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Old May 20th, 2013 (5:51 PM). Edited May 21st, 2013 by SV.
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Varian Sigmund and Cassandra Alexandera- The Strutting Stagg, Curilan, Eveamoor

Varian gave a brief nod to the one that he found out later was known as 'Honest', a casual sign of acceptance in the group. He didn't quite feel the necessity of giving an entire speech to each new member that would show up. They'd learn what's what as time would pass, and slowly adapt into their lifestyle soon enough. Besides, Honest had proved that he was capable of fighting in the bandit fort.

***Six days later***

As he drank outside on the porch of the Strutting Stagg, Varian thought on the events of the past week. Soon after the two new members, the dwarf Anlem and the glave-wielding Honest, had joined, Varian made it perfectly clear to the others that they were free to do as they wished. If they wanted to stay with them, that would have been fine, and if they decided to leave, that too was their choice. Over the course of the next six days, Xeye, Evelynn and Bofvar decided to part ways. Varian didn't ask any reasons for their departure, nor did he harbor any ill will towards them. The mercenary lifestyle was an unforseeable one, likely to change at any moment. In the past, he and Cass had to part with other partners, either by their voluntary departure, or more usually, their death. It was a reason he had never decided to get close to any of the people that he worked with. In their line of work, many mercenaries knew as they fell asleep that their next day could very well be their last. There wasn't room for attachments to people. Cass was Varian's exception, but those were very rare nonetheless.

But the situation that they were placed in took an unexpected turn a few days ago, when a local man of Eveamoor began sharing a story he had heard about a group of mercenaries who had apparently taken on an army of well-trained soldiers. Varian assumed it first to be another example of typical Eveamoorian gossip, but as the man delved deeper into his story, the Highman suddenly began getting distinct similarities between their own previous mission, and the supposed fairy tale. It was their last job. Unknown to the mercenaries from their resting point in the Strutting Stagg, the story of their successful rescue of the daughter of Albert Castell had spread like wildfire. It happened first in Curilan, then traveled south to Dalenham, and beyond. Reports flowed further, going into neighboring nations, until their fame had reached the corners of the continent. The Dragons of Dalenham, someone saw fit to one day call them, and the name seemed to catch on. Varian and the others had little say in it, as the people of the world would see and say only what they wanted to. It wasn't long before some people had even started to come to them for jobs. Even as they rested in the tavern, some locals had asked for their assistance in a few matters. Most of them were petty, but it was still strange to Varian how their luck had suddenly turned, how they as mercenaries were not sought to be hired instead of the opposite. Of course, he would have to decline most of their job requests merely because the others were still resting. Most of the group had recuperated, and Alys too, although unconscious, had begun to show signs of improvement. In fact, as the free lodging and food was soon to expire, Varian would soon be tempted to accept one of their offers.

It was quite a position to be in, and whether he had to have time to adjust, or simply because he couldn't sleep, Varian leaned over the side of the handle of the tavern outside, drinking his ale in silence and darkness, wondering what to make of all that had happened to them.

"So 'Dragons of Dalenham' eh? I could think of a better name if I was sober for more than a couple of minutes," a voice said coming from behind Varian. "I am surprised you haven't done anything about it. You tend to care for appearances."

Varian casually turned his head to see Cass approaching his position from the side. He brought his drink to his mouth and took a sip, before turning back to observe the night sky of Eveamoor. In the great distance to the northern moutains, he could see dark clouds forming, perhaps a prelude to a storm. He wondered briefly if the storm would reach their area below. "There's not much I can do if everyone is saying it. But Gods, if it had to be dragons, why did we have to be from Dalanham? I don't want to represent the sh*t-filth of the world."

Cass shrugged at the idea. Unlike Varian, Cass didn't mind the simpler things in life. Dalenham represented simple more than any other city in the world (emphasis being on city) but she could see his point. Varian usually had one. "I am more stuck on the whole 'dragons' bit. I mean why did we have to be named after a fairy tale? That is what I don't get." Cass took a big gulp of her ale and throw the cup behind her, before taking a seat on the steps leading up the front porch of the tavern.

Varian joined her on the porch, sitting down beside her as he finished what was left of his own drink. "Heh," He began, looking at the sky again, particularly towards the mountains, where the faint sound of thunder could be heard. "You know, in the religion of my homeland, it is said that dragons did once exist. They exist in another realm, Ormurheim, and that passage could be done through the Enebrus, lightning bridge. They say a lightning storm signifies an opening of another realm into Aerion. Yet we of the north, much unlike other people, viewed them not as mythic beings, but as our mortal enemies. The old enemies, and when the times comes for Ragnarok, the final enemies." He looked down at his mug, seeing the thing was empty, and so placed it to the side of where he sat. "If I were a more religious Highman, perhaps I would have taken the name as an insult. But, I'm not."

"Where I come from dragons only exist in the myths and stories that you tell children at bed time. They are ancient powerful creatures that little boys dream of and over eager knights kill to prove themselves to their beautiful princesses. I'm sure you heard a tale or two. They are too many to tell. But then, one day, they all disappeared. Poof! In a puff of smoke. They say that the last dragon died sometime in the Heroic Age, but nobody knows for sure really. After all, there isn't any proof they were around in the first place. No bones. No caves full of treasure. Not a single thing exists. Makes me wonder why you Highmen put so much value into your stories, when the rest of the world begs to differ," Cass scoffed at Varian. The Ethorians loved their myths and stories, as did everyone else. The nobles especially as they could actually read all of them, wheras as many had to rely on spoken tales told by their elders. The most popular were the ones of heroes slaying dragons and entrenching their names in legends. But that's what the dragons were: nothing but stories. Tall tales. Folk legends. Myth. No living creature in this world or the next has ever seen a dragon. Yet, or so it seems, that the Highmen contiuned to believe. It truly dumbfounded Cass. How could Varian's people still believe it?

Varian looked at his discarded mug. He picked it up from beside him, and stood up. "Perhaps faith, perhaps foolishness. Only the Gods know." He was about to head back inside to fetch himself more ale, when there was a sudden rustling in the nearby trees. Varian looked closely, the damp night air doing little to help him gaze at the rustling. However, a moment later, a figure seemed to walk through the bushes. This seemed a bit strange to Varian, who noticed quite a bit of open paths leading to the inn. There was no necessity for the person to walk through bushes. It almost seemed as though he wanted to, for whatever reason. If the Highman had to guess, it was for the purpose of secrecy. It was a hooded person, masking their appearance with a dark brown cloak. Upon close observation, Varian could see the dirt and tears in parts of the cloak. The material also seemed to be a bit different, not unlike cloth he typically saw. He caught a glimpse of the man's face and hands, the skin darker than his own. Whoever, he was, he did a fairly good job of hiding it. But Varian had one suspicion, judging by the foreign nature of his appearance. The man could have been from Rastra.

This made this scene all the more strange to the Highman, as the Rastrans are seldom ever seen outside of their sandy dunes. Yet, as if sensing Varian's abnormal take on the situation, the man walked right over to the pair of mercenaries, stopping not two meters away from them, and merely looked at them from under his hood. Varian stood in place, oddly looking at the man as he expected to say something to him, but seconds passed, and he did nothing but stare. It was perplexing, Varian wondering if the man was perhaps mentally unstable. Eventually, Varian decided to break the silence. "Good evening." He said in his thick, Highman accent. In a surprisingly quick response, the man in the hood responded with a simply, "No."

"Hmm?" Was all that Varian responded with, now in the back of his mind wondering if this was going to get out of hand. He kept in mind that his hand axes were still in their place inside the tavern, by his bed.

"No, I do not believe it is a good evening. The land is drenched and muddy. An ill smell fills my nostrils. And from what I see, a storm is on approach." After he had spoken his mind, the man fell silent once more, and continued to gaze at Cass and Varian. Varian, on the other hand, cocked an eyebrow and took a step back. "Right, well. I'll be off then." He finally said, and proceeded into the inn. But the mysterious man once again spoke to Varian before he left the area.

"I am wondering if you truly are dragons." He said candidly. Varian paused again, staring at the man. He continued. "Notoriety spreads like a potent disease, but I wonder if there is truly any claim to it. A dragon is said to have been a beast of unimaginable power, one without rival. I wonder if you are that capable."

"Why don't you pick up a weapon and find out." Varian replied bluntly, his eyes glaring into the man's.

"Oh, I intend to find out, for I come to you with work." He replied back just as quickly. Varian rolled his eyes. "Look, no offense to you, but we have no intention of working for your garbage. Besides, our group is currently resting..." Varian trailed off, as the man hand suddenly turned around and began to head off the same way he had appeared from, back into the bushes, before disappearing into them. He exchanged a look of bewilderment with Cass. The entire meeting had been strange. But just when he thought it was done, the man suddenly re-emerged from behind the bushes, this time, a chest with him in tow. The chest looked relatively heavy, but the man seemed to carry it with very little trouble. It became more apparent how heavy it really was as he approached the pair of mercenaries, and dropped the chest with a surprisingly heavy and loud thud onto the ground. He then opened the chest. In an instant, Varian's jaw dropped.

Inside the chest, all manner of jewels, gold, and gems lay spread out, almost overflowing from the container. It was an assortment of valuables the likes of which Varian had never seen. The diversity of the ornaments were by themselves astounding, but the brilliance of the light that shone from them made them that much more impressive. In a single chest of overflowing precious items, relics, and gems, there was enough light emitting from it to light up the area, almost making night into day.

"Perhaps now you would listen to a man and his garbage?" The man said, his tone, his very look unflinching nor showing any sign of affection by the jewels themselves. Varian looked down at his mug, then at Cass. He was tempted to smack himself in the face to see if he was dreaming. He shook his head wildly, but the sight of the amazing chest of treasures still remained in his vision. So, perhaps momentarily because he simply didn't have the words to speak, he nodded for the man to continue.

"Very good. My name is Agarra," He began. Varian noted the strange name he possessed, only further proving his theory of possible Rastran descent. "I represent an interested party. Their interest lies with something that you possess." He turned his gaze from Varian to Cass. "A small jewel," He said, pointing to Cass. "Something you would have recovered from your last venture. Bright red in color, appearing as a shard."

"Your face is about to be bright red after I beat the **** out of you and leave you bloody! What do you want with my gem anyway? Add to it some collection of yours?" Cass spat. She didn't like the man. He was shifty. Difficult to trust. Mysterious. "Varian, you can't be taking this guy seriously. Last time we took a job for some a shifty guy we walked into a fort blind as a bat." Cass drew her sword, "How about I chop him down now and simply take his gold here and now?"

Varian put a hand up, motioning for her to quiet for a moment. He wanted to hear him out.

"The gem is...special. It has unique properties, and there are more than one copy. In fact, there are multiple shards across the globe. If you should accept this contract, we shall be in a long-term partnership, where the rewards would be beyond anything you can imagine. This chest is but a taste of what you will receive. The treasures of a thousand cities would be yours."

"And what exactly is it that you want us to do?" Varian asked, now crossing his arms. He tried to act as relaxed as he could, even if his heart beat at such a rapid rate. He hoped the man wouldn't notice. He could have potentially just landed the client of a lifetime.

"I would like you to recover these shards. My associates and I shall be feeding you information on their whereabouts, and you will collect them for us."

Varian uncrossed his arms, walked down the path towards the steps. He peered inside the chest of treasures, picking up a single gold coin, perhaps just to see if the stuff was real, as it was. He dropped it back inside, eyeing the man known as Agarra just as he eyed him back. "When something is too good to be true, it usually is. It can't be a simple pick-up job."

"Oh, but it is not. I will not lie to you. Recovering each shard will be challenging. There will be obstacles, whether each shard will have created them, or some other predicament will arise that will provide an encumbrance. However...there is also a more...perceptible obstacle." He walked from behind the treasure chest, closing the handling, and instantly the brilliant light had disappeared into the night sky. "Nearly a month ago, a group similar in size to your own traveled to the isle of Ekilore. Their quest became to collect these shards. Your quest is to attempt to collect them before they do, and if necessary, stop them. By any means necessary. In fact, should you run into them at any point, and I can guarantee you shall very soon, I recommend that you kill them."

It was a lot to take in at a single moment. Give the grand scale that this job would require, it would have been foolish for Varian to try and accept it right on the spot. "This is a pretty hefty thing to accept on a whim. I'll have to discuss this with my team."

"I find there is nothing to discuss," Agarra responded impatiently. "My associates and I are impatient. You will decide now, and relay your answer to your team after. So I ask you, dragon of Dalenham, make your choice. Will you take this job, or will you not?"

"Gods damn it," Varian cursed under his breath. He began pacing back and forth, trying to decide what to answer to one of the biggest, if not the biggest question of his life. As a single mercenary, he would have had a lot less trouble answering the question. He only had to answer for himself, and thus he could live with it either way he answers. With this, he speaks for a group of people, some of which may not be on board. The pay-off would be enormous, life-altering for them all. But would the cost be too great for even them? Every mercenary strives for gold, and they had just hit the jackpot with this job. On the other had, every mercenary also strives for self-preservation, the extension of their own life by any means necessary. In this way, perhaps this job would be their death. He looked at Cass, a fighter he had depended on for so long, someone who fought with him through the best and worst of their sellsword days. "Do you have my back, no matter what?" He asked, looking for her input in a conflicting position.

"I wouldn't be much of a mercenary if I said 'No' would I?" Cass began, scratching her head. The promise of riches entinced her more than anything. In fact, she felt it was a rather easy decision but she could understand Varian's concern. He was not the risk taker she was, being far more wary of things. She lived for thrills really. "More importantly, what kind of friend would I be if I let you go out there alone?" She said finally. In the end, Varian was her friend and if he was in, she was in.

Varian gave the man a deep sigh, finally coming to a conclusion. They would never get an opportunity like this again, and if they were to succeed, whatever they would have wanted from the mercenary life would become theirs. Fame. Fortune. Glory and Honor too, if that was their cup of tea, though the Highman doubted the others fought for such things. Even if it was simply the pleasure of the job, what finer one could they find than one with such a prize? "Alright, Agarra. We're in."

One would think the man would have been pleased to hear the news, but all he gave as a sign was a simple nod of the head. "Very well. Then from here, head south to Palaven. I will have a ship prepared to take you to Ashera from Yamcha, and then you shall make your way to Garrius, to meet with the Voice of Palaven, their head of state and holy leader. He is said to have information regarding the location of a shard."

Varian nodded in understanding. He had never been to Palaven, but had heard all sorts of rumors above the degree of their devotion to the supposed One, their one True God. This just got even more interesting. At this moment, a thought came into his head. "How will we be contacting you?" Agarra picked up the chest he brought, and began to drag it away through the bush he came out of. "Do not worry. I will contact you." He said, and disappeared back into the dark of the night without another word.

"Well, that ain't suspcious at all," Cass said.

Varian nodded in agreement. It wasn't an oddity to have a secretive employer, but this might have been a tad too much. Still, a contract was accepted, so they had work to do. Heading back inside the Strutting Stagg, Varian looked around to see most of the other mercenaries drinking or loafing around. It wasn't late enough in which they were all asleep, which was good. "Lads and lasses, we've got a new job, and boy is it a big one." He declared. As Varian concluded his explanation of their new, potentially long-term job, Cass posed a question.

"Alright, well which one of you f*ckers are joining us?"

A Legend once told me that roleplaying is about bringing people together and celebrating creative vision.
Paired with the Artsy Infinite and the Spectacular Shak
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