Posted by zero
6 Growfest, 595 CY
Auric was really enjoying Growfest. As reigning champion of the Free City Arena, he was the recipient of a great deal of attention, adulation, and more free drinks than even his prodigious thirst required. People oohed and ahhed as the gladiator told and retold “war stories” from last year’s Games, and they broke into wild applause and cheered when, at the climax of the tale, he heroically vanquished all other contenders and laid claim to the coveted Champion’s Belt. Those moments were his favorite.
As he finished another drink, he caught his companion Tirra’s gaze and gave her a wink. She rolled her canted eyes, but he saw the smirk before she covered it with another sip of wine. He waved to his friend Ricard, the owner of the Green Dragon Inn, for another round of ale, and drew another cheer from the crowd. He liked the rough-and-tumble tavern, and was more than happy to attract more business to it with his presence.
Auric waved his audience off and made his way over to Tirra’s table, taking a seat beside her and propping his feet up on the empty chair adjacent. “Helluva crowd tonight, eh?” he prompted. She muttered something non-committal, and he frowned as he looked her over. He had known the elf less than a year, and she was, to him, something so many other women were not – interesting. She had rebuffed all of his advances so far, but he thought that he was growing on her. He felt sure it was only a matter of time before Tirra succumbed to his obvious charms.
He shrugged amorous thoughts off for the night, sensing that he wouldn’t get anywhere. “Have you heard anything from the wizard lately? He usually isn’t so quiet for so long during the off-season.”
Tirra glanced over at the gladiator and nodded, once. “I expect him to make contact tonight,” she said. Despite the dry and business-like subject, her voice made Auric think of music and laughter and lovemaking and unmitigated joy. It was part of her mystique, an ineffable quality that he liked to refer to as Elven Mystery.
Her arched eyebrow made him realize he’d drifted off into his thoughts for a moment too long and he nodded. “He gets grumpy when we go too long without finding some artifact or other.”
“I believe he has been meeting with his order. We should expect travel.”
Auric took another pull of his ale, then wiped an arm across his lips. “S’fine with me,” he declared. “A new audience means new fans!” He laughed loudly as Tirra turned away and cast her gaze across the crowded tavern.
* * *
3 Planting, 595 CY
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!” Auric exclaimed.
The sight of the mud-smeared mining town did not at all match what his imagination had concocted for Diamond Lake. Tirra chuckled behind her hand, but Khellek glared at the big man icily. “Worry not, dear Auric,” the wizard said, his voice dripping acid. “There are no fewer than two bordellos with many a wanton available for your pleasure. After.”
“Are you sure this is the right Diamond Lake?” the gladiator persisted glumly. “I would probably catch something,” he mumbled.
“Would, not will?” Tirra teased, a merry light dancing in her eyes.
“Enough,” Khellek demanded. “The expedition was last seen here, and so we shall seek them out.” He hesitated before continuing. “It has been…some time since their presence was last noted.”
“How long?” Tirra asked, all mirth fled.
“Approximately sixty years,” he admitted.
“Sixty!” Auric exploded. “How in the hells are we supposed to find a lead that old? Who’d you piss off to get such a crappy assignment?” the gladiator dared to say. Tirra arched a brow and looked at the wizard expectantly.
Khellek’s fury was evident in his gaze, but he regained his composure quickly. “That is our task,” he finally managed to say. “We are not grasping in the dark, however. I am given to understand that the last known destination of the expedition was a cairn called Stirgenest. Charming title notwithstanding, that is likely to be our first destination.”
“Instructions?” Tirra asked.
“Yea, what do you want us to do?” Auric said unnecessarily.
“Oh, nothing too onerous, I assure you,” Khellek said acerbically. “Find a taproom to your liking, buy a few drinks, ask a few questions, and otherwise establish our presence in Diamond Lake. I would like to vet the Stirgenest lead before tromping off blindly. Discover what you can and report back to me.”
“Where will we find you?” Tirra said.
Khellek turned and looked distastefully at the muddy road leading into the center of Diamond Lake. “I will be in the establishment with the fewest number of unwashed masses.”