22 Rova, 4707

It has been an unduly hot summer and on this auspicious day of the Equinox, the air is thankfully crisp with the first hints of Autumn. Nestled amongst the high cliffs of Devil’s Platter, beneath a magnificent gold and purple hued sunset, the town of Sandpoint is ablaze with lights, laughter, and good cheer. It is the Swallowtail Festival, a carnival time of renewal and hope – and as the released swallowtail butterflies rise to the sky in a storm of colour and life, so do the spirits of the town.

The crowd around you roars in soused approval as with a clever shift of weight, you use the crook of your foot to sweep the pouch of copper coins off the middle of the table and into your palm. At the same time, your swift movement causes your opponent to lose his balance and tumble towards the edge of the table. Having abstained from alcohol, however, your reflexes remain quick enough and you manage to grab hold of his hand, preventing him from being unceremoniously sprawled on the ground. Raising your fistful of coins to the cheering crowd, you nod sportingly at your opponent, accept his congratulations, and step lightly off the table, making way for another pair to play the game.

You would really like a cup of tea after facing multiple opponents, but it doesn’t seem like you’re going to have any luck, considering the amount of alcohol you’ve already seen being served. Counting the coppers in the pouch, you figure that you have enough to splurge on some hard cheese and bread from a nearby push-cart – it is a festive occasion, after all. Although there are still ample leftovers from the massive lunch sponsored by the local taverns, the thought of greasy food turns your stomach, and simple plain fare sounds best right now.

Carrying your food in hand, you find a seat for yourself on an upturned barrel and calmly survey the crowd around you, idly wondering where the rest of the caravan you arrived with could have got to. The crowd is mostly human with the occasional dwarf, though you do chance to spy a strapping half-orc woman in martial leathers way across the town square, the huge flagon of homebrewed ale in her paw spilling slightly as she quaffs the lot in one go.

You’ve lost the wallet-snatch game to the quiet half-orc in the shabby doublet from your caravan, but no matter. You tried your best. Besides, victor or not, there is no way he could have possibly impressed as many pretty wenches as you did. (None of the wenches here are as pretty as you, of course, but then, you’ve never been one to complain about that sort of womanly attention.)

Once your opponent has left the ringed-off area with his prize in hand, you grin broadly at the massed townsfolk around you and punch the air in jubilation. Judging from the tone of the responding cheers, you did actually impress a fair number of ladies. Perhaps some of them wouldn’t say no to hanging out with you later on. Still grinning widely, you return to the corner where you’ve stashed your belongings. As you shrug your shirt back on, you are sure that you can hear a few disappointed murmurs and sighs, but you’re not about to push your luck by turning around to wink.

Speaking of luck… Once you are done changing, the game organiser pushes a brimming tankard into your hand, which you gladly accept. After giving thanks to the Accidental God, you take a quick sip and enjoy the coolness of the brew in your parched throat. All in all, it’s been a pretty good day so far, what with the exercise and the beer and the ladies. Sandpoint’s nowhere as bustling as Magnimar, but that’s part of the place’s charm. Perhaps you could really get used to this sort of life.

Picking at the bowl in front of you, you finally sigh to yourself and push it away, looking out over the milling crowd in the square. It’s not that the food isn’t good – in fact, this is an excellent bowl of curried salmon – even now, the rich aroma of hot spices makes your mouth water and reminds you a little of home. It’s just that the knowledge that it was made by Ameiko Kaijitsu, whose attention you’d rather not draw right now, makes the food stick in your throat as you swallow.

You stand up and stretch, massaging the back of your neck. It hasn’t been a very good day for you so far either. For some reason, your fingers seemed to fumble at the dice, you almost slipped and fell while dancing, and you lost out in the balance games to some weird shirtless priest-man who wouldn’t stop flexing his muscles when he wasn’t looking at your chest. Come to think of it, the townsfolk as a whole don’t really seem to approve of your dressing either. Or could it be because of your tiefling blood? It can’t be – you’ve seen enough fellow tieflings on the road since you’ve left Minkai. Yet it seems as though you’ve been getting more than your usual share of odd glances and whispers since arriving in town.

Nevertheless, you try to shove away the negative thoughts as you slip through the crowd, looking for a drink of some sort to wash the taste of curry from your mouth. This is supposed to be a happy occasion for Sandpoint, with the church being reconsecrated and all. You heard a little about it on your way here from some travellers also headed here for the festival – something about their old chapel burning down, taking poor Father Tobyn and his daughter with it.

At this point, the press of the crowd jostles someone off her feet and against your side. It’s a young red-haired woman who’s even shorter than you are. She smiles shyly at you and whispers a hurried apology, before scurrying away to a nearby table where the largest female half-orc you’ve ever seen sits waiting.

You’re well into your seventh beer by now – eight, if you count Red’s share, which you swiped while she was off getting some wintermead – and it doesn’t seem to be helping your mood much. Even winning some of the weightlifting challenges and arm-wrestling a couple of silly out-of-towners to their knees didn’t make you feel any better. Deprived of your watchman armour and halberd, you feel oddly naked in the crowd and can’t help patting your hip belt every few minutes to make sure that your greatsword, trusty companion that is it, is still there. Taking a slurp from your tankard, you glare out at the crowd. You’re sure some of them are quite definitely criminals who need arresting and a good old smacking upside the head to shake the fear of the law back into them. Perhaps two smackings, if they happen to be Scarzni thugs out to cause trouble. Three smackings, if they’re out to disrupt your adopted town’s festival.

Still, you muse to yourself as you scratch your arm and stare down into what’s left of Red’s beer, you’re supposed to be off duty right now. You’re supposed to be relaxing, having fun. Only you’re not exactly quite sure what exactly ‘fun’ is supposed to entail if it doesn’t involve catching criminals and beating the motherloving snot out of them.

Red returns, raises her eyebrows at the sight of two empty tankards, but says nothing, simply eyeing you with some concern as she pours out your share of the wintermead.