Del starts adding questions as she begins to pilfer some pears. "How shall we divide into groups? And when shall we leave? Anything else we need to do to prepare besides gather provisions?“
"There were a lot of people last night. I'm guessing we are a group." Flynn glances at Arabella for confirmation.
"Well the chemistry is undeniable." Málean picks up the dropped fruit, brushes it off and starts eating. With a mouthful of apple he adds, "Metaphorically, I mean, though actual chemistry is also undeniable.”
Terrence and Little Terry look at each other.
"Does he mean us, Terrence?" Little Terry asks.
"Well, not you, Little Terry."
“Yes, you all are a group,” Arabella confirms. “That being said, I would suggest that on your way to the outpost you sort out your roles. Originally, it looks like my father had intentions of making Alexandros the leader; but under the circumstances, I don’t know if that remains the case. I also know that Málean was invited for his knowledge of the modern technology. You all will need to pick a leader, a cartographer, someone to keep track of the resources you find, and someone to record the enemies you make and allies you gain.”
“Well, rest assured,” Terrence proclaims. “The task of chronicling our contests with villainy and the ascension of our notoriety is well in hand! Our story will be carved on the aeons!
"With elf escaped, the lizard man
could not an ogre snub.
Accordingly, that ogre, he
did beat to death with his own club.
“Something like that. I'll work on it. My iambs are little rusty. Don't worry—I'll be working on it day and night. What rhymes with cobbler?"
Málean, who has gained new grease marks since he went to his room last night, looks up from a parchment he held in one hand as the cross section of a sphere disappears from his left hand. A piece of fruit falls from his mouth. It seems entirely uneaten apart from the one bite used to hold it in place while his focus was elsewhere. "I thought we were going anyway to get the Kitsune Tail. On that note the High Lord isn't standing on any side, he's lying down. He should probably continue doing that, the Kitsune Tail stem will make him susceptible to injuries and infections until it is negated." The slowly rotating hemisphere reappears in his hand, and Málean starts taking notes again.
“Excuse me, but how would the logistics around payment work?” Quiberron inquires. “If we are in the Wilds, we can hardly stop at a bank. Will we be paid in advance, or upon return, or is there some other arrangement?”
Flynn adds, "And what's the full plan, anyways? It’s one thing to look at the big picture, but we are the little details here. Do you plan to just release us into the Wilds and see what happens?"
“There is a small outpost on the edge of the Wilds,” Arabella explains. “We will send your supplies and pay there every month and pick up any reports and mapping from you at that time. If you miss one check in and are not back by the time of the second, we will send one of the other excursion groups to track you down. The more often you check in, the better. The more of a map you leave with the outpost, the better.”
“Other excursion groups?” Quiberron narrows his eyes slightly. “Can you elaborate on that? Has Lord Fennix commissioned others?”
"This is unlike the Quibberon I have come to know these past weeks,” Tyrects jests. “You are usually quite single-minded when it comes to discovering the unknown. Come, let's discover. I can earn a fortune in gold, and you can find the knowledge you desire."
“I’m sorry, Tyrects, my friend. I am excited to explore The Wilds, and I have reasons to go there beyond the commission just given to us. I find the pay quite reasonable as well, although I would prefer more knowledge and magic to more equipment.
“However, while history is not my main area of expertise, as a scholar I would be remiss if I did not try to understand the motivations of those sending us, as well as understanding who else we might encounter there and who they might be working for. There are clearly actors and motivations involved here that we are not fully aware of, and the more knowledge we can gather about the situation, the better equipped we will be to solve the mystery.”
“The Wilds are expansive,” Arabella says. “ Sending only one group would be underestimating the work to be done. That is why so many were invited last night. We plan to send at least four groups out.”
“That sounds like a wise policy,” Quiberron says, nodding his head slowly. “Will we all be operating out of the same outpost? If so, do you have any instructions that will avoid duplication of effort, or will we have to meet with the other groups to assign territory? Finally, and I would assume the answer is yes, but are they all aware of the need to find Kitsune’s Tail to cure your father?”
“They will be operating out of different outposts further out, so there won’t be overlap any time soon. And yes, they will all be informed of the Kitsune’s Tail.”
"On the other hand, it's hard to purchase a suitable bean paste wrap in a wooded glen." Terrence seems deeply disturbed by this consideration.
"Fair point,” Sabal says. “The food I have eaten since arriving in Haleford has been new and wonderful! Please do show me this 'bean paste wrap' some time."
"Wonders lay ahead of you! Wonders! But that's when we get back. Don't worry, though—nothing works up an appetite like facing sanity-threatening wildlife."
Arabella chimes in. “It isn’t all woods. There are plenty of fields, mountains, and even some desert.”
Tyrects looks up at her. "I have never been paid a gold for anything in my life. A gold per day is more money than I can think of. I will go to this place, and do what you ask me to do. If there is anything for me to gain from this, I ask for information about my kind if you have any. Especially if there are any in the Wilds."
“I would not know that. Legends of The Wilds are filled with strange creatures and rumors of a great many things, but few return sane, alive, or without reverence for the place,” Arabella says.
Del speaks up, "Let's go find our destiny! I feel like The Wilds are calling us."
Roland smiles at Del's enthusiasm. Standing up, he says, "That's the spirit." He then turns to Arabella. "A gold per day is more than reasonable. As for equipment, aside from standard supplies and rations, I would greatly appreciate some half-plate armor, if such could be provided."
“I will certainly see what I can do,” Arabella promises.
"I too would welcome some time in this place you call The Wilds,” says Sabal. “The city can feel... oppressive."
"Aye,” Del says, “cities are very oppressive. Particularly to those who are different." She makes eye contact with Sabal. Her pink eyes twinkling.
“Even for differences that aren't obvious,” Roland murmurs. “Though it must be worse when you don't deserve that distrust." He then briefly looks off in the direction of the dining hall.
“This expedition will do us all good." Del grins.
Sabal returns Del's smile, and nods to both Roland's and Del's observations.
Flynn crosses his arms. "It feels like there's more to it than that. My respects to your father, but which side would he be on, then? I spent a long time being a plaything of those far above myself. You'll forgive me if I don't want to go back to that life."
Arabella smiles. “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you where my father stands. The facts are what they are. The North and South have never been on excellent terms, and with the industrialization of the North, we have certainly been affected here in the South. The expansion into the Wilds has the potential to give everyone a little bit of extra breathing room. Personally, I see it as possibly the only way of avoiding eventual civil war.
“I will say, however, that it has come to my attention, Alexandros, that it would be an excellent idea for you not to be in any part of Urbane presently. I’m willing to turn a blind eye, given your efforts last night, but as word spreads, I doubt others will. Leaving on business of the King is a good way to claim redemption.”
“Pardon me for saying so,” Terrence interrupts, “but the mere prospect of sending out this expedition apparently prompted the assassination expedition that struck here last night—an assassination attempt that was thwarted by the adventurers here assembled. Even without organized assassins mobilized against us, I was led to believe that this effort amounted to daily risk of death. Forgive me, but suggesting that one coin a day is certainly worth our time seems like a bit of a low ball. By my calculations, at that rate, a month of struggle in the forest primeval would just about cover the cost of a new crossbow. A light crossbow, at that.”
Arabella shakes her head. “A gold piece a day is quite normal for a well-trained mercenary or a low-ranking knight. And given that you will have your food and equipment supplied. And even the permission to keep anything you might find or acquire in your journeys. I believe the pay is quite fair.”
Without thinking, Del is deftly placing more cheese in her pockets. "I think a gold piece is a fortune!"
Arabella appears to not notice Del’s hoarding. Either that or she is politely ignoring it.
Terrence seems intrigued by the last part."Permission to keep what we find? ... Oh! I see! I didn't realize that we would be functioning as civil servants. In that case, I'm sure we'll do very well." Terrence also puts cheese in his pockets. He makes no effort to hide the fact. "When do we leave? Now? I'm about ready."
Sabal was among the first to the drawing room, and now sits in a corner away from the windows. An empty plate sits beside him, and he is fiddling with one of his arrows—it seems as though this object now holds new possibilities for him. He makes eye contact and smiles as everyone enters the room.
After everyone (Rallaak strangely seems to be missing) has found some food and a place to sit, Arabella enters. She is wearing the same dress from the night before and clearly hasn’t slept at all. In her arms are a stack of letters and scrolls.
She sets the papers on one of the small drawing desks. “I hope the rest of your evenings passed without incident.”
”I could spend a lifetime in your garden, between pond and sun,” Tyrects declares. “I have never felt quite as like myself as that before. Thank you."
Arabella chuckles softly. “I heard about that. The gardener said the fish are traumatized. But I’m sure a little excitement is good for them now and then.”
“Yes. Thank you,” says Quiberron. Noticing the absence of his travelling companion, he adds, “But where is Rallaak? Shouldn’t we wait for him before starting?”
“He mentioned that you might be wondering where he is,” Arabella says. “He said that he feels it is best to part ways here. He wishes you the best in your journeys.”
Terrence looks up. "Oh! That fellow had a hand... er, talon in saving me from that dreadful cobbler. May the wind be at his back. And ours."
“He was always a secretive fellow,” Quiberron adds. “I guess that something was driving him elsewhere. He’ll be missed; I wish we’d had a chance to say goodbye.”
“I’m sure,” Arabella agrees. Then she takes a punctuating breath and says, “I have been sorting through my father’s writings. The idea was to send a few groups of explorers into The Wilds to map the area, rid the lands of enemies, and befriend whatever remotely civilized beasts and men who live there. The King, of course, signed off on this expedition, given the rapid expansion needed to further industrialize and, with that, the need for new lands to farm. At this point, taming the Wilds is perhaps just an unachievable joke, perhaps even just a political maneuvering on the King’s part to temporarily placate the people of South Urbane, but it is worth exploring nonetheless, given my father’s condition.
“We are, of course, willing to pay you. A gold piece a day is reasonable and certainly worth your times. Your rations will also be provided to you as well as any necessary mundane equipment.”
Hearing the bustle starting in the house, Tyrects walks in from the gardens. He nods to those who look up, and looks over the offered food.
Terrence, meanwhile, has been crowding the far door and entertaining the servants at one end of the drawing room with Gohjyrah, his new hammer-wielding lizard puppet, and another new puppet, this one a spider with the head and torso of a woman. He is alternating between making them fight each other violently, then having them kiss each other. For his big finish, Terrence drinks a cup of coffee while the puppets sing a duet about how much fun it is to fight.
Flynn eyes the lizard puppet. "Tyrects, I feel I should be concerned on your behalf." He shakes his head with a mouth full of cheese.
"If you mean the puppet, the Loud One makes noise. That is his nature. If that’s not what worries you, and instead you are worried that you might hurt me when we spar after you eat, you should be even less worried, Master Scar."
Flynn waves a piece of ham at the puppets before popping it into his mouth.
“Did it really happen like that? Did the lizard man kiss the spider woman?” an eager servant asks Terrence.
“Well, that's the vibe I was getting,” Terrence replies. “There was a lot of tension there, if you catch my meaning. Anyway, he's here, so I'd better grab some of that ham now if there's to be any hope for me.”
Next into the study, Del happily goes straight to the food. She loads up a plate full of ham and fruit, and sneaks a wedge of cheese into a pocket. "Good morning, fellows!"
Roland nods to Del with his mouth full, swallowing before answering. "And a good morning to you."
Flynn also enters and eyes the spread before him. It was a little lighter than his normal fare, but he didn't have to prepare it himself. He shifts in the newly cleaned tunic, appreciating its softness while making his decision. Finally, he grabs several slices of meat and cheese and retreats to a spot near the window. One lingering concern passes before he busies himself wolfing down the meal.
Everyone awakes to find their clothes cleaned and neatly folded outside their doors. The scent of fresh baked pastry and ham drifts through the halls. The dining hall has been closed off; and the food is instead served on picnic blankets in one of the spacious drawing rooms. Cheese, fruit, danishes, and ham are spread out on platters for people to serve themselves as they gather.
Roland gets up, stretches, and after getting dressed in his newly cleaned clothes he follows the scent of food to the drawing room. It had been a while since he slept on anything but the ground or a common room floor, and even back home their straw filled mattresses were never as comfortable as a noble’s guest bed. He is as well rested as he had ever been, and quite ready to eat after last night's ordeal. He grabs a plate, loads it up with several slices of the ham, a particularly sharp and nutty smelling wedge of hard cheese, and a single danish, then sits down on a bare patch of floor against the wall.
Quiberron enters shortly after, helps himself to a variety of food, nods to Roland, and sits down in a comfortable chair to await the Lady of the house.
Tyrects tries to sleep in a bed, but he finds it too soft and uncomfortable. After a few hours of sleep on the floor in front on the fire, he wakes. Quietly, he heads out to the pond he noticed in the garden, clad in only his skirt. There, he soaks in the water until the sun comes up and then lays out in the sun in the garden to await the day.
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.