I’ve left the dragons to their dessert at last and set off on my own for once. My sister was sad to see me go, but she promised she would look out for me back home while I was away. No one leaves the blue dragon syndicate, but no one ever said anything about an extended vacation and boy did I need one. I used to function as a sort of go between for them, keeping tabs on the syndicate’s various holdings in the towns surrounding the city. Important work to be sure, a job my sister always took very seriously, but much too tedious for me. I had always dreamed of a life of adventure, and now was my chance.
I spent the first month of my grand adventure alone, sloughing from tavern to tavern looking for work. I did some manual labor around the town, nothing to write home about but I was getting paid. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in practice led only to an empty coin purse and a bit of an ale fixation. I had never gotten the chance to do much drinking at home, and one too many interesting strangers got the better of me. It was around the time a halfling snuck up between my legs, sopping drunk, and tried to chew through my coin purse in a disturbing attempt to rob me that I decided to forgo alcohol for the foreseeable future.
I decided that I needed a plan, and set about observing the habits of more successful heroes for hire. I made it my business to befriend the sort of people who came to the bar late at night with blood on their clothes and platinum in their pockets. It quickly became clear to me that the most lucrative jobs were those that could not be handled alone. The richest and most powerful adventurers I talked to came from groups of widely varying skill sets. I talked to a Pharasmin cleric who had just joined up with a dhamphir to take out a lich in the eastern kingdoms and were now chasing a bounty north with a half-orc. I asked if I could travel with them, but the cleric politely rebuffed me when I told him the meager amount of magic I was capable of, saying I was likely to get in the way.
I made other attempts to gather companions, but in all cases the results were the same. I would venture out with some on a trial basis, but in the end I merely held the group back and they would leave me behind when they moved on. I needed to make myself useful for some reason other than a few paltry magic tricks. The solution presented itself in due time.
“Ey!” the barkeep yelled one night as I was fretting over some tea, “I’ll not have any of your kind in my bar!” For a moment I feared he had been talking to me, some folks don’t like half-elves and I had been lax in hiding my unnaturally pointed ears of late, but as I looked up from my cup I saw the real culprit. An enormous green orc carrying a firearm of some kind was standing in the doorway looking perplexed.
“Me just want have bar!” the orc stammered, “look! Me have coin!” I saw him hold up a bag full of gold pieces. He had my attention.
“Pipe down, Gar” a human in a wide brimmed hat came to stand next to him, “put yer valuables away before they get nicked.” He approached the barkeep purposefully and adjusted his lapels to reveal two holy symbol. I recognized one as that of Pharasma but I wasn’t familiar with the other, a simplistic depiction of a butterfly.
“Preacher, I don’t care who your god is,” the barkeep replied, stone-faced, “I will not allow monsters in my bar.”
“Inquisitor” the man corrected, giving the barkeep a meaningful glare. I felt I could stop this before it came to blows.
“Hey, barkeep” I called, sliding the last of my gold to him, “they seem like decent people, how about I buy everyone a round and we can all get along?” It was apparent that the only thing that would cause a scene would be to argue the point further. None of the other patrons seemed bothered by the orc.
“If he makes trouble, I’ll take him out myself” another man offered, he was a half-elf in leather armor who carried an intimidatingly large elven curved blade. The barkeep grunted his approval grudgingly and the newcomers each took a seat at the bar.
“Thanks for the round” the inquisitor muttered as he pulled up a chair next to me, “name’s Milo, servant of Desna and Pharasma. The green one is Gar, he’s a gun man if you can believe it. The sullen one’s Malakar, last surviving member of some barbarian tribe, what was it again?”
“I am the last son of Eagle” Malakar grunted, burying himself in his ale.
“Yeah that’s right” Milo confirmed, “a barbarian without a tribe, now there’s something you don’t see every day!” I felt for the lonely barbarian, and wondered why Milo wouldn’t shut up about it. For his part, Malakar was making a noble effort not to start a bar fight right then and there.
“Well I’m Kepesk,” I interjected, “Kepesk of the southern dragons. Skilled negotiator and sorcerer. Where are you headed?”
“North, west, wherever the money takes us.” was Milo’s reply, “Why? You looking for protection?” Protection?! I was quite capable of handling myself thank you very much. The thought of enlisting the protection of a half-copper holy man and his band of blundering misfits was laughable. Even for a sorcerer of even my limited training. I made a concerted effort to remove the offense from my tone before responding.
“Looking for work” I corrected, “it is difficult to pull off any of the real jobs in this business without at least some capable company.”
“Is that so?” the inquisitor remarked, “well it seems the only job worth doing around these parts is some mine infestation. Goblins keeping the miners from doing their jobs. The reward is paltry but we might could milk it for all it’s worth if you lent us some of those negotiating skills you’re so keen on.”
“It would be my pleasure” I said, hoping that this group would be different from the others.
“Good, good” Milo seemed suddenly preoccupied, I saw him focus on the room at large and cast a spell to detect magic, a bit uncalled for. He cast it several times so that the potions in my bag were glowing conspicuously along with a few trinkets in the possession of a bard and a lonely looking old man.
“Rat thieving bastard” he grumbled, glaring at the bard who had not moved since the newcomers had entered, “I’ll show him.” He got up angrily to confront the bard.
I regarded the old man for the first time, he looked rather lonely sitting at that table all alone. Perhaps he might have some work for us, or some spare coin for a friendly traveler. Usually magic items were a sign of wealth after all and rich people were always good for a fleecing. I walked over to his table and sat down next to him.
“Evening sir” I said politely, “mind if I join you?” His eyes seemed to linger on my face as if he recognized me for a moment before answering.
“Of course, my dear” he replied at last, “I believe I would like that.”
The man was a retired adventurer who had fought in the war that had marked the end of the idyllic old kingdom and gave rise to the new. The wars had taken place before my time, so I found myself unable to relate to his laments of how much better it had been before the war. It struck me after a time that every time he would make eye contact with me he would get sadder. I wouldn’t have said anything, except it seemed he might be about to break into tears.
“Sir?” I asked cautiously, “Is everything okay? If you’re in any trouble I can help you. I’m an adventurer.”
“You just remind me of someone,” he replied, no farther away from tears, “someone I lost.”
“Sounds like a sad story,” I coaxed, “perhaps sharing it would help?” The old man sighed heavily.
“When my daughter was around your age, she was beautiful just like you and beloved by all who knew her.” He started, “She had fallen in love with a travelling bard. They were to be wed, but on the day of their wedding a dark shadow passed over the land. I told her that it was an evil omen and that we should postpone the ceremony, but she was insistent that it go on as scheduled. At first the ceremony went according to plan. It was the proudest moment of my life to see her so happy, but something happened to her as they exchanged their vows. An evil presence possessed my daughter at the altar, twisting her into a raging monster. The groom was her first victim, then the priest. I had to drag her to the ground and strangle her myself…” The man could not continue after that, and elected to take a long swig of his drink to fill the space.
“That was 15 years ago to the day,” the man whispered, “I’m sorry for staring, but the resemblance is uncanny.”
I don’t know if it was an act of mercy or of stupidity on Milo’s part that he chose this moment to bring his frothing lunacy to the table at this moment, having given up on the bard. He plunked himself down next to the old man and started prodding at the amulet he wore around his neck.
“You know that bard over there had one of these same amulets on him,” he said suspiciously, I wondered if all inquisitors were like this, “what’s it for?”
“What this old thing?” the man straightened up immediately, “it’s an old trinket from the war. A gift from a wizard for saving his life. It isn’t for anything really. A good luck charm.”
“I am an inquisitor. Please, try lying to me again.” Milo insisted. For what it was worth he was probably right about the old man lying, but his methods were embarrassing. Give a man a holy symbol and he’ll think he has the power of a god. I decided to help him get to the bottom of this.
“May I see the amulet, sir?” I asked sweetly, playing off his admitted paternal feelings towards me. I had never had a father, but if noble old men were any indication they were gold mines. He handed it over easily. It was made of silver and shaped like a wolf’s head. The crafting was beautiful and it was inlaid with blue gemstones for the eyes. It certainly looked like it stood for something important and a simple spell confirmed that it was magic.
“You said the bard over there had one just like it?” I asked Milo.
“Yeah, I know his kind. Probably stole it.” The inquisitor grumbled.
“Do you mind?” I asked the old man as I rose, “I’ll bring it right back.” He made no move to stop me. I crossed the room where the bard, a halfling with an assortment of string instruments, was readying himself for another song. When I showed him the amulet, recognition flashed in his eyes.
“Hey, do you have one of these?” I asked innocently, offering up the amulet. In response he pulled his sleeve back to reveal an identical amulet strapped to his forearm.
“Aye lass” he admitted, “what does it mean to you?”
“Oh nothing,” I conceded, the man was obviously waiting for some kind of password that I did not have. A secret society then! This was exactly the sort of adventure I had dreamed about for so many years, “but did you know they’re magic?”
“No I didn’t” the halfling lied, his demeanor changed once he realized I had little idea what the amulet was for, “what does it do?” The magic was unrecognizable as any school of magic I was familiar with. Probably obfuscated on purpose to hide the trinket’s true nature.
“I can’t really tell,” I admitted, feigning ignorance, “but do you know what this reminds me of? Those secret societies in those kids stories about the old kingdom. They always had some kind of symbol like this that marked their members.”
“That’s quite an accusation to make, lass,” the bard said deliberately, “someone who was part of such an organization would be a dangerous man indeed.”
“Oh, I wasn’t implying that you were a member,” I remarked casually, “I just assumed you stole it.” That set the man to laughing, a relief given the dangerous connections he had just admitted to having. I looked away from the laughing bard for a split second, and in that second the little bastard took a shot at my ass, slapping me like some kind of whore.
I spun to confront him, fixing him with a chilly stare. The little man shrugged at me innocently, as if to deny he had done anything. It really didn’t bother me all that much, but in a tavern full of weary male adventurers, precautions had to be taken. Standards had to be set. Examples must be made. I charged my hand with the strongest evocation magic I had. Electricity crackled and snapped between my fingers as I hit the halfling with the back of my hand as hard as I could. The electricity discharged into his face on contact with a satisfying crash.
“You would be wise to show some respect in the presence of a blue dragon emissary,” I threatened, “we do not take kindly to such insults.” The man was in complete shock at what had just happened to him. He wasn’t hurt badly, my strongest evocation magic was still pitiful at best, but I had made the impression I wanted.
“I meant no disrespect, lass” the man managed, “I had no idea you were one of them mafia types!”
“Former” I flashed a smile that let him know we were even.
“Is that so, well it just so happens I’m in the business of finding folks with a certain potential” he said, “you never know when you’ll need powerful allies.”
“And what use could a simple bard have for such powerful allies?” I asked. The rouse was up, and I was about to find out the truth about these people.
“That’s it” the barkeep said suddenly, thrusting a finger at the orc who had slammed down his drink at the start of my altercation with the bard, “I don’t care who pays for his drinks, I want this thing OUT!” Malakar moved to oblige him, but the orc seemed disinclined to cooperate. A fight would inevitably break out between the two, and as it did the bard motioned for me to follow him outside. When we had escaped the disaster of the barbarian-on-orc brawl taking place outside the bar, the bard offered me his explanation.
“My name is Gareth. I am a member of the Brotherhood, a society that traces its roots back to the start of the old kingdom. We have widespread connections and deep coffers.” He spoke quietly so as not to be heard, but there was a certain excitement in his tone, “The problem in the mines is bigger than the townsfolk realize. Goblins aren’t smart enough to get organized and take control like that all on their own. They’re being organized by an outside force. A spell caster if reports are to be believed.”
“What would you have me do, and what would I get in return?” I asked.
“For information on this man, the Brotherhood is prepared to offer you and your party 5,000 gold and initiation into the organization on a trial basis.” It was a good deal, and a lot more money than anyone else had offered us.
“We would be happy to oblige” I said with a smile.
“Good. Now take the old man back his amulet. Tell him Gareth sent you, he’ll know what to do. Good luck” he said before walking back into the bar. When I gave the old man the password he looked more weary than he had before.
“I had hoped you would stay out of this” he sulked, “but it is true we need all the help we can get. After you gather the information, make your way to the city of Driscoll. That is where the Brotherhood is based, and where you will make contact with an agent who will debrief you.”
I thanked the old man and went outside to find my companions. Malakar and Gar were slumped against a tree, exhausted while Milo fussed over them and tended to their wounds. I had found a perfect niche with these people and for the first time since I left home I felt completely in my element.
“Good news, boys” I announced, “ I found us some extra money to clear out that mine.”
“Really?” said Milo, “how much? From who?”
“A thousand gold to pass between us” I lied, “and really, a lady never tells.”