The surface of mud puddles rippled softly in the rain, peacefully distorting reflections until broken by the boot of a hurried pedestrian. The hood of his cloak obscured his face as he made his way through the muddy streets. Upon finally arriving at 370 Hind st. he ducked into the stairwell and opened his cloak
to release a ruffled owl onto the floor. The owl quickly shook out her feathers and looked up pleased. “I’m glad at least one of us is dry. Come on, lets get some food” he said, while scooping the owl onto his shoulder. Once inside he hung his cloak near the door and using a small amount of magic made the painting of his parents start to glow. With the room illuminated in the soft magical glow, he set about creating some food. Bread, beans, and a small amount of dried meat for him. For the owl, a mouse. He sat down at his table and produced a small coin pouch, proceeding to count out the days earnings. “Sometimes having slightly glowing eyes sucks, especially when people pick fights with you at bars for it. But it sure feels nice when guards pay for your housing… with a stipend no less. Fifteen silver for today, not bad Kashiel.” His owl stared back at him visibly uplifted. “It’s no fortune, I know, but its food for today and tomorrow at least.” He scooped it back into the pouch and reclined in his chair. “You know, I wish mom and dad could see us now. A boy and his owl, on the front lines in the fight against crime.” Kashiel rubbed her head against his arm, eventually coming to rest on his lap. “Big day huh? Come on, we need some sleep.” He rested the owl on her perch and quickly drifted off.
A scream, fire crackling from behind a door, swords clanging. The last words of his father haunting his sleep, “Kosta, Run!”. It hurt as much now as it did the first time he heard it. Lungs full of smoke, a chorus of gruff voices shouting, “Jewelry in the old lady’s room!… Look at these trinkets from the study!.. HEY! The Kid fled to the library! Memories whirling in his conscience at a dizzying speed until finally a memory of the bookshelf leaning forward, entombing him in arcane tomes made his vision go black.
Kosta jolted awake, noticing the early morning light filtering through the window and small cracks in the wall. The fluttering of wings at his window was the first indication he had that Kashiel hadn’t been in the room. His owl stood on the ledge of the window, a small scroll grasped in its beak. She eagerly hopped over to his bed depositing the note in his lap.
I would like to start by sincerely thanking you for yesterday’s exploits. Without your arcane vision we never would’ve thought to break open the statue. You are truly an invaluable asset to the force here in Crowly. However, I’m afraid I must make you aware of bad news. With tensions escalating between dwarves and elves, our budget for private consultations has been repurposed for hiring more soldiers. Not one to let a man like you suffer from forces outside your control, I would like you to use this letter to call in a favor from the Mercenaries of Ravenholm. They will be able to provide you with everything you need and help you grow far beyond what Crowley could offer. Come by the station for a parting gift of ten gold when you have the chance.
May Lathander bring you luck,
“Mercenaries of Ravenholm? Kashiel, have you ever heard of them?” Kashiel just stared at him, her head cocked.
“That’s right, you’re an owl. Well I guess we better go find Captain Reynald to see what this is all about.”
Arriving at the guards station, Kosta was met by the sight of a long line stretching out the door. Men of all ages stood in line, boasting of their might to any who would listen. Captain Reynald stood at the front of the line. “Kosta! Finally, I was worried my letter hadn’t made it to you. As I mentioned, here’s a parting gift. The other guards and I chipped in to show our gratitude. It’s not much, but it should make the transition to Fort Ravenholm much easier.”
“Your generosity fills me with gratitude, but I must ask, why Fort Ravenholm?” Captain Reynald pointed to a flyer hanging behind him on the notice board.
“They’re recruiting. Looks like their trying to fill the void left when the elves retreating to Great Oak. Also they owe me a great debt. Since I can’t use it personally I figured I’d help you out. Talk to Dorrin, he usually works the gates. He’ll get you sorted. Anyway, I’ve got a lot of interviewing to get back to. I’ll make sure that your unit is the last one we put someone in, just in case we can get you back soon.” Kosta nodded then walked out past the long line of burly miners and other craftsmen eager to claim an enlistment bonus.
A short while later Kosta had finished packing his bag with all the supplies he figured he might need: His spellbook, rations, torches, writing implements, rope, tinderbox, and enough books to keep him busy on his journey. With that sorted, he dropped by the guard station one last time to say his goodbyes and drop of his key. He was out the front gate before noon, down the steep hills Crowly was built on, and on the main road south as the sun was perfectly overhead.
Travel on this side of the Lathander River would usually be a pleasant experience. Evergreen trees teemed with birds and mulberries were just beginning to bear fruit between their evergreen neighbors. However with growing tensions the patrols that would usually keep the roads safe were infrequent at best. Kosta spent most of the travel expecting trouble around every corner. Luckily, the road was clear of hazards and progress swift enough to make it to Fort Ravenholm by nightfall.
Clearing the forest path he was taken aback by the sight that met him. A town of crudely constructed tents stretched around the fort with a crowd gathered at the gate. Nearing the front gates he could catch only snippets from those around him as he approached., “Bandits about…. It’s not our fault the elves and dwarves can’t get along…. Please! We have children!” He wove his way through the frantic crowd, prying his way through until he ran face first into a man in full plate armor. The man looked down at him, “If you’re looking to beg there are far better places.” “I-I’m not looking to beg. I actually looking for a man named Dorrin.” “Aye, that be me. Who’s askin?” “My name is Kosta Bromwood and I’ve been sent by Captain Reynald in Crowly. Here’s a letter that should clear things up.” He handed the letter to the man who slowly scanned the letter. Partially slow to scrutinize detail, partially due to difficulty reading. Finally the mans face relaxed, “Well you’re good then. Can’t say it be easy but that’s yer problem, not mine.”
The gates slammed behind him, and the roar of the crowd muffled. A small crowd of people in all sorts of armor with all sorts of weapons stood before him. A man in exquisite armor stood at the front addressing the crowd.
“… and now that you know why we exist, it’s time for your to know the rules. Breaking these rules will either result in termination of your employment, or the termination of you. So listen closely.”
Clearing his throat he began:
“One, do not betray your battle brothers.”
“Two, fulfill all accepted contracts or forfeit your pay and derank.”
“Three, do not kill without reason, we are not murderers.”
“Four, do not question the job, you don’t like it don’t accept it.”
“Five” His eyes narrowed and mouth hardened. “Listen good to this one. Do. Not. Harm. Children. Under. Any. Circumstances. Breaking this rule is the fastest way to have the full wrath of the mercenaries brought down upon you.”
“Six, theft is not allowed unless permitted by the contract. Just remember we are not petty thieves, if you are stealing it will be something very valuable. With that out of the way, I will break you into teams. These are you battle brothers, like it or not.”
The man pulled out a list, “The groups will be assigned in order of skill demonstrated at tryouts. In C Tier…” He called out four names. A half elf woman with daggers at her waist, a goliath with a maul as big as Kosta, a human male in a robe with a beard to his belt, and a dwarf in heavy plate mail step forward. The elf and dwarf eyed each other through frowns as they approached. “I would like to take this moment to remind you of Rule One. Like it, or not.” The four moved aside.
Teams are assigned in this fashion for the next ten minutes. Skipping letters here and there until five people are left. “And in Z tier: Gaunt,” A human man in green hempen clothes walks forward. Kosta’s arcane vision highlighted the singe marks at the tips of the man’s sleeves. What does he do to char his clothes like that? He thought to himself. “Malukarten,” a Goliath male walks forward, large hammer on his back, and only marginally shorter than the first goliath. Do all goliath’s wield mauls? Kosta’s arcane vision began highlighting tattoos on him that indicate an arcane connection. “Romenor,” A half-elf male strides forward in heavier armor than the last two with a symbol on his shield. Digging through his brain Kosta recalls seeing this symbol attached the the god of war, worshiped in remote regions of Valaeho. “And finally Blood.” Another human male strides forward. The look in his eyes made Kosta uneasy, but he smiled in a disarming way as he walked up. There was only a brief moment that Kosta noticed the man’s incredibly hairy hands before the man at the front addressed him directly.
“Hey you, white hair. You’re not on the list, approach.” All eyes turned to the
newcomer in the back as he walked up to the box the man stood on. “What’s your story son?”
“Um.. I.. uh.. I’m Kosta Bromwood. I was sent by Captain Reynald in Crowly. He said this letter should clear things up.” Kosta handed a letter to the man who quickly scanned the document.
“Alright Kosta this checks out. My names Ortho. You probably didn’t get my speech with you’re… fashionably late arrival. Hop in with Z team. You’ll be…. Team morale? Yea, that’ll work.” Most of the others laughed under their breath, except the elves and dwarves who were busy whispering amongst themselves. “Alright, now that team are assigned I’ll show you to your bunks.”
The crowd walked up the fortified hill to a series of small buildings at the top. Each was less luxurious than the last. Teams were sent into their bunks until only Z team remained. “Well Z team, welcome home.” Ortho motioned towards a building with boarded windows and in desperate need of new paint. Opening the door he lead them inside. “Each of you has a personal chest for items you have now or will gain during your employment. The chest and lock are rather weak, so consider upgrading them after you get some coin. Anyway, dinner is in half an hour. Don’t be late.” With that Ortho strode out of the room.
A moment of silence passed while all dropped their bags onto their beds. Finally the goliath spoke, “So… Finally mercenaries huh? Feels pretty good after all that happened yesterday.” “Couldn’t agree more! Could’ve dealt with less knowledge tests and debate.” chimed the elf. The other two humans nodded in agreement. After a moment the goliath continued, “By the way, call me Korogath. ‘Malukarten’ just sounds too preppy for me. Also, what’s your story white hair?” The group turned their eyes to Kosta. “Well, I do, or did, freelance detective work in Crowly. Since the funding for such things dried up with war brewing I was sent here. Oh, and you can call me Kosta.” The group responded with greetings, then began to make their way to the dining hall.
Dinner at Fort Ravenholm was luxurious compared to what those in Z team had experienced previously. Pigs over fire, barrels of ale, and roasted potatoes in surplus. While not luxurious compared to the finest cuisines that Vallaeho had to offer, it was the best that could be reasonably expected when feeding a crowd of 50 or more warriors. Kosta couldn’t help but notice the frequent sidelong glares the dwarves and elves. He was especially disturbed when those glares were pointed at his new squad mate Romenor. Romenor seemed not to notice or at least didn’t care.
After dinner Kosta went out to the practice range to clear his mind. His breath steamed in front of him as he sized up the target. With stone in sling he invoked the name of his patron Skadi and began spinning the sling. Radiant sparks began to fly as his stone burned an O shape in the air. Just as he was about to release a voice called out, “whatcha doin there?” The rock went wide and made a resounding thunk as it contacted the wall behind the target. Standing there was his squadmate Blood, tankard in hand. “I’m just practicing with my sling. What are you doing?” “Oh, I was just out takin’ a nightly stroll when I saw the new guy doin’ somethin’ interestin’ with a sling. How do you make it glow and all?”
Kosta thought for a moment, uncertain of how much he should tell this basically stranger. Finally he relented. “Well, Blood, I’m a chosen of Skadi. As part of the eldritch deal I get access to a some combat magic while using the sling. Basically I can imbue my sling attacks with radiant fire. I try to stay away from combat as a detective, but sometimes lethal force is necessary.”
Blood drained his tankard then stared down at the target. Finally he stated, “Magic is cool ‘n all, but it don’t compare to good ole’ fashion steel.” He whipped out his bow and fired an arrow that hit center mass on the target. “Can’t do THAT with magic.” He smiled for a second at his handiwork. “Come on, let’s rest. Our first contract starts tomorrow.”