It is midafternoon. Hayden has been looking for bounty posters, and has found several. Wanted dead: ringleader of a group responsible for a train heist (Ernest Birch), and a bandit lord known to attack caravans leaving Ilirra towards the south (Ben Galloway). Offering 15k gp and 11k gp, respectively.
Hayden is bothered by his encounter with Marcus, having the feeling that they’d met before.
Meanwhile, Sheila has some alone time, and decides to go to the church for prayer and meditation. Pallas catches up to her on the way and makes a nuisance of himself by trying to nest in the silk drapery at the alter Sheila is praying at. She makes a bed out of a spare shirt for him. She does her training routine and attends closing prayers. She returns to the inn around dinner time.
Polena tries to quietly get ready to leave, but is super clumsy, and wakes up Strelok. Strelok pretends to still be asleep until she leaves. Polena meets Sheila downstairs for dinner, where Hayden and Strelok join them. Zephyr, busy with potion making, forgets about dinner. Strelok requests some of the wanted posters Polena got, she leaves to get them, Hayden makes a joke about putting a wanted poster on Polena, and Sheila smacks him. When he has the posters, Strelok peruses them to see if there are any likely persons that he could probably find within 24 hours. Sheila asks if Hayden has evening plans. He nods and makes an affirmative noise, but says nothing. Suspicious!
Sheila asks if Polena is ready to go find Quinten. Hayden asks who this person is and what’s going on, so Sheila explains the instructions she received from Strong. Hayden tags along, since his tasks are best done later in the evening. Polena leads the way to the Stork. It is extremely busy and “smells of working men and cheap ale”. Hayden picks someone’s pocket and uses the money to get a drink or ten. Polena seems a bit overwhelmed by the crowd. She takes out Quinten’s poster and points over at a man surrounded by a large group of people. Polena disappears into the crowd. A boistrous voice is coming from the center of the group. It is from a man who resembles the picture on the poster. He is currently boasting about this and that in an arrogant fashion.
Sheila: Most heroes don’t toot their own horn.
Q: Never met a hero like me! Have you seen my poster?
Polena looks disappointed. Not nearly as handsome and dashing as the poster, is rather short, thinning hair. Quinten asks if Sheila needs his services, Hayden makes a raunchy joke, and Quinten responds in kind. Polena: You’re not a real mercenary, are you? Quinten: Uh….I’m the best mercenary in this town!
Sheila asks for proof of this claim, and Quinten mentions that he is SIR Quinten, the GALLANT, and he won’t have anyone question his credentials yadda yadda yadda. Then he realizes she is from the church, says he finds it “cute” (women with swords)… Sheila
S: Proof? Q: SIR quinten ?, the gallant, won’t have anyone question his credentials. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Realizes she’s from the church, Sheila grabs him by jaw and throws him at the door. His once adoring crowd laughs. Polena is distressed, and requests that they leave. They walk over Quinten. As they are leaving, they hear the bartender chuckling. “Looking for a REAL mercenary?” He overheard the bit about going to forest, and knows a mercenary that might be willing to go…. Hayden bribes him to get the name (with the money pickpocketed earlier): Aeric…. (Sheila adds a gp) Aeric Ed’aar. Can find him at an inn in the north district, although he retires early; may still be up. Inn is called the Mug and Barrel. He doesn’t come cheap, but he is worth it. “Tell him Frank sent you”. It is 9ish. Hayden, Sheila, and Polena head to the inn. They arrive shortly after 9:30. Quiet place, sparsely furnished, bar area has only two patrons. The barkeep says Aeric has retired for the night. He is seen briefly with the morning sun, and then not again until afternoon. Best to come back in the morning. Polena is disappointed, wanting to find their mercenary… she’s not very good at mornings, but she’ll try to get up. Sheila decides to head back to the inn; Polena asks Hayden if she can tag along with him. Hayden suggests that Strelok might be looking forward to her company… “Do you really think so?” Polena goes in search for Strelok, and Hayden heads off.
Strelok is on the trail of some pickpocketing street thugs, when suddenly…. Polena pops out and greets him loudly and cheerily. “Are you happy to see me? Hayden said you wanted to see me… and something about a pine tree, I dunno.” Strelok tells her that, actually, he’s doing something a little dangerous, so she might not want to come… but Polena insists that she is a great helper. Strelok says that if things get bad, she needs to run. Polena: “Will you protect me?” Strelok: “………yes…..”
Strelok explains what he’s doing (hunting for pick pockets). Polena helpfully inspects EVERYTHING. Despite Polena’s help, Strelok is able to gather some clues and follow a trail. He doesn’t run into any of the pickpockets, although the trail is concentrated around several empty buildings. One seems to be a warehouse, the other an office. Strelok asks Polena if she can pick locks. Nope. Strelok covers his sword pommel with his cloak and breaks a window. No one comes running. Strelok widens the hole and slips through. Polena attempts to crawl in after, but Strelok motions for her to wait, and then unlocks the door for her. Investigation type activities occur. There is a back door, no cellar, lots of boxes stacked around. Polena suddenly yells, STRELOK LOOK WHAT I FOUND! Strelok suggests whispering. Polena has found a crate full of gold pieces and jewelry. Strelok looks in other crates and finds many of them contain valuables. Some seem to be frieght such as iron ore bars, leather straps for making armor, thises and thats. Strelok decides to try to follow tracks leading from the warehouse. He follows the tracks to an area with bars, and goes to see if he can see any familiar faces (since he has the wanted posters with sketches or descriptions). Polena follows. She seems to be lagging a bit. She suddenly gives a large yawn. She admits to being tired. Strelok decides to stake out the bars tomorrow and take her back to the inn, although it frustrates him. She hugs his arm on the way back to the inn and rests her head on his shoulder as he tries awkwardly to walk at her pace. She starts falling asleep, so he picks her up. She snores and drools. He resists the urge to touch the boobage as he puts her to bed, and goes downstairs. He draws a map and plans his stakeout.
Hayden heads to the underground bar where he met Marcus. They ask for his chip, so he gets one from the bar. The buy in is higher tonight. Marcus is in the same seat, again surrounded by girls, again playing the dice game, again in the middle of a cheering crowd. Extra excitement: there is a high roller in town, and they are going head to head. Again Marcus has the infuriating amused look. Most of the other players at the table have folded. Hayden watches the dice. It seems as though Marcus has his own set of dice that he switches out when it is his turn using slight of hand. Marcus is also watching Hayden. Hayden winks, and Marcus waves. Hayden orders a drink, surrepticiously drips some into a handkerchief, doesn’t actually drink any. The game soon ends. Hayden congratulates Marcus loudly, but suggests that perhaps the crowd is tired of seeing him win again and again. The crowd hushes. Obviously this is his game and he does well; let’s see something new; a different game! Hayden proposes a card game. Marcus smiles and agrees, offering him a chair beside him. Quietly, Marcus asks “…have we met before?”
The cards do not appear to be stacked. Hayden plays straight to see how Marcus does. He loses the first hand (but the previous game was very close; Marcus is careful not to win every round). However, the game involves bluffing, and Hayden has a ridiculously high bluff skill, even when he doesn’t cheat at all. As time goes on, Marcus loses again and again. He looks unperturbed, perhaps even amused. Once when Marcus folds and puts down his cards, Hayden sees he has a pair of Aces…. finally, Marcus says “tonight wasn’t my night”, hands out more cash, and thanks Hayden for the challenge. As crowd disperses, Marcus says, “I think I remember you… did I… pick on you when I was young?” Hayden vaguely remembers a butcher’s son a few years older than him who was not very nice. Marcus tries to recall a name, but finally says, nah, couldn’t have been you. (Guessed Roland… Hayden seemed to react.) Marcus leaves with ladies, returns to same inn, to which Hayden follows. This time, Hayden goes to back door, waits. No one comes. Finally checks the room’s window… room empty, window open. ARG! Hayden recognizes one of the girls, though: a merchant’s daughter he had noticed himself. Merchant sold fine magical items. Hayden decides to go to the shop. Takes most of the night to find it; sees a dark figure leaving. Catches up to figure in an alley. Figure admiring rings on his hands; wearing a tiara. Marcus: “Oh! You found me again! You’re good! You want some of these?” (offers rings). “Here, you can be the princess.” (Puts tiara on Hayden’s head).
Hayden says, you do remember, don’t you? Marcus pretends not to; Hayden draws his sword. Marcus: “you’re still very feisty”.
(Approximate conversation transcript)
M: I’m only here to play games. What do you want?
H: What did you want? Just to make someone cry?
M: Isn’t that what you want?
M: Good for you.
M: Ah, it was Nowlan! I used to come to that estate you lived on, with my dad, and we’d slaughter the cattle for you. You were a little shit! We used to have some great times—
H: Enough! advance (finds he can’t just stab Marcus… who is not holding a weapon. Wonders why. That conscience thing, maybe.)
M: You apparently have some stuff to work out… but, you know how to find me. You’re good at it. So… come find me! Going to sleep now. Toodles!
Hayden eventually returns to inn. He arrives near dawn. Sheila is getting up and leaving; she encounters Hayden, who is muttering about a fucking conscience. Sheila: “Rough night?” He quickly puts up his mask and says, “same old same old, made a ton of money”. Sheila: “what were you muttering about?” Hayden: “Muttering…?” (Dodges by asking if she’s eaten yet, calling a waitress). Sheila knows he’s dodging, but needs to leave to meet Aeric.
Sheila returns to the Mug and Barrel to see Aeric Ed’aar. Inn is just as empty. The same bartender is there, and says Aeric has just risen; he points to a more private area of the dining room. Man sitting there is perhaps as handsome as Quinten’s poster. Clothing looks normal, but closer inspection reveals fancy embroidering. He looks up as Sheila approaches; mischievious twinkle in his eye. “Hail, Paladin! I was told Frank sent you”. Sheila says looking for someone for a quest. He sizes her up. Calls her lovely, but not in an inappropriate way. Discuss the quest a bit; heard from Frank that we were going to the forest. He says he is interested, but is not cheap. Estimate? “Well, since Frank sent you, and I haven’t worked with someone so lovely in quite awhile… for the whole trip… 4000 platinum” (40k gp). Most upfront, as it is a long and dangerous trek. Sheila asks that he comes with her to the church. Aeric suddenly looks tired, but agrees. He asks if they have a deal; Sheila agrees.
As they go to the church, Sheila asks about scar on his face. Childhood accident with a threshing machine. Looks worse than it was (trails off)….
At church, Sheila presents him to treasurer, says this is the person that will fulfil the obligations set by Strong. 4000 platinum?! The treasurer wants to see orders! …Oh. Apologies. Only has 1000 platinum, they will have to go to the city treasury for the rest. Next few hours spent w/ Aeric getting supplies. He is a little arrogant, but still a gentleman. When Sheila tells him about party, Aeric gets an amused smile, says “they sound wonderful”. They part ways to get supplies and Sheila’s bracelet. Aeric says he cannot leave for two days, as he has personal business he must conclude, but he can be reached at the inn at that time. Sheila returns to the inn for lunch.
Strelok is awoken by a loud, grumbly snore from Polena. Clothes reveal tiny, tiny, tiny amount of cleavage. OMG. He goes downstairs to get food. Zephyr stumbles down as well, having finished potions but not yet slept, eager to look at the book she got the previous day. Hayden is there playing darts. Strelok relates events of the previous night. Zephyr jitters and has more caffeine. Sheila says she found our mercenary, and he’ll be ready to go in two days, when we will meet him for the first time. Zephyr asks if he is anything like the other guy, and Sheila says no, this one is actually respectful. Strelok: “That will be something new! You didn’t pay him entirely up front, did you?” (Sheila becomes very interested in her cup). Strelok sighs. “Next time, I’m going with you.”
Hayden sees Zephyr, gives her the handkerchief, asks her to examine stain on it. Z does not find this odd at all. Hayden is struggling with what to do next regarding Marcus. Confront him diplomatically, physically, or assassinate, or…