Everyone in the group agreed that caution was the best strategy when approaching any settlement civilized or no. They were not after all a company of high repute with a dark elf and a Thayan in their ranks. Most of them were not even at full strength- Sanford, Blain, Meaghan and Shar were all unable to exert themselves for long due to injuries and fatigue; the urgency of finding refuge from the forest and a chance to rest and heal was imperative.
What Elad Edals did not anticipate was Claudia’s insistence that she accompany him on his recon of the settlement. “To cover your back,” she had said. He preferred going alone but when she assured him she would remain hidden he had no other logical choice but to agree. Truth was Elad wanted to distance himself from her and eventually from the Shadow Thief organization itself. With the guild’s strength along the Sword Coast and in Waterdeep, Elad was pretty sure neither of those places was near and for that he was grateful.
Opening out of the unforgiving forest and under Mystra's constellation, the footpath led to a wide town that Elad could see looked both prosperous and secure. He thanked the gods this was not some barbarian camp or orc den. Even in the darkness of night he could see at once how the town worked; this was his specialty after all- learning and adapting to urban environments. The town was divided into three maybe four neighborhoods each one separated by sturdy walls or connected by a pair stylized bridges.
The central neighborhood, Elad thinks this as “the Jewel”, is a finely cut neighborhood where the town’s largest and oldest buildings reside. In its center, the largest structure a church or mayhap prominent family home he mused. It stood several levels above its closest rival; it was old, strong, and handsome. The proud structure was surrounded by gaudy vistas and envious houses all competing for attention or power. Outside of that Elad could make out what he considered as “the ring” to the jewel- a gilded neighborhood filled with specialized shops, curious individuals, and the well-to-do under the shadow of the Jewel and its pall of old money.
On the other side of a deep sparkling river he sees the markets; here Elad observes small warehouses, fisheries, numerous shrines, and small quays lining the river’s edge like fingers into the water. Impressed, Elad at last spied two stylized bridges that connected the east and west side of town. Each bridge was unique and held some religious significance but it was too far to tell for sure.
On the far west side, “the crescent” is just that a crescent-shaped neighborhood that possesses a well-used but well-spun proud look to it. The crescent also contained its own venue of shops, inns, and craftsmen practicing their trades. One road led in through gated portcullis, it seemed to be the only land-based pathway in and out of town.
The townsfolk appeared human, hearty as most frontiersmen are but there was something else, some kind of fairborn blood given the sylvan environment but whatever they were, it was too far away for him to tell with any accuracy. He watched how the men and woman greeted each other, their way of dress, and over heard some of the regional parlance. When he was satisfied Elad went on the move not thinking about how the men here were very old.
Another one of Elad Edals’ many talents was the ease in which he could slip into any disguise and seamlessly merge with any civilized culture. This afforded him all manner of opportunity in the city, but out here in the boonies though? Wearing magical garments as he did, Elad altered his outfit in accordance with town custom, peeled away the false mustache and the rest of his old Waterdeep disguise, and strolled casually to the town gate when he began to hear voices.
“…we all know you cannot see past your own nose Darras!” Said the larger of the two of the gray-haired guards, his tone was one of good-natured ribbing.
“I’m tellin ya it was the walkers Keinen, ‘wakened from their resting places by priests of death and darkness. Torm protect us,” said Darras adding emphasis to this portentous statement by invoking divine protection. Darras was the older of the two.
“And they wore death masks? Walkers wearing death masks? How much sense does that make?” Keinen asked incredulously.
“I do not know, but the masks were somehow womanly.” Darras said nightmarishly.
“Yes, Look I know how it sounds,” Darras conceded. “But I’m sure it has to do with the disappearances,” he said and as he finished he motioned to the town below.
“Well that is truly horrible,” said Keinen in a dry tone.
“Did you get to the Seer today like you wanted?” asked Darras of his old friend changing the subject.
“Yes and I picked up one for you too,” said Keinen cheer at once returning to his voice.
This was followed by laughter, a clink of glass, and a simultaneous quaffing of identical beverages. Darras and Keinen continued their fellowship and began to resume their patrol on the wall when they spotted Elad.
Grabbing their bows they took aim. “What business have ye strang…er?” Keined asked.
“Forgive my intrusion but I got separated from my caravan, I was hoping if you could tell me where this is?” Elad asked trying to pass off a believable story.
“My son, you are in Tragidore may it do ya fine just in time for Midsummer too. But beware that ill luck has fallen upon this town since the Time of Troubles.” Darras advised. “You may find better fortune in…”
But his sagely advice was drowned out by the sound of the portcullis opening allowing Elad entrance to Tragidore. Elad waived his thanks and sauntered into town but before he could get more than ten paces he was approached by a stately man accompanied by a young page.
“Welcome to the Tragidore young traveler, my name is Helliman McKillum. I am here to inform you that there is a small gate fee that I am unfortunately tasked with collecting, but I can offer a word or two on most any location in town.” Helliman was a distinguished retired warrior who wore a pristinely pressed serviceable outfit under a long waft of white beard. Helliman also seemed to have a naggish hip because he limped ever so slightly; the old man also had a pleasant smell about him. He was accompanied by a boy obviously too young to be a squire but nevertheless stood in as such.
“Yes,” Elad said companionably. “Are there any accommodations on this most excellent of summer nights? Tell me I beg.” adopting the local dialect.
Helliman held a pipe in his left hand as he spoke, “Say true,” he said with a laugh. “I’m sorry may I have the honor of knowing your name sir.”
Elad held out his hand as was custom. “Dale Slade. May it do you fine.”
“Well met Mr. Slade there is a place not far from here…”
Helliman’s old wizened voice receded as Elad/Dale’s attention was diverted as a roughish woman attached a flier to an outside hitching post. The flier looked like many Dale had seen in his years in Waterdeep. He took a polite step away from the droning Helliman and watched a curious scene play out before him.
The rougish woman reminded Dale of Claudia and how she moved gracefully, almost cat-like through city streets. The mystery woman had short black hair that curled despite its cropped length. She seemed to take care to avoid being noticed, however; after a few short moments she was done, her conspiracy completed. Dale Slade started to respond to Helliman when he saw yet another woman, this one much older tear down and rip up the new flier then absurdly began stomping it feverously into the ground.
“Five silver please.”
Dale paid Helliman with enough coin so that he could get change, but before Dale could investigate the coinage and mayhap narrow their geographical location a bit- he saw another flier across the widest part of ‘the crescent’. He didn’t know how long the message had been there but he wanted to get to it before someone else tore this one down.
Something was apparently going on and this flier conspiracy was part of it he thought. When Dale reached the message he quickly scanned the words…
REWARD: Adventurers needed to undertake a perilous investigation. The danger is unknown, but the reward for success is VERY generous. Interested companies should go to the Cawing Crow and ask for Marta.
Pleased with himself, Dale tucked the message into his shirt, turned and saw a lone man slowly staggering along the crescent road toward him. The man’s head was low but Dale could see he was a strong individual judging from his wide back and thick neck, he seemed to be clutching a scroll in one hand and an empty bottle in his other. A sword hung forgotten at his hip. As Dale watched, the man seemed distraught and oblivious to where he is or what he's doing. He stumbled along while every few seconds Dale thought he could hear a sob of misery come from the man.
“Can I help you?” Dale asked the staggering man deftly taking the man’s arm over his shoulders and saw what the man was holding. He could easily see the first few words on the scroll… REWARD: Adventurers needed…
The man seemed to notice this because he started to talk in tones of despair and woe, “Me and my brothers were trying to figure out what has been going on- discover what is behind the disappearances. We sought out the ‘Seer’ who told us to look to north. Well, we were scouting in the woods north of town when I saw a dire wolf- the one with bright green eyes. I chased it for sport for a while, and then lost sight of it. When I got back to our camp, my brothers had vanished. I couldn't find a trail or any sign of a struggle. Not a single track. I waited and searched for days in the forest ... it was like the ground swallowed them up… and now I’m returning home to tell my family of the loss of their sons… all but myself."
Taking the empty bottle from the man, “Where is your home? I’ll make sure you get there.” Dale said sensing an opportunity.
“There.” The man said pointing a weakened finger at the town’s largest building. “My name is Morgan Gundwynd.”
Elad held out his hand as was custom. “Dale Slade. May it do you fine.”