"That's not the same fellow who met us last time," Arbiddance thought, as the Baron's majordomo led them to a new room and asked them to make themselves comfortable around the oaken table that dominated the room.
"His Lordship will be with you momentarily," the elderly servant quietly said as he pulled the door shut behind him. Qova scowled, pointed after him and looked at Arbiddance, who shrugged.
Qova, Arbiddance, and Hern seated themselves on one end of the table, while the Prince loitered near an open window and appeared to admire the garden outside. After about ten minutes, the door opened and Lord Falang squeezed through. He took one look at the Prince and looked slightly shocked before turning his attention to the others.
"I'm so very glad you returned," he gestured for them to take their seats again.
The adventurers sat back down and Arbiddance spoke up. "I'm assuming you received her message about our need. We don't make this request lightly, your Lordship. It's our opinion that things are more dangerous than we perceived within those ruins, and a wise eye would go a long ways in keeping down... er... casualties."
"Very wise," Falang answered. "Very wise, indeed. When I received your note," he nodded to Qova, "I sent for a specialist whom I've employed before and who was staying close."
"And I simply couldn't resist the summons," a female voice spoke from across the room. Everyone except Falang jumped when the realized she had been standing near a corner chair in the shadows the entire time.
The thief was a woman, young but not immature, with flaxen blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Despite her dress in Onrothic attire, she was evidently even further north in origin than Hern. Her sharp facial features made her seem cruel, and even though her eyes fixed onto one sight, her entire head slightly bobbed up and down as if she were constantly trying to get a better view. Hern quickly scanned her and saw one thing he didn't like right off the bat, and Arbiddance did the same. Qova didn't like her simply on principle. The Prince merely grinned and bowed.
"This is Ariya Thule, late of Vitteric and other points," Falang offered an introduction. He quickly named the rest of his guests for Ariya's sake. "She quite possibly the best delver you'll find in this region."
"My price," Ariya evenly spoke in a gutteral accent, "is 20% of all we find. A reasonable fee given what you have discovered so far, I think. Don't you?"
"Right, okay. I have a question," Hern turned to Falang. "What is the date?"
Falang seemed puzzled, smiled, and said "it's the 12th of the Fourth. Why?"
"The 12th of the... okay, so... we're... what?... eight days away from a Black Sun? And you thought it would be a good idea to send a werewolf with us?"
A shocked look passed through the faces in the room except for Ariya and Hern. The fighter pointed to the twin wolf tattoos on her wrists. "Few around here have seen those before. I have."
She spoke up. " I stay underground and away from the rays, and all will be well. Otherwise..." she shrugged and gazed off toward a bookshelf.
"I assure you," Falang countered, "this will not be a problem. Ariya is well in control of her... ah... affliction, and..."
"Blessing," she interrupted. "Benefit. Talent. Not affliction. Gout is an affliction. The fangs of Haki seized my neck but did not harm me for he saw great worth in me. So, he made me his child. You may need me and my affliction."
"I'm not sure this is a good idea," Arbiddance said as he began to rise from the table. "The dangers outweigh the..."
"What outweighs what?" the thief countered. "You are... at least one-quarter Ak'Kori, if not half. Right? Ak'Kori are killed on sight this far north from the plains. What keeps your head on your shoulders around here?"
Arbiddance smiled to himself. "The blessings of Abaoth. That and people tend not to fuck with a wizard if they can help it. This helps too." He raised his right hand and showed the ornate ring on his forefinger.
"A Naejite officer's ring," Ariya said.
"I won it in a card game," Arbiddance said with a straight face.
"Oh, let's let her come along," the Prince interjected. "We'll buy some wolfsbane from the local herbalist and keep an eye on her. All thieves should be in the front anyway where they can be seen."
"Okay, but we've got a special place for you already prepared come the Black Sun," Qova said. "I'm deadly serious about that."
Ariya shrugged. Hern and Arbiddance looked at each other warily and both sighed and nodded.
"Then it's agreed!" Falang smiled. "That makes the next part seem almost trivial."
"What next part?" Hern shot the Baron a look.
Falang leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling. "Ahhh.... situational developments compel me to send a... an observer with you. So... let me fetch him, and you can all get acquainted." He rose, slapped his hands together and left the room smiling.
Qova, Arbiddance, Hern, and the Prince slowly looked at each other. The Prince suddenly turned to Ariya. "So, what prompted you to leave Vitteric and come to this side of the sea?" He threw a casual arm onto a bookshelf and leaned toward her grinning. Ariya turned to look him in the eye. "I have a bounty on my head."
"How much?" Qova spoke up.
Ariya turned to her. "Not enough to pay for your resurrection."
Qova pointed at the thief and started to retort when the door opened again. Falang sauntered in and stepped to the side to allow passage for his "observer."
The man actually entered the room before he entered the room. An aura of undeniable cold bloodedness preceeded him which made the others suddenly feel right at home with Ariya. He was tall, somewhat muscular in the manner most men his height were. His craggy face was draped with a long mustache and eyes that seemed to damn everything they gazed upon.
He stepped forward, cast his glance across the adventurers, and spoke in a cold metallic voice. "I am the Snake of Oiendun, and I am here merely to watch and learn."
Arbiddance heard the name, and slowly drooped his head down toward the tabletop.