Isadar, Joy and Skar’ten were relaxing after a good meal when they heard a thud and a curse in the direction of the fireplace, and not 2 sec’s after that Cali walked through the curtain secluding their alcove. Cheerfully looking up at Isdar she calls out to Mags that she’ll take a tankard if you please! Mags is quick with the tankard, and even quicker to switch to wooden ware with Cali in the building. Cali spends a moment “observin’ the proprietes” and chatting with Isdar before coming to business. Isdar liked Cali, she might in truth be “Calamity Cali”, asshe was a magnet for trouble the way mead attracted dwarves. But, she was also a source of some of the best leads Isdar had had, and no one knew the local gossip as well as Cali. “This’ll be a job offer.” Isdar thought to himself with a smile. He knew the look on her face well. The look of someone absolutely bursting to ask something, and it wasn’t long before Cali got to the real reason for her visit. “Isdar, I have a bit of a favor to ask. Something that I’m sure won’t be any trouble for you. You know, you can absolutely do it on your way to wherever you’re going. Really just no trouble at all for you whatsoever, really take no time at all.” Isdar waited. Cali went on, “I have a brother, who’s in a bit of trouble right now, and he kind of needs to leave town for awhile.” Cali said in a rush. “So if you could see him safely to the next town, well maybe 2 towns away, I’d consider it a favor.” Isdar was surprised anyone could survive that sort of close proximity to Cali but only said. “Well Cali, we have a possible employer coming in the morning, so I don’t know where, or even if we’ll be going anywhere.” Cali responded, “Oh that’s alright. He just needs to leave town, I’m sure you can drop him off at whatever town you pass through.” she was looking so hopefully up at him that Isdar could only say, “Well, bring him around tomorrow morning Cali and we’ll see.” Cali beaming said, “I knew I could count on you to help Isdar! I’ll bring him ’round.” “And, I haven’t any coin, but, I know you like curiosities, and I thought you might take one as payment.” Then looking about at them quite seriously she stated. “There’s to many cats about. Dark brown ones with a bit of frosting on their ears. And they spend a lot of time watching things.” and then she pauses thinking and says “Well, I guess cats do watch things. Mags’ Ceal sits and watches everything, but still, it’s curious. And I thought it’d make a good payment.” the little gnome said looking up at Isdar for all the world as if she’d just shared a great secret. And then rising self-satisfied says, “Ok, well that’s that then. I’ll bring my brother around in the morning. Be better for him to leave sooner rather than later really Isdar.” Cali starts to leave and before she’s even reached the curtain you hear a crash outside of wooden platters. and a few moments later a muted curse as someone tripped over something heavy by the sound of it. The rest of the evening is unremarkable and Isdar goes to his room for the night. Skar’ten decides to curl up by the fireplace and as he’s nearing sleep he see’s it. No telling when it came in, it’s fur blends in well with shadows and it could have been there for hours. Watching.
Skarten isn’t one to let an opportunity go by and rising gracefully goes straight to the cat and notices immed. that it’s irises are completely round. In this light, it’d be easy to miss that detail, but, Skar’ten had had more than one felinoid face looking up at him in the darkness, and he knew the difference. Bending down so that he’s nearly muzzle to muzzle he says, “Listen wizard. We don’t want your kind around here.” And he tosses it screeching outside. Isdar had been heading upstairs to bed, but, seeing Skar’ten rise had paused and watched him. “Trouble?” He asks sotto voce. Skar’ten answers, “Maybe.” “I think we should follow it in any case.” and softly goes to the door and slips out as stealthily as he can. And trips on the drunken dwarf just outside the door. Holding back a curse, as he still hopes to remain unseen, he spots Orpheus’s tankard still in his hand, empty of course. Bit early for Orpheus to be passed out, but, no denying he had the least capacity for alcohol of any dwarf of Skar’ten’s acquaintance. Isdar gives him a sardonic look as he slips out the door from behind Skar’ten, a shadow among the shadows, and looks around to find the cat. But, Isdar’s race wasn’t made for hunting in the darkness as Skar’tens’s was and he spotted it first, and then another. One sitting, one standing in the shadows of the buildings a block down at the corner of Market and Hobble Lane. “There.” he whispers to Isdar" They watch and a few moments later the one sitting turns and goes back into the alley, and the one standing goes further down the street, traveling as surely down Market as if owned it. “We need to follow them.” Skar’ten utters. ""Should we split up then?" Isdar asks. "Skar’ten thinks for a moment, unsure. But, in the end the thought that both of them together had a much better chance of keeping a target in sight won. Better to lose one, than both targets in the shadowed gloom. “No, we’ll take the one heading down Market.” And he leaps, and takes to the rooftops. Long experience had taught him that few paused from their business to look up. Isdar, lacking Skar’tens low light vision, and not trust his footing on the uncertainly shingled roofs of Oxbridge followed on the ground. Skar’ten was able to keep the cat in sight, and Isdar kept Skar’ten in sight and it wasn’t long before both saw the cat meet with yet another cat, this one emerging from a shadow beneath a porch. Both cats paused near enough to touch each other if they’d chosen to do so. But the meeting was brief, lasting no more than 30 sec’s and then the cat they’d been following bounded forward, leaped onto a fence rail and continued heading west. Jumping from rooftop to fence rail it seemed oblivious to Skar’ten who was able to easily follow it. But, after it had passed several house it leaped and then began a running west. The town ended pretty quickly in that direction Isdar knew, to swampy most of the time and nearly a river during a bad rainy season. If he made it in there, they’d lose him in all that brush. Skar’ten knew it as well and surged forward in a full out run. His keen eyes following the cat as surely as if it had been full day, and they saw another thing too, several loose shingles sitting on the rooftop, no doubt awaiting a nail, but, with his attention on the cat and the fast approaching swamp lands Skar-ten saw it a moment to late, lost his footing and came crashing down off the roof. Isdar, seeing his companion angrily rise from the fall and knowing he wasn’t seriously injured just looked at him and said, “Well I could have done that.” Skar’ten gave him a disgusted look but then justshook his head and said . “Might as well go back. We’ve lost him now.” “We’ll see what the morning brings.”
The morning dawned bright and clear with more than a hint of chill, and the smell of apples, cinnamon and the firebright Ludbin used in his gruel on nippy mornings. Skar’ten stretched and felt the twinge in his right shoulder from last nights fall. No matter, he’d have it worked out in a bit. And into his line of sight a woman stepped forth. Well dressed in heavy robes she looked slightly out of place in the simple inn. Behind her Skar’ten saw Isdar emerging from the stairs. The woman spoke first, “Skar’ten of H.E.R.O. Company? I’m Nene J’nar. I wrote to your organization about a job in The Briar Patch. I know I’m a bit early for our meeting, but, if you and your companions are available, I’d like to go ahead and discuss our business. Isdar behind her answered, “Of course.” Nene, slightly surprised by the answer from behind turned slightly to look at him and said, “I’d like to discuss it in private.” Isdar looked at her, “We could use the alcove.” he said pointing to it. “Or if you prefer we could use my room.” “I’d prefer your room.” she answered him calmly. Isdar nodding, turned and led the way, Skar’ten taking up the rear. As soon as Skar’ten had closed the door behind them Nene pulled an orb out of her sleeve, and with a few calm quick gestures and whispered words bathed the room in a soft spherical glow. “There.” she said, “Now we may talk completely in private.” “Handy” Skar’ten couldn’t help himself from saying admiringly.” Nene gave a self-satisfied smile. “Yes.” and then getting down to business said “I’ve asked your company to serve as escort for me in The Briar Patch, ostensibly for research and herb gathering. And while we will go into The Briar Patch. And I will very conspicuously take notes and gather herbs. Your main job will be to spot and ambush the ones that have been following me and using every opportunity of my absences to go through my things and ensure that they are no longer able to follow me. Once you’ve done that, we will cross into Dead Man’s Land and enter the Dagger Mountains and go here." And from her hand appears a small map, which she unfurls on the table. My brother, was obsessed with ancient tales of the Companions and the Temple of The Wroadj. He believed he’d found it, and led an expedition to unearth it’s secrets. He died on that expedition. But, not before he’d found the true entrance. If you know anything at all about the Temple of Wroadj you know that as the Companions were said to be people of the light, sages and scholars. The Temple of the Wroadj worshiped and practiced the dark arts. It’s knowledge and it’s secrets are believed by some to have been the downfall of the Companions when followers of Wroadji betrayed their people for power, and were in turn betrayed. I’m hiring you to help me recover my brothers body and finish what he started." She rolled the map and looked up, and for a moment looked like a huntress, closing in for the kill. Isdar couldn’t help himself, he was hooked. From the moment she’d said, “Temple of the Wroadj” he was in. Luckily Skar’ten spoke first, before he could offer their services ridiculously cheap. “We want fifty percent of the profits and expenses.” Isdar was to surprised to say anything. That was awfully high, even for an opening negotition. Nene looked angry. “I’m prepared to offer you $500 gold up front. And ten percent of the profits.” “You make a profit before we even set out. And I’ve already done all the research and preparations already for this trip.” “Fifty percent” Skar’ten repeated. “You already know that’s a ridiculous sum.” Nene answered, “But I’m willing to negotiate slightly. $250 gold up front and twenty percent. Even if we don’t find anything, you’ve made enough money to make the trip very profitable, for what shouldn’t be more than 2-3 months of work.” “You want us to kill men for you. That costs more, fifty percent.” Skar-ten insisted. Nene looked at him sardonically, a slight smile tugging the corner of her mouth. “Kill?” “I never said kill.” “I said ensure that they are unable to follow me.” “I’m sure people as inventive as your reputation suggests can think of several methods to ensure that.” “$200 gold, and twenty-five percent. More than that and it becomes far more profitable to seek help from another group.” Skar’ten looked at her calmly, “Other groups don’t have our reputation for dealing honestly and fairly.” “You hire someone else and you take the chance of being double crossed after you’ve found the temple for them.” Nene looked at him, again the huntress, “There are groups like that yes.” “I’ve already done my research.” “You’re not the only group that deals honestly.” “You’re the group with the best reputation and set of skills that’s closest to my destination.” “More than thirty percent and you make it far more profitable for me to obtain their services instead.” Skar’ten looked at her steadily, “Fifty-percent or we don’t have a deal.” Nene tucked the map back into her sleeve, “Then we don’t have a deal.” She turned and a sharp gesture of her hand dropped the sphere in the room as she walked out the door. Isdar followed her out, and speaking to her back said, “Thirty-five percent and we get first pick of items.” She stopped and turned, looking at him and considering the offer. He could tell she wasn’t happy with the thought of them getting first pick. But finally she spoke, “Alright, first pick, but I get second AND third. We’ll split it one for one after that.” Isdar held out his hand. “It’s a deal.” Then he looked at her again and it hit him. What had been niggling at the back of his mind. Nene J’nar, J’nar! Gimpy J’nar! He’d been a few years ahead of Isdar back at the academy. Gimpy had been top of his class and rumored to be on the fast track for Master before he’d left. He looked at her and asked, “What was your brothers name again?” “Howden” she answered promptly. “But everyone called him Gimpy.” she said with a twist of her lips. Isdar looked at her, “I’ve got a bit more business to discuss today, and we’ll have an extra passenger.” “We can leave after that.” Nene looked at him and said, “The stars aren’t right for leaving today. We’ll leave tomorrow at five am.” Isdar answered, “Ok, tomorrow at five.” Nene nodded and turned and walked away. Isdar looked at her and sighed to himself. Now for the hard part. Telling Skar’ten. He walked in the room quietly and looked steadily at Skar’ten, “I made the deal. Thirty-five percent and first pick of the items.” “I had to Skar’ten. I couldn’t not go on this expedition.”Skar’ten strode over to him got right in his face and almost growling said, “Why did you do that?”She’s a predator. Can’t you tell! I intended us to follow her and the group she hired and find out what she’s really about!” “That’s why I made the deal so high. So that she’d refuse!” “I expected you to back me up on this.” Isdar looked at him quietly, “I’m sorry, but, I can’t not do this.””I’ve got to go.” Skar’ten disgusted, just sighed. “Ok” Then, “Well, we might as well go get breakfast. I’m hungry.”
Skar’ten was crossing the dining area and out of the corner of his eye he saw Aiden trip, over his own foot belike and two seconds later Cali bounded through the tavern door, cheerfully dressed in a sunny lemon yellow shirt and breeches that clashed violently with her skin and mousy brown hair. “Morning Mags!” “Morning Skar’ten!” “I’ll have the Griffon’s Gold this morning Mag’s, bit to nippy out for my usual.” Isdar, hearing Cali’s voice double checked the stairs and quickened his step down. “Morning Isdar!” Cali called out spotting him the moment his foot came into view. “Are we going to have breakfast?” “Is your usual alcove open?” “Is their usual alcove open Mags?” she called out. Mags answered hurriedly in the affirmative, “Of course it is! And who else would I be giving it to!” Mags was always good about that sort of thing, as well she wanted Cali out of sight. She liked Cali, everyone did really. No one with a more open generous heart, but, no denying accidents happened around her like chokeweed went to new growth and she had a way of spooking off customers who’d wait till she left to come in, if they came in at all. Cali, oblivious to it all just beamed, looked around the room, and for all the world looking as though she were trying to be secretive about the look called out over loudly, “Ok then, we’re just going to have breakfast in our USUAL ALCOVE.” “Just having breakfast. Nothing particularly special, in our USUAL ALCOVE.” Isdar, struggling to hide a grin behind his hand couldn’t help himself and added, “Not doing anything secret here! Just having breakfast!” Skar’ten joining the deviliment and not hiding the grin adds, “Yes! In our USUAL ALCOVE!” and Isdar almost laughed out loud as he sees Cali looking dismayed and making shushing motions at him with her hands. She hurries into the alcove and when Isdar joined her she loudly whispers, “Honestly! You are absolutely terrible at this secret stuff! How’d you ever survive to get so big!” Isdar grins at her and says, “I don’t know Cali. Lucky I have you around to help me now isn’t it.” “Cali chuffed disgustedly at him and just sat down and tucked into the platter Mags brought in a moment later. Eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and some unidentifiable slightly noxious smelling stuff Cali always ate first. “Ludbin always did make a good Goblin Guts Scraper.” Cali said finishing off the last bite of it with a satisfied sigh before she tucked into the rest of her platter. “Not as good as my mam’s ‘o course. Whose recipe this is. Gave it to him myself. But truth to tell, he has a better hand with it than I do.” Isdar always wondered if Cali had a bag of holding for a stomach whenever he watched her eat. No way she could hold all of that otherwise. He’d just started on his toast when a gnome stepped quietly through the alcove curtain. “Ahh, here he Isdar! This is my brother Azijdan Galazig.” “Azijdan, Isdar. He’ll see you safely to a few towns away. Azijdan. You’ll see. Isdar is reliable!” Cali said proudly. “Azijdan held out his hand and Isdar shook it firmly. “Pleased to meet you Azijdan.” he said. “P-P-P-Pleased t-t-t-o m-m-meet you.” Azijdan said. Isdar looked steadily at Azijdan, “I don’t think we’re able to take you with us right now Azijdan. We’ve taken a job that won’t have us going near any towns. Perhaps when we get back we can take you then.” “Oh No Isdar!” Cali said, “He has to leave right away! He can go with you! Wherever you’re going he can go! He’ll be fine! He’s had training!” Azijdan looked back and forth between Isdar and his sister and then spoke, “I-I-I-I’m n-n-n-not afraid. I c-c-c-can help.” Isdar nodded and said, “Well, as long as your certain. There’ll be no beds, and no hot meals and precious little on this trip but danger. But, you can come with us if you wish. And when we’re done I’ll see you to the next town.” Cali spoke up, “Two towns Isdar! Or maybe three.” biting her lip and looking worriedly at Azijdan. Azijdan looked up again at Adrick. “I-I-I’m s-s-s-s-sure. And I c-c-c-can help.”Skar-ten looked at Isdar and leaning into his ear asked, Are you sure about this?” cocking his head in Azijdan’s direction. Isdar nodded, and knelt down and holding out his hand looked Axijdan straight in the eye and said, “I promise to protect you with my life.” Azijdan placed his small brown tanned hand on top of Isdar’s and said, “And I p-p-p-promse to p-p-protect y-y-you with mine.” Isdar looking at him smiled and said, “Well lets hope it doesn’t come to that.” and stood up with quiet grace. Cali looked relieved, “You’ll see Isdar. He’s had some training!” She hugged her brother fiercely then, and he hugged her back just as tightly. But when she pulled back she said, “Well that’s alright then!” “I’ll see you when you get back then Isdar!” Isdar smiled at her and said, “And I’m sure I can bring him back in a few months Cali. Azijdan gave a small shake of his head no, but Cali never saw it, her head had snapped around as she sucked in her breath and said, “No Isdar! He has to be gone at least a year! Three towns Isdar!” “Ok then Cali.” Isdar responded.
Isdar, and Skar-ten spent the rest of the day getting supplies and finishing up some business in town. Azijdan had joined them late that evening and had curled himself up on a bedroll in a corner of Isdar’s room. Isdar noted that he’d placed himself in the one corner where he had line of sight to both the door and the windows without anything blocking his vision and wondered if he’d intended that, or if it was just that it was nearer the fireplace. Nene was there at 4am the next morning. Isdar, Skar-ten, Joy and Azijdan were up of course, and having the cold breakfast they’d asked Ludbin to set out the night before in the empty inn. They were surprised to see her. Wizards weren’t known for early morning hours or timely manners. “I’d like to leave as soon as you’re done.” she said. “What happened to the stars are favorable at 5?” Isdar replied. “If I can read the stars, so can others, and know when I will leave. The alignment is close enough to favorable for our journey, and this way we get a good head start on them so that we can position ourselves ideally for an ambush once we get into the Briar Patch.” she answered. Skar-ten spoke up then. “I’d also thought perhaps we should set up the ambush just outside of town and be done with it.” Nene looked at him. “No” she answered. “An ambush outside of town will be noticed by nosy townsfolk. Gossip will spread and someone will decide if we’re worth following and ambushing we’ve something worth having. The Briar Patch avoids that complication.” Skar-ten shrugged and stood as did the others, they’d all hurridely finished a few more bites of breakfast in order to leave. “Nene this is Azijdan, Azijdan, Nene.” Azijdan held out as his hand to shake hers, “P-P-P-Pleased to m-m-m-m-meet you.” he said. Nene looked at him as though she was smelling something slightly rancid and then looked up at Isdar, “There is no gnome in your party. I told you. I’ve done my research.” she said. “As I told you yesterday. We might have one more on our journey.” he answered her. Nene frowned, obviously not happy with his answer and looked down at Azijdan who was still holding out his hand. She shook it.”How do you do.” She said automatically. “Let’s go then, I’ve horses for us.” she said and turned away, not waiting for any answer from Azijdan.
They mounted up, Isdar taking a moment to help Azijdan to his horse, and rode out of town in the chill morning air. And for a brief second Skar-ten saw a pair of amber eyes watching them as they passed. They rode for 4 hrs, and were just to the edge of the Briar Patch when Nene called for a break. They dismounted and checked the horses and then Skar-ten, noticing Azijdan near him said, “So, what is this trouble you’re in that you have to leave town?”Azijdan turned bright red and busied himself with his horse, not answering Skar-ten. “Skar-ten smiled and said, “Ah, so the trouble is with a lady. Is she pregnant?” Azijdan went to the other side of his horse where Skar-ten couldn’t see him. “Or, is she married?” He saw Azijdan turn and go into the brush then, his face an even brighter red unless he was very much mistaken. He grinned at Isdar then and said, “We can have a bit of fun with this. Make the journey a bit shorter.” Isdar grinned back answering, “To short journey’s.” Azijdan came back quite a few minutes later on almost the opposite side of where he’d entered. He was almost running and his face was pale. “Watchers!” he loudly whispered to Skar-ten. “Where?” Skar-ten whispered “E-East” Azijdan answered motioning with his head. Skar-ten straightened and thinking quickly said loudly. “Azijdan, I think your horse must have a stone. You should check before we head out.” and he winked at Azijdan and then called out, “I’m in need of a good stretch anyway. C’mon Isdar.” and he started walking north-east. Isdar, knowing something was up signalled Nen and mouthed, “Be careful.” before he disappeared into the brush after Skar-ten. As soon as they entered a tall patch of scrub Skar-ten went down into his hunter mode and whispered to Isdar “Spies” signalling him to head north-east, while he headed south-east. Isdar was a bare shadow in the brush while he slowly and carefully looked for tracks. Skar-ten, a skilled pathfinder for his people, spotted their traces first. A spot in the brush where someone had waited, and when he checked it, it made good use of the brush & terrain to watch them while remaining hidden. He looked up to find Isdar and finally spotted him, always impressed at his ability to blend in with the terrain. Isdar looked at him and pointed down to the spot he was at. “Here” he mouthed. Skar-ten noted that he had a good line of sight to Isdar as well. And studying the brush and terrain where Isdar was at, it would have a good view of their site as well. Skar-ten moved out, looking to spot the spies, not just their traces and Isdar moved as well, studying the ground. Skar-ten found another spot, something had obviously waited here, and looking up, he noted he had a good vantage spot to see both the spots where the first spies had been, but, not as clear vantage point to see their party. He pointed out the traces to Isdar who nodded, understanding. They continued to follow traces, and came to an area where the few traces were inconclusive, possibly leading into the rocky arroyo, or, back to their party. Skar-ten made a quick decision then. Back to the party, they couldn’t afford to leave their employer unprotected to hunters as skilled as these. As they came back into view of Nene & Azijdan Skar-ten called, “Got that stone yet Azijdan? We’re ready to leave if you have.” and went straight to Nene who raised an eyebrow at him. “Spies” he answered quietly. “And they know what they’re about. They made good use of the terrain and brush.” “And probably illusions as well.” Nene answered “The times I’ve come back to my place to find my things riffled through, thinking back I realize there were probably illusions in place to hide them from me." Isdar nodded soaking in the information. Skar-ten looked at her and just said, “Well, lets be off then. We’ve done some work in the Briar Patch before. There are places we know of where we can set-up ambushes, and turn the tables on these spies.” They mounted up then and began heading out.