The Age of Worms Chapter 1: The Whispering Cairn (Game Thread, Closed, Started)

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It's just another night in Diamond Lake. Outside you can hear the sound of St. Cuthbert's faithful, honoring their god with obedient self-flagellation to keep themselves pure; their cries reaching their crescendos every few minutes as a new faithful drops to the ground in exhaustion. Buried in the sound are the muffled grunts and groans as a local hobbit is mercilessly beaten by the bandit-turned-sheriff - Sheriff Cubbin - and his half dozen deputies per the new punishment for "theft".

However, you all find yourselves inside. Inside a tavern called "The Diamond in the Rough". "The Diamond" is packed - as per usual - with nearly a hundred patrons from all of the various mines, mostly because it's the only option. "The Emporium" is much nicer, but they only let the wealthy mine owners and operators in while "The Feral Dog" is much MUCH less so.

Fortunately, the ale is cheap - if watery - and the fire is warm. Several of the miner's have taken to playing a crude game of darts using some of the kitchenware and an old barrel. Others sit around the fire talking about one of their three favorite topics - what they did to deserve this hell, what they're going to do when they leave, and how much of a hellhole Diamond Lake is. Most lay at their tables in a drunken stupor, trying to dull the pain. Little more can be expected or asked of in Diamond Lake.

And then the door opened and the usual night became anything but.

The first to enter was a tall man. Tall, blonde, and apparently made of muscle. He was too clean to be a miner and too well armed and armored to be a guard. Around his waist was a gaudy belt that could only have come from Barovia. Immediately behind him a man of more reasonable size and stature entered. His long flowing robe and cloak marked him as either a mage of some sort or someone who wanted to look like one. Even his hair - facial and otherwise - made him look like one of those "dark wizards" of the legends. Almost unnoticed, the third of them entered, slipping over to the bar and the game of "darts" with nary a thought. The bow and quiver on her back and the sword at her belt marked her as not someone to be trifled with nearly as much as her obvious elven ears.

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The crowd in the tavern quickly descended into whispers. It was obvious enough from their dress that they were adventurers or mercenaries of some sort, but the question as to why they were here alluded them. A few of the more fearful in the crowd began to whisper of "bandits killing them all". These rumors would likely have spread quickly were it not for the muscled adventurer dropping a large bag of gold on the table and shouting "I'll pay for a night of drinks to anyone who can tell me of the Stirgenest Cairn!"; drawing more than a dozen miners over immediately.

Not to be outdone, the "mage" began speaking quietly to those by the fire, asking for specific details about local cairns and promising coins rather than drinks. The elf meanwhile had begun chatting to the people playing the game of kitchenware-darts about a number of topics that all eventually lead to the topic of "Cairns"

It was night-time. For many, that meant settling down and going to sleep, perhaps drink their misery away for a couple of hours before that. For James, however, it was the start of a new day. He had spent most of the day sleeping, shutting whatever curtains he could and ignoring the sounds outside, just like any other day. The day-light hurt his eyes, and he preferred to spend his time outside in the quiet of night either way.

Of course, that was when he didn't need to eat, like now. Given that this was the only time he could get a warm meal, he had to braze himself and enter the damned tavern with all the damned miners who didn't know how to keep the noise down. At least, he used to reassure himself, they would only be there for a couple more hours. Eventually, they had to leave, get back to bed so that they would survive another day in the mines.

And that was when James got the streets to himself, and his whims, though he found himself wanting less and less to do with anyone, be it for fun, curiosity or simply out of anger. This place was getting to him, everyone was feeling sorry for themselves and no one knew how to get away. Well, they all had their plans. It was pathetic, really, a waste of breath, James was very aware of that, for the moment, he was stuck. And of course he loathed it, just as much as it loathed him. However, he wouldn't waste his time worrying about it yet, a chance would come up when it came up.

Sitting turned away from the fire, as close to the wall as he could, he was eating his breakfast/dinner, and looking around for nothing in particular. Sometimes, a piece of information that he could use turned up, but most of the time, he was just wasting time, making sure no one got close enough to touch him. It was during that, some people walked in. Some sort of gaudy warrior, a sly-looking mage, and an elven archer -weren't they all?- and peace and quiet came, loud voices reduces to whispers. For once, James was happy to see some new people.

Of course, who are they?

Not from around, that was for sure. Too refreshed and clean looking, not the kind you'd find in a tavern like this.

Either they're here to get cheap ale, or there's something more to this.

"I'll pay for a night of drinks to anyone who can tell me of the Stirgenest Cairn!"

Stirgenest Cairn?

James sat up a bit more, he certainly didn't feel like having some stranger pay for any drink of his, nor was he going to stand in line behind a bunch of drunk miners for what was likely to turn out to be simple change, but it piqued his curiosity.

Adventurers, then. If they're willing to spend money, they have something to get out of this. So, exactly what do they want to know, that they feel drunks and miners would know best of all? Surely they must have heard something good about the Stirgenest Cairn.

He had heard that the Cairn had been cleared long ago, but he had also heard that there was places that most didn't know about.

Whispering Cairn would be the most likely... Oh, but they probably don't know that, do they? They need to know where it is, so they're asking locals.

He sat further up, his eyes wandering between the three strangers. If they were here asking questions about a treasure, then he could learn something very interesting indeed. Perhaps they were here not because they thought the miners would know best, but because they would be too stupid and drunk to realize that there was something more beyond this.

Andria would rather have been in one of the better establishments, but there she'd more likely be recognised and the smaller crowds where harder to hide in. Her eyes had been on the strangers since they entered; clearly well-equipped making their intentions obvious, not the friendliest but she could admire the efficiency. And if they were paying anywhere near as well as they did for the get up they could be valuable how long had it even been since she made money.
So now the question was how to impress them.

She weaved her way over to the impromptu game of darts, since it had caught the interest of the one with the bow. It should be too hard to beat a bunch of drunks using cutlery that was more rust than metal. "Mind if I have a go?" She spoke as naively and softly as she could, when she was as ignored as she'd expected she'd be Andria quickly drew and fluidly threw one of her blades at the barrel. Dead on, and deep into the wood, she sauntered over and withdrew her blade again, with a final flourish it was gone again, though where would remain a mystery, a girl needs her secrets.

"You know, were I looking to find a lost tomb, I'd rather avoid the inebriated itinerates who probably couldn't draw or describe you a map any better than they can throw. A local on the other hand they'd know, trouble is they'd also know this beer isn't much of a trade."

Thalith had had a long day, starting with punching someone who had tried to take his breakfast and ending with running out of the mine tunnel just before a boulder had fallen on him. After coming into this tavern and getting a large stein of watered down beer he had walked heavily over to the wall next to the fire and slide down it scratching the wall in a few more places to join the dozens already there showing this is where he sits most nights. Sighing to himself at the lack of chairs in the place that could hold his body without breaking in under 5 minutes.

Leaning his arm against his bent knee Thalith lifts his drink and pours half of it down his throat, small streams of beer falling down the edges of his mouth before lowering it after finishing half the stein. Blinking to himself as he sees three new people walking into the tavern. They looked to clean and well dressed to have been in this town for long but they couldn't be mine owners or something like that because they walked into this place rather than the owner centered one down the street.

Narrowing his eyes and leaning his head back as he watches the people in the tavern Thalith stiffens as the fighter type calls out to the room.

"I'll pay for a night of drinks to anyone who can tell me of the Stirgenest Cairn!"

Whistling softly to himself Thalith scratches his jawline making a sound of rocks rubbing together as he thinks about it. He had met plenty of adventurers in him time searching for his fathers killer, he had seen a party do something similar to this before. Meaning that this Stirgenest Cairn had something inside it valuable enough that paying so many here was cheap enough that no matter what they gave away here it would be compensated by whatever they found.

Eying the mage type person as he sits almost in the middle of the group at the fireplace Thalith lifts his cup to finish off the beer inside as he listens to the questions being asked. Sighing into his cup as nothing the mage was asking made no sense to him, though one of the things he was asking almost connected for him.

Lowering his cup and setting it on the closest table Thalith leans against his knee as he looks at the mage.
"Seems your a bit light on muscle, i need money and you need more than fancy pants over there waving his gold around."

"You know, were I looking to find a lost tomb, I'd rather avoid the inebriated itinerates who probably couldn't draw or describe you a map any better than they can throw. A local on the other hand they'd know, trouble is they'd also know this beer isn't much of a trade."

"Hey!" A high-pitched voice piped up from somewhere in the gaggle of drunken knife-throwers. Or rather, somewhere below the knife-throwers. A few seconds later, a young hobbit had squeezed her way out of the crowd, and pointed a rusty fork in an unconvincingly threatening manner at the tall speaker. "I'll have you know, some of the inebriated init...iter...chaps here can throw just fine!" To demonstrate, the girl hurled the fork over her shoulder at the barrel. It missed completely.

Millie Marshgrove was something of a regular at "the Diamond". Not for the beer, which would have made her mother die of shame (again), but due to the abundance of disgruntled patrons who were generally too busy drowning their sorrows to notice that they were a few coins short. She hadn't had much luck tonight; the miners didn't have much money on them this time of the year. That was probably why the three 'adventurers' were drawing so much attention.

Jumping up to sit on a nearby table, Millie addressed the elf with the bow. "I suppose I might know something about the local cairns. Very sensitive information, though. Not sure I can give it away for free..." She shot the elf a cheery grin.

"I'll pay for a night of drinks to anyone who can tell me of the Stirgenest Cairn!"

Was the cry that snapped Godric away from losing a staring contest with the last dregs of ale at the bottom of his mug. Standing in the tavern, and looking as out of place as an Orc in a nursery, were three gaudily dressed strangers. Godric's eyes were immediately drawn to the man who had gained the attention of the entire room with a single cry, more specifically to the magnificent belt he wore.

Something about that belt, something I remember...

Simply by their appearance and actions, Godric knew right away that they were looking for a big score rather than a tavern full of friends. Offering to buy a round of drinks would make you the most popular man in town for a few seconds, but it was clear these people had no interest in the people of the tavern, save for their ability to point them in the right direction.

This lot came a long way, they must have word of a good haul of treasure in that Cairn. Having only lived in Diamond Lake for six months, Godric knew little about the surrounding area. He'd had few days where he wasn't guarding the mine, and had no reason to wander away from the town. But this trio of treasure hunters could be his ticket out of this godforsaken town. If Godric could be part of the expedition and get himself a share of the profits that might pay his way back to civilisation. First things first, he'd need a way in with the group.

Draining his mug and approaching the muscle bound man surrounded by miners all trying to win themselves a round of drinks, Godric racked his brains for a conversation starter. Something about the belt kept flashing up in his memory. Just as he was pushing his way through the crowd of miners he realised what it was.

"What's a mighty victor of The Champion's Belt doing all the way out here? You're the first winner of the Free City Games I've seen in this place."

Godric knew he'd seen the belt before. Barely a couple of months before he'd taken the job at Diamond Lake, Godric had been watching a Barovian gladiator tournament celebrating their defeat of Strahd. The muscle bound man and his wizard companion had won the prize, though Godric was sure their Elf friend hadn't been part of the group at that time.

Donning a brown hooded cloak, Clodagh Dubusal heard a familiar voice.
"Where do you think you're going?" called Arin from his seat by a small fire. He was scrubbing his white skin and black hair clear of grime and dust. An agonizing day down the mines somehow and yet he still has the energy to nag her. "It's dark outside, and I don't want you late for work tomorrow."
Clodagh gritted her teeth at that, a small spark flashing near her ear as well. "No, you're the one that has work tomorrow." What could the mines even want with a girl barely more than 15? Clodagh had been stuck in this town for half a year due to his weakness, and she'd sooner marry some dumb local her age just to spite him.

So, scoffing, Clodagh left through the cottage's only door and was met by the cold night. She began her journey towards the nearest tavern; "The Diamond in the Rough". Succinctly summarized Clodagh's situation in her opinion. Educated, pretty, smart. These were all words Clodagh was told she would be. Her family was once relevant, but not anymore. Her fool brother made certain that, and
is taciturn enough that he can't even tell Clodagh what to do, a sister nearly half his age. Taking solace in that fact, Clodagh tried to hum over the wailing (some voluntary, others not) and toyed with curly black hair that ran down to her shoulders. She's been largely successful in maintaining an innocent and gullible facade to the others in the village. The entire concept of drinking one's problems away fills her with contempt, but she needs to spend her money on something, and avoiding her brother is less of a headache than bickering around him.

After a short walk, she arrived at the Diamond, and was greeted by booming noises coming from a suspiciously well dressed band of adventurers. The lovely fabrics they wore made her dress-turned tunic look like rags. They were rags, but the unique blue colour, and bands of brown leather around the knees and elbows has certainly added to its longevity. Nonetheless, these adventurers probably wouldn't pay any attention to her, and their freedom will only make Clodagh jealous.
So, eyeing a seat, she saw a spot near a young blond haired man in the corner. He was a relatively recent addition to the town, and Clodagh wanted to assess if he was going to be any fun.
She took a seat next to him, and stated, "What do you think of this Stirgenest Cairn?" she asked, knowing full well that the ruin had long since been excavated of anything of value.

James took mental note of everything he heard, from the masked woman trying to boast not being drunk and therefore a better guide -which was a good point, but the adventurers would probably not care- to the knight who looked like he had been dragged through the dirt a little too many times for his armour to remain shiny.

Free City Games Championship?...

Had he heard that before? It sounded familiar, but he wasn't sure if it was his memories, or the left-overs he had received from Jonathan.

Regardless, it matters little.

If it was information he could use, surely listening would be better than trying to remember something he wouldn't. It wasn't unusual for small pieces of information to seem familiar, back in Barovia, the big city, tingly feelings of that he knew something or someone, yet had no recollection who they were, was even more usual. James had soon learned that it was useless to try to remember those kinds of things. Besides, with 3 months of his own memories, he didn't do much remembering, simply knowing.

From the corner of his eyes, he noticed someone. A girl, or perhaps a young woman, he was bad at telling the difference when it came to very young adults and children, they all had the same traits to him. A drew a sharp breath of air as she sat down close to James, but unfortunately, he couldn't get further away from her. Well, unless he melded with the wall, but that seemed a bit of an overreaction, and, even more so, impossible.

Instead, he settled for looking at her for a brief moment, with ice-blue eyes that wanted her gone. Pale skin, black hair and blue eyes, appealing features, though James cared little for that. Instead, he looked at the way she looked at him, and the question asked.

"What do you think of this Stirgenest Cairn?"

He sighed, and looked back at the group of adventurers. Apparently she thought him stupid, or perhaps she was stupid herself, he wasn't entirely sure. At least she wasn't rushing to the adventurers, but perhaps that was a lack of knowledge from her side.

"I'm not going to give you information that you can give to the trio over there," he started, voice kept low and voice sounding unfriendly, even a bit hostile.

"However, I can tell you something that they already know. They're not from around, but if they have looked into the area, they'd know that the Stirgenest Cairn is empty. That means one out of two things; either they're really stupid, for they could have asked better people with less alcohol running through their bodies, and have wasted a trip, or someone has let them know that there's more treasure there. If they are as smart as that, they would surely not come to Diamond Lake on a hunch, and risked staying here. So, either we'll keep seeing them until they give up their silly plans, or they know that there's more than one Cairn."

His eyes went back at the stranger, and he sighed.

Bit too close for my liking.

He pushed her chair slightly more away from him, and continued. "Regardless, I wouldn't be one to guide them, especially not alone. Either it'll be a wasted trip, or they'll push you off a cliff when they've gotten theirs. People can't be trusted, ever."

He looked at those who had the information to give. "Which is a shame, from the looks of it, the people who are offering their information could as well go alone and seek treasure on their own. That's the issue with this place, no ambition or drive, only sad saps spending time being sad about their situations, with no thought of actually doing something clever to get away. If they could get some more people, then they could do just that. Get away."

With that he went back to finishing his meal and watching the strangers. He figured he had said enough to keep the girl from asking any more questions. James hadn't really put much thought into what he said, he supposed it still made sense, but it was most of all to keep her from bothering him, and perhaps give her something to think about.

Clodagh smiled faintly and made sure to look inquisitive, but then, the man started talking. She jumped a little bit, but maintained her composure.

"I'm not going to give you information that you can give to the trio over there, however, I can tell you something that they already know. They're not from around, but if they have looked into the area, they'd know that the Stirgenest Cairn is empty. That means one out of two things; either they're really stupid, for they could have asked better people with less alcohol running through their bodies, and have wasted a trip, or someone has let them know that there's more treasure there. If they are as smart as that, they would surely not come to Diamond Lake on a hunch, and risked staying here. So, either we'll keep seeing them until they give up their silly plans, or they know that there's more than one Cairn."

Then, she felt her stool move out from under her. Perhaps she was sitting too close to him, or maybe he knows more than he lets on.

"Regardless, I wouldn't be one to guide them, especially not alone. Either it'll be a wasted trip, or they'll push you off a cliff when they've gotten theirs. People can't be trusted, ever. Which is a shame, from the looks of it, the people who are offering their information could as well go alone and seek treasure on their own. That's the issue with this place, no ambition or drive, only sad saps spending time being sad about their situations, with no thought of actually doing something clever to get away. If they could get some more people, then they could do just that. Get away"

Clodagh had been preparing her words carefully for a moment, until he said "Get away." It surprised her, as he had just spent a minute or so speaking to her, only to demand she leave. She pressed on, hoping for a bit more information. "What's your name?" she asked abruptly, positioning her stool now to be directly opposite the man. "I'm Clodagh. Seems to me these adventurers know more than they're letting on. Is there a chance Stirgenest Cairn has some unexplored secret tunnel?"

Wilmet was sitting atop a high stool near the fire (as he found one quickly grew tired of the smell of miner's boots) wasting away time when the trio of adventurers entered. Turning away from his cup he examined them, making a few observations before they had even begun speaking. Certainly they were adventurers, any moron could surmise as much, and there was no way a trio of adventurers would trek out to a dull backwater like Diamond Lake without any promise of gold or glory to draw them. Once they began to speak it became much more clear what they were seeking, to hear most tell of it the cairns were emptied out long ago and nothing really went around refilling robbed graves did it?

Of course Wilmet made a point of knowing more than most, and while the adventurers were asking about the most famous cairn he knew another, the whispering cairn, was far more likely to hold untouched secrets. Secrets of the Aaqa, the ancient and by now all but forgotten empire whose dead were buried there. But then he saw little reason to share such with the adventurers, he had already had his fill of drinks for the night and the coin, while tempting, would only fill his pockets not satisfy his curiosity.

Smiling knowingly he waved over the wizard looking fellow, "might be I know more than most," he said "but before I share I'd like to know why you're so interested in that hole in the ground."

If there was promise enough in the most used up of the cairns to draw adventurers out here then perhaps it might be worth looking into on his own. Certainly he was past bored with the duty he'd been called out to fulfill.

Charles sat silently at a table as he drank, waiting for his night to end. The movement and the noise around him were welcome distractions as he tried to avoid the thoughts in his head. As he drank, he noticed things became quiet, and he started to pay attention again. Three people, clearly new to the town and bearing coin, had walked in.

Some began to whisper of bandits coming to murder them all, but that ended quickly as the musclebound one shouted "I'll pay for a night of drinks to anyone who can tell me of the Stirgenest Cairn!" and dropped a bag of gold on a table. Charles wasn't sure why but this reminded him of something, as if he had seen this happen before. He probably had, they weren't the first to come to pick what was left of the Cairns clean. This felt different though for some reason.

The nagging feeling in the back of his head came and went as he watched them, he was curious now. Stirgenest had been picked clean. Either they were tricked, idiots, or knew something. Charles finished his drink and focused on the three of them, they were already surrounded by people who were willing to tell them whatever they wanted to hear, he could just listen in as he could. If they were up to something, it would be better to know than find the town infested or burning or in deeper poverty than it already is a month from now.

For a moment, James' idea seemed to have worked, and the questions stopped, allowing him to try to focus on what was going on with the strangers. More people were approaching the group of adventurers, one of which seemed to be a mage of some sort.

But why would a---

"What's your name?"

---a mage talk to those guys...

Trying to ignore her, it proved impossible as she chose to position herself in front of him.

"I'm Clodagh. Seems to me these adventurers know more than they're letting on. Is there a chance Stirgenest Cairn has some unexplored secret tunnel?"

"Are you really that stupid? Yes, obviously there's a chance, there's always a chance. Now, move!" he hissed, attempting to startle her. "Because you're making me angry." When she didn't get up immediately, he just continued, muttering to himself in an annoyed tone.

"Here I am, just enjoying my breakfast, and some stupid girl decides to sit in front of me and ruin my view of the only promising thing that has happened like, ever, like a moron, and then she asks me for my name..." He sent her another frustrated look.

"It's James. James Holt, not that it'll even matter, but there you are. Now, you've got five seconds to get out of my way, or I'll kick you."

He probably wasn't actually going to kick her, but she certainly deserved it. Too bad it'd probably just make her ask more questions, though.

And now I missed half the action.

Clodagh waited for his responses patiently, but he turned increasingly hostile.
"Are you really that stupid? Yes, obviously there's a chance, there's always a chance. Now, move! Because you're making me angry."

It's James. James Holt, not that it'll even matter, but there you are. Now, you've got five seconds to get out of my way, or I'll kick you."

And at that, Clodagh prepared to leave. At least the angry introvert named James believed her to be stupid. On the other hand, nothing of value was gained, and Clodagh was just threatened in a crammed public space. So she decided to do something she had been aching to do for a while: Be offended.
"Suit yourself" she said, hastily grabbing her stool to move someplace else. "I'll happily avoid someone that would attack a girl." She made sure to enunciate that last part before hurrying past a group of drinkers and plopping her seat down near the tavern doorway.

"You know, were I looking to find a lost tomb, I'd rather avoid the inebriated itinerates who probably couldn't draw or describe you a map any better than they can throw. A local on the other hand they'd know, trouble is they'd also know this beer isn't much of a trade." Andria said after an exceptional dagger toss.

No sooner had she finished than Millie added her 2 copper. "I'll have you know, some of the inebriated init...iter...chaps here can throw just fine!" she said, followed by a rather pathetic imitation of Andria's toss. A few others tried as well - some matching Andria's feat even - though the number could be counted on one hand. "I suppose I might know something about the local cairns. Very sensitive information, though. Not sure I can give it away for free..." Millie finished up, drawing the elf's attention.

However, first she addressed Andria with a small smile. "You make an interesting point. How about this; we play a little game of dagger-toss. You win, I'll personally see to it you get a share of the find. I win, you tell me what you know of the Cairn, free of charge. Deal?" From there, she opened up the offer to a number of the locals who had show some skill at the game and offered knowledge.

While that was under discussion, she turned her attention to Millie. "Then I suggest talking to Auric" she said, indicating the muscular member of the trio who was now very nearly the center of all attention. "He's the one with the bag of gold.".

Meanwhile, at the fire, the wizard-type seemed annoyed more than anything. "Seems your a bit light on muscle, i need money and you need more than fancy pants over there waving his gold around." Thalith said, earning a long drawn-out sigh." She took a look at the stone man however before speaking. "I leave the mindless discussions of "muscle" to Auric. However, I doubt we'll need your... help"

His grumpy mood changed however as Wilmet began to speak. "might be I know more than most, but before I share I'd like to know why you're so interested in that hole in the ground." The fact Wilmet looked the part of a more mystically inclined individual didn't hurt. "At last, someone with a mind. It's a long story, but suffice to say a group of my colleagues found a hidden chamber there a few weeks ago. As usual, they looted the chamber bare of every gold flake, but there were several carvings of some intrigue they weren't able to identify. Hence, me. Auric and Tirra merely owe me a few favors."

Back in the center of the room, Sir Godric finally made it through the crowd to speak with Auric. "What's a mighty victor of The Champion's Belt doing all the way out here? You're the first winner of the Free City Games I've seen in this place." At the words, Auric brightened up and turned to the knight. "I see you recognize me then! Yes, I won the most recent Free City Games along with Khellek over there." he said, pointing at the mage. Almost at once, Khellek grunted and waved the man off muttering to himself about "Muscle-bound idiots"

For his part, Auric either didn't notice or didn't care.

"Throwing a dagger is easy enough it's all about when and how you let go. Keeping the dagger is the hard part when people don't want you to have it." It was then Andria balanced her blade on the tip of her a finger, somehow not drawing any blood. "You need balance and poise, you need to know the blade like it's part of yourself. You can borrow one of my own if you want to make things fair."
Of course telekinesis was also extremely handy but a magician never revealed how tricks were done.
"I didn't catch your name by the way." Andria held out her other hand apparently completely ignoring how she was balancing the dagger in the other but still it stayed up. She occasionally let it wobbled for show.

Thalith stares at the mage as his attention turned away from him to someone else talking to him. Looking back and forth between them Thalith pushes himself to his feet and grabs his stein.

"At last, someone with a mind. It's a long story, but suffice to say a group of my colleagues found a hidden chamber there a few weeks ago. As usual, they looted the chamber bare of every gold flake, but there were several carvings of some intrigue they weren't able to identify. Hence, me. Auric and Tirra merely owe me a few favors."

Walking away and dropping the stein on the bar Thalith pushes it across the wood and sets a small coin next to it. Turning to watch as a crowd of half drunk and fall down drunk miners crowd around the fighter that had walked in with the mage. Turning back to face the bar and pulling the full stein back to himself he raises it to take a drink from it.

Turning around and looking at the mage as he leans lightly against the bar Thalith stares at the mage for a few seconds before slowly sliding his eyes over to the knife throwing woman who seemed to be interested with a halfling and some other woman who was balancing a knife. Turning and looking at fighter Thalith narrows his eyes and lifts the stein to down half of it before setting the stein down on the bar and watching the fighter. He had every reason to go ask him if he could join them one way or another but the mage had already said they weren't looking for gold or anything valuable just something curious.

Thalith could see several small groups of people who lived here talking together and moving and things happening. Scratching his chin and then scratching a force scar on his neck he turns slightly and lifts the stein again to take a drink, something seemed to be going on and he was unsure what it was. But if something was going to happen someone would come find him, he was the the strongest in the town and had a background, so he would wait.

Having got Auric's attention, Godric now had a way in with the group. Possibly.

If there's any sort of adventure to the cairns, I want to be a part of it. I've got to get out of this place.

Godric leant back slightly and was getting ready to break away from conversation. Having made himself known to the muscle bound man, it was important not to bother him too much. Hang around too much like the gadfly and he'd be swatted away as an annoyance. He'd just make one last comment and see how things played out.

"You want to go for the Stirgenest Cairn? Looks like your friends have got the right kind of people telling them the right sort of thing." Godric said, resting back on the bar and indicating the colourful characters who were busy talking to Auric's companions. It was likely that they knew more about the area than he did.

Perhaps we could mount our own expedition, if there's treasure to be uncovered there must surely be enough people willing to search for it.

Mulling over the idea for a moment, Godric began to consider other plans. Whether he tried to join Auric or get enough people together to try it himself, Godric was going to get out of this town or die trying. He wasn't sure which one he'd prefer.

"Suit yourself. I'll happily avoid someone that would attack a girl."

"And I'll happily avoid someone who thinks I care," James replied, and sat back up. Once, two months ago, he might have been willing to let it get to him, to really get to him. However, he had a feeling the other patrons of the bar would take unkindly to him actually attacking a girl, and he no longer had a safe place to go hide in. He could no longer simply lock the door and spend the remaining hours in a large room filled with books. So, instead he just bit his teeth together, and went back to keep an eye. He had missed several of the exchanges, but now that his "new friend" had moved, his attention was fully on the adventurers.

Well, almost, he had to glance over at this Clodagh every now and then to make sure she didn't go get some bigger guys to take care of him for being rude to a whiny little girl.

It's not my fault. She could have left when I first told her to.

He crossed his arms, and looked over at the little gnome mage that approached the bigger, fancier mage.

"At last, someone with a mind. It's a long story, but suffice to say a group of my colleagues found a hidden chamber there a few weeks ago. As usual, they looted the chamber bare of every gold flake, but there were several carvings of some intrigue they weren't able to identify. Hence, me. Auric and Tirra merely owe me a few favors."

Carvings? They're not here for gold?

He sort of doubted it, but if it was true, then he wanted to know what those carvings were.

That guy better ask.

James glared at the gnome, almost as if to will him to ask about the carvings. It was a mystery, after all, one that shouldn't be ignored.

Come on, now. Ask about the carvings,

He thought, impatiently, no concern given over the fact that he wasn't even hiding that he was looking at them by now. The empty bowl was sitting in his lap.

"Then I suggest talking to Auric. He's the one with the bag of gold.".

The indignity! Millie wasn't sure that she appreciated being brushed off, particularly if there was betting going on. Still, it was a nicer dismissal than the type she was used to, so she was happy to leave the two elf women to bond over their throwing-knives. Plus, they looked too smart to rob. There was probably an easier mark somewhere else.

Millie slipped down from the table (with a bit of a melodramatic sigh, for emphasis) and wandered around the tavern for a bit, keeping a vague check on the familiar and not-so-familiar patrons. She ended up at a table near the doorway, one seat occupied by a pretty human girl with curly black hair. Bit of an odd sight, for someone like that to be alone. After a quick once-over for obvious wealth (old clothes, no jewellery aside from a small necklace, prospects poor) Millie pulled up a chair.

Pointing at the elf woman's game, she addressed the girl in a conspiratorial manner. "See her? Another one of these outsiders who wants to go exploring. Dunno why everyone's so interested in empty cairns all of a sudden."

Still leaning against the counter drinking his watery beer Thalith kept his eyes on the mage as he spoke almost conspiratorially to those around the fire. Because he was watching so closely he could see someone else also watching the mage and those he was talking to from much closer at a table. Drinking the rest of the beer and reaching back to drop it on the counter he watches the young man also watching the mage. Not long ago a girl had left in a huff and she had joined those at the fire.

Scratching his neck and sliding his eyes back and forth between the three adventurers and the man who was watching the mage along with him Thalith pushes off the bar and walks towards the the blond man. As he walks it shakes the floor making drunks hide under tables worried about earthquakes or drink more assuming it is a drunken fantasy. Stepping up to him Thalith slides down the wall resting one of his arms against his knee as he looks over at the young man. Flicking his fingers at the mage also catching the elf behind him Thalith rumbles softly at the young man.
"What do you think of our visitors?"

At last, someone with a mind. It's a long story, but suffice to say a group of my colleagues found a hidden chamber there a few weeks ago. As usual, they looted the chamber bare of every gold flake, but there were several carvings of some intrigue they weren't able to identify. Hence, me. Auric and Tirra merely owe me a few favors."

"Really?" Wilmet said, becoming slightly intrigued by this news "Carvings? Of what sort?"

He was reasonably sure he knew what sort of carvings they might be, arcane knowledge no doubt the empire that was responsible for the cairns had advanced magic in its day and left all manner of artifacts behind. Such things could be quite dangerous of course, but knowledge and power was never truly without risk. No knowledge worth possessing was at least.

He also made note of some of the others who expressed interest, if things came down to it he might need to throw together his own expedition, and such curious fellows would likely be ready and willing to pitch in.

"Really? Carvings? Of what sort?"

Finally someone who knows what is interesting.

He would have kept an eye on the conversation, but James felt the floor shake as a Goliath approached, sitting down next to him and asking him the same question as the girl had.

"What do you think of our visitors?"

James raised an eyebrow, examining the Goliath.

First a girl, now a pile of rocks. Why does everyone suddenly have an interest in me?

He frowned. "I think they know something we don't, which is why I'm listening to them. Or, trying to, I keep getting interrupted." James made an effort to sound less hostile than he had towards Clodagh, if most of all because this guy was a lot scarier than her.

"Honestly though, I'd just go alone. Actually..." he took a breath. What was the use of all of this? It was just going to keep going like this, right? Surprisingly, he stood up. While he was interested in the carvings, this was becoming a little too much for him. Everyone asking him, nothing was happening, and while he wasn't desperate, he was really curious now, and none of the questions were asked quickly enough. And, he was angry, of course he was. Who wouldn't be, with everyone going to bother him?

Screw this. If everyone's going to ask about my opinion, I might as well give them it!

He stood up on his chair, in order to make sure everyone saw him.

"This is taking so bloody long, so here's the deal! I'm going to go to the Cairn. The exact one you people are thinking off, the one with all the secret treasure! I know which one it is, and I can see better in the dark than any of you people. You can come with me, or you can go with the suspicious strangers! Or, we could all go together, I don't care, this is just getting dull!" He pointed to the mage.

"I'll take you there, as soon as you want it, no more games played or anything, no more stupid questions, as long as you tell me about those carvings of yours. Now, you might wonder; Why should I do it? Because I don't deal with shady "what-ifs" I don't care about some deal, as long as you don't push me down from a cliff, I'll refrain from poisoning you lot! Besides, I'm not a desperate fool like so many other people here, I'm not drunk, and I'm intelligent, which makes me about five times as dependable as most of the people here!" With that, he sat down, shaking from anger. Then, the anger became fear as he realized what he had just said, being terrified of what he had just done.

Oh god, they'll kill me.

Shaky hands, he looked through his pocket and picked out a small green potion, it would help him get out of there, if he needed to. Downing it, he glanced at the Goliath, as he grabbed one of his daggers -but kept his hand in the pocket so that no one could see it-, expecting a fight. "T-that's what I think of our visitors."

Clodagh slouched a little bit on her chair and stared around aimlessly for a bit before hearing a voice.

"See her? Another one of these outsiders who wants to go exploring. Dunno why everyone's so interested in empty cairns all of a sudden."

She perked up for a moment and found a small hobbit girl sitting beside (and below) her. Clodagh hadn't seen very many hobbits, but from her youth remembered a couple in the city that all had wealthy jobs and treated her well. With this little hunch she decided to entertain this one.
"Oh, me neither. But these travellers look pretty rich. I think they know something about the crypts that we don't."

Then, out of nowhere, James stood up on a chair and started half-ranting half-shouting at the adventurers. Clodagh wondered from his tone if they had done something before to personally earn his disdain, but perhaps he was just like that around people. At least she had vacated from that end of the room when she did, as it appeared someone else (or better, something else) had set James off this time.

Carvings in a hidden chamber? That could be bad. Or entirely benign. Charles thought about it as he listened to what he could hear around the room. He was curious and the nagging feeling in his head made him sure. He'd involve himself in this one way or another. There were many reasons to justify involving himself in their business but which one...

As he sat and thought and listened he saw one of the people stand on their chairs and begin to shout. As he listened he noted a few of the things he said. He felt as if he had seen the guy occasionally in town, and watching him now he seemed twitchy, impatient. Charles slowly and carefully moved his hand to a blade. It looked like there was something wrong with the guy and if he lost it in here, he'd need putting down fast.

"You want to go for the Stirgenest Cairn? Looks like your friends have got the right kind of people telling them the right sort of thing."

Auric looked around at those Godric gestured toward before nodding. "Yes. Soon we'll know all we need to know." As he said this, Auric looked over at Khellek and Tirra trying to get a read on what they were learning. "I think." he finally added, accepting the fact he had no idea how he others were doing. To be frank, that wasn't exactly his forte.

Meanwhile, across the room, Tirra was setting up the game and Khellek was speaking with a gnome. "Carvings? Of what sort?". Khellek shrugged and answered. "They appear to relate back to the battle that took place here centuries ago between Aaqa and the "Forces of Chaos". I'll need to see them to know more."

That is, until James jumped up on a chair and began to shout. "This is taking so bloody long, so here's the deal! I'm going to go to the Cairn. The exact one you people are thinking off, the one with all the secret treasure! I know which one it is, and I can see better in the dark than any of you people. You can come with me, or you can go with the suspicious strangers! Or, we could all go together, I don't care, this is just getting dull! I'll take you there, as soon as you want it, no more games played or anything, no more stupid questions, as long as you tell me about those carvings of yours. Now, you might wonder; Why should I do it? Because I don't deal with shady "what-ifs" I don't care about some deal, as long as you don't push me down from a cliff, I'll refrain from poisoning you lot! Besides, I'm not a desperate fool like so many other people here, I'm not drunk, and I'm intelligent, which makes me about five times as dependable as most of the people here!"

Most of the tavern goers were too drunk to really care or remember what he said, though James did immediately receive dozens of dirty looks from many of the patrons. For their part, the trio of adventurers looked over at him with eyes wide. After a few glances back and forth between the three, Khellek finally answered. "Show us the way to this "secret treasure" and I'll answer whatever questions you'd like."

Looking at the man who had stood and made the grand statement Thalith pushes himself up and looks around the room at the grumbling drunks before looking at the man again and narrowing his eyes. Turning and walking towards the door he rumbles back at the man in a slightly deeper voice.
"Don't leave without me."

Stepping out of the door into the night Thalith rolls his shoulders causing popping and crackling like rocks being broke as he walks through the night and to the barrack's like building he steps in and ignores those sleeping as he jerks the chest that had been pushed under his extra large cot. Opening it and pulling out his armor he gives it a once over before lifting and sliding it on. Grabbing the leather skirt and Jerking it down he settles it firmly over his body and slams his closed fist against it once making a loud crashing sound.

Reaching back into the chest and grabbing onto the haft of his GreateAxe Thalith pulls the leather covers off the blades and spins the hilt in his Axe he makes sure there is no scratches more than there were. Sliding a finger over the edges of the axe and smiling he pulls his holder from the chest and slides the axe into it and spins his body left and right making sure it is all settled before turning and kicking the chest back under his cot. Looking at the place he had been living for a while he smiles slowly to himself and turns to walk back out the door.

Walking down the street Thalith looks up at the night sky and narrows his eye again as he looks for any trace of the sun coming, knowing it is not but still looking. Mumbling to himself.
"All to the Horns."

Lowering his eyes Thalith heads towards the tavern with new purpose, a hard smile on his lips.

"Show us the way to this "secret treasure" and I'll answer whatever questions you'd like."

James felt a little less terrified as he realized that he wasn't going to get attacked. Well, not by that lot, anyhow, some of the drunks were sending him nasty looks because of what he had said. Of course, none of them would cared if the shoe hadn't fit, so he just shrugged in reply. He gave himself a moment to stop shaking, and to become a little more confident, though it wasn't before the Goliath he actually got a reason to do so.

"Don't leave without me."

"Fine," James replied. On one hand, he wasn't sure about any of this, it had been a sudden thing. However, he also was relieved the Goliath hadn't gotten insulted, and having that thing to back him up would definitely make things a bit safer. More secure.

Unless he turns on me, but I am no threat to him, and we're both stuck here for different reasons, so it shouldn't be an issue talking to him. Probably.

Breathing easier, he finally looked at the adventurers, trying to think of what to say. He had habit of rubbing people the wrong way when he spoke, so laying out the terms and information as briefly as he could was the best way he could try to talk some reason into them.

"One; I'll show you the way to the cairn after you give me the information about the carvings, call it a result of my damned curiosity. And some sort of confirmation of that you won't just fuck me over, if not a percentage of the share then just enough to get out of here. Well, me and that guy," he motioned after where the Goliath had gone. "And whoever wants to come. Two; I can't guarantee there's a treasure, but I can guarantee that it's a better bet than where you were headed, a much better bet, and I'm very sure of that the four of us wouldn't be enough to get there safely."

A lie, he didn't know that much of the place, but if it meant that James could bring more people as insurance, why not? Perhaps the little girl wanted to go too, and perhaps James could use that as an opportunity to apologize.

Hah. As if.

"Three; if you're not interested, then so be it. But you're not going to get a better offer than one that relies on what you could find, rather than paying out front and ending up with nothing. A wasted trip is better than a wasted trip with no money, just as paying a little bit of the treasure you find is better than going into an area you know nothing about, with no one following. I'm sure the carvings are interesting, but I'm not risking my life for them, and I doubt you guys would like to do so either."

He crossed his arms, and sat back down. "That's it, plain and simple. Take it or leave it. Just know that you won't find someone as uninterested in fooling you than I am, I have every intention of following through what I've told you, so saying no means you risk having to deal with more lies and empty promises."

Millie shook her head sadly as Mr "I'm not drunk, I'm intelligent" started ranting about cairns and carvings. There were a lot of crazy people in this town. Hell, being stuck in the place was starting to drive her mad, too. The human girl was watching the angry guy too. She didn't seem too impressed.

Wait, did somebody just say "secret treasure"? I could really do with some secret treasure right about now.

"Two; I can't guarantee there's a treasure..."

Typical. You can't get reliable madmen these days.

"...but I can guarantee that it's a better bet than where you were headed, a much better bet, and I'm very sure that the four of us wouldn't be enough to get there safely."

This sounded like nonsense to Millie. What was he expecting? That is, aside from being mugged by the various thugs and drunkards he had kindly just informed about his plans the minute he got back into town laden with loot...or hypothetical loot, at any rate. Well, whatever he'd expected, it sounded like an opening. And if this man guarded his speech so poorly, perhaps he'd be equally careless about his treasure. She might have to be more careful with the rock monster, though.

Leaning over the table, Millie muttered to the girl - "Well, that one's a few cards short of a deck. Still, money is money, right?" Then, she stood on her chair and waved enthusiastically across the room at James. "Hey, I'll come! Better than staying in this place..."

"Hey, I'll come! Better than staying in this place..."

Anything's better than staying in this place. Thought Godric, quietly impressed by the kid who had stood up and addressed the Tavern. Doesn't matter who I travel with, just so long as I get a chance to make it out of here.

Godric stepped away from the bar, "I'll come with you." He patted the pommel of his sword, "You're going to need all the help you can get." He wasn't sure if that was actually true, but it gave him a reason to join in.

Anything to get out of this dump, doesn't matter if it's by going six feet under or spending my portion of the treasure on a ride out of here. Though with the amount that could go on this trip, how small are the shares going to be?

Upstaging Andria didn't usually work out well; robbing her of a potentially lucrative opportunity was even less safe. She regretted the waste of her focus, though she was already imaging how to get the best use out of her blades.

She stood up; the game of knives was apparently going nowhere so she returned hers to her hiding places. She though she saw some holes in how James spoke, she couldn't quite put her finger on why but she doubted he knew as much as he was trying to let on, consider her intrigued. Who knows maybe this was going to be hilarious, certainly she'd not had any other plans for the evening and this was shaping up to be quite the show. So she wandered up to him and asked with her soft sing song voice.

"Would you mind if I joined you? I know the area fairly well and there's ways around here that are far quicker than obvious. I should warn you though to expect snakes, a girl I knew got bit bad and anti-venom isn't the easiest to find out there."

Walking back into the tavern and looking around at those who had either gotten deeper in their cups or stepped forward Thalith smiles to himself as he rolls his shoulders and helps settle his axe. Stepping deeper into the crowded drinking area he steps up to the young man who had yelled the challenge to the visitors. Clapping his hand on his shoulder from behind making the boy stagger Thalith says loudly.
"Well it seems you got some more to come with you, maybe enough that any Eldridge horrors we might find will be killed before we are."

Laughing at his own joke and letting the first person to have spoken up Thalith gets another stein of beer, standing just to the side waiting for the rest as he drinks it.

"Hey, I'll come! Better than staying in this place..."

"I'll come with you. You're going to need all the help you can get."

"Would you mind if I joined you? I know the area fairly well and there's ways around here that are far quicker than obvious. I should warn you though to expect snakes, a girl I knew got bit bad and anti-venom isn't the easiest to find out there."

Then there was eight.

If this kept up, James figured he might just have arranged it himself, the adventurers be damned. He still could, though they might take offense to that, and that could get dangerous.

James sat back. "I am aware of that there's snakes," he said, remembering the time he had arrived in Diamond Lake. He had been forced to walk through some snakepits. "Luckily, I happen to be an alchemist, so I reckon I already have some suitable anti-venom, should it happen. Regardless, I wouldn't mind anyone joining as long as they're able enough to defend themselves."

"Well it seems you got some more to come with you, maybe enough that any Eldridge horrors we might find will be killed before we are."

James had barely evaded the goliath's clap, and eyed the other with narrowed eyes. He hadn't been startled, but it had made him more aware of his surroundings. With all the people around them, that wasn't really much of a surprise.

"Yes, if we get any others we could just go alone, should those guys decide we're not worth it. But, and I say this as fact, not as an insult; don't even try to touch me again, I abhor physical contact," he said in a matter of factly manner, and crossed his arms in a defensive manner.

"Well, that one's a few cards short of a deck. Still, money is money, right?"

Clodagh smiled at that, and yawned for a moment, then her little companion sprung up and towards James,

"Hey, I'll come! Better than staying in this place..."

The little hobbit then seemed to gesture for Clodagh to follow her, but Clodagh was apprehensive. She was feeling quite tired, and to be honest didn't really know how far away this cairn would be. Granted, she hadn't really done anything physically exertive in the past few days, but she knew an excursion like this would be tiring.
There was also the problem of Clodagh not knowing any of these people. She could stick with the friendly hobbit, but even then...

Clodagh then sighed and got up, taking a few steps out the tavern door and leaning against the cold moist wall of the building, continuing to think over what to do.

Charles sat silently and listened as those around the bar continued to speak. With the way the people crowding them were speaking it seemed as if they thought they would be leaving tonight. They wouldn't be leaving tonight would they? No. That wouldn't make sense. It's night. Most things a sane person would worry about walk at night.

Probably couldn't hurt to ask though. He looked between the three and decided he would ask when they were done discussing with the man that drew their full attention.

Wilmet's conversation with the mage was interrupted by one of the patrons of the bar, who began shouting about a better lead and so on. Seems I'm not the only one who knows where to start, shame he's being so loud about it but I might as well pitch in and tag along. I'd wager that at this point I already know as much if not more about these carvings than anyone else here.

"You'll have to excuse me," he said to the mage as he got out of his seat "I'm rather curious about where this fellow is heading."

Shoving his way up towards James, he tipped his rather large hat to the man "I've got a bit of knowledge about what we're looking for," he said "so I think I'll join you, you'll want me there with you."

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