The Night Maiden had made port sometime during the night and I had departed well before sunrise. Vyllos had given me strict instructions on what my course of action should be should there be . . . complications aboard the ship. He would never know that I had deviated – but only slightly – from his plan.
But I was no fool. I knew I would have to lay low, to get out of the city as quickly as I was able. But, I must confess . . . it was difficult to slip away from the comforting bulk of the Maiden. She had been my home for decades, for most of my life. And what was there for me on land?
I took refuge in a tavern that was as far away from the harbor as I could manage without leaving the city in its entirety. Three Winds wasn’t a small city. Surely I could disappear into it for a while? But, I had limited funds – there was only so far I could get on my own. So what was there for me to do? Simply wait. Wait and listen . . . and perhaps whisper a prayer or two that the stars would guide me to an answer for my sudden, and yet inevitable, problems.
That answer came in a most unlikely package. A dwarf. A dwarf trying to bribe me with the purchase of a drink.
Dwarves . . . but I suppose those of us at the end of our ropes can’t really be picky. And I was at the end of mine. He spoke some nonsense about wanting to put together a party – a search party? – to locate his missing employer. So many sharp remarks lingered on my tongue – Well, how clumsy of you to misplace such a valuable resource, no? – but I resisted. This hairy little brute just might be my next meal ticket. Of course, it might have been easier to focus upon his proposal – no matter how absurd it was – if his pet half-elf hadn’t been staring at me in so eerie a fashion. I couldn’t help but shift a little uncomfortably in my seat as I shot the boy a hard glance. Did he know? It wouldn’t be that hard to find me, after all. My appearance was rather . . . distinct.
But no. The boy was simply daft. And his dwarven master drove a weak bargain. I sent him away with the instruction to seek me out again once he had more members to his little rescue party. As it turned out, his employer wasn’t just missing, but rather he had been kidnapped. Idiots, the whole lot of them. But if being kidnapped was a common fate in this city . . . I cast the room an uneasy glance before escaping once more into my drink. They wouldn’t find me. They couldn’t find me. I had no need to worry . . .
The dwarf’s return was almost instantaneous. How annoying. And what did his party consist of? A half-elf boy, two street performers . . . and himself. I’m sure any would-be kidnapper would be shaking in his boots. And then he wanted me. Why? For all he knew, I could be a murderer, or a thief, or even an agent of this kidnapper. And his response to my question was . . .
I like blue.
Charming, really. But one can only expect so much wit from a dwarf. Ah, well. There would be gold should we succeed . . . and it would get me out of the city for a spell. Ample time for The Night Maiden to depart.
And thus began our bumbling adventure. My companions never offered their names and so I never saw it fit to offer mine. We would probably never see each other again after this. And I thought it in my best interest to offer my name only when it was required of me. Rumors do have a tendency to spread like wildfire. Perhaps I should adopt an alias for the time being? Until all seemed to have settled down?
These were the thoughts I chewed on as we made our way to the drop site for the outrageous sum of money the kidnapper’s had demanded. Oh, look, the drop site is located right outside a dark and mysterious looking mine guarded by an oaf. How lovely.
And who were the first to try and distract said oaf? Yes, the street performers . . . who failed miserably. I eyed the female with some amount of distaste. She could have at least tried to seduce the guard, at the very least. Show some skin, flash a smile . . . but no. They were all little more than useless.
Well, I suppose it would have to be up to me. As quietly as I could, I tried to sneak up on the guard from above . . . but as my luck would have it, I somehow managed to make some amount of noise – just enough to alert him to my attention. And he was armed.
This day was just getting better and better.
But perhaps I could lie my way out of it? I wove some elaborate story about how I was looking for the bandit Dreadspire – the goon who apparently was lordling over this heap – since I was the helpless damsel-in-distress who desperately needed his help. I also mentioned that I had gold, to hopefully distract him enough to believe my story. But, of course, there was one flaw to my tale – a flaw he wasn’t too stupid to notice.
“Heeeey . . . you’re not a damsel-in-distress! You’re not wearing a dress.”
Idiot. Could damsels-in-distress not be dressed like a cabin boy?! Apparently not. Oh, the shame of having to be rescued by an idiot half-elf, a smelly dwarf, and a pair of next to useless performers. Well . . . maybe not so useless. The male at least packed a kick. And together, they rather neatly took out the lout.
Well, didn’t I just feel useless. Oh, and the fun wasn’t over just yet.
Into the mine we went, down, down, down a long hallway, through a couple of doors, and, oh yes, into the thieves’ lair. Oh look! Another dwarf in a cage. I presumed said dwarf to be the missing employer. The bastard better have been happy to see us. And while my hodge podge of companions rushed in to save the day – surprisingly, the half-elf was the first to draw blood – I hung back and loaded my crossbow, aiming it for the nearest brigand . . .
And missed. The caged dwarf even had to duck to miss the shot. Shit.
Come on, Elaria, pull it together. But I didn’t. Not by a long shot. The bandit I shot at soon rushed in to engaged me and I tossed aside my crossbow, opting for my rapier instead. But that seemed to do me little good. He was too fast for me and he was soon drawing blood. I didn’t so much as nick him. And then the female performer was behind me, hiding like some coward . . . well, perhaps she was smarter than she looked. She might have had a good idea. Maybe I should follow suit and start heading for the door?
I saw one of my own crossbow bolts whistle past and strike my opponent. What the . . .?! I resisted the nagging urge to turn around and see what had just happened. Had she . . .? No, my crossbow was still on the ground. But then . . .
The fight was over and the boy was working on picking the lock on the cage. And what had I done? I tried not to sulk as the female performer dislodged my bolt from the now dead bandit. I accepted it with a grim smile, but not before wiping it off on said bandit’s clothes. He wouldn’t mind.
Huzzah, we – well, everyone but me – had saved the day. So it was back to Three Winds, right? Wrong. Soon there was to be no Three Winds, as we soon learned. “I’ll pay you when we get back to town,” the dwarven employer had said, but as we drew closer to town, we were met with a disturbing sight.
Fire. Fire was raining from the sky. And as the first fingers of fear began to grip my throat, I felt myself looking involuntarily towards the harbor.