Come my friends, and join me a while. Pull up a chair and a flagon of your favorite mead while I recount the tale of the Scales of Midas, the sinister forces that created them, and the courageous heroes who helped to save all of Faerûn from their evil. I am the bard Tel’im, and this is the story of my friends.
The first rays of the warm august sun touched the streets of Waterdeep, finding the City of Splendors already bustling with activity. The sounds of merchants crying the merits of their products, the smell of the local bakery beginning its morning supplies, and the clacking of wagon wheels wafted up to the balcony where the Lady Elinore stood, patiently waiting. She was a beautiful woman, with golden hair and eyes a deep sapphire blue. Her posters had been spread throughout the city, promising great wealth for those who could find the whereabouts of her husband.
Today is the appointed day, she thought. All those who have an interest shall arrive. I shall have to hope that they can help me get to the bottom of this. She had no choice but to rely on these strangers. Any direct involvement of her own would risk revealing too much, and she had worked far too long to allow that to happen.
A servant appeared at the doorway and lightly tapped her shoulder, interrupting her thoughts. “Pardon the intrusion, milady,” said Eliza, one of her favorite servants. Eliza had a way with emotions, a skill that had proven useful throughout the years. Her long brown hair ran in neat tresses down the back of her uniform, and a feeling of peaceful confidence radiated from her. “I’ve gathered those who wish to aid you in the grand chamber.”
“Good,” Elinore responded, still looking out over the balcony. Eliza curtsied. “Would you like me to report on what I saw and felt, milady?”
“They seem an honest enough lot. Excitement was pouring out of them like thick honey. I only felt a hint of greed. There’s confidence and courage in all of them. All be told, I think they’ll do well for you, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Eliza. As always. Tell them I shall be with them shortly.” Eliza curtsied once more and started back for the door.
Elinore turned in her direction. “Oh, and Eliza – we will be arranging for their transport. See to it that their luggage and my special package are aboard the Moonlight Treader within the hour.” With a nod, Eliza left the room.
Time to greet my guests, thought the Lady. She went to her desk and gathered the copies of the mysterious letter she had found. How very careful my husband has been. This is the only solid clue I have been able to acquire, and only then because his messenger was not difficult to intercept with him gone.
She walked down the short corridor and pushed aside the mirror, revealing the hidden entry into the grand chamber. It was a large, circular room, with steps large enough to sit on. Curving around one side of the room were for bookcases, and on the other there was a table for planning important events and small meals. The men she had come to meet stood at the center of the room in the stage area with their backs to her, conversing quietly. Elinore noted that there were people here from many different walks of life. Amongst their number, she could see the signs of learned wizards, cold assassins, dashing rogues, and skilled adventurers.
“Welcome,” she said, announcing her presence. The men turned to face her. “As you know, my husband recently vanished. I have asked you here to aid in finding his location. Unfortunately I have very little to go on, for my husband was very private with his affairs. I do, however, have this.” She handed the copies of the letter to a servant by the door, who distributed them amongst the men. “Please read this letter now, for it contains important clues and your next destination.”
Elinore had already commited the letter to memory, absorbing every detail, gleaning what she could from its pages. She recalled it now as the men slit open their copies:
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to inform you of the current state of our affairs.
The alliance we have forged has proven to be mutually beneficial. We provide the materials and they provide reinforcements. They honor the Sacred Ones and wish to aid us in our cause.
Sales of the Scales of Midas are going exceedlingly well. As tales of their wondrous properties spread among the wealthy, more and more are willing to buy from us. The price we ask seems so small compared to the wealth it brings them. If only they knew.
The time of my own ascension draws near. By the time this letter reaches you in Saerloon, I shall have gone to join our masters in defense of the fortress.
May the Sacred Ones fulfill their destiny,
“What does this mean? Of what “ascension” does the man speak? And who are the Sacred Ones?” It was the wizard who spoke, his eyes full of curiosity.
“The answers to these questions are unclear. All we can hope is that they lie in Saelrun.” the Lady responded. She had her suspicions, of course, based on what her agents had learned, but to trust these men she had barely met with all she knew, when they could be agents of the very ones her husband had joined, would be foolish.
“Gentlemen, my hope lies in you. Will you accept my quest?”
“Most certainly, Milady,” said a tiefling, a brilliant grin upon his face as he executed a graceful bow. The others also voiced their consent.
“Good,” Elinore said with a nod. “The fastest way to the country of Sembia is by skyship. Your transport has been arranged. Before you go, however, I would know your names and professions.”
“I am Shire, skilled in arts of the silent kill,” spoke the elf, his gaze as cold as the steel on his belt. He fingered a garrote as he spoke.
“I am Aith, a brave fighter seeking revenge for that which was stolen from me,” came the gravelly voice of a dragonborn in the back, a gleam in his eyes as he mentioned revenge.
“I am Shiro, a traveling warden seeking to discover and protect the beauties of nature,” another stated. This dragonborn’s voice was a deep baritone, reminding the Lady of the rumble of a waterfall.
“I am Da’Kanai, a wizard seeking knowledge in the arcane,” said an eladrin towards the front. A soft blue glow emanated from his eyes.
“I am Karthan, at your service, and I am but a humble rogue seeking adventure and the company of a beautiful miss.” He bowed again, coming up with a wink and a grin that would make other women blush.
“And I am Garthon, a noble paladin promoting the virtues of good across the land,” said the last, standing tall and dignified as he introduced himself. She wasn’t sure why, but as Elinore looked at this one, a cloud of misfortune seemed to surround him.
She nodded. “Well met. The skyship will be ready soon. Please make your way to the airfield.” She turned and closed the panel hiding the secret entrance behind her, listening to the excited murmurs of the men as she left.
They seem promising, she mused. We’ll see how they handle a little test.
Eliza had departed swiftly from the castle after finishing her report, knowing that time was of the essence. Making her way to the stables, she mounted the swiftest horse she could find and galloped to the loading bay, her black cloak streaking through the air behind her. As usual, the dock was swarming with people. Their emotions, like the overpowering perfume of hundreds of noble women, assaulted her extra senses.
As she dismounted the horse, she reached inside herself for dark memories, the better to channel an aura of unease and bleak emotion around her. A bubble in the crowd formed around the ardent, repelled by the darkness she was emanating. Swiftly, she made her way to the southern end of the docks.
Here she intensified the feeling, for the south side of the docks was known for its shady dealings. Even so, as she walked down the pier, an impish, rugged looking man with untrimmed beard and wild hair winked at her with his one uncovered eye as she passed. The water in this area was a notable shade of light red, as though something terrible had happened not only moments before.
At the end of the pier, a tavern built of rotting wood and the stench of hard liquor sat awaiting customers. As most everyone with experience knew, however, its best wares had nothing to do with alcohol. Pulling up her hood, she entered and took the stall in the back, placing a black rose upon the table.
A few minutes later, a voice came from behind her. “Hallo, miss.”
She had felt his approach of course. Despite the strong smell of liquor wafting off of his clothes, the emotions within him were cool, calculating, very different from the passed out swine at the tables around her. He stumbled convincingly into the chair on the other side of her table and gave her a drunken smile.
“You can cut the act; we won’t be noticed here,” she said quietly. The grin faded from his face.
“I know how you and your mistress love your secrecy, miss,” he responded in equally subdued tones.
“Indeed. We have need of your services. My mistress is hiring a band to look into the mysteries of her husband, and we need to know of their skill level.” She gave him a meaningful look.
“Of course. I can arrange for an intermediate test right away. Where is the testing grounds?”
“The Moonlight Treader, dock 4e. You have an hour. Payment will come in the usual fashion.”
“Right away, miss,” He stood from his chair a little too quickly and swayed as though to catch his balance. “Bartender! Another flagon to soothe my pain!” he roared, his words a slur. Shaking her head, Eliza couldn’t help but smile a bit under her hood. He was unorthodox and at times crude, but Erik’s work was always efficient. She stood and made her way from the bar, silently wishing the adventurers good luck.