As the Lady Amalia was steered into port, the group of Templars, Venatori, Inquisitors, and lone wolves after the Umbra Coven eagerly gathered to disembark. Captain Ritter seemed relieved by their arrival as well... and those who knew the truth could only guess that it was due, at least in part, to Kye.
The gangplank was set down to the docks, and Captain Ritter descended from the quarterdeck to speak to them all one last time. She wore her feathered tricorn hat and her characteristic, charming smile as she stepped out in front of the group.
"It has been a pleasure traveling with you all, friends," said Jane. "May the gods grant you success in your mission and safety in your travels. I'll be docked here for a few more days for repairs and resupply, so if any of you need anything, feel free to drop by and see me. You may even catch me in a dockside tavern now and again," she added with a mischevious grin.
After bidding farewell to Jane Ritter and her crew, the group disembarked. They hardly stopped for a moment in the docks, quickly moving through them - others on horseback, others following on foot - and up into the city proper. Although they left behind them the smell of fishmonger stalls and the sound of the sea, they could smell the brine in the air and hear the calling of sea birds well into the city.
Leaving such sounds and scents behind was surely a relief to a few of the less oceanic members of the group, and leave them behind they did as they stepped instead into a bustling city of cobblestone streets and buildings both short and tall. Artorius looked to be a thriving place, despite not bearing the age of so many old Achaean cities they had visited back in the mainland. While it certainly held no candle to the grandeur and culture of Templaria, a shining jewel of the Empire, Artorius certainly held its place among the larger cities in the Empire.
It also seemed to be a very good port of trade, as - looking around - one could see men and women from many different lands. There were Imperials from Deltalund, Illikon, and even as far south as Templaria or, still more impressive, Justantion. On the other hand, there were also many Nordlings, such as Vikings clad in attire so apparently Northern that they held no fear about how an Achaean would regard them. And, perhaps, the Achaeans here did indeed regard them differently, as quite a few Imperials and proud Nordlings from local tribes and seafaring Nordlings from afar seemed to enjoy each other's company as they passed them by in the streets. The more observant members of the group noticed that the majority of these Vikings displayed - whether on their shields on their backs or through some other means, be it a banner hanging from their belt, pendant, or tabard - an image of a boar over a sword, the emblem of Baldur's Fjord.
They did not stop moving until they reached a large inn called the Gutted Gorgon, near the center of the city, with a large hanging sign depicting a fat monster with its tongue hanging out, looking gluttonous and lazy. Kye sneered a bit at the sign, though Plexaura chuckled in amusement.
"Inns and their names," she commented as they entered.
The Gutted Gorgon was certainly sizable enough for everyone, and the innkeeper even made special arrangements to make sure the group had a large enough table to seat each of them individually - or, at least, enough of them as were visible, depending upon if Percula or Rosette had decided to ride along with another group member.
Once everyone was seated and had their drinks - courtesy of Stevan, who paid for them all - Caiden glanced over their faces one by one before he began to speak, making sure to keep his voice reasonably low. Everyone present could still hear it, but it was clear he did not want to draw undue attention.
"Remember," Caiden said, apparently planning to be as laconic as ever, "we're here to find that tome. It was written by Faustus Livius, and it should be a thick book bound in black leather. It's masquerading as a history book about the rule of Mage-Emperor Ildrius, but the Hidden put some kind of code inside it. We have to find it before any Coven - or Hidden, as we can't rule out their presence - agents do."
"We don't know what the hidden message says," Plexaura added, "but we do know that if the Hidden get their hands on it first, whether they're working with the Umbra Coven or not, then our plans are sunk. We need that book to draw them out. Given the importance of this mission, there's no doubt at least one of the Hidden agents coming after the tome here will be part of the Coven. Our goal is to draw them out of hiding and capture them."
"It's ambitious," Stevan commented. "But first, we just need to focus on finding that tome. It was recently shipped to Castle Lion, the royals' castle here in Artorius. Who ordered it and where it'll be inside, I don't know. But when we find it, we either have to find a way to get it out of the castle, or put it under heavy enough guard until we can all regroup and try to break the cipher inside. In other words: no stealing the book after you've found it. We do this the right way, or we could make a lot more enemies than we need... not to mention getting our orders in trouble."
Kye hesitantly lifted his clawed left hand.
Stevan gave him a look. "What is it, Kye?"
The demon-kin paused a moment before asking simply, "How do we know the Hidden haven't already gotten the book - or that the same book was copied by someone else and they already broke the code and got whatever message it was supposed to send?"
"We don't," Caiden replied flatly. "If they have, we'll find that out when we look for the book. We'll handle this as it comes."
"So if it leads to some kind of crazy magical superweapon, they could already have it."
"Optimism, please," Stevan said with a sigh.
Kye arched a brow. "What's that mean?"
Stevan and Plexaura exchanged a look, and Caiden drummed his fingers on the table.
"It means not being defeatist," Stevan clarified. "Trying to assume the best. Being hopeful."
Kye just shrugged a little, absently scratching strange symbols into the table in front of him with his metal claws.
"Okay..." Plexaura went on, "so, I've been to Artorius before on another mission. A few points about this place: first of all, they aren't huge on people from deeper within the Empire, and they're very unhappy when the big Imperial orders - such as, I don't know, the Templars, Venatori, and Inquisition - try to come snooping around in their business. This place is, overall, pretty independent, and the Artorians like their distance from the Empire proper. If we go around pushing our authority, we might not be met with very good results from the locals or the royals. We need to be diplomatic.
"Heading to the castle might be a good starting point, but just as a suggestion, it might not hurt if some of us tried to get a little bit of credit around the city. Go around town, talk to locals, help people with problems according to our various orders - basically show people that we're here to help, not just push everyone around. Doing that could get us a better reception with the rulers as well as the civilians. Word travels fast in Artorius."
"It also might not be a bad idea to get familiar with local rumors, if we can," Stevan added. "If there are any murmurs of strange activity, it may even lead us to a Hidden presence in the area."
"Tread carefully," Caiden warned. "If the Hidden catch wind of a bunch of Inquisitors and Templars asking around about 'rumors,' they'll do what they do best: hide."
"Last but not least," said Stevan, "we can't just tell the castle officials about the tome. We don't know who might be a spy. The only person I'd trust to share our mission with is King Rikard himself, or other members of his family. Telling workers around the castle could lead to disaster. Even if the person we tell isn't a spy, that won't stop them from spreading the word around and the spy catching wind of it."
Kye frowned. "Wow. You guys just made all this sound really hard," he commented simply.
"Optimism," Stevan reminded gently.
"Enough talk," Caiden said, leaning back in his seat - though he cringed at something when he did, hesitating a moment before he straightened again, tall and impressive as always. "We should get moving. When we find the tome, we should meet up here. I've reserved us all rooms; this is where we'll be spending our nights, and this is our rendezvous point for sharing information."
"So," Plexaura said eagerly, "where should we start?"
- Go to Castle Lion and investigate the potential whereabouts of the tome
- Either recover the tome and bring it back to the Gutted Gorgon, or (if no other alternative) gain permission for everyone in the group to access the tome
- Make a good reputation for yourself and other members of the group by getting to know locals and helping with local problems (Artorians can be wary of outsiders, particularly big, pushy Imperial orders)
- Search for any potential Hidden presence in the area
((Welcome to Chapter II of Chasing Shadows. Please note that this zone topic for Artorius is made exclusively for this campaign; whenever anyone goes to Artorius in the future, a new, clean zone will be created for freeroaming. This one, however, is going to be very specific to this campaign.
For further details on Chasing Shadows and its progress, as well as potential changes to its outline, please read this post in the OOC thread.
You are now all open to roam free in Artorius. I suggest splitting up in small groups, but you can go individually as well, if you prefer. Note that NPCs are also available to accompany you, should you ask (not that Percula will probably have to ask). Despite how long it has taken, this is the meat of the campaign. There is much to discover as you explore and interact with those in Artorius, as well as the NPCs already accompanying you. Go wild! I'll be updating as often as necessary, but my posts may be somewhat less frequent and/or at least less robust, as I'm very busy with this semester and I'll only get busier as things progress.))