*Author’s Note: This chapter was a fairly long one, so I shortened it slightly for this post.
Sepultur’a steps out from the banking-house, stretching. Her errands are finally complete, and all necessary transactions have been made. She has deposited a tidy sum of coin to her account after trading some fine furs and skins to the leather-worker, and then made a trade with the smith. He has offered to craft her the new pieces of armour that she needs, in direct exchange for the old pieces she wore. Since the craftsmanship of her worn-out armour was exceptional, he also offered her an extra bit of gold so that he could study the work. He hopes to re-use some of the materials, if any, that he is able to extract from the set.
Dusk is approaching, and the local lamp-lighter makes his way slowly through the streets, performing his evening duties. He will make these rounds again after sunrise in order to extinguish the flames, trim the wicks, and polish the glass and brass housings. He is an elderly dark elf with a slightly hunched back, but has a more cheerful appearance in comparison with the standard dour expressions of his people. He nods at Sepultur’a as she passes, and she tosses him a cheerful wave as she makes her way to the tavern. She desires a drink that is a bit stronger than what Ingvar offers at the inn. There is no need for her to wake early, so sleep is far from her mind. She ascends the wooden steps of the tavern, noting the outdoor seating on the wide, spacious deck. Like Ingvar’s place, there is a balcony providing cover for this deck, but it is much larger and has its own roof offering shelter from the elements for patrons. Unlike the inn, however, the deck is only as wide as the building. The deck of Ingvar’s inn wraps completely around the building, with chairs and small tables placed here and there for quiet sitting and viewing the local scenery.
The tavern looks to be very busy already, as voices and laugher ring loudly and clearly from the balcony. Patrons are sitting and standing around on the deck, many chatting casually with one another. Sepultur’a sees a couple of the market-place stall-workers, relaxing after a long day’s business. Smiling, she opens the stout oaken door. A boisterous noise greets her, as the door’s thickness muffled the din inside. She sees a large fireplace ahead of her on the far wall, in the traditional style and build of the Nord peoples. The tavern actually has an entry-hall of sorts, with a burly man standing near the door to keep order. The rowdiest and most unruly customers will get a not-so-polite escort out of the door by this man. He has short, blonde hair, a neat mustache, and a scruff of beard. She nods at him in polite acknowledgement and makes her way into the main room of the tavern.
The room is large and open, with a counter on either side. The counter to her left is similar to where Ingvar stands at the inn, with a room behind it, just under the stairwell. A lizard-man tends to the drinking patrons here. A Breton bard is playing a flute near the fireplace, while two cat-people dance with each other. Another counter takes up half the space of the right side of the room, where a Nord woman takes orders for food. A cauldron of stew stays warm by the fireplace, and a huge haunch of meat roasts on a spit. The aroma is beyond delicious – Sepultura’s mouth waters. There are three large tables, evenly spaced around the room; two stools are at the food-counter, and none at the drinking counter. Feet clomp about upstairs, and a woman screams laughter which is punctuated by the crash of cutlery. The burly man at the door sighs quietly and makes his way up the stairs, cracking his knuckles and rolling his shoulders in preparation for any trouble that might arise. The dock-workers, sailors, and mercenaries tend to drink the most, talk the loudest, and let their fists fly most often.
Sepultur’a goes over to the woman at the food-counter, first – she wants to get some food before drinking, and the roasting meat is impossible to ignore. The older woman’s hair is blonde at the top, fading to iron-gray at her temples, and is pulled back from her florid face in a severe ponytail. Sweat beads her forehead and adds a shine to her full, rosy cheeks. Her face is surprisingly smooth for her age, and her figure is plump and stout – she solidly fills out the long work-dress she wears. She wipes her hands on a rag as Sepultur’a approaches, offering a wide, warm smile. “Hullo there, lass! What might I be gettin’ fer ye this evening?” she asks in a loud, hearty voice that carries into the room. Sepultur’a would not be surprised if the patrons above could hear this woman’s voice, even over their raucous laughter. She grins at the woman as she replies. “Well, that stew in the cauldron looks like it could feed an army, and I’m but a mere slip of a girl. The roast, though, is something that I could sink my teeth into! It’s mammoth haunch, is it not?” The cook’s eyes widen in surprise. “You know your meats, girl! I’m impressed – there aren’t many who can tell the type and cut of meat, simply from the smell of it!” She laughs, doubling over with mirth, then fixes a direct gaze on Sepultur’a, appraising her with quick, darting glances. Sepultur’a feels as though her very soul has been peered at and analysed. The woman leans a meaty arm on the counter, looking Sepultur’a up and down, then says, “You look hungry, so I’ll make you a deal. One thick slab of that haunch and a small tureen of stew for 15 gold pieces. That will also get you two glasses of house wine, or one tankard of any drink that you choose.” She leans back, winking. “Does that sound fair, lass?”
Sepultur’a pretends to think on it, then laughs and drops a wink of her own. “I think that sounds like quite a fair deal for a delicious, filling meal! I’m looking forward to something other than my own cooking, for a change.” She smiles and reaches for her purse, counting out the coin. “Do I pay you for the full meal, including the drink?” she asks. “Yes,” replies the cook. “I’ll let the barkeep know that you’ve paid in advance, and he will let you know what the choices of house wine are. We have a nice, crisp white wine, flavoured with juniper-berries, or a refreshing, aged red made of local snow-berries. Otherwise, any other choice is yours, provided that we have it in stock!” She takes the coin and drops it in the lockbox behind her, then snaps her fingers. “Skips! Here to me, now!” A thin lizard-man who had been clearing, wiping, and re-setting a couple of the dining tables hurries over, bowing low. “Yesss, misssstressss?” he hisses, tongue darting snake-like as he speaks. He has no horns, feathers, or head-fins like the lizard-folk that Sepultur’a has gotten used to seeing during her travels. He is slight of frame with a narrow, serpentine head. His eyes are a sickly yellow hue, and his smooth wrinkled skin looks leathery, not scaled.
The Nord woman instructs “Skips” to slice a generous hunk of meat from the mammoth haunch and serve it on a platter with some steamed vegetables, alongside a tureen of the venison stew. She points to one of the freshly-cleaned tables, indicating that Sepultur’a will be seated there. “Also, please remove all of the chairs from that table, there, save one…are you expecting company, lass?” she inquires, turning towards Sepultur’a for a moment. She shakes her head as she answers. “No, not this night. I shall be solitary and carefree – and, I appreciate your courtesy and attentiveness!” She genuflects respectfully and with gratitude, dropping an extra gold coin on the counter. She learned long ago to tip well and generously for good service and information, but has forgotten the associated rule: “Be not too obvious and careless with your funds, and carry no more than you expect to spend.” She is relaxed and not concerned with the monies she is spending; she has put most of her gold away for safekeeping and doesn’t feel the need for caution. She doesn’t know that she has been targeted by evildoers, and was selected by them the moment that she strode in the door. She is young, healthy, and well-mannered, and those qualities make her stand out like a red flower on a field of snow.
Without her observation, or that of the chef, a note has passed from “Skips” to the chamber-maid who is going between the upper and lower floors, taking orders and cleaning up spilled drinks, dropped food, and the occasional puddle of vomit. The chamber-maid, in turn, slips the note into a folded napkin that she places next to the plate of a thin man shrouded in dark clothing and a cloak, his face hidden by a cowl. He sits in the corner behind the upstairs fireplace, where he has an excellent view of the room and all who are in it. When he deems it safe to do so, he carefully unfolds the note and reads it, then tosses it into the flames where it vanishes into a puff of smoke and ash. He smirks under his cowl as he watches the doorman hoist up a drunken dark elf by the collar and drag the protesting man downstairs. He leans back in his chair and temples his fingers under his chin, then beckons to the woman who had been shrieking with laughter at the drunk elf’s antics. She staggers over and drops into the chair opposite him, leaning forward and displaying a startling amount of cleavage in the tight, low-cut corseted top she wears. She sways as she feigns a greater amount of drunkenness than she actually feels – in truth, she has only imbibed a single glass of wine, but it is so easy to distract drunken men with her outfit. She has casually relieved many of their coin, but only when they’d given her some and bade her to buy herself a drink on them. She knew that their eyes were on her pert bottom as she sashayed to the stairs, where she would meet the chamber-maid and pass some over as if paying for a drink, then pocketing the remainder.
The woman in the low-cut top slouches forward, giggling inanely and heaving her massive mammaries onto the table. The man in the cowl stares at her exposed, pale flesh, noting the blue-tinged veins that line the surface of her breasts. “Nicely done, Evie…nicely done. That poor sap didn’t know who he was dealing with, did he?” he queries low, in a tone that only the woman can detect. Evesori chuckles, her bosom bouncing. “Nay, milord…he was the easiest mark that I’ve seen in a while – it was almost too easy to get him kicked out!” The man in the cowl stares at her with pale, red-rimmed eyes. “I have another task for you. It has been a while since new blood was brought into the fold, and I was just informed that prime prey has entered this fine establishment. I need you to examine it up close, if you will.” Evesori heaves a dramatic sigh, pretending to be offended. “Ah – so you tire of me again, milord? You need a warm body to lay next to?” she purrs seductively. “I know that we can no longer warm each other’s beds, but still…” she trails off and leans back, crossing her arms under her ample bosom. The man chuckles again. “Ah, you misunderstand.” He shakes his head at her. “I forgot – you were still a young maiden when I met you. You have forgotten the appeal of a living, breathing body.” He leans forward, fixing her with his intense gaze and reaches out to clasp his hands around hers. She sighs again, dramatically, feigning exasperation. “Oh, fine,” she says. “I have no choice, do I?” She kisses him, lightly flicking her tongue against his. “Tell me what you need me to do, milord.” Her voice gets low and husky as she stares into his eyes with an intensity that matches his own. “Tell me your deep, dark desires…” He speaks, and she listens to his plan. She smiles…it is a plan that will be quite fun to set into motion. She shakes with silent laughter as he tells her the details.
Downstairs, Sepultur’a is engaged in deep conversation with a trio of adventurers who have sat down at a table next to hers. Between bites of meat, she learns that they travel the land, exploring the caverns that dot the countryside. She had passed quite a few during her journeys but never ventured in them yet. The prospect of going underground makes her uncomfortable; still, she knows that the only way to face her fears is to meet them head-on. Further questioning reveals that they belong to a loosely-knit guild, and she recalls Ildris telling her that finding a guild could be of great help in developing her skills and increasing her knowledge.
“So, the only requirement to join is to find and explore a cave?” she asks the tall, muscular man who appears to be the leader of this little group. He belches loudly and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand before answering. “Aye,” he says, hoisting his empty mug high. The serving-girl who is assisting the bartender hurries over with a pitcher and refills it. He takes a big swig of the ale and continues. “Not just any cave, mind. We have collected a list of some of the deepest, darkest caverns where few have ever been, so there is always a rare trinket to be found. Those who join our guild must go to one of these caverns and retrieve an item from the lowest depths.” He drinks and belches loudly again, then finishes his short speech. “Those who are successful and join the guild need only explore these dungeons, caverns, and other places of lost lore whenever they so choose, afterwards. We only require a donation of coin or trinkets found.” Sepultur’a thanks them for the information, then finishes her meal. She decides to have one more drink before returning to Ingvar’s inn, as the tavern has one of her favourite ales in stock – she was pleasantly surprised to see a brew from her homeland in one of the stout kegs behind the counter.
She gets her drink, then returns to her table and listens to the adventurers for a bit longer. Their tales are fantastic and fascinating, and she is intrigued. Joining a guild is something that she has considered for some time, and this one might be ideal. She asks if she can sit with them and talk for a bit longer…she has a few more questions to ask before she makes her decision.
Evesori makes her way down the stairs, giggling to herself and stumbling a bit, keeping up the appearance of a drunkenness that she doesn’t feel. She casually observes the room as she makes her way to the bartender, spotting the target. The young woman is sitting with the dungeon-crawlers, engaged in animated conversation. Ah, she thinks, the girl is looking to establish herself in some way. This will make what she needs to do even easier than she expected. She chuckles with renewed mirth, idly wishing that she would have been given something more challenging to do. Her skills have been sorely underused as of late, and she is bored. Perhaps an infusion of new blood is just the thing that she needs to feel rejuvenated and alive again.
She wanders back upstairs and seats herself at the table of the man in the cowl. “You’ll love this, milord,” she says. “The prey is looking for a home…I think that we shall be able to provide one.” He nods slowly. “Very good, very good…let’s put our little plan into motion then, shall we?” He gets up from the table and heads down to the main room.