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Chapter Sixteen: On the Road Again!

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth looks at the scroll intently, feeling the intensity of the emotion deep in her bones. Then, she asks the mage, "Luna, didn't you just pick up a new magic item in the shop, a Helm of Comprehend Languages and Read Magic? Perhaps if you were to hold the scroll while wearing that, it would help you decipher this script to know if it is a spell or just magic writing."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna smacks her forehead. "Curse me for a fool! Of course it should help! Here, give me a moment to get the helm on." She reaches into her Bag of Holding and roots around until the object in question comes to her hand. Pulling it out, she places the magic helm on her head, then reaches out for the scroll once more. "Lets see what secrets that this scroll hold for us!"

With that, she looks down and begins to examine the writing once more, using the magic of the Helm to aid her.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Sherwood Sherwood

Sparkle examines Luna's new Highwindian helmet. It is a white and green fur-covered light helm that protects the head and eyes, both comfortable to wear and pleasing to the eye. The little dragoness slithers her body around Luna's shoulders. As Luna dons the enchanted helmet, Sparkle reaches up and around to make certain it fits just right with Luna's hair arranged in a way that adds to the human's appeal.

Luna knows to place one hand on the helm and focus her eyes on the words before her. Concentrating on the dots while excluding her other senses and tuning out the outside world for a moment yields quick results as the Helm of Comprehending Languages does just that - the dots before the Wizard's eyes become images in Luna and Sparkle's minds - images with meaning.

Dear Wayward Wanderers,

Good tidings to you and may this day find you all well! My lady Beatrice and I would be cheered if you would accept our invitation to our humble cottage here at 12 Arneson Alley. We have received word from the great sage, Oscar of Highwind, of your request of my services. He has told us all. I would be delighted to accept your gracious offer, but there is an important personal matter I could use your help with - one that must be decided before I step foot once again on the adventuring road.

I think of my times with all of you with rich fondness. Long are the hours I have prattled to my sweet Beatrice and loyal bardic friend, Gori of Morgandir, of our exciting moments together. If you could find the time, do please visit us! The chance to adventure again with you thrills this troubled heart of mine. And if you cannot, then may the Saint guard, guide, and bless you all in your every doing.

Your faithful steward,
Stewart

What does Luna do?
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna smiles, saying, "It's from Stewart! Here, let me share what he has to say." She then reads the message out loud for everyone to hear, doing her best to commit the address to memory, just in case something bad happens to the scroll. Once she is done, Luna looks up at the others, saying, "I would like to learn what pressing personal matter that he has that Stewart would like our help with. He has done such a good job of helping us out, I think it would be the least we can do to hear him out."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth nods. "Of course we can. It sounds like he was an integral part of your team, and I see no reason why we can't help him out. I am curious as to why he used such a obscure method for sending a message. Why not just write it out on a piece of parchment? Either way, let us investigate."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Kaerri

Wave's chuckling subsides. Inside Kaerri's mind, the familiar sensation of the endlessly-rolling salty sea and the deep male voice Wave has always possessed carrying across it. "My wielder... you have been presented with a tongue unknown to you. But what is this precious magic you yourself attached to me? Have I not been improved since our meeting in those deathly caves so long ago?"
"Oh, bother," Kaerri muttered as she was reminded of something she should already have thought of. The memory of a very special piece of coral, one she had herself given to her trident (and which had been subsequently added, along with a sort of magical imbuement, to the weapon), flitted across her mind, as well as the ability it had given Wave -- the ability to understand all spoken and written languages, not just that of ocean-dwellers as he'd had before they'd acquired the coral. It hadn't been that long ago. She told herself not to forget it again, and shook off all annoyance. Luna's newly-acquired helm was doing the job just fine, and Kaerri listened intently to Luna's translation. She, too, noted the address.

"Me, too," she nodded to Oreleth. "Seems rather roundabout, and I wonder how he knew we'd know how to read it? Guess we can ask him when we get there. I'm curious about this friend of his, too. Gori of Morgandir -- sounds like a dwarf, and a bard, too?" She grinned. "I've known elven and gnomish bards, but haven't met a dwarf one yet."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth looks around at everyone there and says, "I don't know Stewart as well as the rest of you, but I must say he has always struck me as a good man, and one that is worth going the extra mile for. Lets go see what we can do to help him out, assuming it is within our power." She looks over at the scroll, then goes on to say, "Anyone know this city well enough to be able to find this address? I have never been here before, and I have no clue."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter

Art by Peritwinkle
Character sheet
Hit Points: 99/99
Armor Class: 27
Touch Armor Class: 17
Shadow Illusion: 3/3
Shadow Call: 2/2
Shadow Jump distance: 80/80 feet
Defensive Roll: 1/1
Rogue Talent Resiliency: 1/1
Stinger -- uses of Slow remaining: 3/3
Charm of Bastet -- uses of Cat's Grace remaining: 1/1
Action Points: 14

"I've never been there, but I know where it is," Kaerri offered. "Nice neighborhood. Shouldn't be too hard to get to."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna nods in excitement. "Sure! Sounds great. Do we take the Wagon to show off our new griffon automations? Or leave the wagon here for now? Either way, lets go! I want to see Stewart again."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth does her best to hold in a laugh at the mage's excitement, but can't seem to do so. After a soft chuckle, she says, "I am surprised at you, Ms. Luna. I thought that you would be chomping at the bit to try getting the Wagon airborne. Ok, everyone. We will take the Wagon, and, since it seems that out of all of us Luna has the best shot at not getting us all killed in a crash, she drives the Wagon. Kaerri? Can you guide Luna as she drives the Automations? That way, we can get on the move sooner rather than later."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna is almost jumping up and down at the thought of taking the Wagon airborne. "Oh. My. Goodness! It will make for such an awesome entrance as we soar over the city to land at Stewarts house!" She climbs up the side of the Wagon to the driver's seat and looks expectantly at the rest of the party.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Kaerri gives Oreleth a casual salute, then shimmies up onto the seat next to Luna. "Ready when you are!"

While the others are getting settled, Kaerri leans close to Luna and says quietly, "I've still the scroll with the instructions on it, if you need 'em. Just say the word."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna is halfway to saying 'no' when she pauses and thinks for a moment. With a sigh, she says, "Yes, I suppose a refresher on the commands is in order. Thank you!" She then reviews the scroll once, then once more to make sure she knows how to control the constructs. It would not do to have a panic attack in the midst of flying along because she forgot how to land!

After waiting for everyone to be ready to go, Luna looks around excitedly to make sure that the pathway ahead is clear, then she gives the order to take to the air!
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
( Captain Hesperus Captain Hesperus Sherwood Sherwood Tag!)

With Kaerri and Bria's help, the Wayward Wanderers bid their farewells to Ben & Misha's Magic Shoppe and the centaurian messenger who clops off to perform another task across Highwind.

Once more in the driver's seat, Luna takes the reins of the Jade Hippogriffs only to discover that she is either not having a good day or she could use more training in how to direct airborne mounts! You are only off the ground for scant moments when Luna clearly begins to lose control and overcorrect - suddenly, you find yourselves tilted at about 45 degrees to the mountain-city and careening straight toward one of many tall stonewrought buildings! You are about to make an impression of a very different kind than the one you intended!

"Yaaaiieee!" Sparkle shivers as she hides behind Luna's head atop her backpack.

The golden d20 rolled a 4 (+7 = 11) which is not enough for Luna's Skill in Nature to succeed in directing these four huge and powerful mounts!

What do the Wayward Wanderers do?
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Kaerri gulped and clung tightly to her seat as the wagon begins to tilt. Though she'd conquered her fear of heights some months ago, she still didn't like them much -- particularly when the platform she sat on seemed about to dump her off! "Don't panic," she muttered, to herself as much as to anyone else. Then she pried one hand free of its grip on the wagon and tried to help Luna get control back.

Kaerri wants to try her own Nature check to get the wagon back level again.
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna usually prides herself on keeping cool in tough situations. She's seen battle against monsters the likes of which would send a lesser woman running. She's dealt with dragons, both living and undead, and she's been able to beat the curse of Loviatar on herself and the other Wanderers. Flying a wagon shouldn't be too hard, should it?

She gulps and tries to regain control to steer the automations away from certain death.
 

Captain Hesperus

Harbinger of the End Times and Apostle of Ghan
Administrator
Supporter
Finally happy with the fit of his new harness and the unfamiliar weapons hung from it, Otiorin paid his dues and left the comfortable and cheerful environs of Ben and MIsha's magical emporium to find....

Everyone else was gone.

His half-elven eyes looked left and right even as his definitely human eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He'd been deep in consideration in the shop, looking over the assortment of wares that might aid him and the Wayward Wanderers in the future, so deep that he'd not heard any commotion to indicate trouble? No, the Wanderers were too professional to not raise a hue and cry if trouble were to present itself. Even moreso, they were in Highwind, a city that was cheerfully accepting and encouraging of those of an adventurous ilk. So no violence had overcome them nor had anything else untoward occurred since the hustle and bustle of the city around the shop was much as it was normally. Should anything strange have happened, there would have been more concern, more alarm from the citizens. Magical events were noteworthy in Highwind in their absence, only the most ill-mannered of mages would use obvious magic publically. So no magical misadventures, such as had happened on their last fateful visit to Ben and MIsha's had occurred.

Otiorin could only surmise that the party must have headed back to the Wayward Wagon sat in the grounds of the Church of Saint Cuthbert. He set off, stopping only to buy a skin of mulberry-seasoned mead and a pouch of dried fruit leathers to chew on. He was almost there when a cry of fear rent the air. It was a familiar voice, the voice of a certain mage's pseudo-dragon. Only, it wasn't on ground level and it was getting closer. Otiorin's eyes snapped wide open as he watched the Wayward Wagon, drawn by the four resplendent hippogryphs, veering wildly through the air. The normally stable wagon was tilted hard to the left and the mounts were running it straight toward the unyielding stone wall of an apothecary's shop. Clinging to the reins were Luna and Kaerri, their expressions fixed into a twin rictus of worry.

"Oh botheration."

Otiorin's feet were moving before he had a thought in his head. His hands tossed the wineskin and fruit pouch into his bag of holding even as he glanced about for something, anything, that might give him the means to get up and onto the wagon before disaster struck.
 
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Captain Hesperus

Harbinger of the End Times and Apostle of Ghan
Administrator
Supporter
As he cast his gaze around the scene, looking for anything that could help him get up to the Wagon and help his comrades, his eyes fell upon a pigeon. The grey bird must have been initially startled to see a ground vehicle lurching through the sky, but as it’s admittedly dull senses triggered, it extended its wings and took flight.

Flight!

Otiorin laughed and roundly cursed himself for a fool. He was in possession of the very thing he needed to help. Well, not thing, spell. His mind grasped onto the subtle nuances of that part of his draconic heritage that allowed massive lizards the power to gracefully take to the air, despite their muscles being far inferior to the task. His feet left the ground and he soared into the air, with all the grace his Half-elven body could lend him. He darted forward and, rather than going to the wagon itself, grabbed hold of the lead hippogryphs’ reins, then started to haul them away from the building and toward open air. As he did so, he looked over at the two sat on the driver‘s seat.
”Lovely day for a flight, eh?”
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Captain Hesperus Captain Hesperus (Tag!)
(Part 1 of 2)

Otiorin casts his arcane spell and to the astonishment of many Highwindian onlookers, leaps into the air defying gravity, with such alacrity that he easily succeeds in reaching the Jade Hippogriffs and their reins. However, guiding the huge stone behemoths proves to be another matter entirely! Pulling, coercing, shouting commands, all seems to have no effect on the Half-elf's vain attempts at controlling their behavior. In fact, it almost seems as if Otiorin is trying to guide them in one direction while while Luna is trying to guide them in another!

Also attempting to assist, the Wood Elf-blooded Rainshadow calls upon her own less-than-expert abilities in Nature and perhaps sitting beside Luna is beneficial, as both the Wizard and the Rogue work together to command the quartet of mighty figurines into a path that does not involve them colliding headlong into the apothecary!

Luna usually prides herself on keeping cool in tough situations. She's seen battle against monsters the likes of which would send a lesser woman running. She's dealt with dragons, both living and undead, and she's been able to beat the curse of Loviatar on herself and the other Wanderers. Flying a wagon shouldn't be too hard, should it?

She gulps and tries to regain control to steer the automations away from certain death.

As the Wayward Wagon is veering, Luna notices a balcony on the third floor of the apothecary and a doorway there. Hearing a sudden commotion, a well-dressed female half-orc steps out onto her balcony, hand on her hat, and sees the wagon careening straight at her! Stunned into such rigidity, the half-orc fails to move as Luna and Kaerri power the rushing Wayward Wagon past the building and toward the safety of the mostly-open skies. As the wagon shoots past, a great wind kicks up between the wagon and the stout stone building that has stood there for more than a feline's age. The hat on the lady half-orc's head flies off, twirls madly about, and lands right smack in Luna's lap!

The physician, her short brown hair blowing in the breeze, seems greatly relieved that your meeting is only in memories and words and not through physical contact by way of four flying stone monsters. "Keep it! I have plenty!" she says of the hat. "May the Mistress of the Forest watch over you!"

Complete in Highwindian's own royal colors of evergreen and ivory, this fine feathered hat is as soft as it is attractive. Sherwood, please add the "Feathered Highwindian Hat" to Luna's gear if you wish to keep it. =)
The physician's Highwindian hat - Medieval-Woman-Image-GraphicsFairy-765x1024.jpg
(Image credit: The Graphics Fairy)

(OOC: Part 2 coming up!)
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Captain Hesperus Captain Hesperus (Tag Part 2!) =)

(Part 2 of 2)
"Chanson de L'Heure Bleue" and "Czippa and the Ursanian Girl" (two songs that go together as one). =)
- From the Book of Roses album by the absolutely magical Andreas Vollenweider.


By road, the Wayward Wagon would have likely taken the better part of an hour to reach Arneson Alley, but by way of flight and Kaerri's direction, you arrive in the neighborhood inside of five minutes (and I'm sure it takes those outside the wagon at least that long to calm their rapidly-beating hearts given the close call you just survived!).

There comes a stark reminder that what happens outside the Wayward Wagon is completely unknown to any inside the enchanting one-of-a-kind carriage as, upon Luna providing a bumpy but otherwise-uneventful landing along Arneson Alley, out comes Mamapaw from the misty front door. The furry druidess stretches and yawns as if having just awoken from the cozy Felane habit of cat-napping. "Oh, are we here already? Wonderful flying, Miss Luna!" She does a double-take at the cover in Luna's lap and adds, "Why, fine choice of hat you have there. Very Highwindian if I understand this city at all. Oh, and just look at this view!"

coming-down-the-mountain-david-jordan.jpg
(Image credit: Mr. David Jordan)

With that, Mamapaw is the first to step down from the wagon as if nothing amiss had happened at all. Bria and Powerpaw emerge with equal casualness and look around at the clean and nicely-decorated neighborhood. This part of Highwind is a step above the rest (literally, Highwind being the mountain-city that it is). Wide open lanes meander between colorful, spacious homes, no two the same. From behind carefully-carved walls to keep away the roughest of winds, trimmed gardens and fruit-bearing trees add life to this part of the realm. A few conservatively-dressed onlookers on the street pause and stare at the huge Wayward Wagon and the unusual personages that successful adventurers often are. You get a couple of cautious waves as people from hobbits to dwarves to minotaurs peer with great curiosity to see which of the neatly-numbered estates you have come to visit.

This is very close to the image in my mind of the "humble cottage" mentioned in Stewart's magicked letter.
Stewart and Beatrice's Cottage.jpg
(Image credit: Mr. Richard Burns whose artwork captures moods so well!)

The dust has hardly settled from your landing when you see the front door to the cottage slowly open, then close, then open again. Out comes a stately man in a brown and green velvet-like suit. About his neck hung by a shining chain of platinum is a beautiful new-looking medallion in the shape of a hippogriff's head. It is Stewart - and he has grown a nice beard since you last met him!

This, but a touch younger and lighter in mood.
Stewart in one of his more thoughtful moments.jpg
(Image credit: The seriously-talented Claudio Tumiati from ArtStation.com)

On his arm with care, he is escorting a beautiful lady wearing a richly-made brown and green dress which only adds to her grace and attractiveness. Her eyes constantly seem to watch the sky, never leaving the clouds, and she walks with Stewart clearly guiding her steps. The two of them are about the same age (mid-50s) and seem to compliment each other like two roses grown out of the same garden.

This but a bit older. About the same expression (she doesn't seem focused on any one thing).Beatrice.jpg
(Image credit: Customspig.com)

Stewart calls out into the street at you with a welcoming smile and eyes that shine at your arrival. "By the Saint! Are those the Wayward Wanderers? Otiorin the Scoundrel and his bright miss Bria? Adventurous Luna along with gracious Sparkle? And Powerpaw with his mum all the way from... what was it called again?"

Powerpaw reminds with a fanged grin. "Shamballah, Stewart-face!"

"Right-o! And who is this? A relative perhaps of Otiorin's?" Stewart's eyes widen at the instant and unmistakable marking of both Kaerri's Wood Elven and human heritage. "No... wait... you've the mark of a Summerset girl about you... and... you're far too dark and woodsy for a Waterwindian elf."

"Is she?" asks the lady on Stewart's arm.

"As sure as the Wildegard family made Highwind!" Stewart pauses a moment to present the lady with him. "My dears and fellows, this is the love of my life, Lady Beatrice now of Highwind!"

With her blue eyes still staring at the skies, she closes them briefly and curtsies well. "Saint Cuthbert's blessings be upon you. Stewart has told me many pleasant things about you."

By this time, everyone among the Wayward Wanderers who wishes to be is gathered together and standing on the street facing the cottage (one benefit to having figurines as wagon-pullers, unlike horses, they do not wander to look for food). Neighbors and people strolling along are still paused, caught up in the whispering and gawking that people of all talking species do as they eye your personages as well as your grand method of arrival.

What do the Wayward Wanderers do?
 
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Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna climbs down from her perch on top of the wagon, silently making a note to practice guiding the wagon some more to avoid any more near death experiences like that last one. Putting a stray hair back behind her ear that had slipped out of its bun, Luna steps forward towards Stewart and Lady Beatrice and drops into a curtsey. "My greetings to you once more, friend Stewart, and to your lovely wife. We received your message, obviously, and are here to inquire as to just what it is that the Wayward Wanderers may do for you, to help solve whatever problem it is that troubles you."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth lets out a sigh. "Um, Luna? Perhaps this can be discussed in a more private setting? Either inside Master Stewart's home, or in the Grand Wagon? That way we won't have any unnecessary ears hearing what it is about to be said."

She then turns to look at the happy couple and offers up a bow. "Greetings from me, also. Lady Beatrice, I am Oreleth, at your service."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
The furry druidess stretches and yawns as if having just awoken from the cozy Felane habit of cat-napping. "Oh, are we here already? Wonderful flying, Miss Luna!"
Kaerri giggles. "Maybe it seemed like it from the inside, but I'm thinking you oughta show her how to deal better with animals before her next attempt. Until then, I'd feel better if you were at the reins next time, lady druidess!"

"Right-o! And who is this? A relative perhaps of Otiorin's?" Stewart's eyes widen at the instant and unmistakable marking of both Kaerri's Wood Elven and human heritage. "No... wait... you've the mark of a Summerset girl about you... and... you're far too dark and woodsy for a Waterwindian elf."
"You've good eyes, sir knight," Kaerri smiles, brown eyes twinkling as she takes in certain details of Stewart's own appearance. "I'm Kaerri Rainshadow, from the Forest Eternal -- so I'm nearer being related to Oreleth here than Otiorin. If she doesn't mind my saying so." The full elf has yet to show any signs of prejudice against half-elves, but Kaerri doesn't want to offend, all the same.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Captain Hesperus Captain Hesperus (Tag!)

OOC: Heavy post time. Bring a snack and a drink and enjoy, Gang! =)

Oreleth's words receive a positive gesture from Stewart who seems a touch surprised as he lays eyes on her. "You are on target; such matters are meant for more private scenes. Oreleth of the Forest Eternal, I take it?"

Gesturing to Kaerri and back to Oreleth, Stewart the Scholar seems to be come more perplexed with each passing moment. "Are the two of you... family perhaps? Forgive me if I should know either of you by name, but I find my questions growing by the moment. For examples, what happened to the great Summerset steeds that pulled the Wayward Wagon, where did these... items? Come from? That have taken their place? And what on Sharseya happened to Master Bren?"

Lady Beatrice takes that moment to speak. Her words come smoothly and warmly with a touch of insistence. "All in due course, my love. The noise inside our home will make better company than the waiting ears and gossipping tongues waiting here in the street."

"Yes, indeed! In we go! Come on, all of you - the Wayward Wagon will not be disturbed." Stewart slowly turns and escorts his lady back into their home, all the while making certain each of you are following. Once at the door, Lady Beatrice makes her way inside without trouble and Stewart pardons the make of the house to your Felane party members. "Don't bump your head! My apologies; this place was made prior to Thor's arrival and the coming of the minotaurs to Highwind."

Upon entering their very comfortable home decorated with historical pieces, paintings of personages including King and Queen Wildegard, and odds and ends that would interest those who value history, monsters, and the adventuring life. In addition to a large living room where most of you can sit easily (Powerpaw and Mamapaw sit on the floor lest they break any furniture, but they do so without complaint).

After offering you a round of snacks and refreshments, you cannot help but notice the west side of the home seems to have been closed off and through those walls you can hear the unmistakable sounds of a party going on. Hearty, rich voices bellow and raise in song together right there in Stewart's home. "A holiday celebration," Stewart explains with a chuckle, "for friends who might get into trouble elsewhere with their lively ways."

"I am so glad you all have come!" Stewart finally sits and makes himself at ease. He doesn't seem to know how to continue what he wants to say. Instead, his expression looks far-off for a moment for it seems that it has been quite some time since he has been in your company during calm circumstances.

For those Wayward Wanderers who have adventured from the beginning, there is a moment of memory that is shared between Luna, Otiorin, Bria, Sparkle, and Powerpaw - a scene that Stewart explained to the four of you after it was over and when Bilal the Rich was very much alive. Stewart sits for a moment and lets that moment come again as he explains.

"Allow me to begin again," Stewart says. "But this time, in story. For some of you, this is memory. For others, a new tale. This story binds us together and with it, I hope, I can bring you understanding as to why I have so delicately and painstakingly asked you here."

Stewart goes on to explain a conversation between he and Bilal the Rich, the devious Summerset merchant and Stewart's former master. This is recalled all the way back from Chapter Two: Bilal's Menagerie where the following took place so long ago:

One by one, the Grey Wardens open their eyes as their senses slowly come back to life. No, you are not dead - at least you do not think so - but much has changed since your last waking moments.

The first thing each of you notices is your complete lack of sight. All is black. There is something covering your eyes - some kind of cloth tight about your head. Your wrists are bound behind you and your ankles are well-tied together, both by some smooth but extremely tough material that you cannot seem to easily break or otherwise defy. You then realize there is something that tastes of leather in your mouth. You are gagged and cannot speak. Lastly, your skin tells you that you are also wearing next to nothing.

You are lying on a hard wooden floor, and your wrists are bound to something else, preventing you from standing, sitting up, or even moving more than a foot to one side. Then you realize it - you somehow tied to each other. You may be still wearing your bathing suits perhaps, or whatever you were wearing beneath your robes or armor, but nothing else.

Luna alone senses that Sparkle is still quite unconscious, and Luna's Mage Armor remains active, though how long that invisible benefit will remain is not known to her. Oh, but your ears work perfectly fine... You hear Bilal cheering nearby, as if in a hall close by.

"I have done it! Oh, I have done it! I captured a Half-elf! A Half-elf! What a fine addition to Bilal's Menagerie! Oooh!" He is nearly shrieking in amazement. You hear the sound of a hand striking cloth. "Come now, scholar! Share in the joy! I have captured manticores, nagas, basilisks, and all kinds of wonders that kings and rich folk never get to see but through me - but this?! It was so good of you to tell me about him when these 'Grey Wardens' arrived. What are there, four, maybe, five in the whole world? Teach me!"

It takes him a moment to reply, but when he does, you quickly recognize Stewart's voice. "What about the others, good master?"

"To hell with the others! What am I going to do with them, save for perhaps the Wizardess? What a fine plaything she will make. What was her name?"

"Captain Grimdell said her name is Luna." Stewart appears to pause as if careful not to say more.

"'Luna'," you can almost hear the grin on Bilal's face. "And she looks to have some fine 'moons' too, doesn't she? Just like the monk over there. Heh, heh! What is the name of the Half-elf?"

"Otiorin."

"Oh-tee... just what kind of name is that?"

"Gray Elven."

"Oh! I wonder if they want him back!" Your ears tell you Bilal the Rich is bouncing up and down in joy, his jeweled sash jingling.

"Not... likely, good master."

There is then a sudden rush of movement followed by a gasp. The master of the caravan is whispering, his tone turns harsh and full of threat. "Stop hesitating. You know I hate that. What else should I know about Half-elves? What aren't you telling me?"

Stewart remains silent.

"Stewart!" Bilal paces back and forth like a prowling cougar. His words come unhurried, like an archer aiming at an easy target. "Perhaps... perhaps it is time you stop caring about what is in my menagerie, and start caring about things more dear to you. Like... Beatrice?"

You hear Stewart gasp again. His breathing becomes shaky. "Yes... You can't afford her medicine without my pay, can you? Of course, you can't! And no one else who can will take you." You think you hear the sound of Bilal tapping his finger on Stewart's thin chest. "You were second only to Grand Scholar Oscar of Highwind in the knowledge of monsters and rare creatures! And second place is first loser; you know that, don't you? I only know so much... but you? You.. are under my employ to fill in the gaps."

There is a movement like something sliding against clothing, likely from Bilal to Stewart. "So. Half-elves? How much is he worth? 100,000 at least, right?"

Stewart's voice is low.

"No."

"More?"

"You meddle in things beyond you. You could be killed--"

Bilal suddenly roars. "What are you talking about?! Speak plainly!"

Stewart's voice now takes on a firmness of its own. "Bilal, you know not what you carry in this wagon! There are but a handful Half-elves in all of Sharseya, and all of them have pasts shrouded in mystery. For example, one is completely responsible for the complete destruction of the Wild Elves' ancestral home. Understand? That act alone forced the Wild Elves to enter, some say 'invade', the Forest Eternal where their Wood Elven cousins have long lived. That nearly started a war." Stewart sighs. "A Wild Elf will kill Otiorin on sight, and quite possibly anyone else with him."

"So? A single Wild Elf?"

"They travel in packs, like hunting wolves! And they hide ferocious secrets..."

Bilal's tone becomes more cautious. "What else?"

"Another Half-elf was directly responsible for the death of a dragon--"

"By my coins!!"

"She is known as the Dragonslayer for that very deed and more. And if she is free and you are her your enemy, you won't see her coming until it is too late. Yet there is one fact I remain uncertain of."

Bilal taps his fingers together and listens. "I think the Half-elf in question is female, but I don't know. I had to leave Highwind before I found the answer."

"And we might have him, if it is a him?"

"Correct."

Bilal slaps his forehead. "I suppose we will have to interrogate him. Or perhaps he could get eaten and I won't have to die by some Wild Elf's arrow. Time to get creative again. In the meantime..."

"Eaten? What-"

"Throw them in with the Beast."

"'The Beast?!' You brought them here to--"

"It should be fine! Fine. We fed it two hobbits just yesterday! Remember their dying screams? And how the whole wagon shook? Oh, what a symphony! It will likely eat the one we have there next, don't you think?" Bilal's foot taps upon the floor. "And if he eats one of the others instead... well... that's just a bad roll of the dice, I suppose. Either way, I need time to think about this while we travel to Highwind." Bilal turns to leave, but pauses. "Oh and... good work, Stewart! Goooood work! I bet your Beatrice would be proud of you! Ha ha ha!" Without waiting for a reply, Bilal leaves.

A few moments later, in come the boots of many men. You hear the jingling of brass, like keys dancing on a belt. Then you hear a great door squeal open near you, and your ears tell you of a very large room beyond, though not so large as the room with the pool.

"Careful, men," a voice says. "Keep your steel at the ready here, or tempt a violent and gruesome death!"

One by one you are tossed inside. You feel the pricks of hay all over you as you land on the floor, and as the door slams shut, you hear the jingling of what must be a huge lock being turned. Then the footsteps fade away... ...to be replaced by the sound of something big. Something big in the room with you.

Your ears detect the heavy breathing in lungs much greater in size than your own, followed by the animal sound of a low threatening growl. The growl of a hunting creature. A Beast, one might say...

Then that something sniffs the air around you. It comes closer. Then it sniffs again. Finally, your ears hear a sound like speech, perhaps? Or is it your imagination getting the better of you? Perhaps you are going a little mad when you hear the thing make a sound that seems to say...

"Mooooooaaaaarrr..."

Stewart slowly comes out of his reverie. He does not look at all proud of himself, but nor does he seem like a man whose past haunts him. Something in his bearing tells you that Stewart has forgiven himself for his actions, largely because you have forgiven him.

"I received the Grand Scholar Oscar's request to rejoin you as Steward of the Wagon. It would delight my soul to do so. However," he sniffs as Lady Beatrice moves near him, "we have learned recently that the expensive medicine Bilal paid me with for Beatrice's fading eyesight... in fact..." his voice cracks horribly as he ejects the word, "contributed... to her blindness. All this time... even in death... Bilal wrongs us."

Aghast, Bria and Powerpaw exchange surprised glances with Luna, Otiorin, and each other.

Stewart's courageous heart fails him for a moment and Lady Beatrice is swift to continue for him if only to draw your attentions away from her beloved man's sorrow. Beatrice stands and speaks in a way that creates a presence about her. "Magic cannot cure what Bilal has wrought. Only a herb that, by legend, grows in Shandra's Evergreen somewhere. I am a woman of noble lineage and if this were to get out... my house would suffer, hence the pains we have taken in asking you here. We ask for your greatest discretion."

Beatrice steps before all of you, her eyes beautiful but useless for what they are meant to do. Her gaze falls past you. "We do not ask you to seek a cure for us. Instead, we have chosen to live the rest of our lives together in spite of what Bilal has done to us. We will not let him win! So instead, Stewart and I wish to both accompany you as stewards of your wagon. To aid you in the goodness you bring to the land... to thank you personally for ridding Sharseya of Bilal the Rich... and in gratitude for bringing the two of us back together."

Stewart stands and joins his lady. "From now on, wherever we go, we go together." The two of them turn to you and Stewart asks, "We would ride with you.

"What say you?"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth is not one to succumb to emotional outbursts, but the plight of Lady Beatrice is enough to bring tears to her eyes. Such love and compassion for one another is a rare thing. She dabs at her eyes for a moment, then says, "What kind of monsters would we be if we were to say no to such a request? It is tragic! Tell me, is there nothing besides this rare herb that might be able to cure this ailment?"
 

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