Lorelei simply sidled up to the doors of the Wyrm's Roar tavern and opened them. She had to admit to herself that she expected a lot more resistance from the denizens of the place.
The inside of the tavern was cavernous in nature. Thick wooden beams stretched across a vaulted ceiling that was fully twenty feet above the wooden floors. A long counter occupied one wall of the building, while a riot of tables and chairs filled the rest. Lorelei counted three passageways other than her entrance: One was behind the barman's counter, while the other two most likely led to private quarters for the establishment's occasional guests. Mounted on the farthest wall, just above the fireplace, were the head and foreclaws of a raging dragon -- stuffed, for the pleasure of the tavern's inhabitants.
For a single moment, virtually all sound in the tavern ceased. Lorelei felt a roomful of eyes staring at her, predicting her moves.
She placed one well-clad foot beyond the threshold, and watched as the tavern returned to a sense of uneasy normality. The apron-clad man behind the counter still kept both eyes on her, however, and she smiled. She was going to ask him first, anyway.
Lorelei gracefully moved towards him, balancing the suspicious glances of the men around her with a seductive walk of her own. There were more than a few unoccupied seats at the counter, and she took the one nearest the stout barman.
"Hello," she said, batting her eyelashes at him.
"Good afternoon," the barman said, placing one arm on the counter. "What'll you have?"
"I wasn't thinking about having anything, really," she said, smiling. "Will you throw me out if I don't?"
"No," the barman said, "but if you have no business here, then you might as well get out, yourself."
Lorelei laughed. It had been a long time since she had experienced such earnestness.
"So this is the famed Wyrm's Roar tavern," she said, "home of thieves, cutthroats, and mercenaries."
"I abide few thieves and cutthroats in my tavern," the barman said, "but the last is true. You have your pick of hired hands here."
Lorelei scanned the crowd. "Mm, yes... your people have a certain look about them."
The barman scowled at her. "Do you have a job that needs doing, my lady?"
"I'm just looking for someone, that's all."
"Well, if he's here," the barman said, relaxing a little, "then I can get him for you. If he's not, then you can leave a message for me to deliver the next time he passes by. Who do you want, my lady?"
"I'm looking for Auros," Lorelei said.
The barman froze noticeably at the mention of the name. Out of the corner of her eye, Lorelei spotted two burly men casting glances in her direction.
The barman cleared his throat and leaned forward. "Auros isn't here," he said. "What do you want with him?"
Lorelei paused, her expression shifting into a serious look. "Not what you may think," she said, gazing intently into his eyes.
"Not what I may think?"
"Personal business," Lorelei said. "Now let go of the weapon."
The barman raised an eyebrow. After a few seconds, he removed one hand from the grip of the studded mace behind his counter.
"Good," Lorelei said. "Now, where were we?"
"Right here," a man said, planting himself in a nearby seat.
Lorelei glanced at him. The newcomer was a tall, wiry man, his tangled blond hair draped long over his forehead. He wore a thick cloth jerkin and robe, and both were gray with age. A long staff leaned against the counter, close to his right hand.
"Auros," Lorelei said.
"It's all right, Wasyl," Auros told the barman. "Just leave us alone for a bit."
The barman nodded, and crossed to the other side of the counter.
"Wasyl's a good man," Auros said, "but more than a little suspicious of mages. Everyone here is."
"You're not a mercenary, Auros," Lorelei said, the smile coming back to her face. "Why do you associate with such people?"
Auros shrugged. "They're honest. They don't hide a lot of things from you. They're more than usually willing to lend a hand at times. Quite unlike mages."
"You sound as though you don't like mages."
"I don't like mage sects, my lady. Too many secrets and lies for my taste."
"Poor Auros, then," Lorelei said, giving him a sweet smile.
"What do you want, my lady? I'm fairly certain that you didn't come here for some idle chit-chat."
Lorelei leaned back slightly, primly folding her hands on her lap. "A few things," she said.
"Information. It seems that everyone I meet always wants me to get to the point."
Auros considered this for a moment. "You're a Masquer, my lady," he finally said. "The more you dally, the more people expect that you're planning something for them."
"Is that the case?" Lorelei asked in mock surprise. "I can't imagine."
"Are you looking for anything in particular?"
Lorelei raised one hand to her lips. "Nothing of importance," she said. "Just some confirmation of what we have so far."
"Word on the street?" Auros asked.
"Word from the street, if you please," Lorelei said, smiling.
"I can tell you that the Metrians have been asking a lot of questions around here."
"That's a surprise, in a way. What need do the Metrians have of mercenaries?"
"Something to do with Atharus's apprentice. Has she disappeared again?"
"Yes," Lorelei said simply. "Off exploring the landscape. She has a remarkable way of getting out from under his thumb."
"Only two of the regulars around here have hired themselves out as guides recently, but those were to a party of Vanarumite merchants and a Hadrien scholar."
"We know where she is, Auros," Lorelei said.
"I don't suppose you'll tell me where?"
"No," Lorelei said, grinning. "Are you curious?"
"No," Auros said.
"All right," Lorelei said, folding her hands again. "Have you heard anything else?"
"Valen Stormseeker of the Tempestites is convalescing from his recent accident," Auros said.
"I've heard about that. What happened to the peasant who defeated him?"
"He's been given to Hieron, the craftsman. I've seen them both in the marketplace recently. The young man appears to be doing well."
"Any man who survives the Tempestites should consider himself lucky," Lorelei mused.
"I met him once," Auros added. "His name is Oris. He seems to be a good sort."
"Just wait until the Tempestites get their hooks in him," Lorelei said. "He's turn out as self-centered as the rest of them."
"Another victim of the sects," Auros said.
"What about the Thanatai?" Lorelei asked.
"What about the Thanatai?"
"I'm not a Galenic, Auros," Lorelei sighed. "Word is that their Grandmaster Kharam is dead."
"I've heard of those rumors as well," Auros said, "but, as with all things about the Thanatai, I have heard only rumors."
"You've dealt with the necromancers before," Lorelei accused.
"Only for my research," Auros said. "They're not a bad sort, once you get on their good side."
"That's not what I've heard."
Auros shrugged. "I'm just an independent mage, my lady."
"Yes, I can see where that can be a failing," Lorelei answered, smiling.
"Is there anything else you need? Perhaps word on how my studies have been progressing?"
"No," Lorelei said, slipping one hand into the pockets of her robes, "although I do believe that a small gratuity is in order."
She pulled out a small scroll, new and pristine white in color, and handed it over. Auros gave her a suspicious look -- stopping only when she smiled back at him -- and unrolled the piece of parchment.
Lorelei maintained her smile. If Auros was surprised, he didn't show it.
"I've been looking for this reference for a long time," Auros said, quietly.
"I know," Lorelei said.
"You've always been the tricky sort," Auros said, pointedly.
"Why thank you, Auros."
"How did you get it away from the Druids?" Auros asked. "Surely you would not have a spy in their midst."
Lorelei held up a cautionary finger. "A Masquer," she said playfully, "never reveals her secrets."
"We have too many secrets on our own," Auros said, sourly. "And that is why you find me here, at this very moment."
Lorelei laughed, slipping off her seat at the counter. "I shall take my leave of you now, Auros."
"What, so soon?" Auros asked.
"Sarcasm does not become you," Lorelei said. "Besides, I have a few more people to see today."
"No one important, I hope."
"Maybe one or two. But they should matter little in the grand scheme of things. Farewell, Auros. We shall be watching you."
"I'm sure," Auros said, turning back to the barman.
Lorelei crossed back to the entrance of the Wyrm's Roar, trailing the hostile eyes of the tavern's mercenary patrons behind her. Auros, she had to admit, was not as tractable as many of her other sources. But he was quite the societal anomaly: a mage who was completely neutral to the seven sects. It was a shame to waste such potentially valuable commodity.
The only catch was that Auros held no regard for anyone, much less the Masquers. But Lorelei figured that she could easily break him if she wanted. She just didn't feel like it at the moment.
Lorelei gave a little laugh, one that unnerved the men seated nearest to the tavern's entrance. Then she took one, two, three steps through the threshold -- and out into the busy streets of Lorendheim once again.