This is a series of experimental pieces that I'm writing in order to improve my skills as an author. Set in a version of Erebus that takes elements from both RifE and the Official Scenarios (RifE civs appear, but the story makes references to scenario events like the Illian-Doviello wars), it tells the story of a group of people who are trying to make their impact on the world. Feedback appreciated, as long as it is phrased politely. First Chapter: Bickering and a Beginning. It was a beautiful day on the Dural countryside. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a cool breeze was blowing all around the fields. Everything was peaceful, with no hint of banditry or other subversive activity. Of course, to a knight and adventurer like Arden Atlandire, such an environment was unprofitable. Not that he cared, as he was trying to indulge his artistic interests by painting a sunlit glade that he had found. "Hey! Are you finished with that? I'm bored with having to stay in this place for even another hour." A woman dressed in the gear of a Ranger walked out of the nearby hedges, irritation evident in her features. Zhaikine had never been patient in such calm spaces. She had never been patient anywhere, but it was far more noticable when one was not anticipating an attack on their quarters. At least then he shared her boredom. "Come on, don't you want to preserve as many memories of this place as possible? I know that you don't like the sounds of figthing as much as you say you do," the knight said as he ajusted his artist's smock. The ranger scowled, and replied: "At least something's always happening on the battlefields. Here there's only landscaped forests and fertile fields and clear brooks that are always fresh. It's unreal." "It's my nation's achivements that you're talking about." Arden spoke before scowling back. "Dear Cassiel, why must you try to tame everything?" Zhaikine implored. "I don't want to sound like the Fellowship of Jackasses, but can't you leave nature well enough alone? And you're a knight, shoudn't painting be demeaning to you?" "No Dural is demeaned by the pursuit of the arts. If one does not appreciate the beauty of the world, how can one love what he must defend?" "To me, it's being free that's important, but that's not what I came to argue with you about. Haven't you noticed that our party's woefully incomplete?" "Our destination has a Tavern where mages and rogues can be hired." the knight said matter-of-factly. "Woudn't that deplete your already small inheritance further? The boy told me you promised your father that you won't be profilgate with the family wealth, remember?" "Speaking of Lore, we should probably check up on him." The knight and the ranger went back to where they had pitched their tent, where a young boy who looked to be about fourteen years of age was pursuing a tome from the newly-founded Emperyan faith. Hearing their footsteps, he put down his book and looked up at them. "Ah, I was wondering when you would be coming back. So, finished the painting?" "I'll complete it another time," said Arden. "I already remember the place, so it won't be a problem." "Good, good. Anyway, I've counted the gold we have and compared it with reported prices for adventurer services. I think that we can hire both a mage and a rogue, but we'll have to haggle a bit if we are going to get good ones. Are you up to the challenge, or are you going to have a child negotiate for you again?" "Well, it's always worked out great for us..." said Zhaikine. "Zhai!" spoke Arden in indignation. "I was just joking. But seriously, Arden here is too honorable for his own good, and as you know, I'm not good with people not from my nation. Except for you two, of course." Lore blinked. "Fine, but this will be the last time. Once we get to our destination, we're going to look for another negotiator, one who at least looks like he or she can be taken seriously." "I'm fine with that," said Zhiakine. "So, can we go now? I think my senses have grown dull just by staying at this place..."