Fruit of the Fallen

Old Friends, New Problems

Missed Connections

Part 1 of Marwyn and The Golden Hand

Three Months after the Tower of Fate, Fairhaven
Professor Ner Omidan was not having a good day. Returning from his half-year sabbatical was supposed to be a refreshing arrival to the city he had grown to love. Instead, unscheduled repairs on the rail lines had delayed him in a backwater town for a week. During that time a thief had rummaged through his things, and the gnome was forced to call for the guard when one of his traps took a hand off. And now, finally within the walls of the University of Wynarn, sun having fallen below the horizon hours ago, he finds a drunk sleeping on his floor.

“What the blazes are you doing in my office?!” Ner shouts at the intruder, whose head tilts upwards slightly at the sound.
“Whozere?” the man asks in a slurred voice, trying to stand.
As he does so, the half-elf turns to face Ner, who shouts again, “Marwyn!?”
“Why’re you yelling?” Marwyn asks, still not fully aware of who he was talking to.
“Why are you in my office?” Ner asks again keeping his volume high to the displeasure of the bard.
“Wus drinking some shtudents and hadda take a nap. It’s ok, Ner’s gone,” Marwyn explains, wondering why the short guy was bothering him.
“I’m right HERE you idiot!” Ner screams incredulously, and the anger in his voice finally rouses the bard’s faltering mind to the point where he could see straight, “GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!”
“Ner!” Marwyn exclaims, surprised, “What’re you doing here?”
“IT’S. MY. OFFICE! OUT! OUT! OUT!” the gnome shouts, using strength Marwyn wouldn’t have thought his wiry frame had to push the bard out. The door slams shut behind the half-elf, who stumbles off towards the closest bench.

Meanwhile, Ner noted with some relief that his office hadn’t been disrupted farther than the unwonted guest. In fact, given that his office had apparently remained unlocked over his absence, it was a pleasant surprise to find none of the wards guarding his more sensitive belongings had been tampered with. Activating the enchantment on his door, and deactivating one such ward, Ner withdraws a thin stone from an inconspicuous slat built into one of his bookcases. Speaking as quietly as possible, the gnome whispers to the stone, “Agent Rook, we need to talk about the Golden Hand.”

A Few Hours Later
Marwyn awakens when he falls off the bench, landing roughly on the university’s floor. No one had bothered him in his new resting place; it was a weekend, and students sleeping in odd places was a common sight at the University of Wynarn.
Not that Marwyn was a proper student of the University of Wynarn, there was no earthly way the bard could have pulled together enough focus to survive the rigorous course of classes required to graduate with any respectable degree. Instead, he’d asked a favor from Professor Gilmont, and started some remedial courses. Though he was capable of several impressive feats of magic, in the words of one of the professors, ‘your study of rudimentary bardic talents, and indeed basic magical aptitude itself, is extremely lacking for one of your skill.”
It surprised Marwyn what simple little spells he had neglected, though to be fair the bard hadn’t really had a proper education. It was in pursuit of a well-rounded spellbook that had eventually landed him in his current predicament. Making friends with some of the other students, who were close to his age, Marwyn had started staying later and later to join in some of the parties. Lesani had suggested that he not mention his co-ownership of The Crowned Leper, as their profit margin couldn’t survive the enormous application of ‘the friends and family discount’ which was likely to follow.

But the party was over now, and Marwyn’s aching back was asking for a return to his real bed. He briefly wondered why he wasn’t in Ner’s office, but mentally shrugged aside the question as he focused on something else. There was a small burst of arcane power, and Marwyn was soon heading back to The Crowned Leper. Curiously, every door he came across on his way seemed to open by itself, and a careful observer would note that the bard didn’t fully bear the weight of his pack.
When he staggers into The Crowned Leper, the elf sitting by the door looks at him with an annoyed glare, though not for the reason one would think. It was still early enough in the morning for no one else to be present, so Lesani was able to address the problem directly. “You are still using that spell Marwyn?”
“Yeah,” the bard nods roughly, laying down across several of the barstools and rubbing his forehead, “I really wish healing magic worked on hangovers.” He gingerly sits up to drink the glass of water that had been placed at the empty bar.
Lesani sighs, and continues, “Your immortal soul is no trifle Marwyn, regardless of what Winter might have said.”
“Jarvis is fine, Les,” Marwyn says defensively, wincing after sitting up too aggressively, “No one at the University said I needed to worry about it, even if they can’t understand it.”
“Jarvis?” Lesani asks incredulously, “You named it?”
“Maybe,” the bard answers hesitantly, “It’s just there all the time. I figured I couldn’t keep calling it ‘Unseen Servant’ in my head.”

There was a pause as Marwyn finished his drink, feeling somewhat better afterwards. “Still no news from the others?” he asks.
“No,” Lesani answers, “Unfortunately the enchantments on our sending stones were less durable than I was led to believe. I was unable to restore their connections, even to the one that was left in Blighspot.”
“I’m starting to learn sending, at least,” Marwyn says, “And I’m sure they’re fine.”
“Yes,” Lesani says, though her voice betrayed a little bit of doubt. It had been three weeks since her sending stone had become disconnected from the rest of her friends, and no word had come in from them since. What worried her more, though, was that attempts to send any of the three members failed. The warlock had kept that from Marwyn, and secretly dreaded the moment when he’d finish learning sending.

Switching back to the original topic, Lesani asks, “So no one at the University was able to replicate the spell either?”
“No,” Marwyn shakes his head, and regrets the motion moments later as it reawakens his headache, “No one could cast it. Anyone else tries and the spell fizzles. Must be whatever Winter showed me needed the mark.”
“Perhaps,” Lesani replies ambivalently, her reluctance regarding the spell once again rearing its head, “In which case it would be directly tied, in part, to the traveler’s magic. I still caution you against continual use, Marwyn.”
“I would, but it’s just so damn useful,” Marwyn replies, accepting another floating mug of water. Tiring of the conversation they’d had many times, he asks the warlock, “What’re you working on now?”
Looking up from her notebook, Lesani answers, “I am writing a note to myself as a reminder to visit Ner later today.”
“Ner? I thought he wasn’t in Aundair,” Marwyn says, confused.
“His lightning rail was scheduled to arrive today,” Lesani answers, “I imagine he has already returned to the university.”
“But…” Marwyn stops himself midsentence, a pale suddenly going over his face.
“What is wrong?” Lesani asks, fearing her doubts of his new spell were coming true.
The bard recovered just enough to mutter, “Ner’s going to kill me,” before bolting out of the tavern.

Fortunately, the gnome professor was rather understanding about the mishap of the prior night, especially when Marwyn went into more detail as to who else had been illicitly using his office. Ner turned the bard away with the sentiment that he was very busy, please don’t stop by again in the near future. Amending at the end that, yes, I would enjoy a visit from Ms. Windhailer, the gnome returned to his business.

Marwyn, on the other hand, was relieved that Ner was so understanding about the thoughts of a drunken half-elf at half past midnight. The bard cursed himself for drinking far too much, but in truth he had a good reason. Mevalyn was out of town.
The Cyrian had received word last month that one of her friends was in trouble. Sayge, one of the bowman that had been aside her the first time she and Marwyn had met, had gone missing. His brother, Oirli, turned up at The Crowned Leper with the story. At the time, Marwyn was dealing with the sending stone malfunction, and had wanted to stay with Les until that was sorted out. After assuring that the enchantment on their rings was far hardier than the extensions placed on his sending stone, Marwyn waved Mevalyn goodbye.
It wasn’t as if he was completely deprived of her presence, they still talked most nights. The search for Sayge had gone nowhere so far, and the fact that he had gone missing in Thrane was enough to dissuade Marwyn from joining her. Marwyn still wasn’t sure if Thrane knew he was a part of the team that had stolen their lightning rail prototype, but he wasn’t willing to find out.
So, when he wasn’t studying magic or at the archery range, he did what any bard who owned a bar would do. He drank. Not too much, usually, and the patrons or students, depending on the venue, were good company. But he still missed Mevalyn.

Awash in self-pity over his longing heart, Marwyn almost failed to dodge out of the way of the drunkard being tossed from The Crowned Leper’s entrance. It was a little early in the day for such measures, but apparently the patron had been making a spirited attempt at the current record. The bard stepped into the tavern as the rest of the taverngoers cheered, entertained by both the bouncer’s throw, and Marwyn’s nimble escape.
“Sorry Les,” Marwyn mumbles, finding the warlock at the same table she had been at when he’d left. Breakfast had replaced the journal, her sensitive writings not appropriate for the busy atmosphere. This was in spite of the fact that her table was otherwise empty, allowing Marwyn to stretch out a little.
“I take it that had to do with Ner’s return?” Lesani asks, eyebrow raised quizzically.
“Sort of,” Marwyn admits, “But I took care of it. He said he was expecting a visit.”
“As he should,” Lesani answers positively, “The last time I saw him we were hunting Blue Cloak. How things have changed.”

Marwyn’s fingers brush against his sending stone, and he sighs, “Yeah, they have. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind a job. It’s been so long.” He glances back up to see Lesani staring at him with a pointed look, and curses when he realized he’d forgotten himself. He guiltily takes the floating mug of cheap beer and tries to ignore the oppressive silence of the barroom, which had started when the mug had begun its solitary flight. Conversation eventually breaks again, though Marwyn notes with increasing discomfort that the patrons seemed to have attributed the feat to the bartender. Yet another person to apologize to, he thinks.
“Your funds are not running low, are they?” Lesani asks, concerned.
“Nah,” Marwyn shakes his head, “Between what we make here and what Mev and I saved up, I’ll be good for a while. I’m just…” the bard pauses, trying to single out the emotion, “Bored, I guess. And I can’t get it out of my head that Mev probably needs my help but Thrane’s too dangerous.”
Lesani nods knowingly, mouth busy with her latest bite. Clearing her throat, she suggest, “You could take a vacation.”
“Vacation? Where?” Marwyn asks rhetorically, “It’s not like I’ve got somewhere in mind.”
“Darguun,” Lesani shrugs, and a flicker of understanding dances across Marwyn’s face.
“Oh, you mean… Yeah, I guess that’d be… But what about Mev?” he asks, pausing several times as his mind works through the idea, “Darguun’s pretty far away.”
“And dangerous, no doubt,” Lesani adds, “Preparation would be costly, to say the least, and I would not imagine you would prefer to venture out alone.”
“You wouldn’t come Les?” Marwyn asks.
“I have obligations remaining in the city,” Lesani answers evenly, “And someone should stay with the Leper.”
Marwyn sighs, and eventually mumbles, “Guess it was a nice thought anyways.”
Giving a dissuasive tsk, Lesani says, “I would not give up so easily. My network is not nearly as vast as Var’s, though perhaps I might turn up information about groups travelling to Dargunn. Perhaps one would not mind the addition of a bard.”
“Still leaves Mev,” Marwyn adds, “I’ll run it by her tonight.”
“Good luck,” Lesani says grimly.

That Night
“Darguun?” the voice in his head asks him incredulously, and Marwyn gives the mental equivalent of a nod, “What got it in your head to go down there?”
“Jor,” Marwyn answers simply, “And Cletus if he’s still with her, though I doubt it.”
“Ah,” Mevalyn replies, “You still haven’t heard from them. It sounds dangerous Marwyn, though admittedly we’ve both been through worse.”
“Speaking of which, how are you with Sayge?” Marwyn asks, twisting his ring with slight anxiety, “Last you said Oirli was asking around about pressgangs.”
The sound of Mevalyn sighing comes through, and the Cyrian replies, “He was. Got nowhere, but luckily I was keeping my ears open too. Found a traveler who mentioned seeing slave ships docked in Flamekeep, and after a little gold, he remembered seeing someone who looked like Oirli on board.”
“Wait you found him?” Marwyn asks suddenly, “That’s great!”
“Not necessarily,” Mevalyn replies pessimistically, “It seems Sayge has been captured by slavers. The worse part is that they’re bound for Karrnath.”
“I thought Thrane frowned on slavery,” Marwyn points out, “Why’re there ships in their capital carrying slaves?”
“It sounded like they passed themselves off as Karrnathi transport vessels, though anyone who looked close enough could see what they really were,” Mevalyn responds.
“Mev, that’s horrible,” Marwyn answers, worried frown crossing his face. “What’re you going to do?”
There was a humorless chuckle as Mevalyn said, “If I still had the Revenge I’d rescue Oirli and sink the bastards, but my pirating days are over. Casitrus has apparently gotten into a good position with New Cyre, I’m going to try and leverage that for some help.”
“I’ll be on the next train for Flamekeep,” Marwyn offers, “Mev, you need me.”
“I need you to stay alive, Marwyn,” the Cyrian fires back, “And you can’t be in Thrane. It’s too much of a risk, more than travelling to Darguun. If the trail does go to Karrnath then you can join us then, but not before.”

There’s a pause as both collect themselves. Unable to bear the silence further, Marwyn asks, “So you’re ok with me going to Darguun?”
“Of course. Just be careful, Marwyn,” Mevalyn replies, “I don’t want to have to come looking for you too.”
“’Course Mev,” Marwyn reassures, “Les is trying to find a group heading there that I could join, so I won’t be alone.”
There was an odd sensation, almost as if Marwyn was remembering a painful memory that wasn’t his, before Mevalyn asked, “What do you know of your friend’s location? Finding a hobgoblin in Darguun sounds a somewhat daunting task.”
“Last we heard, the Kech Volaar were deciding on if they were taking her back,” Marwyn replies softly, taking the oddity as Mevalyn recalling her first meeting with the rogue. “But that was a month ago. I’m just hoping to find someone who could point me in the right direction.”
“Seems like we’re both betting on long shots,” Mevalyn observes, in a somewhat distracted tone, “Oirli’s looking like he wants to talk. Let me know when you leave Fairhaven.”
“Will do,” Marwyn complies, “Love you Mev.”
“You too. Stay safe Marwyn,” the bard ends, cutting the connection. Marwyn jolts out of his trance, taking in his surroundings for the first time in a few minutes. His room at the Leper was modest compared to ones he had lived in before, yet luxurious by the standards of most. Owning the bar below the room also had its benefits, as it allowed for him to personalize the space more than if it was merely rented to him.
His eyes fell first on the gilded violin that belonged to Mevalyn. It’d been his wedding present to her, and the Cyrian wouldn’t dare think to bring it with her on the journey to Thrane for fear of it being stolen. The lute she had given him stood next to it, and in that moment Marwyn agreed with the sentiment. If he and Mevalyn couldn’t be together in this moment, then at least those two instruments could lay next to each other until they next met.

With a forlorn sigh, the bard begins to take stock of his belongings, and decide what else he should bring to Darguun.

The Next Day
Marwyn stumbles downstairs groggily. He’d kept himself awake for most of the night worrying, and his exhaustion was making itself known. Fortunately he’d long figured out how to make Jarvis carry his things without being too conspicuous, and the lack of weight on his back was welcome.
The bartender greets him as he finally makes it down the last step, “Les wants you to meet her by the healing halls,” he says. Marwyn was still somewhat unused to him referring to the warlock by their shorthand, but Lesani hadn’t seen fit to change the man’s habits, and so neither did Marwyn.
“Right, yeah,” Marwyn acknowledges, and then remembers the events of yesterday, “Sorry about that floating glass…”
The bartender waves the apology away, saying, “Forget about it. This place’s always had a bit of a reputation anyways.” The man goes back to polishing mugs, and the bard feels it best not to keep bothering him.
Marwyn simply gives a polite nod, and heads out.

While he walked, Marwyn pondered Lesani’s choice of meeting spot. He hadn’t even been aware of Fairhaven’s healing halls until a few weeks ago, when one of his friends at the university hadn’t been timely enough with his cast of feather fall. Thankfully there were others there who knew of its existence, and they led the group carrying the heavily injured student.
The halls were located somewhat close to the city center, and were practically filled with clerics and the like. Capable himself of mending minor wounds, and not having required dire care, Marwyn had gone blissfully unaware of their services until that moment. He’d noticed the first time through that all of its staff had a blue tattoo somewhere on their bodies, and that a version of it was emblazoned on the walls. When he’d asked someone out of curiosity which god the symbol represented, all he had gotten was a blank stare and the incentive not to repeat the question.

As he neared the place, Lesani flagged him down. She was standing slightly away from the entrance; a wise choice, as the large entrance was flowing with new patients. While the halls did take a small fee for general care, it was affordable enough for most in the city. This led to the halls being a veritable hive of activity, as various accidents, mishaps, and attempted murders created a mass of people seeking aid.
The warlock had been watching the procession until she picked Marwyn out of the crowd. “Marwyn!”
“Why’re we here Les?” Marwyn asks, pushing out of the crowd and towards her.
“Jorasco is sending out a delegation to Darguun in the immediate future,” Lesani begins to explain.
“So that’s the name, Jorasco,” Marwyn interrupts, “Are they one of the Sovereigns?”
The warlock pauses, and gives Marwyn a quizzical look. “What?” she asks simply.
“Jorasco. I wondered what that symbol was for,” Marwyn says, pointing to the glyph etched above the main door.
“That is the Mark of Healing, which belongs to House Jorasco,” Lesani explains incredulously, “How is it that you are unaware of this?”
“I dunno,” Marwyn shrugs, and tries to ignore the growing feeling of embarrassment, “Uh, Les, could you tell me what House Jorasco is?” he asks sheepishly.
“One of the dragonmarked houses,” Lesani says flatly. “Dragonmarks?” she asks, as Marwyn’s face bears another look of unfamiliarity, “You cannot be serious.”
“I think that was the thing Jor painted on me one time,” Marwyn replies, stretching back into his memory. “I grew up in a small town, I can’t know about everything!” he cries in self-defense.

Lesani sighs, and realizes this would be a long conversation. “Dragonmarks are symbols which grant powers to those they manifest on. They are passed on through bloodlines, which over the years have formed into houses around specific marks,” she explains patiently, “Jorasco formed around the Mark of Healing, which does what you might expect.”
“But that’s different from, uh, this,” Marwyn says, discreetly patting his shoulder.
An odd look crosses Lesani’s face for a moment, and it appears as though she was in deep thought. It passes quickly, before Marwyn could comment on it, and the elf answers, “Yes, though that mark is certainly more unique, it was the result of a ritual. The origin of dragonmarks are not known.”
“How many houses are there?” Marwyn asks, wondering how he could have missed this before.
“12, or 13, depending on who you ask,” Lesani answers, “But that issue is not worth getting into at this time, Marwyn. Let us focus on the reason we are here.”
“Delegation?” Marwyn says, remembering her words from the start of the conversation.
Lesani nods. “Apparently House Jorasco is interested in establishing a sanctuary within the capitol of Darguun, Rhukaan Draal. A controversial move certainly, given that the territory isn’t formerly recognized as a nation, though Jorasco has the advantage of the moral high ground. Politics aside, healing halls from each of the major kingdoms will be sending a representative.”
“Aren’t they concerned about safety?” Marwyn asks.
“Yes, which is why the delegation will be small, until it is decided if a healing hall is to be established or not,” Lesani says, “Apparently they have House Denieth’s blessing. Which makes me think this might be a cover for a deal between the two to provide Jorasco medics to the area to reinforce Denieth’s mercenaries already in the area. This could either suggest an attempt by Denieth to throw in behind a new successor, or perhaps even try and retake the region…”
“Woah, Les,” Marwyn holds up a hand, “What happened to ‘damn politics’?”
“My apologies,” Lesani says, catching her breath, “The implications of this are just intriguing.”
“I’m just surprised you know or care about that stuff,” Marwyn says, “It’s all over my head.”

Forcing herself to remain focused on the matters at hand, Lesani continues, “Thankfully you will not need to worry about the politics of the situation. Suffice it to say that House Jorasco is willing to attach a bard to their convoy, provided he pay his way.”
“How much?” Marwyn asked expectantly, tapping his coin purse reflexively. It’d been heavier of late, especially once the bard had converted the platinum coinage into gold. But that didn’t suddenly mean money wasn’t an object.
“I do not know,” Lesani answers, and to Marwyn’s confused look she says, “That is your business to attend to.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess it is,” Marwyn replies oddly. In the past such matters were handled by Vargard and Lesani, he simply just had to do what they said. It’s hard getting used to being my own man, Marwyn thinks.
“Be sure to stop by the Leper on your way out,” Lesani advises, “I had commissioned some scrolls that will reestablish our sending stone linkages, which should be finished shortly. Would not want the trip to be wasted.”
“Got it, thanks Les,” Marwyn says, briefly embracing the elf before working his way through the crowd.

Seeing the half-elf enter, one of the overworked clerks sighs, makes the wrong assumption, and says, “Cures for common diseases will run ya’ 10gp, see one of the red tunics.”
“What?” Marwyn asks, the direct statement tripping him up, “Why would I need that?”
“You…” the clerk starts, before realizing her mistake, “Oh, I thought, because you were a bard…” the clerk coughs awkwardly, and straightens up, “What can I help you with?”
“I’m here about the Darguun expedition,” Marwyn says warily, trying to edge away from the incoming patients.
“Oh. Oh!” the Jorascan cries, realizing the full extent of the error, “You’ll want Proctor Kaellen, second floor, green tunic. My apologies, sir.”
“Thanks,” Marwyn grunts, walking towards one of the stairs.

After a moderate amount of searching, he found Proctor Kaellen arm’s deep in a half-orc. The irony of the small doctor working on the large patient as lost on Marwyn as the bard recoiled, completely unprepared for the sight.
“Do you require my assistance?” the Jorascan asked, glancing up from his patient. Between deep breaths to avoid vomiting, Marwyn inadvertently noticed a dragonmark dancing across the halfing’s face. “Oh come now, it’s just a little blood,” Kaellen admonishes, while continuing to work on the half-orc. The halfling seemed to be digging around for something, though Marwyn wasn’t too keen on looking closely.
“I…” Marwyn wheezed, catching his breath, “I’m here about Darguun,” he manages to get out.
“Oh, of course,” Kaellen answers evenly, keeping his gaze fixed below. The doctor’s movements had become slighter, and more targeted. “If you can’t stomach this then you’ll have to wait a minute. Apologies, but her needs are greater.”
As Marwyn’s face was beginning to resemble Kaellen’s tunic, he retreats to the corridor and collapses. Another halfing stops when they see this, but Marwyn waves them off.

A few minutes later, after Marwyn had gotten his stomach back under control, Proctor Kaellen walks into the hallway. “I believe your name as Marvin, yes?” He asks, not making to move from the hallway. The Jorascans moving in the hallway simply flowed around him, as they had done with Marwyn.
“Marwyn,” the bard corrects, “What were you doing?”
Kaellen’s brow furrows in confusion as he answers, “Assisting a patient?”
“Your arm was in her,” Marwyn points out, “Why…” he stops himself as the memory brings on another wave of nausea.
“She is a railyard worker, a piece of metal sheared off a moving car and lodged itself in her,” Kaellen answered aloofly, speaking as if he was discussing the weather rather than a critical injury, “Had I not removed the metal before curing the damage it caused, the root of the issue would not have been corrected. I believe you are interested in accompanying my delegate to Darguun?”

The question catches Marwyn off guard, it having arrived without warning. He stares at Kaellen for a few moments before answering, “Y..yeah.”
“You’re not impaired, are you?” Kaellen asks abruptly, “I was told you were an experienced fighter.”
“What? No, I’m not,” Marwyn answers indignantly. When met only with an excruciatingly patient glance from Kaellen, he clarifies, “I can fight! That just… threw me off. I mean you were practically holding her guts.”
“Hmm,” Kaellen grunts, “Why someone so unaccustomed to such procedures wants to join this delegation is beyond me. Though ultimately it matters little, as long as she signs off. You are aware of the relevant fees involved?”
“No,” Marwyn shakes his head, “I was told there would be travel costs, but I was expecting to be told what they were. I’m not too concerned about it,” Marwyn taps his money purse again, “I can pay.”
Kaellen sighs, and says, “Well regardless of first impressions, Tora has the final say. She’s the one going, after all.”
“Why’d I meet with you then?” Marwyn asks.
“Because I’m her bloody mentor, and I’ll be damned to send her off with some charlatan,” Kaellen menaces, betraying the first sign of emotion since Marwyn had been talking with him, though he then relented, “But if your gear is any indication of quality, then you can at least handle yourself in a fight. What’s your business in Darguun?”
Briefly wondering whether to trust Kaellen, Marwyn decides that he didn’t want to anger the halfing who was accustomed to digging around people’s guts. “Trying to find some friends, our sending stones cut out and we lost touch.”
“Interesting,” Kaellen says, taking a closer look at Marwyn, “If that’s true then I may have underestimated you.” He nods approvingly, “Medic Tora’s on the fourth floor, preparing herself for the journey. The relevant fees total somewhere around 300, I’m not too familiar with the specifics. Now, if you excuse me,” Kaellen says, as sounds of pained screams echo through the halls, “I believe my services are required elsewhere.” The halfling departs without another word.

Marwyn climbs two more flights of stairs, passing what appears to be a long-term recovery ward, and reaching a set of personal dwellings. The bard wondered for a moment why people would choose to live right above sick people, until he saw a halfling in a hastily-donned yellow tunic pass him and head for the stairs.
Fortunately, the inhabitant’s names were emblazoned on the doorways of each apartment, and it didn’t take long for Marwyn to find Tora d’Jorasco, medic. The halfing was packing a bag when she noticed Marwyn crossing in front of her threshold. “What are you doing here? Patient wards are one level lower.”
“Here to see you,” Marwyn answers directly, resolving to be more focused after the last trainwreck of a conversation, “For the Darguun expedition.”
“Yes, Kaellen said to expect you,” Tora says absentmindedly, more focused on packing. Marwyn noticed her dragonmark when she turned to grab a yellow tunic, it wrapped itself across the back of her left hand and continued up the arm. “How much do you know about this?”
The tone was conversational, miles away from the stiff tone of the medic’s supposed mentor, and Marwyn breathed a sigh of relief that this was the one he would be travelling with. “Not much, just that you’re meeting with several others before we get to Darguun,” Marwyn answers, “I’m just looking to get into the country with as little trouble as possible.”
“Well I’m glad you’re not the stuffy noble I imagined,” Tora says, “When I was told to expect a companion. Glad to meet you,” Tora stands, holding out the dragonmarked hand. Marwyn shakes it, and holds on for just a moment too long. Her mark felt… odd. Where the skin was raised, it gave the sensation of lizard skin, scales, which clashed against the soft texture of the halfling’s hand. He lets go once he realizes, and Tora gives him an understanding look. “Unaccustomed to them. Interesting.”
“If I’m honest,” Marwyn says, “I didn’t know they existed until today. I’ve seen them before,” he clarifies, to match Tora’s shocked look, “Just didn’t think to ask.”
“Hard to imagine, though I imagine I’m quite biased in that regard,” Tora says, returning to her clothes, “It’s been on my arm since I was 3. Grew up with it. Probably been around sick people more than my family, but I’m not complaining. What’s your story?”

Studying the halfling, Marwyn finally realizes Kaellen’s influence in the verbose medic. As talkative as she was, there was still a focused demeanor that followed her, as she finished every sentence with the folding of a dress, or stowage of some arcane medical instrument. “Name’s Marwyn Verdani. I grew up in a village called Wrendale, fled home to become a bard, and ended up with a group of mercenaries,” Marwyn replies, deciding on the short version, “Which broke up a few months ago. We had sending stones to keep in contact, but the connections broke recently. I’m trying to find them to fix that.”
“Mercenary? I wouldn’t have pegged you for a mercenary,” Tora observes, “At least the train ride won’t be boring. I’m sure we both have plenty of stories to keep each other entertained.”
“A few,” Marwyn smiles, “So we’re heading down on a rail?”
“Yes,” Tora nods, “Should be three or four days by direct line. We’ll be meeting the others at Zolanberg, before crossing into Darguun at Sterngate. From there we make for the capitol for an audience with the local government. Honestly I’m not too familiar with our mission after that, I’m just there to provide an Aundair presence and do what I’m told.”

“I can relate to that,” Marwyn replies, starting to feel an odd kinship with the medic, “So I’m aware there’s a fee…”
Tora nods, and replies, “I was told your travel fees would amount to 275 gold, including all travel and lodging costs to Rhukaan Draal. If that’s a problem…”
“It’s not,” Marwyn says, cutting her off and hastily withdrawing the gold, “Can I just give it to you?”
Tora eyes the outstretched gold with surprise, momentarily breaking from her packing. “Oh, you must have some really interesting stories.” She slips the gold into a pouch at her waist, and says, “We’re good! Meet me at the front of this building in three days’ time, an hour before noon. I’ll be wrapping up with any patients I still have in that time, though if you have any questions I might be able to spare a few minutes in the interim.”
“I’ll stop by if I think of anything,” Marwyn says, “Glad to be travelling with you.”
“As am I,” Tora nodded graciously, and then returned to her preparations. Sensing the conversation was at an end, Marwyn turned to leave.

Later That Night, The Crowned Leper
Marwyn twisted his ring, subtly activating its enchantment as he looked around his room. His nervous glance focused on Mevalyn’s lute. She was expecting to talk with him again tonight, though Marwyn wasn’t sure if he should. The thoughts he started a few minutes after he’d left the healing halls, and despite himself he couldn’t fully banish them. He was in the midst of battling one when his mind registered the presence of another. Mevalyn was with him again.

“Marwyn, any news?” the Cyrian asks wearily. Marwyn knew that tone well, she was exhausted.
“I’m leaving for Darguun in three days,” Marwyn says, and quickly asks, “You sound tired. How’s it on your end?”
Mevalyn’s mind gives the equivalent of an inquisitive look, and answers, “Travel mostly. We haven’t heard from Casitrus yet, though we shouldn’t for a little while more. But tell me about this journey of yours, Marwyn. You sound nervous.” There was a teasing ring to the words, travel sores not detracting from the Cyrian’s nature.
“It’s… it’s nothing,” Marwyn stumbles, trying to keep his mind from betraying him, “I’m going down with a House Jorasco medic, we’re meeting up with some others.”
“Oh, tell me about her,” Mevalyn teases, while Marwyn curses himself. A stray thought must have alerted Mevalyn to the source of his nervousness.
“She’s… interesting,” Marwyn says, trying to throw her off the scent, “Big, uh, dragonmark…”
“You like her,” Mevalyn accuses, but the thought wasn’t relayed how Marwyn was expecting. True, she had seen right through him, but he was getting the sensation of a knowing smile, rather than betrayal.
“Maybe,” Marwyn admits, then hurriedly adds, “But I would never…”
“Marwyn, it’s fine,” Mevalyn replies, laughing a little at his embarrassment, “I have no illusions as to our nature. We’re both young bards with plenty time left to explore the world before settling down.”
“Oh,” Marwyn says, not expecting that response. At worst, he had expected to declare them finished, though now he saw that would have been ridiculous. Still, what could have been a reprimand was instead implicit permission. “Wait, we?” Marwyn asks, picking up on exactly what Mevalyn had said.
“Of course, you didn’t expect that to be a one-way street, did you?” Mevalyn asks, half serious, half mischievous.
Marwyn shrugs physically, feeling of all things amused. “I didn’t expect it all Mev, though honestly I can’t say it’s an unwelcome surprise. But we’re still…”
“Forever and always,” Mevalyn answers, before Marwyn could finish, “Nothing will change that.”
“Forever and always,” Marwyn agrees, “I’ll talk with you once I leave Fairhaven.”
“As will I, if I hear from Casitrus,” Mevalyn says, “Good luck with finding your friends.”
“You too,” Marwyn says, ending the connection. What had been a nervous glance that was fixed on Mevalyn’s lute was now a curious one, as he pondered the future.

He was snapped out of his reverie by a slight cough, from someone who had slipped into the room unannounced. “Les!” he shouts, startled. The elf was watching him from a chair, having apparently slipped in unnoticed, “How long have you been there?”
“Some time,” Lesani says evenly, “You had that glazed-over expression. I felt it best to wait until you noticed me.” She closes her journal, which had been occupying her attention up until this moment, and looks at Marwyn, “How was the meeting?”
“It was… ok,” the bard replies, wincing internally as he remembers Kaellen, “I’m set to leave in three days.”
Lesani withdraws several scrolls from her pouch, and lays them on Marwyn’s desk. “As promised. You should be able to use them.”
“They’ll reconnect our stones?” Marwyn asks, grabbing one of the scrolls and reading it out of interest. The spiraling glyphs on the page were nearly incomprehensible to him, and the latent energy suggested it was a strong spell. Still, comprehension of a scroll wasn’t necessary required to cast it, and while Marwyn wasn’t too familiar with using scrolls, he thought he could manage it.
“Yes,” Lesani nods, “Though you will need to use both yours, and the target’s as part of the spell. Unfortunately you will also need to do so for each stone.”
“So I’ll have to find all of them,” Marwyn surmises, “Maybe Jor’ll know where Var and Cletus are. Or we could get lucky and they’ll make their way here.”
“We shall see,” Lesani says, standing to leave, “Though I certainly hope to get in touch with them soon.”
“I’ll find them Les,” Marwyn promises, taking the rest of the scrolls and stowing them carefully, “And I’ll keep in touch.”
“Good,” Lesani says, her back turned, “I would not want to lose you as well.”

Lesani kept walking once she reached the stairs, continuing past the barroom and onto the streets of Fairhaven. It was late at night, and most were already off the streets. Most that remained were either night watch, or those who looked to profit off of those who wandered down the wrong dark alley. To the former she gave a polite nod, and the latter were wise enough not to trouble her.
Continuing to the city’s center, she passes through the gates of the University of Wynarn. The courtyard was empty, save for a lone patrolling guard who paid the warlock no mind. The hallways she travelled were likewise deserted, up until she reached her destination. Ner was waiting for her, outside of his office. He silently ushers her into his office, and then activates its defenses.

“Did he take the bait?” Ner asks surreptitiously, nervously tapping his desk rhythmically.
Lesani looks away for a few moments, eyes downcast. “I still do not like this.”
“I didn’t ask if you liked the plan,” Ner says, “Only if you’ve followed it.”
“Yes, he is joining the Jorascan delegation,” Lesani answers firmly, “I have done my part. What about Var?”
Ner grimaces slightly, backing away from his desk and reaching for a slim leather pouch containing several documents. “As I told you,” Ner answers, reaching for a specific page, “We can act directly no longer on this matter. The Thranish disaster proved quite conclusively that, at the very least, there are traitors in the Eyes.” He places a page on the table, having withdrawn the right one. Most of it was text, but on the top left corner was the symbol of a fist, embossed in gold.
Lesani furiously reads the page one again, but finds nothing more than when she had first read it yesterday. “And you are certain this Golden Hand has Var?”
“No direct action does not mean no surveillance,” Ner answers, “He is with them, willing or not. And like it or not, Marwyn’s search for lost friends is the perfect coverup for a future operation.”
“As well as a perfect way for him to be killed,” Lesani adds, “If I thought less of you I would imagine this to be retribution for how he greeted you.”
Ner snarls, responding, “I am not that petty Ms. Windhailer. It’s not as if he is an unwilling participant, just an ignorant one. Time will tell if he will be a competent one.”
“We can only hope,” Lesani sighs, “He leaves in three days. I just do not understand how looking for Jor will help us find Var.”
“Trust me, Lesani,” the gnome says, “I remember our friendship still. If there was a better way, we would try it first. See that he makes it to the rail station on time.”
Lesani gives Ner a suspicious look, “I did not mention how Marwyn was travelling.”
Ner returns a worn smile, answering, “You didn’t need to.”


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