The wide, stony highways of glittering pavement and pristine street signs contrasted sharply with the dusty village on the side of the road. If not for the sparse placement of the settlements along the road, no one in ten thousand years would dream of resting at the seedy-looking locale, but unfortunately for anyone who wanted to sleep in the next 36 hours, this was the place to be, the best inn one could get. A good thing, too, or the ragtag group of adventurers would never have met, much less joined forces in the first place.
Lia, an elven wizard with an evil glint in her eye, stepped up first to the ramshackle excuse for a gate-house. She could feel the presence of the three characters behind her, but she could care less about their well-being. In any case, though, the half-dwarf behind the counter seemed to have assumed the four uncomfortable-looking personas standing in front of him was a group of friends, or acquaintances, to say the least, and soon she found herself being expected from all directions to speak on behalf of the large group.
Flicking her hair back in a flustered sort of fashion, she spoke — “Dost thou have room for a group of weary travellers tonight?”
Rolling his eyes at her pompousness, the guard, seeming to be of a half-dwarf nature, nodded his head and beckoned them forward. One by one, he granted each of them passageway to the village, though not without dipping a paintbrush into a green, sickly-smelling liquid, and painting a strange symbol on each of their hands. Though the symbol was indiscernible, it was hardly easy to ignore.
The village inside showed no hidden wealth behind its sober walls—in fact, if anything, conditions only looked worse past the gatehouse. Buildings were rotting, windows were broken and boarded-up, and most of the citizens looked like it’d been a long time since they’d seen better days. A line of houses and inns expanded out in each direction, and in front sat a weakly-spouting fountain with faint traces of mold. Main street looked to project out in front of the travellers, with two buildings of prominence placed out front: a highly ornate church on the left, and a grungy-looking bar on the right.
For the first time, Lia heard a voice pipe up.
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but in a place like this, it might be better to band together in a place like this. Of course, it’s up to you, but I’d be willing to chip in for 1/4 of the expenses.”
The character behind the voice was a gentle-looking, half-elf. If Lia were any kinder of a spirit, she’d feel pity for that kind. The misfits, who did not belong in the far superior, elven lands, but could never be content living for humans. Fortunately, Lia was of a relatively callous nature, and so felt nothing. Except the appreciation of a practical plan, and this might very well suffice in that respect.
“I could vouch for that,” came the gruff voice of a human fighter, leaning on the crusted-over fountain rim.
“Me, too.” Sin, the Wizard.
Lia granted her audience with a curt nod, and the group turned together to face the rest of the town.
“First things first, do you want to wash these marks off our hands? I think this substance is irritating my skin,” said the half-elf. “By the way, my name is Liv.”
And so, the group was formed, in a quiet moment of hand-rinsing in the dirty fountain. With slight laughing over the awkwardness of the situation, and some groans of disgust as the liquid from their hands curdled in the fountain, they effectively cleaned off most of their hands with a residue of the symbol seeming to be stained into their hands.
With a shrug, the fighter stood up, and shook out her hands. “That’s disgusting.” Adjusting the pack on her shoulder, she turned to the bar and pointed towards the door. “Let’s get a drink, eh?”
The bar was no good. Conditions were dark and dingy, and the only population besides the disgruntled bartender was a group of sketchy-looking humans, flipping gold pieces into frosted mugs in the corner. As Sin the Wizard briefly drowned himself in alcohol, Lia and Liv chilled out at a cracked table near one of the boarded-up windows.
Liv looked over to note the swinging door of the bar, and a peculiar absence of Katie. A jeering rose up from the men in the corner. Liv rushed outside, in sick worry—Lia was close on her tail, doubled over in laughter.
Katie winced in pain as she pushed herself into a sitting position, rubbing the back of her head. “I don’t know what’s worse, that a bunch of strangers just threw me out of a bar for no reason, or that I think one of those guys I might have trained with in the Academy!” As Sin stumbled out, everyone agreed the next plan of attack was to find a place to stay the night.
The sky was getting dark by the time the travelers stumbled upon a decent-looking place to stay the night. With most of the windows in-tact, a clean, white Room To Let sign in the window, and a token motherly figure sweeping the deck out front. Room was 35 gp for the night, one room for the four adventurers, and she’d include dinner that night and a slice or two of toast in the morning. By this point, the adventurers were so tired, they figured they had a pretty good deal, and they followed the woman upstairs to a small room, two beds and two cots. Each adventurer seemed more and more eager to leave the small town in the morning…
That night, though, storyline finally came to fruition. Four draughts of cheap ale, and the middle-aged landlady seemed ready to share everything from childhood embarrassments to dirty jokes of the most vile nature. Most of all, she was willing to share the history of the town:
The house-keeper’s name is Forsynthe, and she is a middle-aged house-keeper whose husband was killed in battle. At one point, many, many years ago, the people of the village were part of the great Orindian city, which is the great empire of this country. During that time, their people always had enough to eat, and they were visited by many people from all over, who shared word of the great and happy city, and raved about how full it was of people who were willing to share their tremendous assortment of riches and wealth with those who needed it. Most of all, Forsynthe speaks of how their great and noble king encouraged citizens to be active within the government and speak their minds when they had grievances. As the city grew and grew, Orindian became a grand empire, and various villages sprouted up to contain the growth in population as outsiders came to be a part of the well-renowned empire. The great King Peter kept contact between these villages ever-constant, and every month he would travel to communicate with his citizens, making sure they were content with their current state.
This village was used as a mining suburb, and prided itself in its ability to provide the kingdom with coal and iron from the mines located nearby the village. They were equally reimbursed for their time and effort with a constant supply of grains and meat from the city, and, for a long time, their existence was constant and peaceful within the kingdom’s domain.
However, half a century ago, the king met with an abrupt and sudden death, and in his place, his son, Joseph, took over the throne. At first, everyone met the new change with festivities. Joseph had always been a charming boy with a good, healthy, roguish sort of look about him. But after the first three months, he started to make some changes to the government that were initially met with some opposition. The first change he made was a limitation in active participants in the government. She remembers her father speaking of the notice that went around to each village, explaining that, with the large amount of items he must take care of, he really did not have time to meet with a council from each city, and would now be limited to receiving one representative from each village to talk matters over at a bi-annual meeting. People were initially understanding, but once he gained this much control, changes started happening much less, and before people knew it, each village had lost ¾ of its monthly income from the big city, and Joseph was sitting comfortably in a palace three times larger than his original, in a Versailles-sort of setting, where all the representatives from each village were rich, well-off men and women who did nothing more than sign off on the various rules and regulations Joe added to the once very honorable constitution. Communication between towns has since been lost for the most part, and horses, carriages, and many of the best methods of transportation have been possessed by King Joseph. The few people who have tried to rise up in opposition of the government have either been publicly embarrassed or have gone missing.
Hiccup The landlady finally stands up, stuttering out something that sounds like she either wants to go to bed or wants someone to shave her head.
As she stumbles off to her room, Lia feels a tug on her sleeve, and looks down into the big eyes of the landlady’s daughter, Ruthie.
“Please, miss, can you guys help me? My friend has been missing since Thursday, and last I heard, she was wandering around the cemetery. You guys certainly look like a band of adventurers and I KNOW you can help me, won’t you PLEASE?!”
Without hesitation, Liv promised her aid, and her “band of adventurers” followed shortly after, some out of a feeling of sympathy towards the girl’s trials, some out of desire for adventure. After gathering supplies, the door of the inn swung open to a resounding CREEEAK!!! and four stealthy-looking creatures stepped out into the night, with a small child leading them through the quiet streets.
The cemetery filled the quota for standard, creepy village cemetery. An eerie silence pervaded the location, and one could almost imagine ghosts regularly roaming the overgrown grassy area. The area of interest seemed to be a particularly intriguing statue that, at first, appeared to be an angel, but on second glance, revealed itself to be a statue of a grotesque-looking man-bird combination, with a fierce look about him. Words in a foreign language seem to be written on the front, with a strange rune that seemed to strike a note of familiarity to Liv. Closing her eyes and placing her hand on the rune, she spoke in a foreign tongue to the rest of the characters, and with a great CRRRRUNCH, the stone of the statue split apart and revealed a dark, dank tunnel with a slight, but nasty-smelling odor radiating from its great depths.
“Well, I guess this is it,” said Sin, and with a wave of his wand, he sent a ball of light into the sky to light the way. Light revealed the tunnel as untraversed for quite some time, with cobwebs hanging everywhere, and an intense stillness of the atmosphere. However, when closely inspected, the ground revealed small footsteps leading down the right-hand tunnel, and the adventurers dutifully followed, with mounting excitement.
After what seemed an indeterminable amount of time, Liv noted what looked to be a wooden door at the end of the tunnel. Speeding up their footsteps, the group began to hurry, all hoping to find what they’d each been looking for. However, in their haste, they failed to check in the shadows, and, before they knew it, a giant half-orc was looming out of the shadows.
“What are you doing here?” He growled to the group, though with the mischievious glint in his eye, it did not seem to anyone that he was particularly interested. Slowly stretching up to the air, the half-orc reached behind his back and began to pull out a giant, blood stained axe with the glint in his eye becoming increasingly manic—but suddenly, from out of nowhere, a purple mist extended out to enclose the group, seeming to be radiating from Sin’s very hands, as he whispered a Charm Friend spell under his breath…