A collaboration between Bobert778 and LittleFae
As the first rays of sunlight pierced over the tops of the rolling hills, trees, and buildings, casting a long shadow from the Twilight Tower, Autumn awoke within her room in the cozy inn that she’d paid for a night in. Keeping the sheet wrapped around her she slipped out of bed and padded over toward the window. Peering out, she was instantly reminded of how very far from home she was. Mages walking through the fields conjuring mists to water the crops, suits of armor that tirelessly trudged in routine patrol patterns; more a reminder to stay out of trouble than actual law enforcement without their casters present. Having come from a land where such things were outlawed for all but the nobility, the sight of such open use of magic was discomforting.
Magic was such a volatile thing. How quickly it could destroy, an incantation to incinerate a house. A wave of the hand to flood a field. Changing the natural flow of weather to call forth lightning. Such things were best kept hidden away and never used except in times of great need.
Turning away from the sight before her, Autumn thumped lightly with bare feet against the cool wooden floor until she reached the bedside. She cast the sheet from her body and stooped to start collecting her discarded clothing. Truly it looked as though someone had exploded on the spot; leaving their attire behind. As she found missing bits of her garments she slipped into the familiar, comfortable cloth and silk, well worn and rough around every edge. There was no note under her door so she assumed that no employers were interested in her services. All the same, she started to don her armor.
It took nearly a half hour to get every last strap looped and latched together in a sturdy, tight, snug fashion. The leather layered under more cloth and a cloak covering not just her body but her travel pack as well. Taking inventory of her gear, Autumn pulled out her daggers, smiling fondly at the symbol carved into the blade’s base. A reminder of home. She then checked on her smooth blue crystalline short swords before hiding them back in their scabbards so that they were less conspicuous. After everything had been inventoried and strapped to her person, the 5’ short woman was nearly doubled in bulk from everything. Particularly the travel pack.
Taking steps toward the stairs, she started down them with the familiar sound of wood creaking in protest and leather soles slapping against a hard surface. The clanging of her gear against itself echoed out as she rounded the corner and faced the counter at the back of the main room. She made her way over towards it with a casual gait, figuring one last hot meal before hitting the road would not go amiss. Even if her coin-pouch was getting a little light. She slipped off her pack and set it down in front of a bar stool as she stepped on one of the supporting rungs to get up into it.
The soft creak of wooden counter and stool managed to catch the ear of the innkeeper, his head now visible through the little window that led to the kitchen behind the bar. “Be with you in a moment,” he called out, his head disappearing from view. Only a few seconds later he came around the corner of the doorway at the far end of the bar, a half loaf of bread and a small plate of butter in his hands. Hastily he shuffled down the aisle behind the counter, his mass quivering as he rushed by. At the far end of the bar another patron was now eagerly aware of the inn keeper’s return, and thanked the portly fellow as he set down the bread and butter. Autumn blinked a few times as he came around and walked right past her, glancing down the line and taking note of the customer seated in the corner. Normally she would’ve noticed something like that, but mornings were not her forte’.
A smile and short exchange of words, then he’s left his customer to their meal so he could approach Autumn. As she watched the rotund innkeeper waddle back towards her, she put on as good a smile as she could. He’s a little less urgent this time but still maintaining a brisk pace, and upon reaching her pulls out a small pad of paper and tiny pencil, both objects dwarfed in his comparatively meaty hands.
“Good morning, ma’am, breakfast choices today are as follows; boiled eggs however you like ‘em, pork rind, beef tongue, bread, and butter. Meat is two gold, everythin’ else is one,” the inn keeper recited in a very practiced, autonomous way. He didn’t seem fully awake yet, staring blankly down at his notepad with one eyelid lower than the other. When his head started to droop, a quick shake refreshed his attention and brought it to meet Autumn’s face. Though it took a moment for him to process it, he registered the face from the previous night and forced an expression like he was trying to remember something. Autumn hadn’t put on her mask yet- so it didn’t surprise her when it took him a moment to recognize her.
As the man rattled off the offerings on the menu, she tapped her lip in thought and then spoke up, “I’ll have two eggs. Hard boiled is fine. And… oh sure, bread and butter as well.” she announced to him with a friendly enough smile. Her accent was sure to remind him that she wasn’t from around here. As she waited for him to write she dug into her bag and set three gold on the counter, sliding it as far as her little hand could reach. By comparison to the innkeeper, she truly looked tiny.
“You were… lookin’ for work, right?” the inn keeper confirmed as he gathered his payment. “Somethin’ up your alley; I’d have wrote it down but the fella was weird about it and said I had to remember it. Actin’ like the paper offended him. That bein’ said my memory’s not the best at this hour, but I think he was lookin’ to track someone down. You can wait here and see if he comes back, or go out and look for ‘im. Really short fella with scruffy hair and a patchy beard dressed in rags, so not hard to find. And before you ask, he does have money, I made sure of that,” the innkeeper explained, slowly becoming more alert as he worked to recall what he could.
Looking up interested as he actually seemed to have something for her, Autumn leaned in a bit as he seemed to be struggling to remember. As he described what, to her, sounded like a vagabond of sorts she seemed… unimpressed. Still, coin was coin, and she was short on it these days. The worst that could happen is that she finds a bad job lead. Well, ideally that would be the worst thing possible. As she squinted to think on her best course of action she decided she’d stick around through breakfast and see if this short man in rags with the patchy beard would return. If not, she could set out on a full stomach and everything packed for the road in search of him.
Bread and butter was served first, a soft and doughy half a loaf paired with a sizeable square of soft butter. A short while later the innkeeper returns with a pair of eggs in a bowl, both still steaming and in the shell but already cracked around the middle to make them easy to open. While Autumn ate, a second attendant arrived and went behind the counter, chatting briefly with the innkeeper before the later removed his apron and left to do something else. One other person orders breakfast in the time it took Autumn to eat both of her eggs and nibble on some of the bread; a quick look around to her left revealed no sign off the man the innkeeper had described. Just as she turned to get down off her stool, a fairly loud and raspy voice sounded from the seat directly beside and just behind her.
“Hey skinny, where’s the big fella’? I gotta ask him something if he’s finally awake,” the stranger croaked, addressing the inn attendant who was busy cleaning glasses. Jumping as the deep voice rasped behind her, Autumn spun with one hand still grasping a piece of bread, the other instinctively reaching down and grasping the handle of her closest dagger. As her eyes searched for the source of the voice, she glanced down some and blinked, spotting a very ragged looking man seated atop the stool. He was very short, at least a whole foot shorter than she was, which was quite the feat!
Other than his height he looked quite regularly proportioned for his size if not a bit bulky. His clothing seemed a little oversized, a pair of heavily worn brown shorts and leather vest with many tears, both meant for someone quite taller. His lack of clothing left his wealth of brown, almost black, body hair exposed, a considerable amount covering his forearms, chest, stomach, and legs. His skin is a deep shade of olive like he spends too much time in the sun, and blends with the hair covering his head and face which is only a few shades browner. His hair is bristly and stands on end making his head seem twice as big as it is, and partially obscuring the random patches on his face where beard hair simply hasn’t grown or was removed. On his back he carries a shield, also meant for a regular sized person, the circular shell almost giving him the appearance of a turtle. While heavily worn with many dents and a few gouges, the shield looks quite sturdy, and is decorated with a crescent moon on one side with stars covering the rest of the dull steel surface.
Letting go of the blade as her cloak flowed back down over her body and obscured the handle, Autumn sighed and apologized, “I’m sorry, you startled me. The innkeeper? He’s just in back last I saw.” she offered to the man not realizing he had been addressing the attendant who was now behind her. Though before he could turn she lifted her free hand, “A-ahh, but wait- Are you the one looking for a scout..? The innkeeper described someone that matches your appearance and said that they were looking for someone… and I find myself in need of work. Would that happen to be you?” she asked as plainly and politely as she could.
The man’s face scrunched up like he’d just eaten a lemon peel, and after a moment he opened his eyes from a squint and slowly turned his head to look at Autumn. He briefly glanced her up and down, unscrunching his face into a toothy smile that revealed far better teeth than his assumed lifestyle would suggest.
“That is in fact... why I had to speak to him, I guess he can stay asleep,” the man choked, a cheeriness in his tone beneath whatever weighed on his voice. Briefly he glanced around, the inn’s lobby fairly empty at the time, and satisfied with the lack of people he nodded before turning back to face Autumn. “So, what I’m gonna tell you may sound ridiculous. You’re the first person I’ve offered this job to, I’ve been making rounds at 4 other inns” he began, amused chuckles mixed with his raspy breathing, “Not too long ago I was walking through the Iron Sap Woods, beautiful place by the way if you’ve never been, but I found something there that demanded my attention. Weird underground fortress straining under the force of a thousand shackles meant to rip it apart, and at its center there was something drawing in magic. I found it, and expecting a crystal or artifact of some sort I find a wooden child! No idea what to make of it but it both concerns and interests me, and I followed it all the way here. I want to keep an eye on it but have other maybe more urgent matters to address, which is why I’d be willing to buy you as a set of eyes. I’ll pay you in advance, and further with any usefulness you provide me with.” By the time he’d finished babbling he seemed out of breath, lifting his arm and meaning to cough but just wheezing heavily instead. “Are you interested?” he rasped, his cheeriness replaced with a tone as stern as stone.
Autumn stood there for a few moments, a bit dumbfounded. She could pick up on the little tells that there was more to this man than just some wandering vagabond. The notable symbol on his shield, his teeth, and the way he spoke and held himself gave it away. While what was coming from his mouth sounded like madness, in truth she only had a few questions. “A… wooden child, you say? Like the suits of armor that walk around the town here?” she queried, “Alright. That shouldn’t be… too hard to find. I imagine it would stand out quite easily among common folk.” she mused, glancing around for a moment as she thought, “If I find this… thing. This wooden construct. What do you want me to do? Where will I know to look for you?” she asks with a tilt of her head, shifting her weight onto one leg as her hip popped out to the side and her arm angled to rest her palm upon it.
The man’s toothy grin returned, and there was renewed eagerness in his otherwise tired voice. “Easy to find, maybe, since you know to look for it, but it wears a cloak and being as tall as a child it’s unassuming in a crowd. I trust you to find it, and what I’m asking is that you keep an eye on it. There’s a lot of magic pent up inside that thing and I’m worried as to what that could mean, so if anything bad happens, that’s when you should reach out to me,” the man explains, removing his shield as he does so to reveal the drawstring backpack it was attached to. Muttering to himself he opens the top so it fits his arm and begins digging about blindly. “I have…,” he trailed off, going silent again as he continued rummaging, “This bag of gold, silver, one sparkly rock, and a few demon fangs,” he announced, producing a brown purse stuffed to the size of an apple. “This is what I can pay you for now. Find the wooden boy, observe him be that from the shadows or by it’s side, and should anything concerning need my attention you can summon me with this,” he explained, putting the bag of mostly coins down then reaching into his vest. From a hidden pocket near his chest he produced a seed, large enough to be from a tree with a single wing attached to its casing. “Plant this only when you mean it. I’ll show up quickly but I can’t teleport unfortunately. And before you properly accept know that I do not take being cheated lightly. However if you prove to be useful wealth will find you in more ways than gold,” the man concluded, grinning cheekily as he placed the winged seed beside the bulging but small purse.
Reaching over towards the countertop upon which the items sat, Autumn carefully picked up the seed and inspected it, arching an eyebrow slightly, “Er… Right. Find it, keep a close eye on it, keep it out of trouble- and if trouble happens, plant this seed. I assume that includes anything trying to attack this… construct.” she said more as a passive statement than a question.
“Well if you find yourself capable of keeping it safe instead of waiting maybe a day or more for me to show up, know that I’ll reward the extra effort. I’m mostly concerned about emergencies inherite of a potentially volatile well of magic that is literally walking around,” he explains, speaking in an overly sarcastic, joking manner that contrasts the stress buried just beneath his calm visage.
Passing the seed to her off-hand, Autumn turned the open palm of her right one toward him with a nod, “I accept. Where should I start looking?”
The man lights up immediately, all at once replacing his bag and shield while leaping up to stand on the barstool. Eagerly he grasps the extended hand with both of his, shaking it vigorously whilst hastily reciting his thanks, “Thank you for this; have faith in me for I have faith in you. Now if you’ll excuse me I have elsewhere to be.” Blinking as the man so vigorously shook her hand, Autumn finds herself having to reach up significantly as he jumps up onto the barstool in his excitement. A few more shakes and he lets go, bouncing off the barstool and landing into a near full on sprint for the door. He makes no sound though, no wood creaking or thumping in protest to his actions as he slips out the front door almost unnoticed by anyone else in the lobby.
After she shakes hands with him and listens to his jovial excitement, Autumn finds herself equally shocked as he simply dashes out of the building with nary a sound to his step. Standing there for several moments, Autumn reaches up and checks the bag and winged seed. Yes. They were real. This was not a dream. Shaking her head she stowed the seed carefully in one of her belt pouches on its own, sliding a clasp shut to keep it tucked away safely. She then counted the 20 gold and 17 silver, as well as the shiny rock and demon fangs. Staring at the latter two for a moment curiously she simply tied the bag shut again and stuffed it into her backpack before hefting it and turning to walk out of the door in search of this ‘wooden child’.