“Drink?” said the Lord Malcolm. Theros could not believe how young the man was. He had never seen a commander at such an age. A fact he decided to file under “Must have impressed someone once”. When Theros had learned that Malcolm had commanded Lessina for over a full cycle, after the last commander had been killed in a battle with several frost giants, he grew quiet. He figured he had been in a coma for only weeks in Akra. Now he knew, he had been gone for much longer. Then, he must have been taken care of that entire time. And those that cared for him were then butchered by the Necromancer Manyara.
“Yes, I’d like a drink,” said the ranger, and once Inquisitioner. “I’ll take a tall one.”
“I’ll take one as well,” said the little gnome. “A short one.”
Lord Malcolm peered down at the little hobbling gnome. “You really aren’t from around here, are you friend?”
“No, I’ve sort of been in the dark about things here in your world, you could say.”
Ares glanced over at Theros. It was rare to see the dragonborn sorceror smirk, but this was one of those situations.
“You’ve done us all a great service here, activating the scorpion, giving us the information on the invaders who were on their way to Three Bales.” He stopped and took a good look at the lot of them. A copper scaled brute covered in spell components. A Celn man, whom he knew to have been an Inquisitioner which should by all rights have been dead long before Akra was invaded. The man who looked as if death had just alluded him. And of course there was a short gray skinned cripple. “You’ve earned this bag of gold.” Ares eyes glowed by the sound of coin clinking within as the bag was placed on the table in front of him. “But there’s more where that came from.”
“Go on…,” said Theros. He knew he was out of options. His new life, that bereft of his crimson robes would need financing. And here was his chance.
“I can put you up in a local tenement here in Lessina. And if you are interested, I have opportunities for you. If you choose not to accept my offer, I won’t be able to speak on your behalf, as you will not be a member of our…unit.” He seemed to allow himself to smile a little. “Something tells me, you’re perfect for the job I currently have in mind.”
“What offer?” asked Gerrell. He wasn’t ignorant of the fact that their position seemed rather convenient to what Malcolm needed.
“A caravan departs soon for Almagesh. As you may or may not know, we are on the brink of establishing treaties with the desert peoples. If I send Celn regulars, I will get my usual report. But if you happen to go along, stay a while, and report back to me, perhaps, I may hear a bit more. Especially, if….you are associating with a different…element while there.” Malcolm discussed the plans a bit further. Theros knew what the commander was doing. I’m really on the outside looking in now, he thought.
“Welcome to the Dark Lanterns, my friends. An organization that doesn’t exist of course.”
“Of course,” said Ares gruffly.
“I will let you hydrate yourselves after your ordeals. As you know, there are only two bars in Lessina, and they both lie at the plaza of the four heroes. I must ask you one small request while there. I had chosen a particularly odd group of so-called adventurers to make the voyage under a different pretense. They will no longer need to attend, so if you could give them this notice to inform them that I have hired others in their stead, that would be appreciated.”
Ares didn’t seem to have a problem at all telling another group they had stolen their job. He took the letter in his claw. “Who shall I ask for?”
“Ask for Lazlo,” said the Lord Malcolm. “He’s a… youthful person.”
“How shall I recognize him?”
“Oh, I think you’ll know him when you see him…”
The Galloping Goose was full of the usual drinkers that night. Lighted Infantry, the occasional member of the order keeping a low profile. Quite a few adventurers. Several giants were tied to hitching posts outside, waiting for their masters. It was cold outside, but inside it was stifling warm from the fire.
They found Lazlo immediately. In the center of the bar, sat a group of young men in colored leggings and tunics. Unbelievably, each matched, albeit in different bright colors, making them look like birds. This was even made more pronounced by the bobbing peacock feather floating above each of their heads from wide brimmed hats. They were surrounded by even younger men. The tell tale signs of armor that was missing key parts, or weapons that had clearly been tools and mining instruments made to look like marshall weapons gave them away.
“Zat’s right boyz,” said the young man in brilliant purple. He had a thick Celline accent. “We’ve been asked to take a leetle treep out to Almagesh. Got zome eemportan’ work to do.”
A couple of the boys around the colorful crew seemed impressed, but no one else was. The bartender stood over the counter drying glasses. He was listening to the boasts, and enjoying it immensely.
When Gerrell, hobbled into the bar behind Ares and Theros, they must have made an interesting sight. A dragonborn who had to duck the door header, followed by a man who looked like he had been regurgitated from a dragon’s gut, followed by a little gray gnome the likes of which made normal gnomes looked suntanned.
Lazlo and his friends had a royal laugh about them for sure. The trio walked by, taking in everything but mostly thinking with their rumbling bellies and the thought of a warm meal followed by another warm meal. None of them saw it coming. Lazlo feigned like he was tipping back and at just the last minute, his chair got pulled back by another member of his group. As the larger Ares ducked to avoid a possible spill, he stepped back and knocked over several growlers of ale that had been stealthily placed there in just the last several seconds. It made for a fine entrance.
Theros, from behind, saw the whole thing develop but thought better than to intervene on the dragon man’s behalf. All eyes in the bar turned to Ares. He huffed, and looked around, detecting something out of rights. “I apologize,” he stated flatly in his gravelly voice and with a long hesitation continued, “I will replace the ale I have spilled for my dwarvish friends here at this table.”
“Vell, you should watch yourself more carefully in ze future!” laughed Lazlo, who had stood with his hand on his rapier hilt. He made a chuckle, and looked the trio’s ragtag equipment up and down. “Good zing for you I do not feel like defending ze honor of ze ale tonight!” His friends, and the youths around him laughed and laughed. He seemed quite pleased with himself. He took out a handkerchief and pretended to wipe down a dirty spot on the coppery scales of Ares chest. “Zere my friend! Now, you are all better! No need to look so upset.” He put a hand on Theros’ shoulder and pointed to the farthest corner of the bar. Grinning, he added, “We’ve saved you a great seat!”
And he turned around and went back to his drinking and story telling as if the others had already moved on. A boy with a pick axe that had been sharpened to resemble something like a battle axe tied to his belt with rope piped, “Good one, Lazlo!”
Ares stopped, and twisted his head around on his reptilian neck. Smoke began to curl from his nostrils. Instantly, he felt the sword warm at his side. Dave, I really do not think we should get this angry right now.
The smoke billowed and furled. It grew into thick columns rising upwards. Lazlo watched it with his friends, “I zink your biscuits need to be taken from ze oven reptile man!” he snorted. And his friends lost it.
Dave. Dave. We must stick to the mission, Dave.
“You’re name is Lazlo?” Ares grunted through a clenched jaw.
Lazlo’s eyes were twinkling. “Yes, yes! I am Lazlo ze Burgundy!” He turned around to a man in orange. “Two silvers Horel! I told you I would be recognized!” Then he turned back around to Ares. The entire bar was listening in on this now. “And what are you called, my scaly friend? Smokestack, perhaps?”
The bar erupted into cheers of Lazlo, Lazlo, Lazlo!