Alastrom paused mid-sentence. “Sorry, what?”
Zabulus cleared his throat nervously, and then repeated himself in flawless Elvish. “I said,” he stammered, “are you the adventurers that answered my ed-VUR-tiss-munt?”
The silence was truly amazing.
“The, er, poster? Looking for group? Aren’t you adventurers?”
The light dawned on the group. “Cunctipotens Zabulus, I presume?” inquired Andarist, the robed elf.
The monk’s lips widened into the kind of grin canines are famous for — elated bliss, with lots of very sharp teeth. “Yes, yes! I was looking for some adventurers…”
“What can you tell us of this mission?” the elf interrupted.
“Oh! Well you see, there is a ruined facility in the Island Kingdom of Bizantium that may house some very interesting artifacts of great historical and academic value for our library. My order would very much like me to track down the artifacts and bring them back for study.”
“Bizantium? That’s a goodly fair distance away,” mused the elf.
“Expensive travelling,” chimed in Did. He swayed slightly in his stool and gripped the table with both hands to stop the room spinning.
“Oh, expenses,” said the monk dismissively. “My order will cover all of that. Lodgings here tonight, breakfast in the morning, travelling necessities from here to the port of Enota, passage by ship to Bizantium, lodgings there while I do a little more research…” He had run out of fingers. “Er, and upon our safe return to Tselt, six thousand gold pieces.” The group murmured appreciatively. That was decent coin. Glancing at each other, the five adventurers quietly nodded at each other.
Andarist smiled faintly at the monk. “In that case, sir, allow me to introduce to you your… travelling companions. This is Did Blackcrystal, dwarf warrior…”
“In that case,” burped Did. “Lad! Another ale, on the monk’s tab!”
Scowling at the dwarf’s rudeness, the elf continued, “Brid Bridgeburner, a brother monk.” The quiet orc nodded slightly at the monk.
“Pierce, our honourable kankoran woodsmaster,” Andarist went on. The kankoran nodded amiably at his fellow canine.
“Our wizard, Alastrom.” Andarist almost thought he saw Zabulus’ eyes narrow slightly, but the monk smiled even wider. “A practitioner of the subtler arts. How… wonderful.”
“And I have the honour of being Andarist. My talents lie in using the mind to heal the wounded.”
Zabulus looked closely at the elf. “I should hope our mission would not come to… violence,” he said, stammering less than usual.
“Surely if you believed that,” returned Andarist quietly, “you would not be hiring adventurers.”
In short order the group retired for the night to the room Zabulus had hired for them. Did shook off offers of help and staggered up the stairs unaided. Zabulus had his own room, but the rest had to make do bunking together. Zabulus’ wallet was not, it seems, limitless.
They slept well, despite the shared accommodations and the thunderous snores of drunken dwarf. In the morning, the breakfast staff served flour pancakes with thick, dark syrup, fresh eggs, smoky bacon and ham, and strong, aromatic tea.
The adventurers breakfasted well and accompanied Zabulus to the stables, where his horse and wagon had been stabled. He mounted the wagon slowly, as if arthritic, and the six travellers set out from Tselt, full-bellied and comfortable. The spring air was warm and fragrant, the breezes gentle, and the Wolfen-constructed road wide and well-made. This mission was looking to be a very easy six thousand.