Appario leads the others through the streets towards an apparently abandoned warehouse just north of the canal splitting mainland Westcrown in two.
Appario stops short and points at the warehouse.
"I think that's it. It seems like it's been a year since I've been here. But yeah...that's it." Appario gives it a gander and listen.
1d20 + 11 ⇒ (16) + 11 = 27 Perception
"I think they are still inside. That makes it easy. We can just hide out here. In fact, just one of us needs to scout...the rest of us can watch for that person. Do any of you want to watch from the air? Or have keen ideas?"
"Hunting shadowbeasts? There is no money to be made in it. And I would not call my supply of scrolls, deep exactly. However, most of my resources I am not proud to say comes from my family. While I'd prefer to earn it, there is not much work for a blue hooded vigilante. So I just try to use my family's wealth for a greater purpose."
Derek, wanting to keep a clear head makes sure to alternate between glasses of wine and water as he savours the food.
"Not bad old friend, this almost approaches edible, I'm glad to see you finally outgrew that idea you had about serving everything with that appalling Taldane jelly as a side dish.
A mix of sea urchins and mint, really? Did anybody ever even touch it?"
As he allows the tender meat to slowly melt on his tongue, Derek is secretly once more surprised at just how skilled his friend truly is in the kitchen. The smell alone is mouth-watering, and the harmony between the meat and sauce is almost divine.
As Thunderbelly speaks about Amaya, Derek favours them both with a warm smile.
"What, are you trying to imply that my taste in women were on the level with your cooking skills or something?
I'll allow that none has ever come even close to Amaya in beauty or personality, you are right about that."
"Speaking of the famous director we have in our midst, did you ever have a chance to use that ticket I sent you to watch the play? You won't get another chance you know, I won't play in it and he won't direct it."
Derek then turns to Millech.
"How have your young student worked out? When I spoke to her not so long ago she was certainly both grateful for your lessons as well as very happy with her progress."
"No, they would not approve of anything that changes the status quo. They would prefer for things to stay the way they are. As far as they know, I'm off galavanting in Absalom, wasting my money and being irresponsible. I haven't been home in quite a while. Not they care anyhow."
"I suppose to an Abadaran, money is everything. So in that sense they did care. But I'm a bastard, I really only brought shame to them. So if I went and got lost for a few years, they wouldn't notice. If being alone is what it takes to rid this city of it's maladies, so be it. Besides, emotional attachments will just hold me back. Make me weak. It is better this way."
Appario, Maddok, Xerath, Yahirma - Spying on the "junior" Gardeners:
Based on what Appario is able to hear as he puts his ears to the cloth covering the entrance, the people within are discussing plans for a patrol of several areas of Westcrown that will begin the next evening. It also seems as if the general idea is that this patrol will be recurring, provided the first few are successes. He recognizes the voices of several of the Gardeners, in particular the level-headedness of Sclavo and the passion of Amaya, Tarvi, and Rizzardo.
I wrote "junior" like that because many among them are older than several of you :)
Male Shoanti Barbarian/Summoner 11 | 116/126 hp + 0 nonlethal, Init +2, AC 25 (+1 near Derek) [touch 16, FF 23], Fort +15, Ref +9, Will +12; Perception +5
Junior is appropriate. I just avoided it because most of them were Gardeners before Maddok was.
"Are those bastard-born really such pariahs?", Maddok asks in disbelief.
"Among my people, we couple whenever it is safe and the omens are good. From this, many a babe are conceived without a man and woman's oath. Our lives are too hard and short to dwell on such small details - all life is valued in the eyes of the spirits and the tribe often needs all the strong young backs it can get to survive."
"Yes. Coupling and marriage are solely used for financial and political gain. Adding another family's assets would have been a gain for my family. To top it off, my father left before I was born. And because my mother refused to speak of him, no one knows anything about him. My grandmother told me he was some low-born commoner who defiled my mother and only brought shame to my family in the form of me." Xerath says rather stoically.
Recaro shakes his head. "Sadly, no. Several of my regular customers were going to the play, and many had booked tables here for dinner directly afterwards. As you know, good food can't be made in a hurry, so I had to stay here to prepare. But I heard many tales! Devils stand no chance against the mighty Derek Keegan!"
Millech pauses in his meal, putting down his knife and fork and wiping his mouth, before answering. "Tarvi was a good student, very good, in fact. The lessons I taught her were quickly picked up, until we eventually realized I could teach her no more. She still visits from time to time, to speak of new ideas and books she has discovered. I believe her talent for magic has already surpassed my own."
He makes to pick up his knife again, but then puts it back down. "In fact, just a few days ago she spoke of putting her magic to practical use. She's a very intelligent young woman. I think she will do well in whatever task she has set for herself."
Millech turns to Thunderbelly. "This is a most exquisite meal you have prepared for us, far surpassing anything I have ever tasted. I applaud your skill."
Later in the evening, once dinner nears completion, Amaya pushes away her plate and rises. "I'm sorry to leave such a fine gathering, but I've made plans to meet with another group of friends tonight. Please forgive my rudeness." She kisses Derek on the cheek before departing. "I will see you tomorrow, my love. Don't get yourself into any trouble now!"
"Yes, this true, food does take time to make, especially when one is spicing it with love as they say." Derek decides that there has been enough joking about the quality of the food now, especially since everybody by that point is at least on their second helping.
"I hope you remember our little ritual after each meal Recaro? It's just not the same without a slice of walnut cheese and a glass of Ulfen vodka. Plus I need to get good and drunk if you are going to win in the game after; my aim has only gotten better."
Derek leans over and gives Millech a slap on the back.
"You sell yourself short, you know what they say, the student is only as good as the master’s ability to teach.
Who knows, maybe you can travel to the Acadame in Absolom and apply for a teaching position as a retirement plan?
Besides, the more you teach, the more you will learn from your own students"
Then Derek favours Nonon with a grin.
"I doubt you'll ever retire however master Nonon, they will have to carry your corpse out, and it would not surprise me if mere minutes after your ghost would be back to teach the actors another lesson!"
As Amaya leaves, Derek kisses her hand and smiles sadly.
"I'll try to avoid it, you do the same, even if you are the more sensible between the two of us."
As it comes down to the final piece of meat, Derek draws a dagger and grins.
"Same as always? Lions portion to the winner."
Derek scoots his chair back a little, leaning one arm on the table, the other one holding the dagger ready behind his back, his eyes strays to meet Recaro then down to the meat.
Appario wasn't eavesdropping on the Gardeners...he never had any intention of showing that level of mistrust. He had intended only to follow them on patrol, just in case. That said, playing on as if he did...
Appario relates to the group what he heard and begins to head back to the safehouse.
"They just discuss things and it appears that they care and trust enough in themselves and the City to put their lives on the line to defend it. I applaud them."
"However, not sure why they didn't tell us about it. Maybe we need to work harder to earn and keep their trust, eh? I'll aspire to do better."
Appario: It was simply my flavored interpretation of your Perception check result; Appario would hear it even without putting his ear that close (perhaps because the wind pulled the cloth back for a moment now and then, or similar.
Yahirma hears the same as Appario, but I suppose you already assumed that she would with a result that similar :)
Derek - At dinner:
Millech laughs. "Oh, that may be what they say, but you know how it is. The young mind is far more accepting of new knowledge. Once one grows older, it becomes more difficult to learn new things and to unlearn old habits."
Nonon grins in return. "Very true! The theater is in my blood and soul. Pharasma won't know what to do with me but put me back!"
The corpulent gnome waves a waiter closer and whispers in his ear, followed a few minutes later by the waiter returning with a plate of delicious-looking cheese placed on the center of the table, plus small glasses for each guest filled to the brim with a clear liquid. A bottle with Ulfen writing is placed on the table next to the cheese-plate, containing the same clear liquid as the glasses.
Millech takes only a cautious sip of the strong drink before deciding it's not for him, but Nonon heartily joins Thunderbelly and Derek in throwing down the first glass. The gnome fills the glasses up each time they're downed, and Nonon soon throws in the towel, declaring he simply can't continue.
When Derek prepares for the challenge, Recaro follows suit in much the same way, grinning competitively as he pulls a dagger from his belt.
Initiative:1d20 + 1 ⇒ (2) + 1 = 3
The gnome's reaction is far too slow, allowing Derek to easily spear the piece of meat with his dagger. He laughs thunderously, his belly heaving. "Well! It seems you've been practicing! I must do so myself, if I'm to have a chance the next time."
"Ha-ha, well, since I win, the lions part goes to me." Derek deftly cuts the last steak into four pieces, one noticeably larger than the others before sharing out the meat, keeping the big piece himself.
"We all have our callings in life, but sharing a piece of sharp cheese and what's-your-poison at the side makes it all seem so much less...dire or important for a little while."
Cutting himself a piece of the cheese which he nibbles away at with a content sigh, Derek picks up the knife in his free and hand grins at Thunderbelly.
"So, seeing how good my knife work has got, do you still think you can win against me in the old mug toss?
I'd say my aim may finally be better than your sleight of hand tricks.
Good thing your daughter is married now, because I swear, if you anted up here THIS time, you might actually have lost her."
Derek finishes one of the mugs and scoots it over to Thunderbelly.
"You are the host, first toss is yours. What’s the wager?"
Derek then winks at Nonon and Millech.
"Any of you gentlemen feel like trying your luck? I'll warn you, given half a chance this little bastard right here will rumble you for all you got."
It's obvious from the way Derek says it that "the little bastard" could be either Thunderbelly or himself.
Everyone - Dinner at the safehouse the following evening:
When you arrive at the old shrine to Aroden the next evening, you find several of the other Gardeners already there. Janiven stands inside the door, greeting all the newcomers, while Arael helps preparing the food along with Fiosa, Mathalen, Vitti, and Morosino. The scents coming from the kitchen bear promise of a fine evening to come.
All of the less-experienced Gardeners wear their green-and-white Gardeners' cloaks, and it's apparent that many of them wear light armor beneath the cloaks. They all seem more focused and eager than when you first met them. One wall near the entrance is occupied by heavier suits of armor, shields, and weapons, all looking ready to be used.
The merciful knight Antuin Prous is also present, talking extensively with some of the Gardeners but mostly keeping to himself. In total, once everyone has arrived, 15 people are present in addition to you.
Arael is a middle-aged half-elf who proudly wears the symbol of Iomedae on his chest, as well as on a wooden symbol tucked into his belt.
Janiven is an attractive but stern woman, wearing an outfit reminiscent of a swashbuckler.
Morosino is a young boy, about 14 years of age, who never strays far from Arael's side.
Antuin Prous is a gruff-looking man in his thirties, with the look and manners of a soldier. His gait betrays his fondness for riding on horseback.
Amaya is a young, stunningly beautiful Tian woman, whose dresses have become more flamboyant since her acquaintance with Derek has become more serious. She has several musical instruments with her, and as the evening progresses she also reveals herself as an expert dancer and singer.
Rizzardo is older than Amaya, but the Varisian male is still several years younger than his blacksmith master Maddok. His muscles have grown since his apprenticeship began, and his formerly easily-flaring temper has become more controlled, but no less furious once unleashed.
Tarvi is about the same age as Rizzardo, but the similarities end there. Her bejeweled glasses bear witness to her profession as a jeweler, as well as her tendency to never stray far from a book once opened. She carries a selection of wands in her belt.
Sclavo is a Garundi man in his thirties, whose speech is soft but determined. Although on this day he wears the Gardener cloak, he typically wears a businesslike suit with a matching hat.
Fiosa is a halfling, and like Arael she wears the symbol of Iomedae prominently on the clothes beneath her cloak. She too has a wooden symbol bearing the same mark tucked into her belt.
Mathalen is a thin and wiry woman, whose arms and fists nevertheless look strong enough to wrestle any animal to the ground. While all of the Gardeners seem focused, hers appears stronger than most, and it would likely be very difficult to talk her out of something once her mind is set.
Vitti is a strange, eccentric man with green hair and green-colored clothing. He's almost animalistic at times, and it's easy to see that he would be more comfortable in the midst of a forest than in the center of a large city.
Ermolos is a muscular man, whose limp in one leg doesn't prevent him from attempting to copy the knight Antuin's soldier-like gait. He's fairly successful, and it's apparent that he has received training from the man, but it's also obvious that he doesn't have the experience of the older man.
Gorvio is a young man with vibrant amber eyes. The arcane-themed tattoos criss-crossing his arms and face are recent; they weren't there when you first met the Gardeners.
Larko is a young Garundi man, walking with fluid and precise motions. He's silent, rarely speaking unless spoken to.
Yakopulio is a noisy and irreverent gnome, frequently contradicting or nitpicking others out of simple habit. Those who have visited the "Broken Eel" tavern recognize her as a part-time bartender and occasional pimp. Her hands are fast and her sleeves long, looking like they would easily conceal daggers or a small crossbow.
Derek leans back in his chair, idly flicking one of his daggers up in the air and catching it deftly.
At the suggestion of the wager is voiced, he raises one eyebrow and chuckles.
"You conniving bastard! You waited until Amaya left before making that one.
I guess underneath all that pip and poise you really ARE a bit of a gentleman after all.
It's a done deal, with two points. If I lose *I* do the dishes, these men are here as my guests, so they won't have to suffer should you con me, and second, I do THESE dishes, you're not going to rope me into signing on as your unpaid dishwasher...again!"
Derek finishes one of the ale mugs and scoots it over to Thunderbelly.
"Make it a long one, I feel like trying a hard shot."
Holding the dagger ready, Derek chuckles.
"Watch carefully Master Nonon, given half a chance, this little bastard here will rumble you but good."
Dinner with the gardeners:
Derek leans over and sniffs Madoks beverage.
"That's be Taldane oldlaw whiskey, and by the smell of it, one made before the great grain shortage. Not many of those bottles left."
While subdued compared to how he once was, Derek is far more gregarious and open than he was after finding Jalki. He even manages a few jokes and laughs.
Clearly something has restored his flagging spirit somewhat.
"Hey Tarvi, Millech sends his regard."
"Looking good Mathalen, inner peace suits you."
"How's it going Antius? I'd like a word with you later if you don't mind?"
"Are you keeping my brother out of trouble Rizzardo?"
"Don't forget to practice Livia, one out of two arrows is a good average, but you can go for each arrow a hit."
Thanks for the patience all. I think I've recovered enough of my "con" damage to be able to post. Apologies for the delay.
Appario smiles at seeing all Gardeners together and seemingly joined together in common meal. At the onset, Appario will make rounds, greeting all of the Gardeners by name and always happy to stay and chitchat about business or finance or problems within the City.
Appario will have Indemnity on full gleam, fully polished and looking gaudily appropriate for an important dinner like this one. In addition, Appario will have both bathed and shaved for the affair.
"Ah Derek...do no forget that we have business to discuss. We probably should either begin our plans to build our business or invest our capital wisely so that we can build when ready. Tis foolish for us to not let our money work for us while we decide how to spend it."
"Tarvi, Tarvi! Look at my sword and armor! You have done me well and I am still awed at your craftsmanship. I do need to speak to you about some additional decoration on the back...seems to me that there is not quite enough sparkle there..."
@Ermolos, Antuin Prous:
"Sir Prous." Appario will nod formally to the knight. "Ermolos." Appario will nod with equal formality to the younger man. "Would either or both of you have time for more martial training? Sparring? Instruction? I feel that I have hit a limit for what I can learn on my own and could use for practice and forced instruction. I would be honored for the chance to share what I know as well."
Blinking away encroaching dreariness, Yahirma finishes the last touches upon Khazrae's restorative fluids. "I have given some thought to the contract, Khazrae, and I have my proposal in mind. I will assemble the text for your perusal. In the meantime, however, we might as well begin the process," she remarks with a wink. "Vengeance may be patient, but I would not keep you waiting." With Khazrae's assent, Yahirma lowers the decapitated outsider into a sizable glass beaker full of a swirling, heterogeneous liquid banded in red and gold. "Three days of soaking, then I will have to apply heat to stimulate the infusion."
What a piece of work! I think I could get used to this alchemy business!
Pulling together the other pieces of equipment that she created since the Hagwood excursion, Yahirma changes into her light Tian armor and packs her new bag for unknown adventures ahead. Just before departing, she writes down a few notes for Tarvi to continue the medical procedure in the unlikely event that Yahirma would not be able to make it back in time to begin the next stage.
Yahirma arrives after introductions are well under way, and she avoids making a dramatic entrance. Instead she edges around the room a few steps before unlimbering her pack and stashing it next to one of the full suits of armor.
Impressive work, she thinks before noticing the similar suits arrayed along that wall. Very impressive.
She takes a moment to complement Rizzardo on his work, exulting, "It is most impressive what the Gardeners have accomplished in expanding their armory. Is this your work?" With a glance, Yahirma confirms that Tarvi is busy being very politely prodded to add more gems to Appario's back. Certainly I can speak with her later.
Arael steps out of the kitchen for a moment as Maddok addresses him. "Yes, I believe such reminders are vital. I have encountered many former soldiers who had succumbed to despair, no longer remembering what they were fighting for and thus losing themselves in the atrocities they witnessed at war. We seek to strengthen the spirit of the people, and strengthening our own community must be a vital part of that task."
After the food reaches the table, Maddok notices that Rizzardo takes his seat close to Janiven's. He doesn't immediately make his move, but he does engage her in conversation from time to time.
"I am. You must be Xerath. Arael mentioned that another had joined the Gardener fold." Mathalen surveys the room. "I don't believe it a waste. Although my mind is already at peace, others require different means to achieve the same. If this helps them, I think it's worth doing."
Tarvi adjusts her glasses. "Oh, really? If you see him again, tell him I'll visit him soon. There's so much I've learned that I want to show him."
Mathalen gives him an enigmatic smile. "Serenity is a blessing, although I think you might believe it a curse if it should happen to you. I must thank you for bringing Erik Two-Finger to me. His training was invaluable."
Antuin nods. "Everything is fine. I might not be here long this evening, but I'll stay until we've spoken.
Rizzardo laughs. "I can't say that, exactly. In fact, he might be getting me into trouble before this night is over!"
Tarvi smiles as Appario approaches her. "I could swear your armor shines even more now than when I had finished it! I'm glad you like my work." She peers at his back. "Well, there is some room for additional jewels there. I don't think I'll have time to put them on myself. I'm spending more time at Delvehaven with Yahirma and with the other Gardeners than at the shop these days. But my father will surely be happy to perform the additions."
Both Ermolos and Antuin nod formally in return, although Antuin has obviously had more experience with such formalities. The knight responds first. "Certainly. We could all learn from eachother. All warriors should train with those who favor different styles, to pick up things to add to their own repertoire, and to learn what your opponents are likely to do at any given time."
Ermolos nods along with his mentor's words. "The gardeners train every other day at the warehouse. You know the place, right? Why don't you join us there? Many of us would benefit from your instruction."
Khazrae's eyes follow Yahirma's every movement closely. "Good. I'm glad you realized the benefits of a contractual agreement. The method you described earlier was alien to me."
She smiles, sharp teeth flashing for a moment. "This will be interesting. Yes, let us begin." As Yahirma lowers the head into the beaker, the erinyes audibly gasps. "No, don't stop. I simply didn't expect that particular sensation. This might actually work." She sighs contentedly as Yahirma lowers the head further, eventually completely submerging it within the liquid.
Yahirma - Gardener dinner:
Rizzardo smiles proudly. "They're not all my work. Ermolos has created some of them as well. We'll need proper protection for ourselves if we're going to protect Westcrown's people."
Mathalen's clear blue eyes look directly at him. "My mind is at peace, but my people are at war. The shadowbeasts stalking the streets are abominations that must be rooted out and destroyed. A clear mind gives me the focus to do what must be done."
About fifteen minutes after the final arrival, the food is brought from the kitchen. A mouth-watering, whole-roasted lamb is the centerpiece, accompanied by a large pot of vegetables. Various forms of drink are also brought forth, although many of the Gardeners seem content to drink the less strong beverages, or even plain water.
Arael has a few words before people are seated. "Welcome to all, old faces and new! It's good to see everyone together once more. I hope to hear many tales of deeds performed before this night is over, but first, let's eat!"
Once everyone have had at least one helping of the meat, Arael rises again. "This night will beckon in a new era for the Gardeners. Antuin can tell you more." Arael sits back down, and the knight makes his way to his feet.
Antuin clears his throat. "Yes. Several of those present have been training with me for the past few months, and they've all made exceptional progress. But such progress also comes with a price, as teaching becomes less efficient. Actual, hands-on experience will be required for the Gardeners to progress further. Some of you," he indicates Amaya, Tarvi, and Rizzardo, "suggested that a patrol of Westcrown, in particular the areas most infested with shadowbeasts, would be a good way to achieve this experience. And once others had their say in planning this endeavor, rather than jumping straight into it," he indicates Sclavo, who nods, "I agreed. Tonight will be the first of these patrols. All of those who participate will wear the Gardener cloak, showing all of Westcrown who is responsible for ensuring their safety."
The less-experienced Gardeners all applaud the words, looking at eachother with pride.
Amaya looks apologetically at Derek, whispering "I would have told you sooner, but this was the way we agreed to announce this."
Rizzardo and Tarvi have similar reactions towards Maddok and Yahirma.
Appario smiles and happily agrees to join the Knight and his squire at the warehouse for training and practice.
"My sword arm has grown weak since I left the Abadar military academy, I think training with the Gardeners will be of great benefit." Appario smiles at the thought.
Of course, I'll need to buy different armor. I'd hate to ruin Indemnity rolling around in the warehouse muck.
Appario takes out his ledger and adds a note to his shopping list: Armor, old. Must be heavy and suitable for practice.
* * *
Appario smiles and cheers the news of the Gardeners taking ownership of the City: a community working together for common defense.
Appario will rise and offer a toast to the efforts. "Tis the hallmark of civilization, to stand together against threats. Without it, we would not be safe to trade and prosper. So sayeth Abadar and so I say to you, my fellow Gardeners. I cheer your efforts."
Appario raises his wine glass and takes a small sip, letting his gaze go up above the fireplace and mantel to the expensive gift and reminder of Derek's remorse: the beautiful painting of Derek that was presented to Appario.
Derek watches the arc of the mug, waiting for the right movement to strike.
As the mug begins its descent, his arm whips forward, sending the knife tumbling edge over end.
It is obvious to Derek from the start that his aim is fine but his timing was wrong.
For a moment the words of a spell that could save the situation begins to rise to his lips, but he stops himself by roughly clamping a hand over his mouth.
No, it was a test of skill, that would have been cheating. I won't cheat a friend. If I am to get better, I have to learn from my mistakes.
Instead he watches the knife miss by inches and the mug crash onto the floor.
"You just earned yourself some free dishwashing my friend."
The gardener dinner
"While walking the streets, I've seen some people flashing our insignia, do I take it that we have some new recruits? Or are these people sympathetic to our cause but not actively involved in it?"
As Antuin announces the new patrol policy, Yahirma remarks to Rizzardo, "Any comment I might have made about the sound of a Gardener in plate have been caught and corralled." Waving a finger at the gathering, she asks the smith, "Is this a private endeavor, or are all Gardeners welcome to join in on the patrols?"
"Sir Knight, it has been my experience that the single biggest weapon against the shadowbeasts is daylight...or something like it. Will the patrols have ample means of strong light made available to them? It might be a costly, but necessary precaution."
Rizzardo looks suitably embarassed at not having explained the purpose of his questions earlier. "Yes. We thought it would be important to hear the experiences of others who had fought the shadowbeasts, and they helped us greatly in preparing for this night." He looks around at the other Gardeners following Maddok's second question. "I think so. We must be! It's better if we, who know the risks, try and risk failure than for another child to perish in the night."
Mathalen responds in a measured fashion. "I'm glad you've realized our resolve, but if you don't mind me asking, I wonder.. If you thought we might not know what we were doing, why did you seek us out?"