Part 13: Chapter TenThe next morning is bright and cool, with a taste of autumn in the air. The voices of merchants and market goers drift into the shared quarters of the Swan from the already-busy market street. Minar and Aria cross paths on the landing between their rooms again and exchange tired nods as they wind their way down the stairs to the common room. There they see Mariam already dressed and nervously sitting at the breakfast table, jittering and pushing sausage about on her plate.
"Look who's here," says Sapphire, placing a pitcher of apple juice on the table. "Don't fret, dear, I'm certain Braxton will be down soon."
"Who's fretting?" says Mariam. "I'm not nervous or anything."
Aria giggles as she pours herself a glass of juice. Sapphire stops by her elbow and says "It's her first day open for business, and a market day at that," explains Sapphire. "Although I don't know why you're opening so soon. You can't be ready for customers yet."
"We already had to delay because of the harvest," explains Mariam. "I should have been open on the market day a week ago. I can't miss today's market as well!" The gnome stands and paces back and forth on the bench as Minar and Aria sit down to a breakfast of sausage, fried apples, and golden cakes with honey. "Where is Braxton? I should go up and get her."
"You're not married yet," chides Sapphire. "Give the young lady her space. I suspect you won't be disappointed."
"I hope not," says Braxton from the stairs. Her usual leathers and mail are gone, replaced with tall, freshly shined boots and a brilliantly white shirt under an embroidered vest. Her hair has been carefully piled up behind her head, held in place with a shining silver pin. She pauses, smiling as she sees the look on Mariam's face.
"That... is not a guard uniform," manages Mariam, at length.
"I thought I'd make an appearance at the shop this morning and help out," says Braxton, settling down at the table and carefully covering up with a napkin. "It's your first day. I wanted to do something special." She accepts a plate of food from Sapphire, then glances at Maram shyly. "Do you like it?"
Mariam breaks into a smile. "I like it very much."
Urk, Urist and Athtar make their own ways down the stairs and to breakfast one after the other. Once all five are seated along with Mariam and Braxton, Deepmind appears seemingly from nowhere, dropping into the last open seat. Only Urist seems surprised, but looking around at everyone else's pointed non-reaction, he chooses not to comment.
The door opens with a jingle of bells, and a number of wool-clad humans come stamping through, kicking the grime of the road from their boots. "Excuse me," says Sapphire, and she moves off to assist the new customers.
"I will need to report to the guard post later in the day," Braxton says to Mariam. "Tweegal wanted to talk to me about something important."
"I'll make do without you, I suppose," says Mariam with a smile. "Somehow."
A) Ask Mariam about the grand opening of her shop
B) Ask Braxton about her position with the village guards
C) Ask about Mariam and Braxton's wedding
"Soooo," says Aria, with a cheeky grin. "When's the big day? It's gotta be soon, right?"
"Oh," says Braxton. "Didn't Mariam invite you?"
"I thought you were going to," protests Mariam.
"I thought - never mind!" Braxton shakes her head. "I'll do it now."
"We're getting married tomorrow afternoon," gushes Mariam, grabbing Braxton's hand and leaning toward Aria with her face aglow. "At the willow grove. Reception to follow at the Swan, of course."
"And we would be very pleased if you would all attend," says Braxton to the group, squeezing her fiancee's hand.
"Just one day to prepare!" Aria grabs Minar's shoulder and yanks him over suddenly. "We need formalware, stat! Let's hit that market!"
"I could use a few supplies," Deepmind muses. "We all probably could. We were a little under-geared the last time we went up against the bandits."
"URK STILL HAVE WAR RUNE." The orc fishes it out of her pocket and drops the magical artifact casually on the table, where it becomes immediately smudged with butter. "SHOULD PROBABLY DO SOMETHING WITH IT BEFORE URK FORGET."
With breakfast finished, Urist stacks their plates for Sapphire to collect later. As they gather their things to prepare for the day, Mariam and Braxton come down the stairs with heavy, bulging bags.
"Thanks for letting us stay here, Aunt Sapphie," says Mariam, leaning in to kiss her aunt on the cheek. "But I'm ready to move in to my new place."
"Of course, hun! You're both welcome anytime," says Sapphire, resting a gentle hand on Braxton's forearm. "Take good care of my niece now," she says with a wink.
Braxton smiles and nods. "Always."
With the pair having departed, that leaves only the party, suitably geared up.
A) Check out the market, since it's a market day
B) Go to the Smithy and see if Fiore can forge the War Rune into something
C) Stay at the Swan and ask Sapphire if she can tailor the War Rune into something
D) Investigate the rumors of a lost hero's crypt to the north (note: I'll let you know up front that this will lead to another quest)
"Let me see that." Fiore takes the runeshard from Urk and holds it up to the light, turning it slowly to examine it from all angles.
Urk and Urist lounge around the smithy's stockroom, both staring intently at the little shard of high magic in the smith's hand. She shifts her chair toward a nearby table, then places the rune on the wooden surface and scrabbles about a bit for a piece of paper and a stick of charcoal. With a few quick strokes, she takes a rubbing of the rune, which she sets aside. "I'm no runemaster, but I think this is the Draconic glyph for 'war,'" she says.
"URK KNEW THAT ALREADY," Urk says, frowning. "EVEN URIST PROBABLY KNEW THAT."
"Well, I heard you say it earlier," Urist mumbles.
Fiore ignores their muttering while she sketches and hums, then nods. "At the crossguard, with a thread of silver running the length of the blade. Yes, I believe I can work with this."
She returns her attention to Urk and Urist. "With this, I can forge you the finest sword you'll ever see in your life. And I'll do the work myself; none of my apprentices are up to this task. One hundred and fifty gold is my fee." She takes up the rune and presents it to Urk. "What do you say?"
Urk nods. "PAY FIORE GOLD."
Urist begins digging in his various satchels again, his face scrunching up as he weighs the cost. "That's rather a sizable cut of the party's purse, eh? Don't you think we should-"
"NAH." Urk leans back in her chair and eyes the rune again. "ONE OF A KIND MAGIC SWORD PROBABLY BETTER INVESTMENT THAN MORE HEALING POTIONS WE NEVER ACTUALLY USE."
"I swear I'm saving them for an emergency," Urist insists as he finally counts out the gold pieces and hands them to Fiore.
"You won't regret it," says the dwarf with a grin. She takes the money and the rune and places it in an iron box, which she closes and locks before tucking the silver key into her smock. "Bryll!" she calls, and the young dwarf apprentice comes running. "Run to the stores and bring me a ten-eight of black iron and a single bar of Brightmaul silver." The apprentice rushes off, and Fiore reaches for her crutch again. "I'll get started straight away. Come back tomorrow, I may have something for you."
The party loses the War Rune and 150 gold
A) Visit the market
B) Go check on the Bakery
C) Borrow something nice to wear from Celyse at the Manor
D) Investigate the rumors of the crypt to the north (beginning a sidequest, so I'll make this take two votes just to make sure we're agreed)
The market street hasn't been this crowded since the party came to town, thronged with people and animals and carts inching along. Merchants shout themselves hoarse hawking their wares while customers inspect their goods. Travelers wander the street, gawking at the throngs of people, and two guards in Fairfax livery walk a slow and purposeful patrol.
Several of the crops for sale are from the recent harvest, bushels of round red beans and sheafs of golden grain and baskets piled high with red apples. One end of the row seems to be dominated by carts piled high with black and white wool and thronged with customers haggling so loudly it seems a fight might break out at any moment. A round-faced human woman with a smile and a gaily embroidered dress displays blankets, coats, dresses and other clothes all worked in similar bright colors.
"We shall have to remember that vendor in case Aria demands we all dress up for the wedding," Athtar remarks, nodding at the tailor.
Deepmind scans the crowd nearby, taking in the available goods. "I see one potion stall - 'Al-Emir's Elixirs,' over there - and those two brothers at the fancy table seem to be selling something that's got the crowd's attention, but I can't tell-"
Athtar almost stumbles over his shorter companion, who stops suddenly in the middle of the street.
Not far from the wool merchants, a brown-furred catfolk woman in a red tunic argues with a pinch-faced human woman. The human's stall is laden with dried and salted fish. The catfolk's tufted ears are pointed back and her tail swishes with angry vigor. A prominent tear in her tunic marks where something - a branch, or a bolt - tore a piece clear. She seems to stand at an angle, favouring one leg.
Deepmind stares for a few more moments before collecting herself and making straight for the fishmonger's stall, and Athtar follows.
The catfolk woman growls slightly as they approach. She's holding something in her hands - a mask, fashioned from wood and leather and lacquered green. She leans forward, offering it to the fishmonger. "Please," she yowls. "This is a special mask, blessed by the spirits! It is very valuable. I must have two baskets of fish."
"I don't care if the mask belonged to King Daqan himself," scoffs the fishmonger. "I sell these fish for money, you hear me? This isn't a swap meet."
The hyrrinx woman turns and narrows her eyes at Athtar. At this distance, she is no doubt the woman from the Eventide Forest just a few days ago. She recognizes him and hisses in a low voice, "You again."
Deepmind quickly cuts in. "I'm Deepmind. He's with me , and..." she hesitates. "I was there when we ran into you back in the woods. Just, uh, hiding."
"I'm sorry for the terseness of our previous meeting," says Athtar, bowing. "It was unfair of us to treat you so roughly."
The hyrrinx gives the pair a cool gaze fora few moments, considering. "You," she says looking to Deepmind. "You are hyrrinx, yes? I am Hetharr."
"Nice to meet you." Deepmind looks over at the fishmonger, who seems disinterested in the whole exchange. "Is there some sort of problem?"
"This human refuses to give me her fish, even though I am offering a great treasure in exchange."
"Your 'great treasure' is some manky mask. I'm not going to the countess's masquerade, and I don't want it." The fishmonger sniffs and slaps her hands on the countertop. "It's sixty gold coins for the fish you want and that's final."
"I don't have any coins. But I am offering you something useful," explains Hetharr. "And anyway, I should just take the fish. I'm just doing it this way to be polite."
"Just take my fish? You greedy thief! I won't hear of it."
"No, no, I am not greedy. These fish are not just for me. My whole village needs food. The bandits-"
"Everyone's got a sob story," says the merchant. My fish cost money and that's that."
Hetharr turns to Deepmind, her ears standing up straight and her whiskers twitching. "Please," she says. "Can you help me?"
Deepmind stands still for a few moments, weighing the situation. "We could probably sell the mask to someone else at the market first. Or come back later when the guards are patrolling somewhere else..."
"Sixty gold, you said?" Athtar says to the fishmonger. She nods. The elf swings up his purse and upends it on the grey-weathered countertop. The fishmonger counts out the gold pieces that fall out and nods, satisfied.
"There," she says. "See how easy that was?" Then she turns and, with a grunt, rolls two sizable casks out from behind her stall to Athtar.
Deepmind gawks at the exchange, but only mutters "That's a lot of the party's gold."
"I think our shares should cover it," he replies, rolling one of the casks over to Hetharr. "We can help you move these at least as far as the edge of town."
Between the three of them, they carry the casks to the dragon statues marking the end of Dragonholt. "Thank you for your help," she says. "I will have to see about finding my own coins if I'm going to do any more trading with humans."
"Yeah, that's the real trick," says Deepmind with a wry smile.
Hetharr pulls the green mask from within her tunic and looks at it for a long moment. "You should have this," she says. "It's all I can do to repay you."
"You don't need to repay us," says Athtar. "After our meeting in the forest, it's the least we can do."
Hetharr insists, pressing the mask into Deepmind's hands. Deepmind takes the mask, a bit bemused, before stowing it. "Thanks."
Before they can ask how she plans to carry both casks off to the forest on her own, four more hyrrinx emerge from the shadows of the orchard, stalking forward on silent cat feet. They nod their heads gravely to the two adventurers before hefting the heavy barrels of fish and hauling them to the trees.
As Hetharr departs, Deepmind calls after her. "Sorry about your leg."
Hetharr pauses to turn back toward them. She tests her sore leg once, before nodding back. "It will heal." Then she disappears into the trees after her fellows.
The party gains the Spirit Mask
One progress in heroism
One progress in social practice
A) See how Mariam and Braxton are doing on the Apothecary Shop's first day
B) Borrow something to wear from Celyse at the Manor
C) Check out the bakery
D) Investigate the rumored crypt to the north
The manor house seems deathly quiet compared to the hubbub of the market in the village. After a moment, Tymothi walks through the great hall, carrying a pewter cup. He pauses when he sees Aria and Minar approaching and gestures to the staircase to their left. "Miss Celyse is in the salon, if you're looking to visit." Then, with a bow, he vanishes into his office-cum-library.
They climb the stairs and find Celyse in the large and well appointed salon. In the light spilling through the southern windows, she has surrounded herself with a collection of maps. Some are on large sheets of yellowing paper, others on small scraps of vellum, and some painted carefully on flats of wood.
"Why, hello," says Celyse when she sees them. She rests her teacup on its saucer and places the whole back on the tray nearby. "Can I interest you in some tea? I nipped out to the market earlier and bought some quite acceptable leaves."
"I was actually hoping you could help me out," says Aria, leaning in conspiratorially. "You've heard about Braxton and Mariam's wedding tomorrow, right?"
"The rumor mill has begun to churn on that, yes."
"Well, I've been on the road for months now and I've got nothing to wear for the big day except these worn-out travel clothes. This one's hopeless," she waves toward Minar, "but back in Nerekhall you were a fashion icon!"
Celyse blinks, surprised. "I was?"
"Yes! Definitely! And that's why I was wondering if you could maybe lend me a dress to wear?"
The elf gives her a sideways look before looking past her for support from Minar. He just rolls his eyes and shrugs, so she turns back to Aria. "Well, I suppose I have a few lying around my wardrobe, but we have slightly different... builds. I'm not sure if anything would fit, and there's hardly time to have it tailored."
"Can we take a look? Please? I'll take anything, just don't make go to a big village wedding looking like a muddy drifter."
"We are muddy drifters," Minar mutters.
Celyse looks at Aria's earnest expression, sighs, and picks up her teacup. "I suppose we can have a little look around, but I make no promises."
A few minutes later the three of them sat around Cely'se's quarters, Celyse in her chair and Minar sitting on her travel chest, while Aria dug through Celyse's wardrobe.
"Uh, okay, I think I see what you mean," says Aria, pulling something slim and sparkling out that covers about half of her across. "Let me take another look."
As Aria digs, Minar turns an inquisitive look to Celyse. "I've been meaning to ask you what you've been up to since Nerekhall. No offense, but Dragonholt seems a little... uh, below your paygrade."
"That was almost diplomatic, Minar. You must be learning." Celyse wraps her delicate elven fingers around the teacup and breathes in the steam. "I've been doing as little as possible since that business in Aria's lovely hometown. I vowed to keep myself out of trouble for a decade at least." She smiles through the steam at Aria as she pulls out another traveling cloak. "I'm no better at that than the rest of you, I'm afraid.
"After Nerekhall I went to Greyhaven to make use of the libraries there and offer my services as a tutor. I found the city didn't agree with me that well; very noisy, very crowded. When I heard that a countess in Allerfeldt was requesting a tutor for her estate, I packed my things and set off. I've been serving here in Dragonholt for over a year now, and I find it a considerable improvement over the city. Here, at least, I can go into the forest and find some peace."
"Peace is one word for it," Minar snorts. "How does an elf not get bored of life with humans?"
"I do miss home from time to time, but I won't go back to the Latari just yet."
Aria pulls herself out of the wardrobe long enough to add "You never did tell us why you left in the first place."
She laughs. "No, I didn't. I suppose there's no harm in it. It was my own choice. Or rather, given the circumstances of my birth and what I was forced to do to redress them, I chose to leave. It can take elves more than a century to stop calling you by the wrong name and stop describing you using the wrong gender after you make a change that dramatic, you see."
Minar's eyebrows pop up. "More than a century? I know elves have the time to spare, but damn."
"Remind me not to complain about backward old human ways so much," concurs Aria.
She shrugs. "No hard feelings, though. I'm sure everyone would have meant well. I just thought it would be easier for all of us if I gave everyone a chance to get used to the idea while I got to go and live as my true self straightaway." She stares at her tea and frowns. "Or perhaps I've just delayed the century of fumbling and awkwardness to begin on my return. Ah well. I still made the right choice. I wouldn't have met you two and all our motley friends otherwise."
"Ohhh, now this one might fit!" Aria reaches deep and pulls out a thick wool dress of greyish-blue. "Looks much more my size."
Aria covers a snort of laughter, causing Aria to look up puzzled. "That's my old 'uniform' from the Greyhaven library," she explains, smiling. "True, it was originally cut for a human, but speaking from experience I'm not sure schoolmarm is a look that would suit you."
"Yeah," agrees Minar. "You might have to read a book every once in a while."
Unperturbed, Aria lifts one foot and pushes Minar backward off the chest. "The last book he read was a farmer's almanac with all the hard words sounded out. It's lovely, Celyse, I'lll take it."
Celyse glances at Minar sprawled on the floor, trying to keep his scowl from turning into a smile. "No accounting for taste, I suppose."
A) See how Mariam and Braxton are doing on the Apothecary Shop's first day
B) Check out the bakery
C) Take a second pass at the market and see what those brothers were selling
D) Investigate the rumors of a crypt to the north
The shop has been completely restored, with no sign that it was a gutted ruin only a short time ago. A large banner hangs outside, the words "Grand Opening!" written on it in friendly letters.
As Urist passes inside, he finds the shop decorated with sunflowers and sprigs of lavender in every corner and crowded with patrons and the curious. Braxton emerges through the back door, carrying a wooden crate full of glass bottles, which she carefully unpacks onto a high shelf. Mariam is standing on the counter, talking in rapid-fire sentences to two patrons at once, explaining how her elixir will relieve an elderly human woman's back pain ("willow bark in spring tonic, will reduce the swelling and dull the pain!") and how her cough tonic will cure an orc man's son's cold ("hyssop and elder flower in honey").
After a few moments, Mariam hands over small glass bottles to both customers in exchange for jingling coins, which she tucks into her apron. Then she bounds off the counter and jogs over to Urist. "Good to see you!" she says. "Isn't this great? How can I help you?"
"Marvelous work you've done here," Urist beams, looking around the shop. "Why you'd hardly credit it was all a blasted ruin just a week ago."
"Well, I had a little help," she admits, grinning.
"I was actually wondering," Urist begins, peering toward the back of the shop. "Since you're occupied up front here, big opening day at all, might your labspace be available? It's terribly difficult to get any brewing of my own available at the Swan, and I've brought my own supplies."
"Of course!" says Mariam, before hesitating. "Uh, just... don't go burning down my shop on the first day?"
"I wouldn't dream of it! Thank you kindly, young Mariam," says Urist as he strolls toward the back. Braxton spares a mildly concerned look for Mariam before opening the door to the back room and letting Urist past.
Urist squeezes into the long, narrow back room that serves as Mariam's laboratory. Racks of strange liquids bubble and boil against one wall, and herbs hang from the ceiling to dry. A pair of cauldrons, one iron and one copper, rest neatly on shelves near a large hearth, ready to be put to use. Directly under the room's round window stands a workbench, its tools all neatly arrayed and stowed, with a set of stairs built in for the convenience of gnome-sized folk.
It looks like Mariam already has a number of potions brewing, but there is still plenty of equipment available. Urist reaches slowly into his inside pocket and withdraws the strange mushroom he found in the mines, gazing at it with an almost covetous intensity. "This ought to do."
He sets the strange mushroom on the workbench and searches through the laboratory until he finds Mariam's small collection of books. In the volume titled "Botanica Arcana," he finds a comprehensive description of the fungus and is able to conclusively identify it as a goblin cap mushroom, also known as "death's flower." Armed with that knowledge, it's fairly easy to find a description of its uses and an effective recipe for a potion of swiftness made from it.
He separates the stalk and slices the cap thinly, then sets it to simmer in grapeseed oil in the copper cauldron. He collects and combines the other ingredients, hen's teeth and eye of newt and tincture of wormswort, in the other cauldron, then pours off the mushroom mixture through a sieve, leaving the goblin-cap-infused oil. He adds the oil drop by drop to the potion mixture until the cloudy solution becomes clear.
Removing it from the heat, Urist ladles out just a small amount of the potion and takes a careful sip. The scalding hot liquid sends a chill through his body, and suddenly his surroundings crystallize into perfect sharpness. Urist can feel, see, hear and smell everything. The liquid in the cauldron bubbles with curious slowness. His own movements feel unhurried, but also measurably faster than everything around him.
"Tremendous..." the Dwarf whispers. He looks over to the stalk he separated to begin with. Perhaps it might still be useful...
The party loses the strange mushroom
The party gains three potions of swiftness
Urist gains a far-out funky feeling
A) It's been a full day, get something to eat at the Chatty Archer
B) Go check out the bakery
C) Take a second pass at the market to see what those brothers are selling
D) Investigate the rumors of a crypt north of town
If anyone still wants to weigh in, I'll take a tiebreaker
The bakery's silver bell tinkles every few seconds as patrons come and go. Penny, the baker's young daughter, stands on a stool behind the glass counter, wearing the responsibility of her position like a badge of office. She takes orders and payment with solemnity, then turns to shriek those same orders through the door to the kitchen at the top of her lungs.
"Dah!" she bellows. "Soup in bread!"
"Comin' up!" he hollers back.
The next customer asks for a loaf of honey bread, which Penny dutifully fetches from a basket at her side, and then Urk reaches the front of the line.
"How c'n I help ye?" she asks. Grisbeck stomps in from the kitchen with a steaming boule of brown bread, torn open and filled with rich, chunky soup. He delivers the soup to a man with a wooden leg and only some of his fingers, then brushes flour off his apron and smiles approvingly at his daughter.
Urk reaches into her pack, withdrawing something she received from Aria earlier in the day. "URK'S FRIEND FOUND GIFT FOR LITTLE DWARF GIRL." She offers Ursula's old doll to Penny.
Penny leans over the counter, taking the doll slowly from Urk as if she thinks it might be pulled away at a moment's notice. "For me?" she says. "Oh, thank ye. I love her!" She squeezes the doll tight, then lifts up her stuffed owl from beneath the counter. "Thegn Owl, meet yer new friend. Oh, does she have a name?"
"URK NOT SURE," Urk admits with a shrug. "URK KNOW DOLL BELONGED TO URSULA FROM COUNTESS INN, HOW DOLL WAS URSULA'S FRIEND WHEN URSULA LONELY. SO, URK FIGURE, COULD BE PENNY'S FRIEND NOW."
Penny drinks in the story, nodding sagely. "Oh, yes," she says. "I'll call ye Ursula then," she says to the doll. "Oh! Wait here!" she says to Urk and rushes out the door. The sound of her feet clattering up a stair and then running about the floor above fills the bakery, and soon she's back, holding a whorling shell in her hand.
"I found this," she explains, slightly out of breath. "When we first came t'Dragonholt, me da an' me. It's been me good luck charm." She nods. "I want ye to have it, now."
Urk, uncertain, glances over to Grisbeck. The young Dwarf's father had watched the whole exchange thoughtfully, without interruption, and he gives Urk an imperceptible nod. Urk turns back to Penny and graciously accepts the shell. "URK HONORED. THANK YOU."
"Now, did ye need anything' t'eat?" Grisbeck asks.
At this, Urk grins widely. "MAYBE JUST A SNACK."
The party loses the cloth doll
The party gains the polished shell
Mark one progress in heroism
A) See what all the fuss was about in the market with those two brothers
B) Meditate on the significance of events at the Shrine
C) Get an early dinner at the Chatty Archer
D) Investigate the rumors of a crypt north of town
Deepmind steps up to the brothers' market stall, as Athtar, Minar and Aria chat a short distance away. She tries to figure out what they're selling, and discovers the answer is a little bit of everything.
"I picked up this little trinket in Frostgate," says the elder brother. "A charm blessed by a northern witch-woman, guaranteed to make the young ladies flock to you. It worked for me, folks!"
"Works on young men, too," says the younger brother. "And it can be yours for thirty gold coins!" A hand shoots up in the crowd and in moments the transaction is completed. A tall man with broken veins clustered around his nose pushes by Deepmind, clutching a small wooden charm to his chest.
"They certainly have a knack for salesmanship," suggests Athtar as the three go to join Deepmind at the edge of the crowd.
Minar snorts. "You mean they're good hucksters. Although..." his brow furrows. "Now that you mention it, yeah, there's something kinda..."
"Compelling?" Aria finishes. She looks up at the stage. "I think I want to at least see what they've got."
"Now this is a curious specimen, brother of mine," says the elder brother, holding aloft a softly glowing mushroom. "As you know, it grows only on the reflection of the full moon, and its curative powers in the hands of a talented alchemist are second to none."
"Why, that sounds valuable, folks.!" What are we charging, brother, one hundred coins?" The elder brother shakes his head. "Eighty?" Another shake of the head. "What, you mean to tell me we're giving this amazing fungus away for a paltry forty five gold?"
"No wonder our mother called us crazy! But that's not even the most exciting treasure we have available today, is it brother?"
"You've never been more right, brother!" The younger brother unveils, with a flourish, a twisted horn from some tremendous beast, its top sealed with a metal cap. He flips open the cap, and a strange red-black liquid within the horn begins to steam and roil. The crowd 'ooohs' and steps somewhat back. "Now I'm not rightly certain who had to die for us to gain possession of this priceless relic - "
The elder brother claps a hand to his breast and turns his gaze to the heavens. "Alas, great-uncle Vylan."
"- But this, this, folks, is the blood of a dragon!" Another chorus of gasps. "And not just any dragon, but High Lord Margath himself!" The crowd recoils, as if afraid of being burned. The younger brother chuckles. "Never fear, never fear. He's quite dead. but his blood is priceless."
"Could be a goat's horn full of some local goop," mutters Minar.
Athtar shakes his head. "That's dragon blood. I've seen it before."
The others look to him, a little surprised, before Deepmind ventures "Is it useful?"
"Urist might be able to use it," he suggests. "It is a powerful ingredient for alchemy."
Deepmind considers the suggestion before turning back toward the brothers' stall and calling out "Fifty gold for the dragon blood!"
The younger brother looks affronted. "Fifty coins? After our great-uncle Vylan gave his life?"
"My brother is right," says the elder brother. "Who can put a price on familial love and the weight of that obligation? We won't take less than two hundred gold. "The man waggles his eyebrows and the crowd chuckles. This is as much a performance as it is a mercantile transaction.
Deepmind has Streetwise
Deepmind launches into a story of her own, inventing a few key details about how her elven companion used to hunt dragons with Vylan decades ago and how the blood of the dragon from their last battle together would carry significant sentimental value. The brothers do their best to keep up, but Deepmind spies the younger brother laughing behind his hand on more than one occasion, and soon they're argued down to something more reasonable.
"Enough!" groans the older brother. "My grandfather Vylan - "
"Great-Uncle," corrects the younger brother.
"Great-uncle Vylan would want you to have this for a mere eighty gold!"
"Thank you," says Deepmind, briskly handing the gold to the younger brother as he relinquishes the horn of blood. "Pleasure doing business with you."
"Let's get that stuff to Urist and get out of here," says Aria, eyeing the horn uneasily. "I need to work on this dress anyway."
"Right, you'll work on it," says Minar with a half-smirk.
As the group moves to leave, something catches Deepmind's eye: a single stone, resting on a counter at the back of the brothers' stall. It glimmers in the light, and when she looks at it it's almost like she cannot hear or see anything else in the world.
Athtar looks over to her, puzzled. "Are you all right?"
"What's the big deal?" asks Minar, looking over. "It's just... a... stone..."
Glancing back, Athtar realizes Minar and Aria have also been entranced by the mysterious rock.
The elder brother sees them looking at the stone, and his face swiftly becomes grave. "It's not for sale," he says before they can ask.
"But perhaps you'd like to try another of our fine wares?" suggests the younger brother, launching off into another bit of mercantile song and dance. He's ignored.
Once the brothers move on to other customers, Deepmind turns wild eyes to Athtar and snaps. "We need that stone!"
Startled, Athtar takes a step back. "It's just a rock." He looks again, but this time notices an effect - a pull, like gravity, toward the stone. The longer he looks, the harder it draws him in.
Athtar has Willpower
He snaps his vision away from the tugging magic and turns to face down the street. "We should leave."
"No, she's right," murmurs Aria. "We have to get that stone first."
"Maybe we can steal it?" suggests Minar, looking off to the brothers. "Just grab it when they're busy selling something."
Deepmind is becoming agitated, her tail swishing out from under her cloak. "I can start haggling over that mushroom, you be ready to swipe the stone."
"No," insists Athtar. "That... thing is affecting you all. You're not in your right minds. Come on." He reaches down and takes Deepmind by the wrist, and she turns and hisses angrily. Undeterred, he begins pulling his companion away, throwing his arms wide to drag Minar and Aria with him. They offer less resistance, but Athtar still finds he has to drag the three of them for several meters as onlookers give them puzzled looks.
Once clear of the sight of the stone, the spell seems to break over the group. "What was that?" says Aria, more than a little uncomfortable.
"The secret to their success, I suspect," says Athtar. "Though it is clearly not meant to be looked at directly." He pauses, looking down his arm. "Deepmind, did you bite my chainmail?"
Deepmind nurses a small cut on her lip. "No. Now let' s get out of here."
The party gains the Dragon Blood
The party spends 80 gold
A) Return to the Swan to see if Mariam and Braxton are ready for their big day
B) Get dinner at the Chatty Archer
C) Investigate rumors of a crypt north of town
The party trickle back to the Swan as the sun sets, resting around the common room. Mariam and Braxton sit at their usual table not far from the stairs, surrounded by the decimated remains of dinner. Mariam stands on her chair, carefully pouring a goblet of wine. That done, she lifts it into the air and clinks it against Braxton's. "To a successful grand opening," says Braxton.
"To all that money!" sighs Mariam.
Braxton laughs as she set her goblet back down. "It went that well, then?"
"I think this town has been wanting a proper apothecary for a while. The second day won't be as strong." She stares up at the ceiling, running the future out before her.
"But it doesn't have to be. I think this is going to work out."
"To things working out," says Mariam, raising her goblet again. She turns to the party. "Come join us!" she calls. "We're celebrating my grand opening!"
The six partymembers join the happy couple at their table just as Sapphire arrives with more food - hot steaming soup with noodles and vegetables, roast duck, and red cabbage pickled in apple vinegar. "Will I still be seeing you for dinners, dear?" Sapphire asks as she lingers at the table. "At least for the next few weeks?"
"I'm not nearly the cook you are," Braxton says, sniffing at the soup. "But I suppose at some point we should provide for ourselves."
"Providing for yourself is extremely overrated," opines Aria as she scoops more noodles into her bowl. "I say keep sponging."
"Don't you worry, oh future wife," chirps Mariam. "Once we have our kitchen set up properly I'll be able to remind you how good a cook I am."
"I suppose cooking and alchemy have a lot in common," Braxton muses.
"They can," Urist confirms, before looking around. "Does anyone else hear that?"
A moment of silence drifts on as everyone looks to the fidgeting dwarf.
"...You all enjoy," says Sapphire, leaving a bottle of wine on the table and bustling away to tend to other customers.
"Well," says Mariam, pouring the bottle out into a glass for all assembled. "What shall we drink to?"
Athtar swirls his cup, weighing the contents thoughtfully. "How about to your new home?"
"To our new home!" cheers Mariam, swallowing another mouthful of tart red wine. "It feels so good to have my own space. Our own space," she amends, glancing at Braxton. "I'm really looking forward to going back there tonight and breaking in our bed-"
"Mariam!" gasps Braxton.
"By sleeping! Sleeping in our bed!" She turns the same shade as the wine in her cup and hides her face behind another swallow.
Aria laughs so hard she almost falls off her chair, and Sapphire materializes at her side to join her. "I came back at just the right time," she says.
Mariam coughs. "Braxton. Didn't you have something you wanted to tell us when we were all together?" she arches her eyebrows and mouths the word "please?"
Braxton nods and stands, and holds her wine goblet out in front of her. She glances from Mariam to Sapphire and around the room. "Very well, it's time for my announcement. As of today, I am officially her ladyship's next captain of the guard." Everyone claps and cheers and Braxton bows her head and smiles. "Tweegal recommended me for the position, and he's going to stay on for another month or two and teach me everything I need to know. Then he's retiring, and it'll be all my problem."
"That's great!" says Mariam. "I'm so glad they recognize your talents, not like Lord Jerk - "
Sapphire places a hand on her arm and smiles up at Braxton. "I'm so happy for you, dear. Her ladyship is lucky to have you."
"Hear, hear," says Mariam, and she lifts her glass. "Another toast! To Dame Braxton - to Captain Braxton!"
A few more toasts and rounds are had, Aria plays her violin as the soon-to-be-married call out requests, and sooner than expected Mariam is reduced to giggling and singing. Braxton thanks their friends for their support and promises are made for the big day tomorrow, before she scoops up her fiancee and takes her home.
Emptying her goblet, Aria hums with excitement. "I don't know about you guys, but I feel like I'm just getting started." She hunts around for an un-emptied bottle of wine for a moment before snapping her fingers. "I've got it! A bachelorette party!"
"Both the bachelorettes have already gone home," Minar points out.
Aria waves him off. "Details. It's tradition! We need to throw a bachelorette party!" She pauses to consider the possibility before adding "Two parties, technically, one for Braxton and one for Mariam."
"With neither of them there," Deepmind finishes flatly.
"URK FULLY SUPPORT THIS TRANSPARENT EXCUSE TO KEEP DRINKING."
Athtar frowns, resting his empty cup on the table. "I had actually hoped now that the day's business was concluded, we might finally follow the lead on that hero's crypt."
"You want to go dungeoneering?" asks Aria, incredulous. "Now? Two glasses of wine in?"
The elf shrugs. "The wedding will likely take up most of our time tomorrow, better to get it out of the way."
Minar grunts. "And if we die in a haunted graveyard at midnight at least we'll be buzzed, I guess."
After a few moments of quiet, the party turns to Urist, who's busy stacking the empty cups into a pyramid with silent intensity. He notices their stares and pauses in his work. "If we go to the crypt at the end of the day it's more time-efficient, since it can't spill into the next," he states matter-of-factly, before returning to his tower.
The orc gives him a sideways glance. "URK THINK MAYBE URIST COULD USE GLASS OF WATER."
A) Simultaneous honorary bachelorette parties
B) Investigate the crypt north of town
C) Drink a tall glass of water and go to bed
Urist is still feeling unusually observant thanks to his experimentation earlier, so he may be right about that. And as everyone knows, it's always that third drink that splits the difference between dungeon crawling and saying "fuck it, I'm clocking out today".
I have some things to take care of so feel free to take some time and weigh the options, I'll tally the votes tonight.
As fun as it would be for half the party to get drunk and the other half to try taking on the crypt on their own.