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'A prologue' to The Dungeon Run and Episode 1 by Aegis13:

The wagon jerked upwards as the wheel ran over one particularly large patch of grass overgrowing the road. The young woman sitting beside the driver grimaced as the motion caused her hand to move half way up the page just as she had been signing her name to her letter, leaving a long black mark.

“Ugggh!” she sighed.

From the corner of his eye, the driver thought he saw her red hair catch the briefest glint of sunlight; but in fact, her hair glowed faintly from within, like a delicate straw smoldering in a fire.

The passenger sat looking at the smeared parchment for a long moment, eyes peering over large round glasses that slid down slightly to the end of her nose, her teeth gently biting her lower lip. The driver was struck by her exotic appearance, in addition to her fire red hair, her skin and eyes were a hue reminiscent of burnished copper or gold, her features almost elvish, he thought perhaps. He would have believed her at first sight if she had told him she was a world traveler from some far off land, and yet she seemed very much ill at ease with the road and inexperienced.

She lifted up her left hand to a jeweled pendant she had hanging around her neck. She closed her eyes, and the driver noticed her lips moving slightly as she waved her other hand over the parchment sitting on her lap. He saw the strange sparking of light in her hair once again, then he saw the long, black streak of ink slowly crawl its way down the page and curl itself into a calligraphic flourish at the end of her signature, “Fahima.”

“Oh, so yer a wizard, then?” he addressed her.

She looked up at him and smiled faintly. “I like to think so,” she said, “and thank you again for the ride. It gave me a chance to write.”

“Oh, no problem, no problem a’tall. So, eh, yer goin to Kipeltern on some kind of wizard business, then?”

She laughed. “No, no business at all, really. I've never left Axbright before.”

“Oh. Well does yer ma and da know what yer up to? I hope I'm not helpin ye to run away from home, am I?”

She looked out over the fields to her right wistfully. The plodding of horse hooves and the squeaky turning of wagon wheels prevented the long pause from being silent. “I've never met my, mother…” she answered finally.

“Sorry, not meanin to offend ye.”

“Oh, none taken. It's actually rather, well, it's complicated.”

“Mmhmm.”

“But as for my dad, I'm actually looking for him. He left quite some time ago, and I've stopped receiving his correspondence. I thought, perhaps if I go to seek him out, I'll find someone who knows where he went.”

“Oh.”

“You might have heard of him, maybe? He's a rather accomplished adventurer and explorer! Conroy Tadgh!”

No hint of recognition showed on the driver's face.

“Maybe not,” she turned her eyes back to the countryside.

“Eh, sorry. As fer m’self, I'm just a grocer. I don't know much o’ nuthin 'bout magic'n and adventure’n. But it takes all types, is what they say.”

“Are you headed back towards Axbright anytime soon? I wrote this letter for my dad, in case he comes home before I get back.”

“Not fer a while, probably. But ye ought to be able to find somebody up ahead in Kipeltern that runs letters. We're almost there now.”

Even as he spoke, the wagon rounded a corner in the road and the buildings of Kipeltern loomed in the distance. The young wizard's face lit up with excitement, and she rose somewhat unsteadily from her seat and craned her neck to get a better look. “So that's Kipeltern!” she exclaimed.

“That it is. Is there somewhere pertic’lar ye want me to drop ye off?”

“Hmm. Not really. Where are you going?”

“Why, to the market. Settin up to sell me wares.”

“I'll just ride with you until then, if that's ok?”

“Fer sure. Yer a pleasure to have around,” he smiled and gave her a wink.

“I'd like to give you some money for your trouble, I really do appreciate the ride.”

“Oh, 'tisn’t needed, ‘twas no trouble.”

“No, but I insist! My father left me quite a bit of money to pay for my expenses while he was gone…” she cut herself off, regretting the words “quite a bit of money” as soon as she realized she'd said them.

The driver looked at her with one arched eyebrow, but said nothing. The wizard blushed, and the driver thought it was somehow getting warmer. She shuffled uncomfortably in her seat, then took a leather-bound book from her pack. She flipped it open to a blank page and began making a rough sketch of the skyline of the city ahead.

“Oh, yer quite good at that, eh?”

“Thank you,” she replied, “It’s rather easy for me to get my hands on a charcoal pencil, so I’ve had lots of practice.”

The road began to wind through the outskirts of the city, and the wizard looked with anticipation around each bend and down each alleyway. She seemed to be slightly disappointed with what she saw, but still scribbled down a few notes and observations in her journal. When at last they reached the market square, her eyes again widened with enthusiasm and she half raised from her seat, worrying the driver that she might fall out.

The wagon came to rest by a small stall with a closed wooden hatch locked in front. Both the driver and the wizard stepped down, and the driver began to busy himself with unhitching the horse from the wagon. The wizard said nothing, but stood staring across the marketplace at something posted to a signboard. The driver led his horse around back of the stall and tied him to a hitching post there. He came back around front, producing a key ring from inside his shirt pocket, which he fumbled with for a moment until he found the right one. He unlocked the hatch  and raised it up, propping it open with a stick attached by a hinge, and unfurled a small bit of cloth tacked around the edges, forming a rustic awning. He turned to address the wizard, “If’n ye’d, like, instead of coin, I could use a hand gettin’ me wares set up…”

But she wasn’t standing there. He started back slightly as if just for a moment he thought she had been a ghost all along, but then he saw her across the square at the signboard, apparently copying something from one of the posted bills to her notebook. “Eh,” he grunted, then set about unloading his wagon.

He had just wrestled the first barrel of produce from the back when he was startled again to find the wizard right beside him with a look of wild excitement in her eyes. “Oh, I know what I’m going to do here!” she exclaimed, “Thank you so much for the ride, and can you tell me where a tailor’s shop is nearby?”

The grocer muttered something, then pointed towards a shop down a side street just off the main square. “Aha! Yes! Thanks again!” and she shoved a small handful of coins into his other hand before darting off.

He watched her until she disappeared into the haberdashery, then looked down at his palm to see what she had handed to him. His eyes bulged at the sight of five gleaming gold pieces. He tossed them gently in his hand a few times to feel the weight, and with a satisfied grunt, stashed them in his pocket.

He went back to unloading the wagon as the cool of the morning was giving way to the heat of midday. Crowds were beginning to mull about the square, the air filled with the sound of conversations and coins changing hands. He struggled with a particularly heavy barrel. As he got it to the edge of the wagon, he felt it slipping from his grip. He braced himself for it to fall, but a large green hand appeared from behind him, steadying the barrel and allowing for him to guide it to the ground safely.

He turned to look at his savior, stifling a gasp when he saw. Before him stood a burly, barrel chested orc, with eyes as green as his skin, and with black hair pulled into a knot. His clothes looked tattered and worn, as if he'd been in battle or perhaps been traveling for some time. “Oh, er, eh, thank ye,” the grocer stammered out.

The orc grunted softly, then said, “Welcome.”

The orc continued to stand there staring at the grocer, and although there was no hint of aggression to his demeanor, the grocer found the orc’s presence disconcerting nonetheless. “Um, I'm jest about to open up, if ye be needin’ somethin’,” the grocer said.

“I'm Uggo. Looking for work.”

“Eh? Fer werk? Why ye comin’ to me about it?”

“You struggle. Need carry heavy things. Uggo good at carry.”

“Right… umm, I can't really afford to pay ye much. If yer willin’ to werk cheap, then ye can get the rest o’ these barrels brought in while I start to sell.”

“Ok!” the orc pushed the grocer aside and easily picked up the barrel that had nearly fallen, hoisting it up onto his shoulder. He proceeded to hop into the back of the wagon, then moments later hopped back off with a second barrel under his other arm.

The grocer set out his sign and soon had customers. A few came and went, all while the orc diligently moved the freight into the back of the shop stall. A couple of ragged looking children approached the grocer and asked how much for a bag of apples.

“Can't ya’ urchins read? It's five copper.”

“Can we get just one apple for a half-pence?”

“Wha-?”

“We don't have five copper…”

“Bah! Look, this here is me bis’ness, not a bloomin’ charity. If yer lookin’ for a handout, go beg somewhere else!”

“That's right, you filthy street rats, scram!” an authoritative sounding voice bellowed as someone strode towards the shop.

The children started and scuttled away, quickly disappearing down a nearby alley. The one who had spoken turned out to be a golden-furred tabaxi, who almost glided into the grocer’s view like an acrobat on a wire. He sounded and moved like one of noble birth, though his appearance was a little more weathered than one would have expected.

“Oh, g’day to ye, sir,” the grocer addressed him, “have ye come to look at me wares?”

“Indeed I have,” the tabaxi said, leaning gently onto the counter of the stall.

“Anything ye’d like to see closer, just ask. Prices are on the sign,” he gestured to the crudely painted board where his prices were listed.

The tabaxi craned his neck, looking over the grocer's shoulder. He spotted the orc moving a barrel into the back. “What's he got over there?” he asked, a graceful arm outstretched in the orc’s direction.

The grocer turned to look briefly, then turned back, “Oh, that's pears. I already have a barrel of 'em open right over here.”

“I'll have a look at them, then.”

The grocer walked the tabaxi over to the open barrel, then picked up a bundle of pears held in a loose netting for him to inspect. “Oh, those look nice and ripe,” the tabaxi said, holding out his hand, “may I take a closer look?”

The grocer nodded and passed the bundle over the counter. Just as he did, a brown mouse fell from the fruit and landed on the counter. Both the grocer and the tabaxi startled back, dropping the fruit which spilled from the net bag and scattered everywhere.

“Egad!” the tabaxi exclaimed, clutching at the red scarf around his neck.

“Wha-? Where did, what?” 

The grocer slammed his hand down at the mouse, but it hit the countertop with a resounding thud as the mouse deftly hopped out of the way, leaping somewhere into the inside of the stall.

“It went that way!” the tabaxi pointed.

The grocer spun to his left, standing nearly on his tip toes, scanning the floor for some sign of movement.

“No, that way!” the tabaxi leaned in over the counter, directing the grocer to turn around again.

“W-where? Where did 'e even come from?” the grocer stammered.

“Clearly your establishment is unsanitary!” the tabaxi scoffed, “Why, I wouldn't pay you one shaved copper for your rodent-infested fruit! Good day!”

The grocer stared slack-jawed as the tabaxi strode away, then dropped to the ground and began scouring the stall for any sign of the obscene creature that ran off his business. The tabaxi turned a corner into an alleyway, where the two children he had just driven away from the grocer's stand were picking through trash for anything of value. They saw the tabaxi standing in the alley, and froze when they realized he was between them and any means of escape.

He just stood there for what felt like a long moment, looking at the children with almost a smirk, but his feline face was difficult for them to read. Then with terrifying speed, his wrist flicked and a dagger appeared in his hand. The children gasped and clutched each other, bracing for the worst. But then with another almost imperceptible flick of his wrist a pear appeared in his other hand.

He held both the dagger and the pear up for the children to see, and in a display that was both playful and intimidating he sliced a wedge from the pear and tossed it into the air, then leaned slightly forward, pulled on his shirt pocket, and a tiny brown mouse popped its head out and grabbed the wedge of pear from midair and disappeared back into the pocket.

The children's eyes widened in amazement, and the younger of the two even broke out in applause before his companion, still cautious, elbowed him to make him stop. The tabaxi let out a laugh, then tossed the rest of the pear to the children, the younger one catching it. “Eat up,” the rogue said, “there's plenty for you and your friends.”

Even as he spoke, the dagger seemed to disappear and more fruit came tumbling from his sleeves. He juggled them a bit before tossing them one at a time to the excited children, and when he was finished, he took a flourishing bow, and slipped out of the alley and back into the crowd of the market.

The grocer had turned his stall all but inside out by now, but still found no sign of the mouse or any more rodents. Frustrated, he threw his hands up and went about putting his wares back in order. But things weren't adding up right, and he also noticed the weight in his pockets; or rather, the lack of it. He reached for the five gold pieces the mysterious passenger had given him, but found only one.

“Bah! This town! No good cut-purses! Orc! I never asked ye fer yer help! An’ I ain't gonna have money to pay ye at any rate!”

“What? Uggo not thief!”

“Maybe yer not, but I've been robbed, all the same! Just get out o’ here, go look fer work over there at the signboard like the other honest folk do!” and he gestured to the board across the market with various scrolls and bits of parchment tacked to it.

The orc said nothing, but he breathed so deep that his chest heaved noticeably and he glared at the grocer, who stood pointing at the billboard and trying to hide the fact he was trembling. The orc growled deeply as he pushed his way past the grocer and into the crowd. People stepped hurriedly aside, Uggo stared straight ahead as he walked, clenching and unclenching his fists while gritting his teeth. One man, busily digging through his pockets for something, nearly walked into him. Uggo did not notice the near encounter, nor did he notice the man bashfully whisper, “Sorry! So sorry!” as he passed by.

The man, dressed in scholar’s robes, with an orange scarf and thick rimmed glasses, watched as the orc he almost collided with kept walking until reaching the billboard. The man adjusted his glasses, then rubbed his chin. A few days stubble had grown in since he’d been on the road, and along with a tousled mess of hair he had a bit of an unkempt appearance. He turned his attention back to what he had been searching his pockets for, finally pulling out an envelope containing a letter. The letter was neither written by or to himself; rather, it was addressed to what one might consider his mentor if not surrogate father, a scholar and researcher at one of the most famous institutions of magical learning in all the realms. It had been written by another former student of this teacher, and most importantly, provided a return address in Kipeltern at which to find him.

The man stood quietly by himself, surrounded by the crowd of the market, turning the letter over in his hands. He contemplated what he was going to say was the reason for his sudden arrival in Kipeltern, but frowned as nothing particularly compelling came to mind. He looked up from his inner monologue and his eyes widened at the sight of two townsguard walking directly at him. He straightened his posture and smiled politely at them; they appeared not to notice and walked past him without paying him the slightest bit of attention. The man watched them pass, the smile dropping the instant he realized they weren’t even looking at him. He looked around, noticing the grocer’s stand nearby. His stomach growled at the thought of fresh food; a few days living off hastily packed dried rations had already taken its toll. As he approached, the grocer seemed deeply engrossed in inspecting his produce.

The scholarly man approached the stall, “Good morning,” he said, though the grocer did not look up.

The scholarly man took a moment to read over the prices on the sign. He didn’t particularly like the prices or the bulk quantities that seemed to be required. But he reached into his robes for his coin purse regardless, but was alarmed when it felt unexpectedly light. He brought it out to discover a hole in the bottom. Now not only was he in Kipeltern unannounced and uninvited, but it looked as if he was destitute as well. He started to mutter an apology to the grocer for wasting his time when the grocer loudly asked him, “These look like they got rodent dung on ‘em to ye?”

Taken aback, the scholarly man stammered, “What? No, I didn’t say - what?”

“They look good an’ clean, right? So how was there a rat in ‘em, right? There’d be droppins’ a’plenty if there’d been rats in ‘em this whole time, am I right?”

The scholarly man looked around beside him in case there was anyone else this question may have actually been addressed to, but finding no one, he turned back to the grocer with a quizzical and slightly repulsed expression, “I… suppose so?”

“Yer dern right it’s right! The problem ain’t me goods! It’s this lousy, rat-infested berg full of cut-purse cheats is what it is!” the grocer shouted over the scholarly man’s shoulder, drawing the crowd’s attention.

The scholarly man turned to look behind and saw several people looking and pointing, and saw the two townsguard had taken notice and were approaching the stall. Sensing a scene coming on, he slumped his shoulders and tried to slip quietly to the side, sighing “Of course.”

“Yeah, ye ought ta be comin over here,” the grocer yelled to the approaching guards.

“Is there a problem over here?” one guard asked.

“Yeah, there’s a problem! Yer filthy city is a den of rats an’ thieves is what it is! I had five gold on me jes’ now, and soon as I open me shop I get robbed and I’m down to one!”

“Is it possible you miscounted?”

“Bloody ‘ell, if I couldn’t count past one I wouldn’t be in business now, would I?”

The scholarly man slipped away back into the market as the guards and grocer argued about the moral and sanitary state of the city. He noticed the orc from a few minutes ago still apparently looking at the signs on the billboard. He decided to approach, and stood cautiously beside the orc and read what he appeared to be reading. It was a job posting of sorts, and an intriguing one at that. Even as the orc seemed to be deep in contemplation of it, the scholarly man thought right away that it could prove a valuable source of income as well as a justification for him to be in town in the first place. He made note of the address the post said to meet at, and, seeing the guards walking away from the grocer’s stall, he managed a beguiling smile and walked straight up to them and asked, “Excuse me, I’m just arrived in town, and I was wondering if you might direct me to the Inn at the Gentle Oak?”

Uggo the orc continued to stare at the sign as if that would somehow force the inscrutable markings on the pages before him to suddenly make sense. His eyes watered up, so he closed them and tilted back his head. He breathed in deeply, tightened his fists as hard as he could, then held it for several seconds before exhaling and relaxing his muscles all at once. A moment of calm washed over him, but as soon as he reopened his eyes and they were met by the mockingly opaque symbols he could make no sense out of, his anger swelled anew. He shut his eyes and tilted his head back again, but this time he growled, softly at first, but he felt the urge to go from a growl into a scream rise with so much force he was almost certain to give in to it.

But a melody drifted into his mind, like a breeze on a summer day. His growl cut off in his throat, and he opened his mouth with a soft sigh. It was unlike any music he had ever heard before, but yet evoked within him every happy memory he had ever had, as few as they were. He opened his eyes, looking around for the source. He saw no one standing near him, that is, until he looked down. There stood a young gnomish woman, blonde and freckled, barely half his height, playing a flute.

Uggo’s jaw went slack, the gnomish woman noticed him looking at her and she stopped playing, looked up at him and smiled, “Hi!” she said, “I hope I wasn’t distracting you!”

“Um, no?” Uggo wasn’t sure what the word ‘distracting’ meant exactly.

“My name’s Lily!” she went on.

“Oh. Uggo,” the orc gestured to himself.

“Hi, Uggo, it’s nice to meet you! You looked like you were concentrating really hard, and I thought, you know what always helps me think? A little relaxing music to calm my nerves!”

“Oh. You very good.”

“Thank you! But don’t let me keep you from what you were doing, that was not my intention.”

“Uggo was having bad day, and you show up out of nowhere, now Uggo feel better.”

“Aww,” she fidgeted slightly with her flute, looking almost ready to cry but still smiling.

“Where you come from?”

“Oh, if the vest doesn’t give it away,” she curtsied slightly and with one hand flicked a side of the teal vest she was wearing.

“I not understand.”

“I’m from Bingle, the vacation island? This is what we wear at the resort.”

“Ohh. Uggo not know where that is. It far?”

“Yeah, actually it is, I suppose. This is certainly the farthest from Bingle I’ve ever been!”

“Uggo far from home, too. Why you come here?”

Lily turned her head slightly and tilted it to one side. She stared off wistfully for a few moments before looking back at Uggo and saying with a smile, “The last group that left the island were from here, and I just sort of tagged along. I’ve been hearing stories about all these other places in Aïn all my life, and finally I decided that maybe rather than waiting for the world to come to me, I could go out into the world and bring some of the joy of Bingle to all the people I meet. Like you!”

“You maybe nicest person Uggo ever meet!”

“Well that's super nice of you to say! But tell me about you, Uggo! You said you were having a bad day?”

Uggo grunted softly, then said, “Yes. I do work for man, then he not pay me. Uggo need work!” his breathing got heavier.

“What do you mean he didn't pay you? Who?”

“That guy over there,” Uggo pointed to the grocer's stall.

“Maybe it's a misunderstanding. Let's go talk to him together!”

Uggo growled softly. “Uggo, might,” he said averting his eyes from Lily, “Uggo might get angry.”

“Well if you're upset, just let me do the talking. C’mon!”

“You do that for Uggo?”

Lily smiled and reached up to take him by the hand, but mostly just got him by his little finger. She gave him a gentle tug, and he followed dutifully behind her, taking unnaturally small steps for him so as not to overtake her stride. As they approached the stall the grocer was still puzzling over his fruit. Lily let go of Uggo's finger and cleared her throat in front of the grocer, who looked up at the orc, then down to meet Lily's gaze.

“Hi, my name's Lily,” she said, “what's yours?”

“Um, me name's Brom, miss,” his eyes returned warily to Uggo.

“So it seems like my friend here did some work for you,” she said putting her hand on the counter “and he says for some reason you didn't pay him? Is there a misunderstanding?”

Brom the grocer shuffled uncomfortably and said, “No, I didn't pay 'em. Cause I been robbed.”

Uggo growled loudly and clenched his fists.

Brom continued, “Now I never said I thought he did it,” he held his palms up and out at Uggo, “I jes meant that I couldn't afford his help!”

“You were robbed? That's awful!” Lily offered, “Uggo, I'm sure you didn't have anything to do with that, though.”

“No! Uggo just carry barrels in like he was supposed to! Uggo not see anything!”

“Well it looks to me like you're both having a rough day,” Lily said as she hoisted herself up onto the counter, “what do you sell here?

Brom was taken aback, but answered, “I sell fresh produce! No rats!”

Lily gave him an odd look, but nodded. She paced back and forth a few times on the counter, side-stepping the loose fruit and tapping her flute against her hand. “Ok!” she exclaimed, stomping one foot loud enough to draw people's attention, then whispered to Uggo and Brom, “It might help if you guys clap along!”

Lily cupped her hands to her mouth and called out to the crowd, “Everyone! A moment of your attention, please!” and then she began to sing.

When you’ve worked all day

And you stop and say

Hey, I’d like to eat

Well then move your feet

We’ve got pears and figs

All grown up nice and big

Tomatoes red and round

Taters from the ground

So many things to cook

C’mon and have a look

Why not come and see

What’s at Brom’s Grocery!

Uggo clapped along as he’d been told, and even started to tap his feet a little as Lily started to dance along the counter top. Brom tugged at the bottom of her dress to get her attention and whispered, “Tell them no rats, either!”

Lily paused for just a second to whisper back, “Maybe just leave that bit implied?”

Customers began to make their way to the stall. Lily moved to one end of the counter and played a lively song on her flute. Uggo watched, utterly entranced. A line started to form, and Brom busied himself tending to the customers as Lily continued to play. People started to hang around even after making their purchases, talking to each other or admiring Lily’s music. A few even left some coins on the counter by her feet. Brom saw this, then looked towards Uggo. Their eyes met; though they said nothing, Brom gave Uggo a look of apology and Uggo nodded back in understanding. When the last of the customers had been served, Brom gestured for both Lily and Uggo to approach him.

“Eh, sorry fer earlier,” he said, “I really owe it to ye fer turnin’ this day around. Thank ye, Miss Lily, you and yer friend is welcome back any time.”

Brom counted out some coins, and handed Uggo ten silver pieces, saying, “That’s fer yer help, Uggo. No hard feelin’s, eh?”

Uggo took the coins and nodded, grunting his approval. He looked to Lily to thank her, but stumbled trying to find his words.

Lily gave Uggo a big smile and a wink, then hopped down from the counter, and began to walk back towards the center of the market square. Uggo followed. Lily noticed, and asked, “Where are you off to next, Uggo?”

“I not sure yet. Still could use more work,” he said.

“Well what about that job you were looking at earlier? That sounded exciting!”

“What job?”

“The one on the sign? The one about exploring the abandoned dragon’s lair? It sounds like an adventure!”

“Oh, that!” Uggo assumed she must have read the scroll he’d been unable to.

“Yeah, I bet you’d be perfect for that! You could help carry out all that treasure, and if there’s trouble, you’re so big you might just scare it away!”

Uggo laughed, really laughed, and for a moment felt good about himself in a way he hadn’t for a long time. “Oh! Lily! You could come too!”

“Me? I mean it sounds amazing, but I’m not sure I’m the dragon-lair raiding type, you know? It might be dangerous, even if the dragon’s really gone.”

“Uggo protect you!”

Lily stopped walking, then looked up at Uggo. His expression belied nothing but sincerity and eagerness. Her fingers danced along her flute as she studied his face. “You know what,” she said, “it sounds like a simple dungeon run. I think I’ll take you up on that!”

Uggo clapped his hands and exclaimed, “Oh! Thank you, Lily! Uggo won’t let you down!”

“Should we head to the Inn, or did you need to get anything along the way?”

“Huh?”

“The sign said to meet outside the Inn at the Gentle Oak. There’s supposed to be transportation waiting there.”

“Oh, that,” Uggo, at times, really wished he could read, “Um, no, I ready now if you are.”

“Sure, let’s get a move on. I’m sure they won’t wait forever!”

“You want Uggo to carry you?”

Lily laughed as she started to walk again, “Maybe when I get to know you a little better! I’ll walk quick!”

Lily walked as briskly as her gnomish legs would allow, and Uggo kept pace at her side as they left the marketplace together. In an alley nearby, as they passed, a gold-furred tabaxi hid in the stoop around a side door of an abandoned building. He held in his hands a well-worn leather book, its pages filled with scraps of poetry, various lists, and ink sketches of a female figure with horns. He turned to some of the pages near the back, where a dried red flower was pressed between. He took it out and turned it over in his hand, then placed it back gently. A voice caused him to snap the book closed and stow it in his coat as his other hand instinctively found his dagger.

“Cat man?” it was the younger of the two children he had seen earlier.

“Oh, it’s you,” the tabaxi said, “Nice job finding me.”

“I wanted to thank you,” the boy started.

“No thanks needed, boy. Run along.”

“But I wanted to give you this,” the boy held out a scroll that was ripped near one end like it had been torn off a nail.

The tabaxi extended his arm and took the parchment from the boy, “What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s from the market. The sign post. They’re looking for heroes.”

The tabaxi laughed, “Well they’ll find none here!”

“I think you’re a hero.”

The tabaxi shook his head, but read over the scroll he had been handed. His eyes widened when he saw the words “abandoned” and “hordes of treasure.” He scratched his chin as he read over it again, saying, “Sounds too good to be true, but…”

“You should do it!” the boy insisted, “You would make a great hero!”

The tabaxi looked at the child, then turned away, looking over the scroll another time before folding it up and stowing it somewhere in his coat. “Thanks for the tip,” he called over his shoulder, and tossed the boy four gold pieces.

The child gasped in amazement. The tabaxi leapt from the ground, did a flip onto the top of the stoop, then leapt again onto the roof of the building opposite. He stood in a dramatic pose on the roof, silhouetted against the midday sky, and called down to the awestruck child, “And some day you can tell everyone you know, you were the first to meet the legendary hero, Siv Redthistle!”

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