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The road between Riddleport and Magnimar is well travelled – at any time, someone on the road could expect to encounter trade looking to avoid the perilous sea crossing, the movement of agricultural products from the rich farmlands into the cities and, of course, Varisian caravans moving along the open road. There are few towns along the way and, of those few, it is probably only Galduria that could be described as any approaching ‘interesting’.
Positioned approximately halfway in between the big cities, Galduria is a lake-side town more famous – or possibly infamous - for its arcane college than for anything else. The Twilight Academy within the town is, of its own right a destination for certain travellers, but for most folks Galduria simply offers a degree of respite from the long roads between Varisia’s cities – respite to folk who have endured nights beneath the open sky or within one of the many road-side inns that exist only to shelter travellers…
…it is at one of these inns, no more than twenty miles north of Galduria that our story starts…
The ‘Stars above the Lake’ is a grand name for an inn which has not been described as grand for a long time… if it ever has. Squatting next to the shore of Lake Ember, it is an unremarkable two storey building providing little more than a bar with simple fare, over two dozen inexpensive rooms and ample stabling – its location next to one of the larger rivers feeding into the lake suggests that, at one time, it may have been a place where a short ferry crossing was needed to continue your journey – but these days, a stone bridge arches above the river and the Inn has fallen upon fallow times.
25th Rova, 4715 AR
…the sun is setting from a golden autumnal sky as you crest the hill that approaches yet another anonymous river on your map – Galduria is still many miles away whilst at the foot of the hill - next to a river of such little consequence no one can recall its name, soft light glows through the windows of a tavern…
…it seems that this is where you will spend the night…
|Zoreck the Unclean|
Pushing up the wide brim of his leather hat, Zoreck scowls at the inn. "Hmmm. Don't look like much, but it'll beat sleeping outside again."
Drancis stares at the setting sun glad to see the rays fading to darkness. The bubbles that surrounded everything he saw in the back of his vision were less noticable...though only true sleep banished them from his sight.
He turns to look at his traveling companion Zorek who had been his companion during the long boring trip. While he did not know much about the Kellid warrior, he did appreciate the privacy Zorek afforded him.
"Uhhh...yeah...I guess so..."
More people to look at me like I was a freak!
Locke takes in a deep breath, savouring the taste and scent of what was once home. "It's not customary for me to return anywhere. I suppose it's fitting that I make my hometown a bit of an exception. It may be quaint, but it's not a bad place all in all."
The white furred rat folk squinted in his 'fancy' spectacles, looking closely at the lights of the inn. He spoke in the same strange speech pattern the others in the group had began getting used to over the last little bit, with clicks, pauses, and strange sounds interspersed with his fairly good handle of the common tongue. "Click, it looks like it might be warm in there. The outside gets so cold at night, not like the warrens used to be. Nak, never know how long it will be until we are able to sleep in the warm again. If cheap, I say we take a night to be warm."
As he shifted, the group could hear a slight tinkling from the numerous vials he had tucked into his every nook and cranny softly brushed against each other, making a nice little sounds to accompany their journey.
Doesn't look like much, Zoreck had said.
"Looks fine to me," Astraea quips cheerfully as she steps up alongside the rest of the group. As the others glance in her direction, she smiles helpfully, then waves her hand in front of her face. She hopes they get the implication.
She is not truly blind, but there are still many things- visual cues, and whatnot- that are lost on her thanks to her unique affliction. Like looking through a cracked window, she has often described it; of course, there were strange exceptions to this. The stars always shone with perfect clarity through the cracks in her vision, and when it was dark outside, her sight seemed clearer still- at least, within short distances, and even then she gathered no color from the darkness, only shapes.
"No, really, a warm bed for the night would be fantastic. No objections from me." She winks at the group in general, hoping she is not coming off as overly enthusiastic.
This was a fine and interesting group. She had not often had traveling companions in the years since she left her little riverside village, and there were still nights where she did not feel entirely comfortable around others, but... at least they were, for the most part, as unusual as her.
"I've got a few gold pieces to spare," she says. "I say we head inside and check it out."
"I...uhhh...have some gold as well. You don't need to pay for me, Astraea." Drancis mutters in an embarrassed voice to her.
He starts to reach out his hand towards her but quickly pulls it back. No! Don't touch her! I cannot...no MUST not do it! She may get mad at me... Instead he hurries ahead of her nearly bumping into the strange one armed...what did she call herself again? Oh! an android...and holding the door open for her after the others have entered the Inn.
"I don't see so good right now, Aestraea. Click, experiment blew up and got this eye," pointing to his right one. "Would, er, my spectacles help your vision much?"
Rikkan also had just a couple of gold pieces in his pocket, but he'd risk going broke for a warm bed this evening. Being wrapped all tight in a blanket reminded him of the narrow burrow he was raised in, which he still missed sometimes.
Instead he hurries ahead of her nearly bumping into the strange one armed...what did she call herself again? Oh! an android...and holding the door open for her after the others have entered the Inn.
Illonna locks her vision on the kineticist, practically staring holes in him. Eventually she smiles.
"Thank you Drancis."
and heads inside.
Locke finds himself ushered into the inn with his companions. I suppose mother could wait until the morning, startling her at night is not a good idea anyway. As soon as they enter the inn and stop moving he feels a tingling in his legs. Not yet! I've barely been here a minute and you want me to leave already? He sighs, his previous good mood ruined. It's been getting much to frequent, if I don't do something about it soon I might not last much longer. He shoves his now shaking hands into his pockets, hiding his discomfort from his current companions. "Don't order the special. Trust me," he whispers to his companions, remembering the rather 'interesting' dish he had tried in his youth.
Of all of the Inns that litter the road between the great cities of Magnimar and Riddleport, it seems that the 'Stars above the Lake' is one of the least popular. With the sun finally extinguished and a orange-tinged moon rising into the sky, a cursory look into the courtyard reveals that there are no more than four horses stabled here this evening.
It may not be very full and it has certainly seen better days but... the smell of cooking food, the sound of a flute being expertly played and a sudden burst of warmth from an open fire tells of the Inn's welcoming nature. The bar area, into which the door opens, is a jovial place... music is playing, three separate groups of people are sat at tables eating a warm supper and, from behind the bar, the barkeeper - a half-elf unless you are mistaken - calls out.
"Greetings travellers!!! A room for the night? A meal? ...ahhh, a drink surely?"
The ratfolk pulls his hood over his head tightly. Even though he was used to it, he wasn't fond of the initial looks of distrust he always received as he encountered new people. "Click, someone please get Rikkan a warm beverage?".
He moves to a far corner in the bar, away from the other groups as much as possible, taking a chair for himself. He points to the rest of his group, showing them he had reserved a table with chairs for the remainder of them.
|Zoreck the Unclean|
Zoreck strides into the barroom. Scowling, he suspiciously scans the room for threats, the open palm of his hand on the hilt of his sword. He relaxes slightly, then removes his hat and poncho. "Yes. Rooms for the night. And beer." He then joins Rikkan at the table in the back, making sure his back is to a wall. The weapons on his belt clank menacingly as he crosses the room.
"It's not great, but not nearly as bad as that place in Chesed last winter. Rikkan, you remember that dump?"
Drancis waits for everyone to enter the bar area before allow the front door to close behind him. As his eyes adjust to the light given off by the various lanterns and candles on the tables, the all-too-familiar bubbles seem to shine forth more brightly than he remembered. He could almost squeeze each bubble around the candle, the glass, the hunk of roast and pick it up, reveling in the control...the POWER he had over it...
NO!! I must NOT!!
Letting the bubbles around the objects loosen, he quietly slinks to the table where the ratfolk Rikkan sat uncomfortably waiting for his drink. Having a seat he says quietly, almost in a whisper, "Just wine for me...thanks. Giving the ratfolk an almost envious look out of the corner of his eye, he sits back awaiting his drink.
Lucky guy. At least HE can disguise himself here!
Rikkan nods at Zoreck. "Yuck, chitter, Chesed's inn was not good. Cold. More rats than even I'm used to, chee chee," he adds, laughing at his own ironic statement, showing his large teeth.
"I got plenty of souvenirs from there though! Some neat metal stuff...don't tell the Technic League," he whispers as his whiskers move anxiously at the thought. "Click, I can show you later, if you want want when there's less eyes around,".
Locke looks around the bar and feels his eyes get a little misty, This may not have been my favorite haunt, but I can't help feel nostalgic. He wipes at his eyes, trying to be discreet. He then acknowledges the bartender with a weary smile when he realizes the others were already ordering, "I'll just have a glass of cold water. But a bed for the night would be welcome." His hands move to his coin pouch as he speaks, ready to dole out the needed sum.
"Oh, a bed would be nice. And, uh..." She thinks for a moment as she pulls up a seat across from Zoreck and Rikkan. "...Just water for me, thank you." Astraea is well aware of her poor tolerance for alcohol, and besides, she does not particularly like the taste.
It's a quirk.
Instead, she asks: "Anything good on the menu tonight? As in, foodstuffs?" And, as a quick addendum: "Not- not the special, though." She glances at Locke thankfully, trusting his judgment.
"So, uh..." she starts, then trails off and drums her fingertips on the tabletop. "This place isn't quite, uh... 'hopping,' is it? Think it's the food?"
Unlike the others, Illonna summarily exchanges key for coin and heads directly up to her room. She returns a few minutes later having removed her arms and armor in favor of simple garb.
She sits at the table with the rest of the group shortly after.
"You all seem so somber. Has something happened?" she says after only a quick glance at the group.
Mugs of water, ale and wine are placed at the table and, whilst the flute music brings a friendly atmosphere into the room, the barkeeper asks whether you are headed towards Galduria for the Festival of Autumn Lights or are you headed northwards and on to Riddleport.
Going to wait for Zoreck to post, since he's the only one with Know. Local, it seems!
|Zoreck the Unclean|
In a low voice, Zoreck responds to Illonna's question, "Well, we are on the run from both the Technic League and the Rotgut Reavers. Who knows if either of them have spies here?" He continues to scan the barroom suspiciously.
Knowledge (local): 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (5) + 4 = 9 ...nope
Zed: If Locke is from Galduria, wouldn't he automatically know about the Festival?
Can we try to aid another on Know. Local? If so, I will...
Untrained Aid Another Know. Local 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (17) + 3 = 20
"Festival of Autumn Lights? Click, not sure if I know about that. It sounds very interesting, though! I bet there are all kinds of items to collect there."
|Zoreck the Unclean|
Locke hadn't even realized that their coming to Galduria could fall during the festival. He becomes more animated as he answers Zoreck, "The Twilight Academy puts on a show, an entire week of pyrotechnics. It's really quite beautiful. It is worth a view, I promise you that."
Rikkan's nose wriggles a little bit. Whirr, pyrotechnics you say? Rikkan enjoys boom booms a great deal! If we have time, I'd love to see the explosions. And find a click, memento or two for the show. I once saw an amazing fireworks display in Varisia. They were beautiful, greens and blues everywhere..I've got one of the burnt out caps here somewhere," he grumbles, as he rummages in his pack.
The Bar-Keeper, without a large number of customers to attend to, seems happy enough to stay and chat. Agreeing with Locke, "It's a beautiful thing... Even from here, you can see the lights reflecting on the lake. 'Course, it helps trade a little as well. It starts tomorrow so, if you are headed into Galduria, you'll get there in time for the opening night. Mind you, have you booked ahead? You may have a little bit of trouble finding somewhere to stay..."
As accomodation is mentioned, one of the men on a nearby table - who has clearly been listening in - guffaws, "Old Pointy-Ears will be trying to get you to stay here for the next week!!! He's that desparate for trade that he'll try and convince you that you could make the twenty mile trek each night". As the bar-keeper glares at him, the man protests, "Awwww, come on... You know I'm just joking with them... Us locals will keep this place afloat and anything else you get - it's a bonus, right?".
The slightly raucous fellow stands and saunters over to the table, thrusting out his hand, he introduces himself, "The name's Gregor - me and my lads... well, our business is fishing the lake then taking our catch into Galduria for market... We take other folk's produce in as well - the farming around here and into the Churlwood isn't too bad... and we spend our good money on your ale and on your food, don't we 'Ears'?"
When Gregor puts an arm around the Bar-keeper, it is plain to see that - despite their jibes - they are good friends...
Upon hearing Locke's description of the Festival of Autumn Lights, Astraea lights up. Sitting straight in her chair, her smile broadens as she hears the details in full. "Oh, this sounds right up my alley!" she says, the enthusiasm in her voice palpable. "A fireworks show put on by a magic academy? Sounds marvelous! We have to see it. We can make time for it, right?" She glances about at her companions, hoping that her enthusiasm rubs off on them.
Afterwards, she observes the back-and-forth between Gregor and the barkeep. They seem like decent folk, Astraea thinks. He shouldn't poke fun of the bartender's ears, but I guess if he's not offended, then... She takes Gregor's hand when it is offered. "A pleasure, Mr. Gregor. Astraea G-g-Guillory." Her eyebrow twitches slightly as she stutters. The rest of the group may have noticed over their time with Astraea that she gets a bit fidgety when mentioning her last name; Drancis and Locke might even remember her giving a different one on a particular occasion.
She hopes her charm will make up for her awkwardness.
Rikkan nods at Astraea's suggestion. "Click, click, I agree. No real pressing tasks for he time being. Seeing pretty fireworks and a nice crowd might be a welcome change from whirr, the dusty road."
Drancis shakes his head in resignation as he hears about the Festival. I...really don't want to go to this Festival now...I remember when my parents took me there when I was but a child. I had such a wonderful time too...before I started seeing these bubbles. Now it means nothing to me.
On hearing Astraea's enthusiastic response to Gregor, he manages to give her a half-hearted smile. "I...I...am sure it will be a grand time! I am looking forward to it..." His voice trails off as he picks up on her own nervousness.
Trying to take his mind off the vague sense of unease now on his mind, he quickly pipes up. "Excuse me Mister Gregor, but shouldn't there be....uhhh...you know, more patrons here? It seems like things are a bit...less crowded than things should be, considering this Festival is just around the corner. Right?"
Locke smiles at the thought of staying for the festival, "I would very much like to at least see the opening night. It has a been a long time."
Locke shakes Gregor's hand after the others, "I'm Locke Lestrange. I loved to play by the lake as a child. I'm glad to see it hasn't really changed."
Illonna is content to sit at their table and watch the others mingle. She was not antisocial by any measure, really, but she lacked anything to contribute, conversationally speaking.
A festival sounded nice. That is, if they had no other pressing business to attend to by that time. She fondly remembers the summer festivals of her Varisian home...
Or maybe it had been a Numerian homecoming ceremony...?
She couldn't quite recall the specifics.
"No matter." she concludes to herself out loud, drawing her attention back to the scene in the tavern.
|Zoreck the Unclean|
Suddenly very interested, Zoreck leans in to the conversation. "Fireworks, you say? Those're fun. Are the fireworks are made with magic or with alchemy?"
If they use gunpowder instead of magic, maybe I can buy some for my gun. I only have enough powder for one shot.
Needing little more than Drancis’ question as an invitation, Gregor pulls up a chair and takes a draught of his ale, ”It is quiet isn’t it? You should see it during winter… hell, it’s just me and a few locals keepin’ this place alive. It ain’t no fault of ‘Pointy Ears’… it’s just this place is too close to Galduria, most folks just push on from here unless the weather has really rolled in off of the Lake… and hardly anyone stops here on the way north”
Enjoying his audience, Gregor leans back in his chair, ”Yeah, the bridge kinda changed everything here… still, there’s more folks living and farming in the hills around here than you’d think – and the river leading back into the Churlwood? It’s a bit of a way but Holver’s Ferry is up there. Folks come down the river from there and we take their produce on into Galduria for trading – yeah, it ain’t bustling but this place really is a bit of a lifeline for local folk.”
The bar-keeper, who has returned to polishing glasses behind the bar, calls out to Gregor when he hears mention of Holver’s Ferry, ”I thought Vesk was due to come down and collect a load of tooling? Damned stuff’s been filling up the Stables for the last week or so”
”Yeah, shoulda been here yesterday but I guess he’s just got caught up with something… it happens”, and then Gregor whispers as an aside, Don’t know why he’s worried… It’s not like he ain’t got room in them stables!!!”
Thinking of his waning gold, Rikkan takes the initiative. "Chip, chip, you think Vesk would offer a bit of gold if we were to go find him and make sure he's okay? Or, we could just, squeak, make his run for him this time. If he's late then, he couldn't be too cross. Things have to get done, and we could see the pretty boom booms!"
Holver's Ferry, huh? I wouldn't mind seeing them again. Perhaps if I go along with Rikkan here I may get the chance. "Is Vesk being late unusual?" Locke inquires.
On hearing Rikkan mention gold Drancis realizes with a start his own gold supplies were running low. While he has no desire to head towards this...Holver's Ferry he also knew that is why you were paid gold to begin with.
He starts to speak up then at the last moment closes his mouth. I don't want to interrupt here...plus I may learn more by listening here...
Sense Motive: 1d20 + 1 ⇒ (10) + 1 = 11
Drancis - there is nothing untoward or 'off' in either Gregor's nor the Barkeeper's manner.
"Vesk late? Well, I suppose it's a little unusual... Man doesn't make a fortune by being unreliable... But, look... It's only been a day and the weather's been pretty dreadful - maybe he's decided to delay a couple of days for the river to quieten itself". Smiling again, Gregor suggests that you should just enjoy the Festival, "It's only a week of each year and a trip up to Holver's Ferry - there and back - would probably take all of that. Honestly, there's nothing to worry about - he'll be down to collect that machinery soon enough"
"Anyways, you folks eating? 'Ears' has got a pretty good menu... The red snapper stew is pretty fresh... Landed it this morning".
"The stew sounds good. Squeak, does he have any hard cheese back there, though? It's been a while since I've had a nice bite of cheese. Yum yum yum," he adds, his whiskers anxiously vibrating at the thought.
|Zoreck the Unclean|
Zorek half-grins and shakes his head. With a chuckle he claps his friend's shoulder, "Careful, Rikkan! You don't want folks to believe everything they've heard about your people! But no one can fault you for liking what you like." Turning to Gregor, "That stew does sound good."
Especially after cold-camping the past few nights...
At the mention of stew Locke finally notices the pit of hunger in his belly that he had been ignoring, "I would appreciate a bowl of stew as well. It has been a long road."
His reply to Gregor's question is an honest one "I can't say I really have a place to call home, though I was born in Galduria. We are traveling from Riddleport, not the most pleasant of places to stay in for long."
"Here, there, everywhere. Squeak, Rikkan's warren is a long way from here. Been traveling a long time! I've travelled much of Golarian looking to see what I could see. It's been fun, but does get cold sometimes," h said with a bit of a shiver of his hairy body.
"I am from...uuuhhh...Riddleport. Just taking a break from my apprenticeship and traveling with these fine companions." Drancis responds hesitantly.
I hope I am doing the right thing here. Aren't most adventurers supposed to lie about where they come from, or is that just the Society?
Astraea just laughs along and tries to avoid the topic turning to her. "Well, I do hope this Vesk fellow is all right. Best not to worry- probably just the weather, after all. What else is there to do in Galduria, Mr. Gregor? Aside from the Festival, I mean?" She shortly stands and makes an effort to order some of this 'red snapper stew' from the long-eared barkeep, hoping that she has successfully deflected the topic of hometowns.
"Riddleport you say? I ain't never been but I've heard enough from folks travelling through to know that it's the kind of place where you need to keep your wits about you", Gregor laughs at the thought of the big city, "The open road and all of the little towns along the way must seem terribly quaint in comparison to that place".
Gregor ponders Astraea's question, "As to what else Galduria has to offer? Well, with the Festival in full swing, there'll be all sorts of sideshows sprung up around the town - seems like every carnival in Varisia descends on the place - but your friend knows that already if he grew up there". As food starts to arrive, Gregor takes a final quaff of his ale, wishes you a pleasant stay and a safe journey on the morrow.
The rest of the evening is pleasant enough - the food is, despite Locke's misgivings, rather nice and the music lends a friendly quality to the atmosphere. As the evening draws on, the various patrons of the Inn wave their good-byes and head out into the night... Soon enough, there is only yourselves, the bar-keeper (who is quietly reading at the bar) and four men - who at some point during the evening introduced themselves as merchants heading northwards, not to Riddleport but into the Shoanti lands of the Storval Plateau.
With the fatigue of the day travelling southwards finally taking its toll, it is time to head towards the various rooms that you have procured for the night - like the rest of this establishment, the rooms are simple and time-worn... but comfortable enough. Sleep - or it's equivalent - comes quickly...
...and overhead the stars turn in the sky, a blood-red moon shines down on the land and the strings of fate snap tight...drawing a line beyond mortal eyes from the gentle waves of the lake deep into the dark forest of the Churlwood...
26th Rova, 4715AR
Morning comes with the beginnings of a frost on the windows and the need to get dressed as quickly as possible for warmth. Breakfast is a plain affair designed to sustain rather than to excite the palate. The bar-keeper, who as far as you can tell, has been awake all night reading tells you that the merchants struck out before first light... and soon enough, it is time for you too to hit the road again - Galduria is only several hours to the south and, if the weather holds, you should easily be there by midday.
...yet the strings of fate, intertwining themselves between the friends, lead in an entirely different direction...
Bidding farewell to the Inn and heading out into the fresh morning air, all seems so very peaceful... a mist rising from the lake quietens the world to little more than your own breathing, footsteps on frost-rimed grass and the lapping of water against the shore.
Interrupted abruptly by voices shouting from somewhere over near the bridge...
...Gregor and his lads shouting in alarm and pointing towards something in the river below...
Rikkan dressed quickly. His fur provided some warmth, that was true, but it never made him feel what he'd call warm, especially on chilly mornings like this. He quietly supped his drink and ate breakfast.
He fell in line with his friends, following the long path south. "Do you hear that? Chip! Someone's shouting," he yells, as he runs toward the loud voices.