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Endless Night


Inn of Broken Dreams

The night tried desperately to keep her hold on the prairies. Her dark outstretched gown covered the prairies and people could see the stars glistening in her hair. But she was no match for her sister, the day. Her brilliant orange face rose triumphantly into the sky, like she had every day for more years than could be remembered, proclaiming her victory over the darkness. She had risen over the prairies long before the humans arrived on the plains. At the edge of her view was the small town of Hartsward. It was on the edge of what the humans called the frontier. There was no real sovereign in these parts. The people of the land battled daily to maintain existence. The battle was only now beginning to get easier.

No longer was there the constant threat from the vicious monsters that once inhabited the plains. Now the small towns of the plains were starting to grow in size. Hartsward had nearly doubled in size in the past ten years. It was a thriving farming community, now starting to be an important post for trading grains. The people there were, in general, happy people.

Yet the town was uncharacteristically quiet this fine morning that the day had provided. The streets, which should have been bustling, were quiet. It was the height of the planting season. Half of the farmers should already be out in the fields working their trade. Yet, the day could only see three people, two young men and a young woman, wandering the cobblestone streets. She did not know why, but these people were important to her. She felt as if her very life depended on them, but how could three simple humans help her. She who had risen into the sky more times than she could remember. She let the thought go and continued her daily routine.

The woman that the day had seen was a young woman, probably sixteen summers old. She had skin that was darker than the night. Her long flowing black hair was even darker. Her eyes were large and looked like those of a young doe. They sparkled with golden flecks in the early morning light and her smile was brighter than the morning sun. She wore a simple robe, embroidered with many mystical symbols. Attached to her robe were many small pouches and several fetishes. She walked closer to the taller of the two men, who dwarfed his companions.

He was almost a giant, a human mountain of muscle and probably wasn’t finished growing yet. His gigantic frame was tightly packed with bulging muscles. Undoubtedly he was the strongest of the man in the farming community. He easily carried a heavy load as one would carry home a fresh loaf of bread from the baker. Despite his size he retained his boyish face, which was just now beginning to darken with a beard. His blonde hair was a stark contrast to his dark brown eyes. He wore a suit of heavy armour, which did not seem to impede him in the least. Hoisted over his shoulder was a great axe-like weapon, a bardiche by name.

His friend, who was taller than most of the other men in the farming community, could not compare in size. Where the large man was unquestionably strong, this one was definitely quick and agile, his body moved with the fluidity of water. It was hard to tell where his movements started or stopped. He was a very romantic figure with long dark hair and watery blue eyes that would melt a woman's heart when accompanied by his sparkling smile. He was dressed in a polished suit of chain mail, with a chain coif that he wore down at the moment. At his side was strapped a short sword. He also trailed a long spear behind him, twice as long as a normal spear.

"Fafnir, were you not able to find the halfling?" the dark-skinned woman asked of the shorter man.

"Yeah, I found him Koleena, but you know that halfling. He told me to go on ahead, that there were some things last moment things that he had to take care off. I probably should have dragged him along behind me," Fafnir responded to her inquiry, not terribly impressed with him.

She groaned at Fafnir's response. The halfling had a whimsical and mischievous streak the size of the prairies. "I still don't understand why we ever invited him to join us," the larger man grumbled. "Look at all of the trouble he's always getting himself in and we gotta help him out."

"It is because he has skills that we don't Maldrin. We discussed this thoroughly," Koleena reminded him.

"That, and he can be terribly brave when he wants to be. Don't you remember when you first met him?" Fafnir added.

Maldrin stopped and tried to recall when he had first encountered the halfling, it was something of an effort for him. He wasn't the smartest man in Hartsward by any means. The halfling had tried to pinch Maldrin's purse. Fafnir noticed the halfling trying to reach Maldrin's purse and warned his friend. Maldrin turned and quickly grabbed the halfling by the scruff of the neck and hoisted him up to eye level. "Try to pick my pockets will ya!" Maldrin bellowed at the halfling, with his spit flying into the halfling’s face. He glared straight into the halfling's eyes. When the halfling did not answer immediately, Maldrin started shaking the halfling violently.

The halfling squirmed nervously and squeamishly cried, "I . . . I took nothing from you! Pppp. . . Please let me go! I . . . I will never try it again! I . . . I promise!"

Before Maldrin had a chance to reply to the halfling's plea a small dagger appeared in the halfling's hand, seemingly from nowhere. He cut Maldrin's hand and the warrior instinctively dropped him to cover the small wound with his other hand. The halfling hit the ground running and was quickly out of his reach and sight.

From that day on the halfling was never far from the three friends. He usually could not be counted on because he got distracted by something or another, yet he had proven himself to be of use when he could stay still long enough to concentrate.

"I admit that he is a brave and clever fellow, but do we really want to put up with him? He did after all pull that silly prank on me and Fafnir the other day," Maldrin answered. They all groaned in agreement.

The halfling had hidden a stretch of rope in a deep mud puddle, after a violent storm the day before. He had attached it firmly to one end a building across the street and wound it around a pole where he hid. He used his voice mimicking talent, when he saw Fafnir and Maldrin approaching to sound like a woman in trouble. Fafnir and Maldrin came running just as the halfling lifted his rope sending both of them into the mud. Before they could even get up, he was long gone.

"Think of it this way, Maldrin," Fafnir said. "Image him unleashing all of his creative energy on the enemies that we are certainly going to meet. People seem to lose all rational thought whenever he is about. He could create chaos in our enemies ranks. What do you say to that?"

"Well, I suppose it's all right," Maldrin sheepishly responded but still wished that they could quest without him. He didn't like having to take two baths to get clean of all of the mud that caked on his body.

They arrived at a large wooden building that was three stories high. There was a sign in front of the inn that read, "Inn of Broken Dreams." The colour of the letters shifted in the morning light. The building looked more like an impressive mansion than an inn. It was kept in perfect condition. Workmen were already preparing to repaint the inn's walls after the long hard winter. It had three large stables at the rear. Each one was guarded by four men, to assure the inn's patrons that their mounts would not be tampering with while they rested.

"Should we wait for him inside or out?" Fafnir asked his companions.

Maldrin climbed the steps to the inn and they groaned in protest under his large frame. "Might as well go in and get some breakfast," he answered with his stomach growling louder than a hungry bear.

His friends simply shrugged at one another and followed him inside. Once Maldrin did make his mind up about something it was hard to change it. A small ogre, slightly large than Maldrin greeted them just inside the door. The door man cleared his throat and stated, "Ya'll be leavin' yar arms wit me or ya'll be goin' back the way ya came." He smiled, feeling quite pleased with himself. He had been practising his line for nearly a month now and was getting rather good at it, or so he thought anyway.

Being in a foul mood because he was late for his breakfast and the halfling was no where to be found, Maldrin asked the doorman, "And who's going to make us?" His friends cringed, remembering the last brawl that Maldrin had started. It cost Fafnir a fair amount of silver to pay for all the damage, but as usual, Maldrin had won.

The ogre grinned at him, a most disenchanting sight to say the least, and pounding his chest answered, "Me, Bracsis, will be showing ya da door and da street, li'l man." Then the ogre started to laugh, the sight nearly turned Koleena's stomach.

"I doubt that you could," Maldrin retorted. The ogre growled and reached out to grab him. Maldrin deftly grabbed the ogre's thumb, twisted its arm behind its back and pinned the ogre up against the wall. Bracsis started bellowing in pain.

"Release my doorman!" The small party heard a yell from behind them. It with a loud resounding voice that had a strong, authorative tone to it.

They turned around to find the inn's owner glaring at Maldrin angrily. The man was obviously of elvish decent, easily noted by his violet eyes and slightly pointed ears. His normally calm violet eyes were burning brightly. "Just what is going on here?" He demanded from the ogre.

"Dey don't want ta leave der arms at da door boss," the ogre cried out in pain.

"Release him!" The owner ordered again.

Reluctantly, Maldrin released his grip on the doorman. The ogre began to stretch out its injured arm and glared at the human. Their host turned back and looked at Maldrin. "I am Llelwyn, owner of the Inn of Broken Dreams. So long as you stay here you will abide by my rules. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

"Yes," Maldrin mumbled, looking more at his feet than the man standing before him.

"You are indeed a very strong looking young man," Llelwyn said to Maldrin and the warrior began to blush slightly. "But I would wager that my door man is stronger yet. I am a gambling man. If you can beat Bracsis in an unarmed contest, I will host you and your friends free of charge."

"What if I lose?" Maldrin asked his host.

"You will perform Bracsis' duties for a week. Do we have an agreement?"

"Yes," Maldrin answered, confident that he could easily defeat the ogre.

His friends tried to pull him aside with little effect. It took a stern look from Koleena to get him to move. Koleena was still glaring at him. "Have you lost your mind? That is an ogre! I don't care if you just pinned it against the wall now. They have been known to tear a man limb from limb and kill a man with but a single punch to the head. Plus we have prepared to start our quest today after breakfast," she said

"Don't worry," he answered her while he carefully examined the ogre for any weak spots. "I can win this fight easily. Besides I am extremely hungry. Do you want to pay for my breakfast?"

This angered Koleena. Maldrin knew of her parents' situation. They had fled their homeland, half way around the world, years before during a bloody civil war. Her parents had lost their home and their children. It was very surprising to them when Koleena arrived and they did their best to give her everything that she wanted but they were both old and it was hard for them to earn a living here in the frontier.

Maldrin broke off his conversation with his friends and asked Llelwyn, "What are the rules of the match?"

"You will both wear no armour, and carry no weapons of course. The first one to submit or lose consciousness loses the match. Agreed?" Llelwyn said.

"Agreed," Maldrin answered as he shed his equipment. All the while, his friends looked at him and shook their heads in disbelief. If sheer will counted for anything, Maldrin already had the match won.

They followed Maldrin and Bracsis out into the street and were just in time to catch a glimpse of the halfling approaching the inn a top a large grey and white goat. As he prepared to dismount, the goat caught sight of the ogre and it bolted in terror, shaking the halfling violently in the process. They heard the halfling's shrill voice scream, "How do you stop this thing?" As the goat rushed past them.

Together, they called out, "Tenderfoes, you are a fool!" Which made the chipper halfling happy.

Bracsis pounced on Maldrin from behind, while he was busy watching the halfling being carried away on the goat. "So, that is the way you want to play it!" He growled at the door man.

He reached both his hands behind him and grabbed on to the ogre's ears. With a firm grip he dropped to one knee and pulled with all his strength on the ogre. The surprised creature founded himself flat on his back with his ears burning. He looked up to see Maldrin standing over him sneering.

Maldrin motioned for Bracsis to get up. The ogre happily obliged him, now in the mood for a good fight, and the combatants locked up elbow-to-collar-bone. They remained deadlocked for many long minutes, neither able to get a clear advantage. Maldrin ducked low and threw Bracsis over top of him. The impact of the ogre landing cracked the cobblestone street in several places. A band of dwarves, that were observing the match from inside the inn, led up a cheer for the human warrior.

Caught up in their cheers, Maldrin did not see, or hear, the massive creature return to its feet. The ogre turned and hammered him squarely on the back, sending Maldrin to his knees in pain and a hush fell over the spectators. The ogre allowed the warrior to get up and motioned again for the contest of strength. Winded by Bracsis' blow Maldrin was no match. He was easily thrown to the street.

Maldrin, lying in the street, paused long enough to regain his wits about him and charged back toward the ogre. Bracsis set himself to receive the charge, thinking that Maldrin was coming at him high to grapple him around his tree like chest. Yet, at the last moment Maldrin fell low and rolled into the ogre's legs, smashing its knees and knocking the ogre to the ground on its face. Before Bracsis even knew what happened Maldrin was back on his feet and had placed a painful leg lock onto the ogre. Not used to being on its face or in the pain the warrior was placing it in, the ogre quickly submitted.

Again the dwarves cheered for the large human, happy to see the ogre defeated. There was little love between ogres and dwarves. One yelled out to the warrior, "Come, join our table for an ale friend."

"They started drinking early today," Maldrin commented to the innkeeper while he dusted himself off and caught his breath. Putting his hand on the man's shoulder.

Llelwyn laughed and answered, "They are still at it from the night before my lad. Come, I will treat you all royally. It was a hard-fought match and you earned your reward." He slapped the warrior on the back and led him into the inn.

His friends just shook their heads and followed the proud warrior. "Some days you just have to wonder who is worse, Maldrin or Tenderfoes!" Was Fafnir's only response to the whole incident.

"Well, he is not known as the Man-handler for nothing," Koleena replied. "We should have more faith in his skills. Tenderfoes, well he is an entirely different matter...." she added as her eyes rolled upward.

"Tenderfoes it is then!" Fafnir added, laughing, and motioned for Koleena to enter the building before him.

The inside of the inn was far more remarkable than the outside. The main hall had several dozen tables. Each table was made entirely of marble and had intricate patterns running along their edge that were etched with gold leaf. Around each table were several high-backed, oak chairs. They had similar designs carved on the arm rests and the backs were padded with velvet. On the walls hung the trophies of Llelwyn's many adventures. Llelwyn was well into his second century of life but did not look a day over thirty, a benefit of his elven heritage. In his early years he travelled across the lands, learning the tales of each new village that he encountered and creating several new ones during his adventures.

They were seated before the largest table and were told that a bar maid would be with them shortly. A couple of the dwarves came over to the companions’ table. "A fine job you did with that nasty beast," a red bearded dwarf congratulated Maldrin. "I am Thrawlin Ironfist and I am at your service." He then bowed low, with his beard sweeping the floor.

"This is me friend, Throdin Brokenshield. We would be honoured if we could join you at your table?" he invited himself and his friend.

"I am Maldrin, these are my friends, Koleena and Fafnir. It would please us if you could join us for our meal," Maldrin responded, without checking with his friends first, too flushed by the dwarves high praise of him.

"Me thinks, that inside that hulking frame runs free the spirit of a dwarf. I would be sure if you had a beard. What thinks you Throdin?" Thrawlin asked.

"Never before have I seen a human fight so. I be agreeing with you Thrawlin. 'Tis not the lads fault that he does not have a beard," at this Maldrin frowned at the dwarves, proud of his newly growing bread.

Fafnir caught sight of Tenderfoes slipping past the brooding ogreish door man and motioned for him to join them. The halfling jumped up on a chair and panted, "I . . . didn't . . . think that . . . goat would . . . ever stop." While rubbing his tender bottom.

His friends chuckled at his little joke and made Tenderfoes smile. "Just be happy the goat did not chew a hole into your precious little haversack," Fafnir commented with as straight a face as possible.

The halfling turned to check on his haversack so quickly that he tipped over the unbalanced chair that he was sitting upon, sending him tumbling across the room. The entire hall broke into laughter and the halfling bowed to his captive audience. He thoroughly checked his haversack on his way back to the table. He noticed no holes in it and was impressed.

Replacing his chair with one a bit more stable he asked, "Who are your friends?"

"This is Thrawlin Ironfist and his friend Throdin Brokenshield," Maldrin introduced the dwarves to Tenderfoes.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," the halfling replied. "I am Tenderfoes, the Slayer, at your service."

His friends snickered at his new epitaph. It seemed to change from week to week, sometimes even daily. If Tenderfoes was nothing else in the world, he was creative.

"We were admiring your friend's handy work with that ogre," Thrawlin informed Tenderfoes. "And we were wondering what you’re about in the area. You look ready to go to war."

"My friends and I are off to visit the ruins of Golnath," Maldrin informed the dwarves.

"Then you be looking for the bandit king's treasure," Throdin answered. "Me people had no luck in finding his hoard, I wish you luck in your search."

"'Tis true," Thrawlin added. "We looked for a year and were unable to find a single coin. I wish you luck in your search as well." The small party could not believe that dwarves, who could smell gold a mile away, were unable to find any of the bandit king's treasures.

A bar maid arrived at the party's table. She was a petite woman and she was strikingly beautiful, with dark eyes and wavy black hair. She wore a simple serving outfit that was slightly too small for her that showed off her figure to her advantage, and probably increased her tips two fold. "I am Myrna. What could I get for you this fine morning?" Myrna asked.

"We would like some eggs, bacon, bread and wine, if you don't mind," Fafnir ordered for his friends.

"Of course I don't mind," she responded, winking very obviously at the young warrior.

"Me and me mate would like some more ale while you’re about," Thrawlin added before she could get away, and polished off his tankard.

"What brings you and your friend to Hartsward?" Maldrin asked Thrawlin.

"A couple of our miners went missing in the area. We've been searching for them for some time now and haven't yet been able to find them," Thrawlin answered.

"We fear that they have been captured," Throdin added. "They were coming here to strike a treaty and never made it."

"I hope that you find your companions," Koleena remarked, the worry evident in her voice. She realized that it would be almost impossible to find them though. The prairies were vast and the dangers were uncountable.

They talked through the entire meal. Whenever the bar maid returned to refill their cups or plates she flirted terribly with Fafnir. When the meal was done, they asked the dwarves if they would pardon them as they had to talk. Seeing how it was getting on to lunch time the dwarves decided that it may be a good time to get some sleep before the evening meal.

There was a long silence as the friends watched the dwarves trip up the stairs. Koleena broke the silence, "Now that Maldrin and Tenderfoes have finally finished eating we can get down to the real reason that we are here."

"I have done a little research in to Golnath's history. All that I can tell you is that he was a great bandit leader, some called him a king. His minions would steal anything that wasn't held down, and they would even try to steal most of those objects." She paused momentarily to sip at her drink and then continued.

"The dwarves are right. Nobody has been able to find a single coin of the treasures Golnath's minions stole. The location of his fortress was easy enough to find. It is well documented in the militia logs."

"What else do you know about Golnath himself?" Fafnir asked the sorceress.

"Only that he was defeated shortly after Llelwyn's arrival in Hartsward. It seems that Llelwyn organized a strike force that set out and engaged the bandit king's army. It wasn't an easy battle but they won it. They searched the fortress for days but were unable to find any of the treasures he had stolen," she answered.

"Another interesting fact is that nobody could find Golnath either. None of his henchmen that survived the battle would identify any of the bodies," Koleena added.

"Well then, let's get under way," Maldrin said, impatient as always, and pounded the marble table, cracking it in the process. He then glanced about nervously to make sure that nobody noticed what he had done.

"We have to register our party first," Koleena reminded Maldrin. "Or have you forgotten that every party who has registered their quest at the Inn of Broken dreams before starting it has been successful?"

"Oh, yeah," he responded, breathing a sigh of relief finding that nobody noticed the crack that he had made. In fact the crack seemed to be sealing itself up, but Maldrin shook his head knowing that was impossible. Yet after another moment he could find no trace of it. "Is this whole inn enchanted?" He wondered.

"Have any of you thought of a name for our band," Koleena asked.

"I have!" Tenderfoes exclaimed and his friends groaned at the thought. "We can call ourselves the Romantics." He then did his best impression of Myrna flirting with Fafnir.

"Not funny!" Fafnir growled and lunged across the table at him.

Tenderfoes easily dodged out of the way and quickly dropped the idea, remaining quiet for sometime not wanting to aggravate Fafnir any further. The party sat silent for some time before Fafnir suggested, "Why not call our party the Knights of the Plains?"

They all liked the sound of the name and quickly agreed upon it. Koleena nervously made her way over to the registry to immortalize their party. She had to stop herself from shaking but was able to sign them into the ledger.

They decided to start their journey the next morning. They were given free rooms for the night and spent the rest of the day in the Inn of Broken Dreams talking, Maldrin and Tenderfoes spent most of the day eating. Koleena retired early so that she would be well rested.