The sun beats down on the sturdy wagon as it rolls over the low, dry hill.  Before the oxen-drawn wagon lies a sprawling trade town, much of it in ruins.  When the orcs arrived with their horrible aberrations almost two decades ago, Neverwinter barely survived.  Looking down from the hillside, though, the city bursts with activity once more as earnest settlers flit to and fro, breathing life back into the town.

“We’re back! I see Neverwinter!” slurs a cheery, copper-scaled dragonborn steering the oxen.  A mixed chorus of unintelligible cheers answers in return.

“Y’know…” interrupts Arblagrash, gathering his clouded thoughts in the mounting heat.  “We should…*hic* we should paint the wagon!”  Another enthusiastic cheer erupts.  Our five fledgling adventurers had managed to swallow three of the four barrels of ale they’d purchased in Phandalin.  It’s a five day journey.  “Bonding,” I guess you’d call it.

Kharl, a halfling—yet rather tall for his kind—basks in the revelries. Though we haven’t been together long, he reflects, we’ve seen through much ado.  They’d been thrust together by way of favors owed to a mutual friend, Gundren Rockseeker, about a month ago.  By most accounts, Gundren was much unlike his surly kin. Kharl had known Gundren to be a cheery, dependant dwarf, very fond of travels. He was not without his dwarf-like ambitions, however. Two months ago, he and his brothers, Thorden and Nundro, stumbled upon the entrance to a centuries-lost trove of gems and magical fonts: the Wave Echo Cave.  He called in favors up and down the Sword Coast, only to find five bumbling adventurers respond to the call.  In the end, Gundren did not survive to witness the treasures he’d uncovered, nor did his brother Thorden.  He did, however, combine a group of inexperienced strangers into a surprisingly competent unit.

Kharl’s gaze wanders between each of his new companions as they drunkenly argue about painting the wagon this or that color.  Seated across from Kharl is Arblagrash, a monstrous human in size and appearance, roaring with laughter.  A mosaic of purple and white battle scars covers the burly man, hidden in places by dented armor and a thick beard that threatens to consume the entirety of his face.  In their first fight together, Arblagrash slaughtered the enemy nearly entirely by himself.   In his mind’s eye, Kharl relives the scene.  If not for the heads and entrails flying in his wake, it might’ve been beautiful.  The ground was slick with rain and gore as Arblagrash dashed in the downpour from hobgoblin to hobgoblin, dispatching each with heavy blows from his great-axe–“Sheila,” I think he calls it.  Despite his own abilities, Kharl shudders.  Best to stay on his good side.

He was less impressed by the blank-faced human, Olotulemas, and the cowardly dragonborn, Propolis.  Kharl is a tactician at heart–a gladiator.  He’d seen many styles of combat in the arena, but never one like Olotulemas’.  You’d think there were ants in his trousers the way he sprinted in and out of engagements.  And all the while, as Olotulemas punched and sprinted his way from enemy to enemy, Propolis’ was sure to be somewhere in the backlines, shrieking in terror.  At least that impish familiar of his tries to help.  Still, despite general appearances, they’ve shown glimpses of greatness.  Perhaps a veteran’s hand and a bit more experience is all they need.  They’re pleasant company, anyway.

Kharl’s eyes land finally on the last member of their party: Versu—an odd smirk on his face as he now looms over Neverwinter.  While generally amiable—if a bit haughty—Kharl knew Versu to break a neck sooner than bread at the first sign of danger.  One minute a drunken flirt, the next a stony killer.  It’s a terrifying thing to see a life taken with no hesitation.  If the last month is any indication, that murderous resolve might prove invaluable in the future, but can he be trusted?

Kharl considers Versu a moment longer before Arblagrash interrupts.   “Another round!” he shouts, heartily uncorking the stopper in the final barrel as they roll–squeaking, bouncing, and belching–into the streets of Neverwinter.