An epic search for the Amethyst heptagon leads a party of fresh graduates through the northern reaches of Ustalav. Based in Karcau, the party visits places like the dark Castle Jarovich or the dangerous alleys of Carrion Hill.
The fourth of Calistril 4708 was a cold and crisp morning. Even the sun seemed to be reluctant to come out and ground fog swept through the cobblestoned streets of Karcau.
Nevertheless, the city was in a good mood. The onion-domes of the four major academies of the city were festively decorated and alot of house owners followed this example with great joy and enthusiasm. That at this special morning a flock of ravens circled around the spires of the academies, was regarded as a good omen (while few doubted the beasts were magically attracted).
The alumni ceremony was one of the major, maybe even the most important, highlights of the year for the inhabitants of the city. Visitors and Professors from all of Ustalav attended the celebrations always trying to persuade promising students to join the University of Lepidstadt or the Arcanas of Caliphas or just to become the new swordmaster or bodyguard of an important noble.
It was about noon, when the student's gathered on the great square in front of Pettoria Academy. The ceremony began with a sermon of the great history of the four academies, accentuating their good cooperation (and concealing that alone in this year three students had died in cross-academy duels) and the fair sportsmanship within the students.
After all academy masters held speaches (highlighting the enormous quality of their students) and chosen students gave performances of their trades, the festivities began.
Whole Karcau drowned in a swirl of Varisian dancing performances, wine, ale, roasts of all kinds, the work of illusionists, various juggler and acrobat performances etc.
Just tell me, what you are intending to do during the festivities. Those of you, who are from the same academy, cann assume that they know each other.
Rydlon is staying in the middle of the crowed, telling a story of vampire child...searching for red mother milk...
"Hmhm...that is the end of the story, but as we can learn never trust a vampire child...Aha and I assume you" pointing at somebody "and you" pointing to an other one "have graduated as well...Congratulation to all of us."
"Anybody interested in Beer and having a little bit fun? Does anybody needs an escort?"
Your audience claps joyful, being entertained by that gruesome story, nevertheless, you notice that your story about vampires, even though babies, has hit a soft spot and some people were rather concerned than amused.
Let's wait if one of your fellow students is interested in joining you for an ale.
"Pointless. Useless. Lifeless. Idiots." Kirk muttered to himself under his breath, pushing his way through the crowds, ignoring any congratulations from someone who might recognize him. He knew this was supposed to be 'his day,' but he was just glad it was over and he could get out into this crazy world around him.
Spotting a tavern that looked like a welcome relief from the crowded and bustling streets, he beelined for the door, and only noticed two classmates heading the same direction until it was too late. They practically bumped into each other at the door.
A pale man is a dark leather frock sits near Rydlon's crowd. His deeply sunken eyes are trained on the pages of a thick tome, and his pastey flesh leaves little doubt concerning his social habits. He squints his eys tightly and with one hand massages his temple, remarking on the numerous distractions with a heavy sigh. He shuts the book and buckles it to a heavy leather strap on his belt, then leans forward and addresses Asuna.
"A wise man does not trust the whimsy of any child. Children can always be counted upon to be children, and the fewer people indulge their idleness, the quicker the will learn to grow up."
An elegant, angelic looking, immaculately coiffured woman sits next to the pale man, clearly restless. On closer inspection, one would notice the small elegant horns cleverly worked into her tiara and exotic yellow irises, suggesting a far from angelic heritage...
"Oh Dominic, you are so impossibly boring some days, I really despair about whether you will ever possibly be fun"
The lady adjusts her sleeve delicately, as she does, a small serpents head poking out is rather evident.
Spying the crowd heading for the Inn, she smiles, and gently kicks Dominic in the shin.
"Should I remind you, that you should be a gentleman and escort me to the tavern and ensure I am suitably entertained?"
Dominic offers a heavy sigh and brings himself to a standing position. Brushing a few strands of unruly hair back into place, he aims a cold stare at Victoria.
"Such customs are the vestigial growths of high society, my dear. I'll not deny the uses of basic courtesy, but much of the decorum you insist on sticking to has little actual practicality. I am a scholar, not a courtier. Still, if you desire the company of a friend..."
He takes a shallow bow and offers his arm to Victoria.
As it looks like you all got a knack for taverns. Maybe the remaining two can find their way there also
The tavern - Snickering Madman - you all entered, is nearly bursting at its seams. People are waiting at the open door for a chance to slip in and a group of Varisian-looking teenagers press their faces to the yellow stained glass windows trying to get an impression of the action inside.
Once you found a way into the taproom the noise is deafening, but as you enter most of the talks end abruptly. A strange moment of silence goes by and then the crowd roars out in congratulations and toasts on you.
The innkeeper organizes a table impromptu and shooes away a group of drunkards that (astoundingly) joyful staggers off to sit on the stairs.
Once he has also placed enough stairs around the table he twirls his mustache into position and asks for your oders.
Sense Motive DC 16:
The man seems so happy and proud about your presence he might give some of his goods away for free...
If the suggestion is made, adventurers will always flock to get drunk.
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (13) + 4 = 17
Asuna takes a seat, turning the chair sideways to accommodate his tail. Looking around at the unintentional grouping, Asuna turns to the innkeeper. "Seems we could do with a round, my friend. What might you have on tap to ward off the chill?"
"Oh Dominic, my dear dreary Nicky, how can a man as smart as you have it so desperately wrong? The decorum I so vehemently cling to is simply a set of rules by which most civilised people try to live by...and the one who best masters the rules, wins the game"
There is a brief moment as her fascade slips, Victoria looks Dominic dead in the eye, the ditzy airheaded act disappearing as if by magic, the eyes speak of deep calculation and almost inhuman motivation. Then, as she turns away, she presents herself back to the world as the slightly vacuuous heiress people believe her to be.
"Oh how fun "The Snickering Madman", Nicky, do you see? Everybody who is anybody is here, perhaps we might find you a lady friend to lift you from your normal bookish malaise!"
'Countess' half turns to the barman with an elegant non-chalance...
"Darling Nicky will be provisioned with a fine ale, or perhaps a carafe of red, no...perhaps both. And what have you to impress a lady? Never mind, just bring it."
Turning back to her fellow graduates, she beams a warm welcome...
The innkeeper, obviously in a state of near felicity, smoothes his apron and pulls out a leatherbound menu with gilded letters.
Dear guests of honour, never before had my tavern such prominent visitors, it'd be a privilege for me to feast you with the best my kitchen has to offer. It also contains some exotic specialties I'm very fond of. Oh and it's all on the house
Smiling proudly he hands over the (special edition) menu.
Stew of the Day 1 sp
Roast of the Day 3 sp
Salmon Steak 2 sp
Lobster 4 sp
Mixture of seasonal Vegetables 1 sp
Spicey Fire Pelt Paws 1 gp
Smoked Trout 2 sp
Potatoe pot-pourri 8 cp
Soup of the Day 7 cp
Giant Gecko Ragout 7 sp
Smashed Donkey Rat 1 sp
Boiled Cinder Snake 6 sp
Roc Egg 5 gp
Noting the odd phrasing used by the innkeeper, Asuna scans the menu. "I suppose I'll have the mead and an order of the Ragout. Surely you exaggerate when you say you haven't had such prominent visitors before. The ceremony happens every year, and you do seem to be situated very close to the square."
For a second he seems to blush, then he regains his confidence calls your order out to a barmaid and tells you:
One might expect that m'lord, but truth be told I bought this inn in Arodus last year, so this is my first ceremony of that kind and I have to admit that I'm a little bit overwhelmed of the festivities.
A few brisk strides see Dominic at the bar. He practically snarls as the ale that's presented to him and gestures to the bag of Mwangi coffee.
"Enjoy the toil while it lasts, my good barman. In a week the students will be between semesters, and after that you've three months of raucous fraternities to cater to."
He offers a non-commital thanks for the coffee and takes his cup to an empty table where he produces a small vial of orange liquid from his coat. His eyes take on a glazed look as he rolls the concotion between his fingers for a moment, then he eagerly unstoppers it and adds the contents to his coffee, resulting in a loud hiss and sickly spiral of green smoke.
Some of the drunkards surrounding Dominic exchange scared glances and as a precaution move some feet away. Just one very courageous (or extremely drunk - hard to tell) boozer sits down at Dominics table.
Woohoo mate! Tha' is un nicey drink ye 'ave there...wunna share?
Then his head drops on the table, but before it hits the table board he is already snoring loudly.
Observing the strange situation, the innkeeper raises a nearby tankard and shouts:
Three cheers to our graduates, the best of whole Ustalav!
The crowd roars in unison and soon the whole lot is singing an old but very popular tune, "Karcau beauty on the lake".
Dominic raises his cup and takes a hearty swallow, and as the spiked coffee hits his system, he gives the whooping half-cough half-laugh of an unseasoned drinker trying strong whiskey for the time. He wipes the excess from the corners of his mouth as the veins in his neck pulse slightly and take on a very faint glow before returning to their usual state.
Kirk scans the menu for some time, pondering the choices. Let's see just how much weight my new "presitigious" status actually has he thinks to himself.
Eventually he glances over to the beaming bartender and says "I'll have the lobster, and since I assume that your offer extends to the choice of drinks as well I'll take the Outlaw Whiskey. A bottle would be fine." He pauses for a moment, then continues rather maliciously, "I feel if you truly wanted to impress upon us the generosity, and not to mention the quality, of this establishment, that's the least you could do. Of course, that's only what I would expect."
Kirk smiles genuinely at Mr. Wellbottom. "I knew you wouldn't let me down.
He settles back into his chair, infinitely more comfortable than before. Perhaps he would stick around here for a little while, if things kept looking up like this. With a fine bottle of whiskey coming his way, and an order of lobster to boot, there would be little need to wander the city at this point. He made a mental note to himself not to drink it all tonight, or let his companions do likewise. Things are likely to be a little rough in the coming days, and the taste of fine alcohol will definitely be a welcome treat. He glances around to see if any of the other graduates noticed his interaction with the bartender.
"Oh Nicky, not the coffee again, are you planning another evening buried in your books and studies again? Oh I do admire your stoicism and committment in being able to sit there ad read through them, I find it such a burdensome chore"
The Countess turns to Asuna, deftly splaying a courtiers fan to cover her lower face so she can regard him with modesty, before quickly whipping it away and beaming a polite smile...
"It has been a long day, and Dominic is no doubt overcome by the magnitude of it all, so much study over so long, and with such admirable dedication it would be no wonder if he felt some fatigue"
There is a brief pause as Victoria takes in the song being sung by the motley bar crowd...
"Oh how sweet, a serenade, Nicky do you hear? They sing of Karcau on Lake Prophyria, of course too cold and swampy for me there, but I hear they have a lovely opera"
Victoria stands regally near her table, to better listen to the chorus; her fan flapping gently like the wings of a butterfly at rest on a flower, gently poised, and with a benign smile.
Dominic takes another sip of the coffee, though this time it's apparent effects are less marked. He gives a heavy sigh and places the steaming cup down on the table, a small chuckle breaking through his stoic demeanor.
"You know very well, Victoria, that have stronger concoctions to stave off the effects of sleep. I do seem to have developed a fondness for the stuff, though."
He looks out over the lake, taking on a more relaxed posture as his chemicals take effect.
"No. No rigors this evening. I knew halfway through my second year that a certification and qualification are two very different things - but just because I the cause of the celebration holds little meaning to me, it doesn't mean I can't take advantage of the leisures they bring. Tonight is as good as any to relax a bit."
Leaning toward the tall, slender Half-Orc, Asuna murmurs below earshot of the innkeeper, "You'll leave the poor man with nothing left to sell, and frighten him out of his skin to boot. No need to scare the man. He would have given you the bottle without it."
Turning back to the 'Countess,' Asuna asks, "Pray tell, which Academy are you and Dominic from, milady?"
Kirk leans toward the Tiefling and grumbles in the same quiet manner, "Forgive me, but I can't understand why anyone would give away such fine delicacies for simply doing something as pathetically useless as graduating from one of these prestigious academies. I didn't expect it to work, and I'm not convinced he would have gifted a 26 goldpiece bottle without the extra motivation. That's probably how much money this place makes on an average night. Then again, tonight is going to be far from an average night: he can spare it.
He leans back in his chair, and continues to observe the scene around him while waiting for his food and drink.
Dominic turns and gives a nod of acknowledgment to Asuna and Kirk.
"What of yourselves?" His eyes glint briefly to the horns sprouting from Asuna's brow and he displays a slight grin, but makes no mention of his exotic appearance. "You wear the raiment of a priest, if I'm not mistaken, though I confess that religious studies are not my forte. Which of these academies gives spawn to a specimen such as yourself?"
Taken aback momentarily by being suddenly thrust into the conversation, Kirk hesitates a moment, glancing to the Tiefling with whom he spoke briefly, as if seeking some form of social advice. However, he quickly turns back to Dominic and responds, "I studied in the Pettoria Academy: Combat Basics, Humanoid Anatomy, and Tactical Subtlety."
With only the tiniest twitch at the corner of one eye at the use of the word "spawn," Asuna returns, "Asuna, of Kiavelak Academy: religious studies, with emphases on the Dawnflower, Redemption, and the scimitar."
"Well, it would seem that some studies are not exclusive to a single academy. I know a bit about anatomy myself, as well as chemistry, herbalism, and magical theory - though I leave the actual application of such thaumaturgy to my friend here." He casually waves towards Victoria.
"Aye, but the anatomy I was taught only instructed on the best places to stick a knife, if you catch my meaning. And our focus in Tactical Subtelty was more on the subtelty than tactics. If we wanted to pass our exams, we had to steal the answers from the professor in their sleep. That was the exam. Kirk shifts in his seat, repositioning himself to face the talkative pair and more-easily continue the conversation. Needless to say, you must know where the majority of my talents lie.
"Monotony and Drudgery were the areas they most commonly lectured on, interspersed with long periods of studying dusty old tomes and books almost as ancient as the professors themselves. In some fairness though, I believe they were trying to give me some semblance of tutelage into the Arcane arts, of which I found the theory so bone crushingly dull but the application...enlightening"
A cold cackle escapes Dominic's throat.
"My dear Victoria, I think that nothing exemplifies that which is not enlightened so much as your mercurial and dismissive approach to academia. A reclusive scholar you are not, but those applications you are so fond of would doubtless benefit from a measure more of erudition on your part."
He gently taps a tube of glowing green liquid resting on his belt.
"Take this compound, for example. Taken apart from the whole, any of its components would be direly enervating - if not fatal - to the demihuman body. But the delicate balance achieved by their careful combination?"
A smile that is not entirely pleasant creeps across his face.
"Well, the result can bestow marvelous perks."
"Oh Nicky I know you are right, however I will have ample time in my dowdy matron years when married off to some absent husband in which to occupy my time with idle curiosities and academic leanings, right now I am young and vibrant, and to be locked in a room buried under a pile of books is just such an...impost"
"I appreciate their great efforts to shape my mind into that of a scholar, but like a stubborn hedge resisting ministrations of determined topiary, I find the results somewhat average. I'm so fortunate that the dusty old professors took such a lenient view with my productions; I'd like to think I equally brightend their dreary days just by my arriving each morning"
"I couldn't agree with you more, Victoria, about the absolute pointlessness of these schools. I've learned nothing that I couldn't have taught myself, and my most precious talents," he pauses a moment, then continues, "I did teach myself. I'll look back on my days in the Academy as days of a pampered lifestyle, of ignorance waiting to be shattered: I'll look back with disappointment."