Eryndir steps forward. "My name is Eryndir, newly recruited to the Gladestrider Irregulars. I was waylaid en route to the Outpost by the same communists who were responsible for stealing the stone from Dyrakus, or so I understand. I was fortunate to come upon the others, and glad to have their company for the remainder of their journey. If not for them, I would be dead or worse. I will be reporting to Elector Gladestrider's contingent presently."
He steps backs, looking to the others.
"The gods forgive us the good that we do," Able mutters as he briefly imagines if they had been able to avoid the fight with the communists. "These kids were orphaned by the communists. Their mother was a tax collector. Some communists escaped, so we thought they might be in danger. We figured we could make it your problem."
Yuson squints. "Kids will get me yelled at."
Raven steps forward. "I will see to the children's well being while you attend to the appropriate punishment for their uncle, the merchant Hollinger." Dyrakus mutters something that Caleb told him to stop saying. Hollinger hangs his head.
Yuson nods. "I suppose this will work. Go rest up, I'm sure we'll have you do something glamorous in the morning. Maybe you'll go clean the stables." The drow walks off with Hollinger, leaving the smiling guard with the travellers.
As the party enters The Outpost, the sounds of their armor and weaponry fill the quiet night air. The only other creature in the courtyard is the quasit Gliberus. The quasit squeals with delight as the orphans are escorted by Raven to temporary quarters. "I do so love abandoned children!" The demon chortles. "They blend fear with sorrow so exquisitely."
Once Able, Caleb, Charn, and Eryndir are alone, Eryndir will speak up. "I do not need much in the way of sleep. A few hours of silent contemplation will suffice for me. If no one objects, I can sell off the goods taken from the dead communists and divide the proceeds six ways. I do not want a share myself, nor am I willing to give Hollinger a share, considering what I have learned of his actions. That's a share each for you three, Raven, and the children.
"Before going, I would only need to know whether there are any items you would wish to keep. I would find no use from them, but if the handaxes, greatclubs, longswords, or backpacks would be of use, claim them now. The rations can be divided among the four of us, as we will need sustenance on our journey. I would still like to deliver the letter to Elector Gladestrider with the seal unbroken. The sealed bag may go along with the letter, but if one of you would wish to open it, I would not object."
"The children can have my share as well, but yes. If we anticipate any more time on the road, provisions are essential."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
"I've already agreed to surrender my share to the children. Good luck getting a good price." Able adds with minimal animus, "I appreciate your extra work on behalf of everyone and letting us get some extra sleep. Considering your rough treatment it is...commendable."
Eryndir pauses and silently inclines his head respectfully towards Able. He grounds his own gear near a sleeping pallet and gathers the loot taken from the communists, leaving the sealed bag next to his pack.
After selling the the gear to the Outpost's armorer, he divides the take into three small purses and finds his way to the temporary quarters where Raven and the children have hunkered down.
Finding only Orien awake, he pauses again and lowers his eyes to the purses. "Able, Caleb, Charn, and I have chosen to take no share of what we found on those . . . communists. We know that this is no compensation for what they took from you, but . . . " He lets the thought trail off, shakes his head in a manner indicating he doesn't know what else to say and extends the three purses. "A share each for you, Garesh, and Raven."
Orien reaches out toward Eryndir. The little girl's hands reach past the purses and embrace the wood elf in the feeble hug of a child who is scared.
Outside the tent, Eryndir can hear the quasit laughing.
Simon Kendarr comes in the morning rather than Yuson. Given the fact that the sun is shining in the sky, this is no surprise. He is to the point. "The Archdruid has heard that you came across a communist martial order while retrieving Dyrakus' stones. He wants to debrief you personally, but he is occupied for most of the day. We're going to keep you close to The Outpost so that he can talk to you when it is convenient for him. You're all on guard duty for the time being. You have two hours to make your way down to summoning circle and relieve the guards there. There isn't anything glamorous about watching the Folly, but I'm sure you'll understand that we need trusted men, good men, to watch over us. That portal is an opportunity and a threat for the whole Empire."
Simon spits in the doorway. Despite his sophisticated understanding of the socio-economic impact of a gateway to other worlds, the scout has a less than sophisticated understanding of personal hygiene.
"You won't still be stationed there by the end of the day. If the Archdruid can't meet with you by sundown, Yuson will send someone to relieve you. I hope a half shift is sufficient recompense for the less than ideal posting. If it isn't, this should assist." Kendarr removes a large pouch from his backpack and puts it on the floor. Unfortunately, the remnants of his spittle are likely now on the bottom of the bag. This is probably not an insult and merely something that Kendarr doesn't perceive as a problem.
"Fundamentally, if you find anyone who is a threat to the safety of the Empire, quarantine them. Anybody who wants to bring us commerce or who wants to seek refuge can come in. Questions?"
Eryndir freezes for the first moment of the hug, uncertain of how to respond. He puts his hands on the girl's shoulders with a gentle pressure that he intends as reassuring, and allows her to remain until she lets go. When she does, he pulls Narad's dagger from his belt and holds it out to her.
"This is the dagger that killed your father. It is also the dagger that killed the elf who killed your father. If you wish, I can teach you how to use it some time."
He returns to his quarters and places the leftover coins by the beds of his sleeping companions. Then, Eryndir sits on his pallet, allowing himself to enter a light trance until dawn.
When Kendarr arrives, Eryndir will wordlessly shrug back into his studded leather armor, shouldering his bow and quiver, and belting his daggers and rapier.
Next to the sleeping pallet of the other three lie a single gold piece and a single copper piece. If asked, Eryndir will simply say "the proceeds would not divide evenly, so there were a few coins left over. Raven and the children have theirs already."
"I think we can manage standing around waiting for something to happen. Beats saving thieves from roadside scoundrels." Caleb starts helping Charn into his armor so the warrior can return the favor afterward, leaving the contents of the bag to someone like Abel to Eryndir.
"What if someone says they're seeking refuge, but they look dangerous? Should we take them at their word?" Able finds that hard to believe.
"There is no appeal. If someone looks untrustworthy, don't trust 'em."
He shoots an exaggerated look at the tiefling.
A cold breakfast is provided for late risers at The Outpost. The majority of the breakfast consists of nuts and berries scavenged by Gregor Wilmane, his quiet wife Georgina, and their four children: 15 year old Randall, 13 year old Fiona, 10 year old Verena, and 7 year old Bendon. It isn't uncommon for denizens of The Outpost to give poor Bendon a hard time about particularly poorly shelled nuts in their breakfast. The precocious last scion of the Wilmane farmstead is mediocre at best at preparing nuts harvested from the wild. However, Bendon's smile and laughter is infectious - a trait clearly inherited from his father. When Bendon delivered the cold breakfast this morning, he did so with another poorly conceived joke.
"What's the difference between a duck and a serf?" While making fun of traditionally accepted members of the sanctioned Feudal Order religion is not unheard of, it is peculiar for children to be so cavalier. "You pluck a duck!" The child laughs, obviously oblivious to what he is proposing happens to the serf.
The remainder of the breakfast consists of jerky wrapped in wide leaves for packs. It is extremely peppery, doing a poor job hiding the fact that some strips are of one animal and some strips another. It isn't unpalatable, but it is certainly a back up supply of food. Given that the posting is actually inside the palisade of The Outpost, it is unlikely these packs will be required this the day.
It takes less than ten minutes to get from the cots in the Barracks to the Summoning Circle. The current guards, two dwarves named Basalt Grimthunder and Schist Youngminer, are much more focused on their game of dice than the three groups waiting for entry.
The first group consists of four insectoid creatures, each with four arms and standing slightly taller than a man. Their mandibles open and close slowly. Caleb realizes that this is an expression of frustration. The insectoid creatures are armed with what appears to be stylized crystaline weaponry. Some sort of oversized crystalline shuriken adorn their belts, while each bears double bladed spears or naginatas with their trademark crystalline edges.
The second group is instantly familiar to Eryndir. A human wearing brown robes with a white trim around the collar, sleeves, and hem is speaking with a halfling wearing similarly styled robes. They sit on a wagon carrying several barrels marked as containing "Good Wine," "Great Wine," and "Best Wine."
The third group is obviously demonic in origin. An eight foot tall, albino, androgynous figure stands in the middle of various lackeys and hangers on. Two red skinned and winged figures in medium armor flank the albino, while eight quasits rough-house with each other at the feet of the larger demons. Two skeletal horses pull some sort of cart behind the demons, although the horses have no driver.
Basalt Grimthunder smiles as the new shift arrives. He takes his winnings from Schist and stands abruptly. "Shift change!" bellows the dwarf. He slaps the keys to the nearby quarantine in the middle of Charn's chest. "Nobody's in there now, but you do what you want." He jerks his thumb at a nearby set of iron poles, ten feet tall, driven into the ground. At one end of the poles a gate with a lock and latch is present.
Able can't help but look back and forth at the winged demons and the theoretical "quarantine" zone. Without a roof, Able realizes that the winged demons will stay in quarantine only of their own accord.
Seeing the various groups waiting entry, Able gets to work. He knows that looks can be deceiving, so he has no special concerns about any of the groups entering, but there existed procedures that had to be followed. As the group moves toward the wine merchants, he follows. He raps each barrel with the butt of his spear and looks over the merchants with a disinterested eye. "Looks alright. You can go through. Now, who's next?"
Eryndir watches the wine merchants from a few paces back and purses his lips in frustration when his compatriot waves them on.
He steps directly in front of the wagon and raises a hand, silently looking towards the others.
The Merchants stop. They appear confused but in good spirits.
"Sorry! We're not from around here!" They laugh. "It seems nice, but there is a lot of bureaucracy!"
They laugh again.
After conducting his inspection of the thi-kreen, Able waves them on as well. "And what do we have here," he asks, turning on the demonic delegation?
Eryndir turns to Charn, currently prodding some portion of the insectiod travelers when Able waves them on, and calls out.
"Hold them where they are. They're not finished here. We have a job to do, and one way or another, by my oaths to the Lords of this Realm, we are going to do it right."
Caleb ignores the chaos his colleagues are causing the line and smiles up at the men in the wagon. "Hello, friends. Yes, bureaucracy - Thank the Roads!" His eyes fall on the last barrel that may not be fastened properly.
"We may have to inspect some of your cargo. If it is improperly secured in transit, all sorts of unpleasantness could occur; maybe not so important for wine, you understand, but dragon eggs?" the cleric scoffs. "We'd all be in hot water, then. Of course... It would be easier to secure if they weren't filled to the brim."
Eryndir whispers "I don't think they are filled to the brim. They're either drunk on their own supply, or they're smuggling something in those Best Wine barrels. Judging by their demeanor, if they're smuggling, they don't know it. Perhaps someone else had access to their wares before they arrived."
With that, Eryndir walks away from the human and halfling in a cart and in the direction of Charn. He looks to the Dragonborn expectantly, ready to follow his lead and assist in some way.
The halfling leaps to his feet. He joyously yells: "Inspection!" The human chortles.
As the halfling ambles back up and over the barrels, the human turns toward Caleb. "He loves inspections. He gets to test our supply too, and the bosses can't say squat about it." The human winks at the cleric. "Why do you thank the roads though? That's weird."
The halfling, having scurried back across the wine barrels, slams the spigot into a valve on the back of a "Good Wine" barrel. The halfling reaches into the space between barrels and produces two beer steins. Somewhat inelegantly, the halfling pours the wine into the beer steins and holds them up over his head. The halfling yells "One for you and one for me! Who's testing the booze?"
The insectoid group seems very confused. The androgynous albino among the demons smiles wryly.
"I am, of course," Caleb smiles, extending a hand to accept the stein. "We thank the Roads because they are the veins of the State. Commerce and the exchange of ideas and technology are its lifeblood. What of your faith, pilgrims?"
Able sidles up to the albino. "Enjoying the show? You're next, you know." He begins looking over the cargo. "Well, everything looks in order. You can go, too."
The human smiles. "We used to worship Orcus. Not sure if we can do that anymore!" He laughs. "We heard you got a place call Orcus' Rest? Think we can get there in a few days? We'd like to see where he fell."
While the winged demons near the albino are angered at Able's inquiry, the albino himself is quite placid.
"Of course we are, Able. You'll find our affairs are in order."
One of the quasits pulls out a sheaf of papers from a tiny pack. He holds it up to Able, who's name has not been mentioned until now.
As Eryndir whispers to him, Able reaches for the sheaf of papers. Suddenly he clutches his chest. "We are betrayed! I've been stabbed." Able begins staggering away from the wine cart and the demons, as he begins casting about for his attacker.
The tall albino points at the quasit that handed Able the papers. He roars something simultaneously profane and horrifying. One of the winged demons standing next to the albino immediately plunges his spear through the quasit's gullet. There is no hesitation in the winged demon's movements. The other quasits begin to laugh hysterically as the innocent quasit perishes.
"My sincere apologies, Able." The albino kneels down towards the tiefling's chest, making a very convincing show of inspecting the "wound."
Eryndir circles the wagon, offering the subtlest of grins to Able as he flails. He disappears momentarily behind the cart, reappearing a moment later.
The taciturn expression has returned to his face.
Able responds by intoning a variation of a prayer he heard Caleb make during the fight with the Communists. "May the will of our lords, instilled with the virtue of Divine Right, lead me to the road of recovery." Sighing deeply, he says, "Well, that was a shock and surprise, but no real harm done."
The white demon smiles. "Of course. My companions will provide you our travel papers. Please do let us know when we can enter your facility." Two quasits begin gathering up the documentation while the remaining quasits begin to feast on their fallen compatriot.
As Eryndir finishes his circle around the wagon, he offers what he hopes is a disarming smile to the human and the halfling. He nods to Caleb and walks a few steps away, lowering his voice to a bare whisper.
"They are smuggling bones in the barrels of 'Best Wine.' I do not know if bones are specifically considered contraband here, but the fact that they are hiding them tells me that there is some dishonest purpose. I recommend quarantining them until their true aim can be determined."
He steps away and looks to Charn, watching to see what the Dragonborn tries next.
Eryndir completes his circle around the demon's wagon, giving the skeletal horses a wide berth. He approaches the androgynous albino, though also respects the demon's personal space to avoid any kind of provocation.
"State your business on this plane."
His tone seeks to strike a balance between conveying the authority of his position, but without any active aggression to the travelers.
"Of course, Eryndir. I am here to recruit interested parties who wish to serve my master, Graz'zt in the Blood War. In exchange for gold, my master requests a term of service in our armed forces."
The albino has a thought. "I apologize for using your name before you provided it to me. I am Verin."
He grins. "Welcome to the Outpost, Verin. With the amount of gold you've brought, you should have great fortune in your efforts."
His eyes flick to the coffins, then back to the demon. "Though, perhaps it is I who owe you an apology for discussing the gold in your possession before formally asking to inspect it."
Verin shakes his head. "These are your borders and we respect them. Inspect what you please. Be aware, of course, that should you find yourself in Azzagrat you will also be subject to our border patrol policies." The quasits shake in hysterical laughter.
"Do you require any other additional information from us? We would hate to be a vile inconvenience."
Eryndir swallows thickly, but does he best to maintain his grin.
"Thank you for your patience. I'm sure my colleagues are almost finished."
"Graz'zt? He's not known for keeping his word, rather he is known to sow chaos. Tell me your true mission, or there will be consequences!"
"You are right, Able. The propaganda machines of hell have unfairly and quite cruelly depicted my lord as an anarchist. I can assure you that Azzagrat is not an anarchy. We exist in a feudal society, where the various lords of Graz'zt's tripartite realm are all sworn to his service. My retinue," the albino gestures with arms wide open to the smaller demons who surround him, "are all bound by oath to exercise my will."
"My true mission here is as I have stated, to recruit your able bodied warriors willing to serve in the Blood War in exchange for gold coin. If you do not know of my reputation, I would implore you to find an extraplanar traveler in your Outpost. I am not poorly regarded anywhere save Nessus. As Graz'zt's ambassador, I am quite reputable as an oathkeeper."
The demon smiles. "I can assure you that when the local government is in need of my services I will be quick to assist." Verin flicks his wrist softly. It is a subtle motion, but it is reminiscent of the same motion he made when he ordered the death of one of his followers who was accused of stabbing Able shortly before Able's miraculous recovery.
Eryndir steps forward quickly and places a calming hand on Able's shoulder. "Please excuse my compatriot's tone. He means no disrespect, I'm certain." Eryndir's posture is deferential, in an attempt to put the demons at ease. He is portraying the 'good cop' to Able's 'bad cop.'
He clears his throat. "I am certain that this can be confirmed with but a glance at the gold you're carrying."
Verin makes a welcoming gesture toward the gold. As Eryndir begins the process of opening the coffin to inspect the gold, he sees arcane runes etched into the interior of the coffin. The underside of the lid is covered in the symbols. He guesses that the entire interior of the coffin is festooned with some sort of magical ritual. To what end he could not say.
The gold itself was unusual. The coins were all different, with unique faces and languages on each one. Some were thick, some were thin, but they were all incredibly soft - some still had teeth marks as a symbol of their authenticity. The teeth were as varied as the coins - some were recognizably human but others were decidedly not.
Eryndir crouches in the back of the cart, frowning at the inside of the coffin for a long moment. He looks up and beckons to Able and Caleb, the only two in the group that he has observed use magic of any kind.
"Might want to have a look at this."
Caleb, letting Able deal with the demons, returns to the front of the cart hauling wine. He looks up at the pair of cheerful ex-cultists with a blank expression. "I'm going to speak plainly because I want to encourage you not to equivocate, either. We found the skeletal remains of several humanoids steeped in at least one of your barrels of wine. If you're dealing under the table with necromancers, or dabble in the art yourself, this is not the way to go about it. We had some trouble on the road last night with someone whose similarity to you gentlemen is a little too close for comfort."
Shrugging, he says, "if it's what it looks like, saying so now is probably your best option. If it's not, I encourage you to be as persuasive as possible when you explain yourself because what little aid I might offer you in exchange for your candor will be taken off the table if your story doesn't check out and we need to kick this up to my superiors."
Seeing that Able is examining the magical items and that Caleb has returned his attention to the wine cultists, Eryndir's gaze falls back to the insectoid creatures and their impatient mandibles.
He purses his lips and exhales slowly. He had been avoiding them since his attempt to be intimidating in support of Charn was unhelpful. Shaking his head once, Eryndir decides that he simply cannot allow them to pass before offering them at least a cursory glance himself.
Eryndir approaches the creatures with an air of calmness about him. "State your business on this plane."
Caleb is confronting two somewhat cowed "wine merchants." The human pipes up first.
"We know that you regulate the Nzambi here. We don't want to come across your portal with Nzambi that will get us in trouble - we detest Mammon and his ilk, not you and your peoples. We thought that if we brought the means to create our own Nzambi, we could get a license faster. We do not mean you any difficulties on this pilgrimage!" The human pleads.
The halfling, slightly intoxicated, supports his companion. "If you had trouble with an elf, we are not travelling with him! He is an apostate! Honest!" The halfling hiccups.
The Thri-Kreen regard the wood elf with composite eyes. They chitter among themselves for a moment before one responds in broken elvish. "You elf. We talk real guard. Go away thief."
Eryndir, confronted with obvious racism, also sees that two of the Thri-Kreen have completely empty backpacks. It doesn't take much to put two and two together.
Eryndir presses his lips together, stifling his response. He simply inclines his head and takes a step back. Then, the Wood Elf looks to his companions with a taut expression.
Able recognizes the game is now 'real cop'/'fake cop'. He saunters over. "Is there a problem here?"
One of the Thri-Kreen extends a claw in the direction of Eryndir. It speaks in a very disjointed common, heavily accented.
"You have elf. Elf pretend guard. You eat elf." The Thri-Kreen nods at the end of the assertion, as if it was a great gift.
"Of course. But not yet. I've just had breakfast."
Ernydir's hand rests on the hilt of his dagger in what is meant to be a casual manner, but his knuckles are white with tension. He grinds his teeth but remains silent.