May 28, 498
The next morning, the party returned to the old keep to examine it in the light of day. There was little to see; once the magic had been dispelled, it returned to being an antique ruin. There were also the bodies of the soldiers, at least the ones that hadn't been crushed by the falling stone walls. They carried nothing that would identify them and wore no insignia, only unadorned orange tunics. After a brief look around, the party headed back down the hill and into Randa once more.
Shortly after they reached the town, they heard the sound of hoofbeats and turned to see a rider on horseback approaching town along the ancient road from the west. They greeted him, and he replied "Hello! I was just wondering if there was any work for a wizard in this town."
The party was a bit surprised to hear someone so casually advertising that he was a wizard (someone other than the flamboyant Walto, at any rate), but they simply replied that they didn't know. The stranger rode on into town, consulted a passerby, and headed for Tom's Tavern. Nigel and his companions, suspicious that someone looking for work as a wizard would happen to appear on the scene just after the recent events, decided to follow him.
They arrived in the common room in time to see the stranger approaching Vandis, who was sitting at his customary table near the front talking with Tom as usual. The stranger repeated his question, and the mayor responded that he was not aware of any need for a wizard. The stranger looked perplexed. "This is Randa, isn't it?" he asked. Vandis confirmed that it was, and the stranger, looking puzzled, headed for the bar to order a drink. Orbin sat down next to him and struck up a conversation.
"So, you're a wizard, eh?" Orbin asked. "You don't run into many people in that line of work."
"Well, uh, not really," the man said, stammering. "It's just a little something I, uh, well --"
"Yeah, I guess so, you could say that. I'm not really a wizard, actually. My name's Brondon. I'm just a carpenter's apprentice from Kirvin."
"Oh? We're headed that way. I'm a merchant -- I was hoping perhaps that I might be able to sell some of my merchandise in Kirvin. Maybe you can tell me a little about what to expect there."
"Well, I can try. I've actually only been there a few months -- I'm really from a little fishing town up north, on the coast."
Orbin continued chatting with Brondon, partly trying to assess the man's honesty, and also trying to get any helpful information he could get about the market in Kirvin. Eventually, Brondon excused himself, saying he was going to take a room in the tavern. Orbin reported back to the rest of the group, and they decided they needed to try to find out everything Brondon knew. Clearly, his arrival in town was not a coincidence.
Orbin, Nigel, Tagart, and Katra went to visit Brondon in his room. Initially, he was hesitant to talk to them, but when they explained to him what had happened with the town's children -- and how the townspeople would probably react if they knew Brondon was apparently involved somehow -- he reluctantly agreed to tell them what he knew.
He explained that he was indeed a carpenter's apprentice who had been living in Kirvin for a few months, and that he did also dabble in magic on the side. A few weeks ago, he had propositioned the wrong woman in a bar called the Anchor, and had ended up in a fight. In order to defend himself, he had used a magical spell. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by a mysterious man claiming to represent a secret underground group of magicians in Kirvin, and that he would be better off joining them and keeping his magic under control in public. Brondon replied that he was certainly interested in making contact with others interested in magic.
The magician explained that the underground served as a clearinghouse for those who needed to hire magical services (and who knew how to contact them). People would come to them with magical jobs that needed to be done, and the group would assign these contracts to individual members. Before being accepted into the group, Brondon would need to complete such a job. If he was successful, they'd contact him again with more information.
Brondon was not told who the client was, or even specifically what magic he would be expected to perform. He was told only that a party was expected to arrive from Randa to hire a magician, and that he should make himself available. He was also given a scroll that, he was told, would satisfy the requirements of the job. He hadn't looked at the scroll yet, and handed it over to Tagart.
After a few days passed with no sign of the party from Randa, Brondon became impatient and worried. Eager to make a good impression, he decided to go to Randa rather than waiting for them to come to him. Now, he feared, he had bungled things badly; not only had he failed to perform the assignment he'd been given, but now he had also violated the secrecy of the magicians' underground by revealing their existence, and to a Church group, no less. Now that he'd heard sinister things about the recent events in Randa, he said, he had no wish to return to Kirvin, and instead would travel back north to his home town on the coast.
Satisfied that Brondon had been honest with them, the party escorted Brondon to the outskirts of town and saw him off. Tagart took advantage of the opportunity to talk about magic with someone, and he hoped that someday they would meet again.
The next day at breakfast, Tagart reported what he'd learned by examining Brondon's scroll. "This whole thing was a setup," he said. The spell on the scroll was a very narrowly tailored spell apparently designed to dispel the specific kind of magical barrier they'd encountered around the old keep. Clearly, it had been created just in order to enable Brondon to help rescue the children. What would have happened to him then was unclear.
After breakfast, the party left town, headed west toward Kirvin. The day's travel was uneventful, and that night the group camped in a sheltered hollow near the road. Unfortunately, they had camped near a secret hiding place dug into a hillside where a group of kobolds lay in wait, and during the night the kobolds crept out, planning a sneak attack. However, as soon as they emerged from the hole, the lead kobolds found themselves outlined with bright light. Their cover was blown, and their attack became disarrayed. In a few moments, all of them were dead.
Afterward, Katra tried to find who had cast the spell that had warned them about the kobolds, but in the darkness she was unable to find anything.
The next morning, Katra was able to track a set of footprints to a nearby clump of trees, where she discovered a strange elf hiding in a tree. The elf introduced herself as Lamara, and said she was a fellow traveler who was just trying to help them out. She said she was headed for Kirvin herself, and they invited her to join them.
As they traveled, Lamara talked with Orbin. She told him that she was fascinated by the party's diversity -- it included a mix of races, not to mention both Church members and a magician. She was particularly surprised to see that the Church members did not react angrily to Tagart. Nigel, joining the conversation, expressed the view that the true Arvan faith does not say anything about magic, and that that prohibition is purely a matter of Church of Ilvia doctrine. Lamara was amazed to hear such things from a human priest.
The next day they met a traveling merchant heading in the opposite direction. His name was Carl, and he said he was from the village of Durant, a short distance further west. He warned the party that there had been a good deal of trouble recently because of a group of brigands that regularly terrorized travelers and the people of Durant.
They arrived in Durant a short while later, and found the townspeople cleaning up after a destructive visit by the brigands. Jalafin meanwhile began helping another shopkeeper repair damage to his shop's front door. Orbin visited a shopkeeper named Rosen, who agreed with Orbin's views about how merchants are generally not appreciated.
Gathering the group together, Nigel said that Arva would expect him, as well as Janis and Trelain, to do something about the problems Durant was facing. He left it up to the others whether they would help, and they all agreed. Nigel saw this as an opportunity to try to counter the apparent campaign to discredit the Church: he suggested that they openly identify their Church affiliation, and then do everything they could to help the town.
That night the group stayed with several of the townspeople, except for Lamara and Katra, who camped on the edge of town.
The next day, the party stayed in Durant all day to help the town repair the damage. Lamara and Nigel helped to heal several injured townspeople, while Orbin helped Rosen straighten out his shop (while also suggesting some improvements to Rosen's inventory and accounting systems). Orbin also sold Rosen some cheese, as well as some wool he had gotten in Randa.
Asking for more information about the brigands, Lamara and Katra heard various stories about a group of ten or fifteen men and dwarves, several of whom also had vicious dogs. That night they returned to the same homes where they'd spent the previous night.
The next day they said their goodbyes and set out west from Durant. They had not been traveling long when they encountered a broken cart, its cargo spilled across the road and its owner (and horse) missing. Upon closer inspection, they found that the cart was carrying a load of wooden boxes remarkably similar to the one Orbin and Tagart had found in the ruins of Sendara. These boxes, however, were empty, and they also appeared to be brand new. After taking a closer look, Tagart said that they were missing some magical inscriptions that had been present on the other box. On the back of the cart, they found a double-T brand.
A short distance off the road, Katra discovered the body of the cart's owner, his throat cut. There was nothing to identify him, but Orbin noticed that he was missing a finger on one hand. This reminded him of Duffy, the woodworker in Cullan, who had joked about many woodworkers suffering such an injury. Perhaps this man was an innocent woodworker, Orbin suggested.
Following the footprints (and hoofprints) from the road, Katra tracked the brigands to a hollow an hour or so away from the road. The party stopped just on the other side of the nearest hill in order to make their plans, but before they could do so, Nigel -- whose allergies had been acting up -- sneezed. A dog barked, and within moments two of the brigands (and a large dog) had come over the hill to investigate.
However, the brigands underestimated Nigel's party and found themselves quickly outmatched. Autumn did a great deal of damage with her arrows, while Nigel trapped several of the thieves with an Entangle spell. Tagart headed into battle with his sword drawn, but Orbin (who had remained behind with the animals) called out to him, reminding him of his true abilities. "Remember the valley outside Cullan!" he cried out cryptically, but Tagart seemed to understand what he meant. Sheathing his sword, Tagart instead cast a spell, sending a jet of flame toward one of the brigands. Already injured, he fell to the ground, dead.
Soon all of the brigands were dead, and the party retrieved a moderate amount of gold and a few nice silver items that were probably from Durant. Tagart seemed very troubled at having killed someone with magic, although Orbin and Nigel tried to reassure him that he had done the right thing.
Returning to the road, they traveled a few more hours before camping for the night.
Over the next three days they continued traveling toward Kirvin. They were awed by the sight of Heyraud's Bay, which none of them had ever seen before (apart from a distant glimpse from the hills near Luiry a few weeks earlier). Now they were skirting the edge of the bay, and eventually they could see Kirvin some distance ahead.
Finally they arrived in Kirvin, and they were amazed by the largest city any of them had been in. There were thousands of people and bustling activity -- it was like the biggest Market Day they could imagine, and it was like this every day. They ended up at the Ilvar Inn, a nice -- but not extravagant -- hotel not far from the city's waterfront.
"May I help you?" the clerk asked as Orbin approached his desk.
"Yes. My friends and I are hoping to find lodging for the night," Orbin said. "There are nine of us."
"That shouldn't be a problem," the clerk said. "Is this your first time in Kirvin?"
"Yes," Orbin replied. "We're from Cullan. It's a small town, around the eastern edge of the Bay."
The clerk seemed to smile just a little. "I see. Well, I think three rooms will probably be sufficient. The rate is two gold a night, and a silver per night to stable your animals."
"I see. Well, thank you for your time," Orbin said, turning to go.
"Oh, wait," the clerk said. "I just remember, we're, uh, running a special today. Actually, the rate is one gold a night. Sorry about that."
Orbin smiled. "That will be fine," he said. After paying for the first night in advance, Orbin received the keys for the rooms; he was a bit surprised to realize that the doors actually had locks on them. He was even more surprised when, after failing to find the rooms anywhere, he realized that they were on the building's second floor. This was going to be quite an experience.