leave that for later.)
First to two votes
A) Go to Fairfax Manor and make contact with Celyse
B) Go to the village hall
C) Get second breakfast from the bakery
The bakery has a warm and cozy storefront featuring a counter with various baked goods on display and a few tables and chairs for customers to enoy their pastries.
Urk steps into the bakery and is greeted by the warm smell of baking bread and the chiming of a silver bell on the door. "I'll be right wit' ye!" calls a voice with a thick Dunwarr accent.
A muscular dwarf man comes bustling through a door in the back wall, carrying a wooden tray piled high with steaming pastries. The man has golden-brown skin and chestnut hair. His beard is tied in many braids, currently all bound together by a length of twine. He brushes flour off his hands and off the sturdy, practical apron he wears. "Hello," he says. "Me name is Grisbeck Hearthstone, an' this here be the Hearthstone Bakery. Welcome."
Grisbeck slides the pastries off his tray, placing each one carefully on a shelf beneath th counter as he does. While he works, he continues to chat. "I don' think I've seen ye about before. New in town, are ye?"
"URK ARRIVED YESTERDAY," Urk confirms, perusing the pastries on display with unconcealed hunger. "URK'S NO-GOOD FRIENDS HARDLY LEFT URK ENOUGH BREAKFAST FOR A TINY GNOME, SO URK NEEDS EARLY LUNCH."
"Well, pleased to met ye. Ain't that fine."
"Dah!" calls a small voice. "Th' door!"
Grisbeck smiles and lays one finger alongside his nose. "Jus' a moment." He turns and opens the door in the back wall, admitting a young dwarf girl carrying a broad basket. Her hair is copper, as compared to his warm brown, but the same golden-brown skin. "This is me daughter, Penny," he explains.
"Pleased to meet ye," the girl says as she stacks loaves of bread from within her basket on the counter above her head.
"LIKE THE COIN," says Urk, studying the small girl.
"Aye, the very same. Penny?" says Grisbeck. "Ye've done plenty to help yer dah out today. Ye should run and play with your friends now."
""Oh, dah," says the girl. "I told ye, what use have I got for friends when I've got the best dah south of the Dunwarr Mountains?" She smiles, but it seems a fragile sort of thing, and then she settles down under the windows with a knit owl whose head is attached by only a thread.
"Penny," says Grisbeck. "What happened to Thegn Owl?"
"Those boys tore him again," says Penny, patting the owl mournfully.
"Oh, that ain't right," sighs the baker. He tugs at his beard and clicks his tongue. "They ought ta know better'n t'do such a thing." He frowns then shakes his head and turns his attention to Urk. "What can I do for ye?"
Urk had become distracted, considering the girl with the torn doll. The question brings her back, and she eyes the loaves freshly delivered from the oven. "BREAD?"
"Well, 'tis a bakery," Grisbeck jokes. He places a still-steaming loaf of dark bread on the counter. "It's best still hot." With a clatter, he adds a crocker of butter and another of honey on the side as well. "I'll say this for th' lowlands," Grisbeck allows. "Th' honey is quite good."
Urk enjoys a peaceful second breakfast at one of the bakery's tables, watching the Dwarves as they work.
-5 Gold, +2 Stamina
This encounter is complete
(Technically only Urk's eating here, but everybody gets the stamina. Consider that the rest of the party snuck more than their fair share at breakfast!)
First to two votes
A) Go to the Fairfax Manor to make contact with Celyse
B) See what's happening at the village hall
C) 'Investigate' the Chatty Archer tavern
Deepmind tromps through town, conspicuously alone despite her insistence on the need for caution. Everyone else had ignored her advice anyway, but what's new?
A young woman with her hair in dozens of braids ponders the message board. She appears to be sounding out the words of the various missives posted there under her breath, reading slowly and with difficulty. Deepmind hangs back a little to avoid being noticed - not that the woman with the braids presents much threat, but old habits are hard to break.
The message board announces that the next market day is in two days, and that there will be a village bonfire that same night. There's also a posting offering a shop for sale, "slightly damanged." Te price is quite modest, considering the size of te building and its location.
Deepmind notices a weathered page that states a reward for a passing hero who can help with a goblin infestation. The hero is to report to Fiore Brightmaul at the smithy. 'Hero' is a bit far-fetched, but 'reward' is certainly tempting. She makes a note of the offer for later.
The town clerk coughs politely to catch Deepmind's attention, having snuck up on her with all the grace of a civil servant on home territory, then steps forward and introduces himself. "Hello," he says. "My name is Marques. I serve as the clerk for all village business." He smiles an anemic little smile and tugs on his brown tunic. "You just came into town with that orc woman, no?"
"Two orc women, actually," says Deepmind. This seems to catch the clerk off-guard, so she presses on. "A party of eight, including Sapphire's niece, Mariam." Struck by a sudden flash of memory, she adds "By the way, the road through the Eventide Forest was blocked up with fallen logs we had to clear. Might want to do something about keeping that route open." She decides to leave off the bit about the bandits for now.
"Yes, quite!" The clerk nods and shuffles away through a side door into an office piled high with ledgers, pamphlets, and what must be official records. "The orc woman - Braxton, was it? - mentioned that you'd cleared an obstruction. You have the village's sincere thanks. That road is our main source of trade with the outside world." He returns then, counting out a stack of coins into his hand. "And our sincere thanks means more when there is gold behind it, no?"
He offers Deepmind the coins, who immediately slips them into a hidden pouch within her jacket. "Couldn't have said it better myself."
The party gains 50 gold
One point in Heroism
This encounter is complete
A) Go to Fairfax Manor and check in with Celyse
B) Go to the smithy and investigate the goblin infestation
C) 'Investigate' the Chatty Archer tavern
The manor house is a sprawling structure of grey stone, its facade covered with dark green ivy. The east wing of the manor is older than the rest, its tall narrow windows doubling as arrow slits and its roof marked by crenellations. An arching stair leads to the main door on the ground floor.
Athtar steps into the grand hall of the manor, which is lit only by the sun shining through the high windows. A human serving girl sits at a long table, polishing silver.
"Good day," says Athtar, nodding courteously.
The young woman sees the Elf and calls out: "Master Tymothi!" A moment later a slender man in a slightly rumpled velvet doublet emerges from a door to his left. "Ah," he says. "Yes, hello. I'm Tymothi, her ladyship's steward."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," says Athtar with a bow. "I am sir Athtar Ravaberos. Is lady Celyse in the house at present? I am an old friend of hers."
"Terribly sorry," says Tymothi. "I'm afraid Celyse is not available. To be honest, I haven't seen nor heard from her in two days."
Athtar stiffens visibly, uncertainty clouding his face. "Has she been set to some task? Could perhaps the Countess be asked after her?"
"No, I'm afraid the Countess is not available to visitors. She is far too busy." There is no ice or venom in the steward's words, just a plain statement of fact.
The knight pauses a moment, considering. "Forgive me, but I'd be a poor friend to let matters lie. Could I perhaps see her room? She may have left some sort of note, or at least a clue."
"I'm certain it wouldn't be proper to let a perfect stranger into Celyse's room," huffs Tymothi.
Athtar withdraws Celyse's letter from his pocket. "I am not a perfect stranger, sir. I am a friend of the good lady and concerned for her wellbeing, which you cannot account for. I ask only the opportunity to investigate.
"Well," says Tymothi, looking over the letter. "Yes, I can see your point. This way."
He leads Athtar to a doorway to the left of the great hall, then into a long gallery hung with portraits and adorned with statuary. He stops at the second door off the gallery. "This is Celyse's bedchamber," he says as he opens the door. "All the guest rooms are in this wing; even my own chamber."
The steward watches from the doorway as Athtar investigates Celyse's room. It's rather large and grander than her usual, with most of the decorations belonging, he suspects, to the manor itself. Only the mess of papers, books and scrolls across the writing desk under the window makes him certain the room belongs to his fellow Elf.
There's no evidence of foul play, but Celyse's traveling cloak is not hanging in the closet, her boots are missing, and her journal is nowhere to be seen.
"Did she perhaps go on a trip?" Athtar asks, inclining his head toward the empty space in the closet.
Tymothi purses his lips. "Yes, now that you mention it, it seems that some of her clothing is missing. Perhaps she packed them? Odd that she didn't tell me where she was going, if so."
Eventually, Tymothi escorts Athtar politely - but firmly - from the manor, with promises to send for him if Celyse reappears or reaches out. Athtar has his doubts, but keeps them to himself.
A dead end. The knight feels a knot of worry growing in his chest. Between the bandits, the secret message, and now this disappearance - the picture forming was not a happy one. Athtar hoped that his friend was safe, but he was also out of ideas for how to find her. Maybe one of the others would have more luck.
A) Follow your gut to the library
B) Investigate the goblin infestation at the smithy
C) Check up on Mariam and Braxton at the apothecary shop
Athtar's news that Celyse had apparently gone missing dampened the party's mood. It also impressed the seriousness of the situation on them enough to listen to Deepmind's insistence that they not explore the village alone. As such, when Urist had proposed checking up on Mariam and Braxton's progress with the shop, Minar was reluctantly volunteered to escort him. This is how the two wind up peering into the battered, blackened structure recently acquired by their gnomish acquaintance.
The apothecary shop is a two-story building featuring a large storefront nd multiple back rooms. A show window fills nearly the entire front wall of the building, looking out toward the village green.
The walls of the apothecary shop are darkened by soot and burnt wood. The front door and its frame are splintered as if the door had been blown off its frame by an explosion. Several boards fastened in a sheet are nailed over what was once a large show window.
The front door and the boards that held it in its frame are leaning against the outside wall.Listening, Urist can hear the chipper voice of a certain gnome prattling away inside. The excited chatter is occasionally punctuated by commentary from Braxton.
Within, they find Braxton holding the charred remains of a cabinet and Mariam gesticulating with a broom. "And we'll - I'll replace that window with one giant pane of glass!" I'll put some tools and some ingredients in the window, showy stuff, you know, glass tubes and colorful mushrooms and things." Mariam turns to include the newcomers in her excited chatter, apparently not at all surprised to find them in her shop.
"Today wee get all this debris out, and tomorrow we bring in the materials to lay new floor and start fixing these walls. It'll be great! You'll see." She flourishes with her broom toward the back room. "I'll set up my workshop back there and use the front space for stocks and sales. It'll have good light; it's important that my customers feel comfortable."
"How about your guests?" asks Braxton, nodding at the human and dwarf.
"Oh. Right. Good to see you!"
"Likewise," replies Urist, with a cheery smile. Minar just shrugs and tucks his hands in his pockets. "We've just been acquainting ourselves with Dragonholt and thought we'd see how you were getting on with the new shop." He pauses to take in the burn damage again. "Lorimor fire, eh? Dreadful stuff. Could you use a hand?"
Minar turns with a start, but before he can object Mariam says "Oh, are you sure? I wouldn't want to impose; you have your own business to attend to." Minar tries to get a word in edgewise, but Mariam points at a broken pile of wood and glass. "That used to be a cabinet. Could you help Braxton take it out to the cart in back?"
The sullen archer grumbles, but does not protest, as he begins to shift the debris. Urist takes it on himself to start prying up the damaged floorboards.
Everyone loses two stamina
One progress marked in Physical Training
(Time to explain training - there are five types of training, each associated with a subset of the available skills. Once the party has marked six progress in the matching type of training, they can buy skills of that type at a cost of one experience per skill, at any time. The trackers have been added to the second post, and once they fill up they will stay full and the party will keep the right to buy skills with XP for the rest of the campaign.)
Eventually Braxton reports that the cart is full. "I'll get rid of it," she says. "Be right back."
A) Offer to help Braxton dispose of the refuse
B) Stay with Mariam and continue demolition
"May as well get started on the next cartload," says Mariam, twirling her prybar dramatically, dropping it, snatching it back up, and smiling as if nothing happened. Together, she and Urist dismantle every soot-blackened surface of the back room.
"You seem an able alchemist," Urist remarks. "Some of those concoctions during our altercation in the Eventide would be far beyond a novice. Where were you taught?"
Mariam laughs. "I get that a lot. I think people think I'm too young to be an alchemist, but I've been learning since I was knee-high on a... on something not terribly tall because, hey, gnome." She tosses the most recent board out the back door and rests her prybar against the wall. "My father, he taught me. Lots of wanderer gnomes apprentice to family members, and my father says that he couldn't keep me out of his bottles and flasks, so he put me to work."
"A respectable family trade, then," Urist agrees.
Mariam pauses in her excited chatter to pour a fizzing liquid from a flask onto the floor. She then begins to scrub the area with a broom. Urist looks on with interest as the caked-on gunk simply dissolves, revealing not-too-damaged floorboards beneath.
"I've been on my own for a few years now, ever since my father decided he'd taught me everything he could. Just traveling from town to tow, selling powders and potions wherever they're needed. My aunt reached out to me when she heard I'd finished my apprenticeship. She told me that Dragonolt could use a new apothecary, although she didn't tell me the last one had - uh - died quite so dramatically." Mariam leans on her broom, looking at the person-shaped silhouette on the wall. "Ah well, I would have come anyway. Having my own workshop is going to be great. It's hard to brew some of the more interesting stuff if you're constantly on the move."
The gnome takes an uncharacteristically thoughtful moment to consider her dwarf visitor, dutifully scrubbing loose gunk from the floor. "I'm sorry, I never even asked your story! Are you a traveling alchemist too? Down from the mountains to see the world?"
Urist looks up with mild surprise. "Oh, goodness no!" He withdraws a small snuffbox from a pouch and has a quick sniff of a grainy black powder. "I was exiled, naturally."
Mariam blinks, caught off-guard, but before she can ask another question Braxton pokes her head in through the door. "We're back," she says. "I suppose we'd better load the cart back up; you've gotten a lot done in here."
Minar follows behind the orc, sullen resignation settled over him like a cloud. They spend a few more hours tearing up the damaged pieces of the shop until their back aches and hands are sore. Braxton shows no obvious signs of wear, but Mariam's constant chatter eventually winds down to practically nothing, working in silence until every piece of broken or burned wood has been removed from the back room.
The sun is well on its way down to the horizon by the time Mariam says "Alright, that's a good day's work I think. Let's go back to the Swan and get some dinner."
Braxton's stomach rumbles and she nods. "Yes, let's."
Mariam turns to her two helpers. "If you care to join us, I'm buying! It's the least I can do after your help today." She ops down from the shop and skips, humming, down the street.
Braxton moves to follow her. "Buying dinner is quite easy when your aunt refuses to let ay of us pay for food."
Urist is about to reply before Minar cuts in. "We'll have to catch up with you guys later. We need to touch base with the rest of our group, see what's going on."
Braxton nods an affirmation and sets off after Mariam. "Well," announces Minar, once they're out of earshot. "That was a complete waste of time."
"It never hurts to be courteous," sniffs Urist.
Minar winces and rubs the small of his back. "I beg to differ."
Everyone loses two stamina
One progress in physical training
A) Follow your instinct to the library
B) Learn about the goblin infestation from the smithy
C) 'Investigate' the Chatty Archer tavern
The village library is large for a village the size of Dragonholt. It features an antechamber, a main room with rows of bookshelves, and a few side rooms. On most days, one of the side rooms is used as a classroom for the village youths.
The library's main hall features a tall writing desk underneath a window set in the ceiling and four walls covered in shelves full of books. Perched atop a stool at the writing desk is a grey-robed, grey-aired human woman spattered with ink, her quill scritching as she carefully copies out another letter.
With the setting sunlight at her back, Urk creeps into the quit building. She notices the old woman hard at work at her writing desk and slips as carefully as she can over to examine the letter. The old librarian doesn't seem to notice her until the curious orc is by her elbow.
"HELLO," Urk greets her. "HOW GOES?"
The librarian yelps with a start and almost falls off her stool. After a moment's distress she collects herself. "The library is closing for the day! So, if you could just-"
"URK NOT HERE FOR BOOKS TODAY," she casually waves toward the shelves in the back. "URK HAVE HUNCH."
"W-what?" The librarian peers at Urk, baffled, before taking in her appearance and mannerisms with a critical eye. "You said your name was, er, Urk?"
"NO. JUST URK."
"Right," the librarian blows out a breath she may not have realized she was holding. "Come this way."
She dismounts her stool and leads Urk through a low door to a tall, narrow room lit only by windows far above. "No candles or torches, please," she says. "A fire here would mean centuries of wisdom lost." She leads Urk around a long bookshelf, and she finds that the room was not narrow at all, only blocked off by the enormous shelf.
Celyse is resting comfortably in a chair with a book on her lap. "Celyse," says the librarian. "I've brought company."
"Urk! Thank the spirits you are here!" says Celyse, springing to her feet and narrowly rescuing the book before it falls to the floor. "Thank you," she says to the librarian, who nods and shuffles away, leaving Urk alone with Celyse.
"WHEN ATHTAR SAY CELYSE WAS GONE, URK KNEW ONLY ONE PLACE TO LOOK." The orc's face splits into a toothy grin. "ELVES PREDICTABLE LIKE THAT."
"I suppose I should be glad for your uncanny intuition," says Celyse, who returns the smile briefly before turning serious. "There is trouble afoot, and I am getting too old for trouble." Celyse doesn't look a day older than when Urk met her, but then again, she is an elf. "I believe that someone is plotting against the noble family here."
"URK DID READ LETTER, YES."
Celyse nods. "You might already know that the local lord is Lady Regina Fairfax, Countess of Dragonholt. She had, up until recently, three children: Sonia, Rochelle, and Phillip. Regina is sick; she seems a little young to me to be dying already, but humans will do that on you I suppose."
"SORT OF INSENSITIVE BUT OKAY."
"Her daughter Sonia was poised to inherit the county," Celyse continued. "But Sonia came to me and said she had received a letter from her uncle Kyric, Regina's brother. Kyric demanded that Sonia renounce her position and support Kyric's claim to Regina's seat. Sonia refused him, of course.
"Days later, Sonia fell from her horse, struck her head on a rock, and died. Not suspicious on its own, perhaps, but Sonia is - was - an excellent rider. She was alone in the forest when it happened. I became concerned that Kyric had murdered her. I shared my suspicions with Tymothi, Regina's steward, and that night as I returned to my bedroom a heavy statue in the gallery toppled over and nearly killed me." Celyse closes her eyes and leans back, resting her head. "So I fled. I'd already sent the letter to Athtar asking him to assemble a party, so I hid in the village waiting."
Celyse stands, brushing down her cloak and taking a deep breath. "But nothing unusual has happened since then and Phillip and Rochelle remain safe. It would seem the situation is not as dire as I had suspected. For now, I think it wise for you to acquaint yourself with the villagers and gain their trust. We will need them on our side if it comes to a struggle for leadership. But right now, I will go straight to Lady Regina and tell her everything. Will you come with me?"
"WE SHOULD FIND OTHERS FIRST, SPREAD WORD YOU'RE OKAY. AT LEAST BRING ATHTAR, HE LIKES MEETING NOBLES."
"A fair point."
(This is a bit of a long post, so I've split it up here)
The pair left the library and briefly convened with Athtar and Aria on the village green. While Aria went to spread the news to the others that Celyse had been found, the elven knight joined the two women on their trip toward Fairfax Manor.
A middle-aged woman n servant's livery opens the door for them with an expression of surprise.
"I must speak with the countess at once, Mathilda," says Celyse. Mathilda only nods and ushers the party upstairs, where Regina's audience chamber lies in the manor's ancient round tower. The countess's enormous black throne is empty, but the countess is seated on a carpet by one hearth. She is a human woman of middling years with fair skin and enormous green eyes, almost luminescent in a face more lined by pain than by age. The countess has a round hoop in her lap, a piece of intricate needlework. "My lady," says Celyse.
"Celyse," says Regina. "I had wondered if you had quit my service. Please, introduce us."
Celyse bows and gestures to her two guests. "This is sir Athtar Ravaberos, a knight, and Urk, a... wisewoman." Athtar bows, while Urk simply smiles. "Old companions of mine from my time in Nerekhall."
Regina inclines her head but makes no effort to rise. "What brings you to me today, my friend?"
With many pauses to word her story as diplomatically as possible, Celyse shares the same suspicions with Regina that she had shared with Urk. As she speaks, a rail-tin man in a ruffled tunic slips into te room to stand silently at Regina's side.
"Yes," says Regina at length. "Tymothi told me much of this the day you disappeared, was it, Tymothi?" She offers one hand to the man in the ruffled shirt, who helps her to her feet with perfect form.
"Yes, m'lady. I was not sure what to make of Miss Celyse's suspicions, but I reported them dutifully."
Regina crosses to her throne and sits with a sigh. She gestures to Tymothi and points to a writing desk against the wall. "Tymothi, the book in the drawer, there." He goes and fetches a slim leatherbound volume. "This is Sonia's journal. I have not read it; there are things that a mother should not know about her daughter, I think. But you must do, my friends. I do not want to believe that my brother would stoop to so reprehensible a crime as kinslaying. But I will not risk my children on my hope that Kyric is still the honorable man who stood aside for me when our father named me heir over him." She presses the book into Celyse's hand.
"So. Please. Read it. Perhaps it contains some clue as to Sonia's fate, and perhaps you might prevent Rochelle and Phillip from falling prey to a similar doom." She waves a hand, and Tymothi rushes forward to shepard the group from the room.
"Her ladyship tires easily these days," he says. "Thank you. We will speak again."
Celyse frowns as she walks her companions to the door. "So Tymothi isn't the traitor after all. Or perhaps he's covering. Or perhaps there is no traitor, just rotten luck." She shakes her head and opens the door, before passing the book to Athtar. "Read that book and make it a point to get to know the locals. I will call upon you again when you are needed."
"You may depend on us, my lady," says Athtar, bowing again. "Be safe."
Two time passes
A) Head back to the Swan for the night
B) Check out the Drunken Hog
C) Okay you just want to go to the Chatty Archer to get a drink, it's fine to admit it
When Deepmind had proposed scouting the taverns that evening before bed, Aria had leapt at the chance to 'volunteer'. Minar had protested he was already worn out after a long day's unexpected work, and anyway, doubted the quality of any drink served in a backwater bar, but Aria had insisted, and that tends to work on the surly bowman. Besides, she'd said, they were both archers, they were practically obliged to check out a tavern named "The Chatty Archer."
An archery butt lies under a maple tree outside this rustic lodge-style tavern. Several arrows are stuck within it, and others stand point-down in the earth by the tavern's polished pinewood door. A strung bow hangs over the door, nestled under the awning to protect it from the elements.
Aria opens the door and steps into a warmly lit hall containing a smattering of oak tables and chairs. A long counter stretches the length of the left wall, bar stools in a row on one side and a shelf holding bottles of varying shapes, sizes and colors on the other.
A tall human man with broad shoulders stands behind the counter polishing a mug. His sleeves are rolled up, revealing muscular arms. He looks up at the door as the pair enter and gives them a toothy grin and a friendly nod.
"You new to Dragonholt?" asks the man behind the counter. "I don't reckon I've seen you before." He gives his mug a once over and sets it on a lower shelf with others like it. Then he slings the drying cloth over his shoulder and steps toward them. "The name's Hunter. I'm the owner of this here drinking hole."
"A pleasure," Aria declares, bowing with a flourish. "Aria of Nerekhall at your service - musician, archer, adventurer, and more. And this is Minar."
Minar grunts. "Hey."
"Help yourself to a table or a stool," Hunter offers.
"Thank you!" Aria hops on to one of the barstools and waves Minar over, who slumps in next to her. There are patrons at several of the tables - men and women enjoying food, drink, and banter. Others are sitting at the bar engaged in conversation with a human woman behind the counter. Beside them sits an elderly human man whittling a small wooden duck.
"You look like the adventurous type. Me and my wife Lei used to do some adventuring before settling down and opening this place." Hunter gestures to the woman behind the counter. She smiles and waves. "Lei can fix you up something to eat if you're peckish. Just shout at us if you need anything at all."
"Oh ho, adventuring, eh?" exclaims the older man sitting beside Aria. "I had myself many an adventure in my day. Spent much of my youth making day trips to Eventide Forest. Though back then it wasn't as dangerous as it is now." The old man blows on his whittled duck, removing excess wood shavings.
"Is that right?" asks Hunter. "Tell us about it, Theo." The tavern owner sets a small bowl of nuts in front of the party as the older man begins to tell a story about climbing trees in the forest. Aria can tell immediately this story will last some time. Hunter leans over the counter to whisper to her. "Don't mind old Theodore. He just likes to tell his stories to anyone who'll listen. Can't tell if he forgets he's already told the stories or if he just likes telling them again."
Theodore goes off on a long and winding story about his youth, playing in the village and on the edge of Eventide Forest. "The millpond, there, where the river flows out of the forest, was where we used to spend most of our time. We would catch frogs and then hide them where the girls would find them, just to watch them shriek." Theodore bursts out laughing, shaking his head. "There was one girl, though, Ursula, she never let our pranks frighten her. She gave as good as she got. Ah, I loved that girl, but I never could tell her that. I used to write her letters and love poetry, but I could never give them to her. I took them to the Tree of Tales instead, out in the forest, and asked the spirits to bring us together. One time I gave her a little wooden badger I'd carved, told her that it reminded me of her because she was fierce, too. I don't think she liked that! Let that be a lesson to you." and at this, Theodore turns his head to Minar. "If you're going to compare a girl to an animal, choose something more majestic than a badger. But that was the closest I ever got to telling her how I felt."
Minar, his eyes glazed over, jumps with a start as Aria kicks his shin. Recovering quickly, he sparsd a confused look for Theodore before mumbling "Uh, right, I'll remember that."
Theodore sighs. "That reminds me of a story..."
The old adventurer goes on like this for a while, and Hunter seems content to leave him in Aria and Minar's care. Aria remains pleasant and attentive, but eventually decides to put Minar out of his misery and call it a night.
"Well," says Minar as the two step out into the night, "at least there's two more taverns in town to try."
"It wasn't that bad!" Aria protests, but half-heartedly. "Would've been good to pick up some actionable intel. Or a music gig."
"Or a chance to shoot a few arrows," adds Minar, nodding toward the archery butts. "It lived up to the 'Chatty' part, at least."
"Come on, maybe there's some dinner left at the Swan."
(the end-of-the-day update will be up in a bit, then we'll start day two!)