DraqAttack's avatar


  • 2023-03-26 13:47

Chapter 1: Bronze and Iron

There’s going to be something good inside of there, I’m certain. Even if I don’t find anything, this grove will make an exceptional hiding place for my own future “acquisitions.”

I approach the tall and thick trees with my eyes wide. Evening is approaching, but here in my homeland of Wild’s End this is the perfect time to hunt for treasure.

I found the grove earlier this morning while looking into a different matter about a cave and some wraiths that turned out to be a sore bear in a hollow. Soreen and her tales taller than an ogre. Well at least I saw some new places. Like this one, which caught my eye as I ran by, with an angry bear trying to catch a halfling snack. Turns out, grizzly bears aren’t nearly as soft and fluffy as they look. They also don’t like being prodded and kneaded while they’re trying to sleep.

Well the bear had their fun, now I can have mine. Discovering a new hiding place is exactly what I needed to relieve the perpetual boredom. Bonus points if I can catch a rabbit or two so that Taryn won’t scold me for leaving without saying anything. Again. Why does he care if I’m there or not anyway? I always get my work done. Frequently on time, as well.

Old growth trees and a tangled mess of underbrush create an impassable wall of green and a tantalizing darkness beyond. I wanted to see inside before, now I need to see what lies beyond. I could climb a tree or cut through the brush, but that would leave obvious signs of my passage, something I never do. Instead, I need to find a natural opening in the brush. Or one made by a previous patron of the grove.

I meld into the long shadows of evening and begin my circuit, ears sharp and eyes open. Careful steps that leave no prints take me around the verdant wall. Waxy leaves and reaching branches block my way, but my luck holds out and I spot a small opening between two close together trunks.

My breath catches in my throat. I wanted to rush forward into the muggy darkness, but caution overrides my curiosity and I spot scuffs on the bark of both trees. Many sets of footprints lead up to the opening. They are very fresh, less than an hour old. Most of them are indistinct, made by a light step, but two stand out. The marks are as faint as the rest, except for two sets of grooves made by protrusions from the sole. I recognize them as hooks meant for soft pads, to sneak around inside of cities and quiet hallways.

All of the footprints are large. Humans and elves for certain, possibly a dwarf as well. City folk, tree humpers and a stone chewer? Sounds to me like the start of a lewd joke.

As I’m contemplating how the joke would go, and whether I want to sneak into the very much occupied grove - I do - a slim elven woman slips out between the trunks in a single, graceful motion. I don’t remember ever being envious of other women, but her practiced poise makes me feel all the more like the silversmith’s daughter I am.

Our eyes meet at the same instant. Since I was distracted, I didn’t have a chance to duck out of sight, but I also didn’t expect her to pierce right through the darkness I’ve gathered around me. The elf stands up, looking just as surprised as me but doing a better job of keeping a straight face. She also does not look happy and places a hand on a long dagger.

Oh that dagger looks like a beautiful piece of work. Is that platinum worked into the hilt? And a silver pommel? I wonder if I can get her to show the whole thing to me without also getting stabbed in the process. Her outfit looks like one of a professional sneak-a-bout. Her clothes are snug but comfortable, layered with thick leather pads tied down with metal rings, painted black to not catch the light.. She wears long, soft boots with a sturdy but flexible sole. Those would be good for stealth in almost any environment. A hood hangs down her back and isn’t attached to her clothing. It would break away if pulled on.

I stand up in a slow, deliberate motion, while admiring her well-crafted outfit, and spread my hands out. The move also opens my cloak to show that I’m not very well armed. Just one small hunting knife and a sling. The elf woman seems to relax a little so I bring my hands up and make two gestures I learned from an elder that lived in Sorhiryth for most of his life. If the old rogue wasn’t playing a long con with me, then I should have just said “Sorry” and “Peace.” My vocabulary in the hand language still isn’t good.

I breathe a sigh of relief when the elf raises an eyebrow and then returns my gesture of peace. She leans back against a tree, but keeps an eye on me and a hand on her weapon. I grin with excitement, my heart pounding in my chest and open my mouth to speak, but she raises a finger to her lips and shakes her head. Then makes a few quick signs. I only pick up “silence” and “trouble.” This is not ideal. Today will be the absolute worst if I don’t at least get a look at her dagger. I also still plan on finding a way into that grove, preferably while there are people on which to eavesdrop.

The elf seems to sense I have a question and cocks her head to the side. Or maybe she’s just confused as to why I’m not being a good little halfling and buggering off. I think for a second, trying to remember a few more words, then point to her dagger and sign “nice,” “good,” and “where?” Now it’s the pretty woman’s turn to smile, just a small one. A chill runs down my spine at the sight. She reaches into a back pouch I didn’t see before and tosses something at me. The object glints in the light of the fading sun and sails right into my waiting hand. A large coin. I roll the disk across my knuckles and feel the solid weight. Iron, plated in bronze.

There is an unfamiliar crest stamped into both sides. A circle of fists closed around daggers. Each weapon is pointed at the fist to the left, as if ready to stab the owner. An alliance built on mutual destruction, rather than trust. I feel a little sweat break out on my forehead.

A soft, deadly sound catches my attention. The elven rogue has pulled her dagger out of the sheath. I get the feeling the sound was for my benefit. She holds the vicious weapon up in front of her. I stop breathing for a moment, as the beautiful blade glows red in the evening sun. A soft curve on one side leads up to a thin point. The length of the edge is longer than I thought, almost that of a short sword. This is a weapon made for both quiet midnight killings and brutal daylight battles.

“Want?” she signs. “Find South Wall.”

The dagger goes back into its sheath and she crosses her arms under her breasts. I won’t get any more out of her. I draw my cloak and the shadows back around me and walk away in silence, but her glittering eyes follow me.

                                                            *  *  *  *

What an unusual child, I think as the halfling slides beneath the shadows. Then I catch myself. Even adult halflings can look just like children.

Technically, I should have killed her for finding the location of tonight’s meeting, even if it was clearly an accident. I’m not in the habit of killing locals, however, especially the famously curious halflings, just for having the bad luck to run across me.

Besides, she didn’t even recognize a Reaver when I showed her the rare and deadly blade, instead asking where she could get one herself. Her signs were stiff and unpracticed. The foolish girl was obviously not raised in the streets and doesn’t know anything. She’ll learn fast, now.

But she did ask, so I gave her the same coin and the same cryptic clue that was given to me by my master. Either she’ll kill me and take her reward, or the mark I gave her will see her dead.

Probably the second one. Such a waste, considering her talent.