They headed into town at daybreak, after a quiet little lunch in the hull of the great broken airship. It was maybe an hours walk before they found the city gate, and as soon as they made their way through they immediately thought that Anton had gotten off easy. The entire city, which once sat on a lazy slope down to the coast, was now a steep and dangerous slide into the choppy waters below. At least, one assumed the waters were choppy; the noise they made beating against the half-submerged buildings led you to believe as much, even if The Mist was so heavy that it was impossible to see more than a hundred feet in any direction.
Finneus gestured down the main road, “The main commercial district is on The Ribbon leadin’ down to the docks, but the nicer parts of town are to the south, on the Bluffs,” he swept his arm to the right. “The well to do area is also the higher ground, so is likely where we’ll find more people.” Since no one objected, he nudged Nathan in that direction.
After a few minutes walk a large structure loomed out of the mist above them; a tall, round building that could be nothing but the Bloodball stadium. As they got closer it became evident that this had become a landmark and a meeting place; a great many people were milling about. “Are the Sirens holding a game?” Finneus asked one of the haggard men standing about.
The man looked as if a strong wind would blow him over. He looked, in fact, like one had already done so, and he hadn’t come out better from the experience. “No,” he said, “We’re all just trying to share what we have.” He looked over the group warily, “You look like you’ve been traveling. Where have you come from?”
Amatharn stepped forward and smiled, “Anton.”
The man looked shocked, “That’s quite a journey! How does Anton fare?”
“Better than here,” Withervine said, “But badly.”
The man nodded, unsure what use this information was to him. He decided to try a more immediate tack, “What brings you to Tierm?”
“We are seeking answers,” Amatharn said, “And would appreciate your sharing any you might have.”
The man shrugged, “Alas, I am merely a survivor. But I know someone with whom you might talk; he frequents the Salty Dog down the way. Always in the back.”
Finneus nodded, “Thank ye, sir. And be proud of being a survivor; you’ll come to see it as a badge of honor as the years go by.”
They moved through the crowd, past the stadium and to the water’s edge. Here the waves lapped up onto the road, and the flotsam and jetsam of a drownéd city sloshed ashore and back out to sea with slow scraping sounds. They moved inside, picked out the shady character in the bar, and Finneus smiled to the barkeep. “What does he normally drink?” he asked, hooking a thumb at the corner.
The keep eyed the newcomer suspiciously. Finneus pulled out a coin and flipped it in his hands. “A Siren’s Song,” the barkeep said quickly.
“I’ll take two,” Finneus said, handing the coin over. He withdrew another and handed it over as well, “And this one is for you.”
“Thank you,” the barkeep said, “I don’t normally get such treatment.”
Finneus took the drinks, nodded, and took a step toward the corner, “That’s because ya live in a terrible little town.” The barkeep’s smile melted away in an instant.
Finneus plopped into the chair opposite the shadowed figure. At this distance it was easy enough to see that he was a dwarf, and was not expecting company. The bard slid one of the drinks across the way, “I am told that you are the person to talk to when questions need be answered. I’d like your pseudonym of the day, since that will make the conversation easier.”
The dwarf might have smiled; it was difficult to tell under the beard. “You can call me Yoren,” he said, picking up his drink. “As for answers, that all depends on what the questions are. And what you have to offer in return. But first things first; what might I call all of you?”
“I am Amatharn,” the vampire said, taking a seat. “Our chief concern is this Mist; do you know anything about it?”
“I do,” Yoren said, looking at Withervine expectantly.
The elf took the hint and held a hand to his chest, fingers spanned, “Withervine.”
“And I am Gwen,” the Genasi said, not wanting to be asked.
Finneus took a swig of his drink. It was sour and had a mean bite, which was appropriate for the city. He figured that this fellow wanted the answers but knew it was best to make him wait for it, as waiting was a cheap payment and payment was what was being negotiated. He swallowed, “And I am Finneus.” He had never liked Siren’s Songs.
Yoren took stock. “Amatharn, Gwen, Finneus, and Withervine. From…?”
“Anton,” Withervine said.
“And thereabouts,” Finneus added. Yoren eyed the bard, noting the slippery language. Finneus smiled, happily debasing his payment by surrounding it with ambiguity. “And where are you from, Yoren?”
“I’ve been serving here and there,” he said. It was his turn to pay down a little ambiguity.
Finneus arched a brow, “Serving like in an army, or like in a prison?” He raised his glass to drink, stopped, then continued, “Or like a barmaid?” He knew immediately that it was a step too far; Yoren’s face was red, he eyes narrowed.
“Serving,” he said.
“You said you knew something of the Mist,” Amatharn offered, attempting to change the subject.
The dwarf nodded as he turned his head to the vampire, “Yes, and I’d be willing to part with that knowledge if you’ve some you’re willing to part with in return. I am a collector of information, and I do not give it up for nothing.”
Amatharn pursed her lips. She was immortal but she still got annoyed at how long simple things could take. She glanced around the table, decided no one was going to offer anything first, and dove in. “I am from the Dutchies of Sanford, though it has been a while since I was there.”
“I know the place,” Yoren nodded. “Are you familiar with Barakus Solut? He had a daughter, if I recall.”
Amatharn nodded, trying to hold in her fear. Did he know? “I know of him, but his daughter disappeared a long time ago; I’d expect she’d be dead by now.”
Yoren tilted his head back and forth, “I suppose.” He turned and eyed Withervine, “I can tell by your clothes that you are a druid.”
“Yes. I hail originally from Brofland,” Withervine said.
“Yes, though I grew up in the Green Needle Forest before becoming a City Druid. The city has its own dangers, I’ve found.”
Yoren’s eyes registered an understanding and agreement. Then he shifted them to Gwen. “From your insignia I pegged you as a military woman.”
“A have had my loyalties there, yes.” Gwen said, “And more recently to a broader set of people in need. I help where I can these days.” Gwen saw the disbelief hidden behind his smile.
“And you,” the dwarf turned back to Finneus, “said you were from ‘here and about’. You all seem to know Anton, and you found this pub quite quickly. Any more detail than ‘here and about’?”
“Oh, a great many more. I’ve travelled Tierm b’fore, and Anton, and Ceris, and beyond. Never quite made it down to the Rookhold Mountains but I’ve seen the Zepan Kingdoms. I am a citizen of the world, as it were.”
“I would claim as much for myself. But where are you from originally?”
Finneus gestured upward. “More on the thereabouts than the here. I think it’s time this sharing became a two-way street before we proceed any farther.”
Yoren jutted out his lower lip and shrugged, “I’m not quite sure. I’ve a bit of information about you, and a bit about Anton, but nothing really new. You’ve travelled quite a ways; what have you seen in that time?”
“A crater,” Withervine said, “right out of the Elemental Chaos.” Yoren turned his eye to the elf. “Slabs of rock floating on air, with lava and creatures within.”
“I have heard of this,” Yoren said.
“And have you heard who was in the crater?” Finneus asked.
“I have heard a bit, but would be interested in what you have heard.”
“A dragonborn who styled herself Surina of the Remnant, with a great many men with her.” Finneus exagerrated the title and the number to see the reaction; it was always best to wrap lies in the truth, and vice versa.
“A ‘great many men’, so she has moved up in the world,” Yoren said, almost to himself. “Who were these men?”
“Warforged, some. But we did not see them ourselves,” Finneus said, “And so have only the word of a Genasi boy who went with them. He saw them perform a ritual, and was knocked out for his troubles.”
“So she has warforged, now. Certainly moving up.” Yoren had the look of someone cross-referencing things in their head.
Finneus purposefully waited a beat so as to interrupt at a worse time, “I take it from your answers that you have heard of this ‘Surina’ before.”
“Oh, yes,” Yoren said. “A bright mind.”
“But does she put it to bright purposes?” Finneus asked.
“I try not to make such distinctions.”
Finneus tried to poke the wound again, “Have you heard of this ‘Remnant’ before?”
Yoren waited a moment, then shook his head slowly, “I’ve heard of remnants of things, but never a group calling itself the Remnant.”
Withervine’s slender fingers folded open in the center of the table; in his palm a small shiny thing sat motionless. “It is a Golden Beetle. It cures common ailments. It is yours, if you want it.”
Yoren touched it with his own stocky fingers. It dodged away when he approached. “Where did you come across it?”
“In the Skintooth Mountains some years ago. There was a shamanistic tribe of Drow living in caves there, seeking ogre artifacts. I had been commissioned to seek out the same artifacts, and in the course of that search found myself trapped with a few ogres. One of their number had fallen ill, and their healers could do nothing for her in the small place we had found refuge. When they found these golden beetles they told her to eat it, and at first I suspected they were just being ogres, who are not known for being particularly picky about their food, but when she ate it and got better I procured a few of the beetles myself so I might breed them.”
Yoren looked impressed, “I would be interested in getting another, so I might breed them as well.”
Withervine nodded, “I will give you one as soon as I can.”
Gwen spoke up, “While still serving in the Zepan Army, I was part of the team that found Creation Forge 5. Deep in the Rookhold Mountains we came across a door, and inside the door was a complex older than anyone you’ve ever met. We spun up the machine and managed to start production before the Rooks found it; the entire forge was destroyed in the battle.”
Yoren looked around the table. This group had seen more than he expected.
“Have you heard of Sunder?” Finneus offered.
Yoren wasn’t prepared for a new name to skip into the conversation so quickly after the last tale. “No,” he said after a moment’s delay.
“A servant of the Raven Queen,” Finneus said.
“Bitch,” Yoren said.
“As was Sunder,” Finneus smiled. “She was tasked with killing The Defiler, who I’m guessing you have heard about, and also Fenrial, who you may have heard about. A group of adventurers did manage to slay the Defiler– charming group of fellows if you ever run into them– and Sunder killed Fenrial herself. This all occurred moments before the Upheaval.”
Yoren’s brow raised. “A servant of the Raven Queen slew a man of light moments before the world fell apart.”
Finneus smiled, knowing that he had Yoren on a hook. “Aye, and a great many things happened in those moments, I’m sure. But this one was what we’ve heard, and it sounds important to my ear, and by the look on your face it sounds important to you as well.”
Yoren nodded, “It does. But I think you’ve paid your price. The Mist does indeed come from this town; a tower out in what is now the bay exudes it. That tower is owned by Surina, and what she does there is anyone’s guess. I know only that visitors arrive at night and leave before morning.”
“Can you get us to this tower?” Amatharn asked.
“For a price,” the dwarf said.
“Do you wish to come along?” Finneus smirked. People who shouldn’t be venturing into danger always seemed to want to do so. He was a prime example of the trend.
“Oh, no. But inside her tower are a series of documents, marked with an ornate red ‘R’. I want those documents. And I’d prefer if you didn’t read them first.” There was a moment when each of them tried to decide if they were willing to make that decision.
“On one condition,” Finneus said. “A simple yes or no answer: do those documents have to do with what we’ve discussed here at this table?” He looked at his comrades; again their lack of a clear leader was problematic, and again he just decided to make the call.
“Yes,” Yoren said.
“Then we have a deal,” Finneus said.
“Meet me at nightfall,” Yoren said, “at the water’s edge just outside his tavern. We will make our way from there.”
“Agreed,” Finneus said, standing. “We shall meet you in a few hours. Shall we provide the boat?”
Yoren shook his head, “I shall procure one.”
“All the easier,” the bard said. He strolled back to the barkeep, flipped another coin onto the counter, and pointed back at Yoren, “He’ll have another.” They all strode out.
A few hours later they were strolling toward a lantern-holding dwarf standing next to a boat that resembled the wreckage it bobbed amidst. But when they all stepped in it seemed seaworthy enough, so they started off into the water, the city quickly disappearing into the mist and darkness behind them. About fifteen minutes later they slowed and stopped near a building whose roof lay only a foot below the water line. “This is as close as I go,” Yoren said. He handed Amathan a small stone, “Speak into this and I will return for you.” They all climbed out and stood in knee-deep water as Yoren paddled away. Then they made their way as quietly as they could toward the dim outline of the tower. There were at least three stories above the waterline, and likely another three below. Its dark grey stonework looked ancient but solid, and the waves looked like a minor annoyance in a long history. They managed to climb into a window aglow with firelight.
The two guards inside were playing cards, and were down almost before they could draw their weapons. The two brittle warforged that accompanied them provided slightly more resistance before crumbling to parts on the floor. The real problem were the three figures in cages on the southeast wall, who looked to be humans warped by foul draconic magic into some abominable semblance of the scaly beasts themselves. Despite cramped quarters, Withervine leapt from one side of the battle to another, freeing up Amatharn to tear down the threats before they became too dangerous. Gwen managed to badger the abominations and keep them away from Finneus, whose song seemed to protect everyone from harm. As the last abomination fell everyone looked pleased; the stairway up was still clear, and they might just have the element of surprise still on their side.