Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 12   Leave a comment

Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Edurin walked into the Grinning Goblin. The place looked crowded. He called out to the room, “Hey check it out! Some guy got a dragon to appear in the street.” That should drive out the curious.

He scanned the place and saw the band. Looked like the same crowd as the watch house. Then he also spied Perry. He exclaimed, “Friend! Lost you back there. Glad to see you found the right crowd.” He walked over to the bar, placed a gold coin on the bar, “Two beers and a platter of … errr… easy-to-eat-human-foods for the big table.” The differences in his dialect and Khazan’s Common Tongue sometimes troubled him. He couldn’t exactly order fish and rice rolls this far from home.

Edurin approached Weslynn and greeted those assembled, “I am Edurin.” He bowed to Weslyn. In a much lower voice he added, “We have business to discuss concerning passage up river.”

Mensa looked puzzled. How could wood be silver? Rock be silver. Hair be silver. Beard be silver. Wood be silver?

“No – him,” pointing at Wulf. “He smell pretty. You smell medicine of.” For Zweet’s sake, this Common language was hard to remember. He muttered a nursery rhyme in Dwarven, to calm himself.

Zhann set down his mug. “Hmmm. Well, I have a contact in Wizards Guild, and as you say, he should be willing to part with some information in the hope of getting more. Perry, you are welcome to come along with me; I will make what introductions I can. And Gronk, you are welcome to come along, though I suspect that they will stop you at the door. The question then becomes, Where do we meet up again? Also, when it comes to it: I vote for the river route, though five gold for a working passage seems steep.”

Perry jumped to his feet when he saw Edurin. ‘Hail and well met, fellow! We seem to be on the verge of a great adventure! Come, take my seat.’ He then bowed to Mensa and turned to Zhanh and thanked him for his offer. ‘I should love to be on a river – to float along born by the currents, how splendid!’ He clapped his hands and capered a little. ‘I would gladly pay that price for you too if you think it unfair. Oh think! The Wizards Guild and a river boat on the same day!’ His mother had warned him about how silly drink made him but he had forgotten in his excitement,

Zhanh smiled warily at Perry; he found the half-elf’s exuberance a bit disturbing, but suspected that he would get used to it. “In the meantime,” he said, “I have this excellent cider to finish. Well met, Edurin; have a seat! We all seem to be going up the river, if not positively up the proverbial creek.”

Weslynn waved Edurin over to her, and moved to the corner of the room, once he introduced himself and made it clear that he wished to speak to her alone.

“What do you wish to speak to me about, then? Passage upriver you said?”

Mensa sized up Perry. Pointy-Ears might smell like medicine, but he was funny. And Mensa might get chance to hit bad gobbles on the heads.
Wulf spoke quietly to Mensa: “Do not worry about Gronk. He thinks only the Bullmen are handsome. He means no real insult or offense. You look as good to me as any other dwarf I’ve ever met. You have a natty beard. Your folk are tougher than a 2 copper steak. Do you use that shovel as a weapon? Let me help you put it in a place where you can get to it more quickly if need arises. A warrior’s weapon should always be quickly at hand if trouble comes.”

Then, to Weslynn, whom he felt was the current leader of the group:
“I am ready, Lady Weslynn, to go on my fact gathering sorty, if you agree with my suggestions.” He finishes his beer.
“Go ahead and try the beer Mensa. It is not pee (Though I have had some that suffered by the comparison). It will certainly do you less harm than the water in this big town. If the waiter ever brings some food we will have a quick meal before we set out.” This last said loudly in earshot of the barkeep.

Weslynn looked around again for the barkeep who has been avoiding her for some reason. “Splitting off into groups this afternoon sounds like a good plan, Wulf Shall we agree to meet up back tonight here? While you and the wizards head on your tasks, I’ll head to the merchants square to seek aid and a courier.”
“I have been around many capable soldiers in our guards all my life, Wulf and never have I felt such. It is most strange, but no matter, I am trusting you to help me. As I am trusting you all.”

Wulf replied:

As soon as I grab some cheese and biscuits to assuage the beast in my belly, Mensa, Perry, and I will be off. We will gather here again before nightfall. Gronk, see that no one harms anyone in the group you are with. Edurin: You seem like a good fighting man. Perhaps you could shepherd a third party in our fact finding sortees? Maybe the sailors at the docks might know more about the grey castle and its master.

Bart the bartender came over to the table pushing a heavily-laden cart. It had two beers on it, and two large platters full of fried chicken wings and drumsticks. (At least it looked like chicken–some of the wings and drumsticks were of unusual sizes.) He pushed the cart over to Edurin and said, “Here is your order, Sir. I hope the meat is satisfactory.” There were over 100 pieces of meat available.

“Hey, barkeep! What’s on your menu?” Weslynn called, trying again to get the man’s attention.

Perry’s head spun – he wanted to go with everyone! He was clearly no leader yet nor did he wish to be. ‘Friends all,’ he said, rising to his feet, ‘I will do as I am bidden and go with Wulf or Zhann. I am so pleased that we will be attempting this heroic foray together. I feel the pen of history dipping into the inkwell of destiny!’ He checked to see that it would be permitted then took a handful from the tray Bart had produced, bowing in thanks to Edurin.

Mensa’s sense of smell was almost overpowered by the odors of the meats… He tried one of the legs, and wondered. “Not cow. Not chicken. Not harpy. Not bat,” he muttered in Kha-zahd. It was OK, but it was no MLS (Moss & Lichen Stew). He gulped the beer, and it was bitter. But better to not offend his new friends, he gulped the rest in one swallow. “Got rock water?” he asked, as he adjusted his shovel in the manner Wulf showed him.

‘Oh, you mean me>’ asked Perry. ‘I’m an elf’ he told Mensa, articulating the word slowly and repeating it, not bothering to confuse the issue with halves. He pointed at Mensa and smiled. ‘You dwarf.’ Then he pointed to himself. ‘Me elf, me Perry. Perry likes Mensa, Perry likes dwarves. We hit many bad gobbles together, yes?’

Wulf quickly ate some of the food, then put on his chain, and helm, and took up the big spike shield again.
“Come, Mensa. Will you come, Master Perry? Let us go find some old warriors to drink with and speak with. And maybe we can find some armor and a buckler for our new Dwarf friend.”

“PAIR-ee. Elf.” Mensa scratched his head. Seems someone had told him something about elfs or elves or something. Hmph! Didn’t matter. Chance to hit bad gobbles on the head – always a good idea.
“You betchum!” exuberated Mensa.

Weslynn gave up on being subtle, got up, went over to the barkeep, and asked, quietly, for an extremely rare steak, if they have such for less than a gold, along with their cheapest grog.

“As you will, Perry,” Zhanh said. “If you don’t come with me today, there will be other opportunities. Mensa… The thing is, beer ALWAYS tastes bad, but there are a million different ways for it to taste bad, and wars have been fought over the distinctions.” He took another swallow of his cider. “So who is coming with me to the Guild? Gronk? Anyone else? I don’t really LOOK like a wizard, and I don’t think I NEED an escort, but I am always glad of company.”

Bart left the cart and walked over to talk to Weslynn. “Isn’t the meat on the cart enough for you? Did you want vegetables or bread or cheese? I tried to bring the best when Edurin spent liberally for food.”

Weslynn pulled his ear down to her mouth. That close to the tender’s clean-shaven neck, the tendency to just bite him almost overwhelmed here. “That stuff is too well-cooked for me. I need a beefsteak, very rare, barely singed, and oozing with blood. And I need it soon,” she said.

“Yes, my lady, I’ll bring it to you in less than 2 turns of the glass.” He set a small sandclock on the table.

The party grew louder as people decided which way they would go next. In less than 5 minutes Bart returned with a covered platter. The delicious aroma of barely singed beef mixed with the smells of fried fouls.

The aroma made Weslynn a bit nauseous.

Weslynn upon getting a good whiff of her meal went a faint shade of green, and excused herself for the jakes.

Gronk scratched his head, gulped more beer, and belched again.

“Yes, Wulf, Gronk protect. Gronk go with Zhanh.”

He hoisted his pitcher of beer in toast to the elf, then swallowed the remainder of its contents.

Although quiet, Edurin was pleased to see such a good mix of people in the group. To Perry he said, “If a deal is struck, then we’ll talk more on the river.”

He grabbed his two beers took them over to an isolated table. Coming back, Eduring picked through the best smelling meats and said to Lumlas, “Please join me as well to talk with Weslynn. You have courage and brains. Good qualities for our discussion.” He took two pieces over to his table. He was a little disappointed watching Weslynn rush off.

When she returned he asked, “Will you be healthy enough to travel?” Genuinely concerned, he did not want to start this trek off on the wrong foot.

Wulf left with Perry and Mensa in tow to go to the Armor and Weapons street of the city. He was already thinking hard about what questions he would ask. He tipped the bartender a silver piece on the way out.

Algris enters the tavern, still trying to remember just what was exchanged with the Dragon. From the encounter he did understand that while Khazan trafficked in many things, the rumor business was especially dangerous. But he was here on other business, and went to join those he’d seen at the watch. He saw the noblewoman he’d met come back to the table.

He joined them: “Hello, for those whom I haven’t met, I am Algris Slog. I have information and want to help.”

Zhanh saw Edurin trying to lead the females off to another table and scowled; the group was fragmenting before it even really existed. He looked at the minotaur and said, “I will be grateful of your company, Gronk; we will be leaving as soon as I have had a word with this new fellow. In the meantime, do have some food to keep your beer company.” He turned and rose enough to offer his hand to the newcomer. “Greetings, Algris. I am Zhanh. Information, or perhaps the lack of it, seems to be the order of the day. What news do you bring?”

Edurin raised his beer in greeting, “Welcome Algris! Have some food!” He gestured to the wings and drumsticks by the big table. Concern flashed on his face thinking he ordered too much food. Apparently he arrived a bit too late. He bit into a drumstick and chewed thoughtfully.

Weslynn sat at the table upon her return, returning to the conversation, trying to ignore the plate in front of her, with an slightly uncomfortable expression. “Where were we?”

At Edurin’s invitation Lumlas joined him and Weslynn at the table. Her new friend’s discomfiture worried her and she looked questioningly to Edurin while she was absent and then to Weslynn herself on her return.

“I am fine, just a little nervous stomach. Stress of the day. Let’s carry on with our planning.” Weslynn did her best to distract her friends from her condition.

Lumlas caught Edurin’s eye and inclined her head slightly without Weslynn seeing to ask him to meet in a quiet corner out of her new young friend’s hearing. When they had both made their excuses and met up again she asked, “Do you think this individual that stole Weslynn’s wine did a little more than ensorcell her for a time? She’s not eating or drinking and she was desperate for a very rare steak but didn’t touch it. Could these vampires we may be up against have done something to her and started to change her into one of their kind?”

“Pardon me a moment,” replied Edurin. He stood and removed his meal from the private table. He could always eat later. Returning, he cleansed his pallet with beer before speaking more. “Thank you Weslynn for donating a moment of your time,” he smiled warmly at Lumlas as well. He leaned forward elbows on the table and fingers steepled, “If you’ll indulge me a little longer, tell me about the quality of your wine.”

Ah, it is quite fine. Our vineyard is in a very sheltered mountain valley, rich with springs, so even when the weather is dry, we can irrigate the roots, so we are fortunate in that respect. The soil is the richest I’ve ever seen, and it brings forth grapes of a brilliant green shade unlike any other. Once they ripen, it is as though a royal court has come to visit, for the hills shine with a gorgeous deep purple. We have more generations invested in this land than I can easily recount. Our family lorebooks tell every recipe, every experiment, with success, and failure alike, going back 10 generations, all of these things our wine makers draw upon, so it is, I believe, unparalleled in bouquet and flavor. It brings forth flavors of blackberries and clove, honey, and roses.” Weslynn perks up, she loves her family business, it is clear.

“Ah, I understand,” he said thoughtfully. “A strong passion must make for a fine wine indeed.” He paused and then added, “I have a proposal. I have access to sufficient funds to buy all of us a trip up river. For additional security, those cabable of working on the boat should. I will work on the river-boat. You should fully expect to retrieve your wines, and my funds are payment for a portion of your shipment.” He let the comment sink in. In the silence, he took a drink from his beer. He looked at Lumlas as well to see what the tall beauty thought. Studying her face he notes her fine elven facial structure. He thought back to the morning at the gate to Khazan. He grinned, and then focused again on Weslynn.

Weslynn smiled at the man before her with his offer. “How much of my wine do you wish, in return for your funding?”

“Gronk ready when Zhanh ready. Gronk like chicken.” He grabbed a half dozen drumsticks and devoured them in moments. After yet another hearty belch, he grabbed a half dozen more.

Zhanh finished his cider, and said, “One moment, Gronk, and then I think we can be off.”Zhanh lugged his sea bag to the bar and asked the barman, “Can you keep my bag secure until I return for it? I expect to be back before sundown, but let us say until noon tomorrow to be safe.” As he spoke, Zhanh pulled out his money pouch and jingled it a bit to make it clear that he did not expect this service for free.

Gronk stood, his mighty axe in one hand, a chicken leg in the other.
Just before he left with Wulf and Mensa, Perry caught Zhann at the bar. “No time to discuss it now but there’s something amiss with Weslynn and her not drinking and her reaction to the food. Keep your eyes open and see what you can discern. Stay well, friend.’ Perry didn’t like going behind anyone’s back but his concern overcame his scruples.
“I expect one barrel for every three recovered.” Edurin spoke with his hands as much as his voice. “Admittedly, sight unseen. There is a lot of risk for me in this venture.” He glaced over at the big table and watched with satisfaction Gronk eating. Edurin was happier. He hated waste.

Zhanh nodded at Perry’s words, and said quietly, “I have noticed that as well. I will keep my eyes open.”

The bartender got caught in a sudden rush, so Zhanh shrugged, shouldered his bag, and went back to the table. “All right, Gronk,” he said. “We’re off to see the wizard.”

“I cannot give you a third of my wares, Edurin. I can go as high as one-quarter, or one barrel in four.” Weslynn countered.

Edurin leaned back deep in thought. “Well, I will need to recover the initial investment. I can accept a fourth of the shipmen only if I also return with equal funds to my expenses.” His voice dropped low and he leaded in close to Weslynn, “Can you accept this band perhaps behaving more like raiders?”

Not his favorite option, Edurin’s displeasure showed as he drank his beer. “And I will have to control the funds. Everyone but you, Weslynn and Zhahn, will have to work. Are you familiar enough with Khazan to join me to make our travel arrangements?” He looked at his empty mug, and picked up the second beer.

“I have been to Khazen many times, though I know the merchant square and inns the best. I have made trips on rivers, though none actually actually to or from Khazan. The shortest reasonable route from here to the vineyard is overland.”

She thinks about the matter. “I agree I do not want to find myself forming a group of bandits, I have woes enough already. I can go to one barrel in three, but I must also cover my losses, which stretch beyond coin into blood and humiliation. To go to one barrel in three I would have to insist on my choosing my share of the barrels first, no questions asked.”

Surprised, he replied, “I presumed your shipment was uniform. Pardon my ignorance. I can accept a fourth with a guarantee of one high quality barrel no matter what happens and a nice mix of additional barrels. I’ll still control the funds.” Edurin brightened conciderably.maybe he won’t swim home afterall.

Zhanh stopped at the table where Edurin and Weslynn were arguing about wine. Lumlas already looked a little bored by it, and was eyeing the other wizard in the group, Algris. Algris was a little upset by being thrust out of the way to eat chicken scraps while the sailor monopolized the wine merchant.
“Lumlas, I think you should come with me to the Wizard’s Guild. There is not much point in me going back by myself with a Minotaur in tow, even though he should make a good bodyguard. You should check in with the guild. You know Weslynn’s problem better than I do, and might have better questions to ask than I can think of.”
The elf-woman threw a questioning look at Weslynn, for whom she was beginning to worry, but Weslynn seemed oblivious to her at the moment. “Yes, I’ll go with you.” she told him, “but we need to be back before sunset.”
The three set out, leaving Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris in the Goblin.

Bart turned to the elf who dressed like an uruk. “You want me to watch your stuff for you? This is a busy place.” Bart gestured at the motley throng around him. “You see that one-eyed elven rogue over there–his name K’neevl. He’s a thief and a cutthroat. You see that skeleton talking to him. That’s Lightfingers Lorrk, said to be one of the best pickpockets in the city. I can’t guarantee the safety of anything you leave here.”

A barmaid sidled up to Bart and plucked at his sleeve. “The kitchen’s on fire!” she yelled at him.

Bart turned to her angrily. “What do you mean the kitchen is on fire? Put it out!” He stomped off to deal with the emergency.

Algris felt that the information he had obtained, at no little risk to himself, was important to this group, but they seemed to be ignoring him. He thought back to the moment when the dragon had materialized and grabbed him. He had to think quickly and speak well then. He remembered what he had said to get the dragon to take him inside and listen to him . . .

“I can agree to this, Edurin. No my shipment was not uniform, also, I doubt the thief is skilled in the proper way to transport wines, so I have little hope of recovering everything intact. Even if we catch up to him before he disposes of it, I expect much of it will be in poor shape indeed.”

“And there lies the risk.” Edurin sighed, “So you understand my risk, I fail to retrieve your wines in ten days, I won’t be going home. We have a deal. Please pardon me, but I do need to eat a little more before I head down to the river.” Edurin stood and returned to the big table. “Algris, com, sit down, and tell me about your new friend the dragon.” Edurin helped himself to another drumstick and ate hurriedly using his beer to assist in swallowing half chewed meat.
“It may be that we will end up raiding the castle. If the wines are lost we may be able to recover some of our losses that way, at least. Assuming we do launch an assault, survive, and can find goods enough to cover my losses so far, and your investment.”
Algris knew the limits of his luck, and the limits of his ability to lie. “Apologies,” he said, “we are far away from plague, or the famine that often precedes one. However, one more harvest like the last one–for my family and those all around us, and lean times will be approaching. It is not blight, nor weather, nor ignorance–my family has been tilling the soil for generations and know when to let land lie fallow. My brother came to Khazan to see what he could learn and did not return. A dolt at times, but still my brother and a wizard. I felt he was dead, and now that I hear of wizard killings…I am certain.

“The dragon teleported into his office in Herome Palace, taking Algris with him none too gently. “What have you heard of the wizard killings?” he hissed. “Do you know anything about them? Have you heard that many wizards are simply missing, and the ones we have found have been drained of blood?”

“There was surprise that a wizard would dare enter Khazan–or at least one not shrouded in protective magics and a suggestion I seek blades and muscle to accompany me if I did not wish to join the others in death. But there was no mention of bloodletting…”
“Now please tell me, how were they drained? Cuts in the legs, bled like cattle? In the neck? Where the heads removed and sewn back on? Did someone examine the bodies in detail? Did the hearts, livers remain?”

“I understand Weslyn, and apologize for being rude. Let me finish this last bite and I will rejoin you.” He hurried, half his beer gone pretty fast. “Algris eat what you want and then let invite the bar to finishe off the left overs. The three of us will head down to the riverfront once you’re ready.”

Weslynn stops speaking to Edurin, and turns to stare at Algris, her mouth agape, as he mentioned “wizards drained of blood.”
“What!?” tell me more of this. “As Edurin asks, how were they drained of blood? When? Where? Am I swimming in vampires now?  Eldurin, once Algris has told his tale, please accompany me to the merchant square and the docks, so that we may make arrangements for our passage, and send word to my family.”Algris took advantage of their sudden interest to tell them what had happened at Herome Palace.”

“The Dragon Man–not really one or the other–was unused to being questioned so sharply. He shook me like a doll before setting me on my feet. “What have you heard?’ he asked me again.””I told him ‘nothing. I just want to find my brother.'””The dragon reached up to a shelf and pulled down a large block of crystal which he set on the oversized desk. ‘Let us scry for your brother. Put your hand on the crystal and think of him.’ I obeyed. The crystal clouded up and then an image began to form. My brother’s face, pale, too pale. We live on a farm and are all tanned. His eyes were rolled back in his head. He looked dead. Then his eyes opened and he laughed. Laughed at me and his eyeteeth were like the fangs of a wolf.”The dragon put his hand on the crystal and scene changed. A dark night. A man walking in a dark street. A woman beckoning him. They clench. They kiss. Her face changes and she rips out his throat. His head flies back. It is my brother. She drinks his gushing blood greedily. She bathes in it. My brother stands up. HIs throat heals with unbelievable swiftness. He links arms with the woman and they disappear in shadow.

“Your brother is one of them now,’ said the dragon. ‘To answer your question. More than a dozen wizards have died in the last two weeks. Some, like your brother, have been turned. Others seemed to have fought. They were brutally slain, limbs ripped off in some cases. Some were crushed, struck by blocks of stone that fell from the sky.”

“The dragon turned to me. ‘Go home, human wizard,’ he ordered me. The last few years have been dry–it is a natural thing. Your brother is a vampire now, dead but not dead. There is nothing you can do for him.”

“I was stunned. I thought I would find him dead, but turned into a vampire?! That I could not have predicted. I staggered out of there and came here.”

“Poor man, you have my em-er-sympathy. What shall you do about this?”

“Dragon said go home. If he meant it, he could have sent me there just like he pulled me into his office. Either that or I wasn’t worth the effort…no matter. No answers, no brother–not even a few magic beans–there’s no way I can go home, or to what’s left of it. Right now I am in need of…too many things. But I have my wits, and a strong back for a mage. It’s best that we not be alone–room for one more?”

Weslynn looked this man in the eyes, and nodded to what she saw there. “Room enough for those who seek a leveling of the scales against a vampire, I think. I hope our purposes will align, and we can be comrades through our trials to come. Welcome to the group.”

She then looked around the room and at her remaining companions. “Edurin, it is getting to be time to leave and make arrangements for our passage and for me to send a missive home to my family business. Let us go arrange passage, and then I must send word to my family. Then we can spend the remaining time looking at supplies I think and t

“Yes.” Edurin stood, shouldered his pack, and called out to the patrons of the bar, “The food is really quite good. Help yourself!” He gestured to the food on the big table. “Come on, Algris and Weslynn, let’s go find a boat. Algris be prepared. We may still find your brother, although you may wish not to know him now.”

He headed out of the Grinning Goblin, and in the direction of the river. Time to find a boat heading upriver.

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