Approximately 4 months after the Low-Tide Festival in Arcturon.
The streets are slick with rain.
Perhaps, if you're willing to ask the right questions, you might find that the streets have always been that way. Perhaps not.
Arcturon in the past six months has been the epicenter of events both supernatural and unknown. With the advent of the Acolytes of the Coiled Beast, and their entry into the spotlight four months ago, Arcturon has gone from a city blind to the grim truth, to a city slowly waking to the nightmare only a private few are privy to.
Those present at the Low-Tide Festival, those that heard the ancient bell ring, count themselves among those in the know. And those that are in the know, are all congregated in one place tonight.
Those familiar with the Acolytes knew about it well in advance. Word spreads quickly in hidden circles, and like the coils of the Serpent, there are many, many secret circles. Most of them, the authorities are unaware of. This information explicitly traveled in those that they were aware of, however.
The Acolytes had congregated, all as once, in a brightly lit conference hall, rented out for cheap. Even now, late into the evening of Arcturon, when most folks had gone indoors to evade the bitter rain and biting wind, infrequent pilgrims made passage to the warm hearth of the conference hall. Inside, the promise of warmth, free food, and perhaps conversation on the uncertain future of Arcturon's lowest and most hard-working.
According to official reports, every Acolyte of the Coiled Beast had congregated there.
That thought, and that thought alone, was the only thing to calm M'yr's paranoia.
M'yr was not alone in his house. More so than usual, at least. Where once the ghosts of misdeeds once lurked, other phantoms invaded his bedroom now, some familiar and others not. While he carefully went over their borrowed supplies, their available intelligence and perhaps most pressing, their available funds, behind him Slake shifted, obviously restless. He heard it repeatedly, and eventually found a rhythm to her motions. While he went over the papers, she would slosh her flask as she went for a drink, shuffle somewhat, touch her helmet, resting on the desk and sigh loudly, in annoyance. All the while, her weapon sang, sitting uneasily on her hip and aching for action.
Behind her, things he dared not look at directly stirred and shifted. Unlike his own sickly manifestations, these were tangible, real and waiting, equally as impatient as their Captain. He couldn't dismiss them, or deny their existence, dread as they were. It was, in his opinion, best to ignore them outright. To confront them, was to acknowledge the fractured elements of his psyche, and he needed to believe, at least for now, that he was mostly, nearly, partially all there that night.
He took a break from looking at his work, and made for the window. It was an ugly, grimy thing, stained green from rising saltwater and cracked from numerous, futile attempts to punch his way through it. Outside, in the cold rain, folk still walked by from time to time. He knew all of them, but recognized none of them tonight, their heads low and grim, their breaths clinging to the air like a dead man's last wish. Beyond the meager light of his bedroom, there was scarce other light outside.
He stared hard, out across the street.
The people who had been watching him yesterday weren't there tonight. They must have been instructed to visit the town hall, he guessed, a bit more hopeful than normal.
He turned away from the window, and a crack of thunder split the sky. He didn't need to look behind him to know that somewhere, beyond the clouds, the Serpent's Eyes were upon him. He moved back to the table, suddenly aware that he was dripping wet and shivvering. He huddled close to the supplies again, and tried to recall Slake's rhythmic fidgeting.
Swig. Shuffle. Touch. Sigh. On and on, again.
Those from outside of Taen, or even simply from outside of Arcturon, played witness to several oddities that night, on their way to the rendezvous. It was a clear, cool night, the moon hanging high in the sky and with limited cloud cover, and so the lights were dim, opting for the natural moonlight to brighten these strange streets. Yet, for these witnesses, things seemed very wrong. The people, while friendly, were often soaking wet, or carrying soggy umbrellas. Their breath condensed before their faces as they breathed. Many of them walked, hunched and tired, as if stricken with despair, weighed down by unknown unknowns. The streets, while dry, seemed cursed. People swerved broadly to avoid stepping in certain areas, as if going around thick, heavy puddles. The homes were closed and cold, save for one.
M'yr Boldbarrow, the signature at the bottom of the request, had put out a notice for any assistance that could be mustered in what he claimed to be 'a series of regrettable, but necessary acts'. He offered noplace to write back to, nor did he posts any specifics on the job. Instead, he merely posted an address, an 'Inquire Within' sort of affair.
Despite its sagging exterior, it was the only house on the block with lights on. If there were any doubts as to where the small band of mercenaries were meant to be, that single, bravely flickering in the dark, damp night dispelled them outright. M'yr's abode did not speak of confidence, or opulence. It spoke of dark deeds, and secretive meetings, of long, lonely nights spent wailing curses into the cold.
A simple knock at the door is all it took to have it opened. A tall, fridge-built man opened, the true barrier from entry to the abode. Towering and muscular, with a rotund belly, his features were overshadowed by his face, the first truly unmistakably unreal thing the party might see that night. The man's face was missing, replaced by a long, drooping pale slug. It still moved, twitching left and right as it attempted to struggle against gravity, anchored to the man's neck in place of his head. Even as it flailed, its black, beady eyes swiveled to face each newcomer, before backing off to allow them to enter, passing through the threshold and into the bedroom, directly to the left of the doorway.
As they stepped inside, the sound of rain striking the door and window became obvious. Outside, thunder rumbled, low in the sky, furious at their newfound awareness.
M'yr's home was a grim reflection of the man that lived there. Immediately one could note the bubbling, broken wallpaper that scarred the walls all around them, threadbare walls with no decorations to speak of. The floor showed signs of excessive wear, ancient and unbuffed, the wooden floorboards were pockmarked and covered in scratches. Heavy, deep gouges lead towards the bedroom from the kitchen. Stepping into the bedroom, it was revealed the scratches came from the dinner table, moved into the other little room for the express purpose of planning and congregation.
Filling the room were two different figures, one somewhat tall, adorned in bulky, ancient armor, and the other short, draped in dark, ragged robes and a warped mask. Eyeholes were carved into it, likely with a crude knife, each a different size, but beyond that the mask was featureless. Yet, somehow it appeared unhappy, remorseful, mirroring the figure's posture. In fact, their posture mirrored much of the home. There was no question who owned the house, then, but they didn't greet any of the mercenaries as they stepped in.
Aside from the table and the bare walls, there was little furniture to speak of. In one corner, a thin, brittle bed that sagged from the weight of the blankets and pillows heaped on the bed and close by a short, ugly dresser. On top of it were several random items, stored with no consequence. Of note, a wooden ruler, sharped into a stake. Several razor blades were screwed to the end of it, turning the narrow points of the ruler into a sharp, if impromptu blade. The untreated wooden dresser was stained in a number of places with thick droplets of blood, too old to be removed. Aside from that, other bits of driftwood, shells, bits of metal and broken items rested haphazardly. A curious collection of items, salvaged from a nonexistant sea.
Eventually the entirety of the crew was assembled, all of the mercenaries who agreed to work with the Acolytes, at which point the sea-slug bouncer closed the door and locked it securely. He moved to the doorway, blocking the way out and listening in. Outside, the tapping of branches on the walls and roof could still be heard amid the wind as it picked up. Rain hammered the walls, threatening to break M'yr's fragile home into pieces.
M'yr did his best to ignore the weather outside, and looked at the group of volunteers, one after another. They were a motley crew, certainly, but he expected that. His ad hadn't been aimed at professionals, or experts, just the curious observer the ad managed to ensnare. He looked past them, and the bartender nodded at him. He glanced down and away.
The door was locked, and as far as he could tell no one was listening in. It was time for the work to begin.
He looked upright, and leaned against the table, but his words didn't come, caught by the mask of driftwood in his way. With trembling hands, he reached up and took it off. He set the mask down on the table, and blinked at the crew.
M'yr was ghostly pale, with dark, heavy circles under his eyes that betrayed his lack of sleep, and perhaps more uncomfortably his general neglect of himself. His dark, soft-looking hair managed to get in his face no matter what he did with it, and his eyes, sad and broken as they were, seemed endless, like tidepools deeper than any sea. He sized them up again, before finally introducing himself.
"Hello, my name is M'yr Boldbarrow."
Boldbarrow, he says?
Nothing Bold about him.
He stiffened, and gripped the edge of the table. Rarely, if ever did his hallucinations taunt him in that way. It made him wonder if they were hallucinations at all. He stared hard at the table, and glanced up, glanced up at several more M'yr's, all staring intently at him. His ghostly, pale features bored holes into his confidence from across the table as they stood, clustered at the other end of the room.
He swallowed his nerves, and continued.
"I am M'yr, and you are here because you saw the ad, I'm guessing. Which, is good because I'm going to need help. It's going to be difficult work, but I've worked hard to get some money together for everyone that helps." He paused, and added, a bit thoughtfully. "Our target is also pretty interesting, as well. You might walk out with a door prize, if you want to think of it like that."
On the table next to him, sat several things, from the supplies he'd scrabbled together in a desperate attempt to be prepared, as well as the heavy sack of money meant for the mercenaries. Furthest from him was the map, rolled up and tucked away, for now.
He gnawed on his lip, and decided to wait on those. He'd come back to them, in a short while.
"The job we're looking at is the Totenborough Library," He told them, coming back to the present for a moment. The cluster of M'yr's were gone; now the expectant mercenaries looked back at him. Did they pity him? Mistrust him? He couldn't tell. He wanted to put the mask back on, and hide from them again, but he didn't.
"Specifically, we're looking at an ancient study site; a sort of 'infinite library' they call it," He explained to them. "I don't actually know if it's infinite or not, but it's older than just about every city in Taen, except maybe Totenborough itself. Me and my associates believe that the...God..." It made him want to vomit, using the word out loud in this context. "Might be referenced somewhere in the books there. We can't say for sure, and there's no official record of what they've found in there. It's all written in ancient script, so it's anyone's guess what's actually inside."
"So, I would like your help getting inside," He tried to summarize the job. "We'll get in quickly and easily, hopefully, and we can hopefully find what we're looking for. If we find it, we pull out all the books we can on the subject and we bail. We get home, you all get paid and--I'm sorry, could you move away from the window?" He paused to try and clear them away from the window. Outside, a sudden wave surged through the street, slamming into the window. It cracked from the blow, but held firm. A few moments afterward, the cracks dissapated entirely. M'yr exhaled, visibly relieved.
"Okay, nevermind. Anyway, we get in, we get our books, and once we're out, you all get paid. That simple."
He waited for a beat, before following up.
"A-anyway! I realize I haven't given you a chance to introduce yourselves. Please, give a fake name if you want, but tell me what you're bringing to the table. I don't really...do this sort of thing, so if you have ideas...I'm game, I guess."