As the six of you congregate, talking and...discussing why you might be here, the second door opens and admits a kalashtar with dark skin dotted with scars, hair shaved close to his skull, and light green eyes that glow faintly. He's heavily armed, with a rapier at his side, shortbow and arrows slung across his back, and a pair of daggers visible at his belt, and wearing leather armor studded with crystal over dark green clothes that bear an elaborate insectoid patterning in black thread. A glass beadwork bracelet hangs at his wrist. The weapons and armor have clearly seen plenty of battle, but are clean and well-maintained. He looks to be in his thirties or so, and has a warm smile on his face as he enters and looks over all six of you before speaking. "All right. Welcome to the Summit Road, all six of you. I'm trailblazer Ishhareth, and you'll be getting your first mission from me. But first, congratulations! You've caught the attention of some experienced guide, and you impressed them enough to get recommended to the Road. That's an impressive feat, regardless of how it happened." He winks. "So now you get to risk your life on a routine basis saving terrified Riedrans and trying to assassinate Inspired along with the rest of us. But in all seriousness, welcome to our secret club."
He gives you all a respectful nod, and his face turns serious. "Look around the room-this is your taskforce. Green guides are usually put in groups, either paired with an experience guide as an apprentice, or grouped in larger numbers with other green guides. You're the latter, and the other green guides in this room are likely who you'll be working with for the immediate future. I know that some of you are used to working alone," he glances at Druhdaar, "but you're going to have to get used to working in a team anyway, and this has proven to be a good way for green guides to learn good teamwork skills...or prove they can't work with others and be reassigned to a different function of the Road." Ishhareth nods, and his reassuring smile returns as he pours himself a mug of water from the side table and resumes speaking. "Now, with the housekeeping out of the way, let's get to your mission."
He takes out a sheaf of papers secured together with a crystalline clamp. "The reason you were called to Malshashar, specifically, is because this fortress is a hub of psionic portals that lead all over Adar, thanks to Zi'til'natek beneath us. We want you to take the portals to a bubble about a day from the border near the fortress of Shalquar, then make your way across the border to a spot near the Riedran village of Hillcorn, where a group of Riedran refugees have requested the Road's assistance in getting to Adar. You should know that the Inspired have a large contingent of Riedran troops stationed in Hillcorn, as they know Shalquar is somewhere in that area." He removes the top few papers from his stack. "This is a map of Hillcorn, including troop locations. The selected meeting point for the refugees are also marked, and they'll be arriving over the course of a day. We want you to take the refugees back across the border and get them to Shalquar. You are not to reveal the existence of psionic portals or Shroud bubbles to them." He removes another set of papers. "This is a map of the area you'll be working in during the entire mission, including the nearby Riedran fortress of Kintam Lar, the location of Shalquar and the psionic portal you'll be taking. You are not to allow this map to fall into Riedran hands, and are authorized to take any means necessary to keep the Inspired by getting it-if they learn the location of Shalquar, it'll be razed to the ground and not only will we lose a shroud resonator, but we'll have lost a vital part of our defense line, not to mention the civilians present at the monastery. And if they learn the location of a psionic portal, they'll be able to move around Adar secretly until we figure them out."
Ishhareth gives you all a serious look. "You'll be planning the details of this mission. I suggest you take into account the relative pace of the refugees, the need to avoid Riedran attention, and the fact that you'll be in enemy territory, to start with. The word each refugee has been given to confirm their identity is Reztai. I would especially remind you that the mental states of the refugees may be highly variable-they've all been subjected to Riedran indoctrination their entire lives, and likely underwent some kind of traumatic experience in order to be able to break free. What's more, they may react badly to one another, depending on the race and levels of indoctrination for each one. You're going to have to negotiate all that and keep from getting caught. And you know the course of action if you end up out of options. Don't get captured alive." He nods and takes a sip of water from his mug. "That was a lot. You can let loose with your questions now."
Vishal looks down and says, "That's....a lot of information at once. But the essence of the mission is to sneakily get these people into Adar. Don't get captured, don't reveal any information, the people we are rescuing might be a little unstable." Vishal moves to look at the map and he then asks, "When are we meant to be leaving for this misson?"
"That's up to you," Ishhareth answers. "The refugees will start to arrive the day after tomorrow. It shouldn't take you more than a day to get to the meeting point, and the first group will be arriving at midday, so you should have plenty of time to get there."
Druhdaar, obviously still bristling with having to deal with the raggle-taggle array of characters gathered in the small room, gets slowly to his feet - with another creak of protest from his small wooden chair - and looms over the map displayed on the table. After a moment examining it, he faces the trailblazer's luminous green eyes with his own, his thick brow furrowed in thought.
" I say we memorize the bloody map, then burn it. Won't fall into enemy hands, then... ! "
After a while longer reflecting, he grunts: "... unless the damn Riedran Psionic Police gets it off our heads. What means do we have to protect us from their scrying abilities ? Say we meet a Riedran patrol and they have one their mind-readers diggin' into our brainbox like this one does, " he points his thumb at Vishal, " what keeps us from being recognized as Guides then ? "
Ishhareth smiles. "One, we kalashtar can't actually look in your minds without the same training or talent anyone would require. Two, the Thousand Eyes won't be able to dig through your mind enough to get the location of Shalquar unless you get captured and they have subsequent time-hence don't get captured alive, and if you do, hold out until you're rescued or neutralized. Three, the idea of this is to completely avoid Riedran patrols, but you should be able to tell if someone goes really poking in your mind. If you do run into a patrol, keep your surface thoughts clear and run like hell if somebody starts rummaging around in your memories." He shrugs. "I wish I could give you something tangible, but I think it's unlikely you'll run into a member of the Thousand Eyes-they focus more on stealth work, and Kintam Lar is a fairly overt searching pattern, not too much subtlety there."
Taran tried absorbing as much of the mission as possible. His mind jittered over the thought of entering such a heavily patrolled area outside of Adar. He knew what Father's expectations would be, but Trailblazer Ishhareth's tone and attention to the details made it seem like they were less concerned with taking out the soldiers and more concerned with the refugees. That was fine by him, that was preferable actually but there were other risks.
The team was likely aware and planning, but... stay useful. He was likely to get kicked out after this first mission, but he wasn't going to drag them down with him by missing such an obvious test.
"Esteemed Ishhareth, Trailblazer, sir... um... you haven't mentioned how many refugees are supposed to be in this group, or identifying information." Taran gulps, feeling the cold sweat gathering on his brow, this was stupid, they were supposed to just accept the mission and go, this was stepping too far, "I kn-kn-know that information, if you are willing to share it with us of course, isn't terribly reliant against spies or changelings who might try and slip in with the refugees, but it does help us make sure we aren't missing anyone, and of course, general ages will help us plan for their slower travel time, since older and younger people tend not to have the same stamina. I can probably prepare some herbal brews to help keep them going, though staggering our approach through the patrols would be best, especially if they aren't aware of our fleeing, probably take a circuitous route in case they try and trail us back to Shalquar, though we could also just leave a rear-scout to keep an eye out for them. Of course, we really won't have a lot of time to prepare since we should make sure to arrive early and observe the refugees first, any problems should be easier to spot if they don't know they are under observation. One of us could even pose as a refugee and work the group from the inside if they don't know the full numbers of the groups themselves, of course that makes it less likely that we could reasonably turn away extras, though that would be dangerous in itself, it would be much easier-"Taran's tongue froze in his mouth, the blur created by trying to rush through the words fading as he realized... oh, Storm and Quake, he had to look like a fool standing there telling them everything they already knew. He started shaking like a leaf, waiting for the inevitable. He'd screwed up, he'd gone too far...
(Edit: I was trying to post before Caelius, so Taran did not notice Caelius signing at him)
Ishhareth gives Taran a warm, reassuring smile. "Take a deep breath Taran, you aren't in trouble, and questions are good. You can just call me Ishhareth, no titles or honorifics needed. We're the Summit Road, not an army. Regarding numbers and descriptions, there will be seven refugees, two groups of two and three singles. There are names and brief physical descriptions here."
He taps the last few papers in his stack, and reads off a quick series of names and descriptions. "Bhuji and Aleel, a pair who are partners. Both human, previously commoners. Bhuji is a woman of about twenty-five with light skin, black hair, and brown eyes, Aleel is a man of the same age with ashen skin, black hair, and green eyes. Dulamul, a shifter previously of the Taskaan Legion." Ishhareth glances at you six. "Careful with him, the Taskaan shifters are trained to be completely savage and unquestioningly loyal. He likely isn't a spy, but I don't know what caused him to leave the Legion and what it may have done to him emotionally. Dulamul is a longtooth shifter with russet fur and yellow eyes. Lanan, an ex-stone soldier from the Riedran army. A man in his late twenties with dark skin, short black hair, and brown eyes. He and Dulamul will both have significant martial training should you need battle assistance, but I would suggest using them as a last resort. Sulaan and Shiazala, a father-daughter pair. Sulaan is a man in his late twenties, with light skin, brown hair, and blue eyes. Shiazala is a girl of about ten with light skin, black hair, and brown eyes. And Jharee, previously a commoner. He's a man in his mid-twenties with ashen skin, blond hair, and dark grey eyes."
Ishhareth gives River a stern look that softens only slightly upon the kenku's attempt to calm Taran. "On this particular mission, your mission is not to kill people, it's to get the seven refugees across the border safely. You are not to seek out battle with the Riedrans either in Hillcorn or Kintam Lar. If you get in and out without them noticing you at all, that would be perfect. That being said, naturally if you do end up in battle, you shouldn't hesitate to do what is necessary to escape. But the goal of this mission isn't to take out the Riedran contingent near Hillcorn-we don't need to do anything that offensively-minded yet, and it would require a far more powerful force than six green guides. You can ensure the safety of the trip and genuineness of the refugees in whatever way you want, this is you six's mission, after all."
Druhdaar, after looking towards Taran and imperceptibly giving him the "let's go" nod, looks first at Ishhareth then at Vishal fixedly - as if trying to gauge each of the kalashtars' good faith, or maybe daring them to read his thoughts - to finally turn his back on the small room and its occupants, only pausing at the door, eyeing the assembly over his shoulder one last time to finally utter, as a parting grunt:
" Stuffy in here. I'm goin' out. "
Without another word his meaty, massive body squeezes into the door and vanishes into he darkness of the corridor, his receding steps booming like falling logs on the wooden stairs leading down to the outside.
Vishal goes to send Druhdaar a telepathic message, his eyes glowing blue, but stop himself at the last moment to say aloud, “Don’t go too far. We should sit down as a team to make a plan and figure out what each of us can do.” He then turns back towards the trailblazer and asks, “So.....this might be a dumb question. But I don’t want to fail our first mission. What’s your advice for making sure this mission is a complete success?”
Ishhareth's eyes gleam with what might be amusement or approval. "There's no perfect formula for complete success. But my best advice is to make sure you have all information possible before going in, and always be ready to adapt. Knowing what each other can do is a good start, as is coming up with a plan beforehand. But always remember that things can, and probably will, go wrong. As long as you're ready to adapt to that, you should be fine."
Taran's eyes dart between Druhdaar, Ishhareth, Vishal and Caelius.
The Trailblazer hadn't dismissed them yet, but Vishal seemed to be taking over the conversation. That was good after Taran embarrassed himself so thoroughly. The others were the rock of this mission, he just had to follow orders and stay out of the way. They would gather all the pertinent information, they'd make fine plans. He wasn't needed here.
But leaving Caelius behind, after promising to help translate for him... but, Druhdaar clearly wanted Taran to follow him and...
Druhdaar was nearly out the door, he had to make a decision, on what was more important. The lights in the room seemed incredibly bright and his heart pounded in his chest. What should he do?
As he always did, Taran defaulted to his training, to thinking about what Father would have expected him to do.
His mug of mint water slammed into the small table, water spilling from the unclaimed mugs as the entire thing swayed. With a motion born not out of practice, but out of desperation and unknown skill, Taran bowed, stepped back, and signed Thieve's Cant at Caelius all in one movement.
His words were not so smooth, tumbling out of him like skree down the mountainside. "I'm sorry, Sirs, Madam, I-I need to go. I'll be ready though, I won't drag anyone down with me, I promise. I'll be with Druhdaar, ready to leave for the portal. You won't-" his voice breaks under the strain of giving his fear to the air, "regret giving me this chance. I swear"
All the while, he retreated at the door, desperate to stay within five steps of Druhdaar's massive form. No further than five steps.
He thought about apologizing to Druhdaar, but it was clear the mountain man was upset with him for all his missteps. Druhdaar was just too kind to say it out loud. He shouldn't push it, he shouldn't risk anything while still on the Temple grounds. So he followed silently, a wisp of a shadow beside a giant with hard eyes.
(OOC: Just because I don't want Druhdaar catching any flak from Taran's imaginings. I'm quite certain Druhdaar's eyes are not in fact hard. This is all in his head.)
** OOC: I'm assuming he's going back out the way he came in, trying to get to a quiet place not too far away, if not under open skies - we're in Malshashar ! - at least suited to his sour, lonely disposition. He will wait for the others there, breathe in deep, and prepare mentally for the journey ...**
(note: if he can't find a quiet place, some kitchen with jugs full of mead will do just fine.)