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[Wilderlands] Chapter One: Hunters and the Hunted

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Wulfhere:
On The Coast of the Trident Gulf...
Women and girls gathered on the shoreline, the olive-skinned wives and daughters of Targnol’s fishermen come to greet returning mariners with flatbread and cool flasks of beer.  Clad in long patchwork chitons and wide-brimmed hats, the women’s attire would be an embarrassment in other parts of the Empire.  Under Targnol’s blazing sun, it was simply practical.  With little wind, the day was hotter than Mitra’s phoenix.  It left all who waited or worked the busy shoreline drenched in sweat.   

Young children chased each other across the rocky beach, undaunted by the withered corpses of lawbreakers that hung impaled on stakes at the strand’s edge.  Their games spooked a swarm of bone crabs that had congregated optimistically beneath one dangling husk, sending the scavengers scuttling down the shore. 

A few boats had returned from the Gulf more quickly than the rest of the fishermen, their crews already hard at work sorting their catch.  Most of the fish would end up in brinepots, drawn from the salty paste to hang on the drying racks on the morrow.  A few fishermen had been fortunate enough to catch a netful of dyefish; their knives quickly stripped the fishes’ valuable scales.  To produce the brightest color, these treasures would quickly be immersed in amphorae of lime water. 

+ + + +

Far above all this, the province’s ruler surveyed the activity from his stronghold’s ramparts.  An aged slave approached with a shade to shelter him from the burning sun, but the Shah of Targnol turned him away with a withering glare.  Such comforts were for women or merchants, not for the unflinching Arm of the Emperor.  No man could stop the encroachment of old age, but a soul possessed of iron will could still command respect.  A display of strength would cow his rivals, but what means would be most suitable?  He pondered his options.

Coming to a conclusion, the Shah summoned his majordomo.  “These sullen airs and pernicious months of peace sap our courtiers’ vitality.  We shall have a grand hunt within the Thistledown, with every hardy entertainment.  Set all in motion:  Let us dazzle our courtiers with lavish feasting and the coursing of noble hounds, the sweet notes of hunting horns and the spiced meat of deadly beasts!”

Shah Abdu Inslar grimly smiled as he considered the upcoming spectacle.  Those who plotted against him might find the upcoming celebrations more… entertaining than they had expected. 

+ + + +

Larissa was singing again, noted Neketh al’Karid.  His wife had doubtlessly seen some dashing hero or muscular outlander, with whom she would surely flirt outrageously.  Travelers found her blue-green skin and webbed fingers fascinating and exotic, since such rich coloration was rare these days. The portly innkeeper daily berated the gods for cursing him with his young and lovely wife, a merciless tease who daily mentioned how she would run the Golden Trident Inn differently once the gods saw fit to stop her husband’s heart.  Of course, the clever girl knew just where the line was drawn, and was the soul of courtesy and respect for her husband when the customers were watching. 

In his heart, Neketh knew that Larissa was faithful, and she oversaw the Golden Trident’s management splendidly.  He just wished she didn’t find so much amusement in playing with his emotions!

+ + + +

As he ground healing herbs within his cluttered workroom, the Shah’s physician Valnetor Dreimond considered the rumors he had heard.  Apparently, a fellow scholar had come to visit Targnol.  The press of his duties seldom allowed him the luxury of discourse with other healers.  Perhaps if he invited them on this hunt the Shah was proposing?  They could stay in the stronghold until all was prepared. 

Valnetor grimaced cynically. With his luck some luckless courtier would get himself hurt and force him to spend the whole hunt waiting upon the idiot.  There was always so much to be done!  The healer redoubled his efforts, hoping that he might finally find a chance to spend time with his intellectual equals.

+ + + +

In an alley between the squalid huts of impoverished fishermen, a beggar child poked at the cloth-wrapped bundle he had found.  Encrusted with blood and filth, the silken rags fell open to reveal the corpse of a woman, her skin the red-bronze of an Altanian house-slave or noble’s handmaiden.  The child shuddered as he saw the dozens of cuts and punctures covering her body, but overcame his fear long enough to grab a jeweled bracelet and flee.  His brothers would have bread tonight!

As you introduce your characters to the game setting, they have learned of the planned hunt and the apparent murder.  Rumors are spreading rapidly...

caesar193:
Peregrina Letalis surveyed the crowd in the town square. Some merchants attended stalls while explaining why exactly each and every passerby needed their fish-chunks-onna-stick. Children chased each other while weaving through adult legs, laughing wildly, all under the eye of parents. A thief surreptitiously unclasped a gold bracelet from an unwary woman. And, of course, the decaying bodies on the stakes. Peregrina sighed. Oh, the wondrous benefits of civilization.

She slipped her bow into her backpack, but kept her dagger hidden and at the ready. No need attracting unwanted attention. She whistled for Geri, and started weaving her way through the crowd. Though she did have to slap one aspiring thief's hand as it drifted far too near her backpack. She stood for a moment in the lee of the crowd, and looked up at the sign hanging above the quiet door. The Golden Trident, proclaimed the sign. Sure enough, a gold trident underlined the words. The prongs stuck out from the wood sign, and someone had decided to be funny and stick a beer mug over the middle prong.

Peregrina pushed her way into the inn. A couple of early patrons were lounging around, waiting for Larissa to start singing again. The barkeep was wiping down the counter with a rag. Peregrina, having been this way on a past merchant caravan before, had been here before and was familiar with the barkeep Neketh al'Karid.

Neketh looked up from his counter-wiping (or rather, looked down), and after a moment recognition etched his face. "Hey, Shorty! What brings ya back in town?"

"For the last time, don't call me Shorty," said Peregrina in the easy manner of an old habit. "And the same old, same old. Jithos al'Ishmael, the rug merchant, hired my guarding services back in Yithnol. By the way, you got a mug on your sign."

"Hmm? Oh, yeah, one of the regulars keeps doing that. I'd knock it off, but he'd put it back on, so... Anyways, Shorty, ya want the same room? Number 16?" said Neketh, while fending off Geri's exuberant attack.

"Yep. Thanks, Neketh," Peregrina said, and then whistled for Geri.

"Oh, and by the way, Shorty. Got wind of a rumor you might be interested in."

"And?"

"Word 'round town is that," began Neketh, leaning in closer, "Some handmaiden kicked the bucket earlier. There was this ferocious fight, ya see, and the other guy had a knife, and stab stab stab, the girl was dead an' bleedin' all over the place."

He leaned back, and then told her about the Shah's hunt. Peregrina smiled, nodded, and thanked him for the news. She whistled again for Geri, and then disappeared to her room. She dropped her bag on the floor, threw a treat to Geri, and then slipped out of her armor. She lay down on the bed, planning on taking a quick nap before the dinner hour rolled around.

Shadoweagle:
Ooc: posted via my phone, so if formatting etc is crappy, I apologise.

"To Valnetor Dreimond. I... No, wait." The hollowed voice of Exeta Fynn echoed from beneath his mask as he conversed with a young courier. The masked alchemist pointedly ignored the looks he received from the women awaiting their fisherman partners as he and the courier walked slowly along the shoreline of the Trident gulf. "Thee goode and honorable Physician Dreimond!" Exeta laughed softly and nodded. "Yes, write that down, Velos." The man with Exeta nodded and wrote down Exeta's words on a roll of parchment.

"Thee goode and honorable Physician Dreimond," Exeta repeated, "I, Exeta Fynn, humbly seek audience with thee. The prowess of Valnetor Dreimond's tinctures and salves are near legendary, and I have in fact based some of my own studies upon thine own practices. Your method of cold-pressing Anglerleaf to extract the purest Anaesthetic..." Exeta paused at Velos's blank stare, then with the patience of saints, slowly recited "A...n...a...e...s yes, you have it now! To extract the purest anaesthetic possible has proved most useful." Exeta paused in his stride as a lone bone crab skittered in front of the two men. The masked alchemist  considered the crab momentarily, before smiling beneath his mask and flipping the crustacean over onto its back with his boot. Exeta began walking once more, waving for the courier to follow him. Some several dozen paces before the duo, a large dog weaved through the crowd - and a halfling female. Exeta spared them no second glance, continuing his letter.

"I have caught wind of the great hunt which the great Shah is preparing; I am sure you must be busy with preparations for the event, but if you happened to have some free time, I would seek visitation to discuss your methods further."
"Is that all, Master Fynn?" Velos asked. Exeta removed his wide brimmed hat and ran a hand over his sweat-soaked, black hair before placing it back on - it was hot today, but the alchemist still wore his full attire.
" No... Add this; 'I eagerly await your reply, and am currently staying at The Golden Trident. The courier here will return a letter to me if you wish. He has already been paid for the response so don't let him fool you into paying him!" Velos's face soured as Exeter recited this, and the alchemist laughed loudly beneath the porcelain shell and clapped Velos on the back in a good natured gesture. "That will do, Velos. Send it to the Master Physician promptly, if you please."

Exeta handed Velos a silver piece and waved the young man on his way. Watching Velos jog off, the masked man grunted. It was time to get into the shade of the Golden Trident. He had stayed at the inn the previous two nights, and although it was a pleasant enough place he was loathe to spend another night; The exotic, green-skinned Larissa had been overly friendly to the alchemist and while he was certain there was no hidden motive into it, Exeta would prefer not to get on the wrong side of the well-fed Neketh.
Exeta Fynn entered The Golden Trident just in time to see the same halfling from the streets trekking upstairs with her dog.

Sure enough, Larissa was immediately at Exeta's side, a warm hand on his shoulder as she guided him to a secluded table. "My dear Mr Fynn! I trust you came back just to see my smiling face!"
Ignoring this, Exeta sat on a reasonably comfortable chair and then nodded to the staircase, "I never knew you allowed animals in here, Larissa."
"Well, we don't tend to, but that one's a special case! The pup is well trained, and the lass never likes to be apart from it much."
Dismissing this, Exeta asked for wine which was promptly brought to his table. Sliding his porcelain mask halfway up his face to reveal his stubbled chin, Exeta drank - not the most practical way to consume things, but the man had made a reputation on never revealing his face, and there was no point in changing that habit simply to quench his thirst.

Larissa sat down on the other side of the table, smiling widely at him, "So, are you going to save us from the villainous cutthroat that stabbed that young maiden, milord?"
"I have other... Appointments I am trying to arrange, Larissa; I doubt I will have time for anything else." 
Satisfied and glad to be out of the sun, Exeta awaited a reply to his letter.

Gossamer:
Two weeks had passed since he first arrived at this smelly backwater place, and Verity was starting to feel a little restless. Normally he never stayed long in one place or the other, but recent developments had forced him to pause. He paced back and forth on the creaking hardwood floor. On top of some crates across the small shabby room, sat a figure watching him expectantly. He was the closest thing to a friend, Verity had ever known, a short(though normal sized for his race) ragged fellow, known as Hands. For perhaps the third time today, Verity had to ask. "And you are zure of this? The doctor?"

The halfling sighed and looked at Verity with slight exasperation, composed himself and replied.
"For the last time, yes. I've allready checked it with three independant sources, and while they didn't know much, I could discern enough from what they did know. And that letter you received should prove it."

Verity's frustration was starting to show. "But how-"

Hands cut him off. "I don't know how! ..But that letter would suggest that he won't do anything rash in either case. So why not hear him out. You wouldn't be admitting to anything, and you need to find out just how much he thinks he knows in order to make a solid decision."

He cleared his throat, and reached for his pocket. Causing Verity to pause in his pacing and study the movement of the hand. The gloved hand returned from the folds of the pocket holding a small flower bulb, and Verity visibly relaxed. Hands threw the bulb into his opened maw, and started thoughtfully chewing. He picked up.

"The....hunters, would surely see him dead, if he does know something. But if not, there's still time to sway him off this dangerous course. Course, there's the matter of that slave-girl found dead..." Hands raised an eyebrow.

Verity held his chin thoughtfully, and tried looking out the grimey window with not much success.
He didn't like where this was heading, but he understood his friend's reasoning.
"And what if he iz allready working for them? It would certainly zeem like they are allready here, no?" He turned with a seemingly nonchalant look on Hands, gauging his response.

Hands shrugged. "Kill him. Can't have that. Though, I'd advice you to be careful. He is well connected after all, no matter the Shah's personal feelings towards the man, he would probably still take it personnally if his court physician turned up dead. But for now, let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Verity let his hands rest on his hips, and flashed the halfling one of his characteristic smiles.
"Very well, my diminutive friend. But, if the good doctor thinkz he will have everything the way he intended, he is zurely mistaken! I will pay him a vizit, do not doubt. But not at the hour intended. The question iz, will he be attending the hunt, or ztay behind?" Verity was getting worked up, dramatically stabbing the air with his index finger.

The halfling looked thoughtful. "Could go either way. You were supposed to meet late in the evening, the hunt is during the day. Since there's a big chance a hunter might get injured, the Shah will probably keep the physician waiting at the side-lines. But if he have his own way, he'll no doubt stay behind. Men like that probably don't enjoy such physical sports. My money would be on the former though. And either way, the security ought to be light during the hunt."

Verity took heart at hearing that. "Then it is zettled! While the Shah and his court are out rummaging through the bush, I will enter the ztronghold in all discretion and await the doctor'z return. No doubt it will come as a pleazant surprise." With that, his smug smile grew wide and he winked at Hands. After a wish of luck from the halfling, he adjusted his disguise, pulled up his hood and mentally altered his way of speaking, he started limping his way down the mucky roads towards the Golden Trident, trepidation mixed with excitement at the thought of the coming hunt.

He took a quick look through the window, then entered the not yet so buzzing establishment. That annoying fish-woman was busy chatting to a strange man in a silly mask. Verity frowned his now wrinkly face at that, but collected himself soon enough when the hollows of the man's mask was directed his way. He quickly turned his head, causing his long seemingly grey hair to dance in front of his face. He started limping towards the back, with a quick nod at the innkeeper, who knew him only as "Gann", the vagrant. He looked both ways in the corridor, studied the door for a while. Seemingly satisfied, he unlocked it carefully, swung the door open and after a while made his careful way inside. Resetting the small trap he had set in order to tell if someone had entered, he locked the door. After having looked through the whole room, he threw himself on his bed and cocked his crossbow. Soon, very soon. His time to act would come...

Summary: Verity is disguised as an older human male. The Inn-keeper knows him only as 'Gann' the vagrant. And Verity remains in his rented room at the Trident until the day of the hunt, no common room, no elvish features.

valadaar:
Therdamin arranged his few things in the sparse room.  It was dim - two loopholes served as windows and Therdamin had not bothered to light the lamp.  The journey had been pleasant enough, the caravan he travelled with had been well guarded and not inclined to tarry.

He looked forward to meeting with Valnetor, a royal doctor and well placed scholar. Maybe he could even arrange to visit the Shah’s library - he had to have one.  His own clan’s library held little draw for him now, having read virtually the entirety of it.

He got up to take a walk about the ground. Perhaps they had siege weaponry he could examine..

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