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Sunday, the 24th of Erastril, 4716 AR
Our story begins in the mansion of an Aldori Swordlord. A sprawling complex of disjointed corridors and vast, open gardens. The building itself is a magnificent stone structure, rising amidst the various barrooms, alehouses, shops, and dueling academies that litter the streets of the great free city of Restov. With the gentle passing clouds rolling lazily through the sky on this otherwise sunny and temperate one would never even suspect that from such simple beginnings such a grand tale was being set into motion.
Several weeks ago criers began to decry around the kingdom of Brevoy and even into several outlying countries that the fabled Swordlords of Restov had put out a call for bold adventurers, promising great rewards for those willing to strike out into the untamed Stolen Lands to the south. The criers declared that any bold enough to take up the Aldori on their request was to report the mansion of one, Jamandi Aldori in Restov and await further instruction there.
It didn’t take long before adventurers near and far began the journey to the south of Brevoy in hopes of claiming this ‘grand reward’ promised by the noble Swordlords. Several other bands of adventurers have been seen arriving and departing from the mansion already in the weeks prior and today is no exception.
As Signy Birkirsdottir sauntered into the grand hall of the mansion, a truly massive chamber with a vaulted roof supported by a series of cobblestone pillars she reckoned to be the size of your average church to Cayden Cailean himself, quite the scene was laid out before her. Guards clad fully in heavy armor, each polished to a mirror-like shine, stood patiently in every corner and beside each pillar of the massive room, their eyes diligently scanning their surroundings for any sign of funny business. Betwixt them a decadent and sumptuous red carpet sprawled before her, leading all the way from just after the tremendous oaken doors she had just passed through all the way up to a raised platform at the very end of the room where resided a single leather-backed chair with a long wooden desk before it cluttered with various tomes and maps. The desk was flanked by a pair of gorgeous tall silver candelabras whose flickering flames danced in the reflection of the various weapon racks set against the back wall of the room, aided in their task of illumination were several magnificent chandeliers hanging graciously from the towering ceiling above. Just behind the lone chair draped a great banner bearing the symbol of the Swordlords who called this place home. A winged golden blade set upon a shield and backed with a vibrant field of red.
The most striking feature of the room by far, however, was the motley crew assembled there just before the platform itself whispering amongst themselves. A stunning Taldan woman with long dark hair stood in the middle of the room gazing about her surroundings and flashing a confident smile towards Signy as she approached, from her posture and seeming comfort in such a fancy setting she seemed the most comfortable in her current surroundings. By her side a small gnome woman with eyes of vivid green and hair the color of the falling sun and clad in a huge blue quilt several sizes too large for her and a skull helmet leaned on her hawthorn staff and muttered the occasional word towards the human woman at her side though it was apparent to Signy, even at this distance, that her gaze and attention would constantly shift to the man who stood alone in the corner. The mysterious figure she thought must be a man based on what she could make of his build and posture, wore a dark cowl shrouding his entire form and leaving his face entirely cloaked in shadow. A chill trembled down Signy’s spine as she gazed into the void unknowing if it gazed back. With a shiver she turned her head once more and her eyes settled on a familiar sight. A young, daringly handsome aasimar man stood before her waiting patiently for the proceedings to begin and running his hands through his beautiful white hair. Signy figured she’d see him here, these two had crossed paths before and she had seen his mastodon pup outside of the manor, along with the most peculiar horse she’d ever laid eyes on.
”Ahem.” A soft voice by her side called out to Signy snapping the woman to attention. I-I’m terribly sorry if I startled you miss. The young Ulfen man beside her warbled his deep blue eyes darting between her own and the floor as though he dare not allow them to linger on her own for too long. Signy even thought for a moment she could see a glimmer of red in those deep blue eyes of his but with them darting sound so much, it must have just been her imagination. He was a slight man, especially for an Ulfen and Signy could have easily mistaken him for a woman at first glance though now at this close distance it was much easier to identify. His trembling hands played with a long braid on the right side of his messy red hair as he nervously mumbled on. It would seem you are the last to arrive. The, uhm well you see, the lady will be here very shortly. I-In the meantime please feel free to acquaint yourself with the other guests I suppose. The pale young man flashed an awkward smile and made for the door before spinning back around quite suddenly, his eyes wide and his voice slightly too loud in the panic of realizing he had nearly forgotten to ask. Oh yes! Um- would you like a refreshment of some sort!?
|Wylhia the Wisp|
"Don't bother asking for anything strong, dear." the gnome calls over. She gives a wicked little grin, tapping her staff against the red carpet. "I already did. Nothing but morning dew to be sipped from these chalices."
Her glittering green eyes are fixed on Signy's holy symbol.
The gnome is more on-edge than she appears. She's not used to confined spaces, and to her, even a beautiful chamber such as this feels confined for lack of open air. She can't help but steal glances at her companions, nerves warring with curiosity. The aasimar is known to her, of course, but the others... who are they? What's with that hood? She'd only started to introduce herself to the lovely human woman when the last arrival made her entrance.
The Ulfen man, appearing to be nearly twenty years of age, went slightly flush recoiling from the gnome's harsh words. "Right! Well, uh, actually about that you see." He rung his hands together and chuckled tensely. "The Lady thought that it would be best, you see, for alcoholic beverages not to be served at the initial meeting. There... well there was a bit of an incident with one of the earlier groups. Involving a minotaur, a very strong human, and a lot of ale. It, it was all rather amusing actually... but-but the Lady was not pleased."
The young man bows his head apologetically, perhaps overly deeply for the situation and stammers. "We-we have a variety of fine juices and teas however! I-I'm rather partial to the chamomile myself! Not that that's important at all really... Oh! We also have this thing called coffee! Newly imported, very hard to get I've read."
He takes a deep breath after nearly having forgotten to breath throughout the whole exchange. "The Lady wont let me have any though. She's worried it would make me 'neurotic' that's what she says."
The aasimar grins sheepishly and stops fidgeting. "I had thought it might be a bit early for liquor," he offers to encourage the Ulfen man. "The coffee sounds interesting, though, please."
Brental musses his hair and blinks a few times at Signy in recognition. "Well fancy meeting you here," he says quietly. "I don't suppose you brought your own libations, or perhaps the rebec."
He steals a glance to the dark-haired Taldan woman and the hooded figure as well. He didn't know either of them and hadn't worked up the nerve to say much to either yet, mostly responding if Wisp addressed him and otherwise shuffling about. It was good to see another familiar face.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
"Oh, fiddlefiends." Wisp waves a hand dismissively. "As my old man liked to say, Brother, it's never too early to start the day off right." She smiles at the manservant. "But... if the Lady wishes for a dry house, tiswhatis. Perhaps a cider, miss? Sweet cider, that is!" She winks.
The manservant turns to the aasimar and nods eagerly, happy to receive something in the way of a supportive gesture. "As the stars see me, that's the truth of it! Though the people of my homeland may have some words to say about that... or not words but more fists really... and not so much said as they would be thrown, likely at one's face or nether regions... I don't miss home much."
A pale hand shot up over his mouth as he realized he had begun to ramble. "Ohmygoodness pardon me I've forgotten myself again. Ah yes, one coffee right away for the aasimar gentleman and..." He paused for a moment when the gnome began to address him. "Miss... but I-" The man shook his head and nodded, again far too deeply and perhaps far too quickly as well for you could swear you see him stumble for a second on his way back up as though all the blood had just rushed out of his head. R-Right! Of course honorable adventurer! One coffee and one... non-alcoholic... cider coming right up!"
|Meneas the Cowl|
Meneas inclines his head at the newcomer and the others in greetings. "Looks like we're all here... except our gracious hostess. I'm Meneas, though I've also taken a... nickname of sorts." He gestures at his hood with a gloved hand. "The Cowl."
The knight-errant keeps his flesh almost entirely covered, even in the heat of the midsummer day. He wears a black cloak with a white edges, and on his hip is an Aldori dueling sword - a blade he carries with the confidence of one who knows how to use it.
Meneas looks at the Ulfen servant with an air of mild amusement. "Relax. We're not going to bite." He hesitates a moment before turning his hooded gaze to his companions. "Well, I won't. Promise."
Almost as if leaving a trance, the Taldan woman turned her head to the newcomer and smiled. She was beautiful, it’s true, covered in a beautiful dress carrying the colors of a noble house. While she tactfully seemed to not be using fine jewelry at this moment, yet she had a well made tiara holding her hair and nothing in sight that could indicate she was an adventurer.
Well, if we are all here besides our hostess, then we could at least introduce ourselves! - she said, approaching Signy - I am Lorna Medvyed, and my friend here is Wylhia.
While she didn’t show any accent at all, her last name was pronounced in a way that sounded like the Taldans from the past. She was careful on her words, yet made sure to give some space for the gnome to speak more. When she finished, her eyes again scanned the room, for times crossing with Brental’s and Meneas’s, as to invite them to introduce themselves as well.
"OH! Of-of course not man with n-no face! Erm! I mean, bold adventurer! I'm sure would would never..." The Ulfen man stammers, a few nervous beads of sweat appearing on his brow as he holds his ands up disarmingly. His eyes scan the rest of the room as though to ensure that none of the others are contemplating taking a chomp.
"Wisp, do you know everyone in Brevoy? Rotting earth!" Brental whispers to the gnome, his baritone voice perhaps not as quiet as he intended.
He nods at the Cowl and Lorna as they introduce themselves before remembering that he hasn't given his name yet.
"Brental Fenson, of the Oakstewards."
He bows his head a bit more deeply and then starts studying Meneas' cloak. His black cloak, seemingly pristine and well-manicured, stands in stark contrast to Brental's deep forest green, which retains patches of dirt and leaves despite his best attempts to brush it off before coming inside. At least he's not tracking mud around--this time.
And Medvyed: why, Lorna's family are good stewards of nature and sure allies of the Green Faith, or at least Erastil to be sure. He began looking her over as well, looking for a holy symbol or something like that.
|Meneas the Cowl|
"Lady Medvyed, Wylhia, Brental." Meneas inclines his head slightly at each. "Interesting group we have here." He muses, before his hood turns to Signy.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp giggles, the laugh echoing slightly beneath her giant gecko skull helmet. "Brother, didn't you hear me introduce myself to her? It's always important to make good impressions on lovely nobleladies. Why, I half-thought she might be our employer for a stint there."
She gives a sort of peasant's curtsey to the group—the kind of curtsey that shows she knows a curtsey is customary but has only heard what a curtsey is from passing description. "Wylhia the Wisp, of the Green Faith. At your service, my friends." She flicks her head up towards Brental. "Fenson and I know each other from our travels, an' the Lost Lands and I have been friends for a time as well."
The gnome looks up, noticing the Ulfen boy is still here. She bites back a sly remark, remembering barely in time whose house she is in. A guest doesn't berate servants, even scatterbrained ones.
Instead, she turns back to the others, her gaze settling on Signy. "And you, miss?"
Wylhia is a comely sort, with the characteristic wide mouth, large eyes, and dramatic eyebrows of a gnome. Her hair is mostly concealed from view, aside from the occasional stray fiery lock darting from beneath the safety of her skull helmet. She looks like she's in her late twenties, though obviously, as a gnome, she could be much older, but the dignity of her years is slightly undermined by the fact that her sky-blue cloak pours and pools around her feet like a dramatically oversized blanket—the fact that it appears to have been quilted doesn't help the impression. With its vivid pigment and fine make, it's clearly a very valuable article of clothing, but its hem is dusty, and leaves, feathers and pine needles cling to it where it has clearly been dragged across the forest floor.
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Signy isn't impressed by the mansion. She's from Taldor, and more than that from Oppara, where even the poor are ostentatious. The mansion is about on par with a quality library back home. Or, more precisely she thinks, a poor person's idea of what a rich person's house looks like.
Not that she really cares, she not rich in either place, and she's had a few months now to process how Restov is rather behind the times. She doesn't have much time for more than a smile and a nod around to the interesting and, in some cases, fantastical looking group handing around in the room, before Ulfen man sidles up to her. Between the very odd gnome's interjection and the Ulfen man's admission, it's clear to Signy she'll be getting a breakfast kind of drink, which is alright. She tries out her skald on the man, since she hardly ever gets to use it, and the gesture might build some rapport with the nervous little slip of a man.
"Góðan daginn. Ef við förum ekki undir fæturna vegna þessa mun ég fá mér kaffi."
If the man should happen to speak Skald, he would easily notice Signy isn't fluent. Her skald is heavily accented, and while she doesn't make any mistakes with vocabulary or grammar, she speaking cadence is slow and lacking in natural flow.
Signy has only enough time for quick takes on the other guests before she's called on to begin responding to their various comments and greetings. The gnome woman is very odd, like doesn't live around other people weird. The hooded man is impressive in the presumptuousness of his mysterious cowl, but maybe a little slow? Why would anyone hide their identify and also immediately tell everyone their name? Maybe he's ugly though...
The other two are less exotic. Signy is familiar with women like Lorna, as she introduces herself, from back in Taldor. She didn't know anyone that fancy, but there were plenty of them around to be seen and observed. Of course she'd been expecting to find Brental inside because she's seen his pal outside. It's nice to know at least one person in a new place.
As for Signy? She's neither tall nor short. She doesn't have the big-boned sturdiness often seen in Ulfen women, nor is she slight in a willowy way. She moves as if she knows her body well, athletic but probably not an athlete, more the type who wouldn't give a second thought to unloading a wagon's cargo or climbing up a tree. Her light complexion, blonde hair, and green eyes would make most assume she's of Ulfen stock, which is half-right. Her face still carries a hint of baby fat, marking her youngish age.
Signy had changed to her better set of clothes for this get-together. Gray trousers with a green jacket over a shirt. Her clothes are hardly new, but the make and materials are of good quality. Signy's boots stand out. They are knee-high and constructed of thick, high-end leather. They are a deep lustrous brown. They're clearly expensive and carefully maintained.
An Aldori dueling sword rests in its scabbard on her belt. Signy did remove the tassel and blade wrap before coming because she wants to play it as safe as possible. Having the sword isn't itself an issue, but the extra adornments mark one out as an Aldori initiate, which she clearly isn't. Normally she couldn't care less about such things, but it's an Aldori Swordlord's house, and she wants the job. They are usually very stick-up-the-ass about their clubby little perks, so why take the risk?
When Lorna comes over to introduce herself, the Lady's manner and accent confirm what Signy had guessed.
"It's very nice to meet you Lady Lorna. I'm Signy Birkirsdottir. It's been a while now since I've comes across a fellow native of Oppora, that's your hometown right? Are you the Master of the House's wife?"
As soon as she gets an opening to do so, Signy goes to Brental, calling out his name and then giving him a hug with a peck on the cheek.
"I figured I'd be seeing you around here somewhere. I saw your pal Tiny outside as I walked up. What've you been up to since the Sellen cruise?"
|Meneas the Cowl|
"Oppara?" Meneas muses aloud, looking from Signy to Lorna, flexing one hand idly as he ponders. Calling on old Taldan roots for an expedition into the Stolen Lands? He shakes his head slightly.
"I hope that our hostess should be making an appearance soon enough." The hooded knight says after a moment. "I, for one, would like to see what this... expedition will entail, exactly."
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp cocks her head to one side, looking between the others. The Cowl seems reluctant to lower his hood, and judging by that title, he's not going to. With her keen gnomish eyesight, accustomed to gazing under the stars, she can almost see what's underneath... but the candlelight spoils her night vision.
None of her business, anyways. Wisp hmms lightly and averts her gaze. It's not as if she's taking off her helmet anytime soon.
"Ah, now who knows everyone?" she teases Brental, as Signy greets him warmly. "Nobody ever says hello to me like that, for all the names shared."
Oh, no, not a wife yet! - Lorna smiles and chuckles, pink cheeks - And not from Oppara, either. Our manor is actually near the Gronzi Forest. But, do I know Oppara! Such a beautiful, vibrant, alive town.
She gestures a little bit as she speaks, but seems to try to do it in a graceful way.
Signy had stopped paying attention to the gnome while she was busy with other people. The little bone-helmeted woman's comment comes as a non sequitur to her.
"Oh, Hi, sorry, I'm Signy... Do you want a hug?"
Although she ties to mask it, Signy is mildly dismayed by the possibility she might need to hug the blanket-draped little bone head.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Sense Motive: 10 + 2 = 12
Wisp laughs. "Oh, that's sweet of you, dear, but I'm only playing. 'Tis an old joke between Brother Odd-Eyes and I." She offers a hand to shake. "This will do. It's a pleasure."
She seems to misconstrue slightly Signy's unease. "Ah, don't let the helmet put you off—I'm no necromancer. It's strictly for protection. Metal armor and druids don't mix."
|Meneas the Cowl|
"So, does anyone know why our hostess has chosen us, specifically, for this?" Meneas asks suddenly, having kept his counsel for the past minute or so.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
"Specifically!" Wisp smirks. "We should be so lucky. No, no, dear, I believe she's hirin' just about anyone who signs up. As for why she wants adventurers in the Stolen Lands..." She bites her lip, then shrugs. "I think it's the same reason anyone tries to move into the River Kingdoms. It looks empty to them. Trust a noble to look at a lake full of life and see a dry basin."
She seems to remember her company and flashes a quick smile up at Lorna and the servant. "Beggin' your pardon—I don't mean any offense! There's nothing wrong with wantin' to stake your claim."
|Meneas the Cowl|
"You think there are only five volunteers for this expedition?" The cowl turns to look down at the gnome, though the tone of his voice is genuinely curious. "It's possible, I suppose."
|Wylhia the Wisp|
The servant mentioned a previous band, so I'm pretty sure that the noblelady is just handling these adventurers in "sets". It's fine for that to be an IC confusion on Meneas's part, of course!
Signy pulls a carefully folded document from her coat pocket and holds it up. "I'm chartered for the expedition."
With obvious pride she adds "It was a gift."
|Meneas the Cowl|
No, that was his point. Why this group? Like, most of us don't know each other, etc.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Oh! I misread what he was saying. Just to be clear, I assume Signy shook Wisp's hand?
"I think we're just today's latest batch, Cowl." Wisp winks. "Unless the lady knows more about us than I think, an' she's trying to match us by our abilities. But I doubt anyone's puttin' that much thought into us. We're expendable units."
|Meneas the Cowl|
"Hm... perhaps." Meneas muses. "Perhaps we are. If we want to survive, I think it best that we know one another's qualifications for embarking on this expedition."
|Wylhia the Wisp|
"Not that I'll be treatin' any of you that way on the road." Wisp pats a wand at her side—a twisted branch of oak laden with gnarled knots and tumerous oak galls. "Anyone who travels with me lives to the end of the trip. I'm as friend as any can be to the Stolen Lands, and I know the trails that beasts and bandits leave alone as well as any can know them. I'm a healer, herbalist, tracker, and ambassador to most o' the things that fly, crawl or run through the forests."
She gestures to Brental. "Brental here is a brilliant tracker an' a sturdy fighter, especially with his companion from the far north. He's faithful an' unflinching. You're lucky to have us both by your side. Brother Odd-Eyes, if you'd like to go into more detail?"
Signy shakes Wisps hand.
Signy is surprised she had pegged Lorna incorrectly. "Oh, well you sure fooled me. You pass as a Taldan gentle lady easily" she replies as if she believes she's offering a compliment.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
A shock runs through Signy as the gnomish joybuzzer activates. "Aha!" the gnome cackles, the illusions fading to reveal her iconic gnome japester outfit. "You fell for the oldest prank in the book! Another human fooled by Wylhiazakowit Exelowisp the Third!" She begins to do a capricious jig. The party is delighted by the whimsical gnome hijinks.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp's eyebrows arch at Signy's discomfort, but her face lights up as the server returns with their drinks. "Ah, very good! Thank you, dear." She accepts her cider and 'toasts' the others before taking a deep draught.
Privately, the gnome appreciates the chance to stop filling the silence. Brental aside, she's not sure what to make of things. She doesn't like this house, and aside from Brental, she doesn't know anyone's game here. A part of her can't help but treat this as unsafe terrain. Where is the host? Who are the enemies? Where's the escape route?
Very little of this projects obviously outward*, aside from her shifting slightly from side to side and continuing to stay right next to her fellow druid. In fact, the more nervous she gets, the more talkative and friendly she seems to become. She beams up at Meneas. "And what of your qualifications? I assume you're handy with a sword; the River Kingdoms never punish that. Be you one of the Aldori yourself?"
Her gaze darts back towards Signy. "How's the coffee? Is it just fancy cocoa?"
*Though it's likely anyone especially perceptive or who knows Wisp well can recognize the signs.
|Meneas the Cowl|
"Ha. No, I am neither from the River Kingdoms, nor do I intend to go. I'm not Aldori, either... though I do know how to use a sword." The hood inclines thoughtfully. "I bring my partner, Veil, and a... certain expertise and affiliation with the fey."
Meneas shrugs slightly beneath his cloak. "I've spent most of my life traveling, and I know how to survive outside of cities and towns." He pauses, seeming ready to say more, but the momentary silence drags out and he says nothing further.
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp bites her lip, glancing between the four questants—plus the Ulfen man, of course. She gives a light laugh. "Affiliation with the fey? My, aren't we a curious bunch!"
You are very kind, and look somewhat like a Taldan lady yourself... Underneath the expedition-looking clothes. You seem definitely more suited to this expedition than I am, my dear! - Lorna genuinely humbles down, as she's enough smart to understand the people around her are clearly more capable to deal with the dangers of the wild - However, I wouldn't discount the usefulness of any of us.
As she completes, she shakes her head towards Meneas, happy to hear about his life traveling.
Erastil seems to be already blessing my journey. - she finally expands, almost in a way to show the inquisitor and the druids where her faith lands - ... And with all said, it peaks even more my curiosity towards our hostess and the goals of such endeavor!
Brental’s cheeks flush slightly at Signy’s peck as he returns the hug. “Oh I went straight back out into the wilds! This is my first day back in a city since I left yours and Talain’s company. I don’t think he could see straight for a few days after you drank him under the table.”
The conversation whirs by Brental until Wisp mentions him again. ”That’s a good description of my capabilities. I know and respect the land. But Vodnykel is from here in our regional forests. One of the last of his kind. As for me, the Oakstewards want their interests represented in any settling of the Stolen Lands.”
No need to hide his intentions of course. Why else would a druid be going on a colonial mission?
Signy follows up with an explanation for Wisp.
"Yeah, Brental likes me because I make him money."
She gives Brental a couple of playful elbow pokes to the ribs.
"Ain't that right Brental?"
Lorna's comment about Signy's "expedition clothes" might needle her coming from most, she's wearing her nicest set of clothes after all. But, she's sure a Lady like Lorna wouldn't know the difference.
Figuring that the only person present (and going unlike their Ulfen coffee fetcher) who might be less prepared for a wilderness expedition than herself is the Lady, Signy decides to risk asking about 'qualifications'. She leans in a little and lowers her voice conspiratorially.
"So what is it you can do that would cause you to be going along on something like this? Did you get a charter as a gift like I did?"
|Wylhia the Wisp|
"Ah, I see! The best kind o' friend: the profitable kind!" Wisp giggles. She relaxes slightly, taking a sip from her cider. "Imagine bein' fool enough to challenge a Caydenite to a drinking contest. You might as well challenge a cricket to a fiddle-off!"
She's now eyeing Signy with more curiosity, though. That girl barely looks out of her morning hours. She outdrank Talain? Are we thinkin' of the same Talain?
I'm assuming Wisp either heard about Talain from Brental or met him briefly, though Wisp does not like boats.
"Yep! I was slinging tankards for the Brothers and Sisters since I was fourteen. I did a goodly part of my growing up in their care."
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp's eyebrows raise. "Ah! That would do it, I suppose. We'll have to get a drink sometime, dear. No contests, though. My coin purse wouldn't survive." She winks.
The gnome pauses, then clears her throat. "As for why I'm here... well, money's part of it, o' course. Lookin' after travelers in the Stolen Lands is a good way to pass hours and get some coin. And..."
She struggles for a moment, long enough that it's impossible to hide her uncertainty. A few reasonings battle in her head. The Green Faith needs representatives in this colonizing nonsense. Wisp wants to help purge bandits from the realm. The money is too good to pass up. She cares sincerely about Brevoy's political fortunes and wants to do her patriotic part. Some of these reasons are very much less than honest.
In truth, it's just that protecting travelers is a way to be something other than alone on the trails.
... and," she says, clearing her throat again, "it's a good way to make new contacts in the region, you see."
Brental plasters a smirk on his face as Signy and Wisp go back and forth. He closes his eyes, nods, and shrugs when Wisp gives him the tell-tale look of disbelief, as though understanding the gnome’s message and responding wordlessly, Yes, that Talain. He notices her general discomfort, but doesn’t think to mention it.
”Anyone who can handle themselves in their cups is right by me. Cayden understands the benefit of the land’s bounty better than most gods.” He pauses, propping finger to chin thoughtfully and then offers, ”Who knows what grapes and grain may be native already in the lands we are to explore? A good cultivar might be worth as much as a true settlement. Better both.”
Brental sips the coffee, inhaling the earthy aroma and letting the dark liquid dance on his tongue. He had similar drinks amongst druids who made concoctions from straining bark with other herbs. This was different, sure, but not entirely unfamiliar. Where had it been imported from, he wondered?
Listening a bit longer, Brental begins making mental notes. A charter, unspecified fey affiliations, staking a noble claim (though she hadn’t confirmed it really), respecting the land we go to, making money, protecting each other, and making friends. An interesting group.
Wisp has almost certainly met Talain, even if she’s never ridden on his boat. He’s a fixture on the Sellen and friendly with many local druids. Consider him a relative moderate between Brental and Wisp's outlook, if they were ever to get into arguments.
The Ulfen man seems to nearly flinch when he first hears the skald language of his homeland being spoken but then he pauses and smiles brightly at Signy nodding his head happily seemingly pleased with the woman’s fairly clear skald.
Skaldinn þinn er mjög góður! Það er langt síðan ég heyrði gömlu tunguna. Ég var næstum búinn að gleyma hvernig þetta hljómaði.
Engu að síður, annað kaffi er að koma alveg upp!
Anyways, another coffee is coming right up!
With that the young man rushed off, out the great oaken doors again to fetch the guests their refreshments. It was a few minutes before he returned with the hot, and otherwise, beverages handing them out as carefully as he could to each guest. His hands shaking in apparent apprehension. It is especially apparent as he hands the cider to the strange gnome in the skull helmet and there are a few drops spilled as he bends over to hand her the goblet, followed by a string of profuse apologies and a cantrip muttered to clean up the mess.
Several more minutes went by as the guests spoke amongst one another before the sound of a side door opening followed by the sound of a pair of footsteps approaching the platform caused the Ulfen man to make his way up to the left corner of the raised platform in a skittish flurry adjusting his robes just as two figures came into sight approaching the stage.
One is a straight-forward looking half-elf woman with blue eyes and black hair tied back in a no-nonsense fashion. She looks to be in her late thirties and is fully clad in battle armor looking very much like she just strode off the battlefield and into the chamber before you. The fabled Aldori dueling sword even hangs at her hip as though she is always prepared to meet a challenge. She wears the traditional red associated with the Aldori Swordlords and has a stylish yet practical cloak which billows behind her as she strides with a purpose.
Just behind her a much less adventurous looking man follows. He appears to be a much older human, perhaps in his late fifties if not older, with scraps of severely greying hair clinging desperately to his otherwise bald head as if in a final act of rebellion against the inevitable march of time. His clothes are most decadent robes and fine jewelry in stark contrast to that of the woman before him and where her stride depicts confidence his own manner gives away that he is operating under a lot of stress. Even his magnificent handlebar mustache cannot hide the flop sweat that moistens his fancy robes.
”P-Presenting the Most Honorable Lady Jamandi Aldori, Leader of the Gallant Aldori Swordlords, Hero of the Narlmarches, and Lady of the Manor, and His Excellency Lord Mayor Ioseph Sellemius leader of the Free City of Restov!” the manservant declares as the two make their way onto the platform with the woman taking center-stage.
“Thank you Riftun, though I’ve told you before you need not use such an indulgent introduction. That will be all for now.” the Lady states rather emphatically as she stares out over the assembled adventurers, her blue eyes glimmering with something akin to excitement.
“I-I’m sorry my Lady.” the manservant, now identified as Riftun hangs his head low, his cheeks flush with shame.
The half-elven woman glances over at him with a half-smile and rolls her eyes playfully before returning her attention to the assembled adventurers before her and clearing her throat before proceeding. “Well, now that that’s out of the way. Greetings, everyone! And welcome to my mansion. I hope you have found the accommodations to your liking and that I have not kept you waiting too long.”
”We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being here and answering the call.” declares the man identified as the Lord Mayor as he dabs away at the sweat on his brow with a finely embroidered handkerchief. ”I would just like to be the very first to say I see a fine group of adventurers before me. A group of bold heroes exactly what this city needs right now to be certain.”
”Thank you, Lord Mayor.” Jamndi huffs at Ioseph’s blatant patronization of the men and women assembled before them. ”I’ve been told by my aid Riftun that some of you are wondering how you were selected for this task and it’s really quite simple. Some of you have pulled strings to be here and others have been personally selected for their own personal experience with the lands in question. I won’t lie to you, you aren’t the first batch of adventurers we’ve sent out into the Stolen Lands, in fact you’re the fourth, but we hope to avoid any conflict with the fact that we’ve sent each of you to differing regions of the Stolen Lands.”
The woman glances at each of you and smirks, ”Now, to the point. South of here, just beyond Brevoy’s border, lies a region known as the Stolen lands. This is disputed territory, and while it’s long been claimed by the nearby states, it’s never truly been taken. I won't bore you with the legal technicalities but it lies in the interest of Brevoy at this point in time to have the region thoroughly mapped and cleared of all dangerous inhabitants, whether these be monsters, common beasts, or, more to the point, the large amount of bandits who have been gathering under the name of a new chief known only as the Stag Lord. Bring me his head and a completed map thoroughly detailing the Greenbelt region of the Stolen Lands including points of interest and potentially useful resource locations and you will be richly rewarded.”
She smiles exuding confidence. ”A fine adventure by the sounds of it, I’m a little jealous I won’t be able to join you on this expedition myself! Do you have any questions before we send you on your way?”
A pleasure meeting you, Lady Aldori. - says Lorna, greeting her with the formal hand movements from the Taldan nobility - And thank you for the impressive opportunity. As a historian, I'm truly curious as to what secrets such lands would bear.
Lorna gives some seconds before continuing.
While I understand it's not ideal... Has anyone tried to negotiate with this... Stag Lord? Some bandits are truly nasty and beyond words, but some can be dealt with via diplomacy. - even as she speaks, she already imagines the answer.
... A more appropriate question might be... Were other expeditions sent before us? Do we have any details on such endeavors... And their members and results?
Riftun frantically waves his arms at Lorna as if trying to warn her off some trail of conversation that would lead down a treacherous road but all too late.
Lady Jamandi Aldori gives Lorna an icy glare and scowls. "That would not fall in with our future plans for the area. You see Restov requires someone they could actually negotiate with. And bandits are simply too unpredictable. On top of that even if we recognized the Stag Lord's claim to statehood it is highly unlikely that our surrounding neighbors would be willing to do the same, leaving them to believe the Stolen Lands are free real estate."
The Lord Mayor then speaks. "Put simply, bandits, by their very nature, would be a problem we would have to deal with at one point or another anyways. We may as well strike before they have a chance to become an actual serious threat on our southern borders. And we already tried to bribe him to just go away. Apparently the 'Stag Lord' never got the memo to not shoot the messenger. Probably because he shot that messenger too!"
"Besides, some of us simply have standards and would never lower themselves to negotiate with an upstart bandit." Jamandi scoffs and points to her face which bares several scars. "I've learned the hard way that their is only one way to deal with a bandit. I'd have thought a member of the esteemed house Medvyed such as yourself would find such a stance more agreeable."
Ioseph coughs into his kerchief in order to bring the conversation back to a more civil place. "To answer your question... yes. Three groups have already been dispatched and each has met with... unsurmountable difficulties forcing them to either retreat or, alas, never return at all. We are quite confident, however, that fourth time's the charm!"
|Meneas the Cowl|
Meneas watches silently as the Aldori swordlord enters, inclining his head at her introduction. The lord-mayor of Restov's presence is a surprise, though. Surely he has better things to do than send off every little party of adventurers? Then again, perhaps not. The swordlords tend to overrule him anyways... But if he does, that means that at least he wants to believe we'll be successful...
"Have you any knowledge of what sorts of threats the Stolen Lands face other than this bandit lord?" He asks aloud. "Specifically, I mean." The knight-errant folds his arms on his chest thoughtfully.
The Lord Mayor puzzles thoughtfully, thumbing a fat finger through his oily mustache. "Well, we have heard multiple reports of the bandit threat being stronger than anticipated. The Stag Lord has done much to unify the bandits of the area under his banner under pain of death, or so I'm told. But otherwise... I believe that's everything."
"Otherwise, the surviving members of the returning parties declared some strangeness afoot. Some members of their party would speak strangely to them for a time only to wander off in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason. Others met their end carelessly via beast attack, and some claimed that vital supplies they had mysteriously disappeared making it impossible to continue." Riftun slaps his hands over his mouth and gives a terrified glance over in the direction of the Lord Mayor who is glowering at the interruption.
"Yes... though the boy forgets his tongue it is as he says."
|Meneas the Cowl|
"Most curious." Meneas says thoughtfully, turning his cowl to face the lord-mayor, though he makes no other move. "Bandits, at least, I know we can deal with... though the organization you mention concerns me slightly."
The hood turns back to his companions-to-be. "This Stag Lord is likely the main reason that the bandits are organized. A strike at the head of such bands is often enough to break them... the trouble is finding the leadership, especially if they don't lead attacks themselves."
Knowledge (nature) - Riftun's descriptions: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (15) + 5 = 20
Trying to see if Meneas recognizes what they could be - a bit of a long shot, I know.
The bandits part of the thing had sounded way less interesting than the exploration part. She had imagined grubby cutpurses and skulks. But when Signy hears 'The Stag Lord' it grabs her attention.
Now that's a bandit with some dash and style! A force under his banner! He has a banner! Now this is the kind of opponent stories are made of!"
Signy imagines the kind of tall tale story telling she'd alway heard at the orphanage's alehouse, but now she's the one doing the telling. Her excitement spikes.
"Do you know if people have lived there in the past, or has it always been wilderness?"
|Wylhia the Wisp|
Wisp listens intently to the conversation, her ears pricking up at the mention of the Stag Lord, a name she's heard on the wind once or twice in her travels but never attached to any weight. That upstart? Is he a bigger threat than I thought?
Her head tilts to the side in thought as Lorna makes her suggestion and the nobles shoot it down. She considers this a moment. This is not a time for fast-talking. This is a time to choose her words with care. Elements of this don't sit well with her. Kill the Stag Lord? That's not exploration, that's... it takes her a moment to think of the Taldane word for it.
Once she has the word, she speaks up.
"I think," the gnome says softly, "that there's a world o' difference, if I may say, between a bandit who calls himself the leader an' a bandit who calls himself the Stag Lord. The first you can deal with, in my experience. Offer a man money to raid someone else, why should he care? The second, though... he has a name. A title." She taps Brental on the shoulder with her staff. "Could be trouble. What you're askin' for, my... m'lordies," she fumbles the title, looking between the lord and lady, "is an assassination, yes? Not my specialty."
She clears her throat. "So how 'rich' is this reward?"
"Lady Aldori," Brental says, inclining his head and bowing in a practiced, Rostland tradition that belies a familiarity with nobles often unknown in druidic circles. "Our notion of dangerous inhabitants is often challenging. I am inclined to safety, even a measured culling as needed to maintain balance, but I am concerned by the nature of ‘cleared of all’. Many consider worgs dangerous to the extreme, but they can play a vital role in their environs—if they are kept within their bounds."
He pauses and considers his next words carefully, glancing at Wisp for a long moment before he speaks. They would certainly have to discuss this matter between themselves later. "As for this Stag Lord I share my Sister’s concerns with what reads like an assassination. I am not arguing that we recognize a claim of statehood, but I would know what he has done to have his head removed from his shoulders. Those gathered under his banner as well—if they are organized more on fear, could they not be convinced otherwise?"
The aasimar’s eyes shift slightly from emerald to a dark cyan as he ponders this, but his face and tone of voice are otherwise inscrutable. He does not intend combativeness with their host: merely curiosity. Or perhaps, as some might put it, war-room planning. Had this been the reason the Oakstewards had encouraged him to join this expedition? We he to be a dissenting voice, a measured counsel against unnecessary violence? Or was he to be a surehanded arbiter of restoration through ritual cleansing by blade?