This is a continuation of my DnD series. As always, quick disclaimer that we are not purists for the rules and that some fluff has been removed for clarity! The first chapter is here and the previous is here.
The three figures emerged from the rapidly darkening woods and onto the fields that stretched towards uncertain borders. The afternoon sun had began to dip, and already they could see small lights in the distance as the village of Phaos prepared for the night. By the time they had reached the village gates, clouds had soon started to drape the edges of the sky, but the sun still glowed upon the land before them.
They crossed through the first half of the village, separated from the tavern and shops by the coursing river. The village was alive with movement and momentum, as the villagers prepared their fires and themselves for food and rest. Alestar Evergreen watched the inhabitants with quick, suspicious eyes, but was relieved to find no-one paid them any heed. The two Elves behind him were stained in mud and blackened blood, but people seemed to only be interested in the fact that they were indeed Elves. Enviro kept his gaze forward, not deigning to meet anyone’s eyes. The Half-Elf Sofia was several paces behind him, in a daze. She flexed her hand, and felt the strength in each step she had took. It was almost as if she was never pierced by the Kobold’s metal. She had made a point to return to the testing site and retrieve one of the Kobold’s bows and some arrows, despite the warnings of both Enviro and Alestar that the crude and inferior craftsmanship could only hinder her in future scuffles, something she lamented on as the bow clattered upon her back.
The three crossed the bridge and into the other half of the village, and began the up-hill ascension to the tavern. Already they could hear the cacophony of noise from up the road as miners and craftworkers left for their second home in The Black Shuck. Alestar glanced behind him, as a gaggle of rugged, hairy men passed them towards the boozer. Once they had passed, he gave the area a quick scan again, before moving closer to the Elves.
“Once we reach the tavern, the next part of your test is to begin.” He said in a hushed tone, again scanning the area. Enviro looked the human in the eyes with his stern gaze. Sofia blinked, pulled out of a daze. Alestar chewed on his own lip. “This is not a combat test..” He paused, and fell into thought for a second. “At least it shouldn’t be.” He looked back round towards where The Black Shuck lay. “No, this will be a test of your other skills, my friends.” He said quickly.
“I do not see why we require another test.” Enviro said, irritably. “Did we not prove ourselves some hours ago?” He asked, with no hint of inquisitiveness on his tongue, merely annoyance.
“Well one of you nearly got themselves killed...and to some bloody Kobolds, no less.” Alestar retorted with equal irritation. “No, Marlon wants you for a reason, I expect, and I have to be sure you are of worth to me, if we’re going to work together.” Alestar risked another look. “This time, I need you to steal something for me.”
Enviro clenched his teeth. “Steal? From whom? And for why?” His eyes were fixed on Alestars shifty stare.
“I’ll tell you about the why afterwards, Elf-boy. As for whom, you know Arnold? The landlord of The Black Shuck? Big hairy sideburns?” Alestar said through tightened lips, as another gaggle of villagers walked past. Enviro risked a nod, as Sofia watched on. She began to feel a tightening within her stomach.
“Well, on the second floor of the tavern, where the rooms are, is his personal bedroom, and somewhere in there, is a casket.” Alestar waited for the people passing by to pass by. “Inside said casket, is a silver goblet, with a few rubies encrusted in it’s rim. Bring it to me, without raising suspicion, and I’ll say you passed the test. Understood?”
Enviro chewed on this for a second. Sofia finally piped up;
“So we are to just steal a valuble goblet from an honest working man?” She spoke with venom.
Alestar scratched his stubbled chin. “The man owns a pub in a village full of miners, money is no problem to him. Besides, underneath his bartending ‘persona’, Arnold is not much of a nice person, let me tell you that.” He spoke bitterly.
“Because he will not keep a slate running for you?” Enviro chimed in, and was met with a most violent look.
“Just get the goblet, Elf-Boy. I’ll be waiting at the village gates until nightfall. After the moon is risen, I’ll return to Marlon, with or without you.” His previous cheer had all but vanished, and he pushed roughly past the Elven ranger and stalked back down the road they had come from. By now the sun had begun to descend, purple and orange streaks adorned the sky. The two Elves watched as the figure in black walked back towards the river, and Enviro felt a bitter smile tear at his mouth. He turned to Sofia and nodded slightly, and the two moved towards the tavern.
The lanterns outside had been lit already, and the stale smell of old vinegar and piss drafted towards them. The locals were vocal, but not yet at peak raucousness, but that wouldn’t be too long now, the Elves knew. They stopped outside the pub, watching the sign with the weather beaten painting of a jet black dog with red eyes dangle listlessly in the evening air. They pulled closer to the wall, where the noise could obscure their voices, and quickly hatched a plan between them in whispered tones. When they were ready, they strode to the door.
Sofia opened the wooden door, and the sickly warm stench of the tavern hit her with force. She could smell fresh ale, stale ale, some kind of meat stew with herbs, and the roaring fire in the back. She let her eyes adjust to the dark, and saw Arnold behind the bar. She cleared her throat, and made her way towards him. Behind her as the door swung close, was the hooded Enviro, moving swift as a floating shadow. As Sofia walked cautiously towards the bar, Enviro moved quickly into the shadows of the tavern, using standing groups of miners and Dwarves as cover. By the time Sofia had moved towards the bar, he had seen the entrance to upstairs to her left. All he had to do now, was to wait for the distraction.
Sofia sat by the bar, and soon caught the eye of the man with bushy muttonchops.
“Oi, you. Elf-girl. What happened to you and the two fellas last night?” He said, squinting one eye curiously, and letting the other seethe with suspicion. “That business with them Dwarves, you lot went and broke me table!” Sofia felt the glare of several other patrons as they turned to watch her. She cleared her throat once more.
“You have my apologies, Arnold. There was simply a misunderstanding between the Dwarves and my…companions.” She said with all but a hiss. “As you saw, they all seemed to have a little too much to drink.” She smiled at him, summoning all of her warmth, and stared at him with her big, heterochromatic eyes, one of fire and one of darkness. The burly barman stared back at her, but his face began to soften.
“Look Miss, I meant no offence..” He said almost apologetically. Sofia watched, seeing a darkened shadow move behind him, and towards the door in the back. “It’s just, I wanted to talk to those two fellows. Especially that Evergreen character…He’s always rubbing me the wrong way, you see Miss, and now I just want him to pay for the table, that’s all..” Sofia felt something akin to sympathy for the man.
“Could you not ask the Dwarves? After all, they were the ones who broke your table..”
Arnold barked with bitter laughter. “You ever tried to get money out of a Dwarf? Hell I’d have a better time trying to fix the table with just me mitts..” Sofia’s ear twitched suddenly and slightly, as she heard the stairs creak beneath a booted foot, a sound that was lost to all non-Elves in the din of the tavern.
“Perhaps I could fix it for you, Arnold.” She offered, and the man’s eyes were lit with internal flames.
“You…you’re a carpenter?” He asked, and she chuckled.
“No, Arnold, but if I can help I will. It’s the least I could do.” She smiled sweetly at him, and the burly man blushed.
Enviro moved quickly but quietly, trying to avoid any further creaks in the dimly lit stairs. He reached the top of the landing, where a single window near the ceiling emitted the last flashes of the dying light. The landing itself was much quieter than below, and darker than anticipated. Enviro could see there were six doors, three on each side. He moved carefully towards them, squinting as best as he could could discern which door it was that held the casket, and whether there were any inhabitants inside. He held his ear to the first door on the left, and heard nothing, then reached towards the right. Someone was inside. He moved carefully towards the end of the hall, ignoring the doors in the middle. On the left was a small wooden sign;
PRIVATE, DO NOT DISTURB EXCEPT FOR EMERGENCIES
On the right, a smaller sign; EMILY’S ROOM, along with a small picture of a crudely drawn horse. Enviro turned to the door marked Private, and quickly withdrew his dagger. The curved blade fit into the lock, and Enviro twisted and turned until the door clicked, quickly he moved inside and shut the door. The room was shabby, a single bed, a wardrobe and an old desk without a chair. A single window above the bed shut the world out, and contained the room’s musky smell. Enviro bent down under the bed and immediately saw the metal cask there. He sighed with relief. This was going to be easier than he expected. He pulled it out, using his dagger to pry open the metal container. Inside, was a glittering goblet of aged silver. There were two tiny rubies embedded into the rim, and an empty space where a third once lay. Enviro smiled and took the goblet, hiding it beneath his cloak. When his ear began to twitch. Someone knocked softly on the door. He froze, confused as to why he did not hear anyone cross the landing. Then a small voice spoke behind the door.
The table downstairs had only broken on the central beam that supported it. It was heavy, Oak, and with the help of Arnold and a couple of other patrons holding it in place, Sofia placed her staff at the breakage, where top half of the table met the stand. A small gathering drunk men had crowded behind her, watching with equal confusion and curiosity at what was transpiring. Sofia closed her eyes and whispered quickly. The onlookers eyes widened as small sparks began to shoot out of the end of the staff, and slowly, the fibres of the wood began to wrap around themselves. The beam creaked and groaned, and slowly Arnold let go of the top half of the table and blinked several times. The table was as good as new. The crowd cheered for Sofia and someone patted roughly on the back, she chuckled.
Enviro kept crouched, not moving a centimetre. He heard a distant roar of men from below. After a while, he heard some soft footsteps and the door opposite close. He breathed heavily, and slowly, silently stood up. He kept his eyes fixated on the door, one hand gripping the goblet, the other on his dagger. He waited a beat for the handle to turn, but it didn’t. He heard the creaking of a door followed by footsteps further down the hallway, then descending the stairs. He went to stride towards to the door, but the Elf was so fixated on it, his first step kicked into the casket and sent it careening across the room, and banging against the bed post, before falling backwards upon itself.
Arnold thanked Sofia and gave her a sweaty hug, and stared at her with adoring eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, when a loud crash from upstairs brought both of their eyes towards the ceiling. Arnold pulled a puzzled face and looked towards the door, as a bearded man exited and walked into the tavern. Sofia could see the cogs working in the Human’s mind.
“What the bleeding hell was that?” He muttered softly, before moving quickly to the stairs. Sofia watched in panic as the man walked through the door and began to ascend the stairs.
Enviro muttered a curse in Elvish to himself. He again watched the door and moved quickly to the casket, snapping the lid shut and sliding it under the bed. He kept his gaze on the door and his hand on the dagger as he backed towards the wardrobe, and shut the doors in front of him. He buried himself between the stinking jackets and hanging cloaks of the barman, and waited.
Sofia’s mind raced, and she knew she had to do something, and something quick. She moved towards the door and opened it, and saw Arnold slowly climbing the stairs, already out of breath. Her mind raced with ideas and distractions.
“Arnold!” She called out desperately. Slowly, the man turned to see her, his hairy cheeks burned pink. She floundered as she struggled to come up with something quickly. “It’s Alestar! He’s back, and says he’s going to pay you for breaking the table!”
Arnold looked at her incredulously. “But you just fixed my table? Tell him to wait by the bar, I’ll see him later..” He resumed climbing, shaking his head. Sofia’s eyes widened.
“Oh! Look! It’s the Dwarves! They’re back too! Oh, they don’t look happy Arnold, I think you should come down here and talk to them..” She said, trying her best to sound genuine, but knowing she failed with each passing syllable.
“They’ll just have to wait, woman!” Arnold called back down in between breaths. He reached the landing, straightened out his back and made his way towards the end of the hall, as Sofia watched on, She clenched her staff, and quietly followed the stairs up.
Enviro closed his mouth, not letting the breath betray him. He could not see past the cloaks, but his hands could feel cold silver and steel. He heard a creak as the door opened, and a heavy breathing man followed by a whiff of stale sweat. He heard the man muttering to himself about the door being open, and the floorboards creaking as he crouched heavily to look beneath the bed. Metal creaked as the man checked the casket to see that it had locked. When he was satisfied, the man stood up, and clapped the dust off of his hands. He grunted, but another door opened, and the soft footsteps returned.
“Daddy?” Said the small voice again. The man cooed and bent down to pick the young girl up.
“Whattaya doin’ in here Em?” The man said gently.
“I thought I heard a noise.” The child said with a hint of fear. Enviro let the grip ease off of his dagger. He remained still as petrified wood.
Sofia climbed the stairs to the dim landing. The open door cast a small amount of light on the man holding a young girl in his arms.
“Arnold?” She called out gently. The man looked at her in surprise.
“Oh” He said, evidently not expecting her to be up here. “Did you want something? Is it them Dwarves causing trouble?” He set the girl down again.
“Oh no, they’re long gone.” She said quickly. “I just…wanted to enquire about a room?”
“Oh, of course.” He said, smartening his apron up. He turned and shut his door, pulling out a jangling ring of keys, and locked the door behind him. “Go on now Em, I’ll be up in a minute with some stew.” He winked at the girl and she opened the door, but lingered for a second, watching the beautiful Half-Elf with mismatched eyes. Sofia smiled at her gently, and the girl returned it, before sinking into her room and closing the door.
Arnold walked slowly towards her. “Well I’ve got a room here for you, Miss…?” He gestured towards the first door on the left, and arched an eyebrow.
“Sofia.” She said, sweetly. He nodded in response and withdrew a different key, and opened it. The door swung widely into the small room. A small bed and a desk with a shabby chair sat in idle silence. The sky beyond the window had begun to burn a wild orange. Sofia entered the musky room, and pretended to be interested in it’s furnishings, but truly, her ears were strained, trying to hear down the hall.
Slowly, Enviro emerged from the wardrobe and into the empty room. The walls were painted in orange light. He moved to the door and heard the voices coming from further down the hall. He could no longer move that way, he had to find another escape route. His eyes moved towards the window above the bed.
“It’s a silver for the night, but that includes breakfast.” Arnold said. “You get your own key, and well you know…If you need anything, I’ll be just round the hall.” Sofia turned and looked the man in his red face. He was giving her a strange look, but she tried to keep hers blank.
“That is good to know.” She said softly, trying her best to smile. The man fidgeted, and stretched his arms, pretending to yawn, but using an outstretched arm to push the door back closed.
“So…” He said, doing his best to look nonchalant. “What brings an Elf down to little ol’ Phaos?” He asked as the door closed behind them. Sofia’s eyes widened, but her smile remained. She had to think of something.
Enviro reached towards the small window and opened it. He would be glad to be away from the stale stench of this room. He pulled himself up towards it, and through the narrow gap, grimacing as his scimitar caught on the sill, with one hand firmly clasped onto the goblet within his cloak. He pulled himself through and onto the tiled roof, placing his feet carefully. He pulled the window closed behind him, and remained crouched. He could see the entirety of Phaos from here, downhill towards the river and the separated side of the village. Smoke stacks rose in their dozens towards a darkening sky. He moved quickly but delicately, descending the roof tiles towards the ground below. He placed his feet carefully, but as he got further down, his boot brushed against a broken tile and he slipped suddenly. The tiles clattered to the floor, and he found himself hanging by the gutter.
Sofia had tried her best to evade conversation and get the tavern owner back downstairs, but now he was sitting on the small bed with his head in his hands.
“It just gets so lonely sometimes. I mean sure, I got me mates here in the pub, but do they like me, or just my establishment?” Sofia opened her mouth to say something, but he continued on. “Ever since Em’s mum left for that nancy rich boy…” He said with sudden venom. Suddenly, Sofia’s ears twitched as something broke outside. She would have to move, now and quickly.
“See, I know people know me as a big strong guy, but I got feelings too, y’know? I just want to find someone who can listen and-“
“Good heavens!” Sofia said suddenly with feigned realisation, looking towards the window. “Would you just look at the time? I’m sorry Mr Arnold, but I really must be off.” Arnold looked at her, deeply cut, and slowly stood up. “Looks like I will not be needing this room after all. I thank you for your time all the same.” She quickly strode tot he door and opened it. “Good evening.” She exited, leaving the confused man alone in the dark.
Enviro released his grip and dropped gracefully to the floor, wiping the dirt off of his hands. An old crone wrapped in a cloak gawped at the Elf as she slowly passed him. Enviro glared at her, and she scowled, muttering away as she left. He kicked at the broken tiles on the floor, quickly sweeping them towards a set of empty ale casks that had been left outside. He scanned around, and turned the corner, and saw Sofia quickly exiting the tavern. He walked quickly towards the road, and she followed him. She caught up with him shortly before they reached the village, both doing their best to appear casual.
“What happened there?” She asked quietly.
“It’s done. Now let’s just find that wretched human and be on our way.” Enviro spoke gruffly.
The two passed the bridge and followed the road through the village that lead towards the gate. The sky grew darker, and the torches shone brightly. They were soon able to discern there were several figures by the gate, one, a human clad in black, the others were smaller of stature. One of them grabbed the human by the throat, and he flailed helplessly. The two Elves looked at each other, and began to run.
As they drew closer, they saw that Alestar was being throttled by a Dwarf, with a bushy black beard, and gauntlets of shining bronze, while his three companions watched. Sofia gasped as she recognised the Dwarf with his hand on Alestar’s throat. Alestar turned to the two Elves with desperate relief.
“Hey guys!” He called out in forced light tones. The two stopped before the Dwarves, the central one dropping Alestar heavily to the floor. He turned to the two Elves with steel eyes, forged from malice. The Dwarf clenched his teeth heavily.
“You.” He growled. He pointed a gloved finger at the Half-Elf. As he did so, Enviro noticed a strange weapon to his side, hidden in a holster, and one that he had heard about. A mechanical beast that could fire bolts of metal with the same ferocity and speed of five crossbows launched at once. His hand moved to his scimitar as he watched the Dwarf carefully.
“You put a spell on me, She-Elf. I know it!” He roared. From behind them, she could see the human guards of Phaos shifting nervously behind them. They had no desire to get into this mess before they had to.
“There’s no way any amount of human ale could make me pass out like that!” The Dwarves behind him chuckled with knowing looks. Alestar looked towards them, his eyes were frantic. Do something! They seemed to say. Sofia stepped forward, her staff held out in front of her.
“Of course.” She said stilly. “It was one of my spells.” She fixed the Dwarf with intensity. She stared him down with her differing eyes. The Dwarf stared back, but she could see something in his eyes betrayed him. “Forgive me, I was trying to protect my friend without harming either of you.” She spoke calmly, but with hidden malice, her eyes were frozen lakes that protected The Dwarf from it’s freezing depths, and at any moment, that ice was doomed to break.
“Rest assured, this drunken, annoying wretch was not the one who wronged you, it was I.” She said with sudden power. “However, if I must protect him one more time, it will not be a comfortable clumber you sink into this time.” She lowered her gaze and let the shadows obscure her face. The Dwarf stared at the single burning eye from within the darkness, and reluctantly turned to leave. He gestured at his companions, adn they slowly begant o move towards the gate.
“If I ever see you again, Human…” The Dwarf pointed and spat at Alestar on the ground, before turning to follow his kin. Sofia and Enviro pulled the human to his feet, and he smiled gratefully.
“Ah, my friends! I knew I could count on you!” He laughed. The Elves once more just stared at him. “Very well. Do you have the goblet?” He asked eagerly. Enviro remained silently, but merely tapped at his cloak and nodded.
“Fantastic!” Alestar grinned greedily. “Well, shall we have a drink to celebrate?”
Without missing a beat, Enviro grabbed Alestar’s arm and squeezed roughly.
“Okay, okay! We’ll just go straight to Marlon!” Alestar winged, trying his best to weasel out of the Elf’s grip. He pulled away and rubbed at his arm. The Elves stared at him. Alestar sighed.
“Fine, follow me.” He said grumpily. Above the village, the sun had vanished beyond the cauterised clouds, and Phaos was cast in shadow.