It’s early evening in Voonlar. Enough light to see, be seen, but just enough darkness to make it…interesting.
Fortunately, (for those who would make life interesting for others more than any) there is enough light to see why our trio should be allowed to dwell in the depths of boredom evermore.
As is common in the smaller towns, no one really knows what to make of Paladin. They may have heard of golems, but he doesn’t really fit the bill. For one thing, he radiates happiness at simply being alive. Literally. Paladin’s aura is the kind of pure shiny thing that gives even the foulest demon a strangely happy feeling. In a world of worry, Paladin walks without fear, in search of new smells, or familiar ones that have brought him pleasure. (Paladin neither consumes nor expels food, he is truly the cheapest of dates.)
He does whirr a bit as he walks, for he’s a warforged. Which is like a golem, except, as Paladin puts it, he doesn’t just murder things. It does make it a bit jarring when he smiles, or gets giggly about butterflies. Well, anything, really. The giggle of a warforged has broken many an evildoer’s courage. The upshot though, is that even the thought of giving Paladin a bad time causes either fear or guilt in even the coldest of hearts, (or cavities that once held hearts.) There’s a lich near Waterdeep who has given Paladin a standing invitation for chess lessons whenever he has the time. People just like Paladin.
People do not just like Monk. People (sometimes) tolerate Monk, people (regularly) hate Monk, people (constantly) want to do awful things to Monk, (especially Storm Silverhand), and would except for the fact that Monk is well, a monk, and a very good one. It doesn’t help that he moves as though he is at the center of the world and it moves around him. Half-buried rocks don’t have the balance Monk has, and the most accomplished dancer in Waterdeep became almost suicidal after observing him rise from his seat to applaud her performance. Monk is very pretty, Monk is beyond graceful, and upon first glance, it is very difficult to understand why people hate Monk so.
Then he opens his mouth.
Someone once asked Elminster about the hate Monk creates, and Elminster replied, “That child is a being of angelic grace and beauty, with a mouth worse than the foulest middens on three worlds.” Monk is aware of this, but stopped caring some years, perhaps centuries ago. No one is sure how old Monk is, they’re too busy trying to make him go away. Storm Silverhand commented that if you want proof that Paladin is made of purest kindness and mercy, the fact he has not tried to kill Monk is all the proof anyone should need. Storm dreams of turning Monk inside out.
When asked about his effect on people, the most detailed remark Monk ever provided was “Some people think about other people. Their feelings. Their cares. I haven’t seen people as anything more than a collection of places to be hit in longer than I care to remember. You see a butcher, I see someone who I would avoid hitting in the ribs because of the extra suet butchers seem afflicted with.” Somewhere along the way, Monk became rather disassociated from everyone else. If that bothers him, no one can tell.
He is however, as much as he can be, solicitous towards Paladin. “Just look at the boy, he’s the most innocent thing ever. I mean, he’s a living battering ram incapable of being hurt, but even beholders think he’s cute. It would be an act of pure chaos to be unkind at Paladin.”
Monk, everyone agrees, is totally not chaotic. They do wish his definition of “good” was more “makes other people smile” and less “makes me giggle.” But he will relentlessly follow any and all rules. He just doesn’t always tell others which rules he happens to be following at any given moment.
The upside for Monk is that simply being him makes people think twice about talking to him, much less giving him a hard time. This works out well for them, since Monk can collapse a minotaur’s skull with less effort than a leaf uses to float on the wind.
Sometimes, there have been groups that have braved Monk’s “go away” aura and Paladin’s “Everything is beautiful” aura to give them a hard time. They’re buried in small boxes around Toril.
Ever since Monk and Paladin went through Yulash a week or so ago, even those groups give them a wide berth. Well, not so much Monk or Paladin. They give Barbarian a wide berth. Beholders give Barbarian a wide berth. It is rumored that on its last rampage, the Tarrasque was stopped by Barbarian. She didn’t kill it, she gave it a bad look. Barbarian inspires fear the way Monk inspires hate. Only worse.
Barbarian has not been a part of the group for very long, but she knows two things: first, she knows that Paladin is both someone who cannot be hurt and someone who she will protect from even the slightest attempt with every fiber of her being and every inch of her axe. Halfway between Yulash and Voonlar, a bird attempted to relieve itself on Paladin. Barbarian didn’t kill the bird as much as she erased its existence. Paladin doesn’t know it, but he is the safest being in existence. Ever. (She is much of the reason why the Voonlarian prejudice towards non-humans is curiously missing when it comes to Paladin.)
The second thing she knows is that Monk stirs feelings in her that make it hard to not kill things even more than she normally does. There is something in the complete and utter discipline surrounding Monk that sets her insides on fire, and she plans on breaking a lot of beds to see if he’s any good at quenching the fire. Or making it worse, she’s not fussy. The entire trip from Yulash, she’s been splitting things with her axe to keep from possibly shocking Paladin with what she’s thinking of doing to Monk.
Trees. Rocks. Random ancient adamantine pillars that survived at least two battles between major deities. Stone bridges. Four bandit companies. That sort of thing.
Barbarian is a human female, six feet tall, with the pinkest hair Monk has ever seen. Monk is well aware of how Barbarian feels about him, he feels much the same about her. In fact, in the week since meeting her, he has tripped three times. Monk has not tripped at all in decades, perhaps centuries. They haven’t discussed it yet, but Monk is fine with seeing if they can break a bed. Or an entire inn, in this instance, he’s not fussy. Monk may be perfectly lawful, but Monk is not an ascetic. Monk likes his beds soft, his coffee hot and Barbarian. He would never admit it, but he actually likes Barbarian more than coffee.
Barbarian is clad in armor which is covered in spikes. Spikes which have spikes, and disturbing stains. “I got the idea from the battlerager company I asked to stop bothering me. Those spikes are proper dwarven craftsmanship.” She smells a bit like the back of a butcher’s shop. Well, her armor does. No one really knows what Barbarian herself smells like, although Paladin has an idea. Paladin is a connoisseur of smells, he thinks Barbarian smells very pretty under all the armor.
Paladin would never state this out loud, it might hurt Barbarian’s feelings. Paladin likes Barbarian, he thinks she is very nice. Barbarian would say that Paladin is just darling except she doesn’t know that word. At all. She’s caught herself starting to use the word “sweetie” when addressing Paladin, which is quite disturbing since prior to meeting Paladin, she didn’t know that word either.
Barbarian’s weapon of choice is a large double-bladed axe. It may be magical in nature, but the encrusted gore makes it hard to tell. No one wants to get close enough to tell in any case. After dealing with what she called a “minor problem” in Phlan’s main graveyard, (she called it a “minor problem”. The people of Phlan called it “a legion of undead bent on killing everyone in the city.” Perspective, it’s a thing), the mayor of Phlan emptied the city’s treasury into her sack. When asked why he overpaid to that extent, his answer was “I have seen things in the dungeons of Zhentil Keep that came not close to what that woman did to a vampire.” He then waddled off to change his clothing, as the memory of her had caused him to soil himself.
When it comes to killing people, Barbarian is an artist. A gruesome, terrifying artist. Her and Monk are opposites in almost every way, and if they do not get some private time, and soon, they may just break a town.
As neither Monk nor Barbarian are particularly fussy about where they have dinner, they allow Paladin to choose. He initially thought the Sign of the Shield had nice smells, but the lack of a proper dining room puts him off. “I don’t like to smell food by myself, there is no one there to eat it when I am done, and the servants never believe that I didn’t do something to it. I feel bad about wasting food.” Monk and Barbarian note the very private room setup, and resolve to spend the night here. The building seems solid, it should survive.
Paladin nixes the Swords Meet immediately. Aside from his disdain for over-spicing food, (”If all I wanted to smell was spices, I’d be a caravan guard in Sembia”), the fact the inn is basically a local gathering place for Zhents means that instead of smelling food, he’d be watching Monk and Barbarian slay Zhents. That doesn’t particularly bother him, but it’s been a long walk from Yulash, he really wants to smell some nice, properly-cooked food, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with the smell of dead Zhents.
They all agree on the Three Elves. It has unlimited food for only five silvers (Barbarian approves), plenty of coffee, (Monk approves) and there is no wall between the kitchen and the dining rooms, so not only can Paladin smell his food, he can smell the cooking, and that is an uncommon joy for Paladin.
The three sit down and fork over their money. Barbarian pays, she lost a bet with Monk in Yulash. Haundrae, one of the four owners of the in starts to look askance at the money, (understandable given the stains on the gauntlet that drops it into his hand), but sees that it’s attached to Barbarian and decides that well, silver washes just fine. The owners, also the cooks, are soon busy as can be cooking the vast amount of food the trio requests. Barbarian can out-eat a small company, Monk doesn’t eat as much, but he does adore food, and Paladin orders one of everything so he can smell it.
They’re seated near the kitchen area, and soon the cooks are beaming in the light of the joy emanating from Paladin at the plethora of smells he is bathed in. (Literally. Paladin gets a bit glowy when he’s this happy.) Well, the smells from the food and the kitchen. The smells coming from Monk and Barbarian are not as joyful to him. Fortunately, the food and the kitchen smells outweigh them. Paladin resolves to spend the night in this inn. Hopefully near the kitchen.
The other three owner-cooks of the inn are a trio of large women, in all dimensions, two are sisters. They’re fantastic cooks, possessed of bubbly flirtatious natures. They are not however, flirting with Monk. This is less due to his personality than the fury they see on Barbarian’s face if they become too familiar with Monk. Monk would normally not be okay with this level of possessiveness, but he’s too enthralled by both Barbarian’s hair and her oft-demonstrated artistry with dismemberment and mayhem. He has found his soulmate. She has found what she hopes is the first man who can keep up with her. Regardless, she makes it clear any extraneous touching of Monk may result in the sprouting of bloody stumps on the toucher. She does this by calmly licking the blade of her axe while glaring.
Perhaps “calmly” isn’t the best word. But the growling is barely audible and her teeth only chatter a little.
The meal is served and devoured with no unnecessary bleeding, so it all works out. This is helped by the large tip Barbarian leaves. (She’s a very good tipper. It’s why she’s welcome in almost every tavern in Toril. Especially the ones she’s destroyed.) As dessert and the empty third keg of Brown Nut Ale are cleared, Paladin says “I like this place, it smells nice. I think I’d like to stay here tonight, what do…” He never finishes the sentence, Monk and Barbarian are already out the door heading for the Sign of the Shield. Fortunately, Monk is slightly faster than Barbarian, so the door to the inn remains intact. Monk only breaks down doors when required, totally not chaotic.
Paladin hears the door to the Shield open and slam shut, then something that sounds like an innkeeper (Mester) starting to refuse to rent a room to Barbarian and Monk followed by…well, imagine the sound pure fury makes as it shoves a handful of platinum into an uncomfortable place and I don’t mean the back of a ffolkewagon. Paladin and everyone in the Three Elves all decide that everything is fine, no need whatsoever to check on the innkeeper over at the Shield. Mester will be fine. Probably. It can absolutely wait until morning.
A few minutes later, there’s the sound of what might have been some of the Shield Trading Company’s veteran guards running into the inn to deal with unruly guests, being tied in a knot and flung into the street through the front door. But everyone who heard the clanging and the thudding and the soft sobbing decided the best course of action was to Mind Their Own Business, and let the clerics at the House of Holy Light know they may want to do something about the guards, the sobbing was somewhat off-putting. Also, no one should be left in the shape of a square knot for too long, it’s a bit hard on the back.
To this day, no one is precisely sure what actually happened to the Sign of the Shield, the other guests, along with the remaining un-knotted staff had fled within minutes of Monk and Barbarian going into their room. None of them would ever speak of what they saw or heard. It took three days before anyone could walk near, much less into the building without instantly sprouting hair all over their bodies.
This was particularly disturbing to the elves in town. They’re not used to needing depilatory magic.
One of the minstrels from the Flying Stag was asked by the Bron’s men to describe the noises coming from the Shield that night and responded with “Have you ever heard the sound of a peryton being violated by an orthon while six random demons all sing Rashomeni opera in perfect harmony? No? Neither have I, but I now know exactly what that sounds like, and if it’s all the same to you, I plan on drinking until I can no longer remember it. Or anything else.” In an act of desperation, the Bron sent a letter to Storm Silverhand asking for her help, along with a description of Monk and Barbarian. Her only response was “You let them in, you deal with it.”
The building itself survived after a fashion. The outer walls were mostly intact, the inner structures were almost a total loss. All of the bricks in the second-floor ceiling had to be replaced, they looked like someone had managed to use them as handholds in several places and, somehow, footholds in several others. The tack and other gear in the stables were either found destroyed or so defiled that they had to be burned. At least two rooms required the services of every cleric in the town to get the stones in the floor to stop whimpering.
There was some thought to mustering up a posse to arrest the trio, but firstly, no one in the town was even slightly willing to take part. The un-knotted members of the Shield Trading Company all lined up at the dismemberment crosses when ordered to ride after them under pain of slow death, stating “this will hurt less.”
The second discouraging factor was the very large mound of platinum found in one of the bathing rooms, (when counted, enough to buy a new inn and half of Voonlar), the only undamaged room in the building. On top of the platinum was a note in precise, perfect script that read “Thank you so much for your hospitality and professionalism during our stay. We hope this payment will cover any accidental damages we may have caused.” Underneath were three words in less neat script, quite possibly using some form of blood for ink which read: “This. Never. Happened.”
The entire town agreed on that.