The burly youth frowned into his mug, seeing naught but dregs left. He reluctantly handed off the tankard to the chittering barmaid who had been at his side since they’d arrived, and she scurried away. Glancing around the empty hall, he could easily guess why they had received such singular attention. He stared across the table at his companion.
“So it seems like we’re the only travelers tonight.”
“Mm,” the tiefling responded without looking up from her book. Three thick candles had been brought by her request and were nestled closely to the manuscript in front of her.
“Perhaps we should retire then, and get an early start.”
The barmaid came sailing around the corner, smiling, with a fresh tankard spilling over.
“Belay that, here we go again,” he muttered.
“Mm.” She flipped over a page.
“So are we the only guests you have this evening?” he asked of the barmaid.
“‘Fraid so, dear. Some days we have a dozen odd from the road, some days it’s empty. I daresay I’m tickled you’ve dropped in, though!” she twittered, all smiles.
He grunted. “And the locals?”
“Busy as bees this time of year. They oft stop in at week’s end, but we scarcely see them when their orchards need tending.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “Truth told, with all the ill happenings, few as like to travel after dark on these roads anyway. Safer inside, in the light.”
“And what are people afraid—” the central door creaked open, interrupting their conversation. The warrior and the barmaid both turned, eyes on the yawning door. The tiefling turned another page, oblivious. Presently out of the darkness strode a stalwart dragonborn, shield and sword clanking idly against his heavy chainmail hauberk.
“Oh great, a scaly,” the barmaid muttered, then suddenly darting her eyes toward the tiefling, “I mean, not that it’s a bad thing or whatnot, always great to have customers.”
The fighter sighed in relief, hopeful to have another traveler to exchange information with. As he prepared himself to stand and greet the stranger, he saw a second form appear in the doorway. Seeing the familiar patterns of her robe, he bolted to his feet, almost spilling his beer and eliciting a caw from the barmaid.
“Daughter of Kord!” his voice carried across the quiet inn, the new visitors looking toward him as he strode across the room. He quickly dropped a knee and bowed deeply to the shrine guardian, her dragonkind guardian looking on, wearing what passed for a tolerant smirk.
“My lady,” he began, but was interrupted by a throaty grunt from the dragonkind.
“If you please, do not draw attention to us, lad. Not,” he amended, “that there’s anyone here to see.”
The shrine guardian smiled down at him, “Rise, warrior. I’m but newly a priestess, and at that,” she frowned, “somewhat hurried into things. May we sit with you?”
“The pleasure is ours, my lady.”
The dragonborn made arrangements with the proprietor, and they quickly divested themselves of their gear to their room and returned to the hall. At length they all found seats around the table, the barmaid bustling about to serve them each in turn. The tiefling grunted a greeting but still seemed unable to avert her eyes from her book; with an apology the fighter segued into an easy dialogue.
“If it is not too impetuous of me to ask, what brings a royal marshal and a daughter of Kord down this lonely road?”
“Bold, yes; impetuous, perhaps not. We seek stolen property, and those who have wronged us. Have you heard the name ‘Kalarel’?” at this, the tiefling finally glanced up.
“He is the priest of a cult,” she said suddenly. “A cult we may soon have unfortunate dealings with. Where did you hear his name?”
“Our friend says she heard his name whispered among the thieves who stole from us.”
The fighter’s eyebrows raised, and he glanced around quizzically. “Your friend?”
The dragonkind gestured behind them, and as they turned, the lithe blonde cook’s assistant stepped from the shadows, the enormous sword across her back gleaming dully in the lamplight. The fighter started suddenly, almost falling from the bench. The barmaid let out a muffled squeak. The tiefling merely shifted forward, peering intently.
“Intriguing,” the tiefling uttered.
“This,” replied the dragonkind, “is Ellie.”
“No,” revised the tiefling. “At least, not really. This,” she paused, scattering a handful of bones and gems before her, then glancing up. “Is Talion, is it not?”
The blonde’s head jerked toward the tiefling as if struck, but her eyes remained unfocused and angled off toward the room.
“Fascinating,” she purred. “She is in the service of the Queen, and yet,” she smiled, glancing toward the shrine maiden, “loyal to you. To the both of you. Fascinating indeed.”
The dragonkind’s claw snaked across the table, grasping firmly around the tiefling’s arm. “And how is it you know this?”
The tiefling smiled easily. “I merely spoke to the stones and spirits. They eagerly follow you, as if something heavy hinged upon your actions. And your friend,” she said, looking up again at Talion, “is incredible. I have never seen or heard of anything like her.”