Updated: 4 days ago
<----------Previous Chapter Next Chapter----------------> Eladrin: Dawn Chapter Two By Nicholas Paschall Melfice frowned into his drink as the strange man walked to the center of the table and to dump his gathered scrolls out in a messy pile. He looked tired, ringed eyes behind worn spectacles, a leather overcoat wet from the frosty winds outside, a small dagger sheathed on his belt with fresh clean leather straps. Not the man to handle a weapon enough to leave sweat stains over the handle… probably meant this was a man who liked to pay for people to do his dirty work.
“Lord Smytheson,” Skellington greeted, raising his tankard in greeting. “We were all just getting to know each other.”
“Yes, very good, very good!” Smytheson said, nodding as he adjusted his glasses. “Now, we all know why we’re here—”
“Um,” Elena said, interrupting Smytheson. To the man’s credit he let his own words trail off as he looked at the young priestess. “I, um, don’t know… why… we’re here, actually.”
“None of us do, ya barker!” Wheeze rasped, leaning over the table. “Speak some sense and mention the coin, or I’ll be on me way!”
“Calm down now Wheeze!” Needles laughed, slapping the lanky man on a wiry shoulder. “Let the man catch his breath before we haggle!”
“I agree though,” Melfice hummed, setting his own tankard down, “knowing the job, and what you’re paying, would make it easier for us to focus on what specifics need to be acknowledged.”
“Oh.” Lord Smytheson seemed lost for a scant few seconds before he shook his head and snatched up a narrow length of rolled up scroll. “Best to start at the beginning!”
“Tends ta help,” Wheeze whispered, earning a wicked chuckle from Needles.
Smytheson smoothed back some of his hair, unfurling the scroll with his free hand.
“This!” He declared, waving a hand at an intricate drawing of a scepter. “This is the Scepter of the Fallen King of Netres!”
Melfice furrowed his brow as he thought of where he’d heard of that city. It was a dwarven one, close by from what he could recall. Fell into the earth when the mines beneath it collapsed because of an earthquake.
“The Sinkhole City?” Skellington inquired, showing he knew of it. Melfice have him a respectful nod.
Smytheson smiled, broad and pleased. “The same! Over the years, plenty of scholars have taken brave truth seekers to find ancient treasures, and mostly they have picked the city clean.”
“But?” Needles asked, leaning back in his chair, hands folded behind his head.
“But they never found the Scepter,” Smytheson concluded. “For nearly two-hundred years, it’s been assumed to have been smuggled away. Until they spotted it in the hand of some Marques.”
Everyone gathered winced at that. The Marques were bestial, insignificant creatures with long hairless limbs and moist skin that could shift in hue and texture. They all wore wooden masks that depicted a random emotion and were considered enough of a threat that they formed militia every Summer to romp through the surrounding foothills to kill as many as possible.
“Well, right then!” Needles clapped his hands, rubbing them together greedily. “We’re busting Marques heads? How many we talkin’?”
“I’m afraid it’s more… delicate than that,” Smytheson said, reaching for a third scroll. Unfurling it, he showed a collection of runes that were painted in large brusque shapes, with smaller brushstrokes dedicated to detailing theories on how they worked. “The Scepter has some fresh additions to it. Namely, a collection of Elven runes that seem to grant it bizarre power.”
“Elven?” Skellington repeated, eyes lingering on Melfice. He could feel everyone else lock in and stare. “How old?”
Smytheson heaved a sigh and gave Melfice a long look, offering the scroll. “Maybe you,” he said, nodding at the young wizard, “can shed some light on that. Do you recognize them?”
Melfice frowned, taking the scroll and turning it over to study the arcane writing. He mouthed the words to the theories, brow furrowing as his mind raced. He set the scroll down and pulled his grimoire off his belt, the chain connecting the spine of the boom to his hip jangling merrily as he unfastened the leather strap. Muttering the short incantation to lift the protective spells over the worn leather, he flipped through the first few dozen pressed vellum pages, before stopping on two that depicted an expanded alphabet of similar sigils.
“Old. Ancient, I’d wager around twelve-hundred years. The curve you see in the bottom of volt here?” Melfice said, tapping the bottom of one of the alien symbols. “That started happening during the Second Dynasty in the Farl Lands. They unified their language and started having mass instruction in it, so everyone started writing like this.”
“Tha’s right interestin’, it is.” Wheeze groaned, rubbing his temple as if staving off a headache. “I love hearin’ bout ancient history as much as the next guy, ask Needles…”
“Avid reader, ‘e is!” Needles agreed solemnly.
“And as much as I think we all know this answer, explain fer those of us tha’ are a bit… dim.” Wheeze finished. “Wha’ the three blazes does any of tha’ matter ta this?”
“It means the Scepter has been in the hands of elves, right?” Elena asked.
Melfice frowned. “Elves hate change, but even the staunchest conservative elder has had a shift in the way these runes are to be written. This version makes any of the controller runes lose power when funneling from the powering clusters. Crude, but effective so long as whatever you want to get done gets done fast.”
“Why would anyone want somethin’ done slow?” Wheeze asked as Elena and Skellington shared a glance.
Needles shrugged, while Skellington leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “They powering some kind of spell, then?”
Melfice nodded. “Something that requires the Scepter, and where it won’t matter if the hunk of metal survives whatever the spell is building up to.”
Smytheson cleared his throat, regaining the attention of the gathered mercenaries. Melfice felt a flush of embarrassment, he’d forgotten that their employer was even there!
“So glad to have an expert on something as delicate as Elven Runework!” Smytheson grinned. “The goal is simple: track down and retrieve the scepter from the Marques. Then, once it is safe, dismantle whatever the runes on the scepter are doing, and return it to me.”
“How much?” Wheeze asked, hacking up a bit of grit.
Smytheson tugged at his collar, giving each adventurer before him a look. “I can offer seventy-five crowns per hired sword or spellslinger for the safe return of the scepter, along with two-hundred crowns of credit within my store. I have a fine collection of swords and shields, bows, tomes of knowledge, both religious and eldritch.”
They all mulled over the offer, with only Needles vouching that he and Wheeze were in within seconds. Elena had clasped her hands before her and seemed to pray, while Skellington had lit his pipe and was taking a few experimental puffs from it.
Melfice crossed his arms and did his best to appear deep in thought, while also doing his best not to break into a wide grin and let out a yelp of relief. He was on his last five crowns from his savings, and the room at the inn was only paid for until tomorrow night. He’d been doing his best to stave off the need to risk himself for mere material gain, but his components for his spells alone were quickly dwindling his options.
He had to take this job, and he had to get that credit. He could snag a few suitable pieces of jewelry perhaps and find a different merchant to sell them to. Even if he only got fifty from the original two hundred, that would be a boon for his finances that would give him months of simple living.
“Expenses.” Skellington yawned, stretching his arms over his head with a contented sigh.
“I beg your pardon?” Smytheson asked, confused.
Skellington returned the pipe to his lips for a long drag. “Expenses. We’ll likely have to buy some gear to go trekking wherever these Marques have set up their nest. That’s an undue expense on our part.”
“Undo?” Wheeze asked, sparing a glance at Needles. “What’d we mess up now?”
“Ain’t us this time!” Needles agreed, sitting up straight.
“Quiet, you two,” Skellington said, not looking away from Smytheson. “I want us each to be given at least ten crowns to buy necessary gear. If we’re hunting Marques, they’ve either headed into the mountains, or down to the mires. As you advertised for people willing to go into Blackmire this time of year, you must realize we’ll need something to keep us safe from the elements, right?”
“I-I’d just assumed that, you know, you all would have that sorted out on your own?” Smytheson said, almost as if asking for permission to have this opinion. “I mean, you all are mercenaries, right? I would expect you to come prepared for your job, at the very least.”
Skellington raised a bushy eyebrow. “The last job I had was hunting down a rogue bear that’d been picking off some of a local herdsman’s Caribou. I didn’t have to worry about Swollen Botflies, leeches, or Luna Moths. I have the gear to hunt a bear if you want to pay me for that. If not, outfit me to spend a week or two in the frozen swamp.”
“That seems fair…” Elena muttered, barely loud enough for any of them t hear. “I barely have enough to pay for my next meal, I couldn’t get the poultices and tonics to survive the disease-riddled bog!”
“Yeah, I’m think’ ol’ Skelly here knows somethin’ tha’ we don’t!” Needles laughed, slapping Wheeze on the back. “Right then, you want us on board, toss us twenty crowns fer shoppin’ coin!”
“Could use a new hip flask, now tha’ I’m thinkin…” Wheeze mumbled blearily, peering into his tankard. “Empty…”
“Now hold on…” Smytheson began. “I don’t have the liquid capital to just issue—”
“I’m a skilled tracker and wielder of the elemental power of thunder,” Skellington intoned, grunting as he pushed himself to his feet. “She is a Priestess of the Red Harvest, a skilled healer who can mend mortal wounds with but a word. He, “Skellington motioned to a surprised Melfice, “is a student of the arcane, one who can bend the laws of reality with but a gesture. We are worth the additional funds, my agreeable man, so I suggest you find the liquid capital if you wish for your piece of ancient history!”
The room went silent as Skellington’s voice rose, reminiscent of a rumble of thunder towards the end. Elena was giving the older man a tearful smile, while Melfice could only nod at what the man had just declared.
Wheeze’s rasping cough broke the silence. “An’ wha’ bout us, then?”
Skellington, realizing that the lanky man was asking him the question, turned to regard him. “What do you mean?”
Wheeze motioned between himself and Needles, who was frowning deeply. “Tha ‘Ell you on abou’ what do you mean? You talkin’ up yerself and the runt, and the wee lass, but wha’ bout me boy and me?”
Skellington continued to stare into the bloodshot eyes of the inebriated warrior, before snorting a chuckle. He turned and gave Smytheson an exaggerated eye roll. “And these two are likely wanted criminals that have been wild murder-hobos for the past few years. They’re likely deadly and can murder anything before it hurts the rest of us.”
Skellington turned to look at Wheeze as Melfice and Elena shared a round of quiet laughter. “There, that better lad?”
Wheeze gave a horking choke of a laugh, wiping a tear from the corner of his beady eyes. “Yer a wordsmith, Skelly, that yew are. Never ‘ave been one fer speeches, but tha’ was a right good ‘un, once yew added me and Needles.”
Needles lifted his tankard in a toast. “Agreed!” He moved to take a drink, then pulled a face. “Huh, thought I had a few gulps left?”
Wheeze, back to Needles, was quickly chugging from his own tankard, where he’d poured the last of Needles Peppered Mead into as stealthily as possible.
Smytheson heaved a sigh, a weary grin on his face. “Fine, it would seem that should I wish this venture be underway, I may need to finance a round of shopping for the barest of necessities. I can offer eight extra crowns per man—”
Elena cleared her throat, earning chuckles from the gathered mercenaries.
“—er, you know what I mean! Just take the extra funds and spend them wisely! I’ll leave you to your revelry, dear gentlemen, though I will offer the scrolls to you, dear boy.”
“Melfice,” Melfice said, nodding in greeting.
“Yes, I apologize, I never got your names…” Smytheson said, shaking his head to remain on task. “Take them and study the reports I have gathered from the various patrolmen. I believe you and Mr. Skelly, was it? Yes, I believe you two can glean where these Marques could have holed up with this rare antiquity!”
With a few exchanged handshakes and offered sacks of golden crowns, the group of mercenaries found themselves to be allies for the foreseeable future and decided it would be best to bond over a shared meal. Unfortunately, Wheeze and Needles made a risque suggestion to a youthful woman sharing her anniversary dinner with her husband and started a brawl that led to the town guard arresting eleven villagers, and Wheeze himself.
Skellington (“Just call me Skelly, you two. Seems like it’ll be the best I can get from our other two comrades.”) and Elena (” Sister is fine, or El. Or Elena. It doesn’t matter, whichever you prefer!”) had conferred with Melfice in the early morning outside the tavern, agreeing they would all meet to collect Needles from his hiding place in the outhouse, bail out Wheeze, and set out for the Blackmire as the sun rose on their backs.