Quiberron feeds his owl, Bart, a morsel from his plate as he looks around the room. Quiberron was always noticing things. The way people moved. The out of place smells carried on boots. Or, like right now, the overly loud crashing of pots and pans in the kitchens off of the dining hall. Quiberron sends Bart up to sit in the rafters after another scrap of meat. He then nudges Tyrects with his foot and mutters to him in a low voice, “I think something more interesting than that buffoon's autobiography or mess is about to happen.”
As people eat and finish their meals, dishes are cleared and dessert is brought out. The waitstaff hurry to place a rich serving of apple cobbler and a glass of brandy in front of each person. Tyrects loses his contented smile at seeing the unappetizing drink and dessert, and fully frowns at Quibberon's words.
“Something’s wrong,” Quiberron says to Tyrects. And then, more loudly, “let’s go pay our respects to our host for this wonderful meal.” With that he gets up and starts walking towards the high table.
Tyrects follows, moving purposefully, trying to take in the whole room and feel for what Quiberron noticed.
One by one the other guests seem to be beginning their meals, but still Flynn waits. He makes a curious noise as the High Lord continues to wait for his guests to supp, and he considers for just a moment letting his host continue his vigil. The audible burble of his stomach quickly stymies that notion, and he greedily takes his first bite.
The High Lord doesn’t seem to mind as people begin to eat. It gives him a moment to survey those who have gathered. As the last person’s plate is set in front of him, High Lord Fennix raises his fork and knife and begins to eat. His wife leans over to whisper to him, and he gives the slightest dismissive shake of his head.
Terrence engages the woman next to him in a subject which he assumes is of mutual interest: his acting credentials. He goes on at some length. “—Which is hardly surprising, since every theater critic in Old Asphyxten is a Tiefling or some lesser devil or other. Do you know what they said? ‘OVERBEARING!’ ME? RIDICULOUS! But, despite the infernal machinations of the Asphyxten entertainment media, the public appreciates my work. My one-man show packed them in—er, to the square outside the fishmongers. One patron said that she found that my interpretation (through the medium of puppetry of course) of Old Man Ghasp to be 'uncanny'. No, wait... she said, ‘upsetting’. Same thing. In any event, she was very moved.”
The woman Terrence speaks to nods in attempted sympathy, humming when she should, but she is mostly focused on her food. The soldier sitting on the other side of Terrence grunts then mutters, “Shouldn’t refers to our king like old man.” His common is a little broken, but his point is clear.
Even through the din of the gathered guests all eating, the nattering of the young, blond man stands out. Finally, Flynn points a fork full of potatoes at him. "You talk an awful lot for someone with so little to say. Put that mouth of yours to actual use and enjoy some more food. Listening to you, I find it so hard to believe that you have a chance at a meal like this very often. Best fill that belly while you can and save us all from any more of your story." Flynn proceeds to stick the fork in his mouth, as if to demonstrate.
Terrence looks shocked. Then thrilled. He smiles wildly. The casual contempt, the assumption of authority, the pedantic sarcasm--at last! The celestial forebears had finally answered his prayers. They had sent him the one thing that every genius actor needs to make his mark in the world: The Director.
Terrence answers, "Yes, yes! Of course! Hunger! The most primal of all motivations!" He puts the fork in his mouth in imitation of Flynn and chews vigorously. "Like this, sir?" he asks hopefully.
"No. What?" Flynn narrows his eyes and leans forward slightly. "Are you mocking me? You can't be serious right now."
Oh no! thinks Terrence, he hates my performance! "I can be serious! I was going for ravenous! Give me a chance! I can do this." Terrence attempts to portray a less light-hearted version of hunger as he shovels salad into his mouth. He locks eyes with The Director as he chews. "You shay jumph and I ashk how high, shir," he offers, flecks of pear dribbling down his chin and onto his plate.
As the handsome man makes an absolute fool of himself by shoveling the last of his meal into his mouth, arms and utensils and bits of food flying every which way, Terrence knocks the hand of the server who moves to replace his empty glass with a full one. The amber colored drink spills all over Terrence, and the container falls to the ground, shattering over the stone floor.
All eyes turn to Terrence and those around him.
Málean lifts a slice of beef to his mouth. Seeing that no one else is eating, he carefully puts it back down and engages in conversation with his neighbor, enthusiastically trying to explain the details of exothermic evaporation and its implications on short term kinetic motion. The man, an elf of the woods listens to Málean, nodding. At the very least he seems interested in the topic... even if he doesn’t understand it fully.
Terrence also notices that no one else is eating and stops chewing. He sits chagrined, his mouth stuffed with potatoes.
Tyrects is brought a raw, skinned rabbit, still warm. It seems the waitstaff is paying attention to his unique food preferences. As his meal is set before him, he lets out a guttural, low, reptilian version of a cat's purr. However, aware of the spectacle he has made of himself, he waits for his companions to start eating before he touches his meal.
Quiberron finds himself a seat at the table near Tyrects and Rallaak. He is fascinated by all the different races and places represented around the room, and is making furious mental notes for his manuscript. He is especially interested to see a Pale Elf, as he cannot recall one ever coming to the library where he grew up. Given his recent unusual (and undoubtedly frightening to some) travelling companions, he is not at all disturbed by the elf’s presence, but he does wonder what could have brought him here. He brings his attention back to the host. Speculating on why he arranged this gathering, Quiberron does his best to recall the history of the Fennix house.
Under his breath, Tyrects asks Quiberron, "Can I eat yet? The meat is still warm."
When Quiberron doesn’t answer (he is far too lost in thought) Tyrects gets restless watching his rabbit get cold and the juices running out. He seizes the animal in both sets of talons, rips it in two, and swallows one half whole. He smiles slightly, then nods at High Lord Fennix.
Humored, Lord Fennix’s eyes glimmer as he smiles in return.
Quiberron suddenly realizes that all attention has once more settled on Tyrects, and he doesn’t want Tyrects to feel like he’s the only one eating, so Quiberron starts to eat as well. He’s guessing High Lord Fennix isn’t one to stand on ceremony, and besides, the food tastes so good after days of nothing but salt pork and biscuits on board the ship.
Terrence swallows his potatoes. Finally! he thinks.
As the dinner service begins, Flynn settles into a seat at the foot of the table, figuring the less popular seats would leave more room for his ample frame. He is a tall man, broad of shoulder as well, and has a tendency to sit wide. He gently kicks out a chair for Sabal while a server heaps his plate with food, and waits to see if High Lord Fennix has any prayers or toasts to kick of the evening.
High Lord Fennix appears to have neither—at least not yet—however, he does wait for all of his guests to be served before beginning to eat.
Watching High Lord Fennix, Sabal says as he sits, "it is a good sign, I think, that one with the most power defers to those with less." Sabal looks at his food and finds that he is quite hungry now that he’s become more comfortable.
Meanwhile, Del happily takes a seat near the curve of the table looking at the food hungrily. She inhales deeply. Noticing the gnomes sitting next to her, she asks the closer one, "doesn't the food smell fantastic?" She's about to dig in but decides to wait until everyone else starts. She looks around with a friendly smile.
The gnome looks up at her. “It does,” he says in a squeaky voice. And then he pauses for only a moment before commenting, “Your eyes are pink.”
"Yes yes. I was in an unfortunate accident caught in the cross hairs of two battling wild mages." Del sighs. "I haven't been quite right since." She appears sad for a moment. She suddenly looks angrily over her shoulder and snaps, "He meant no harm with that comment!" No one is behind her. Del takes a bite of dinner then sulkily pushes the plate away.
The gnome stares. “Are you going to eat that?” He asks eventually and points at her food.
"Oh! Smells delicious!" Del says, snapping out of her strange mood and pulling the dish back towards her. She begins to eat with a big grin on her face and great gusto in her motions.
Subtly, the gnome scoots his chair away from Del and closer to his friend.
Roland approaches the manor house somewhat uneasily. He had previously shown up too early, but it seemed things were now underway.
He is human, unusually tall for such, and has red hair that he’s allowed to grow entirely too long since leaving home. His features carry a strong, weathered look of one accustomed to honest work, and his gray-blue eyes look like something of a storm.
Tonight—like most days, evenings, and times altogether—Roland is wearing simple, sturdy clothes of the sort favored by commoners in South Urbane, set apart only by a long crimson coat. As he enters the hall, he nods at the lord who waited to greet him, saying, "It would seem I am no longer early, if this is the dinner I was told of," and continues to converse only until he can excuse himself without falling into blatant rudeness.
Roland then makes his way to the least occupied corner of the room. These days he feels nervous around too many people, and he is unaccustomed to rich settings regardless. He grabs some finger foods and a flute of champagne from passing servers. After a sip of the drink, he wrinkles his nose, setting it aside, then eats the sandwich hungrily and silently wishes for a mug of dark beer and a full wooden bowl of hearty lamb and turnip stew.
A young woman steps up beside Roland, with a small smile. She is about his age with doe-like blue eyes. Her dress is a soft gold color, like wheat at sunset. She doesn’t say anything. She just smiles at him then stands there with him, hands clasped behind her back, watching the other people in the room.
Roland notices the girl and tries to smile back, though it doesn't reach his eyes. She was pretty, and under other circumstances that might have mattered to a young man such as himself, but he takes no notice. "Yes, ma'am, may I help you?"
“No. I just thought you might like some company,” she says without a glance in his direction. The smile still touches at the edges of her lips.
He shuffles uncomfortably. He had never known how to talk to girls, and lately he had been doing his best to avoid contact with everyone as a general rule. Yet he didn't want to be rude or endanger his being hired for this expedition. And, though he wouldn't admit it, he was beginning to feel the loneliness of his self imposed isolation, and he appreciated the chance to just talk with someone. He answers, "Very well, I won't ask you to leave. If you don't mind me asking, what brings you to a meeting like this?"
The girl smiles and raises her eyes to the ceiling, thinking for a moment. “Responsibility,” she says after a time, “I suppose.” Now, she does turn to look at Roland. “And you?”
Roland smiles back, another sad expression. "The same, I suppose, though not as most would think it…." He quiets as High Lord Fennix makes a motion for the quartet to stop playing and the crowd to give him their attention.
“If everyone will take a seat,” High Lord Fennix says with a gesture to the large U-shaped table, “I believe it is time for dinner.” His wife takes his arm, and he escorts her to sit at the top of the table.
The other guests all begin to find their own seats as well, and the servants all disappear into the kitchens to fetch the meal. The large woman with the little dog sits with the shivering animal in her lap next to a broad man whose arm is looped in a sling. A seat is left next to Lady Fennix, reserved for someone who has either not yet arrived or who is not coming.
The girl standing next to Roland takes his hand gently and in a friendly manner. “You can sit next to me,” she says, leading him toward the table where she sits right next to High Lord Fennix, dropping Roland’s hand so he can sit as well.
Roland stares open mouthed as the young woman leads him to the head of the table, before getting control of himself. "I suppose I didn't ask you your name, did I?" He sits, again not wanting to be rude, but is nevertheless unaccustomed to being so close to the center of attention. He whispers to her, "Are you certain you want me up here? I will not decline the honor of course, but surely there is another more worthy." Secretly in his mind, he fears what might happen should he lose control suddenly and accidentally hurt her. She had been nothing but kind to him in their brief interactions, with no reason to do so.
“Arabella Fennix,” she says as she unfolds her napkin in her lap and smooths it over her knees. “My name, I mean.” She glances at her father as he makes the same motions to place his napkin over his lap. She then returns her gaze to Roland. “And why wouldn’t I be certain?”
"I meant no offense. It's just that I am but a simple shepherd, run away from home and about to be hired by your father for a mission that, if half the rumors are true, will get us all killed." He grimaces, having let his tongue get away from him as he whispered to her, saying more than he intended. "Nevertheless, I am honored by the offer." He clumsily copies her and her father's motions with the napkin as best he can.
She half ignores his words, pulling them apart silently before asking, “So then, do you want to die?” She reaches for her glass and takes a sip of water.
He pauses for a moment, before shaking his head slightly and replying in a tone that indicated he had had this same discussion with himself several times. "No, no I do not. But I need to get away from people for a while, and The Wilds are the best place to do that. I also know how dangerous they are, and no one has accused me of being an optimist." At that he smiled a little, only slightly and for a split second, but it was the first genuine one to touch his face all evening. "At least not lately."
Arabella nods simply. “Well, I hope you survive. I do not think my father’s intent is to send so many to their deaths, but this expedition is of utmost importance.”
Roland nods. "I have no doubt that it is. I do not yet know the details, but such a risk and expenditure would not be taken otherwise. That is the reason I did not simply take to The Wilds myself as I once planned. I wish to help." He found himself growing a bit more comfortable despite himself.
Behind them, the quartet starts up again in a soft background hum as servants come out and begin to serve slices of roast beef with fingerling potatoes, salad greens tossed with vinegar, cubes of aged cheddar, and pear slices.
“Good,” Arabella states as she leans to one side so a servant can put food on her plate.
Málean enters through the manor doors, and a big smile lights up his face as he sees High Lord Fennix. A dark smudge, perhaps soot or oil, is streaked on his light purple cheek. Similar marks can be seen on the Night Elf's hands. He is clad in well tailored clothes of a style one would expect to see in the artisan workshops of Asphyxten. Running fingers through his messy scruff of navy hair, to little effect, he approaches.
“Ah, High Lord Fennix, a pleasure to meet you,” he remarks as he stretches out a hand. “And the lady, how nice to meet you. A beautiful house, uh, rustic but with class. You don’t see this kind of style back in Asphyxten, and I have to say it’s refreshing.” Málean reaches out for a sandwich on a passing tray, which he proceeds to entirely forget in his hand as he continues the conversation. “An honor to be invited to dinner, and by a tiny dragon no less. Remarkable creatures. Though really, I must commend your taste in architecture, quite the workmanship. Oh, but, aah.... Why am I here?”
Fennix chuckles. “I’ve heard of your work and your arrival in Haleford. I thought I might invite you on the chance you were looking for some work. Not your normal sort, but possibly still enjoyable.” His wife reaches into a pocket on her dress, drawing out a handkerchief and holding it out to Málean. She makes a polite gesture to his cheek.
“Oh, thank you” Málean quickly wipes his cheek. “And for the work too. I am indeed looking for work and, depending on the work you’re looking, for I’d be happy offer my services”. Remembering the sandwich in left in his hand Málean takes a bite while looking excitedly at Lord Fennix.
“Excellent! I appreciate your enthusiasm.”
As he does his best to engage in the small talk that utterly bores him, Flynn tries to keep an eye on the door as more guests arrive. While he finds most of them unremarkable, the Pale Elf is far enough from normal to catch his eye. He shifts to watch the stiff figure for a moment, and Flynn’s hand goes to his thick, salted beard at a thought. Almost on a whim, he excuses himself from his current conversation, grabs a flute of champagne, and makes his way over to the elf who seems to be trying so hard not to be seen.
"You look a long way from home, friend," Flynn says as he approaches. He offers the alcohol in an extend hand. "I think you are here same reason as the rest of us. Might do you well to unwind a bit. Too many sticks in the mud as it is."
Sabal accepts the flute but does not drink. "Thank you.” He pauses, staring out over the crowd. Then, “I doubt very much that the circumstances that brought me here are similar to yours. Regardless, I would not dwell on the past. The only path is forward." Sabal twirls the champagne flute in his fingers before falling completely still again.
"Different circumstances, yes. But similar reasons. Look around you." Flynn begins to point to the various groups that had started to form. "Skittish. Scared. Boisterous. Hungry. Indifferent. It matters not what we are, I think. More, where we are. Why would someone go through the trouble of gathering us all here without a good reason?" He locks eyes with the elf just long enough to make things uncomfortable.
In an attempt to change the subject, Sabal says, "You seem unusually comfortable approaching one if my kind. My experience with surface dwellers has generally been less... welcoming."
"If we do wind up venturing out, it helps to know who was your back. As the only one alone, it wouldn't do to have you run off scared before the fun even begins. So here I am. Flynn Alexandros. Flynn."
"My name is Sabal. I admit that I don't know much about why I or anyone is here... except that necessity brought me here." Sabal looks at his feet. "If I can be of use to someone, then that is good."
"Then let necessity feed you, too.”
Terrence notices that that lizard fellow is getting quite a bit of attention and heads in that direction to see if he can get a share of the spotlight. "Well, hello there, friend!" he offers. "Quite a stir, eh? These provincials can be real specie-ists. You know I, myself, played one of you fellows in a play one time, so I think I have some inkling of how you must feel—judged, shunned, too few lines. It's criminal! Have you tried the dates?"
A young server presents Rallaak, Quiberron, and Tyrects with a tray of stuffed dates and Parmesan mushroom caps.
Terrence stuffs his mouth with mushroom caps and then washes them back with some more champagne. He addresses the raven-man, "You know, I almost played one of you fellows, too, but they said I was too tall—can you imagine? I told them that there are no small parts, only small actors!" He leaves an irritatingly long pause between the 'act' and the 'ors'.
Rallaak blinks wordlessly; and Tyrects looks at the energetic man, confused and getting more off-put by this whole situation. Unsure of what to say, Tyrects turns to the server and asks in a low, almost purring growl, "Do you have any meat? Raw?"
"Yes, server, get this man some raw meat,” Terrence natters on, “there's a good fellow. As I was saying, my Lizard Man performance got glowing reviews for its sensitivity. My secret is that I try to put the emphasis on the man and not on the lizard." Terrence grabs his fourth and fifth champagne flutes, respectively. "You know, I've been to quite a few parties thrown at the end of a run, but I must say this is the first time I've ever been to a party to start one off. Do you fellows have any idea what all the suspense is about?"
Quiberron looks askance at the mushroom caps—he detested mushrooms—and grabs a stuffed date. He too is a bit overwhelmed and confused by the party and the array of strange guests. Figuring that the best way to get more comfortable is to try to learn more, he addresses the loud man speaking to his companions. “Excuse me, who are you, and what are you doing here?”
"A fair question my good man!" Terrence puts his boot on a chair and folds his arms over his raised thigh. He smiles his trademark winning smile, then lets his voice drop an octave and projects from core. "I am Terrence Highwater. Artist. Poet. Performer. Odist. As for what I'm doing here—" Terrence produces—seemingly from nowhere—a hand puppet. Like Terrence, the puppet is wearing an evening jacket and white pants. Like Terrence, it has golden hair and steely blue eyes. "I'll let my friend here tell you about that. Say hello to the man with the owl, Little Terry.”
The puppet smiles a winning smile. "Hi! We're here to conquer an uncharted wilderness and bring art to the common man. What's your name, mister?" One would have to admit that they're quite impressed that the puppet also has its own champagne glass.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Terrence and, uh… Terry,” Quiberron says. “I’m going to guess from your response that you don’t really know what Lord Fennix wants with us either. It seems a bit unusual for a performer like you to want to venture into the wilderness; what about Fennix’s posting interested you?” Quiberron, of course, was making reference to High Lord Fennix’s posting on the local job board that had brought many of the guests to his house this evening. The post read, Needed: Brave, unattached souls to venture into The Wilds. If interested, see High Lord Fennix. Some of the other guests had received personal invitations, but Quiberron didn’t know that.
"Well, I don't know if you're a patron of the arts, sir, but I'll tell you it's not enough to be amazingly good-looking and to have a voice like chiseled thunder; you have to have a weathered soul! I can tell a man like you knows what I'm talking about—to imbue a performance with life, first a man has to live!"
The puppet chimes in, "He was out of money, too!"
"Shut up, Little Terry!" Terrence must actually be a pretty good actor, cause he looks really mad at the puppet. Terrence drags his gaze away from Little Terry to say to Quiberron, "Er... You seem to have the advantage of me, sir. Might I know your name and, well, what's in it for you?"
“My name is Quiberron, Quiberron Libran. We ended up here through a rather involved series of events, the gist of which is that someone in Asphyxten seems to have wanted to get rid of us for reasons which are not entirely clear. For myself, I also have reason to believe that a man I am searching for may have ended up in the Wilds. The man, Khyber Tenrex, was my mentor and foster father, so I am rather eager to find him.” Then he adds, as an afterthought, “I’m also seeking new creatures to add to my book, and the Wilds seems like a good place to look.”
A waiter returns with a plate of raw venison. The meat is cubed and skewered on polite toothpicks. The man holds the plate out for Tyrects to take some.
"Well, if you're not going to try one, I will," Terrence says grabbing a cube of venison from the plate. "Don't worry, old fellow. I'm sure they wouldn't try to poison you just because you're a..." Terrence freezes, the venison halfway to his mouth and sizes up the server. "You wouldn't poison him would you?" He pops the raw meat into his mouth. At first he chews it happily but then with increasing displeasure.
Tyrects grabs the bite-sized morsels by the handful and eats each fistful whole, toothpicks and all. In a moment the platter is empty, without a moment spared for chewing. "Uh, thank you," he says, in an attempt at politeness. Tyrects then opens his mouth slightly and lets out a sound like a staccato mix between a belch and a croak. "I might like this gathering.”
Terrence slaps the Lizard Man on the back. "The way you ate all that free food, I might take you for an actor as well!"
Rallaak takes a deep breath still trying to observe all of his surroundings. At the very least, Tyrect’s actions were amusing to watch in the process.
Three travelers enter the hall, their clothing bearing obvious signs of long wear. They move to greet the Lord and Lady. The first traveler, a human male of medium build with a small owl perched on his shoulder, introduces each of them in turn. He names himself as Quiberron Libran, scholar at large, then motions to the first of his companions—a sleek, raven like humanoid with onyx eyes and spectacles perched on a beak beneath a battered grey hat—calling him Rallaak. Behind them, a large figure (easily seven-feet-tall if he were to straighten fully) is then introduced as Tyrects. Scales and armor are just barely visible beneath his long, weather-worn cloak.
After the necessary handshakes, the trio makes their way to a corner of the room where they can stop and watch the crowd. They look uncomfortable, as if they’re not entirely sure they want to be there. And it is at this moment that Tyrects--noticing the strange mixed company scattered about the dining hall--pulls back his hood revealing the crocodilian head with yellow eyes and a smattering of scars long healed. Close to immediately, almost the whole room falls silent, save for the music, and it takes a moment for the conversation to pick back up. The High Lord is well distracted from the next entering guest, and his wife lets out a small, audible gasp. High Lord Fennix clears his throat, and the music grows louder.
Soon enough, Tyrects is forgotten by most... or at least politely ignored.
Mildly uncomfortable in his formal attire, Flynn Alexandros does his best to remember his manners as he meets the High Lord and his wife. He takes note of the calluses on High Lord Fennix’s hand; perhaps the lord was not as soft as he appeared… perhaps they were peers in more than just age.
Flynn makes momentary small talk, asking in particular about the architect responsible for the design and construction of the ceiling above. He straightened the cuffs of his dress shirt and the hem of his jacket.
“The craftsmen were quite extraordinary,” Fennix agrees. “The lead carpenter came to me from near New Asphyxten. I commissioned the work a few summers back, but they were only recently installed.” Then, in a softer tone, “I appreciate your coming at such short notice,” Lord Fennix says. “I thought an adventure like this might appeal to you with what you’ve done with yourself in the recent years, Sir Alexandros.” He gives Flynn an unassuming, sincere smile.
"Adventure? Hm, these old legs could use a bit of stretching. I will await more information. At your leisure, of course." He takes a moment to rub his right hand over his left wrist, a half frown on his face. "And if you were to be so understanding, please refrain from calling me Sir. I gave that part of my life up long ago."
“Of course,” Fennix says with a nod of his head as he gestures for Flynn to join the other guests.
In a dangerous political climate, several expeditions are made to the infamous Wilds in hopes of expanding the country, Urbane, and avoiding an all out civil war. But, when the lord in charge of the excursions is almost assassinated, tensions increase and put new pressures on the brave explorers.