Agreed. I'm sure she could handle it. Up next: (Link in title)
#8: Lionel: Cumbrian Girls Approximately
: Well, at least I'm out of the woods.
It's been a rough few days for Lionel. Though his journey was mostly uneventful, he had to put down an angry black bear a few hours outside of Shrouded Hills. His journey south has finally landed him in Dernholm, the once-proud capital of Cumbria, a dying nation. The hour is late when he arrives in town, but he never considered spending the evening back in the woods and coming into town in the morning. Filthy, worn streets are dimly lit by the occasional flickering lamp, and there is a pervasive smell of rot that reminds him of his youth in the Tarantian Boil. Still, figuring that anything's better than another night spent under a damned tree, he walks up the street until he sees the shingle of an inn. The walls are filthy and caving slightly under a dangerouly sagging roof, but as he sees through the windows light and people and the promise of a bed, Lionel walks past a booze-saturated pile of old rags that almost certainly contains a person somewhere and into the warmth of the bar.
A few heads turn when he enters, but most turn back with just a simple sneer in his direction. Lionel takes stock of the room. A leather-clad half-orc in the corner nurses his beer with an expression that labels him no one's friend. A destitute human woman with angry sores on her face massages her bruised arm and doesn't make eye contact. In the back, a reasonably well-dressed woman who must be the innkeeper doen't even look up from cleaning a stain on the floor. The bartender wears a mask of indifference, his eyes sunken and tired. There are three people at the bar. A man in a dark jacket is talking to a curly haired blonde who may be a half-elf; by the looks of her black leather, the man's name is John. Next to them, a gnome in a ridiculously rustic suit and top hat glares with beady eyes straight at Lionel, his left hand in his jacket. Lionel knows trouble when he sees it, and after years as a body guard, has learned how to deal with it in a place like this. He walks to the bar and turns deliberately to face the gnome in question.
: I've no interest in anything you'd have to say, half-breed.
: [Speaking loudly enough to attract some attention:] Sir! We've only just met and you say such things! [He spreads his arms wide, tactfully opening his own jacket just enough to reveal his holstered revolver.]
: [Glancing around, slightly off-put by the watching eyes] I find your very presence distasteful, to say the least.
: Please, I only wish a moment of your time.
: [The gnome gives Lionel a strange look.] Hmmm. Maybe you and I should speak...
: Er, thank you so very much? Might I ask you a few questions?
: I suppose...
: What do you know of this place?
: Aren't you just full of questions? Can't you let a bloke enjoy his ale...?
: I didn't mean to bother you. Just asking a simple question...
: Yeah? Well, here's a simple question for YOU. What is someone like you doing all the way out here in the middle of this disreputable kingdom? Not exactly the kind of place that someone goes for a holiday...
: Do I look like the sort of man who takes holidays? I'm looking for work.
: [The gnome appears to have lost interest in Lionel.] Well, you came to the wrong place. Haven't you heard? There's no work anywhere in this pissant little country.
: Well, that's a shame.
: It is at that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be returning to my ale...
: By all means.
This business taken care of, Lionel turns to the bartender.
: Hello, sir.
: [His tone and his expression flat] What'll it be?
: I'll have a beer. [He hands over 2 coins.] Say, friend, do you know a Sarah Toone?
: Sure. Moved here a few years back. Some sort of family trouble.
: I've got a message for her. Any idea where she lives?
: [His face scrunches up.] A message from who? That girl don't need any more trouble.
: It's nothing like that, I promise you. It's to do with her mother's will.
: [The bartender glares at Lionel coolly, then shrugs.] She's on the main street, about a block that-a-way. Boarded up stone house.
: Thank you, sir. [He buys another drink.] So Ms. Toone's living alone out here?
: 'Fraid so. No one much to turn to, either. Her daddy was a technologist, built mining contraptions, so no one in these parts wants much to do with her. Apart from Jayna, of course, but she's no better off.
: Oh, have you met Jayna Stiles? Poor girl, living all alone the way she does. And always studying her books... says she wants to be a healer!
: I see... Well, you have my gratitude, sir. It's about time I turn in.
: Right you are. Innkeeper's around the corner.
Lionel rents a room for the night. He's charged double the usual rate, being a half-orc. In the morning, he followed the barman's directions to the home of Sarah Toone. The woman stood alone in a dark room, mopping the floor.
: Excuse me, Ms. Toone?
: [She looks up disdainfully and her tone is acidic.] Go away, half-breed. I don't need your aggravation.
A man can have dignity, or food. Not both.
: Please, excuse my presence, madam. I mean no offense.
: [She sighs heavily and sets her mop against the wall.] No, I must apologize to you. There is no call for me to treat you that way, no matter who you are. My name is Sarah Toone. Pleased to make your acquaintance.
: Likewise, I'm sure. Are you the daughter of Bessie?
: [She suddenly looks very sad.] Yes, yes I am. Why do you ask?
: I am trying to find a way to free your mother's ghost.
: Oh? And why, may I ask, are you doing that?
: Your brother is rather upset, understandably. I offered to help.
: My brother? Upset? Why? He should be happy, the dog! He got what he wanted, after all.
: He told me you didn't like him.
: "Not like him"? That is an understatement. Do you know what he did? He convinced my mother to sign the mine over to him, and then he sold it to those thugs in Tarant! She killed herself over that!
: How did he convince her to sign?
: She always wanted me to run it, as my brother was notorious for bungling things. He convinced her that "for legal reasons" it should be in his name as she was getting old, and I was not yet of legal age. She resisted at first, but my brother always was able to wear her down. He was insidious in that way.
: But why did she kill herself over him selling it?
: Her only wish was that the mine stay in our family, as it had been for more than three generations. It was our heritage. She often told me that she would rather be dead than to have anyone else but a Toone run it.
: Did you know she's calling your name? Why is that?
: Yes, I had heard that...I don't know why. I think she realized that I was the only one she could trust. Perhaps she wishes she had come with me...or...[she chokes back tears]...or she feels I deserted her when she needed me...I just couldn't stand to watch her life being ripped away from her.
: Can you tell me who owns your family's mine now?
: I can't recall, offhand, but I think I wrote it down somewhere...[she shuffles through some papers]. Yes, here it is. Stanton Importers, 25 Lion's Head Circle, Tarant.
: [He writes this down.] Thank you. So, what was your brother's excuse for selling the mine?
: He concocted some story about the buyers threatening his life if he didn't sell. I think he owed them money, actually, but he would never admit it.
: That bastard... The whole damned town was dependent on that mine...
: Believe me, I know.
: So why did you move here? This place has seen better times.
: I knew what my brother was going to do as soon as he "stole" the mine from me and my mother. I couldn't bear to watch. I tried to get my mother to come with me, but she wouldn't leave her home. I moved here because I had nothing...I don't even own this place, it was deserted.
: Your brother wouldn't help you out? He seems to be well off.
: Are you serious? I would never ask for his help.
: I see... Listen, Sarah, would you be interested in owning the mine again?
: Of course I would...but I thought you were working for my brother.
: I was, but I don't think I like him much anymore.
: Hah! Join the club. You know, I am beginning to like you. [She sighs.] I can't pay you for your help, you know.
: Ah. Well... [He thinks of Doc Roberts, and he sets his jaw.] No. That is quite alright. I want to help you out.
: I thank you for that...but I realize the strong appeal of money. I want you to know I would hold no ill will towards you if you decided to help my brother instead.
: Don't worry. I'll be setting out for Tarant later today.
: Thank you. [She picks up her mop and sees Lionel to the door.]
: Oh, before I go, I understand you have a friend named Jayna?
: Ms. Stiles? Yes, she's a nice girl. Studying to be a healer. I worry about her though.
: Why's that?
: Well, let's just say her studies aren't very popular around here.
: Can you point me towrd her home? [Sarah looks unsure.] I may need some medicines for the trip to Tarant.
: Oh... yes, she lives in a wooden house on the southern edge of town, just by the docks.
: Thank you. I hope to return with some news shortly...
Lionel finds the healer's house with ease, knocks, and enters. The walls are lined with book shelves and drying herbs. The woman of the house is obviously a half-elf. She's young, and though pale and a bit skinny, is quite attractive. Lionel trips over his own tongue as he speaks to her.
: I, ah, that is... Erm, so--
: (Oh gods, a half-wit half-orc.) I do not have time for half-orcs. Please leave.
: [Regainging his composure] Madam! Did I hear you correctly? What have I done to offend you?
: I don't mean to be rude, but I just don't like you, sir. Please, just leave me alone...
: Madam! Please! Can't we talk in a more civilized manner...?
: [The woman seems a little embarrassed at her words.] I'm sorry. Sometimes I don't think before I speak. Perhaps we might start again?
: I'd like that, madam. Are you Jayna Stiles?
: Yes, I am. How can I help you?
: Your friend Sarah told me you're a healer. May I ask, what are you doing here in Dernholm?
: Oh... You know Sarah. [She relaxes.] What am I doing here? Well, what does anyone really do in Dernholm? Not much to do in this town...wasn't always this way, to hear the way my parents used to talk about it. [She seems a little sad, sighing.] Yes, I guess you could say I'm a healer, if I'm anything at all...
: What sort of healing do you do?
: Well...I don't really do any of it very well. There hasn't been a decent doctor around here for a very long time, and our best midwife died not too long ago. I really want to learn, but there's not really anyone to learn from. [She gets a determined look in her eyes.] But I'm still trying! You see, it's really important to me that I become a great healer....
: Why is that, Jayna?
: Well...[She looks to the ground. Lionel sees that this is difficult for her to talk about.]...there was a disease that came to Dernholm a few years ago. As I told you, there hasn't been a doctor here for a long time. We didn't have any medicines, and shipments from Tarant are very scarce...
: And so?
: Well, my parents got sick, you see...[Tears well up in her eyes.] They were so brave, right up until the end...but they died. Many others died here as well. No one around knew how to deal with such sickness, and so all we could do is sit here and watch our loved ones pass away. [She dries her eyes.] And it was then that I decided...
: What did you decide?
: I decided that I never wanted to watch people die that way again. I decided to become a great healer...to save others from the pain I felt when I saw my parents die. And so that's what I've been trying to do...
: I see. How are your studies progressing?
: Not too well, unfortunately. As I said there's not anyone to learn from around here. I have a little healing skill, but I'm just no good at magick. [She lowers her voice, leaning towards you.] Actually, I'm very interested in some of the newer, technological practices...
: Really? [His eyebrows rise slightly and he smiles. She flinches back, almost unnoticeably.] Do you really think technology is better?
: Shhh! Keep your voice down! Don't you know? You can't even talk about such things around here...it's the law! King Praetor got it in his old noggin a long time ago that technology is terrible, and he doesn't want anyone even thinking about it. [She looks about.] You see where THAT has gotten us...
: Yes, well... Do you know much about...er...THAT sort of healing?
: Not a whole lot. I've read a few textbooks...I have to keep them well-hidden, mind you...but there really just isn't much to be learned around here...
: [With growing excitement] Well, why don't you leave? Go to, erm, Tarant, maybe?
: [She sighs.] I can't really afford to. My parents weren't wealthy people, and I don't make much money here in Dernholm. Plus, it's not all that safe for a woman to be travelling all by herself. I'm afraid that I'm stuck here, for now...
: Hmmm. Maybe you'd like to come along with me...?
: [Hope flares in her eyes, mixed with fear.] What? What do you mean?
: Well, I'm...er...travelling. I'm going to Tarant to help Sarah Toone get her family mine back. I'm a bit of a technologist myself, and I could really use a scientific healer...
: Really? I mean...I don't know very much...I don't know how much help I would be...
: Perhaps we could learn things together...?
: [She laughs aloud, clapping her hands together, and Lionel's stomach feels suddenly light.] Oh yes! That sounds just wonderful! [She looks Lionel in the face again, and her smile fades somewhat.] I mean... Well... [Her face becomes determined.] Yes. Any friend of Sarah's is a friend of mine. I'll work my very hardest to learn while we're abroad...you can count on me, sir! I won't let you down... [She takes a few things from her wooden chest, grabs two books from a shelf, puts them in a rucksack, and turns back to Lionel.]
: So... you'll, er, come along, then?
: Yes! I would love to come with you! I'm ready to go right now!
: Well! Wonderful! I-- Er... Yes. Then let's do so.
On their way out of town, Jayna is practically skipping. Though she seems slightly leery of Lionel's company, she teems with excitement at the thought of leaving Dernholm for good.
: So, Jayna, What can you tell me about this place?
: Well, that's a long story. You see, Cumbria was once a powerful kingdom...I don't know a lot of history, but I do know that Dernholm was once as powerful as Tarant, or Caladon...
LI:So I've heard. What happened?
: Well...King Praetor decided long ago that he would tolerate no technology in his kingdom. He was, well...influenced...by his mage "counselors". King Praetor assumed the throne at a very young age, and he was very impressionable...
: Please, continue...
: Well, eventually there was a war between Tarant and Cumbria, and Tarant was victorious. The Dragon Knights... King Praetor's Elite guard... were almost all wiped out in the final battle. Dernholm crumbled, deteriorated into what you see here today...
: I see... Very interesting. Thank you, Jayna.
: So... we're really doing this, then? We're going to Tarant?
: Of course.
: Well, come on! [She laughs, and runs along past the end of the road. Lionel takes off and passes her.]