The freezing rain pelted heavily outside the tent I currently called home. By all standards, sunrise would have been shortly. The perfect start. The gold band was cold against my quickly numbing palm. I never wore it, but somehow never traded it either. Call it something to make me remember. Soon, I would be going back.
“Hope you’re ready for a long walk.”
The smooth voice caught me out of my musing and brought a smile. She was there, the rain falling around her delicate form without a drop touching. If only I had been able to learn some of those convenient tricks.
“On a beautiful day like this?” Her tone held an air of playfulness. Yet she had given me the answer. We would be traveling on foot, for one reason or another. And there was always a reason. “Are your things together?”
I nodded simply, replacing the ring in its place at my waist. The satchel secure, I took my sack from the ground nearby. I heard her whisper the charm to shield me from the rain. The sack was pulled over my shoulder and fastened as I stepped out into the open. The flap to the tent fell behind. No lock was needed, no spell cast. In this place one’s belongings were open to all and trusted by none. Anything worth keeping would be kept on hand at all times.
There were never any greetings, as there were never any good-bye’s. We left the encampment in silence. A comfortable silence we had created between ourselves. She had been right, it would be a long walk ahead of us. Yet we both looked forward too it.
It had been a few days on the road. The weather cleared to reveal a beautiful sky. The chill remained. My thoughts were too busy to think on any of it much. I was looking forward to a nice stay at an inn. Warm meal for dinner. A good ale in hand.
Of course it would be now that the Priestess would tell me about a little ‘detour’. Someone had called on her, apparently. Something about owing a favor. It would be a stop at a small town. We wouldn’t be staying the night, but there was a tavern. How could I argue?
We arrived early in the day. Hardly relevant. I made my way to the meeting place determined to satisfy my ever lingering thirst.
It was surprisingly busy for such a small place. It wasn’t very impressive. Mudded trails tracked in without a second glance. It was dark, drapes drawn over the few windows. A strong odor of cheap alcohol and pipe filled the air. I found myself disappointed. We took a seat at a filthy table. There wasn’t much of an option. A pair of drinks soon arrived and all that was left was to wait.
Thankfully it didn’t take long for our acquaintance to show. I winced with repulsion as the creature stumbled over a crevice in the wood flooring. I tried to pass a pleading glance to my companion, but her attentions seemed set on the glass in hand.
“Not much has changed, Hagub,” she practically hissed, not turning to look at the half-orc. She had become all business the moment we stepped in the door. “Still as clumsy as ever.”
His snouted muzzled scrunched into a sneer. His response came with a guttural growl. The damn kooshie. I took a long swallow of the golden mead. It was a bad batch. Not surprising from this sort of place, but there’s always that little bit of hope. I pretended not to notice the taste and went back to my act of paying attention.
“May be clumsy, but don’t need to care for what I do.”
What he did? I could feel the snicker just under the surface and grasped at what little self control I had taught myself. My Priestess had told me about him. He was a middle-man. Never did the jobs himself unless they were easy as the Calimport slave-maidens. Have to admit, he brought himself up to decent livings from where he had started off life as. Not really part of either side of the Faerun, muddled between what some fear and that they know. For others, must be easy to have a race that defines how you are to act, how you perceive life. From the damned elves to the dwarves deep in the dark parts of the land. Must be pretty damned nice.
He took a seat across from us. I took another long drink. I think this meeting put me in a bad mood.
“I don’t have all the time in the Faerun. I understand you wish to call in my debt?”
His expression did nothing to hide his nervousness.
“Well, you see..I’m having this…complication with a certain customer.” His tone remained low as he grew thoughtful on how to phrase his request. I never understood why one couldn’t just spit it out. “A family, actually. They owe me a due I haven’t seen. A ring to be exact. Some heirloom or something. They made a big deal about it, but agreed in the end. Now, they’ve up and vanished.”
I could already tell my companion was getting agitated. Her eyes darted up with an angry tone.
“So…you called me here to use up my precious time to act as what? A collector for this little arrangement gone wrong? Track down some people you lost? I think you’ve got your skills confused and are doing nothing but wasting my attentions…”
She took a quick drink before rising to her feet. A quick glance at me told me to do the same. I didn’t have much of a chance to listen as the little demon opened its muzzle again.
“Wait….wait!” His voice was desperate. I hope he was starting to realize we weren’t at his beck and call.
“It’s not that sort of job. I summoned you because you’re the one who can help me get there. Get in, I mean. No confronting. No danger even. Just help me get in, that’s all I’m askin.”
I knew it couldn’t be that simple. It never was. Keeping silent, I took another swallow of the alcohol. The Priestess never took her seat again. She merely watched the creature skeptically.
“Get into where? And to what purpose if the place is deserted?”
“The family is gone. That’s all we’ve learned about them, but the ring…no, the ring is still there. I don’t know why. I had a colleague locate it for me and that’s where it sits. If I can just get in, we can snatch it and get out. There’s no reason for them to know one way or another, if they ever come back, I mean.”
“Why is it so difficult that a creature of your skill can’t do it on his own?”
He sat back in his seat, his fingers fidgeting anxiously. “Well, see, the thing is…I’ve sent a few others on ahead. I didn’t think it would be that hard. But there’s some sort of curse ‘round that part. They weren’t able to get around it.” His confidence seemed to settle back in just slightly. “Which is why we’re here.”
“I see. Have you at least the details behind the curse?”
Hagub flinched slightly, expecting the worst from his response. “If any had returned, we might have learned something.”
The woman was silent for a time. It seemed she was thinking it over. I tried to pass her a look, some sort of signal, anything that would tell her how stupid considering this would be. However she sighed in decision, never looking to me for approval. “We can leave today?”
“The time is up to you.”
“And it will be finished by nightfall?”
“A…Absolutely…” He stuttered with a wide, nervous smile. He had no idea what to expect. The stench of his lie filled the room. A shouting match started near the entranceway. My eyes followed the bouncer that made his way to them.
When I had turned back, I caught her nod in agreement.
“We will leave within the hour. Wait for us out front.”
A wide, sickening smile filled his features. His yellowed, orcish teeth glowered at me. It wasn’t the shape or smell that I imagined coming from the deceitful mouth that bothered me so much. It was simply him. He was a sniveling excuse for a creature, siding with whoever offered the highest reward. A coward all the way through. Never willing to deal with his own troubles, hoisting them on others. I realized that in many ways he reminded me of myself. He gave a multitude of bows as he got up and nearly ran to his post. I quickly pushed the previous notion away, my attention to the other woman as she sat back down at our table.
“I could have felt your annoyance if I was all the way back at the temple. He’s not all that bad.”
The shock on my face must have shown clearly. The woman offered a soft chuckle.
“He’s a beast…” I found myself insisting. “And a complete idiot. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”
“Of course. But even the idiot’s have their place.”
“Why on Faerun are we dawdling around here?” I imitated the High Priest’s tone he had once used against me.
“I owe the man a debt. It’s as simple as that.”
“He’s not a man. He’s a creature that should have been put out of his misery long ago.”
The Priestess grew somber at that, looking down at her near-empty glass.
“None-the-less, it is a debt to be paid. We must always make good on those.” She finished the small amount left before settling the glass on the table. She rose to her feet and motioned for me to follow. “Always remember that, Rensi. Never leave a debt unanswered. It will cause nothing but trouble.”
I knew better than to say any more. She moved towards the tavern entrance and I followed.
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