The Road Less Traveled

 
The Road Less Traveled

It is early evening, several hours before sunset, and you find yourself in the Regent Square district of Astangard, only steps from the Grand Temple of the Scarlet Flame. The iconic structure looms over the nearby buildings, its asymmetric towers reflecting the sunlight from their polished bronze surfaces. But your destination is a little more ordinary--at least compared to the events of last night.

On a narrow side street from the square, you reach a well-kept little establishment headlined by its beautiful, hand-carved sign of a very lifelike dragon. The equally ornate door is carved to reveal a single dragon in relief, with bright crystals for eyes and hammered metal scales. Eventually, all of your new friends are gathered together around a single table near the back of the restaurant.

The owner is a pleasant enough fellow, though his place is a bit run-down around the edges and his clothes look quite threadbare. He seems to hardly remember Karn Lee, which may be for the best. The roasted ducks are both plentiful and flavorful, and the goblets are never empty--except for Karn's, for some reason...

The other patrons include a number of worshipers from the nearby temple and a dozen or so members of the Prince's Guard. Mindful of the attention, your conversation remains pretty bland.

As the meal is winding down, you hear the gongs from the nearby temple signifying the sunset services are about to start. With polite thanks and a quick exit, your group moves quickly to make it out of town before the gates are closed. The guards eye you suspiciously but say nothing as you hurry past.

The Grey Fox is in full swing as you arrive in the gathering darkness. Fortunately, you don't have to endure the melodies of the drunken bard for long before a familiar halfling greets you and ushers you downstairs. There, the quartermasters attend to each of your requests, carefully filling saddlebags and loading up a half-dozen dappled brown horses for your use. After only thirty minutes, your packs and mounts are ready to go.

As the quartermasters are finishing up, the halfling--his face still covered by his hood--provides you with several maps detailing the best paths to get to the mine. Almost none of the route is along the main roads--"The better to avoid official entanglements," the halfling says--but there are detailed landmarks and measurements to make up for the lack of trails.

After the quick briefing, the halfling bows. "Good luck," he tells you in a hushed tone. "We'll be waiting for your return."

Sikhandyn walks to his horse and gives him a gentle pat.
'So you're the lucky one, eh?' the wizard thinks.

The young man then turns to the halfling.
"Thank you very much" he tells him with a friendly smile, bowing his head to communicate his gratitude.

"Where does the Black Crocus expect us to report when our mission is complete? Here?" Sikhandyn asks, keeping his voice low.

The halfling acknowledges Sikhandyn with a brief nod. "It would be most unwise to meet the tax collectors at the gates with your bags loaded. Our men here will ensure you obtain a proper escort to the warehouse."

He cocks his head to the side, an odd posture for a diminutive creature in robes. "Also, it would be unwise to mention that name in the wrong places. While the empire does not act against us, there are other... enemies..."

As he walks into the tavern, Astaban periodically looks around, seeming surveying the sites and sounds of the tavern. Periodically, he can be heard muttering under his breath, something along the lines of "I never knew. I never knew."

As he is led downstairs to the supplies and horses, he continues surveying the area. He is startled slightly when the halfling speaks, and nods at the question that Sikhandyn asks. After hearing a response, he smirks a bit and nods at the response.

Astaban walks over to the horse that has been indicated for him, slowly approaching the creature, as if expecting it to do something to him.

Wyngrad tried to avert his eyes from anything distasteful in the pub, and kept wishing the Quartermaster would show up quickly.

Upon getting his supplies and horse, he throws a salute at the halfling. "We will be back with many gems in less than a score of days, sir!!"

He then checks out his horse. Curious....he has not ridden a horse since he was a child, but it felt so natural.

Karn was uncharacteristically quiet during the meal, but once out of the restaurant, became more his usual self.

At the quartermaster's he grabbed a clay jug, opened it, and drank long from it.

"Ahhhh", he said, smacking his lips, "That's better. Thank you!"

He takes two strange pick-like weapons and puts them through his belt. The others may have noticed that he seems to have had no weapons before taking these. He also takes a sling and loops that through his belt as well.

After tying some of his load onto a horse, he mounts up, moving more gracefully than his bulk may have indicated.

"Well, shall be be on our way?"

Sikhandyn seizes the reins of his horse, and gently leads it towards Astaban and his mount.

"Did you know, Astaban, that to a horse, people appear larger than they truly are? That is because of its round eyes." the wizard tells him, hoping to help relieve his companion's apprehension.

'Only because of that did that noble creature ever accept to let us ride it.' Sikhandyn thought.

Sofia looked equally awkward at dinner as she did now, fidgeting with her armor and eyeing her morningstar suspiciously.

"Martial training really isn't my strong side..."
She mumbled under her nose approaching the most tame-looking horse among those given to them. Sofia rummaged through her pockets and offered the horse a carrot she picked up from the temple's garden. "Alright, my friend... You will not drop me or run away from me, will you? Because that would be really bad. For me, mostly, but still..." She smiled nervously and patted the horse on its neck.

The halfling acknowledges Wyngard with an audible smile, a sort of suppressed chuckle that seeks the border between politeness and sarcasm. He bows again, ever so slightly, and retreats upstairs to the sanctuary of anonymous debauchery that is the Grey Fox. The remaining quartermaster, a gruff dwarf with a vast mop of ruddy brown hair covering his head and face, gestures down a cave-like corridor that leads off to the east. "This passage'll take you out away from the city. Dun pay no mind to ol' grizzly at the cave mouth - s'only a bit of magic to keep away unwanted guests."

You ride in near-darkness for perhaps a quarter mile, but the horses seem not to mind and the floor is smooth and level, an artifice of man rather than nature. Eventually, you round a bend to the sight of moonlight, and a sleeping dire bear. The snoring is quite lifelike, and the smell of a woodland creature is pervasive; were you not fore-warned, it would be difficult to tell this impressive beast from the real thing. Instead, you ride on by and the illusion does not react to your presence.

You emerge in a copse of tall white oaks, near the top of a grass-covered hill. You can make out the lights of Astangard to the west; the spires of the Grand Temple gleam blood-red in the torchlight, easily visible over the city wall at this distance. Crickets chirp noisily, and the vagrant breeze sets the leaves of the trees to rustling. The maps tell you to head northeast to the village of Sen's Mill, a full day's ride, before turning north along the Tsennet River for four days to Stony Ford. From there, your path takes you north by northeast into the scrub-covered southern Veldt, crossing into former Merui to the mine that is your target.

OOCIt would be convenient if one of your characters takes a leadership role; while I don't want to force that, if your character is one that would assert such a position, please try to make it clear in your conversation.

Also, if your group wants to deviate from the defined path, let me know at what point and I'll work that into the plan.

As they ride along, Karn smiles and says, “Well now, we seem to be thrown together by our new employers. Some of you may know each other, but not me. You’re all strangers to me. Perhaps we ought to get to know each other a bit – at least, learn a bit about what we can help with on our new job.”

The portly young man sits up tall in the saddle, his straight black hair covering his head as if it were an upside down bowl. He slaps his chest with his palm and says, “I am Karn Lee. I fight. I move like the snake”. His hand and arm make a slithering movement,” and strike like the tiger”, his hand snaps into a claw form and slices through the air, “I have spent my youth training at the Chan school, leaving recently due to a slight … disagreement

Slapping his ample stomach, he continues, laughing, “As you can see I like my food. And my drink”

To picture Karn , think of a young Sammo Hung
looks




 

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