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Interlude - Gespid

posted Jun 29, 2016, 6:32 PM by Will McCain   [ updated Jul 8, 2016, 10:30 AM ]
In the meager light of dawn, Gespid Bellowsworth opened a window. She tossed out the linens her family had slept on the previous night, setting them to air out on the sill before rubbing her fingers. It was a mundane ritual she did every morning, just as she had for years now. In the distance, she heard the metallic clang of tools being gathered by her husband Bartrim in his smithy. It had been his father's before him, and HIS father's before that... and so on since his family had come from the southern lands seeking refuge from the goblin raids. On the evenings that their children were with their parents and she could join him at their friend Horus' tavern, she would be reminded several drinks in of how... unfortunate the name Bellowsworth could be for a lady. Her mother-in-law commiserated with her plight, but always reminded her that it was a strong, respected name and tradition is what held families and society together. 

Gespid sighed. The woman was wise, but part of her still chafed at the acceptance. Not so many years ago, Gespid was on track for a well-placed life of alchemy and potion-making. She always had deft hands, and when she started studying the magical arts, her instructors said she had an intuition for mixing the right amounts of ingredients. To hone her skills further, she was sent to do some detailing for a blacksmith. Then, one careless accident - her fault, really - and she was on her knees with an anvil crushing her hands. The smith, her own dear Bartrim, had been quick to help. He knew what it would cost her, and was nearly as devastated as she. He was so sweet on her, then. Out of guilt, at first. Then to help her get back on her feet. And then... well, the wedding ring on her hand told the rest. She loved the man dearly and was happy with him and their children, but it was hard, sometimes, not to wonder what could have been. They had been saving up for healing, though she feared the injury was too old by now. It helped to do some work with him when she could, but somedays - like today - her hands couldn't be trusted. 

Leaning out the window, Gespid reached into a pocket of her dress and pulled out her new favorite past time. With shaking fingers, she pried open the latest copy of the Marvelous Tales and began to reread the adventures of the Hopeless Maladroits for... well, she forgot how many times. Now THESE were people who made the most of life. Constant adventure and excitement, even if only half of it were true! Though, the friends she still had in the Ivory Tower said they were more accurate than most people thought, and even lacking in some parts.

She stayed like this for most of the morning, softly turning pages as the city finally woke up and got about its business. She laughed at Lucas' jokes. She gripped the pages tighter when Callon charged recklessly into danger. She gasped at Knox's clever magical miracles. She sighed happily when Alera called on her goddess (hadn't it been a god in earlier editions?) and they were told the world was safe once again. 

Eventually, a commotion in the distance broke her from her reverie, and she leaned out the window to see what was happening. It wasn't another goblin attack, was it?! Or did that dragon finally decide to eat them all?! No, no, the Tower said she was good. Then, out of the din, she distinctly heard the name "Maladroits!" being cheered. They were back! They had finished whatever incredible mission they were on - as they always did! - and had come back! She raced downstairs and out the front door to join the throng of people clamoring for their attention. When she saw the crowd was 20 people deep, she resigned herself to trying to catch a glimpse of them. 

Gespid hopped onto a large crate some of the younger boys were using and craned her neck. Yes! There was mighty Callon, hair like a fox's tail and towering over everyone else! She even saw the ornate hilt of the sword on his back: great Dust and Grief! Wait, was she imagining things, or was he even larger than before? Especially those arms. She loosened the lacing near her neck a bit and tried to find- 

Oh! There was Lucas next to him, hamming it up as usual. He was a dashing young man, of course, but she always loved how his playful, mischievous energy set him apart from the taciturn leader. It was hard to imagine them getting along, but if the stories were true they made a lethal combo. She gawked as the cheering crested again. Did he just do... FOUR backflips?! Heavens. 

Looking behind Lucas, she knew the solemn face before she picked out his long ears. Knox, the Ever-Changing. She had once caught his glance, and it had been a bit unnerving. Not that there was any malice there. In fact, she was taken aback by the deep kindness in his eyes. But then she saw a glimpse of the terrible intellect behind them. It was like she was sinking into a great ocean. It was to be expected, she tried telling herself, for how powerful his magic was. Besides, he was a peerless asset to the group. It made her all the more glad that he was, in the greater scheme of things, on the side of good. 

Ah, and there next to Knox... was Alera. It was incredibly trite of her, she knew, but the holy woman was her least favorite of the group. After all, no one not of noble birth had any right to be that pretty! In fact, when she complained to her friend Milandra at the Green Olive, Milandra said that her friend Luondallia was talking to Marjorie one day and SHE said that the half-elf cleric was far less becoming when the group first arrived in Riparia (though, of course, still beautiful). Looking at her now, it was clear that somehow she had become even more beautiful in the month they'd been gone. That just wasn't fair! Some of the crowd recoiled at her livid stare, and Gespid rubbed her forehead to calm herself. This was unbecoming. The cleric risked as much as the rest of them and was often the reason they came out alive at all from what she heard. She deserved as much respect as the others. Just... not so many looks. Leave that for the apprenticing boys around her.

Gespid tried to keep pace with the flow of the crowd as they followed the adventurers. When her vantage was good, she jumped and waved her hand above her head to try and get their attention. She began to notice the flow beginning to slow and wondered what had happened. Looking around her, she realized that they were now in the old King's Grove District. She understood. The tree-filled district on a hill was where the rich built their less-ostentatious estates. It was also the home of Bramblewick Manor, the Maladroit's home base. They happily waved off the crowd as their hired guards kept them from following them inside. Gespid, though, had other plans.

If she knew anything about how they worked (and she did), then their next stop would probably be the Ivory Tower. She beat a path there, but when she told Janice about why she had come, she found herself with a request for help. Archmage Aster and his council had been incredibly busy, it seems, and the return of the Maladroits, while wonderful, only meant more work. Gespid had spent enough time in the Tower during her studies to be useful, especially since Amii had gone off on an adventure of her own (that Amii?! The jumpy girl?). Gespid groaned, but she couldn't really refuse. Aside from Janice being one of the friendliest people she knew, the gold she'd be paid for it would help with getting the children some new clothes for school. 

That's how, some hours later, Gespid stood dumbfounded in the lobby as Janice explained how the Maladroits had left half an hour ago. She offered her some homemade cookies in condolence. It helped a little. 

Still! Gespid would not be deterred. Telling Janice she'd come back later for her payment, she set off again. Yes, this had started out as a fancy, but now she was going to see it through to the end. Just imaging the looks on her family's faces when she told them how she tracked down the Maladroits to talk to them one-on-one put a spring in her step. Where would they go next? That place they shop, probably. She had never been inside the Haul before since she wasn't a contract killer- er, noble adventurer she corrected herself, thinking of her quarry. She did recognize Snuggock, however, from his rather... nuanced guest lectures during her studies. In the end, no luck. 

What was another of their haunts? The Congregate? Well, Alera was sure to go there, at least. She first checked the temple of Sarenrae, and then Heironeous for good measure. She even visited the Kordites, considering Callon's stature. Then, with Riparia being such a delightfully cosmopolitan city, she also checked the temples of Pelor, Iomedae, and Gorum. And yet... no Maladroits. Godsdammit! I'm just looking for people, but of course it ends up like everything else I try to do! 

In her angry march away from the throngs of the faithful, she noticed a small, plain shrine sitting at the intersection of several paths with some supplies on the ground near it. Inspecting it, she found a token among its sparse offerings beseeching Fharlanghn for protection during a trip. That's right. Lucas follows Fharlanghn. She reached into her purse and, rather than trust the unreliable digits to be precise, pulled the entire contents out. She placed the dozen or so coppers she had on the shrine. It wasn't much, but if Lucas was as devoted to him as the stories said, then he must be worth even her little coin.

She had one more stop. If they weren't at the Green Olive, they must have just gone home. When she got close, a smile spread across her face at the commotion she heard within. She was positively giddy when she went inside and saw many of the powerful figures who had been known to associate with the group. Looking around hopefully, she tried to catch sight of Callon's distinguished hair or Alera's... ugh... unmissable beauty. Finally, it sank in. All their friends, but not a Maladroit in sight. Seeing a familiar face among them, she desperately went to her for answers.

"Amii! Hi, it's me, Gespid. I studied at the tower for bit! Were the Maladroits here?! Also, nice hair." 

"Ahh! What?!" the flame-haired woman reeled, almost spilling her drink on the table. "Gespid? Oh, right, you were one of Janice's favorites. Didn't even know she had them. You're looking for the Maladroits? You just missed them. Said they had to go take care of something. And thanks, though I'm still getting used to it. Can't wear many hats now."

Gespid crumpled onto the bench opposite the caster, earning a curious look and sympathetic pat on the back from the woman next to her.

"Just my luck," she moaned, laying her head on the table.

"Did you need to talk to them about something?" Amii asked.

"No! Well, uh, kind of?" Gespid stammered, before giving up, "Ugh, it was just a silly notion. I saw that they had returned, and figured maybe I could catch them and finally talk to them. You know, just me, with no crowds?"

Amii looked between the people sitting on either side of her, which Gespid now noticed were a burly but contemplative half-orc and a chipper but serious-eyed halfling petting a riding dog. She saw them each smile knowingly to Amii, before the other woman turned back to Gespid with a roll of her eyes.

"What?" Gespid asked her flatly, head still on the table.

"Fan of the Marvelous Tales, I take it?" Amii replied. 

"And if I am?" Gespid managed behind her blush.

"Look," Amii started, pushing her drink aside to lean towards Gespid, "I knew them before all these stories, and while I'll admit they've turned into quite the group, they're still people. They don't even lock their gates. So stop acting like a flustered initiate. Just. Go. Talk. To. Them."

The last words were punctuated with pokes on her forehead. Amii went back to her drink, leaving Gespid to stew in her frustration. The woman next to her reached out and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Turning to the woman, Gespid was met with a tall, armored beauty with kindly eyes. 

"Friend, I can make headway for you, if you like? I reside at Bramblewick Manor under the hospitality of the Maladroits, and you would be welcome to visit as my guest. They would not mind," the woman said in an exotic dialect of Common.

"I... Thank you! Yes! That would be wonderful! I'll come by tomorrow, if that's okay?" Gespid gushed, taking the other woman's hand in both of her own. She laughed and nodded in agreement.

"Good. Now, will you stay and drink with us? It'd be nice to have someone else who can appreciate the amazing magics I conjured out there," Amii asked with a smile.

"That's tempting, but my children will be home soon, and it wouldn't be right for them to find me with drink on my breath. Thank you, though," Gespid declined, rising from the table.

Wishing each of the adventurers well, she said her goodbyes and left the Green Olive. She hummed to herself as she strolled down the street. Sure, it had started rough, but Amii was right. People are still people, and sometimes it comes down to the people you know. The people you can help. 

Gespid stopped and looked down at her hands, shaking as she held them out. 

"I wonder... if they would help a fan who came to see them? Maybe... Alera could..."

There was a rumbling of stonework in the adjoining alley, but when Gespid turned all she saw was a short man - surely a halfling or gnome - smiling at her.

"Hello!" he greeted her with surprising eagerness, "I heard you're going to see the Maladroits, and that gave me an idea! Let's be their biggest fans together."

Before she could respond, the man waved his hand, and the world went dark.