Journal Entry 3
A big meeting was called yesterday. All the house heads from Ikus Meid were there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many intimidating, scary individuals in one place. Is every city council meeting that tense? If being a mage means getting involved in all that wordplay backstabbing, I’m not sure it’s even worth it. Yikes.
“For the good of Ursei” my ass.
These meetings may be important for city planning and rift strategizing, but this shit is not good for my blood pressure. I don’t even know why Lord Rimnus invited me.
Day 137, 3223 AFR
The gates were open as the quartet approached, the walls casting far shadows over the surrounding clearing ring. Farmland began about a thousand feet away from the walls, their workers still bustling around caring for the plants even with the sunlight fading. Walking under the portcullis, only Zaak was able to fully resist the urge to glance up at it, instead continuing to scan the surrounding crowd for potential threats. The throng of traders, guards, townsfolk, and animals all generated a cacophonous rumble, making communication difficult. With Zaak leading the way, the four forged their way through until coming to a courtyard square where the mob was less thick. Finally able to hear each other, they stopped along its edge to plan where to go next.
In the distance could be seen the upper edges of a round theatre, the lower portions blocked by the buildings surrounding. As Garn glanced up at the massive structure, easily as tall as the outer walls, he could just make out the roar of an excited crowd above the noise from the industry around him.
“I’ll bet a thousand house points and gold that that’s the arena,” Andras said, the first to earnestly attempt saying anything since the four entered the square.
“And if any of us actually took that bet, they’d deserve to be the poorer for it,” Garn responded. Many people were heading in that direction, with heavily armed individuals or small groups not being uncommon in the current. Taking their cue that their destination was also in that direction, the four began their hunt for the registration officials.
Passing stall after stall of goods, it wasn’t long before Maia slowed down, window shopping at every third stall. After the third delay, Zaak made the suggestion for her to mount up again, then began to lead her horse as well as his own as they made their way along. After about three quarters of a bell, they approached the base of the arena. Their mounts had helped inspire the crowd to move out of their way, so they hadn’t had much issue in progressing once they had a direct heading. Unlike when passing the main wall’s gates, all four found themselves craning their necks to look up along the massive walls.
As they approached one of the entrances, they were halted by a trial official standing watch. Around the stout, pudgy man, clearly suffering for the heat of the afternoon and evening, were four guards. All four held spears with glimmering heads and had swords sheathed on their hips.
“State your business,” the official said, his nasally voice slightly grating to Garn.
“I am Garn Kelmar, here representing Lord Gravos Dinsala as a contestant in the Syn Doa Trial. My companions are…” He was cut short with a sharp wave from the official’s hand.
“Very well. Continue down this corridor, take your second left, then follow that until you reach a vaulted hall. There will be assistants there to direct you further.”
Without even dismissing the four, the official and all four guards shifted their attention back to the swarming crowd for prospective trial-goers or threats.
As the four moved past the guards, they found themselves in a much cooler tunnel. The stone walls echoed their footsteps slightly and rang with those of others near them as well. It wasn’t as loud, but the noise was no less distracting for Garn, on edge already from the quick transition of scenery. He wasn’t prone to nervousness, but rarely had Garn spent this much time surrounded by so many potential threats. One of the only things helping Garn’s nerves was seeing Zaak near him as well, hand resting on his sword’s grip and ready to be drawn in a moment.
Turning the left as indicated by the official, the four came to a halt as they almost ran over a clearly elderly woman, laying in a heap of clothing right in the middle of the hallway. Rising to her hands and knees, and then unsteadily to her feet with her back turned to them, she turned around to face the four. Collectively all four took in an involuntary breath.
She was old. But beyond that, her eyes were what caused the reaction. Her left was a piercing blue, bright and crisp even in the lessened light of the hallway. Her right, in contrast, was milky and pale, as if blinded by the lens fog that plagued so many as they aged.
After a moment of shifting her gaze first to Andras, then to Zaak, then to Maia, and finally to Garn, her mouth twitched into a small grin. It quickly transformed into a smile, finally landing on a full grin as her amusement became evident on her face. All four would have agreed that it was creepy, if any of them had found the impetus to say anything. All four waited to see who she was and what she wanted.
After another moment passed, she finally spoke, her creaky voice strangely melodic:
“Four the journey sees / A fight for love be free / But in the hour of greatest hope / A blade of glass for thee.
The three new covenant form / For peace and love reborn / But homes deny the dream alive / A future they’d not let morn.
Beware the waves you’d make / All sides, loyalty fake / But in the blade, a means, a way / And the darkness you shall break.”
After the last syllable, she collapsed into a heap under all her rags. Both Andras and Zaak rushed forward to see if she was alright, but flinched back a moment later. She was awake and coming to her feet again slowly. As she did, she looked in Garn’s direction, but not directly at him. She focused just to his right. As he looked at her eyes, he could see that both were now the milky white that only the right eye was before.
“Hello?” she let out weakly, not sure who was near her.
None of the four said anything about the oration as they made sure she seemed alright, and continued past her. All four were deep in contemplation, until Andras broke the silence.
“Well that was spooky as fuck.”
Coming into the vaulted hall, the four companions were struck by how many contestants had come to compete. The hall was, while not quite packed, very full of people. Most were in armor and carrying weapons. Several had robes on, packs revealing tomes or scrolls strapped over their backs. There was no doubt that this was the place they needed to be.
Making their way through the throng, the party approached the raised stage along the back wall of the hall. The group of individuals on top of the stage looked to have just the right amount of self-importance to indicate them being servants and now having positions of relative power. Garn could tell this was going to be an interaction that would test his nerves.
Making the final approach, the closest of the new overseers waved them closer, a toothy smile plastered over his face, not quite reaching his eyes. His flowing robes looked to be just a bit too large for his lanky frame, but his affected air of self-importance made it look more snobbish than juvenile. In his hand he held a book that Garn couldn’t quite make out the details of. Unmistakable, however, were the bags under the man’s eyes, evidence of a long day of being important. As they drew near, he addressed them.
“Hello,” he said in a drawn-out drawl. “I take it you are here to register for the Trials?”
“Obviously,” came Andras’ reply, much quicker than his own self-preservation’s guidance against such a retort. The attendant’s left eyebrow had raised at the end of his own question, but found itself dragged into a scowl immediately after.
Taking the lead, Garn stepped closer yet, demanding the attendant’s attention by his presence. Looking up at him, Garn proceeded.
“I am Garn Kelmar, here representing Lord Gravos Dinsala as a contestant in the Syn Doa Trial. My companions are Zaak Hichada, Andras Kito, and Maia Sharsi,” gesturing to each as he made the introduction.
Opening a book in his hands, the attendant flipped to a blank page and wrote their names down. A ledger of contestants, then, Garn thought. After doing so, the attendant glanced back up at Garn, addressing him again, having gathered that Garn would be speaking for their party.
“What party make-up would you prefer I enter you as? This will only affect the early rounds of the trials. After the first few, each of you will be assigned a role based on your performances, and then further testing will determine your aptitude in those categories to determine if you’ll be eligible for entry into the Rift.”
“Four person squad, please,” came Garn’s response. Glancing down into his book, the man made another small scratch with his quill, the ink for which none of the four companions could determine the source of. Nodding his head, the man began again.
“Tomorrow and the next day are to be for many solo entrants and smaller parties. You four shall begin on the third day with group matches. These will challenge your teamwork, strategic approach, and your individual capabilities. The objectives will vary from round to round, but you will need to rely on each other to survive through the rounds. Report back here…” He let his sentence die off as he glanced back in the book for a moment. “...at midday on the third day from now, and your matches shall begin.”
Nodding his thanks, Garn and the party left the cavern, making their way back out of the large building and back into the city itself.
The inn that Maia spotted for the group was not exactly what the finer folks would describe as “charming.” A roar from the patrons inside was to be expected in almost any inn at this time of early night, long before the regular patrons attempted to stumble home or retire to a room. The Iron Tap Inn, so named by the swinging sign above and to the left of the door, was the kind of establishment where it was mandatory for one to look as if they belonged if they expected to be treated as such. Garn had been in his share of taverns, winehouses, inns, and brothels over the years, so he knew just how to play the part. After a glance to his companions to ensure they were with him, and a reaffirming clutch at his coin purse, Garn pushed his way through the swinging doors.
As the doors swung in, the roar from the patrons inside increased in volume, as expected. What did surprise the grizzled veteran, however, was that there were less patrons in the establishment than anticipated, with room to move about and several tables still empty. The noise, he noted, was actually coming from an energetic game of some kind taking place at one of the larger tables off in the corner. Ten or eleven men huddled around the table, blocking the view, but the incessant cheering, booing, or banter between them was what had made up the added volume.
After beckoning to his companions to find a table, Garn approached the bar. Zaak, wanting to be present in case any relevant information to the Trials was to be had, approached alongside Garn as well. Behind the long barrier stood a stocky gentleman, dressed well, but with his sleeves rolled up, polishing a glass as he watched Garn approach. Setting the sturdy glass down on the bar top with a slight thud and tossing the rag over his shoulder, the man turned up a smile and spoke.
“Welcome,” came his deep chesty bass, the deep tone surprising Garn slightly. “You have the look of a party fresh into town. What’s your fancy?” The easy smile hiding behind his well-kept full beard and his raised eyebrows made the man seem genuinely good-natured, as far as Garn could tell. Granted, the hospitality business didn’t usually appreciate unpleasant types, but Garn thought that perhaps it wasn’t all an act out of the barkeep.
Giving a smile of his own, Garn ordered a round of drinks for him and his three companions, as well as a plate or bowl of whatever was the most fresh meal made.
“We have a thick stew that finished a few hours ago, if that’d be of interest. Or I could have Merelda carve up a bird, if you’ve the extra coin to persuade her to do so a day early,” said the bartender. “I’m Addin, by the way,” he added as an afterthought.
Not wanting to burn through the funds they brought too early into their adventure, Garn thought it wise not to indulge. “The stew should be fine for us.”
After a quick pour from a tapped keg behind the bar, Addin set four mugs of foaming ale before Garn and Zaak. After passing over the coins to pay for the meal and drinks, Garn grabbed a mug in each hand, as did Zaak, and the two made their way back to the table, content with the short interaction for now, resolving to pick the bartender’s mind for details later on as the night progressed.
After finding his way to the table, handing one of the full mugs to Maia, Garn settled down into his seat. Raising his own glass to his lips, Garn took his first sip of the liquid stress relief.
Addin proved to be a chatty fellow throughout the night. He gave details on the city layout, the history of the neighborhood, the local underground hierarchy as best an outsider could know it, and many other topics. He came over not infrequently for a few minutes at a time, making his rounds throughout the room delivering a drink here and there. He also helped deliver their ordered stews when they were done being reheated over a fire in the kitchen behind the bar. Each trip, he came equipped with another new story or fact, rattling away answers to questions the four had for him when he was present.
The more they interacted, the more Garn liked the man. Which was saying a lot, since Garn didn’t really like anyone.
It wasn’t until about the fifth round of drinks in that Addin finally thought to ask for the names of the four companions.
“My name is Garn. These here are Maia, Zaak, and Andras,” He said, gesturing to each as he spoke, making his way around the table. “We’re here in Phirra to compete in the Trials, representing House Dinsala of Greater Habara.” Finally letting his eyes fall back upon the man standing next to their table, Garn realized that something had changed. The man was suddenly very quiet, his face having fallen into one of serious deliberation. His gaze had been following along as Garn was making the introductions, but once he heard Andras’s name, they stayed locked there. The others picked up on the change as well, stiffening a bit. Garn saw Zaak discreetly reach over to his right boot, where Garn was sure a knife was hiding. Unsure of the cause for the change, Garn continued, the confusion evident in his voice. “Is… is everything alright, Addin?”
“Andras, was it?” he spoke, his eyebrows furrowed slightly. “I know that name. Not very common.”
A glance over at Andras was all it took for Garn to realize that something was very wrong. Finding his own hand drifting towards a knife handle, Garn began to respond. “I’m sure that…” but he was cut off by the large man.
“The Lady has a call out for you. She wants to talk.” His tone had become very serious. Addin then nodded to a pair of men standing just inside the door to the inn, having moved there from their previous locations around the game table in the corner. Garn hadn’t noticed the men move over, but he did notice them leave immediately after the gesture.
The game had quieted down. The remaining men, eight in total, Garn counted quickly, all remained at their own table, but were paying close attention to the conversation taking place. About half of them had a hand down resting on a knife or sword handle, prepared if things became ugly. Garn was pretty confident in his ability in a fight, but he had also been drinking for a little while. He wasn’t sure that a conflict would be excessively wise at the moment, if it could be avoided.
To his credit, Andras remained fairly level headed about the sudden challenge from the barkeep. It almost seemed like he wasn’t actually even surprised that his name was recognized. After Addin finished speaking, a slight pause elapsed. Taking in a deep breath then letting it sigh out, Andras responded.
“I really don’t want to see her.”
Another uncomfortable silence arose between them all, just for a moment.
“That wasn’t a suggestion. Her men will be here soon to escort you.”
“Hmm…. no thanks.” Lifting his mug to his lips, Andras then took another long pull.
The other three were very confused. Zaak was standing by this point, not reaching for any weapons, but with his hand ready to do so at a moment’s notice. Both Garn and Maia’s eyes were following the conversation back and forth, a furrow steadily finding purchase on Garn’s brow.
Clearly unsure how to respond himself given the nonchalant response, the barkeep continued. “You… you don’t get to just say “No” to a request from The Lady. She’d have my hide.”
At this point the barkeep’s voice had begun to develop a plaintive tone, as if genuinely trying to convince Andras and company to just go, as opposed to being man-handled into doing so.
“I. Don’t. Care,” he said.
Garn finally decided he had had enough of the debacle, and wanted clarification.
“What in the actual fuck is going on, Andras?”
“The Lady has a call out for me, apparently,” he responded.
Another brief pause. “Right, but what does that even mean? Like do we need to fight our way out of here, or what?”
The entire room tensed when he said this, most of the previous game participants having their hands on their own knives or swords on their hips. Thankfully, no one had drawn any weapons yet.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Andras said. He took another sip. “She just wants to catch up, I’m sure. Her and I go way back.” Lifting his glass once again to his lips, he tilted it back fully, draining the last of the ale. “The issue here is that I don’t really want to see her any time soon. Or ever again. Not that it’s to be avoided, now that she knows I’m around again.” He sighed again and shook his head.
Another pause arose, as everyone tried to digest his response. Maia began to respond. “Wha-”
At that moment, the door slammed open, and four men walked in.
“Ah, hello boys,” Andras said, rising to his feet as he did so. “Nico, you look well! And Vidd, been much too long!” A big grin had found its way onto his face as he addressed the first two to enter the room.
All four of the newcomers were wearing long cloaks over their visible leather armor. They were all broad of shoulder, clean shaven, and sporting short hair. Swords and knives adorned their hips, and the last to enter even had a large mace. The theme of their outfits was clearly dark and mysterious, thought Garn. Smiling as he was addressed by Andras, the first man, Nico, spoke.
“Drassy-boy, my you’ve grown a bit since we last saw you. I’d make a wager that in stupidity is probably the most notable department of which, though. What are you doing back here in Phirra, boy? You never struck me as the extremely dense type. What’s the story?”
Zaak, Garn, and Maia were all thoroughly confused at this point. Garn was now standing, his own hand hovering near his weapon. This was a lot of men with a lot of weapons. But if Garn was anything, afraid of a fight was not it.
“Oh, you know, seeing the sights. I hear that there’s this nice brothel nearby. I figured I may even run into that sister of yours over there while I’m in the area. Be good to see her again,” He said with a wide grin on his face.
Garn breathed out a sigh, letting his eyes close in disappointment at his companion’s response. A fight it was, then.
Surprising Garn, however, the other man cracked into a big grin. “I mean, I’m sure she’d love a visit. Looks like your face healed fairly well since the last one.”
No one knew what was happening. This was not the exchange that the barkeep, nor any of the gamblers had expected.
Walking over to the man, Andras smiled, and then gave him a big hug. The barkeep sputtered a little, clearly struggling to wrap his head around what was happening. Pulling back after, with his hands still resting on the sides of the man’s shoulders, Andras spoke.
“I missed you boys. Shall we be going then?”