Prologue: A Step in the Right Direction
Some say the fates are intertwined by destiny. Others attribute strange meetings and new friends as a plan of the gods. Curses, cultists, creationists, they all find their room in this world of magic. Evil, good, there are no rules to the mortal perspective.
It is said, nay, rumoured in the halls of Istus that those who live out tragedy are most easily found by the gods, who seek out mortal pain and make it their own. Some suspect it is cruelty, others boredom, but the most optimistic of beliefs is that they do it to feel something real: to create a bond with mortals and live out the lives of many, touching and loving.
So, no matter which gods you choose, no matter your faith or lack thereof, the world carries on its platitudes of mystery and mysticism, blissfully unaware of the singular consciousness. Thousands of threads, millions of forces all converge, collide and align.
The best stories, however, begin in the simplest of places at the start of the most terrible of times. That is then, predictably, where this one begins; not a mark of one individual, but many.
There was silence as Shale crouched low behind a fallen tree and eyed the hulking figure nearby. She looked over at her companions with one slender, dark-skinned finger over her lips. They pressed closer to the tree, eyes darting and faces stern. The creature was swinging its large, clawed hand through the cold mountain water that bubbled down the Chionthar river, grunting with curiosity. It had hunched green shoulders displaying an appropriate number of boils and warts, and its hair was a stringy brown mess of greasy curtains around its thick, hawk-like nose. With a louder grunt, it speared a claw into the river and pulled up a flopping, skewered meal.
With a short wave of her hand, Shale ushered her charges forward and they snuck past, heading back to the road as quietly as a group of scholars could. Once they reached the safety of the road, Fandir, one of the four men, passed a hand through his unkempt hair and nestled his bookbag nearer to his chest. “I’m certainly glad we hired you,” he sighed, checking back behind his shoulder to ensure the road was clear. “We undoubtedly would have been where that fish is now without your guidance.”
Shale smiled and gave a nod. “I take pride in knowing about the forests and lands in these parts. I am happy to bring you to safety, so you can continue your—interesting work.” Shale had little time for reading books and felt that lived experience could teach much surer than words on a page, but she still admired the man’s commitment to research.
Fandir smiled awkwardly and turned to consult with another of his companions. Shale watched the trees as they passed, but only the songs of birds and the darkening blue sky moved over them on their journey.
With a heavy sigh, she thought about where her next few days would take her. Whispers of necromancers haunted her in the night. Mere rumours, but ones she sought after. Red cloaks and strangled screams followed her darkest thoughts. Once they reached Candlekeep, Beregost would be her next destination. She had so many questions that remained unanswered. After nearly two years of nothing, she felt certain she was close to finding something. Anything. “Guide me, as I know you will,” Shale whispered.
“Sorry?” Menda, another of the bookish men, asked.
Shale dropped her hand and turned to him. “Oh, it’s nothing. Come, we only have a few hours until sunset.”
Several Days Later
Shale sat alone at a table in the far corner of the Burning Wizard, sipping on a strong ale and watching the few patrons of the inn laughing, conversing, and otherwise dropping coppers on various games. When her drink was finished, she rose to leave. She had spent a few days in Beregost and learned very little from the townspeople. It had been a fruitless journey, it seemed.
Just as she reached the door to leave, a man pushed through from the other side.
“Apologies, miss,” he said, bowing his head as he held the door for her. She offered a smile and the man paused. “You wouldn’t happen to be Shale Dominai? The wood’s guide?”
“The very same,” she said, stopping in the doorway and looking back.
“Ah, then it is you I’m looking for. Are you for hire? The shopkeeper of Iron’s Brook suggested you may still be in town.”
Shale paused, taking in the man’s appearance. He stood straight-backed in fine, gray robes. As she stood, two younger men similarly dressed shuffled through the doorway to stand behind him. “I may be, actually,” she said. “What is your destination?”
The man’s smile widened, and he graciously gestured for her to re-enter the tavern. “Please, sit. We will discuss.” The four of them found a booth and sat. “My name is Leosin,” he said, leaning in. “These two young men are Nazim and Bram. Students of mine.”
As he made introductions, the two teens bowed their heads in turn. Nazim was short, broad and dark-haired. Bram was his opposite in every way, with a thin frame, bony shoulders and pale hair.
“Shale Dominai, as you already know,” Shale introduced herself, touching two fingers to her right brow in greeting. “And where is it you are headed?”
“We must travel to Greenest. It’s not a far journey, I know, but we would all feel safer to have a guide with us. Time is of the essence, and we are not overly familiar with these lands.”
“Easy enough,” she said, unfurling a worn map from her satchel and pointing to their location on the map. “It will take a tenday at most, if we travel on foot. Do you have a cart? Horses? Supplies?”
“We have neither cart nor horse, but we will purchase our rations today if you would be willing to leave tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” Shale paused, considering her map. It was a relatively short journey, and she had found only old news in Beregost. She rolled up the map and returned it to her satchel. “Very well, gentleman. Tomorrow it is. I would be more than happy to escort you, for a small sum of course.”
“Yes, indeed. Will fifteen gold suffice?” Leosin asked, pulling out a pouch and dropping it on the table between them. With a deft finger, Shale pulled the tie on the pouch and looked inside. The contents sparkled. “Paid upon delivery,” he added.
She nodded and touched two fingers to her brow again. Leosin returned the pouch to his belt. “I will see you on the outskirts of town at sunrise.” Shale told them. “Bring bedrolls and enough food and water to sustain you, plus any other comforts you can carry on your backs. This will be a swift journey on foot,” she eyed the three men in their thin monk robes. “Consider purchasing cloaks as well, for warmth. The forest grows cold at night, and the season is late.”
Leosin stood and bowed to her. “Thank you again, Shale. We will see you soon.” With that, he gestured for the boys to stand and they all filed out of the Burning Wizard.
After a few minutes, Shale followed them out, an anxious hand over her left forearm, and headed in the opposite direction.
Chapter One: Entwining Fates
Keelan knelt in the cool evening air of the forest surrounded by dozens of flickering red and gold candles. The sky was nearly dark, but the warmth of the candles filled him with calm as he pressed his eyes closed and began to whisper his prayers. His surroundings, and all sound, disappeared as his focus shifted to the divine.
Above him, atop a nearby hill, stood a druid watching this curious display. Satisfied that the human wouldn’t burn down the forest, he slunk back into the shadows to continue his watch.
“Hold a moment,” Shale whispered to Leosin, and he gestured for Nazim and Bram to pause. The sky was fading quickly into night, and across the field near a cluster of trees, at the edge of the Wood of Sharp Teeth, Shale could make out the flickering of firelight. She looked at the monks and motioned for them to wait there, then passed through the long grass toward the light.
They had been on the road for several days now without incident. While it was not uncommon to cross other travellers on the road, it was still good to keep your wits about you. Bandits and goblins were wont to haunt the forests.
As she approached, she saw a singular figure hunched over the warmth of a new fire, unpacking a small kettle from his belongings. He raised his head suddenly and looked around. “Who goes there?” he demanded, standing slowly.
Shale entered the firelight, hands up. “Just a curious forest guide. Sorry to creep up on you like this, I wasn’t sure who else would be on the road in this late season, and it can’t harm to be too careful.”
The man was now fully visible to her as she approached. He was tall, with angular features and a slight point tipping his ears. His silvery-blonde hair was closely shaved on the sides and long at the top, pulling down to his waist in a twisting braid, a strip of green intertwined in the hair. A half-elf. That explained why he could see her in the near-dark. On his left arm was a massive tattoo of a snake that coiled from wrist, all the way up into his sleeve with seemingly no end.
“That’s quite alright,” he said, face relaxing. “I too must be cautious.”
Shale nodded. “Mind if we join your fire? I am in the company of three others. We have our own provisions, but new conversations are always welcome.”
The half-elf nodded his head in assent. “Yes, it would be good to get out of my own thoughts for a while. What is your name?” He asked as Shale turned to retrieve the monks.
“Shale. And yours?”
“Oszaren.” He smiled and resumed his seat next to the fire. Before she could turn back, there was a sound in the trees. A snap of twigs behind them.
Shale spun around abruptly, scanning the darkness. Her vision was useless after staring into the firelight.
“What was that?” Oszaren hissed, drawing out a mace and searching the darkness. “Wait, I see something.”
Two things happened at once. First, a group of hunched figures bounded into the firelight, growling and hissing their battle cries, one jumping at the half-elf, who barely managed to dodge out of the way. Shale could see the creatures now in full, scaly form: kobolds. Short, but nasty dragonesque creatures.
A blast of fire shot through the air from the trees and burst into one of the kobolds, engulfing it in orange flames. A moment later, two more kobolds were diving at Shale. She ducked out of the jab of one spear, but another nicked her arm from the other side. She drew out two blades from her back and twisted them in the air before her, gently stepping around to remove herself from the circle of kobolds.
Beside her, Oszaren’s serpent tattoo began to glow with a greenish light, and two writhing, coiling snakes appeared and shimmered around his torso, merging into a strange, glowing armour which deflected a jab from another kobold.
Another bolt of fire flew from the trees and took down a kobold just as it was leaping into the fray. Shale downed one with her sword and twisted to face another, her blade gashing its side as she struck and parried.
It took less than a minute between the human and half-elf, and the strange firebolts blasting through the trees, to dispatch of the enemies.
“Come out of the trees, whoever you are,” Oszaren said, armour still glowing and writhing, mace pointed at the darkness.
It was silent for a moment, and Shale kept her blades raised. Then, a large shape bounded out of the trees and leapt at the half-elf, who dropped his mace at seeing the creature. It grabbed his arm where the tattoo no longer glowed and inspected it curiously. Unsure of what to make of this, Oszaren extricated himself from the figure’s grasp and stepped away. “Um, hello friend? Was it you with the fire?”
The figure looked up at him with huge eyes and blinked, head tilted. “Make glow again.”
With a glance of confusion, Shale broke in “I think he means your arm.”
“I—I can’t make it glow at the moment, but—”
The figure was tall, close to seven feet, and was covered in yellowish fur that was interrupted by soft oranges and streaked with black stripes. It had large ears and twitching whiskers, and its tail swished from side to side beneath its robe. It was a tabaxi, a cat person.
“What are you doing out here?” Shale asked, moving up to the large cat and sheathing her blades. “May I?”
The tabaxi nuzzled his face against her shoulder and she scratched him behind the ear. His chest rumbled with a purr.
“What’s your name?” Shale asked, patting him.
He looked down at her and said “Whisper. Like sound, but quieter.”
“Ah,” Oszaren said uncomfortably, inspecting the tabaxi.
“Are you a friend? You shot those fire balls?”
The tabaxi nodded, excited.
“Wh-what happened here?” the voice of Leosin broke in as the three monks rushed into the firelight.
“We were attacked,” Shale explained, gesturing to the fallen bodies of several kobolds. “I was just about to come get you when we ran into this helpful tabaxi fellow.”
“We grew worried when you didn’t return,” the monk told her, folding his hands into his robe. “Is everything alright now?”
Shale nodded and gestured for the three monks to take a seat at the fire. “Oszaren here offered to share his fire with us,” she pointed her chin in the direction of the half-elf. “I assume that offer still stands?” When he nodded, she said, “Whisper, would you like to stay with us? I would be very interested in hearing your story.”
“Oh, yes. Stay.” Whisper purred, bounding to the fire and curling up in the warmth.
“Excellent,” Shale said as she seated herself. Strange as it was, the distraction was welcome.
Keelan strode down a well-beaten path, looking out at the forest curiously as he went, pack bouncing behind him. It was a warm and respectfully quiet afternoon as he travelled toward the town of Greenest. He still had a few hours left in his journey as far as he could guess, and the road was clear but for the occasional cart hauling turnips, corn and other goods between villages.
He shifted his chainmail shirt as he walked, feeling the sweat culminate between his many layers of clothing. By mid-afternoon, he was forced to remove the chainmail and place it in his pack, but kept his warhammer at his shoulder, easy to draw at a moment’s notice. Glancing around, he thought he saw the shift of a form in the trees not far back. Squinting, he gazed down the road and waited for a few minutes before shrugging and pulling a book from a side pouch in his bag.
“The Histories and Practices of Kossuth: Part One,” he said in a low voice, donning his pack and opening the book where he had marked it.
With that, Keelan continued down the road, open book in hand.
Reading and walking, Fillip thought, shaking his head at the human as he walked. This is a curious one, indeed. Rather attractive, too.
The druid put away his sling and sneaked forward between the trees, keeping the human in his keen sight. His quarry, a large hare, bounded through the underbrush and ran from sight.
A good meal gone, but a more interesting fill to be had. He thought.
Reverence walked quite slowly despite his urgency. There was a laziness to his stride that came from a long time spent in stillness. A year of silent meditation. A look inward to find the outward truth.
He followed the road with distinct displeasure, his mind humming with remembered visions. He turned over his shoulder and could see, at least a mile off, a lone figure walking down the road behind him.
He descended another hill and could feel his pace quicken, if only somewhat. Greenest was nearing. He swished his spiked tail around his shoulder and loosened his cloak as the heat of the day drew beads of sweat past his curled, unadorned horns.
Ahead of him on the road, three figures darted across the path and into an adjoining field. He ignored them, thoroughly awash in his thoughts as he crested a final hill and looked out over the sprawling green farm town of Greenest. It was surrounded by cultivated fields of varying yellows and greens and set through by a slow, winding river. With a heavy sigh, the tiefling wove his way down the road toward the large stone Keep at the edge of town.
Keelan marked his book as he approached the two-story stone structure. It had a thatched roof and large wooden doors that were opened wide. It was the temple of Chauntea, goddess of agriculture. A common deity for these lands, but not the one he sought. Inside lay a long room flanked by stone benches facing the tall, carved shrine of varying grains and stalks. Below the shrine crouched a half-elf with graying hair and a face lined with age. He stood and smiled welcomingly as Keelan stepped up to the dais.
“Ah, a devout worshipper? How may I be of service to you?” He gave a slight bow.
Keelan held up a hand. “I am a worshipper of Kossuth. Tell me, where is his shrine?”
The smile faded from the half-elf’s features, and he gestured to one of the small side doors in annoyance. “There.” He turned immediately and returned to his prayers without another word.
“Thank you,” Keelan said in elvish.
The man’s eyes remained shut and he did not respond. Keelan turned on his heel and made for the tiny door, pushing it open with some effort. The door had clearly not been used for some time.
The shrine for Kossuth was a shining black brazier with a flickering flame dancing above it. There was no fuel to the fire, and yet it burned unceasingly. The room was tiny, no bigger than a broom closet, and everything was coated in a thick layer of dust. With a sigh of disgust, Keelan threw down his belongings and stomped into the main temple, opening doors until he found a straw broom and a neatly stacked pile of priestly cloths displaying the symbol of Chauntea. The half-elf priest purposefully ignored him.
He returned to the room and began to clean it thoroughly, sweeping the dust into the main chamber and using the holy cloths of the goddess to shine the brazier. When the room looked to be in order, Keelan threw the cloths out of the door, now streaked black with grease.
He closed the door behind him and held his arm over the flames up to the elbow. The heat licked at his coat and burned away the fabric, and the flesh of his arm began to bubble and smoke.
His scream of pain was high-pitched and nearly inhuman as he pulled his arm away. The skin was red and raw and sticky. With a grunt, Keelan picked up his pack, which jingled with the weight of his chainmail, and exited the room, keeping the door open.
As he exited the temple, he heard the half-elf mutter “fire worshippers.”
The Brew and Stew inn and tavern was a warm, hearty atmosphere despite only being filled to half its capacity. Those who were there were enjoying a tankard, or a hot bowl and warm bread and were talking jovially. Fillip, after following the strange human into Greenest, found his way to the inn and, after some flippant bargaining over room pricing, made his way upstairs and changed into clean, finely stitched silks. His face was cleanly shaven, and he proudly stroked his jaw, winking to his reflection in the mirror.
The half-elf flashed a confident smile to himself, then returned down the stairs and scanned the room. Near the back of the tavern sat three somewhat overweight, slightly below-average looking human women peaking beyond their best years. He strode toward them with arms out and dimples in his cheeks. “Ladies,” he drawled, and they looked up from their conversation to see his handsome visage. “Who would like to buy me a drink?”
One of the women snorted and stood, looking surprised that her friends remained. She exited the building with a disbelieving shake of her head. The druid took a seat in her chair and rested his boots on the table, pushing back his silver-blonde hair and casting his blue eyes over the two remaining women.
“Well?” he asked, and one of the women went red with the flicker of a smile and gestured to the barkeep with a raised hand.
“One for the handsome…”
“Fillip,” he grinned.
“Fillip,” she grinned back, showing yellowed teeth, a few stray hairs resting on her upper lip. She pulled free some of the laces on her dress, and her large bosom was in danger of spilling out. With raised eyebrows, her other friend got up and left.
“Looks like you’re all mine,” Fillip said, leaning closer with his chin in his hands.
“Oszaren, you mentioned you were travelling in the area for a while. Are you looking to stay in Greenest?” Shale asked as they approached the outskirts of town.
“Ah,” the half-elf considered, “I haven’t thought about where I might go next, to be honest.”
“Well, you are certainly welcome to stay here with us for as long as we’re here,” she offered. The half-elf was an interesting man. Not overly forthcoming, but pleasant all the same.
Whisper bounded up behind them and grabbed Oszaren by the arm, dragging him down the road. “Stay.”
With a smile, the half-elf shrugged back to Shale and the closely following monks. “I guess I will stay, for now.”
They followed the road through low buildings towards an inn. Whisper ran up to a villager, a stout man with a dirt-smeared face and carrying a large pile of wood and shook the man’s arms. “Look!” He said to Shale.
He shook the man until, eyes filled with shock at this strange encounter, he dropped the stack of wood and shuffled back. Whisper pawed at the logs with interest.
“Leave the man to his work, Whisper,” Oszaren said sternly. “Apologies, sir,” he told the man, who quickly piled the wood back into his arms and stumbled away, checking over his shoulder until they were out of sight.
“This is an interesting companion you’ve found,” Leosin said to Shale as he walked up next to her.
Shale shrugged and nodded. The tabaxi was now chasing a few stray chickens. He caught one and was playing with it. “Whisper!” Shale called, beckoning the cat-person to her side. “Don’t kill their chickens.”
“No kill,” he nodded, looking back wistfully at the clucking hens as a child emerged from a doorway.
“Muuuuum, there’s a giant cat trying to eat the chickens,” the kid said around his shoulder.
“Come on,” Shale murmured, and they hurried along before the mother could appear.
Soon, they stood at the entrance of the inn. The tall building had a thatched roof and a sign painted green and gold that read, in common, elvish and halfling, “The Stew and Brew inn and tavern”.
Whisper climbed the building with incredible speed and perched atop the roof, looking out at the town. With a contented purr, he curled up in the late afternoon sun and found a spot amongst the straw and closed his eyes. “Shall we go inside?” Shale asked Oszaren and the monks, who all nodded their assent.
The inn was crowded with patrons eating supper and drinking the local brew. There was a long, rectangular table that was partially taken, but they managed to drag a few stools to the end of it and order some food and beverages.
“As agreed,” Leosin said, inconspicuously handing Shale a pouch, “fifteen gold for bringing us safely to our destination.”
“Thank you,” Shale said, counting the coins under the table carefully. Satisfied, she tucked the gold away. “Will you be staying?”
Leosin and his students looked around the room and he shook his head. “Not here. In fact, we must be going.” He finished the last bite of honey tart on his plate and motioned for Nazim and Bram to stand. “Again, thank you, Shale Dominai. If ever we need another forest guide, I will turn to you first.”
Shale bowed her head as they exited the inn. She and Oszaren spent the next few minutes gazing quietly around the inn and observing the townsfolk. There was one man who stood out from the rest. He was leaning in very closely to a woman and whispering in her ear, grinning wickedly. She covered her face and giggled. The man was a half-elf and wore incredibly fine clothing for the establishment, a sore thumb if ever there was one.
Shale nudged Oszaren’s arm and pointed over to their table. “That man seems strange, doesn’t he? Out of place, and…”
“A bit creepy?” Oszaren offered, folding his arms as he watched the display.
Shale nodded in agreement, and the man turned and saw them both staring. He quickly got up and walked over to them, his confidence a tangible cloak about him. Shale looked down as he strode over.
“Hello, fine people! I couldn’t help but notice you staring at me.”
He caught Shale’s eyes and gave her a wink, and she crossed her arms in annoyance, leaning back. “Can we help you?”
“You may certainly try,” he grinned. The half-elf smiled all too much for Shale’s liking. “The name is Fillip.” He seated himself next to Oszaren, who looked offended by his kinsman’s demeanour.
“Well, I guess I’ll just leave then,” the woman with whom the man had been engaged with had come over to their table, hands on hips.
“Bye,” Fillip said lazily, waving offhandedly in her direction without looking.
She harrumphed and exited the inn, slamming the main door behind her and drawing a few curious eyes.
“So, where were we?” he asked.
“Nowhere, as far as I’m concerned,” Shale told him.
“Now, now,” Fillip tsked, eyeing her and Oszaren with penetrating blue eyes. “I mean no offense. I’m simply bored and new to the town, hoping to share in some adventure.”
“There’s no adventure here,” Oszaren said grudgingly. “At least none that we’ve heard of.”
Shale folded her hands on the table. After a pause, she looked at the two men. “Have either of you heard of necromancers in these parts?”
“Necromancers?” Oszaren shook his head. “Not that I recall, no. Why, have you heard something?”
She shrugged. “Whispers, here and there. Nothing distinct.”
Fillip wrinkled his nose. “I have not heard anything of that nature myself. Though, I don’t spend much time talking to people, as it were.”
“You don’t say?” Shale muttered. “Alright, Fillip. What are your skills? Are you a fighter? A magic user? A man of incredible wealth and talent? What makes you worthy to sit at our table when you know nothing about us?” It was a bold set of questions, coming from her, but she’d drank two ales and was feeling the warm buzz behind her eyes.
Fillip grinned at the challenge and straightened in his stool, looking around. He gazed up at the bar, where several bottles of liquor were lined up on the top shelf. The half-elf drew out a sling, set a small stone into the leather, aimed and released. The stone flew across the room, arching upwards and just barely tinging the edge of a bottle. The bottle rocked for a moment, unsteady, then tipped forward and sailed through the air. With a flash quicker than she could believe, Fillip had released another stone at the falling bottle. It missed, sticking deep into the back wood of the bar, and the bottle crashed onto the floor and shattered into a thousand tiny shards of glass, spraying a dark liquor over the walls and counter.
The barkeep, a brown-haired, strong-boned woman cursed loudly and looked around to see what caused the accident, immediately spotting Fillip, who did nothing to hide his sling. Realizing his mistake, he quickly hid it beneath his cloak, but it was too late. The woman stomped toward them looking harried. “Who’s going to pay for that?” she demanded, looking at all three of them in turn. Shale held up her hands innocently and Fillip just shrugged.
“I’ll pay for it,” Oszaren sighed, pulling out a coin purse. “What will it cost?”
“Three silver,” she said without hesitation, holding out a hand to retrieve the coins.
Oszaren placed them gingerly in her palm and she stormed off without another word. Once she was gone, Oszaren turned to the half-elf. “That was decently impressive,” he admitted. “Not perfect, but not terrible either.”
“I’ll take the compliment,” Fillip said happily.
It seemed that was the icebreaker they needed. The two half-elves jumped next into discussions of travel, fighting styles and magic usage. After about an hour of conversing, Shale remembered Whisper on the roof. It was growing dark outside.
“Do you like cats?” Shale asked the half-elf, who had explained to them that he was a druid who had some experience with the natural magics.
“I like most animals,” he said, “why?”
“Come meet Whisper.”
The three of them went outside and Shale called out for the tabaxi. The striped yellow and black head of the cat-person popped up and eyed them curiously before bounding down in excitement. Oszaren cast a subtle light spell that created a point of dancing coloured light on the druid’s forehead. Whisper watched it for a moment, mouth quivering, before he swiped a massive paw at the druid’s forehead, knocking him off his feet and leaving a sizeable scratch.
“Whisper! Don’t scratch!” Shale chastised.
Oszaren held his middle and began to laugh, his usual stern demeanour having diminished at this display. Fillip got to his feet, wiping blood from his face and casting a light healing spell to remove the scratches. Then he grinned at the tabaxi and patted his head between the ears. “Not bad,” the half-elf laughed.
For the moment, Shale felt her heart lighten at the strange sight, though she knew she couldn’t linger.
Shale purchased a room for the night and left her possessions in it before returning to the table where the two half-elves, and now the tabaxi, sat. Whisper sat on his haunches and pulled out a ball of yarn from seemingly nowhere and began batting it around the table.
Shale had asked a few of the townsfolk in passing if they had heard of necromancers, but they all gave her strange looks and shook their heads. Frustrated and tired from the long journey, she drank in silence as the two half-elves continued their conversations.
“More ale?” A young serving girl asked, her auburn hair tied back out of her face.
“Please,” Shale said, offering her a smile.
“Can we get some milk as well?” Oszaren asked her, motioning to Whisper. The girl nodded and returned a few minutes later with a few mugs of ale and one of milk. She handed the milk over to Whisper with a shrug and the tabaxi picked up the mug gingerly and began lapping up the milk.
A shorter human in a tattered coat, looking worn from several days travel, entered the inn. Just behind him, framed in the doorway, came a figure of equal height with curled ram’s horns on either side of his face. The tiefling had burnt-orange skin and black, spiked hair. His eyes glowed a deep red, and as he entered the inn, several faces turned to look upon the strange creature. Tieflings were not common folk in these areas. Shale had encountered a couple in her days, but most were stand-offish and tended to avoid humans. This one removed his cloak with his spiked tail and dropped it into his arms as he approached the bar. The human was passing money to the owner, and the tiefling watched the exchange, looking bored. The innkeep continued to look up at him nervously as she spoke with the human.
Fillip abruptly stood and walked up to the bar, his stool scraping against the wood unpleasantly. Oszaren and Shale watched from afar as he struck a conversation with the human, gesticulating enthusiastically, then took the man by the arm and, showing a massive scorch mark in the fabric, produced a chunk of tree bark from his coat and stitched the material back together by waving the bark around in the air. The human nodded and placed a thankful hand on the druid’s shoulder. After a minute or two, they both came to the table.
“This is Keelan,” Fillip said, helping the man find a seat next to Shale. She nodded in acknowledgment.
“What was that you were doing with his sleeve?” Oszaren asked Fillip, and Keelan held up his arm to show the mended fabric.
“I burned my arm,” Keelan told them happily.
“Burned it? How, exactly?” Shale asked.
“Oh, I burned it in the brazier of the almighty Kossuth, god of fire.”
“On purpose?” She said, aghast.
He nodded fervently. “Oh, yes. I am on a pilgrimage to find the seven braziers of Kossuth, our great fiery god, and gain incredible powers by his grace. I wish to be a paladin.”
“Does it hurt?” Oszaren asked uncertainly.
“It hurts quite a lot, actually,” Keelan told them.
The orange tiefling sat himself at a table nearby and shuffled his chair back so he was nearly touching Oszaren where he sat.
“That sounds…” Shale trailed off, lost for words.
“Sounds mad to me,” Fillip finished, then shrugged. “But, who am I to judge?” With that, the druid held his hands out in front of him and began shaking them as if he were about to roll a handful of dice. Light flickered around his hands for a moment as he concentrated on them, and suddenly a cacophony of dog’s barking emanated from the walls of the inn, appearing to come from every direction.
Whisper pulled away from his mug of milk, ears flicking, and looked around, alert. Then, he twitched his whiskers and began barking back, the sound echoing magically through the room.
“Ha ha! Good trick!” Fillip said, clapping his hands together. “I thought I smelled a wizard in that tabaxi. Looks like I am not disappointed.” People throughout the tavern looked around at the barking as it faded, and a few cast glares in their direction. Other, real dogs in the town began to bark and howl.
We’re making quite the display, Shale thought. This evening was turning out to be one of the strangest she’d ever encountered.
“Excuse me, would you like to sit with us, since you’re so clearly listening to our conversation anyways?” Fillip said loudly, looking over at the tiefling, whose horns were basically touching the back of Oszaren’s head now.
He turned in his chair and, with haunted red eyes, said. “I—have come—to warn you all.” He spoke as if there were no words, so slow was his speech.
“Sorry?” Oszaren said as the tiefling pushed his chair in amongst theirs.
Whisper held up his ball of yarn and handed it to the tiefling, who looked at it but didn’t move to take it. “Something bad—is coming.” He sighed. “I am here—to warn this town—of a grave danger. It has brought me to the five of you.”
“Grave,” Shale said slowly, “as in, dead? Or serious?”
“Very serious.” The tiefling’s eyes darkened again.
Fillip looked the tiefling up and down. “That’s very vague. And—we,” he gestured around the table, “don’t know each other.”