Part 20: Chapter FifteenSunlight creeps through the ratty curtains in the Drunken Hog's guest room. A shaft of light sweeps up a thin blanket to pester Minar - as most things do, in Dragonholt. He grumbles, shifts, then finally surrenders and sits up. He surveys the damage from last night's afterparty, discarded ale mugs and battered furniture scattered around.
The Princeling shifts in bed, disturbing a distinctly un-princelike puddle of drool before beginning to snore again. Minar ignores him and turns his attention to several other figures lying comatose around the room. Recognizing one shape curled up on the rug, he picks up his pillow and with careful aim scores a hit.
Aria bolts up in shock, disoriented and annoyed. She traces the projectile's trajectory back to Minar and prepares to yell, before the particulars of their situation come flooding back to her. Shortly thereafter, the hangover begins, and soon the pair are shakily digging for their boots and sundry possessions among the debris of the room.
Closing the door behind them as they step into the hall, Aria mutters "My A-string's broken." She holds her violin up for emphasis.
"I warned you it was getting worn," Minar mumbles. "Come on, Sapphire'll have breakfast."
"I miss coffee," Aria groans as they stagger out of the Drunken Hog's front door.
"Ugh, don't remind me."
By the time the two make it back to the Swan, morning is in full swing. As predicted, Sapphire had set out breakfast, and the party has already made their start on it, but they are not alone.
"There you are," calls Celyse as they enter the common room. She is seated at the party's regular table with what looks like Aria and Minar's share of their regular breakfast, which she and young Phillip have already helped themselves to. Phillip sits beside her with Mal hanging upside down from his lap.
Sapphire delivers fresh platters of whipped cream, blueberries, and steaming-hot griddle cakes, which the pair take in the sullen-yet-grateful way of the hungover everywhere. Celyse watches them eat with a smirk while Phillip continues to play with Mal.
"We decided to wait for you before doing this officially. Phillip, didn't you want to say something?" asks Celyse.
"What? Oh!" says Phillip, placing Mal on the ground and patting him on the head. "Sorry, I was distracted." He turns to the party and smiles. "I wanted to invite you to mother's masquerade ball tonight," he says. "All sorts of people will be there, and I think you'll have a very good time. But you must come masked. It spoils the game otherwise."
"Why, that sounds marvelous!" Urist exclaims. "I can hardly wait."
"I think that's a yes from us," says Athtar, who gives Minar and Aria slightly pointed looks. "All of us."
"I'm so pleased!" says Phillip. Mal reappears and hands him a length of rope, which leads to a mighty tug-of-war struggle as Phillip attempts to maintain the thread of the conversation with the party. "We have this ball every year, to honor the alliance between the three counties. But this year, with Sonia gone, it will be... emotional. I'll be glad to have as many friends there as I can manage." Phillip lifts the rope and Mal with it a grunt, then lets go to send the child crashing to the ground in a pile of giggles. He leans toward you and whispers. "I've been working on my mask for months. It's got a butterfly wing covering half in my face. It's beautiful. I hope you like it."
As she stands to go, Celyse leans in and grabs Athtar's arm. "I think it's possible that Kyric will try something at the ball tonight. Regina will have her guards there, but your presence would be more than welcome."
Athtar nods. Deepmind, at his elbow, whispers "We've made some progress on that. Don't go changing your plans, but be ready for trouble."
Celyse nods back. "I know I can count on you all." Then she slips out of the Swan and into the summer sun beyond.
Once the party is alone, Aria looks up from her plate and does her best to pull herself back together. "So, sounds like we missed some things."
"A few," says Deepmind with a smile. She gestures toward Urk.
"ATHTAR AND URIST FIND OUT KYRIC IS RIGHTFUL HEIR, REGINA ONLY BASTARD HALF-SISTER, MADE HEIR BY FATHER FOR GREAT MAGICS WITH FOREST SPIRITS. KYRIC MOTHER A BELMONT, SHE DIED GIVING BIRTH. BELMONTS ONE OF THREE FAMILIES THAT CONTROL ALLERFELDT. BELMONT LORD HAVE MANY SOLDIERS, BUT NEED MONEY. DRAGONHOLT HAVE, LIKE, THREE SOLDIERS."
"One of those soldiers is Deakon," adds Deepmind.
"URK NOT EVEN COUNT DEAKON, ONE OF THOSE THREE IS BRAXTON. BUT DRAGONHOLT HAVE MUCH MONEY." She pauses, considering this. "OR, MUCH BEANS, WHICH ARE BASICALLY MONEY TO HUMANS, BECAUSE HUMANS SOMETIMES VERY BORING."
Athtar decides to intercede at this point. "It's our conclusion that Kyric is a catspaw of his mother's family, the Belmonts, who have provided him his resources and will back his claim in return for considerations should he rule. With Regina seemingly dying of illness, he needs her surviving children to either back his claim or die before they can inherit to make this legal enough that the Baron won't intervene. And tonight at the masquerade ball, the Belmonts and the neighbouring Cunninghams will be in town and the doors to the manor will be open..."
"Devious," gasps Urist. "The perfect time for Kyric to spring his trap!"
"PROBABLY," Urk agrees.
"So why shouldn't Regina just cancel the masquerade?" asks Minar. He pauses, letting his thoughts turn over slowly. "Are you thinking of using them as bait?"
"Basically," says Deepmind with a shrug. Athtar moves to object, but she cuts him off. "To tell you the truth, this is mostly speculation - I don't think Regina's gonna listen if we tell her to cancel the biggest event on the nobility's social calendar over our hunch."
"URK PRETTY SURE REGINA NOT EVEN JAIL STABLEMASTER WHO PRETTY OBVIOUSLY MURDERED SONIA."
"What we're going to do," continues Deepmind. "Is gather intelligence. Kyric's probably going to strike tonight. Will the Belmonts help him? Can we find evidence linking him to the Belmonts? Where do the Cunninghams stand?"
Athtar takes on a grim expression. "And above all, we must protect Rochelle and Phillip. They are the key to all of this - should they die, the county lawfully passes to Kyric, and with another count's recognition there would be no preventing it."
"URK THINK URK COULD PROBABLY STOP IT," the orc suggests, as she mops up the last of the breakfast platter. "BUT ALSO WOULD BE GOOD TO SAVE CHILDREN."
Minar sighs heavily, dropping his plate back on the table. "Okay, okay. If we're going to go through with this... what's our first step?"
A) It's a special market day, see what you can learn from the gossip
B) Many of the nobles are staying at the Countess Inn, see what you can learn from them
C) Consult Rochelle on defensive preparations at the manor
There is a great commotion coming from within the manor's hall as Urk and Athtar approach, finding the door hanging ajar. Clearly, the manor's staff is hard at work preparing for tonight's ball.
Mathilda, the serving girl, brushes past them carrying a heavy vase. "Miss Celyse is at the library in the village today," she says. "Something about wishing to avoid all the commotion. If you're looking for Dame Braxton, she and Lady Rochelle are in the salle on the second floor." She nods to the staircase to their left and then scurries away.
They climb the staircase on the west side of the hall and pass into the salon. They can hear grunting and the clang of metal coming from behind the right door, and passing through it find Braxton and Rochelle locked in mock combat.
Both women are wearing thick padded doublets and arming caps and wielding longswords that hopefully are blunted for training. They circle and clash, locking steel against steel and often body against body, parting with a shove and grunt each time. Rochelle, by far the smaller of the two, is also the more aggressive, forcing Braxton to give ground with rapid overhand strikes, then shifting to darting slashes from either side. Braxton knocks each attack aside with quick, subtle movements. Eventually, Rochelle pulls back and then lunges, only to have her sword knocked aside and thrown from her hand with a swift slash against her knuckles.
"Margath's breath!" swears Rochelle, clutching at her hand. "I thought I had you."
"You didn'," says Braxton. "I baited you, and you took it." Braxton bends down and retrieves Rochelle's sword. "You were trying to keep me off balance. Against a weaker duelist, it might have worked. But I have some experience at this sort of thing." She returns the sword and turns to Athtar and Urk. "Did you need something from me, or from Lady Rochelle?" she asks.
"Just 'Rochelle,' please, Dame Braxton."
"Then just Braxton, please, Rochelle."
"We had come to discuss the masquerade tonight," Athtar begins. "I hope we might discuss security, although..." he takes a critical eye to Rochelle's stance. "If you wouldn't mind, it might also be useful to test your skills myself."
"URK WILL SURVEY MANOR DEFENSES IN MEANTIME. URK ONLY LIKE SWORDFIGHTING IF SHE CAN USE MAGIC DEATH SWORD." The orc heads for the door, giving a casual wave over her shoulder. "GO TO TOWN."
Rochelle grins and nods toward a rack of mock weapons. Athtar dons some padding, grabs a blunted sword, and steps into the hall with the two women. They start off slow, following the drill circles marked on the floor as Athtar and Rochelle are put through their paces for footwork and guards. The sparring is rigorous, but dispassionate, and Rochelle begins to show frustration. "Enough," she says, lowering her sword. "This is getting me nowhere. Come at me, Braxton."
"Don't neglect your fundamentals, Rochelle," chides Braxton, but she settles her arming cap back over her black hair and ties it off under her chin.
"I need more than fundamentals to keep Phillip and mother safe," says Rochelle, settling herself into a guard position - one that Braxton had just drilled her on. "Let's begin."
Braxton attacks with speed and ferocity, so unlike her usual calm. Rochell meets the attack with grim determination, knocking it aside and holding her ground. Braxton presses her but despite her power can find no opening in Rochelle's guard, until she falls back and calls "Switch!"
Athtar steps forward and presses his own attack, which Rochelle deflects as he begins to maneuver around the hall. They trade blows with wordless cries and grunts, but Athtar is never able to gain the upper hand on Rochelle, until Braxton calls "Switch!" again and steps in to replace him. "You're tiring," says Braxton. "You're spending too much effort on your parries and counterblows. A defensive posture relies on shepherding your strength until an opportunity presents to use it." Braxton whirls and knocks aside a thrust, then blocks a high cut and counters with a low slash. Rochelle leaps over her sword, and they slam together with a shout, then come to rest. Braxton's sword lies against Rochelle's collarbone, and Rochelle's hard against Braxton's stomach. Braxton chuckles. "Now we're both dead. You protect your family best alive, my lady."
"Let me worry about that," says Rochelle, stepping back. "Switch." Athtar raises his sword and steps in.
Athtar loses two stamina
At length, Braxton calls a halt and strips out of her training outfit. "That is enough for today, my lady. I must attend to other matters and prepare for the ball."
Rochelle bows stiffly, sword at her side. "Thank you, Braxton. I shall practice my forms for a time."
"You really should take a break, my lady."
"Your opinion is noted," says Rochelle, pacing to the center of her fencing circles.
Braxton sighs and leads Athtar and Urk out of the room. "I'm worried about her," she confesses. "She's pushing herself too hard. I only hope she comes out of it before she does herself some sort of injury, or makes a mistake she will regret."
Athtar nods in agreement, his expression dour. "If it should come to fighting, she may have just enough skill to put herself in danger. Nevertheless, I have every confidence you can protect your charge." He looks up as Urk joins them on their way out of the hall. "Finished your inspection?"
Urk looks the two sweaty combatants up and down, then shrugs. "NOT MUCH FOR URK TO INSPECT, BUT YEAH. ONLY GOOD FORTIFICATION IS OLD STONE ROUNDHOUSE WING, REST OF MANOR JUST FOR SHOW. MAIN BANQUET HALL COMPLETELY EXPOSED, COULD HIDE WHOLE ARMY IN WINDOWS, ALCOVES AND RAFTERS."
The elf frowns. "Not very reassuring."
Urk grins in response. "URK HATE HIDING BEHIND WALLS ANYWAY. LET'S GO."
A) Try the market for useful gossip
B) Meet the nobles at the Countess Inn
C) Help Grisbeck and Penny prepare for the masquerade at the Bakery
The market row is full of carts and stalls, bright colors flashing in the breeze. Merchants and customers bustle to and fro. There are stalls offering wool coats and blankets, a leatherworker hard at work on straps and buckles with her wares hanging all around her. A fishmonger shrieks an offer for salted fish, and a traveling butcher pushes past with shanks of red meat dangling from a pole over his shoulder.
Stalls groan with mounds of shiny red tomatoes and piles of melons in a variety of bright colors. A merchant wearing a priest's vestments offers bottles and casks of wine, "made by the Poor Brothers of Vynel's Vale." Two cheese merchants side by side each proclaim their cheese is superior. Near the end of the row, a short man in a striped turban extravagantly touts his collection of potions and poultices beneath a sign reading "Al-Emir's Elixirs."
"Anything so far?" Deepmind mutters.
Aria shakes her head. "The tailors around here are terrible. I'll just have to re-wear Celyse's librarian threads from the wedding."
Deepmind rolls her eyes and lets out a small sigh. "I meant anything so far we can use?"
"Oh, right!" The bard smiles at her easily teased companion. "No useful gossip about the nobles or the ball, but I did hear a rumor that a certain hyrrinx was caught cuddling a certain elven knight. Any comment?"
Deepmind responds by strolling determinedly away, while Aria has the good grace to spare her further needling. As they browse the stalls, a young human man in a crushed velvet half-cape tumbles to the ground in front of them. He springs back to his feet and adjusts his cape carefully. "I'll be expecting an apology, Belmont."
"You won't get one, Cunningham," sneers an equally young human woman in a burgundy riding dress with a duelist's sword at her side. "You should have been watching where you were going."
Aria glances around for guards, but the only ones are clear at the other end of the market row and not looking in their direction.
"Don't think you scare me, Brynn," hisses the Cunningham boy. His own hand drops to the sword at his hip.
"I should, Albyrt," retorts the Belmont girl. They're both maybe twenty years old, at best, but it's hard not to see them as spoiled children the way they're carrying on, albeit spoiled children armed with live steel.
"What is this about, anyway?" asks Albyrt. "Are you jealous that I'm going to be marrying the Fairfax heir and you're not?"
"Ha!" spits Brynn. "Even if I believed you, I'd say 'good riddance' to you both." She puts a hand on her sword. "In fact, I might just say 'good riddance' anyway."
Deepmind surreptitiously rests her hands on her knives, but Aria gives her a calming gesture and steps between the two nobles.
Aria has persuasion
"Hey now," says Aria, her hands raised. "Both your families are guests in Dragonholt for the ball, and it's going to be tough to attend if you murder each other in the street."
"You think I care about some stupid ball?" sneers Albyrt, assuming a (rather sloppy) fencer's ready position.
Brynn, on the other hand, slams her half-draw sword back into its scabbard. "No, that's a good point. My father won't thank me for making him spend the entire ball apologizing for your death." She smiles sweetly up at the much-taller Albyrt and manages an extremely insouciant curtsy. "My apologies, my lord. The error was entirely mine." Then she sashays off, leaving the Cunningham youth swallowing nervously.
"Stars above, I thought I was about to die," he says, deflating like an empty wineskin. "Thank you for that, my friend." He staggers away, looking grey but unharmed.
A few nearby merchants show obvious relief and nod gratefully to Aria. "That could have been bad for business," one says. "I'll tell the guards to keep an eye on those two."
"It'd be a brave guard that steps between two nobles," Deepmind mutters, before eyeing Aria and adding "or a brave bard."
Aria smiles, spreading her open hands disarmingly. "I just have a way with people. I guess the Cunninghams and the Belmonts probably don't get along so great, huh?"
Deepmind shakes her head. "Kids get into dumb fights no matter the politics, but... yeah, we might be onto something there. And that bit about Albyrt marrying Rochelle..." she looks off for a moment, chewing on the new intelligence. "We should check in with the others when we can, see what they've learned."
Mark one progress in heroism
A) Meet the nobles at the Countess Inn
B) Check in on Celyse's hideout at the library
C) See how Grisbeck and Penny are doing at the bakery
The librarian glances down at Athtar and Minar from her perch, then reaches out one hand and pets the grey tabby cat sleeping on a pile of books at her side. "Celyse is in the archives," she says, nodding to the door behind her.
They make their way through the cramped shelves of the archives and find Celyse sat quite comfortably in a leather-padded chair, a book in her lap and more books strew about all around her. "You found me," she says without looking up. "I couldn't abide all the commotion at the manor today, so I'm hiding here."
"I don't mind the commotion," says Phillip from the next chair over. He also has a book close at hand, but unlike her he is fairly vibrating in his seat. "I want to help with the decorations."
"After your studies are done," scolds Celyse. "You are not making much headway on the Baronies, I see."
"Sorry, teacher," sighs Phillip, and he drops his head to his book again.
"We didn't mean to interrupt your studies," Athtar explains. "Urk and I were at the manor discussing security arrangements with Braxton, and the maid mentioned you had retreated to the library, so I thought to check in again before tonight's proceedings."
"And I tagged Urk out when I heard he was coming to the library," adds Minar. "I'm not really one for commotion either."
After a moment, Phillip straightens. "Oh! The mask!" He says. "You said you had that extra mask-"
"Quite right," says Celyse. She stands and rummages through her bag, which hangs from a hook over her chair. "Here it is." She turns toward Athtar, revealing a mask fashioned of painted leather to resemble a crescent moon. It looks quite expertly made. "It's part of a matching set, one of which I will be wearing tonight. Phillip thought you might be in need of one for the masquerade."
"I am honored," Athtar replies, taking the mask.
The party gains the Moon Mask
"I am sorry to say I only have the one," Celyse admits, turning to Minar. "Though of course, plain masks will be provided to guests at the manor door."
Minar shrugs. "Makes for a better look anyway, the two elves wearing matching masks. Besides, I'm not the one who took a crossbow bolt to the chest."
"Tactful," Athtar remarks with a slight frown.
Celyse glances back at Phillip and arches a slender eyebrow. "Eyes on the book, Phillip," she says, and the youth sheepishly drops his puppy-like gaze away from the adventurers.
Noticing the heavy tome in the boy's hands, Athtar cocks his head for a better look. "What do you have young Phillip reading today? Would you mind if we took a look?"
Phillip happily shifts his chair to make room for their two guests and lays his book out on the table in front of him. "This is The Baronies and the Soulstone Kingdom," he explains. "We're skipping past all the stuff about the Usurper Kings and just reading about the baronies themselves. Right now I'm learning about our own barony, Allerfeldt."
Minar and Athtar follow along with Phillip as he describes the general geography of Allerfeldt, mainly grasslands and rolling plains, its rich farmland, and its position to the northwest of Dawnsmoor and southwest of Nerekhall. Its largest city is Highcrest, some two days' ride through Eventide Forest from Dragoholt, and that its rich farmlands help feed the Free Cities and other, less fertile baronies. "This book still thinks that Baroness Tyrese of House Hull rules here," chuckles Phillip. "Wow is it old, I've never even heard of House Hull before."
"That is because you have been neglecting your genealogy reading," chides Celyse from her chair. "You would know that House Hull, while extinct in the primary, survives today through the secondary line in the form of what family?"
"Uh..." Phillip scratches his chin. "Well, it's probably the same family that sits on the seat in Goldhall now, isn't it?" He glances to Athtar for support as he feels through his answer. "So House Hull survives in Baroness Katrin of House Sephone?"
Minar whistles. "Smart kid."
"Lucky guess," sniffs Celyse, who turns another page.
Mark one progress in academic study
A) Meet the visiting nobles at the Countess Inn
B) Try selling the dragon claw at the market
C) Check on Grisbeck and Penny at the bakery
The Countess Inn seems to have been overtaken by nobles and their retinues, with the usual patrons nowhere to be seen. Ursula still sits at her regular table, but now she is flanked by human nobles on either side. To her left sit the Cunninghams, tall, fair, distractible Lord Oszric and shorter, darker, formidable Lady Elena. To Ursula's right sits Count Leone Belmont, all roundness and bluster and bushy red beard. Various servants, attendants, children, and kin cluster around the room at their own tables, all eyeing the table beneath the painted tree with interest.
Urist takes in the scene with polite curiosity, whispering to Aria. "Those aristocrats lunching with Ursula, they must be the guests of honor at Regina's coming masquerade."
Aria nods. "If they're the big players in this neck of the woods, we might as well say hello and see what we're dealing with." The carefree bard seems to transform quite suddenly into the picture of poise and manners, accompanying Urist over to the main table.
Urusla notes their approach with a friendly smile and broad gesture to her noble guests. "My lords and lady, let me introduce two of the adventurers our Countess has recently engaged - lady Aria of Nerekhall, and Urist of the Dunwarr mountains. The two of them were indispensable in handling that business with the dragon the other day."
Aria pulls off a textbook-perfect curtsy, which reminds Urist to bow. The assembled nobles accept their presence, perhaps because Ursula seems to respect them, and the conversation carries on.
"Cunninghams..." says Urist, tugging at his beard thoughtfully. "Well-known for your trade relations, am I correct?"
"Oh, Elena handles most of that business," drawls Lord Oszric.
"Thankfully," says Elena. "We have good relations with Dragonholt. We keep our tariffs low between the counties, and our merchants trade Haverford cheese, leather, and beer for Dragonholt apples, cider, and wool."
"And Rostum stone!" puts in Lord Leone.
"Yes, your quarry is very nice," says Elena. "When it's running."
"Small labor shortage, is all," mutters Leone.
"These oafs will tell you that blood oaths and history keep our counties friendly," says Elena. "I say it's trade. Let trade flow and peace will reign."
"We all want peace, I'm sure," says Aria in a clipped, diplomatic tone that surprises Urist. "The Belmonts may have a different way of going about it, but I've heard they're no less committed."
"We Belmonts have a proud lineage," boasts Lord Leone. "Dating back to the Rose Knight himself, a younger son of one of the Penacor Kings."
"But which one he'll never say," sneers Elena.
"That's rich, coming from a common-born merchant's daughter," rumbles Leone.
"Oh, that's right, I forgot that one's birth is the only thing that matters," says Elena.
"Now now," murmurs Oszric. "You're both pretty."
Ursula snorts, then covers with a sip of tea. "I believe you were discussing your family's history, my lord?"
"Yes. We've been defenders of the realm for generations, always standing firm against the enemies of Terrinoth." He frowns at Elena again. "Some might suggest that order is kept through trade, but in fact it is strength at arms, and the loyalty of those swords, that keeps the peace. And no one is stronger or more loyal than House Belmont."
"Commendable," agrees Urist. "Why, it seems the three counties each bring something to the table. The Allerfeldt is lucky to have you."
"All three counties have been united for generations," says Ursula.
"Since the days of Countess Priscylla Belmont of Rostum," says Lord Leone. "She led the three counties in the defeat of the Raven Horde."
"I think you'll find that it was Countess Ygraine's white sorcery that broke the magic of the Raven Priest and saved us all," says Oszric.
"I was told that it was Count Aleks Fairfax of Dragonholt who orchestrated the alliance," says Ursula.
"Gods save us all from nobles and their pride," groans Elena.
"You're a noble now, dear," says her husband.
"She's certainly prideful enough," harrumphs Leone.
The conversation continues a little longer in this way, the nobles trading polite barbs and extolling the virtues of their Houses until Aria and Urist can excuse themselves and retreat from the proceedings.
"Ugggggh, that sucked," groans Aria once they're out of earshot.
Urist, perplexed, says "I thought they were all perfectly pleasant."
"Sure, if you like arguing about whose great-grandfather offended whose aunt at the tournament of who-cares." Aria sighs and shakes her head. "We should touch base with the others and compare notes. It sounds like the Cunninghams and the Belmonts really don't get along after all."
"Which is probably for the best, if our theory about Kyric's patron proves correct," suggests Urist. "Though I still don't see any evidence that the Belmonts have designs on Dragonholt county."
"He's not just going to out and tell us, but Leone doesn't seem like the sharpest arrow in the quiver either. Maybe the rest of the guys have turned up something useful."
A) Try selling the dragon claw at the market
B) Check up on Penny and Grisbeck at the bakery
C) Pre-game the masquerade at the Drunken Hog
The village green is busy with people and animals. A number of horses have put to pasture in the paddock, where they crowd out the usual goats. Servants in the livery of several noble families tend to the horses and scurry about on business. A few small-time merchants have laid out their wares here, doing their best to attract the attention of those on their way to or from the market row proper.
A woman in a leather cuirass sewn with iron rings paces back and forth in front of the paddock, a variety of weapos laid out behind her and a sheathed sword resting on her shoulder. She steps in front of a passing merchant and, with a few gestures with her sword, invites him to train with her. The man steps wide around her, scurrying past with a few furtive glances.
Deepmind chuckles at the proceedings while taking a spot between two other merchants and spreads out her cloak on the ground, just like the other peddlers. Instead of putting out boxes of handicrafts or herbs, however, she opens her pack and lays out one single item - the heavy claw of the dragon from the day previous.
As soon as she shows off the claw, a small crowd gathers, murmuring and gossiping around her trophy. "What's that?" "Dragon claw." "Not a chance; must be a hoax." "It's real!" "I heard a catfolk was part of that party that fought off the dragon yesterday."
A voice breaks through the hubbub: "I'll give you one hundred gold coins for it." The crowd parts, revealing a gaunt elf of uncertain gender, leaning on a crooked staff.
"One hundred and fifty," says another voice. A tall human man in his middle years steps forward, sweeping a crushed blue velvet half-cape back over his shoulder.
"Leave off, Cunningham," says the elf. "You're just going to put it on your trophy rack. I want to actually use it. One hundred seventy-five."
"It's called a 'museum'," sniffs Oszric. "Two hundred gold coins."
The elf sighs, like wind rustling leaves. "Enough. You humans have more money than sense." The elf stalks away and Cuningham smiles.
Deepmind is smiling too. "Oh, but my lord, yu haven't even heard the story of how I got this claw..."
Deepmind gains Performance, spending one XP
The hyrinnx goes one to spin a grand tale of how she and her friends defeated the dragon, making sure to exaggerate the heat of its fiery breath, the hurricane winds of its tremendous wings, the size and power of its teeth and claws. The crowd follows along with rapt attention, gasping at al the right moments, cheering at the others. When she finishes, proclaiming that an item you purchased yourself at such a dear cost could never be sold, they applaud and look at the claw she holds in her hands with new respect.
"Marvelous!" says the count. "Why, now I know just what to write about it in my museum." He clasps his hands together. "I must have it. Three hundred and fifty gold."
"Sold," Deepmind announces, handing off the claw for the nobleman's purse in a brisk exchange.
The party loses the Dragon Claw
The party gains 350 gold
Deepmind pauses as the crowd breaks up, holding the purse in her hands. She did do all the work of selling the thing, that's probably worth a commission, right?
The party loses 10 gold
Leaving the coins in her pocket, Deepmind turns back toward the town. It's getting late, after all, and they'd better start making plans for the masquerade.
A) Pre-game the masquerade at the Drunken Hog
B) Check up on Penny and Grisbeck at the bakery
C) Regroup at the Swan and plan this out properly
A sign on the door to the bakery reads "Sorry, we're closed" in both the common and Dunwarr scripts. The smell of baking bread still wafts from within the building, however, tickling Urk's nose and encouraging her to linger.
Through the glass windows Urk can see Grisbeck, the dwarf baker, and his daughter Penny working on their masks for tonight's ball. One entire table is covered with materials, and both dwarfs are daubed with paint about the face and fingers.
Urk taps on the glass, and Penny leaps from her chair to run toward her. She hears her muted shouts echoing through the glass, and then she opens the door and the words catch up to her.
"...can't wait until it's finished! Come an' see!" She grabs Urk by the hand and drags her into the bakery. "Dah, look!" she says. "He's makin' his mask too," Penny tells Urk. "But mine will be better."
"Always good ta see ye," says Grisbeck from his seat, daubing paint on a mask. "What brings ye here today?"
"URK HAD SOME TIME BEFORE BALL BEGINS," explains Urk, trying to seem casual. "URK THOUGHT MAYBE PENNY NEED HELP WITH MASQUERADE MASK?"
"I want to make it meself," says Penny, "in proper Dunwarr fashion. But ye c'n sit an' watch, an' if I get ta a difficult bit, I c'n ask ye f'r help then."
Grisbeck smiles in her direction, then glances down at his own mask, a simple but elegant affair of white and black checks. "Mine be almost done," he says, "but I feel it be lacking a little something."
Urk gains Craftsmanship, spending one XP
Urk suggests gold trim for Grisbeck's mask, which he finds most agreeable, then enjoys a sweet roll and glass of milk and honey as he and Penny work. At a few key points Penny gets stuck and asks for her advice, so she supplies key suggestions for how to attach the beak to her owl mask and how best to paint feathers onto its surface. Meanwhile, Penny explains to Urk that her mask is an owl, but it's not Thegn Owl, because she wants to be Thegn Owl's friend.
Eventually, both masks are done and looking quite good. Noting the setting sun, Urk rises to make her goodbyes and promises to meet up with them again during the masquerade - but on her way out, takes Grisbeck aside for a quiet word.
"LOOK, URK NOT SUGGEST THAT GRISBECK AND PENNY NOT GO TO BALL," she begins, glancing back toward Penny. "BUT URK WILL BE WORKING THERE. COULD BE TROUBLE. IF GRISBECK SEE ANY TROUBLE AT ALL, RUN. LEAVE FOR URK."
"Ye don't have t'worry on our account," the baker assures Urk with a smile. "I'm sure, with ye there, we'll get along just fine. An' at the first sign 'o trouble, me'n Penny'll be well clear."
Urk returns the smile, clearly relieved. "GOOD. URK DON'T THINK URK EVER BEEN TO MASQUERADE BALL, SO SHOULD BE FUN EVEN IF NO HUGE FIGHT BREAK OUT."
She leaves the cozy bakery behind and sets her sights on the Fairfax manor, where the many visitors and residents of Dragonholt are beginning to trickle toward. The setting sun casts the stately home in warm, inviting colors, and if Urk squints she can make out the tiny figures of her companions already awaiting her arrival by the front gate.
The pleasant evening ahead is marred somewhat by a cloud of danger. The threat of Kyric and his bandits, sure - but Urk also can't shake the awful premonitions of the night previous, or ignore the spirits' sudden silence radiating out from the manor grounds. Despite her hedging with Grisbeck, she can't shake the sense that whatever confrontation was brewing in Dragonholt is about to come to a head.
Day Seven is over
The final quest begins shortly!