Prelude and Chapter 1
Ministry of Immigration, Elversult (4th of Flamerule, 1485 Dalereckoning)
Traskus Orthal righted the documents piled high on his Oakwood desk as he prepared for his next interview.
At the far wall, the wind rustled the curtains, offering brief glimpses of Elversult in the Fall. The fat, spade-shaped leaves, painted all manner of autumn colors, were still baring for the winter ahead. The sun-dappled swirl as the wind carried them away brought a weary smile to his face, distracting him from his work.
The rim of the Dragonmere a mere half hour away, Elversult nonetheless remained a bustling trading post to restock on the route between Suzail, capital of Cormyr, and several other cities along the stretch of the Dragon Coast. Crates and barrels of trade goods; mostly fish, linen, cloth, and leather, were driven by teamsters and day laborers in an unceasing flurry of activity. Shouts and curses filled the air, spoiling the majesty, but nonetheless creating its own of sorts; a window into the Human existence.
And unlike most towns beyond Cormyr’s borders, Elversult maintained a carefully recorded population. 9,639 men, women, and children. No more. Every birth and death was counted, carefully recorded in the registry. Outlanders were permitted to pass, to trade, but not to settle. Not without approval.
Begrudgingly, he returned his attention to his documentation, yet another window into Humanity.
Birth certificates, registries, financial records, family records. The blueprints of the lives of the countless immigrants seeking entry to Cormyr, his home.
Many of them refugees from Shadovar-controlled Sembia. So many poured in every day. And so many had to be turned right around to Westgate or some such. Even with Salen; his associate and priest of Oghma the lord of knowledge, casting his unique form of clerical inquiry into the nature of each applicant, it was difficult to recognize which ones were destitute refugees and which ones were tainted by Shar’s poisonous faith and sent to weaken Cormyr through subterfuge. The darkness of post-shadovar Sembia seeped into every living thing from those lands, twisting them in subtle ways.
Still, his friend was invaluable in detecting falsehoods; a useful trait for this station.
He reconciled his guilt with the knowledge of those that indeed passed his and Salen’s tests were permitted to settle in Cormyr, the best line of defense against risen Netheril. His job, while tedious and very demanding, was vital to the health of his nation. The right people would strengthen Cormyr. The wrong people would weaken it.
Commoners, tradesmen, nobility, scholars, warriors, wizards, sellswords; all of them passed through offices like his own, stationed at cities surrounding all of Cormyr’s borders. He had seen Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes. All manner of the more exotic races.
But even he was given pause as the next applicant was ushered in.
That she was indeed a she, Traskus had little doubt. Her slender neck, thin waist, and wide hips made it clear enough. But she was also certainly no Human, nor Elf, nor anything he had seen or even heard of.
Her skin was a light, almost sky blue, with splotches running along her back and shoulders of darker violet, the color of her eyes, the pupils thin reptilian slits. Her face was something akin to a lizard’s, roughly triangular, with a long, delicate snout, but with a thick crest of painted feathers, and small ivory protrusions along her brow and the sides of her head. A long, rounded tail darted to and fro nervously as she studied his room, then took her seat before his desk, righting her linen cloak, which was a muted dull brown. Her hands, thin but nimble and dexterous, were tipped with finely manicured claws, though the paint there had begun to rub off. Her jewelry, a pair of thin bangles on each wrist, were copper, but finely polished. An alloy of good quality. The amethyst charm dangling from her forehead, connected by a chain circlet, was also well-made, if of relatively cheap material. He decided she knew of some measure of wealth, but was no noble.
Her feathers plumed, and a long, forked tongue shot out from her lips, tasting the air, before swiftly retracting, as if in apology.
She held a roll of parchment and a paper board with several sheets tacked to it; the beginning of her registry. He motioned for the blank documents, to which he would fill, which were surrendered without comment.
He started at the first page.
“Well then...” Traskus said, nonplussed, “We can start right away. Your name.”
“Kaileena.” she replied in a light, wilting voice, the inside of her mouth a pale pink hue, her teeth short but uniformly sharp, “Your?”
“Traskus Orthal, Supervisor of the Elversult Chapter of the Cormyrean Immigration Center. What is your age?”
“How old are you”
It took a moment. Her expression pinched, as she struggled to process his words.
“Still Common...learn.” she added, embarrassed, “You Chondathan...speak?”
"Yes." he replied in that very tongue, having studied seven languages in his time as a wizard’s apprentice before finding that he was much more skilled in mundane applications of intellect, memory, and attention to detail, rather than magical.
"Thank you." Kaileena replied with an odd intonation to her otherwise perfect accent, ”I speak three languages already, and it is difficult to learn more."
"Don’t I know it." Traskus chuckled, ”My friend Salen here will be monitoring your words for signs of falsehood. Do you understand?"
"Very well then. What languages do you speak?"
"Chondathan. Nihongo. Some Undercommon."
Check. Check. Check.
"Are you literate in any?"
"Nihongo. The basic vocabulary."
Literate in one language.
That name again...
He perused his memory of written dialects, and was left at a loss. He had her carefully spell it for him.
"It is of my homeland. Teikoku."
"Another name I am not familiar with."
"Do you know Thay?"
"East of Thay." Kaileena replied, ”Through the Hordelands, across the Great Ice Sea. A large Island."
He carefully noted this. It was likely closer to Kara-Tur than the rest of Faerûn.
"Never heard of it. You have come a long way, Kaileena."
Shrugging at the ambiguous reply, he continued his line of questioning, ”I do not recognize your race. What exactly are you? Dragonborn? Lizardfolk? Yuan-Ti? You’re certainly too large for a Kobold."
"I have never met another like me."
Given pause by the response, Traskus eyed the creature.
Her trail lashed while she sat. She seemed to have a hard time keeping her position steady, though she had little difficulty maintaining eye contact. She was nervous. Not of him, but...
"You are uncomfortable."
"I am nervous." Kaileena admitted, ”This is all so new to me. But I very much want to see Suzail. If I can, I want to live there."
Permanent resident. Suzail, specifically.
She rustled her cloak as she set her hands in her lap, ”I have heard tales of your lands. Your cities. Your people. I know that not many who are...not Human, are allowed in."
Lizardfolk, female. Uncertain variant. Yuan-Ti Halfblood? Skin, not scales, so seems likely.
"You heard correctly. Some. Not many." he replied, to which she quickly added, ”In my homeland, most are Human. Different than you, but similar, yes. My father was Human."
"You are half-blooded?"
"He raised me." she corrected, ”He...found me. He never told me exactly how. But he raised me with his son, my brother and only remaining family. I lived in a Human village."
Her hands started shaking. He saw, and she picked up on it. Her expression tightened, and the shaking passed.
Unsure of what to make of it, Traskus ignored it.
"He is not here with you?"
"That must have been difficult, leaving your homeland."
He laughed, ”I will stay on topic, then. Have you ever willingly participated in the use of intoxicating substances, such as mistleaf?"
"How about Martial training?"
"No. Females are forbidden to carry weapons."
Kaileena hissed, though it sounded puzzled, not angry, ”I can run farther and faster without tiring, and, for a time, without food. I can move things by thinking it. I can become privy to facts in the world without knowing them beforehand. Sometimes, I can mimic another’s spells. And very rarely, I can conjure spirits."
"Spirits of the dead?"
"I don’t think so." Kaileena replied, ”They feel more like animals. I think they are native to another plane. One without solidity."
He scratched out Necromancy. Conjuration. Astral?
"Impressive. You are a wizard, then?"
"No. My power comes from another. A fae spirit, I think. His name is Guardian."
He scratched his chin. Fair enough. Usually warlocks had a bad reputation for devil summoning, but this sounded vastly different.
"I see no brand on your body. Most warlocks can also use a token or artifact as a medium. What do you use to commune with this spirit, and manifest its power?"
Kaileena shrugged, ”Your men took my pack in the other room. There was a lamp there. It cannot be taken very far from me."
"I will have Salen take a look at it." Traskus noted, ”One of the War Wizards will also conduct an interview before you leave, just to test your capabilities. Okay. Nearly done. Desired profession?"
Kaileena sighed, and rose to her feet. She doffed her cloak, revealing her wardrobe.
Hardly modest, she wore a short-sleeved top cut to reveal her midriff. Light pink linen cut thin and tightly adhering, its trim was genuine gold thread. Her leggings were likewise cut to show the inside of her thighs, and reached to her calves. Her modesty was covered only by a thin undergarment and a knotted violet sash belted about her waist. It looked like something out of a Calimshite Lord’s Harem.
"I was many things in my travels." Kaileena replied, sheepishly, eyes averted, ”But lately I have been a dancer. I know several different styles of varying footwork and intricacy, including the Dark Elven Neideirra. I can also use a lyre, a Shamisan, and a Viol. I can sing, but I don’t like to."
Bardic. Exotic practices. Erotic Appeal?
He hoped not. Barely over five feet in height and thin as a whip, she looked more a child than a buxom. He didn’t want to think of her in that situation.
"Spent some time in Calimshan?"
"The Vilhon. Turmish Side."
"Any affiliations? What were you doing there?"
She frowned. Her back went stiff, and she quickly pulled up the sleeve of her right arm, which bore a series of pink scars. Salen quickly approached her, studying her wounds against her protests.
Looking carefully, Traskus saw a pattern under the scars; a tattoo she had tried to obliterate. A series of rings. The Iron Ring; a slaver organization spread through the Dragon Coast, Hillsfar, and the Underdark. Someone in that organization had marked her as cargo. There was another, second mark, but he couldn’t begin to identify it. That was the one she had tried the hardest to remove, nearly flensing it away, leaving a puckered scab.
Umm... Political refugee. Forced Labor.
He left out exactly what that labor was. He had a good idea, since many of the denizens of that region were of reptilian races and she was clad as she was.
Kaileena shook her head, eyes wide, muttering something as Salen began an incantation for a divine spell, a healing, most likely. About the sight of the wound, a shimmering platinum radiance emanated.
Kaileena cried out, retreating towards the door. Her body became surrounded by a corona of rippling purple fire, and the priest backed away, agog.
Traskus rose to his feet, ready to shout for the guard, when she held up her hands in surrender, shaking, “No. Not spell. Flesh eat magic. No heal.”
She held up her arm, still wounded, as evidence.
"You absorbed his spell?"
"Yes. I don’t mean to. It just happens. I’ve always been able to do that."
"A racial ability, maybe. How odd. The war wizards might want to study that as well."
Slowly, the flames receded, not unlike faerie fire, and they took their seats again.
A little more uneasily, Traskus resumed the interview. Kaileena shivered, and wouldn’t meet his eyes. She was still holding her arm where Salen had touched her. He suspected it was that physical contact, not the use of magic, that had provoked her outburst.
The poor thing...
“What I carry. Twenty silver coins and a weathered Sembian Fivestar. I have been forced to spend much of what I had in travel, and I can’t dance for coin on a dingy."
"Long term plans?"
"I want to own a home." Kaileena said, ”Something small. By the water. I like to make people happy, so I can work in a tavern or inn. I can serve food and drink, and entertain. I used to mix poultices and dyes from milled herbs, so I might subsidize my income with that."
"Would you work at a festhall if money was scarce?"
Her expression closed over again, but not in the way he usually saw among those about to tell a lie. If anything, she looked afraid.
"Not in any instance. Never."
He nodded, pleased, ”Good. We hardly need any more of those, though the demand always seems high for...exotic types. Let me review this for a moment."
Frowning, Traskus found himself torn. She was no warrior, which was a good thing. Cormyr allowed many wandering bands of sellswords for periodic duty, but rarely immigrated them unless they were retired battlemasters. A wizard was also highly unlikely to immigrate, but she was an entertainer and a tradeswoman who knew magic, and not much at that. She was of an exotic species, but tiny and ineffectual, and not possessed of a negative reputation, like Orcs or other less desirable races. She would hardly be able to threaten anyone. Her multiple professions would offer her a decent chance of employment, provided anyone would give her the time of day. Cormyr had always been and would forever be a homogenized society. It was the reason it had hardly changed in over a thousand years.
He hated the tricky ones. All this time he was hoping she would betray something to make it easy for him.
But all in all, she seemed like a good person, if unusual. Another might have denied her out of hand, but he wanted to make Cormyr stronger, not fulfill a quota.
"Alright, Kaileena..." he said, reaching a decision and marking the application accordingly, ”It is a difficult choice, but talking to you here, I am willing to give you a chance. I’m sending you to Suzail with a letter of merit and a copy of the documentation here. You will have two months to find steady pay while you bunk at a halfway house. Two meals of bread and porridge will be provided, as well a bed. You will be expected to bathe at least weekly, and required to attend an immigration hearing at an agreed-upon location bi-weekly, until your date of employment and an additional two years besides. Lack of employment, or termination of employment will constitute a probation, and if you remain unemployed for two months after, you will be deported, pending a trial hearing. Do you need clarification on any of this?”
She shook her head.
“Alright. Sign here. Yes, just like that. Welcome to Cormyr.”
(13th of Flamerule, 1485 Dalereckoning)
"And in this land I’ll proudly stand, until my dying day, sir.” The lead teamster sang merrily, as their caravan crested a ridge along the beaten path. “For whate’er a king o’er all command, I’ll still be a Cormyte brave, sir.”
While she still didn’t know their tongue well, these lyrics were part of a ballad that she was familiar with, given all the repetition, so it was easier to follow.
The armed guards took up his song, their voices rough but cheerful. She found that she loved these Humans for that; they were brutish but honest, a comfortable and bearable strangeness in the unceasing strangeness that was her life.
Her body started to shake again, and she held very still, waiting for it to pass. It always did, though it felt like there were bugs crawling under her skin for hours after.
Very grateful that the Human had clumsily chosen his words lest she lie and ruin her chances, Kaileena suffered the withdrawal symptoms of the minddust, a very potent narcotic that she had by no means willingly participated in the use of.
Nobody noticed. Everyone else in the caravan tried their best to ignore her, and even if they did notice, it was usually dismissed as an odd attribute. She wasn’t Human, after all, and who would know?
But there it was, and even in her state, it held her full attention. It commanded it.
It started to pass, just as she noticed the landscape had changed. How long had she been sitting there, cringing and trying to be silent and still?
The city was within view.
Kaileena stared at Suzail’s walls and glimpsed many towering spires beyond, overcome by the scale of it. Not even Alaghôn, one of the largest cities of Turmish, had compared to this...
No paltry fortification, Suzail was built to withstand a siege; its high cobblestone walls topped with multiple layers of battlements.
They reached the walls; Eastgate, they called it, one of three means of entry aside from the docks, where guard posts lined either side, constructed of stone and featuring low, pointed rooftops, as not to provide kindling or safe platforms for invaders.
Kaileena sighed at her own intimate understanding of Human warfare. Guardian, her familiar spirit, had taught her much of Faerûnian history and culture, the better to adapt to it. And sadly, much of Faerûnian history was defined by conflict.
She decided he must be lonely by now; it had been days since she had last consulted him. She decided to remedy that. Tonight, if possible.
The caravan came to a grinding halt, the thick, heavily-furred horses snorting at the abruptness of it, and the lead teamster ended the song to exchange words with two of the six men just before a great oaken portcullis. Below, there was a deep pit filled with sharpened stakes.
She tried not to look at them, lest she imagine all the times they had been put to use.
After taking several minutes to review their paperwork, one of the guards yelled up at his cohorts along the battlements.
There was a loud cracking sound, and the portcullis lowered to admit them.
It may have looked a fortress on the outside, but inside the city was beautiful rather than imposing. They entered onto a narrow side-street, which spilled out into an open pavilion rimmed with three-story buildings with shuttered windows. A statue to Oghma, depicting a man holding a scroll in one hand and an astrolabe in another, towered along the right side of the pavilion. Dozens of brightly-clad Humans gamboled among the market stalls sporting curtains and rugs with rich, bright fabrics, buying and selling all manner of goods. The smell of cinnamon, leather, and faint horse dung filled the air, which felt alive with energy.
Despite the trials she would no doubt face, Kaileena was at ease. He would not find her here. She would be protected.
She was free, at last.
Starry-eyed, Kaileena admired the view of Suzail from her seat, aware but unmindful of the confused stares her presence always provoked.
In the distance, she saw the great castle in which the monarchy ruled; a second city in and of itself, hugging the crown of Suzail south and west of them. Surrounding the castle were many noble manors, great houses sporting their own walls, offering just the hint of lush gardens within.
She might try to be a florist or a groundskeeper here. She’d had no idea they might put so much stock in such well-maintained botanical menageries.
Tired of sitting in the wagon, Kaileena set herself down, and joined the teamsters as they hauled in a second wagon filled with trade goods. They eyed her sidelong, naked suspicion obvious in their expressions.
“What do you think, Guardian?” She asked, smiling as she strengthened the telepathic link to her familiar spirit, maintained by his power and the proximity to the lamp that housed him, “Should we give our traveling companions a hand?”
Sensing the increasing awareness of her best and most loyal friend, for he was only “awake” when directly connected to her, Guardian projected a begrudging approval.
"If that is your wish, Little Fox. Let it be done."
Placing her hands together, Kaileena began the series of mystic passes that Guardian had taught her, all the while reciting lines of power, gathering the energy stored in her body, and in Guardian’s lamp.
The Humans shifted uneasily at her casual use of magic, but not one to be deterred, Kaileena completed her incantation, and focused on three barrels that she knew to be filled with iron scraps; the heaviest of the lot.
The barrels began to shake, then teetered around a central axis, before floating up and then off of the wagon. Seeing where they were unloading the cargo, she set them right by the others outside of a smithy, a good stone throw from the wagon, before turning to the rest and repeating the feat until she’d nearly exhausted her strength.
Now panting, Kaileena released the flow of magic before she overexerted herself, and fought the resulting wave of fatigue as her body readjusted. No wizard, she relied on Guardian and her body’s natural reserves of energy to power her abilities, and often needed food and rest after a particularly strenuous period. Hands on her knees, Kaileena eyed the baffled teamsters, before taking a deep breath and standing up straight.
"Immigrate House." she asked one of the guards in broken common, and the Human nodded, pointing further into the city, ”Turn left, east, onto side street, then right, head south, down to Market Hill. Yellow bricks."
“Arigatou gozaimasu.” she replied in Nihongo, offering another smile and a respectful bow. Righting her pack, she turned down the street he had indicated, skirting the market stalls. She kept the hood of her cloak down; let them acclimate to her quickly by realizing she had nothing to hide.
Every Human she passed gave her a wide berth. Their stares, so like those she remembered in her youth, left her with a feeling of melancholy.
Her mood souring, Kaileena stopped at a signpost, and struggled to make out their runic alphabet.
“C...” she began, squinting, “O...U...”
She gave up after that. These runic symbols looked blurry to her, difficult to focus on. She missed her homeland’s elegant calligraphy.
Nothing for it, she turned right onto the street, nearly bumping into a drunk perched on the street corner. She met his glassy eyes and quickly looked away, lest she betray her awareness...
"Hey, lizard!" the actually quite sober, rag-covered Human snapped, continuing with an unclear but aggressive tirade of curses. She quickened her pace, but otherwise ignored him. To the left there were porter yards, to the right, warehouses. She didn’t see any other Humans about.
It became very quiet, very quickly. Pensive.
Another pair of Humans dipped out of adjacent alleyways, and she noticed that there were no guards around.
They intercepted her to block her path.
She looked over her shoulder, and the beggar had also approached, though his eyes were trained behind him, back to the street.
He was the lookout.
"Guardian..." Kaileena whispered, strengthening their connection while reviewing the paltry sum of her energy, still depleted from earlier.
She should not have been so foolish...
“Lizard!” the Human to the right, a bearded behemoth wearing a leather brigandine and marked above his left eyebrow with a deep, puckered scar, repeating the phrase that his fellow had hurled at her.
“Wakari masen.” she replied in Nihongo, hands twitching at her sides, “I no understand.”
His scowl deepened, “You pay. Everything. Now.”
He and his fellow palmed small iron blades, weathered and lacking cross guards. They looked like sheets of metal that had been hammered down from a single piece, then wrapped along the “hilt” with strips of cloth. The lack of craftsmanship told her they most likely favored them as disposable, single-use implements.
"Pay..." the large, bearded Human snarled, offering his outstretched hand.
Nodding, Kaileena hid her hands into her cloak, as if to withdraw her coin pouch. They tensed, so she opened her cloak enough so they could see, very slowly, that she was indeed retrieving it.
Most Humans used their right hands. They never paid much attention to another person’s left hand, the hand in which she was even then beginning a mystic pass with.
Ambidexterity had to count for something.
Kaileena completed her incantation, and about her body a shimmering hemisphere formed; a magical barrier. The Humans issued no battle cries. They just lunged at her, blades leading.
She rushed forward to meet them, hoping the barrier would hold.
On impact, rather than merely deflecting their attacks, she willed the barrier to burst apart, propelling them back with a repulsion field. Leaping over their prone, dazed bodies, Kaileena darted forward, further down the oddly empty street.
She was a new immigrant, arrived today. She could not be seen involved in a street brawl.
Kaileena ran as fast and as far as she could, but sensing that the third Human was nearly upon her, she abruptly changed course, directly towards the nearest, tallest building.
Using her claws, sharp and slightly curving, Kaileena quickly scaled the ridged surface of its wall, undulating her body to resist the normal ebb of gravity. In mere seconds, she had reached a second story balcony, its metal railing offering ample handle holds. A narrow tower loomed to her left, but she ignored it; its walls were too steep to climb. Several paces along the balcony, then leaping off of the railing, she hooked herself about a support column for the building, and hoisted herself up to the shingled rooftop, ignoring the impetuous shouting below.
Trying to keep her balance, she inched forward, and leaped off onto the next building, which was actually a plaza connecting several streets and residences.
Panting, Kaileena nearly doubled over in fatigue, then hissed in surprise as something sailed right past her ear slit and struck the shingles at her feet.
Turning to find an archer taking aim for a second shot, she threw herself off of the roof, fell about two stories into a pile of hay, and landed in a roll, gasping in pain.
Ignoring her bruised ankles and the throbbing of her wrist, she turned down the next street and into a crowded pavilion.
Several Humans eyed her oddly, but none made a move towards her. None except one...
Zolin Naran, Paladin of Amaunator and adviser to the guard in Suzail, approached the strange woman, hand reflexively on the hilt of his broadsword.
While he didn’t feel threatened, it never paid to be careless.
Her violet eyes went wide at his approach, and her peculiar chuffing quieted, a forked pink tongue flickering out experimentally.
“Are you alright?” he asked, alarmed, and she shook her head, “Good. Yes. Exercise.”
Still, she looked back the way she came, tail twitching, before she righted herself, legs wobbling, “Market Hill? Immigrate house?”
Nodding, Zolin motioned south and west, more than familiar with the three-story bunkhouse a block or so down but still visible, “Are you a new arrival, then? I know the supervisor, and would be happy to escort you there."
Dimly acknowledging him, the Lizardfolk pulled her cloak tighter, and nodded, following as he led her down the path, away from the crowd. After about ten paces, she stopped panting entirely, though she still looked about ready to collapse. There were puffy, dark red circles under her eyes, too inflamed to be part of her natural coloration, the vibrancy of which made him think she was of a tropical region, though he could hardly guess exactly where. He decided she must have been on the road for a good while, and wondered how she’d even managed to get through all the paperwork to reach this place.
“What is your name?” he asked, eyeing the Lizardfolk sidelong, opening the connection to his god and casting a minor Spell that allowed him to intuit another’s essential nature.
Her soul shone brightly in shades of pink, violet, and yellow, with a splash of white. Scarred by pain, but all the more enduring for it.
He knew they would be fast friends, if he allowed it. How foolish he felt now in even conceiving the notion she could be a threat, whatever her heritage.
He smiled, “Well met, Kaileena. My name is Zolin, but feel free to call me Zol. Some of the folks around here don’t have time for full pronunciations.”
“Umm...how you say things.”
“Zol, yes. Thank you.”
She noticed the sun amulet hanging about his neck, over his tabard emblazoned with the Purple Dragon crest, “You priest?”
“Yes. I serve Amaunator."
“I not hear of him.”
“He is the god of the sun, of time, and of law, not as well known this far north. You are welcome to attend the sermons in the Abbey of the Dawn, near the Citadel south of here, if you want to know more.”
“Certainly.” Zolin replied, stopping at the doorstep of the bunkhouse, “If you get yourself into trouble, you can look for me there. But...I am sure you will not get into trouble.”
He stressed the latter, eyeing her critically, for he was hardly convinced of her earlier explanation.
She nodded sheepishly, “Many gratitude, Zol.”
That said, he opened the door, and held it open for her.
The bunkhouse was roughly the dimensions of a lesser manor, the first floor a waiting area and lounge. Lest he was mistaken, it was previously the holiday retreat for a disgraced noble family, evicted of its tenants by the Royal Court, then renovated and re-purposed. A small fireplace smoldered at the far wall, with a staircase to the right, and a hallway in the back-left corner. Everything was a muted shade of dull brown or slate grey. It was drab, if tidy and well-maintained, and a place that the Lizardfolk nonetheless looked entirely out of place in.
Even during the mid-afternoon hours, some of the tenants were present. There was an elderly man eating his meal, and Half-Elf twins whispering in hushed tones. A man with a darker complexion and slanted eyelids watched them the moment they stepped in. The rest quickly followed suit.
“Maren’s office will be in the back, on the first floor.” he said, ignoring them, “This way.”
Leading her down the hallway beyond the waiting area, he sought out the second door on the right, rapped on it three times, and waited.
Zolin nodded, smirking, “She isn’t actually doing anything in there. Just fancies it makes her look more important when she makes people wait.”
Kaileena blinked, uncomprehending.
“Never mind.” he said idly, leaning back against the wall, “She’s an odd one, but nice enough. Follow the rules, and she won’t put you on the street or call for the Dragons.”
“Yes.” Kaileena replied, “She friend?”
“My friend?” Zolin repeated, considering, “Maybe. I don’t know. We just work together often, and we get along well enough. Acquaintance sounds better.”
“Acq...uain...tance. Mmph. Good, yes.”
Silence stretched a few moments, and when it became clear Maren was being quite literal about keeping for two whole minutes, Zolin motioned to her again, “So, what brings you to Suzail?”
“Nobody else came with you?”
“No else to come.”
“Oh...” he replied, abashed, “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” she said, eyes averted, “It nothing. Long passed. I will live here now.”
“Good. I wish you the best of luck. You strike me as good people.”
“You too.” Kaileena replied, “What priest do here?”
“Think of it like this; I keep everything safe for the merchants and immigrants in the foreign quarter of Suzail.” he explained, “The guards can be ill-tempered, the soldiers more so, and otherwise good people can act out when not everyone can speak common and understand the situations at hand. I help everyone get along, when such misunderstandings inevitably occur. It doesn’t always work, but it helps to keep the peace.”
“Good work. I know man like before.”
Despite her ill-phrased comment, she closed up a little. Her eyes lost some of their luster.
It was a hint at what might have brought her here, one that intrigued him greatly.
“About ready, Maren?!” He shouted, though not unkindly, suppressing a chuckle as the door snapped open, admitting a mousey, plump middle-aged woman with hands, mottled brown hair tied in a neat, concise bun, and a pinched face that never knew a smile. Her appraising eyes went a little wide at the sight of her other guest, but the woman was known to quickly take control of a situation.
Her expression again became carefully neutral, “Good day, Zolin. Has this new applicant gotten herself into trouble?”
“Not at all.” the paladin replied with a grin, “Just a little lost. I thought I might stick around and help her with translations, if she needs it.”
“Melodramatic, as always.” she groaned, “Fine. Let’s make this quick. Poor thing looks ready to plop over.”