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"They're doing what?!" Lleyr interjects, his eyes widening in shock. "Unbelievable. Salera..." He frowns as he notices Tajal leaving and follows him.
Salera tenses and narrows her eyes.
"Well now. That's rather... Unfortunate. For my clients, that is," she says, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms behind her head before bringing them back in front of her, examining her nails. "Very bad for business. So that's why the Council's been so down our necks lately..." She frowns. "Eira. Go get those books." The auburn elf nods and quickly darts out the door, returning half an hour later or so with a stack of ledgers that she sets down on the table and quickly begins to go through.
"Let's see. Yes, five of them recently. One just bought a pair of manacles, so he's extremely doubtful, these two wanted raw material and didn't buy too much. These are the likely ones. Dareth Shenhall. Human male, cultist of some bizarre probably made-up entity or other. Been buying rather a lot lately for some kind of ritual his cult's planning. Manacles, chains, a couple of locks. The other is Alestriel Thera, that Eladrin woman. Same sort of stuff as the other one, though more on the manacles." She shrugs.
Lleyr joins Tajal outside.
"She's... Not that bad. Well, she is. But not in this sort of thing. She's got a softer side, even if she is rather heavily involved in things I'd rather not be anywhere near." He sighs.
Dredge springs to his feet in exasperation. "Oh, please!" he rasps. "You're selling manacles and chains made of dark iron," he continues, punctuating each emphasised word by raising an additional finger, "and you couldn't put two and two... and two!... together? I could have accepted it if you were only selling the raw material, but really..."
He stops and looks around, realising that he should probably stop antagonising their help, but almost unable to help himself. He takes his seat again, fuming.
"The council seems to be down everyone's neck's of late, and I'm not sure I trust them as much as you. Your motives - profit and Eira at least - are plain to see, but theirs are far harder to discern."
Noting that Salera seems to have broken a fingernail in the scuffle, Rumble removes her kneecap and hands it to her new friend as a new one forms in its place. "Sorry if I caused that, I realize my exterior is somewhat harder than most. Pumice makes the best file, I hear."
"What can you tell us about this Alestriel Thera, if anything? You mentioned earlier that you suspect she may not even be Eladrin. Why is that?"
Noting that Llewyr has gone to speak to Tajal, Baruk refrains from doing the same. The latter does indeed seem to be the mote likely suspect. Unless the children are part of the ritual this cultist is planning, which might be possible.
Using his knowledge of things divine and historical, Baruk tries to think of any special ritual significance to mixed-blood elves.
"I don't generally keep track of what we sell gets used for. But usually even scum like us has enough principles to not kidnap children. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid. I know people get hurt. I hurt people. Not kids, though. Seldarine, at least give 'em a chance to grow up first." She frowns and smirks at Rumble's words.
"Well, yes. I may be a thief and a liar and a cold-blooded killer, but I'm honest about it. Half those fools on the Council couldn't be honest with themselves." She accepts the kneecap with a raised eyebrow and files her nail smooth again with it. "Thanks. Now, Alestria. Odd woman. Never seen anyone sit that still. Barely moves. When she does she looks like she's being way too careful about it. Never seen an Eladrin that uncomfortable in her own skin. Probably some kind of changeling or someone in disguise. Fairly recent client, only a couple months back. Wants manacles mostly. No idea what for, we don't ask and the clients don't usually offer it." She nods at Baruk.
"Yeah, I wouldn't really rule out either just yet." She shrugs.
You can't think of any specific ritual use, but there's a bit of an old wives' tale floating around you've heard of that eladrin born of more than one season have a natural knack for bringing things together.
The eladrin eyes Lleyr, partly interested, partly wondering why all criminals have some people who take it up for 'em. Then again, he was sort of a criminal to his own master's eyes, so perhaps it wasn't so unreasonable.
"You'll have to forgive me for being uneasy after attempting to kill her," he responds with a wry smile. "Never quite a good way to make friends. I take it, then, that you are part of her gang?"
"This woman, no idea where she hangs out. Usually she comes to us. She's fairly regular, at least, so you might be able to catch her here. Actually, if she keeps to her usual patterns, she ought to show up in a couple days. The cultist, yeah, they're on the material side holed up in the forest a few hours out of the city to the Northwest. Crazy buggers, but their money spends as well as any other. I can get you directions there no problem."
"Seldarine, no. I'm not part of any of that foolishness. I just mind the bar here. Not fond of what goes on here, to tell the truth, but what can you do?" He shrugs apologetically. "We all have our reasons for doing what we do." He sighs wistfully, then smiles. "I wouldn't worry too much about it. Quite a few people have tried to kill Salera over the years. Actually, it's my understanding that that's how she met Eira."
A flash of annoyance crosses Dredge's face, but this time he manages to control himself. "Well, I'm assuming that if you don't know where she is, others in town are unlikely to know either. So our best bet of catching her is to be here when she next comes to make a purchase." The delay clearly bothers him, but he sighs and makes a concession. "Maybe we can go and look at these cultists in the mean time, just to ensure they're not a viable lead."
I say we stamp out this cult. If they are buying shackles, then they obviously have some sort of fey prisoners. Maybe its the children, perhaps not. But with no solid leads on this other woman, we should give the cult a try, however much of a longshot it is. He faces Eira and Salera. I know it is not good for business to assault clientele, but if you could try to capture and subdue this Eladrin woman during her next purchase, it might help us greatly in saving these kids.
Dredge shakes his head. "We should investigate the cult, but we shouldn't get involved unless it turns out they're who we're looking for. No sense in risking our own hides over something that doesn't concern us, or pay."
You care not at all for the fey they are holding captive? Do you search for the missing children out of mercenary greed alone, sorcerer? Where is your compassion? says Baruk, giving Dredge a questioning glance.
Your undeath need not compromise your compassion, Dredge. Your choices are your own, and your nature is a poor excuse for your motivations. The dead need not be callous, he replies. If we find this cult with prisoners in hand, then I shall act to liberate them, regardless of what any of the rest of you desire. It would shame the Old One to do anything less, he declares. Shall we set out for the Material Plane, then? It has been quite some time since I have walked the plane of my birth.
"Mmm. Dangerous. But we'll see what we can do," Salera says in reply to Baruk, shrugging. She calls after Dredge.
"Don't worry about it too much. Paladins like to preach. And hey, if it's money you want, we can always use people with talent." She stretches and turns to Baruk.
"Now. They hide out in the Tiaden forest, right by the river that runs through here. Go up it on the Material side, keep to the western bank, and they hole up in this miserable cave right on the water by a waterfall. You can't miss it, I've been told, if only because of the idiots always outside chanting." She shrugs, then smirks.
"For that matter, Paladin, if you ever find yourself in need of work, I'm sure we can find something for you as well."
"My dear Salera, should I be offended you haven't offered me a job yet?," Rumble laughs. She sets down her half empty glass of water, which is quite muddy from backwash, and stands up.
"Baruk, where's your compassion? I find the death of Dredge's emotions quite tragic. Mountains are cold and stoic, but that doesn't mean we can't feel. Being unable to express onesself is its own brand of torture, I've learned." Rumble emits a hum which you can only assume is a sigh. "Besides, he's right. There's no telling what fey the cultists are chaining up, and our reaction should swing on what it is. Chaining up displacer beasts is dangerous and stupid, far more than it's wrong. As a rule, I don't seek to rescue things that will only try to eat me in thanks."
Looking back at Salera, she continues, "Do you need anything from the forest near where we're headed? Flowers for Eira, perhaps? And do be careful. If you're worried that Alestriel may prove harder to crack than a Mountain, we could arrange for council protection to assist your sting operation, or I could stay behind to protect you."
"Hah!" Salera chuckles. "You as well, I suppose. You're rather tough, I've found." She grins, though the grin fades when the council is mentioned.
"So you are working for them, then. Well. That does make things rather more awkward. No, we don't need protection, and we certainly wouldn't get it from those fools. They want us shut down. I rather don't."
At the mention of preaching, Baruk only smiles. My god believed that there was good even in Gruumsh. So too must I strive to find good where I can. I am not interested in preaching; I simply live a life in keeping with what I see as goodness. Nothing more.
When Rumble brings up Displacer Beasts, Baruk is taken slightly aback. I... Had not considered that their captives might be beasts. Very well; we shall decide once we have seen the captives whether or not we take action. At the mention of the Council, Baruk shakes his head. No, not as such. But we have connections we could call upon in the Council if needed. We are not on the Council payroll, he clarifies. As for the loss of Dredge's emotions, I do not think they are lost. I do not find it tragic that he does not wish to make the effort to find them again. He has been granted a second life - a rare opportunity that few obtain. I believe he ought to make the most of it. But it is not my life, and I only have one; I shall not waste precious minutes of it chiding the dead.
"Fair enough. Don't worry about us, though. I'm sure it's nothing we can't handle if she shows up while you're gone." She sips her drink.
"Don't worry about your companion. I'm sure he'll come around. Knew a guy like that once back in Mithrendain. Real downer, then he made some friends and started enjoying 'life' again. Actually got his memories back near the end, he told me before he finally moved on again that his second life had been better and meant more to him than his first one." She glances outside. "If you plan to leave today, you'd probably best get going soon."
Tabita, who was standing in a corner doing tricks with her knife with one hand, drinking ale with the other, and quietly verbally exploring the many kinds of elven adverbs, turns her head towards the others.
"Wait! Something about cultists and cold iron, right?"
"From what I've heard, Salera was hired to assassinate Eira not long after she arrived here. Terrible business. Apparently Eira's quite a fighter, though, and Salera loves a challenge and anyone she can't defeat is exciting to her. She wound up hiring her instead after finding out that Eira's quite good at accounting. She's quiet, but she seems to have quite the adventurous streak, and questionable enough morals that she took to the lifestyle quite readily. I think the whole thing is a terrible mess, but I'm just the bartender." He shakes his head sadly. "They've both got such potential, but they waste it on being criminals when they could devote it to doing good in the worlds instead." He shrugs and offers a smile. "You lot at least seem to be into doing the right thing, so that's reassuring. Sometimes I feel the worlds have turned to darkness and that the light is fading from them, but I suppose that's just the silly foolishness of an old man." He notes the others leaving. "It seems you're about to be on your way. Nice meeting you. Do drop back in some time if you need a drink or a sympathetic ear."
You take your leave for now of the Autumn's Fury, taking Salera's directions and a map she produces of the human kingdom on the material plane side. It takes a couple of tries as those unused to shifting between the planes in Serestal find it awkward at first, but everyone is quickly on the right plane and headed up the river towards where the cultists lair.
(OOC: I'll leave it open for y'all to do anything you want to do in the city before heading out, talk to people, ask around, whatever; and also decide how you're going to approach.)
As they cross to the Material Plane side, Baruk turns to his companions. We can make faster time on horseback, he says, taking the rose out of his belt. Irelia, my heart, I am in need of your friend... he thinks, before turning his face to the clouds. AULDFAXE! he roars, and the thunder of hooves can be heard as, through a portal to Baruk's left, a shimmering white fey warhorse with a mane of flawless silver comes charging through. Its armor is made of enchanted steel inlaid with gold and glowing with blue light. A holy symbol of Corellon is imprinted on its breastplate. As it passes, Baruk easily vaults up onto its back, despite his heavy armor. Sheathing the rose in his belt again, Baruk takes a note from around the beast's neck, deigning not to open it and instead tucking it into a pocket of his pack. Have any of the rest of you got mounts? he asks, arching an eyebrow at his companions.
Rumble looks out at the mortal realm for the first time and hardly notices Baruk's horse until prompted. She looks preoccupied and a bit nervous.
"Ah, no. It's still hard for me to imagine anything but the earth bearing my weight without being crushed. So for now at least, I'd prefer to feel the dirt between my toes."
Looking at Rumble's feet, it's impossible to tell which lumps of soil are her toes, and which lumps of soil are between them. She frowns and speaks again.
"This place...the earth is strange here, as if it has no voice, or at least has long forgotten how to use it. I...I had heard tales, but I always assumed the tellers were mistaken. Tell me, Paladin, is it true that in this world trees are just wood, rivers are just water, and mountains just rock?" She shudders at the thought.
"Let's get moving, I'd like to get away from this place as soon as possible."
The paladin nods. Yes. Compared to the living beauty of the Feywild, the Material must feel dead to your Fey senses. But I assure you, it is not. This plane has another kind of life to it; the rivers, trees and mountains do not live or think, but the spirits that flow among them surely do. The Primal Spirits guard this world against trespass, and they are alive in all the things of this plane, he explains to Rumble. The tribe I lived with long ago knew these spirits well. They were often called upon by our medicine men to help alleviate wounds and protect from harm. If there's one thing Gruumsh is not good at, it is healing magic, he adds, with the slightest hint of a scowl. If we enter combat, I would prefer to be riding Auldfaxe. However, we can keep pace with the rest of you; let us go.
Dredge, for one, actually seems relieved to be on the material side. "At least here, I don't expect to be able to hear the land sing," he mutters. "We should think about what we're going to do when we reach the camp," he says, speaking louder now. "I can be quiet, and move swiftly through trees if needed. I would volunteer to scout ahead once we get near, if nobody has any better ideas?"
The journey up the river isn't particularly difficult, though you do find yourselves a bit wet on a couple of occasions where the best way ahead proves to be wading in a shallow part of the river rather than fighting underbrush, and a few times the more keen-eyed among you notice elves watching you silently from the trees.
The mortal world isn't as vibrant as the Feywild, and things seem far less alive here, but it's still a beautiful journey. The afternoon sun sparkles off the river's water, a thousand points of glimmering light like fairy candles illuminating its translucent surface as you catch glimpses of fish swimming past beneath. The light breaks through the forest canopy, tinting the air with the heady green of spring. The song of the birds, if not as organized as in the feywild, is still a bright, cheerful thing, as petals from spring blossoms drift down overhead.
Salera's estimation of the journey time proves to be correct, and near sunset you hear faintly in the distance the sounds of chanting and a bizarre, guttural, deep form of singing.