Arcaeus observed the town around him: races he was unfamiliar with went about their business, ignoring him as if they saw Elves every day, which they probably did. A pair of Gnomes (or Halflings, he could never keep the two straight) rode past on a cart, laughing at some unheard joke and slapping their fat thighs. The town was so much livelier then the hidden Human village in the wood he had grown used to, and he felt what may have been excitement in his chest, but could just as easily have been apprehension. But there was no point deliberating on that at the moment, so he adjusted his bow on his shoulder and walked into the open air market.
I need to find a job, he thought to himself. That is the whole reason I followed that caravan.
He remembered what his Human parents had told him, that city folk were always a bit untrusting, so Arcaeus browsed the goods at a single merchants stall, offering exclamation of wonder at the goods.
“What’s the price on this one?” he asked, holding aloft a wonderfully crafted but assuredly expensive item.
“120 gold pieces,” replied the merchant, suddenly giving Arcaeus all of his attention.
“Ouch,” Arcaeus said, letting his fake smile wane a calculated amount. “This really is a beauty, but I can’t afford that. Not even close. Do you know a good place where I can make some quick cash?”
“Of course!” exclaimed the merchant, seeing a potential sale. “You’re a strong-looking fellow, so you should try to tavern; that’s where all the mercenary groups tend to stop. I’d try there.”
Arcaeus placed the item back on the merchant’s stall. “An excellent suggestion,” he chimed. He said a polite farewell to the merchant and headed towards the tavern.
The tavern wasn’t too large, but then again, neither was the town; twelve tables were tightly packed around a bar lined with eight stools. Seeing as it was just past noon, the tavern wasn’t heavily populated, but there sure were interesting folks: on the right side in the back, an old, oddly dressed Halfling man was standing on a chair and peering at a paper that was spread across the table. Two attractive women sat next to him, one on each side, and they too studied the item, whispering to one another. The women appeared to be Human, but he was sure that couldn’t be right since Humans are still hated in many parts of Nilriel. Maybe he’d take a closer look later.
Also on the right side, closer to the door, sat what appeared to be two more Humans, making Arcaeus believe perhaps the pariah status he though Humans had wasn’t as bad as he was led to believe. Then again, they didn’t look like Humans a normal person would mess with; one had a large tattoo on his face, circling around one eye, traveling down the cheek and jaw, then disappearing down his robes. The other Human was easily over seven feet tall and rippling with intimidating muscle. They sat in silence, seemingly waiting for something to happen.
On the left side sat a third party. At the head of the table sat a huge scarlet Dragonborn, easily rivaling the large Human across the room. It was the first time Arcaeus had seen a Dragonborn before, but there was another creature at the table he had never seen before: a Tiefling. The Tiefling was arguing with a Dwarf in priest’s robes, spitting insults at him, and the Dwarf was answering in kind. The Dragonborn sat back, arms crossed and feet on the table, observing the exchange with mild amusement.
Unsure of how to continue, Arcaeus approached the bar. The bartender, a Gnome (or Halfling?) had a line of boxes set up behind the counter to raise him to bar level, and used his newfound height to place his hands on the counter and lean forward. “What’ll it be, kid?”
“I’m looking for work,” Arcaeus answered unevenly.
“What, at my bar?”
“No, no. Something a bit more dangerous…” he added after a moment of consideration, “and a bit better paying, if you don’t mind.”
“I might know something, yeah. Might need a few coins to joggle my memory,though.”
Arcaeus furrowed his brow. “If I had money, I wouldn’t be looking for a job.” He crossed his arms, moving carefully so the 15 gold pieces in his pocket wouldn’t rattle.
The bartender frowned. “Jeez, kid. No need to get iffy. Look,” he flung his thumb over his left shoulder at the Halfling and the two women, “those three are apprently looking for some lost treasure or something. I don’t know the details, but I hear they’re payin’ well. Those guys,” he indicated the two frightening Humans, “keep talking about some ‘negotiations’ that they need takin’ care of, but don’t seem the kind where talkin’s their strong point. And those three,” he gestured towards the Dragonborn and his group, “are trackin’ some thieves that robbed ‘em. Take yer pick, kid.”
Arcaeus gave it a moment’s thought. He’d seen enough Humans in his home town, so some different races might be interesting. He approached the third table.
“I hear you’re looking for a tracker,” he said unceremoniously.
The Dragonborn blinked, as if awakened from a nap, then clapped a hand on the Dwarf, who abruptly suspended his argument with the Tiefling in surprise. “I told you, Bogrin,” he said in a deep voice, “word travels in the town like wildfire.” He pushed himself back and stood up, his towering height made all the more apparent. “Can you track, kid?”
“Born and raised in the woods,” Arcaeus said confidently. “And with the rains last night, it should be a cinch to find a couple thieves.”
“Three thieves, actually,” said the Dragonborn. “Gnolls. One of our colleagues, a little bastard named Snickers, took off with the reward from our last job – that’s 500 gold pieces, give or take. If you can get it back, 5% is yours.”
“Get it back? From three thieves? But how will I-”
“Look, kid, their thieves. Kill ‘em, trick ‘em, steal the money while they sleep. Anything. Their cowards and they are ill equipped. And you have a bow and some of that famous Elf sneakiness. It shouldn’t be an issue for you. So are you in or out?”
“I’ll do it, yeah,” Arcaeus responded, surprised at how easy getting the task had been.
“Good,” the Dragonborn rumbled. “Town watch spotted three Gnolls heading east. That should be them. Snickers had the gold on him. He wears a green cloak, and the others don’t wear cloaks at all, so it should be easy to tell ‘em apart. I just want the money back. You can keep whatever else you find on ‘em. They left this morning, so if you want to catch ‘em, I suggest getting a move on.”
Arcaeus thanked them and departed immediately, making straight for the eastern road. He examined the ground which had dried since the morning rains, but not before the footprints of every traveler was planted in it. Mostly Halfling prints, he followed the larger footprints as they followed the road east. When the road finally split and the larger footprints separated down the two paths, he took a closer look at the prints.
Three sets of what were clearly Gnoll prints followed the right road, so Arcaeus did as well. After a mile, they left the road into the forest. A short distance into the woods, he came across a small clearing, no more than twenty feet across, and found a recently abandoned campsite – and the body of a green cloaked Gnoll. The condition of the area suggested there was a scuffle, and a 2-on-1 battle clearly didn’t favor Snickers. They likely robbed him, but Arcaeus thought it foolish to not check for anything that might have been left behind.
To Arcaeus’s surprise, he found the sack of gold tucked into a pocket in the Gnolls sleeve. It was a hefty bag, and he could guess without counting it that it contained around 500GP.
Arcaeus pocketed the gold and considered the situation: somewhere deeper in the woods were two Gnolls – two thieving Gnolls – that were possibly a) wounded, and b) carrying some ill-gotten goods that Arcaeus wouldn’t feel bad about taking for himself. Seeing nothing else of value on the Gnoll, Arcaeus lifted himself up and followed the footprints fleeing from the campsite through some thick brush. It was a surprisingly clever trick to lose trackers, but Arcaeus would not let himself be fooled so easily, bending low as he worked his way through the brush.
He advanced through the brush, occasionally using his hands to located the tracks as they vanished beneath the undergrowth. The path soon cleared and returned to the soft floor of the forest, revealing the Gnolls’ footprints and evidence of travel. As dusk started to fall, he could make out the yammering of the two remaining Gnolls ahead.
Moving silently, he advanced through an area of thinning trees. Under the boughs of a large oak, he spotted the two remaining Gnolls, seemingly arguing over a cloth sack. That was likely their treasure. Preparing his bow, Arcaeus stepped out, leveling an arrow at the Gnolls.
“Don’t move. Hands up and away from your weapons,” he said. The two Gnolls froze. “What’s that you got there?”
“This mine!” the Gnoll holding the sack yipped.
“No, that MINE!” the other Gnoll yelled.
“That’s odd,” said Arcaeus, “because it looks like it’s mine now.”
The Gnoll holding the sack froze, unsure of what to do. The other one lurched forward, taking a step in Arcaeus’s direction.
“You no get-” the Gnoll began to say, when two arrows struck him in quick succession, dropping him where he stood. The other screamed, threw the pouch on the ground and fled through the woods. Arcaeus let him go, grabbing the pouch. Inside was a handful of coins and a small gem. They were fighting over this tiny sack, not knowing the larger treasure they had left behind.
Arcaeus returned to town well after nightfall. He slept at the Inn and traveled to the tavern after he awoke. The Dragonborn and his cohorts were there, but the tavern was otherwise empty. They looked exactly as they did when he left; the Dragonborn leaned back and relaxed as the Tiefling and Dwarf argued. He plopped the bag down on the center of the table, which was ignored by the Dwarf and Tiefling. The Dragonborn rapped the table with his large boot and they quieted down. “Let’s count it up,” he said.
“Looks like it’s all here,” said the Dwarf. He separated 25 coins and handed them to Arcaeus. “You’re reward, I believe.”
“Yeah, thanks. It was a piece of cake. Those Gnolls won’t be stealing from anyone else.”
“Is that so?” said the Dragonborn, with a feigned impressed voice. “Tell you what, since you seem somewhat capable of handling yourself, I got more work that needs doing. If you want more coin, come along with us.”
“What’s the pay?” Arcaeus asked without hesitation.
The Dragonborn looked like he was doing mental math. “4% of all findings. And the occasional magic item.”
“That seems a bit… low,” Arcaeus said.
“Trust me, kid, most mercenary captains take a larger cut than I do, so just be happy with what you can get. You in?”
Arcaeus shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Arcaeus.”
“Interesting name. I’m Fetin Drebbinard. The Dwarf is my good friend Bogrin Silvertrough; he’s our healer, so I suggest playing nice with him. In fact, play nice with everyone, will ya? The Tiefling here is Ilfari. She and I will be in the front, so try not to put arrows in our backs, eh?”
“Sounds like a deal. Is that everyone?”
“Just about. Where the hell is Ellila?”
“Haven’t seen her since we passed through Bogshade,” the Tiefling said.
The Dragonborn grunted. “Ellila Upre is our Halfling wizard, but she just disappears sometimes. Who knows where she is right now. Well,” he stood up, the others following suit, “we’re moving out.”
“Already?” asked Arcaeus with some surprise.
“Of course, kid. Can’t make money if we ain’t moving. We got work to do. Oh, and welcome to the Dragonfury Company.”