With war gathering between Luskan and Neverwinter, many of the smaller hamlets and villages that were once under vassalage to Neverwinter have been all but abandoned, as resources are diverted towards supplying Neverwinter's forces and strengthening its strongholds across the land. In normal circumstances, hamlets like Hannock would be able to manage, but the upcoming winter is predicted to be extra harsh, and a recent crop-rot has swept across the northern faces of land controlled by Neverwinter, making food more scarce. The scarcity of food has brought out bandits and other marauding bands, pillaging any supply caravans in an attempt to gain control of precious resources. Mercenaries are now in high-demand to protect supply caravans and bring stability to the lands.
Surprisingly to those outside the Black Network, the Zhentarim have stepped forward to offer aid, seeing this as an opportunity to improve their public image with the common folk. Mustering several supply caravans, the Black Network is willing to dispatch these armed caravans to struggling hamlets in exchange for a moderate taxation when circumstances are more favorable for the struggling villages. Their agents are tasked with visiting the surrounding villages, small towns, and hamlets, and assess which locations in need can be profited from the most, using whatever persuasion necessary to make sure those villages accept the Black Network's aid — the Black Network are shearers to sheep first and only shepherds when necessary to scare off the wolves after all.
Each of you has been put together as fresh Fangs and sent out from Neverwinter on your first mission to survey the village of Hannock. Eshuuni Masavori, the Ardragon of Neverwinter and leading Zhentarim agent in the city, promises seventy gold pieces to each of you if you can obtain written confirmation from Hannock's leaders (she's not sure what kind of leadership actually exists in Hannock) that they accept the terms of the Zhentarim's deal. She's given you discretion on how you obtain that confirmation, though reminds you to be on your "best" behavior: happy subjects are easier to profit from and rule than disgruntled ones.
Eshuuni has also entrusted your group with a second task: an agent, a fellow Zhent, missed their last two check-ins with her handler. While not going into detail pertaining to the agent's mission, she does offer her cover name and a brief description: Aliss Fafstern, a young, female human with auburn-brown hair and greyish-green eyes. A single prominent, dark freckle dots the upper-crest of her nose, easily distinguishing her.
Setting off early in the morning, you make your way from the Zhentarim stronghold in the Protector's Enclave, crossing over the Dolphin Bridge and snaking through the southern portion of Bluelake District. Large construction contraptions carry large blocks of stone, arching them through the air before they're set down atop another. Dwarves laugh loudly, moseying their way through the roads on the way to a new day of rebuilding the City of Skilled Hands. The beggars still sleep, crawling off to whatever dark alleyway they call "home", sparing you their incessant cries for aid. The Ilmatari had set up distribution services to provide them with needed food, making their begging a wasted effort on your ears.
Reaching the Tower District, you follow the upkept and well-traveled pathways: while the war with the Many-Arrows tribe was years ago, their influence still lingers, and rumors of strange creatures prowling the streets at night keep each of you in line. No need to get brave and die on the same day, after all.
The porticulli stare down at you like daggers, their pointed ends already hoisted high into the recesses of the gate. Travel starts early for Neverwinter, as fortunate farmers profit heavily from the shortage of food, bringing in their crops for sale in the dozens of marketplaces. As they travel in, you head out, looking down at the crude map given to you for final confirmation: three days on foot, then turn east off the High Road at the trio of cairns. Wind through the hills for another day and you should reach Hannock by the evening. The village didn't sound too enticing, but the previous Zhentarim leadership had made a horrible mess of things, and there was a lot of trust and support that needed to be gained if the Black Network was to flourish.
You quickly see why many Neverwintans favor the Tower Gate for passage: its elevated location offers a clear view of the surrounding countryside. Farms dot the surrounding land, casting heavy shadows from their buildings due to the dawn's early light. Far off in the distance, Mount Hotenow, a blessing and a curse to Neverwinter, looms with smoke slowly billowing out from it. Beneath it, a wave of fire blankets the ground, marking the clear boundary into the Neverwinter Wood; its leaves shimmer in the light in brushstrokes of oranges and golds, occasionally joined by the cluster of dark-green pine trees. It's near that boundary that Hannock is located. You put down the stories in your mind you've heard of the wood and take your first steps into the northern countryside of Neverwinter.
The hills and farms slowly roll by as you make your way north down the High Road. You pass by a handful of small patrols, their distinct navy blue tabards emblazoned with a roaring lion's head marking them as Neverwintan, as they return to their city and loved ones. Fast riders occasionally pass you, more than likely headed north towards the front versus Luskan as they carry important messages for the city's military. The sun creeps across the sky, reminding each of you that time is, in fact, moving forward. While sunny, the temperature reminds you of summer's passing and winter's coming: while pleasant for traveling at the moment, you realize the nights will get steadily colder as the year reaches an end.
With that realization, the sun begins to droop lower and lower into the western sky, indicating that it will soon be time to pull off to the side of the road and set up camp.
Veldyn had hired this coach for the group for their travels to Hannock. The driver kept to himself, which was good, but his new companions were of an interest to him. He'd only recently happened upon the Zhentarim, but was surprised they treated him as lowly as the others. A Fang? He was tempted to be offended by such a low rank, but House Steelspire was no stranger to challenge and the Black Network had a way of escalating the rise of its members in all of the political arenas. It would do for now.
Godiva wrings her hands together as the coach rattles along down the road. She was never too far from the Lord, and was eager to see the surrounding countryside. Veldyn himself sees this as good an opportunity as any to get to know his companions. If he's to turn this village on to the idea of allying themselves to the Zhent's protections, he'd best get to know the other agents better. He was more interested in their skills than anything.
Veldyn hops out of the cart and cracks his neck, looking out at the rolling hills. He wears heavy chainmail, a tunic draped over the professionally crafted links. His shield bears the emblem of his house, a steel spire rising above the iconic Castle Never. There's another seal set above the emblem, one of Hoar, the God of Retribution.
Pointing towards a clearing, Veldyn calls out, "This looks as good a place as any to set up camp for the first night."
Natah had kept to herself through the entire journey, thus far. She wasn't sure who to trust, and was still working out a plan to sniff out any untrustworthy. As she climbed down from the cart, she gazed at the area where Veldyn pointed out. Without a word, she made her way to the clearing with her gear, and began to set up for the night. Busying herself with collecting wood for a fire, she hoped to avoid any further questions from her newfound traveling companions.
Llewyrr jumps down from the wagon, his bare feet kicking up little clouds of dust. He'd been almost completely silent on the ride so far, only answering questions succinctly and distractedly, and not encouraging further conversation. The others would wonder if he didn't have a sore neck the next day after all of his taking in of the scenery on the trip so far. He mumbles something and does a little trick with his hand and a glowing image appears above his palm. "No rain," he says nonchalantly to the others, not looking at them. He looks around at their surroundings and then starts walking, simply saying, "Food."
DM, you can let me know if he finds anything to eat/share with the others using his wanderer background and his handaxe, if needed.
Rivvil has remained quiet throughout the journey so far. He has only really spoken up when asked a direct question and even then he has kept his answers short and to the point. Rivvil admits that he wasn't excited when he learned that he would be placed in a team within the Zhentarium for his first couple missions. Being in a team means he'd have to trust and rely on these people; a mistake because everyone is only out for themselves. Of course, he never raised these concerns to the red-haired women. Rivvil is scared to question her. The last time someone questioned and upset her she threw him out the window. Being quiet during the trip does not mean that Rivvil has remained unobservant. He has slowly been studying these individuals. Attempting to figure them out.
First, there is Veldyn who is apparently a noble of some kind. As soon as Rivvil learned that Veldyn has slaves, which he tried to cover up by calling her a servant, he immediately looked her over. He was pleasantly surprised to not find any bruises or gashes on her. Of course, Veldyn looks smart enough that they may be hidden. Rivvil will check later but for now, Veldyn seems useful. He wears heavy metal armor so hopefully, he won't be knocked down so easily.
Second, there is the only other non-human looking member of the group; Grishkar. Rivvil has been concisely keeping as much distance between him and this surface elf as possible. He remembers the stories of the surface elves. How they had turned against their mother when she attempted to guide them to superiority across the worlds. How they had driven us to live below ground. How they kill every drow they meet on sight. How they would kill him if they found them. Rivvil knows that the elf hasn't noticed his heritage yet but, he keeps his right hand by his whip ready to kill the elf at a moments notice.
Honestly, after noticing the elf Rivvil hasn't paid much attention to the other two passengers. They both seem like humans who can hopefully hold their own in a fight. Once the coach has stopped Rivvil immediately jumps out to get as far from the elf as possible. He puts his traveling cloak's hood up to hide his lilac skin, white curly hair, and pale red eyes while he makes his way to the clearing that Veldyn pointed out. Once there he looks for a position that seems to offer him the most cover but also gives him an escape route and begins to unroll his bedroll there and sets up his own sleeping conditions.
As the cart stops, Godiva begins setting up Veldyn's tent and preparing the camp. Veldyn takes this time to look over the group as they move. They all seem to have a mystery about them, and it made the Lord think they were hiding a chest full of secrets. The secrets would come out in time, they always do.
"Godiva," Veldyn says, "Over there." Veldyn points to an area of the clearing that allowed for a bit of shade. For a second it looks like Godiva is about to object, but she ties her brown hair up and starts to move Veldyn's belongings to the new area. Short and young, Godiva looks like a young adult that had just recently come into adulthood. She has a slight round build and a diamond-shaped face. She wears a tunic similar to Veldyn's and has a small shortsword tucked into a scabbard.
One thing that Veldyn noticed immediately about his new companions was that they were dangerous. He could tell in the way they moved, the equipment they brought with them, and the hardened stares. They've lived interesting lives, and those lives have all brought them to the Zhentarim. Right now was the time for setting up camp. Later, they would all talk and learn of each other. Veldyn pulls a small pipe from his pouch and takes this time to light a little smokeleaf. As usual, Godiva seemed to have the camp setup under control.
Llewyrr returns to the group after about an hour and presents a small amount of nuts and berries in his dirty palm — enough for one person's meal. "Not much," he says giving Natah a sideways glance and bowing his head in submission. "But smoke —" He closes his mouth and eyes and then opens them again. "But there is smoke," he repeats more civilly. "A house." He points off in the distance.
It was a small, pleasant surprise to sew a carriage waiting at their departure. While he was not one to enjoy a lavish and spoiled lifestlye, physical toil was an uncomfortable reminder to the elf that pain meant life, and life was something to be abhored.
Over their trip, he kept his hood drawn up and hung low, but he was not ignorant to the world. He kept his ears closely tied to any conversation and occassionally poked an eye out to spy what everyone was doing. Every time he looked about, everyone had shifted slightly, but a consistency remained: the penetrating glare of their other Elvish companion. Grishkar did not shy away, though; Death does not shy away. He met the gaze, his dead eye and ruined face presented in arrogant defiance of scrutiny, and gave a long, uncomfortable smile.
During the ride, Grishkar kept his hands folded, sleeves overlapping to create a singular tunnel of fabric. His mind worked in silent prayer while hands fidgeted with a small knife no bigger than a letter opener. The blade danced across flesh and probed every so often, drawing a dot of red life. The macabre ritual was dogma recited out of boredom, habit, or simply lack of interest in the world. Death was a glory avoided by the world, but this elf had seen the truth: that death was a release from the chains of life.
Grishkar Darkmoor, Necromancer/Death Priest of Nerull the Despiser Kelvin Rabbitfoot, Diviner, con artist, always hunting for a good sale Bründir Halfshield, Valor Bard, three-time Sheercleft Drinking Competition Champion, Hometown hero Guthric, Totem Warrior Barbarian, wolf pack leader, can't decide if drinking or eating is better Valen the Blessed, War Cleric, Battlefield healer, a little too into fighting evil
Llewyrr chances one more glance around at each silent face, lingering briefly on Natah's as if waiting for something, before curling his fingers around the meager meal he was able to collect. He walks over to where the horse is grazing and sits in the grass to watch the beast and munch on nuts and berries in silence. After eating, he reaches inside his pack and extracts a torch. Jabbing one end into the ground, he mutters a few words, contorts his hand, and the end of the torch lights with a slight flum sound. He then draws from his pack a book wrapped in a piece of cloth. He carefully unwraps the cloth, opens the book, and bends over its pages.
Rivvil, having set up all of sleeping arrangements, sits down back against a tree. He never lets the others out of his sight. He pulls out a small pack of food he was given and begins to nibble on some bread. Surface food tastes different, not bad and certainly better than anything he had in the Underdark but, different. Rivvil has been ever watchful of the elf. He keeps his face hidden. I wonder if he’s looking for me. Should I kill him in his sleep. Rivvil ponders. He then spares a glance over at Llewyrr reading. He hides his ears. Maybe he’s not human. Maybe he’s an abomination like me. Rivvil cannot help but think before studying Llewyrr for any elven features.
Natah had noticed the glances toward her, mainly from Llewyrr. Uncomfortable, she kept a hand on a dagger, just in case. Did he know? How could he? She shied away from the group, giving herself some distance where she could keep an eye on them, and eat in peace. Pulling a ration from her pack, she snaked it behind her cloth mask, and took a bite. She grimaced at the taste, knowing she'd need to find some meat soon.
Grishkar took a spot beneath a tree, studying the rest as they went about their ways. His robes insulated the heat from the warm autumn day and caused a line of sweat to form on his brow. Disgusting, he thought, The weakness of the flesh and frailty of life. It's difficult to tell from a distance, but the grass begins to wilt and gray within the few feet around the elf.
Llewyrr looks up suddenly, looking Rivvil in the eye. Rivvil stutters for a moment at being caught before looking down suddenly being very interested in a blade of grass. To the Abyss Rivvil swears mentally. Llewyrr continues to stare at the cloaked individual. Sitting a short distance away, Natah watched as glances were passed around at one another. She looked between Grishkar and Rivvil a few times, then sighed. "Do you two need sssome time alone?" At Nahah's words, Llewyrr immediately looks down at his book.
Rivvil really looks at Natah for the first time and begins to study her a little before saying. “No I’m just curious.”
Grishkar's smile seems to only touch one side of his face, the ruined half seemingly devoid of joy, "This one stares into the abyss. I am only reminding it that the abyss stares back..." Llewyrr looks through the curtain of his hair at the four around the fire, watching them intently, but surreptitiously.
Veldyn pulls the pipe from his lips. "You all need a dose of reality. We have a task to accomplish and your insecurities will get in the way of accomplishing it. Stop watching your backs for a moment so that we can come to terms with each other. What skills will each of you bring to the task the Zhentarim has given us?" At the question, Natah begins to laugh. She regards Veldyn a moment, before sliding the ration under her mask and taking another bite. Llewyrr's shoulders seem to relax at the sound of Natah's laughter. A slight smile appears. "Very well," Veldyn sighs. "I'll start." He gestures to the young lady setting his things up. "This is Godiva, a squire of the knights of Hoar. I am Veldyn of house Steelspire, a recognized noble of Neverwinter so I imagine my influence will help in the coming days. I am also a knight of Hoar." He rests his arm on his longsword. "If we don't get a familiarity with each other, this will fail."
Llewyrr seems to steel himself as he stands, placing his book off to the side. He takes a few tentative steps toward the group, his eyes watching the ground. As they watch him, he stops and looks up at each, as per usual, his eyes resting on Natah the longest. "I—I am called Llewyrr," he says carefully.
Rivvil sighs to himself. Remembering what the red-haired women said to him. You’ll have to work with others to get anywhere with the Zhents. Prove you can work in a group and then one day you might be going on missions by yourself. He then speaks up “My name is Rivvil. I was originally trained to be a bodyguard for a noble. We didn’t see eye to eye. Now I’m here.”
Natah watched everyone as they spoke, until there was a pause. "I'm Cali Jilraft, but my traveling name isss Natah. I'm an ambassssador from Amn." She left the statement hanging in the air, before taking another hidden bite of her ration.
"Why do you cover your face?" Llewyrr asks abruptly.
"Clearly, to hide my identity," Natah replied quickly.
"But we know you now," the young man responds.
"If you know ssso much, tell me what I look like," Natah replied, giving Llewyrr a wink.
Llewyrr looks a little worried at the wink. He opens his mouth, scowls, then closes his mouth again, looking genuinely confused. He turns to watch Godiva as she works. “You ask her to remove her mask but we don’t even know if your an elf or not.” Rivvil says and then covers his mouth like he didn’t mean to say that out loud.
Natah sat forward, grinning behind her mask. "Thisss one makesss a good point. Why worry ssso much about what'sss behind my masssk? Maybe you're hiding sssomething, and projecting it on me?"
Llewyrr turns to look at Rivvil and Natah. His brown eyes shift back and forth between them. "You think I might be an Elf?" Switching to Elvish, he says, "This would make my ancestors proud."
Rivvil thinks to himself Not an elf. A Hoon. Like me.
Natah nodded her head, even though she didn't understand what was said.
He pulls back the curtains of his dirty, brown hair, catching them behind his fairly round ears. "Human," he says, resigned. "Now," he says to Natah, speaking more boldly than any of them had heard yet, "you take off."
Rivvil turns to face Natah, curious as to what is under that mask.
Natah nodded again, and slid the mask off her face. She gave Llewyrr a closed mouth smile before covering again. "Sssatisssfied?"
Grishkar gave a satisfied smile beneath his hood. A viper in the midst would give the rats pause in days to come. He comments to himself.
"Thank you," Llewyrr says quietly. "You satisfied?" he asks Rivvil. He shakes his head, his hair returning to half cover his dirty face.
“No.” Rivvil says before looking at the elf waiting for him to speak up.
Grishkar remains mostly hidden within his robes, but lifts his head a bit toward Rivvil, "And what is it you'd like to know? I can feel those eyes on me. Want to know of my heritage," he turns toward Veldyn, "Or maybe how I can best be leveraged in our current endeavour?"
“Both.” Rivvil responds, keeping his guard up with the elf.
"Tsk tsk, now that's just not fair," Grishkar draws his hands and plants them on the knees of his crossed legs, "You feined interest in the profession of the others, but cared only for the shape of their ears. Am I to answer both inquiries or will it suffice to follow suit?" Pulling aside his hood to the ruined half of his face, he reveals a partial elven ear long-blackened by some old injury, "This is proof of bloodline, and the source was the price of knowledge that leads me here; the knowledge of truth in this world."
"I don't care about race," Natah piped up. "Jussst ssso long asss you watch my back, I'll watch yourssss." She gave each of them a hard look.
“Words are cheap. How do I know you won’t stab me in the back the moment it grants you more power? How do I know that the elf won’t kill me in my sleep for some divine retribution?” Rivvil asks, clearly not convicted by your words.
"What happened?" Llewyrr asks Grishkar with a furrowed brow, ignoring Rivvil.
Veldyn takes another puff of his pipe, amused by the paranoia in the group.
Natah snapped her eyes to Rivvil. "What makesss you think I won't kill you in your sssleep? If we expect to finisssh thisss missssion we've found ourssselvesss together on, we need to have the ssslightessst bit of trussst in each other."
Llewyrr's eyes widen as he takes a step backward away from Natah. His shoulders and fists clinch.
A soft chuckle escapes Veldyn's lips along with a line of white smoke. "Are we done with all of the threats? We can all kill each other, we get it. You wouldn't be here if you weren't dangerous."
"Simple," Grishkar muses to Rivvil, "You don't. But I'm here like you and that's all we've got." Smiling to Llewyrr, the robed elf muses, "A story for another time, perhaps."
"Ssso," Natah said, standing and moving closer to the others. "How do you sssuggessst we go about essstablissshing trussst?"
Veldyn waves his pipe in the air as he speaks, "Stop attempting to insult and threaten each other for one. Move past those petty basic instincts and learn more about one another. We all have our own reason for joining the Zhentarim, so perhaps we can use that commonality to build a base of trust." He looks in the direction of the town they're heading towards, "We need to convince them that they need our protection. Lets start there."
Natah looked at Veldyn, amused. She laughed again, moving away from the group again, sitting to finish her unsatisfying meal.
"You want commonality? How about that we are all Fangs of the same maw? The Zhentarim are not known for their trustworthiness, they are known for their results. If they need a reason for our protection, we'll give it to them. We may not be the help they want, but we're what they need if they want to survive."
“Are you suggesting that we disrupt their food source so that they’re forced to take out supply caravans?” Rivvil asks for clarification.
"There are many waysss we can handle thisss," Natah said, suddenly very interested in the nails on her right hand. "We could alwaysss talk to them. Give me five minutesss, I'll have them begging usss to help them."
“Yes. But a little outside pressure helps. We don’t actually have to do anything. But the rumors of something happening without the Zhents interference is enough to get most people to accept the help.” Rivvil says, knowing all too well the power of rumors.
"The journey has been quiet so far..." Veldyn muses. "I imagine if Hannock hasn't seen any trouble in their routes they will not be hard pressed to accept our help. We can lie about troubles," he offers, "But often times it's better to sow the seed and have them ask us for help. Wild, diseased animals in the hillside, a band of rampaging goblins, marauders from Luskan... none of these threats work unless the threat truly exists."
“Why don’t we start sowing some seeds then. Llewyrr spotted that chimney fire earlier. I’m sure that leads to some nice house where some marauders are stealing food and causing mischief.” offers Rivvil as an idea.
Veldyn smiles, Now you're talking. Instead he says, "Far too close to the city. We need to get closer to Hannock if we want word to reach them. Even then, having tragedy strike on the path to the town only to have a group of saviors show up to stop it? Too suspicious. If we were to do something like that, we'd have to wait another week before entering Hannock to declare our proposal. We need to find out what threats already exist... and amplify them." Veldyn adds.
"Ssso we play the weary travelersss," Natah said, perking up. "And pay that houssse a visit."
"Pay every house a visit. But for information, nothing more. We need to know what threats this road faces." Veldyn gives Natah a look, unsure if he wants to know what she's thinking.
"I have a knack for gathering information," Natah said, smiling behind her mask.
“As a bodyguard I was trained to detect lies. I can tell if they’re being untruthful or not fully believe it us. Along with information we should also spread what the Zhentarium offer. Convince the small people that it’s worth it. That it’s the only way.” Rivvil adds in.
Natah glances at Rivvil, grinning even more behind the mask.
Not sure if Rivvin would be the best person to send to a family's small farmhouse, Veldyn nods to Natah. "Take Godiva. She's not the best in a fight, but she won't... turn heads and cause unneeded fear either."
“But isn’t unneeded fear what we need?” Rivvil asks.
"Not yet it isn't... and not so close to Neverwinter," Veldyn replies.
Natah nods in agreement. "Ssshe'll make a fine traveling companion." She stood once again, and made her way to Godiva. "Come with me. You're my oldessst friend in the world, and we've been traveling for ssso very long. Maybe that houssse over there hasss a nice family that will feed usss and put usss up for the night." She winked at the woman, hopeful her meaning was understood, then began to make her way toward the house. "Don't kill each other."
"Er ... " Llewyrr says, breaking his silence and reminding the group he was there. "I'd like to go." He gives Natah a look through his hair. "If that's ok."
Seeing that they are leaving Rivvil decides that he’ll just take some time to go through the book Dizvar gave him. Rivvil is sure he’s close to unlocking a way to use his blood to mark an enemy and make them more vulnerable.
Natah pauses, looking Llewyrr over a moment. "Yesss, you could passs," she said. "But no more. Essspecially not you," she said pointing at Veldyn. "You're too flassshy." Llewyrr retrieves his torch and catches up with the females.
Staring at the rest of those assembled, Grishkar muses, "The Wretched, The Righteous, and the Reviled. Who is whom?"
As the group's conversation takes an odd turn at Grishkar's musing, the three of them still remaining hear a rustle in the grass and turning towards the noise, spot a small, dark silhouette dart towards the cart from just outside of the campfire's light. Listening, they can hear the sound of panting, which is quickly muffled.
"There appears to be a stowaway, Sir Knight..." Grishkar says sarcastically.
Veldyn takes a place by the fire and nods to Grishkar as he says that. He sets his shield by his side for easy access and watches the shadows outside the firelight. "If you're a bandit, you'll find nothing in the cart," he calls over in that direction.
A large-ish puppy runs out into the clearing, it’s tongue hanging out of its toothy maw almost comically. One of its ears is folded over, and it has one piercing blue eye and one dark brown one. The pup sprints to Veldyn and sits in front of the man expectantly, its mouth hanging open in a grin.
Veldyn laughs. "Here's your stowaway..."
Rivvil immediately stands up and his right hand is on his whip. “What is that?” He asks quickly.
Veldyn pulls a bit of dried ration from his pouch and offers it to the puppy. "It's a fearsome beast that's known to wander the lands in search of the souls of the wicked. You must act quickly and feed it... else it'll suck your soul from your body." Veldyn lies (Deception: 16) to the half-drow.
However, Rivvil see's a slight smile on Veldyn's lips. A sign of his deceit. (Insight: 18). “That’s nonsense. It’s much too small to hold the souls of the wicked.” Rivvil says.
The puppy snaps the scrap up instantly. Clearly, that was what it was angling for.
"I'm not taking the chance," Veldyn replies. He pulls another scrap of ration from his pouch and offers it up. The pup licks Veldyn‘s hand happily as he eats another scrap.
“I know better human. Only fiends and the undead feast on souls. And I know more about fiends and undead than you. This is no fiend. Nor is it an undead. It is a beast of some kind.” Rivvil says, confident in his conclusion.
The puppy plods over to Rivvil and looks up at him expectantly, cocking its head to one side. "Your choice," Veldyn comments.
Rivvil stares at the beast unflinching and says, with a slight smirk on his face, “Try to take my soul. I dare you.”
A voice suddenly appears in Rivvil's head. “Come on, feed the little puppy. It’s adorable and hungry,” it says.
“Who are you? Show yourself before I find you!” Rivvil mentally screams back.
“Me? I’m Nobody. Just your conscience.” the voice replies.
“I don’t have a conscious. Now show yourself before I slay your beast.” Rivvil responds his hand holding his whip getting closer to his mouth.
“Wait, fuck, no!” A feminine voice shouts out from the bushes and the puppy runs towards it. “What kind of monster threatens to kill a puppy, you asshole?”
“I knew I’d get you to come out. Who are you and what are you doing here?” Rivvil asks whip now pointed at the little creature that just showed herself.
The puppy jumps into the arms of a female gnome who is barely larger than the canine. “I think I should be asking you who you are and what are you doing here?”
“We’re obviously on the road traveling. While you're trying to get your beast to drain our souls.” Rivvil says matter of factly.
“Please, you don’t look like you even have souls for Chewie here to steal,” the gnome laughed.
“So, you admit you were trying to steal our souls.” Rivvil exclaims.
“Have you seriously never met a dog before in your life?” She raised an eyebrow. “What deep, dark rock have you been living under buddy?”
“The crust.” Rivvil reply’s deadpan unsure of why this little creature is asking.
Veldyn watches the exchange in amusement, relighting his pipe as their conversation continues.
The gnome raises an eyebrow but decides not to comment on the weird tall one. “Your friend here was pulling your chain, Chewie here is not the soul-devouring type of creature. He’s not even the vicious attack type creature,” she set Chewie down. “He’s mostly just a huge dork.”
Rivvil mutters under his breath “I knew it.”
"But if it did devour souls," Veldyn comments, gesturing at Rivvil with his pipe, "You'd be dead."
“No. I’d have killed it,” Rivvil says very confident in his skills.
“Ok, but there will be no killing of the puppy,” the gnome interjected, stepping between her pet and the group.
“As long as it doesn’t try to take my soul. I won’t kill it. But what purpose does it serve? Is it meant to fight with you like a giant spider?” Rivvil asks curiously about the creature.
“Ummm,” the gnome looked down at Chewie, who had rolled on to his back and had his belly outstretched, expecting belly rubs. “Yeah, he’s going to grow into a vicious attack dog.”
“Are they good at taking down giant spiders?” Rivvil asks the little creature.
“Yeaaaaaah,” the gnome said unconvincingly, thinking back to the time Chewie has barked so loudly he had scared himself. “Super useful at taking down giant spiders.”
Rivvil thinks for a moment before saying “Perhaps I will get one of these...puppies. If they are useful against giant spiders.”
“Well, Chewie is mine, so you can’t have this one,” the gnome gave a short whistle, and the puppy leaped to attention. “Now if you don’t mind me, I’m going to be on my way.”
“Wait!” Rivvil shouts. “You never told us why you were here, to begin with.”
Grishkar smiles from under his seemingly-permanent hood-shelter, "If you are so worried about your soul, perhaps it should be done away with to ease your mind," a Thaumaturgic trick sends a cold breeze rushing up Rivvil's back.
“Says the guy who is reincarnated when he loses his soul.” Rivvil spits back.
"Reincarnated? Ha! Your views of the world are so limited. No, I was enlightened to the truth of the world. Mortality is a disease that must be cleansed," Surprisingly, Grishkar decides to rise and approach the fire, "My Lord found and guided me through the web of lies before me. I was destined for the Zhentarim and they for me. The sheep have run astray and must be brought back to the shepherd, whether by his guidance, or the wolf's Fangs." He passes his hand over the fire for the last bit and the center turns pitch-black. From its center, a white mote swirls and forms the shape of a skull.
Using the argument as a distraction, Rosiniana melts back into the shadows behind the cover of some bushes. As if Tymora shined on Rosiniana herself, just as she moves away from the light of the fire and into the bushes, you can hear some heavy breathing as two figures, a dwarf and an elf, approach the group, slowing to a halt as they glance around the fire. "Oi! You three!" the dwarf calls out in between breaths. "Any of ya seen a small goblin? It's got a small, mangly pup with it."
The elf seems considerably less exhausted. "We believe it is concealing itself as a small, innocent gnome." he states, his words flowing like water.
Veldyn glances over at the others, then back at the two that happened upon the camp. "Can't say I have," he replies simply.
Worked up by his righteous fervor, Grishkar turns to the newcomers, "And who in all the hells would you be?"
The dwarf mutters something in Dwarven, most likely a curse before opening his mouth in a verbal onslaught on Grishkar. A calm hand from the elf stops him as he looks at Grishkar's mangled face. "We're agents of Lord Eldurdine. The goblin is wanted to grand larceny and theft." the elf replies in Elvish to his comrade-in-race.
"You think a shared language will buy you favor, you sycophant worm?" Grishkar begins and angry, guttural hum that pierces deep into the hearts of the two newcomers.
"We've been travelling all day," Veldyn says, standing. "I apologize for my companion's outburst. Noltergarde... that's near Hannock, yes?" He makes it a point to hold his shield, showing the emblem of Steelspire. "My comrades mentioned they spotted movement in the brush closer to Neverwinter. Your goblin may be headed there."
The dwarf grips his chest as the elf takes in a deep breath. It's clear they can feel whatever force hit them, though it doesn't seemed to have done much. Still, the message was clear: leave. The elf takes a long glance at Veldyn's shield before responding to his words. "It is. We'll keep on heading west then." The dwarf looks angrily at Grishkar, though fear is evident in his eyes. The two say no more and begin heading down the road again.
Veldyn looks over to Grishkar, the first sign of anger in his eyes. "They are neighbors of Hannock..." He takes a deep breath before sitting down again. "We could have used that."
“We did get some information though. They have a goblin problem and I believe I know where we can find one.” Rivvil says as he begins to scan the surroundings for the “gnome".
Spitting at the ground after them, Grishkar turns to the Veldyn, then Rivvil, "You heard it, Dark-One: the pandering attitude. He saw an elf and assumed us allies. I will not be insulted by the living."
“I’m more surprised he didn’t say something about me.” Rivvil comments.
Grishkar turns back to Veldyn, "I have no care for petty holdings and lands. We are here to render service and collect payment. You can leverage diplomacy and bargains another time." Something seems to stir in Grishkar's dead eye. It looks to be a hidden pupil and iris at first, but it shifts and darts, as though trying to avoid detection.
"You need to start caring if you wish to stay in the graces of your employers," Veldyn responds. "If not, then follow your prey back to Neverwinter. If you don't see your goal in your dead eye, you have no reason for being here." He watches the elf for a response, wondering if he's so easily goaded.
“I’d like to point out that I am definitely not a goblin,” the gnome popped out of the bush right in front of Rivvil. “And also, can we talk about how grand larceny and theft are basically the same thing? Why list both? That just seems unnecessarily repetitive to me.”
Grishkar takes the bait, but seems to regain composure, "The Zhentarim are weakened and regaining a foothold on the world. The old guard was foolish enough to over-play their hands and become too overt in the world. I aim to correct that mistake. The first step is to remind the world that the Zhentarim are still a force to give pause to those they meet."
Veldyn is partially distracted by the re-emergence of the gnome and Grishkar's proclamation. Should the gnome even be privy to their association with the Zhentarim? They're an open organization now, shedding their past for a more mercenary approach. "Focus on the job at hand," he says. "We need the politics and the holdings and lands to matter for this to end well." He nods to the gnome , gesturing for her to join them. "Tell us... what do you know of Noltergarde's association with Hannock."
When the gnome popped up right in front of Rivvil he immediately grabs her and says to her "Now. You're going to tell us exactly who you are and what you are doing here?"
“Would you believe I’m a simple orphan who was framed?” she said as a jest. Rivvil just responds by tightening his grip.
“Ow!” The gnome cried out. “Ok, ok. Look, my name is Rosiniana. I am a gnome, but Lord Fancy Pants was super racist. I’ve never even been to Haddock, but I was hitching a ride from y’all on my way out of Noltegarde.”
Meanwhile... off in a House in the Middle of Nowhere....
Godiva is snapped from her reverie as she examines a branch. Each little piece of bark seems to have chipped away from the weather during it's time on the ground, and for whatever reason the girl finds it fascinating. She follows Natah as the woman leads them deeper into the hillside.
Natah looks at Godiva closely. "You look young." She squints her eyes and gets a little closer. "How young are you?"
"Sixteen years," She replies. "I'm newly appointed Veldyn's squire. This is my first time out of the city!" A grin spreads across Godiva's face and she looks all about her in wonder.
Llewyrr walks behind the two females holding his torch aloft.
Natah shakes her head. "Ssso the noble likesss hisss ladiesss young. That'sss very ussseful information." She turns and begins walking backwards, looking at Llewyrr. "We're travelersss, nowhere to sssleep, no food to eat. We are... family? That ssshould work well enough. Sssiblings, if you will. There will be no violence, no threatsss. If they refussse usss, we leave peacefully. No sssenssse in drawing unwanted attention to ourselvesss." She looks Llewyrr up and down. "Brother," she says, then turns to Godiva. "And our little sssissster."
Eeew, gross!" Godiva says quickly, "Lord Veldyn is my cousin." She visually shivers at the thought.
Natah burst out with a loud laugh. "Well, don't forget, you're our little sssister today. My name isss alssso Cali." She glanced over her shoulder at Llewyrr. "We all might want cover namesss. Jussst in cassse."
Llewyrr grins at Godiva's protest and nods at Natah. "Wolf," he says.
"Oooh, can I be Polly? I always liked the name, but I had a friend named Polly and she was a spoiled brat," Godiva starts to un-tie her hair to let it drop down at her shoulders.
"Polly isss asss good a name asss any," Natah said, grinning from behind her mask. "Alright, family of mine, ssshall we make sssome new friendsss?" Godiva follows Natah's lead as they approach the house.
After a few minutes through the countryside, they eventually arrive near the backside of the farm on the opposite side of a pen of pigs.
"They're so cute!" Godiva whispers hurriedly.
Natah leads the "siblings" to the house, and knocks on the door four times, then steps back and waits for a reply.
Godiva puts on her best attempt to look weary. (Performance 7)
An older man, perhaps in his mid 50's or early 60's, cracks open the door, just enough for the light from the inside to shine and highlight the group's faces. He glances over each of them individually, his eyes resting a bit longer on Godiva before he snaps his attention to Natah. "What do you need?" he asks in a gruff voice, his hulking figure blocking everyone's view from inside.
"Good evening," Natah says, in her most pleasant voice. "My sssiblingsss and I have been traveling, looking for work, and have found ourssselves out here in the middle of the ssswiftly coming night. Might you have a ssspare room for usss to ssspend the night? We will be gone by morning." She gives the man a slight bow.
He glances down to their weapons, his eyes specifically resting on Godiva's short sword. "Work?"
Godiva fans herself. "I'm soo tired!" She says breathily.
"Yesss, work," Natah says, following his gaze. She points at the shortsword. "I've taught her the basicsss, but ssshe'sss ssstill learning." She looks back at the man. "Thessse are perilousss timesss, and one mussst know how to defend themssself when traveling on the roadsss. We've heard sssstoriesss of unprepared travelersss." Holding out her empty hands, as if begging, she continues. "If you have need of help, we'd be happy to take on the jobsss. We had a family farm, but our parentsss ended up losssing it. My sssissster, here, hasss a way with pigsss."
"I'm really good with pigsssssss," Godiva pipes in, trying to mimic Natah's Amnian accent.
He looks at the duo of them, then back to the silent young boy. His hair seemed disheveled with bits of mud stuck in it. "What's with the tabard?" he interjects with suspicion. "I feel like I've seen that symbol before. And I ain't never been to wherever that accent is common."
Natah glanced at the tabard and shrugged. "Polly found it on the ssside of the road and decided ssshe liked it. I don't know what it isss."
He narrows his eyes as he looks into Natah's. He opens the door a little more as he crouches down to look Godiva in the eyes, obstructing their view into his home. They see a warm fire, its flames flickering light against the walls. Two young kids, too young to reasonably be his own, play with makeshift toys by the fire. "Is she your sister?" he asks, as if it was some final test.
Godiva looks from Natah to the man, then responds. "Yes...ss."
His eyes seem to glisten for a brief moment before he blinks and stands again. "Very well. You three can rest here tonight. As long as you keep my little tykes entertained," he requests curtly, opening the door to allow the three entry. In Natah's experience dealing with cultures that showed emotion, wet eyes were usually brought about by strong emotions. Like love, or loss, or remembering something fond.
Godiva enters, smiling at the children. "Hello!" She says, sitting next to them. Natah follows Godiva, keeping an eye on the older man, and finds a place to sit and quietly watch.
The children look up, initially in fear and worry. The gruff man nods his head to them and they smile weakly. Entering the abode, they notice a fierce-looking axe sitting just to the left of the main door. It's craftsmanship far exceeds anything a farmer could afford. The home is small, yet cosy. On the right side, two beds line the wall, their wooden frames blending into the houses' structure. A few rugs lay scattered across the wooden planks making up the floor. Near the fire, log stumps, wrapped in clothed and stuffed with something plush, sit, their seats heating up from the heat. A table, enough to sit five or six people, stands at the center of the one-room home. Surprisingly, their eyes finally catch the most distinctive feature of the home yet: a massive foot and leg, far larger than a human's and more suited for a giant of some sort, sits in the far left corner of the room. It seems to have been cut off from just below the knee from whatever monster it once supported.
Godiva spots the leg and mouths, "What in the hells...." To Natah, eyes wide.
Natah eyes the foot, while placing a hand on Godiva's shoulder. "I'm guessssing that isss a trophy of sssome sssort. Very impressive." She drags her eyes away from the foot and looks at the old man again. "Isss... isss that sssomething we ssshould be worried about in thessse areasss?"
He plops down on a chair by the table, facing the monstrous leg. "Aye, that leg belongs to Bellyfran the Ogre. A local scourge around these parts. Or he was," he says with a grin, "before I trapped the damn thing and hacked its leg off with Blackrazor over there." He points to the black battleaxe near the door. "The brute's still kicking though. It clubbed me along the chest and sent me sprawling down a hill. When I came too, he was gone. Just a bloodied trail that was quickly being washed out in the rain..."
Natah put an obvious look of terror into her eyes. "Ogresss." She released a heavy sigh. "What... what elssse ssshould we be careful of in thisss area?"
Natah, Llewyrr, and Godiva sit down on the other chairs as the four of them begin to chat through the night. While brisk, cold, and hard, the old man seemed to be like sourdough bread: while hard on the outside, once cracked open, a warm, fluffy interior revealed itself. He introduces himself as Ulfmir, a man who grew up in the northern reaches around Icewind Dale. His life was a life of adventure and glory, breaking into ancient cairns as a member of the Frosted Five, holding back orc raiding parties from pillaging small villages. It all was good until he met his now-dead wife Jaela.
Jaela tamed his barbaric heart, taught him love, compassion, and grounded his lofty ideals by getting pregnant. He still chose her over the Frosted Five, and moved south to start a family. They had a daughter and a son over the years, who grew old as they did. The son's life was taken some kobolds who were poaching their cattle while Ulfmir was trading in Neverwinter. His daughter, he reveals, looked much like Godiva did. She wed herself off to a soldier, and these are their two children. Kassy, his daughter, died a few years ago to the red fever, and with her husband off in the war with Luskan, that left him to tend to his grandchildren.
He won't say more about his dead wife.
With a sigh, he lets his head down low. An hour seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye as he talked, recanting long-forgotten memories. He smiles though, as if relieved to share who he was... who he is.
"What happened to the rest of the Frosted Five?" Llewyrr asks.
He shrugs his head, turning to check on the two children. They both had cuddled up next to each other by the fire and fallen asleep long ago. He smirks, turning back to Llewyrr. "Not sure. News from Icewind Dale doesn't travel outside of Icewind Dale. And if it does, it's torn into small scraps by the time it reaches this far south."
"Pleassse," Natah speaks up once again, a hand on Godiva's shoulder. "What other dangersss are there here?" She gives the old man a pleading look. (Nat 20 Persuasion) Godiva smiles at him, adding to Natah's plea.
Natah's words seem to have a near-magical taste to them as they leave her mouth. Ulfmir brightens up as soon as they reach him. "Oh yes!" he exclaims heartily with a laugh. "It's just been so long since I've been able to tell my tale.. to remember what I was." "These parts don't hold too many dangers. Any deserters from either side of the war wouldn't dare come this far south. I know kobolds live in these hills somewhere, but it's been months since I've seen any sign of them though. The things breed like rabbits though, so I can't say what's going on with them. Besides that..." he scratches his head, thinking. "No, that covers most of it."
"What about Ogres? More Ogres?" Llewyrr asks.
Natah eyes the massive foot again, making it obvious she's very uncomfortable.
He shakes his head fervently. "It's the only ogre I know of south of the Wood." Seeing Natah's discomfort, he smiles. "I'll take it outside, if you would like."
Natah shakes her head. "No, it isss fine. I'm jussst worried he'll come looking for it." She sends a worried glance at Ulfmir. "I'm not sssure thisss isss a good place for usss."
He pauses. It dawns on him he'd never considered that. "I've had the stump for a few weeks now," he offers as if to comfort and dull her worry. "I bet the thing probably bleed out already, or the wound festered and he died from the infection."
"Or he'sss been hunting you down," Natah interjects. She stands, pulling Godiva up with her, while also placing a hand on her "brother's" shoulder. "Perhapsss... perhapsss we ssshould leave."
"Don't they regrow legs and stuffssss?" Godiva asks.
Llewyrr stands and follows.
"Wa..." he starts to object and rise, but stops himself. "If that's what you wish. Just be careful: the front of the war is far north, past Port Llast... but that doesn't mean rogue agents can break through and travel this. Be on your guard."
"Our thanks for your hosssspitality!" Govida calls over her shoulder as she's ushered out.
Natah gives Ulfmir a quick nod, and exits the house with her "siblings," grinning to herself behind her mask. Once they got far enough away, she spoke. "That went well enough," she cooed. "A possssible ogre in the area, the war, and sssecret agents. Not exactly the information we were hoping for, but I'm sssure we can make use of it." She gave Godiva a playful slap on the shoulder. "Good job kid. You'll make your cousssin proud."
"Let her go," Veldyn says. He's obviously not used to everyone immediately resorting to violence.
"She already tried to run away once. As long as she answers truthfully then no harm will come." Rivvil says as he lightens the grip on the gnome.
"Let her go." He says again. This time it sounds almost like a command.
Rivvil stares at Veldyn. "You don't tell me what to do. You may be a noble but we are equals." Rivvil says spitefully. No longer focusing on the gnome, Rivvil drops her.
“Okay, next time we do that, the goal is to be gentle,” Rose coughed from the ground.
"So. Who is Lord Fancy Pants and why shouldn't I go get that elf back here right now?" Rivvil asks.
"Lord Eldurdine," Veldyn says. "He's the Lord of Noltergarde, Hannock's neighbor."
"Does he rule Hannock as well?" Rivvil asks.
Veldyn can already sense that the majority of this 'adventure' is going to require the micro-managing of imbeciles. He pulls out his pipe again. "Likely not," Veldyn says, puffing his pipe as he lights it. "Hannock seems to be more of a communal community... possibly one person in charge, but for all we know this Lord Eldurdine could be the one pulling the strings. The information..." He puffs the pipe again. "Would have been easy to obtain from a certain dwarf and elf."
"Yes. Well that elf and dwarf are no longer here. Perhaps the gnome knows something about the area." Rivvil says and then stares at her.
“Nah, Stubby and High-Strung are just a pair of bounty hunters. They’re a pair of know-nothing idiots,” Rose added. “And you should not go back to them because you’re a kind individual who takes pity on a poor girl and her adorable puppy?”
"Whether you care for the politics of these little villages, gnome, you seem like a smart woman. What can you tell us of what you've seen in them, what did you... borrow... from this lord, and why don't you feed that adorable puppy more food?" Veldyn turns his full attention toward the gnome. He looks at her closely, trying to take in the detail to see if she's really ensorcelled herself into the guise of a gnome.
“Alright, here’s the story. Lord Eldurdine has been feasting while the rest of the region starves, so I, being the philanthropist I am, decided to take it upon myself to redistribute a little wealth. Now, it’s a bit of a long story, but we’ll suffice to say that I was very surprised that arson wasn’t also mentioned in the list of charges,” Rose replied. “I stole some grain, it’s in this bag,” the gnome opened her sack to show said grain. “And Chewie is perfectly well fed. He’s just a glutton.”
“Life is hard out here for a lot of people. Between war, bandits, wood elves, and failing crops, most everyone out here is starving,” she continued, her tone suddenly becoming far more serious. “So that also begs the question; who are you and what are you doing here?”
"One last question," Veldyn says. "Then I'll answer yours. Who else in or around those villages sympathizes with those ideals?" Veldyn puffs on his pipe once more, blowing the smoke away from the campfire.
“What ideals? The ideal of getting to eat? My friend, everyone wants to be fed,” Rose scoffed. “But like I said before, I’ve never been to Hannock, so how would I know?”
"Most of the food goes to Neverwinter, you know," Veldyn says. "We're here to help the trade continue in peace. And I don't believe the Lord would send a two mercenaries after someone for a bag of grain..."
“No, I imagine that was for setting fire to his house during a very fancy dinner party,” Rose amended. “Well, and stealing his shit.”
Veldyn nods, "That would do it." And any sensible lord wouldn't want rumor of the theft and arson to spread... it'd be bad for his image. "What were your plans?" Veldyn asks.
“My plans are to take this bag of grain to the good people of Hannock,” Rose replied. “But this bag of grain is heavy for a small person like me, so I tend to hitch rides when I can. If you’d be willing to take me the rest of the way, I’d be happy to split the profits as payment for your kindness.”
Veldyn can't imagine the bag will go for more than a silver, but he's curious about the gnome and what secrets she might be hiding. More curious about her than the other companions that he was stuck with. "We happen to be heading to Hannock, and the cart is big enough for a gnome and her puppy. You can ride with us, if you like."
“Thank you!” She threw her arms around the man’s leg and hugged them. “Oh, it means so much to me. And thanks for lying to those bounty hunters for me.”
"I think are goals may be aligned as well little one." Rivvil pipes in.
“Oi,” Rose pointed at Rivvil sternly. “That’s racist.” She gave a brief whistle, and Chewie came bounding out of the bushes to join her. Rivvil just rolls his eyes at the gnomes comment.
“So,” Rose knelt down and scratched Chewie behind his ears. “Who are you people? Please note, if I don’t get names, I will have to resort to nicknames.”
Rivvil sights and then repeats himself from earlier, "“My name is Rivvil. I was originally trained to be a bodyguard for a noble. We didn’t see eye to eye. Now I’m here.”
"I'm... not his noble. Lord Veldyn Steelspire of Neverwinter. Likely one of the privileged that you seem so fond of." Veldyn nods towards the group that is arriving as he speaks, "And that is Godiva, my cousin and squire." He nods to Natah, "Natah," then gestures his pipe to Grishkar, "Grishkar," then to Llewyrr "Llewyrr."
"I guess technically you'd call us mercenaries," Veldyn adds. "Just... not the kind that chases gnomes for three days through the wilderness."
“And what have you been payed to do?” she asks matter-of-factly.
"Convince a town to accept our protection," Veldyn responds, not caring if the gnome knows their purpose.
The trio--that is, Llewyrr, Natah, and Godiva--breach through the darkness which had enshrouded them, entering into range of the campfire's light and warmth. Careful to not step on anyone's sleeping arrangments, Godiva calls out, "There's a one-legged ogre monster out here! His name is Bellyfran." Her exclamation seems to fall on deaf ears, as the party takes little notice.
“Also bringing supply caravans to struggling towns.” Rivvil adds in, only briefly glancing at their return.
"The protection goes both ways," Veldyn corrects himself at Rivvil's comment. "It benefits both parties."
A cold, harsh wind accompanied the return of Natah, Godiva, and Llewyrr, causing a shiver to run down your spines. The sun had set almost an hour ago, and the heat it brought was quickly dissipating. Veldyn nods to the fire, and Godiva gets to work adding branches to the flame. She inspects each one first, almost like she's looking for something.
Chewie gets in the way, taking branches Godiva is about to grab and running away with them. “Are you bringing food, arms, or both?” Rose asked Veldyn and Rivvil.
"Right now were going there in order to convince them to hire us. If they do we will bring them food and people to guard the food." Rivvil says simply.
"We're securing trade routes. It is up to the leadership of the town what is imported and exported," Veldyn adds. Godiva goes chasing after the puppy as it grabs a branch she was particularly fond of.
Godiva wrestles the stick from the pup, getting the fire going brighter as the night grew colder. Wrapping up in their blankets, the entourage slowly fell asleep or went into a trance, one by one, as conversations died down, always keeping at least one person awake for watch.
The night passed by quietly as the cicadas chirped off in the distance, the origin of their noises ever elusive. Owls hooted, perched atop the lone tree that was barely illuminated by the night sky. Stars shone in brilliant display as Selûne and Her Tears slowly streaked across the sky.
Morning came quickly as the group slowly woke up from their night's rest. It was a brisk morning as Auril's Breath clung to anything damp it could find, freezing it over with frost. Godiva was already awake, stoking a newly-formed fire, ever faithful in her duties as a squire. Upon Veldyn's awakening, she excitedly exclaims, "Kayn! Err..." she stops herself. "I mean Veldyn. I'm trying not to call you your nickname anymore. But I don't think you heard me last night, and we heard about this really big..." she begins to trail off before stopping. "I mean, we should report what we learned." She glances over to Natah, as if expecting her to take the lead.
Upon Veldyn's awakening, Godiva excitedly exclaims, "Kayn! Err..." she stops herself. "I mean Veldyn. I'm trying not to call you your nickname anymore. But I don't think you heard me last night, and we heard about this really big..." she begins to trail off before stopping. "I mean, we should report what we learned." She glances over to Natah, as if expecting her to take the lead."
Llewyrr wakes and shakes his hair out of his face. He sits up, wraps his arms around his knees, and watches Godiva for a few minutes. The horse whinnies (horses whinny?), stealing the druid's attention. He begins a quiet chant and, after 10 minutes, begins neighing and whinnying. He walks over and strokes the horse(s), speaking to it/them gently in its/their own tongue.
Rivvil wakes up to a puppy licking his face. He bolts up. "Gnome. What is this beast doing?" He asks, now fully awake.
“I think you mean Rosie, what is Chewie doing, Mr. Grumpy-Face,” the gnome said cheerily. “He’s cleaning you. Or trying to lick dinner off of your face... No, he says it’s just the cleaning you thing. He wants to be friends.”
"What a strange creature?" Rivvil says as he looks at Rosie and then the puppy. Don't you know friends don't exist where I come from. Rivvil cannot help to think as he looks into the puppies eyes.
Natah, sitting under a tree, first watched Llewyrr imitating the horse, then the dog licking Rivvil. She chuckled, amused at the ridiculous situation they had found themselves in. She hadn't been properly introduced to the gnome, not that she cared. Her only intention was to finish with this mission, and make her way back to Neverwinter. If this newcomer were to aid in that mission, then it was welcome.
Rose snaps, and Chewie bounds away from Rivvil. After all, she did not want to push her luck with that one. The little bard was tuning her lute under a tree, plucking out discordant notes.
Natah watched the way the dog responded to the gnome, and how it had reacted toward Rivvil. She'd learned of how humans had regarded pets, so it seemed gnomes were no different. Knowing it was expected for humans to have an affinity toward "cute" things, Natah held her hand out. "Here puppy. Good puppy."
Chewie darted toward Natah, happily sniffing at her hand. When he saw no food was actually presented to him, he plopped down and tilted his head at the rogue expectantly.
"He want's you to feed it something. Otherwise it may try to take your soul." Rivvil says to Natah.
"Oh yes," Natah said, amused. "The dreaded soul eating puppy." She reached her hand out toward the dog.
“Sorry, I’d like to clear something up real quick,” Rose approached Natah. “You have seen a dog before, right?”
"Of courssse!" Natah chuckled, nervously. "We have herdsss of dogsss back at my family home!" As the puppy sniffs Natah's hand, it growls lowly and back away, retreating behind Rosie.
“Uh-huh,” Rose replied unconvincingly. “Y’all are a strange group of merc’s.”
Natah withdraws her hand, narrowing her eyes at the dog. "There'sss sssomething wrong with it. Isss it broken?"
“I trust Chewie, he’s an excellent judge of character,” Rose narrowed her eyes. She turned abruptly and walked back to her tree, her pup following with his tail tucked between his legs.
"Maybe he doesn't like your mask." Rivvil offers as he begins packing up his camp.
"I doubt that'sss it," Natah said, looking at her hand, wondering what she did wrong. Everything she'd been taught had prepared her for many situations, but this dog thing had been glossed over. I thought dogs just loved humans on sight, she thought to herself. Maybe food is required after all. She pulled a bit of her ration from her pack and held it out, trying again. "Here puppy, good puppy."
Chewie remained firmly at Rosie’s side, his sharp teeth bared toward Natah.
"Why doesssn't it like me?" Natah questioned Rose. "What did I do wrong?"
“Maybe it’s because you haven’t introduced yourself.” Rivvil says having finished packing up his camp and getting out a small bite to eat before they hit the road.
"Ah, of courssse," Natah said, nodding her head. She stood and walked over to the gnome and dog, holding her hand out, in the usual fashion. "I am Natah."
“Pleased to meet you Natah, I’m Rosiniana and this is Chewie,” the gnome said cheerfully. “I found Chewie here when he was the runt of the litter, but now he’s eating everything he can find and growing like a weed. Pretty soon, he’ll grow into those oversized claws and be able rip someone limb from limb.” Rose smiled at Natah. “But for now, he’s still learning. Sorry if he’s caused you any offense, he’s still learning.”
"Good to meet you. And you, Chewie," Natah said as she reached her had out to the dog, once again. This time, she got much closer, hoping it would work.
Rose let out a low whistle, and Chewie hesitantly let Natah pet him. “So what are you doing here, Natah?”
Natah touched the dog and scrunched her nose under her mask. Too fuzzy, not pleasant at all, she thought. Quickly retreating to her tree once again, she replied, "I'm jussst here with the othersss."
“Well I think it’s very noble you’re all trying to help the good people of Hannock,” Rose grinned.
"Yesss," Nata replied, eyes shifting over the other members of her traveling party. "And we will do our bessst to help."
Grishkar splits his broken, unnatural smile, "Help comes in many forms, you see." He extends an arm to emphasize the diverse group assembled
Godiva taps her foot impatiently as her voice is once again being disregarded due to the cute puppy. Fed up with it, she shouts, "HEY!" The group's eyes flash towards her of varying intensity, causing her to chuckle nervously. "Uhh...." she looks over to Natah, suggesting, "Natah has something to say."
Natah looked at Godiva. "Yesss. Right. The information we gathered." She focused on her nails again. "Not much to be sssaid. The typical war ssscare and how there may be sssecret agentsss all around usss. There might be a ssslight problem with koboldsss. Oh, and there'sss probably a one footed ogre in the area."
Grishkar stuffs a thick, leather, iron-bound tome back into a mysterious fold of his robes. Odd, nothing on his silhouette implies something so large. "A few favors for small coin, then a promise of long-term protection for regular payments, perhaps?"
"Why don't we move and talk at the same time?" Rivvil offers, using his head to gesture towards carriage.
"No objections here," Grishkar springs up and makes his way to the carriage, not caring if anyone else actually follows the suggestion.
"I wasss really hoping the one legged ogre wasss asss amusssing to everyone elssse asss it wasss to me," Natah grumbled, standing. "Besssidesss, hisss highnesss hasssn't sssaid anything yet." She pointed at Veldyn, unsure if he was awake or not.
"Yes, yes," Veldyn says grumpily. Mornings were the worst. "Godiva mentioned the ogre, but didn't say anything about kobolds in the hillside. We may be able to use that..." He stretches and cracks his neck before making his way to the cart. "Did you get everything, Godiva?" He asks. "I don't want you forgetting my shield like last time..." He pulls himself in and settles into a comfortable location. Godiva, forgetting herself for a moment, finishes gathering up Lord Veldyn's stuff and hauling it to the cart.
Grishkar hangs from the carriage door by an arm, looking bored and annoyed, "So we're hunting two-legged rat-dogs now?"
"Hunting?" Veldyn says with a chuckle. "Hiring is more like it."
"Who sssaid anything about hunting them?" Natah raised an eyebrow. "I thought we were sssowing the ssseedsss of dissscontent?"
"Care to elaborate your plan, Madam Lisssp?" Grishkar shifts and throws an arm over the door, resembling a hanged man.
Natah narrowed her eyes, glaring at Grishkar, and remained silent.
"We now know kobolds roam these hills. We can use that information. If we can find out how active they are and where they reside, we may even be able to work out some sort of deal with them. Was there anything else?" Veldyn asks.
Without acknowledging Veldyn's questions, Natah climbed into the cart, continuing to glare at Grishkar.
Veldyn nods, taking her silence as a 'no.' "Very well, lets be off!" Veldyn knocks on the back of the cart two times to indicate to the driver that they're ready to go.
While in the cart Rivvil stares at the puppy trying to will it to lay in his lap.
The driver, an old, hunched over man, whips the reigns of the horses, motioning for them to go. They take off amidst the cold morning which slowly warms as the sun arcs higher into the sky. Somewhere, a group of Lathandarites begin their morning incantations, praying to him for guidance and enlightenment.
Grishkar will scowl out the window at the sun, grumbling curses "The sun rises only to set again. It's a false comfort given to weak fools so they can pretend at being safe for a time."
"The Morning Lords arse... who passed wind?" Veldyn looks over to Llewyrr accusatively.
“You all are a right strange bunch,” Rosie laughed from her spot below the tree. “Don’t even know if you’re hunting or befriending the kobolds... I’ll tell you one thing, from my experience, kobold’s aren’t smart enough to see the big picture. If you try and befriend them, they’ll turn around a continue to disrupt your supply lines.” Natah continued to seethe, glaring at Grishkar, wondering if he would be worth eating, while Rivvil puts a tentative hand out towards the puppy.
"So, these kobolds. What is the plan, exactly? We want people to be afraid of them and want our services, but we don't want to just exterminate them?" asked Grishkar.
"What's the point of mentioning the threat they pose if we just off and kill them?" Veldyn replies.
“If you get rid of them, you prove that you’re actually a viable option,” Rose countered. “I can assure you, the kobolds are the least of Hannock’s worries.”
"Then tell us, friend. What is the greatest of their worries?" Veldyn asks.
"Most likely, the people are already too aware of the threat." Grishkar settles in and crosses a leg, "An initial demonstration makes us look the benefactors instead of the thugish extortionists." At this point Rivvil is attempting to pat the puppy on the head. Chewie rolls over so that Rivvil can give him a belly rub.
“Exactly!” Rose replied. “It will put you in their good graces. As far as the largest threat, it would probably be the fact that their crops are failing. Wood elves and bandits are still a problem, but if they weren’t in the middle of a famine...” Rivvil is tentatively scratching the puppies belly, which makes Chewie very happy.
Grishkar leans in closer to Veldyn, "You know, once the sentient threats are gone and protection is provided, it would be nice if the communal populace had a benefactor in the form of a lordly house."
"Why send us to Hannock if they're in such dire straights," Veldyn replies. "Feels like a waste of a trade route."
“Well. Because they need confirmation that Hannock want our help. Plus there is that missing person we’re also suppose to be looking for.” Rivvil pipes up now trying to goad the puppy into his lap.
"In the grand scheme, it's a trade route to be claimed by the Zhentarim and a large enough settlement that future endeavours can be made." Grishkar pulls a tattooed hand from his sleeve and points to his head, "You need to think on a large scale if you want to build an empire."
"It didn't work out very well the last time," Veldyn winks. "But I guess the motives aren't to be questioned, yeah?" The wheels in his head turn. He knows there's a much bigger play, and he's curious what it could be.
The side the elf can emote with shows an arrogant disdain, "If you are referring to the old regime of the Zhentarim, it's a lesson in hubris. Those with ambition should never overreach except when victory is assured."
"In the end, Hannock will get their food," Veldyn nods. "The trade route will be secure, the wood elves and bandits will no longer be a problem, and they can focus on treating their crops properly. I'm curious to hear what arguments they'll have against this arrangement."
“Truthfully we can speculate and plan all we want. But we won’t know what’ll happen until we get there. Let’s just focus on getting there. And we’ll see what they need then. If they are truly in a famine they’ll accept our help. And we can also offer some help of taking care of their threats.” A smile appears on Rivvils face at the mention of taking care of threats. “All of course in the name of the Zhentarim,” he adds after a moment. Still glaring, Natah removes a small file from her pack and begins to file the nails on one hand, into sharpened points. Returning to Natah's baleful glare, Grishkar draws a small knife from a sleeve and begins pushing the blade against his hands in various superficial, (occasionally) non-bloody pokes and prods. Veldyn curls his lip, wondering at the odd foreplay the two are getting at. Outside you can hear Godiva humming a tune as the cart trudges forward.
Their mix of silent staring, odd conversing, and personal rituals continue as the cart winds through the open plains, slowly travelling to their destination. The sky above was sparse with mixed clouds, causing rays of light to shine across the surroundings landscape, moving to the whims of their masters as they slowly danced across plains. The road was sparse and vacant today, as opposed to the day previous. Only one group of travellers, a band of tanned humans wearing eccentric and colorful clothing, passed them on the left side, heading south. The driver of their open cart nodded to yours silently, continuing on their way.
Towards the middle of the afternoon, the cart passed by an odd sight. To the eastern side of the road, no more than thirty paces, a large, broken table lies propped up on the ground. Written with red ink one would easily recognize as dried blood, the letters "FREE FUD" are inscribed on it with an arrow pointing downward, and those from the cart can make out the top of a large hole lying at the base of it.