“Before we all sleep, there’s something I think we should do.” Nubbins pulls Keothi’s key from his pocket and places it on the table. It sits there amid the cheerful detritus of the meal, dark and heavy and full of secrets.
“We need to investigate the portal,” the gnome says. “It’s what Keothi would have wanted.”
“Seriously, Tony?” Cyd shoots him an exasperated look.
“I never resort to blows unless there is no other option,” the tiefling replies.
“A murderer just tried to attack us, then made a run for it. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a ‘no other option’ kind of deal.”
“Atone acted in line with his conscience, as must we all,” Aleph interjects. “Let us not forget who our enemy is.”
The door to the kitchen squeals open and Nighthill appears in the mouth of the corridor, one hand on the hilt of his sword. He stops short as he sees Jardar lying on the floor, an arrow protruding from her chest.
“I heard the commotion,” he says, relaxing his grip. “I take it the interrogation did not go well?”
“It did not,” Aleph replies. “The councilwoman does indeed appear to be in league with the raiders. She chose to fight us rather than answer our questions.”
Nighthill sighs. “A worrying development. I had thought her a helpful advisor, but now I must ask myself what intelligence she has passed on to Greenest’s enemies. What do you propose we do with her now?”
“Keep her bound and gagged until we can question her further,” the Warforged answers. “She is a powerful mage, capable of casting with no more than a spoken word.”
Nighthill nods slowly, brow creased in thought. “That may prove difficult. We do not have any cells designed to safely hold a magic user. Still, we can take a few precautions, at least. I will have the guards make arrangements.”
Aleph inclines his head. “Thank you, Governor. I believe you mentioned another favour that you would ask of us. Given that Jardar will require some time to recover, perhaps we could assist you with it now?”
Nighthill’s face clouds. “I am glad you remembered: it is a matter of importance, and I would greatly appreciate your help with it.” The party draw closer as he gathers his thoughts. After a moment, he continues. “The prisoners released yesterday by the half-dragon were not the only ones taken during the siege, it seems. As of this morning, thirty of Greenest’s citizens remain unaccounted for. A visitor to the town is also missing: an academic by the name of Leosin.
“The news goes that the Cult’s forces are heading south—and with them are some thirty souls who travel in chains. If you were able to liberate them, it would mean—” the Governor’s voice catches. “It would mean more than I can say. And while Greenest can pay you in little more than gratitude, I hear that Leosin’s followers have offered a modest reward for his safe return.”
Aleph glances at his companions, who nod. “We require no payment,” he begins. Behind him, Cyd coughs. “The reward will be welcome, to my more materially-minded colleagues,” he corrects himself, giving Cyd a severe look. “But reward or no, we would be honoured to help. We will depart immediately.”
“Delaying your departure by a day might be more prudent,” the Governor replies. “That way you can finish recovering, and we can provide you with supplies and horses for the journey. Though they are two days ahead of you, the bulk of the raiders are on foot. Leave the day after tomorrow, on well-rested mounts, and you will outpace them easily.”
“I wouldn’t say no to another day’s rest before we go toe-to-toe with those cultists again,” Cyd offers. “That siege was the toughest night of my life.”
“We could use the extra time to help rebuild Greenest,” Gerard adds. “And I promised Saph that I would help her with some research tomorrow.”
Cyd sniggers. “Research.”
“Two good ideas, Gerard,” Atone chips in. “I will help with the research, too: Saph seems very learned, and I have many questions to ask her.”
“Oh. Right. Of course! Yes, the more the merrier, I imagine,” Gerard stumbles, ears reddening.
Cyd nudges Atone. “I think Ger and Saph were looking to research something together, Tony. Alone.”
“Ahh, I understand,” the tiefling replies, nodding sagely. “Do not worry, Cyd: I will make sure I am not a distraction. They will barely know I’m there.”
The next morning dawns cold but clear. The party are up early, already feeling the benefits of their extended rest. The town is abuzz with activity despite the early hour. The sounds of carpentry and stone masonry fill the air: workers are hammering on roof tiles, sawing wooden beams, and clearing debris from the streets. Saph meets the group at the gates of the Keep, smiling broadly.
“Ready to go?” she asks Gerard. The monk hurries forward, closely followed by Atone.
“Oh, more company!” Saph says brightly. “Great!”
“Yes. Great,” Gerard replies.
The unexpected trio bend their steps towards the temple of Chauntea but in the end, they do not get any further than the market square. There, a great crowd of people have gathered, bringing broken things from their ransacked homes and businesses. A gaggle of crafters have set up shop to assist with repairs.
“I’m a woodworker myself, in a small way,” Gerard says, drifting over to one of the stalls.
Saph follows him. “Really? I’d love to learn. Let’s stop here for a bit and help out!”
Gerard blushes. “By all means.” He turns to Atone. “If you would like to go on ahead to the library, we could join you there later?”
“Oh, there’s no need,” the tiefling replies. “I’ll help too.”
Gerard sets up a workstation and gets out his knife and chisel, while Saph begins directing townsfolk with splintered tables and smashed chairs to come his way. Atone, meanwhile, keeps up a steady stream of questions, quizzing Saph on her knowledge of tieflings, and the books about them she has read in the great library at Candlekeep. Saph responds in kind, interrogating her new friend about every aspect of tiefling biology, culture and history. Gerard works in uncharacteristic silence, his curiosity unroused, for once, by the spirited intellectual discussion going on around him.
As the sun dips below the western horizon, however, the crowd of people in the square begins to disperse and Atone announces that he is going to re-join the rest of the party for dinner. He walks away in the direction of the Cat & Squirrel. Once he has vanished from sight, Saph sidles up to Gerard. “Did I hear you were studying Draconic?” she asks.
Gerard lines up two pieces of a window frame and taps a holding nail into the joint before he answers. “Sorry: don’t want wonky windows!” he laughs, a little awkwardly. “Yes, I have been trying to learn. I’m not bad at the script, but the spoken language is tricky. It’s the lack of—”
“—fire-resistant vocal chords!” Saph jumps in. “I find that, too! I had to learn it in order to read some of the older tomes in Candlekeep,” she adds. “Dragons were our world’s earliest historians.” She looks wistful for a moment; then the expression fades, and she stretches hugely, clearing her throat.
“Would you like a study partner, by any chance?” she asks, in the best draconic Gerard has ever heard from humanoid lips. It’s so impeccable that even after he has made sense of the question, he spends a full second boggling at the skill with which it was asked.
“If you think I can keep up,” he replies at last, speaking slowly to get the guttural vowel sounds right.
Saph chuckles. “I’m sure you can. We can start with your pronunciation: you sound like a frog with a head cold.”
Gerard beams. “I look forward to it!” he says, in common. Then he frowns as he parses the second part of Saph’s sentence. “Hey!”
“It’s true!” Saph laughs again. “But don’t feel bad: I’ve had more practice. I’m sure you could teach me a thing or two about woodworking, with your superior skills.” She arches an eyebrow at him. “I bet you’re great at screwing, for instance.”
“That’s carpentry, really,” Gerard replies absently. “Woodwork refers to carving and whittling…” he trails off as he notices the expression on Saph’s face. She winks at him and walks away, leaving the monk wide-eyed, pink-faced and utterly speechless behind her.
Aleph spends his day disassembling the barricades and heaving the wood across town to the Cat & Squirrel, where it is used to patch up the roof and the furniture. Consequently, he’s the first of the party to return that evening to the tavern’s common room, newly re-opened for business. Eled greets him at the door.
“You and your friends must stay here free of charge, of course,” he grins. “I only wish I could give you a drink on the house that you could actually, you know, drink.”
“I appreciate the thought,” Aleph rumbles. “A quiet room with a good fire will suffice for now, however.”
Once he is alone in the chamber Eled has found for him, the Warforged kneels down in front of the fire and clears himself a small space. He produces incense and a candle from his pack, lighting both and placing them before him. A cough from behind him makes him turn. Atone is standing in the doorway.
“I am sorry to interrupt,” the tiefling says. “The proprietor said I could find you here.”
“It is no trouble,” Aleph replies. He gestures and Atone comes in and sits beside him.
“I did not know you meditated,” Atone comments. “Might I join you? I used to meditate every day in the monastery. It has been harder to find the time recently.”
“Certainly,” Aleph says. “I would welcome the company. I too have not had the chance to commune with my brothers for too long. I have much to tell them.”
“Can your brothers hear you?” Atone asks.
“I… believe so,” Aleph replies. “Sometimes when I call upon their strength in battle, I can feel their presence. Though it is true that they do not communicate with me directly.”
“I understand.” The tiefling bows his head. “Say hello from me.”
The rest of the party return to the Cat & Squirrel later that evening to find Atone and Aleph already seated in the common room, the table set for the evening meal.
“How was your research?” Cyd asks Gerard with a sly grin, plonking down into the seat beside him and filling her plate.
“Well, we didn’t end up getting much research done—” Gerard starts.
“Oh really?” Cyd replies, mock surprise dripping from every syllable.
“—we spent most of the day fixing tables and door frames—although we did manage to practise a bit of draconic in the afternoon,” the monk finishes.
“Oh. Really?” This time, Cyd’s surprise is genuine. “You’re weird, Ger,” she says at last, dismissing the topic. “Anyway, guess what I’ve been doing today!”
There’s a collective silence. “Playing with Feathers?” Nubbins offers at last.
“What? No!” Cyd sighs. “You’re all hopeless. I got this.” She shows off a silver pendant hanging around her neck, a finely-faceted ruby set at its centre. “I used one of the gems the tiny fairy dragons gave us,” she says, turning it this way and that so that it catches the light. “Isn’t it shiny? Apparently, it’s a near-perfect stone, so it’ll hold an enchantment, if we can find someone to magic it.”
“Ooh! I could magic it,” Nubbins jumps in. “I spent the day with Brem and the mushroom people. I’ve been learning lots of things!”
Cyd looks cautiously intrigued. “What kind of things?”
“The mushroom men have been digging out new rooms underneath the temple. They put in pillars to stop the ceiling from falling in: it’s really clever!” the gnome enthuses.
“So, you’ve been learning about cave excavation. And how will that help with enchanting rubies, exactly?”
“Oh, it won’t. But I’d still be happy to try!”
The rest of the meal passes in a happy blur of food and conversation, no one thinking of the journey to come tomorrow morning. When Cyd announces that she is going to bed, however, the first of the group to do so, Nubbins places a hand on her arm. Suddenly, the gnome looks serious, all traces of merriment gone.
“Before we all sleep, there’s something I think we should do.” He pulls Keothi’s key from his pocket and places it on the table. It sits there amid the cheerful detritus of the meal, dark and heavy and full of secrets.
“We need to investigate the portal,” Nubbins says. “It’s what Keothi would have wanted.”
If you’re enjoying the story and would like to support Tabletop Tales, you can download all of the side quests featured on the blog (including Keothi’s portal key) over on DM’s guild! It’s pay-what-you-want, so while any donations are greatly appreciated, they’re by no means necessary 🙂
Cam has also recently released a set of gorgeous maps for episode 1 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which you can also get for free over on DM’s guild. These are the same maps we use in our sessions, and they’re super clear, well-designed and easy to use!
Thanks for reading, friends!