He walked out from the alley onto the broad, cobbled dock. Despite the late hour the air was still warm, the day’s heat dissipating into the clear, star-filled sky. Boats and ships of all sizes filled the large, wide, sweeping bay, illuminated by soft white moonlight.

On each side the dock gently curved around away from him. The alley he had exited came out onto the docks roughly in its centre. The docks took the shape of a huge semi-circle, with piers jutting out into the calm waters like spokes of a broken wheel. Lining the outer edge of the cobbled dock were buildings of all types, mostly warehouses, and larger properties owned by merchants who plied the trade routes between the islands. Mixed in with these, and all along the main streets running out into the city, were numerous small market stalls, selling fish and wares fresh off the ships. Most of the more wealthy merchants worked out of Deepingwald, making the dock area a bustling hub of activity through the day. Now, however, in stark contrast, there was hardly another person in sight.

He stood for a while and listened to the sea. Shortly, however, his attention turned to the background noise of music, singing and general shouting and talking from the pubs and inns also dotting the dock front. It was to one of these, off to his left, that he now started to walk.

The hanging sign above the door bore the name The Fisher’s Prize, sounding to him more like a ship itself than an inn. Above the worn golden letters was a fading painted Swordfish. On either side of the heavy wooden door, were two large multi-paned windows. At this hour, however, the panes where hidden behind wooden shutters. Leaf-like cut-outs in the shutters let welcoming orange light spill out onto the cobbles.

A wave of noise swept over him as he opened the door and stepped inside. The inn was busy this night, most of the many tables that dotted the main floor were fully taken, with a good number of folk stood around the bar. Opposite the bar, on a small raised stage, two men where fiercely playing fiddles, looking to him as if there were racing to saw through their instruments. Around them a gathered crowd clapped, cheered and made some effort to sing.

His entrance went largely un-noted; however three eyes followed his progress. One belonging to an unusually large member of the Hillfolk stood on the other side of the bar, his other eye, or the place where it would have been, hidden behind a jewelled eye-patch. The others were of a strangely pale hue, staring out of an equally pale face, sat up on the first floor balcony that ran around the whole building.

As he moved across the inn others took note of his presence – a nod here and there, a smile, a welcoming word and pat on the shoulder. He took the dark, wide-brimmed hat from his head, and started to remove his black cloak as he made for the wide stairs leading to the first floor balconies. At the top of these stairs his way was barred by a huge, burly, brutish looking man, dressed in a worn and dirty-looking chain shirt. The man stood a few steps down and looked up with a casual expression. Presently, after a suitable pause, probably for the larger man’s ego as for anything else, he stood aside and let him pass.

The upper floor was reserved for slightly finer clientele, most being merchants and ship owners. Of course, these were a far cry from the more affluent traders who would live and socialise up in the ‘Old City’, the original walled settlement dating back to the first settlement of the Islands following the collapse. Contrary to its name, the Old City had some of the newest and finest building and architecture in all of Deepingwald. Such men would seldom be seen in the docks, only perhaps to inspect their ships, and certainly would not be seen in an inn such as this.

Nevertheless, the balcony level that ran around the whole building, overlooking the main floor, was off limits to most of the inn’s patrons. It was here that many deals and trade pacts were made, and, some say, that more shady business was conducted.

The man made his way across to a table near the back wall of the building, opposite, but in sight of, the main door to the inn. He slung his cloak over the back of a large dark, wooden chair, and sat on its red velvet seat.

Across the table, leaning back in the shadows sat a half-elf. He was dressed in similar black to the man. In stark contrast his long hair was brilliant white, tied back behind his head. His face, showing signs of the sleek curves of the Forestfolk was also of pale hue. Most striking was his eyes, palest crystal blue. He held in his hand a small carved pipe, on which he took a deep drag from time to time, exhaling an odd, sweet-smelling smoke.

“I take it you received my letter?” said the man, with a polite smile.

The Half-Elf regarded him for a moment, and replied quietly, “Indeed.”

“And, I take it, given my invitation here, that you agree and see merit in this,” pressed the man.

“If what we hear is true, and given the contents of your letter, there is an opportunity here, the likes of which simply have not ever been seen before,” said his pale companion, leaning forward now, partly into the light. He continued. “There is little here that is still of value. There, even the ability to access fresh resources, in unlimited amounts would be reason enough to justify such a venture, but more than that, think what other wonders, secrets and treasures await. What power lays there waiting for someone to claim it?”

The man sat back slightly now, in reaction to the Half-Elf leaning forward and to his words. “Well… the access to stone and rock would bring…”

The Half-Elf cut him off.

“Open your eyes! Stop thinking so small. Sourcing new resources and monopolising trade routes is all well and good, but this is just a method of providing finance. Don’t you see the real opportunities here? To establish control, to fully exploit the lost knowledge and relics of the past. That is the opportunity that is before you. We are only limited by our daring and imagination!”

“Well, the Council does seem to be taking things very slow and carefully. There is talk of not sending further supply ships.”

The man’s voice now dipped to a whisper.

“I am told they are no longer required in any case. They have been there for over five months. It’s working, but, the Council, they are afraid. Twice Abraham’s ship has been attacked making the crossing. There are elements in the Council that fear that they are courting an attack here. Not like past raids – something more organised. They said the black ships were crewed by Goblinoids but commanded by Minatour Buccaneers. Such creatures have not been seen by anyone alive, save for the elder Forestfolk. They must be organised.”

He continued, the Half-Elf smiling slightly and listening intently, “But there are some still pushing to send more. I think it may be private individuals who may now take over providing support, perhaps they too are seeing past black ships to the possibilities over there. I hear names. You know Laird Henrikson went over? He did not return, though there is no word that he fell in any way. He granted the Council access to his assets here in his absence!”

“He is no-one. A bored aristocrat with illusions of adventure,” dismissed the Half-Elf.

“Mayhap,” replied the man, “but it still created waves. Others, more well connected, may seek to gain influence.”

From behind him came a rhythmic thumping of wood on wood. The man turned and saw the large, black-bearded Dwarf from behind the bar making his way up the stairs. When his whole body came into view, the man saw the Hillfolk’s lower left leg was absent and a peg leg was in its place. In one hand the Dwarf carried two tankards of mead, on the other a bottle of some dark wine.

The Dwarf roughly dumped the flagons onto the table, slopping mead on their brims onto the wood. He placed the wine somewhat more gently in front of the Half-Elf.

“Ye musings ‘an plots are all f’ naught,” growled the large member of the Hillfolk. Giving the man a broad grin, flashed with the odd gold tooth, “Ya way in? ‘Tis right there before ye. Give me a brace o’ galleons ‘an two score o’ men. This Blackengorge will fall before ye easy enough I tell ye.”

The man looked from the Dwarf to the Half-Elf and back again, not sure what to say, or even if it was safe to do so. The pale Half-Elf simply rolled his eyes and leaned back again in his chair, and started to pour himself a glass of wine.
The man regained some of his composure, seeing that the Half-Elf seemed unbothered by the Dwarf’s arrival.

“That would be a little obvious don’t you think? The whole point of this idea was to take advantage of this opportunity without showing our hand, or even letting Folk know we exist.”

“Bah!” grunted the Dwarf, taking a seat at the table, “They be in out o’ their depth. This all be way out o’ their experience. They be gettin’ cold feet. Ye said so ye’self.”

Again the man was taken aback. How was the Dwarf privy to their conversation?

The Dwarf continued, “Take it now, whilst they be unready, before anyone can stop ye. Before…”

“Idiot,” The Half-Elf cut in nonchalantly. “Yes, they would be easily taken, but what then? Sure the Council would balk at the idea of sending a force to re-take it. They would quickly distance themselves from the whole situation, but rest assured there would be many who would not leave it be. At the very least we would find that it was us cut off and fending for ourselves there. Retaining supply and connections here is paramount. We will proceed with our plan as normal.”

Again the man did a double take. “Our plan? You already have a plan?”

“Oh yes,” smiled the pale Half-Elf, leaning forward once more. “Listen well my friend, I don’t think you will be disappointed. And don’t worry yourself about Blackengorge. Soon enough a leaf will not fall there, without us knowing about it.”

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