The Scaled Advent

Deep Conspiracy
...literally.

Swift and silent, the bard and hawk passed through the false wall and held their breath as it slid home again. A few moments later, footsteps approached and paused next to the wall. The seconds crawled by like minutes until the footsteps retreated.

Letting out faint sighs of relief, the still-invisible pair inched their way down the dark passage. They followed a smooth hall which declined gently down to the right. Two hundred feet beyond, the passage opened up into a small room with a pair of desks and a glass-door cabinet. A guard snored at one of the desks, face in his arms. Atop the cabinet, an oil lamp flickered gently. Across the room was a door. In the center of the wall to the right, a flight of stairs led up out of sight.

Faint yowls and harsh thuds filtered through the door beyond the guard. Foradjinn shifted as if to move across but he felt Tinuviel’s hand press against his chest. “Not yet. We need to take care of the guard. Quietly.”

“Not a problem.” The bard tugged her forward. He snapped his fingers when he reached the guard’s side and cast Polymorph upon the sleeping man. Tinuviel snatched up the resultant mouse and shoved it inside one of Foradjinn’s scroll cases. The scrabbling from within sounded loud in the still air, but not loud enough to muffle the cries from beyond the door.

With a nod of approval, the hawk knelt before the frosted glass doors of the cabinet and jimmied the lock. Inside, she found shelves upon shelves of leatherbound ledgers. These dated as far back as one hundred and thirty years ago and grew thicker towards the more recent dates. The initials “B,” “R,” and “D” featured prominently in the “Outgoing” columns. “R” appeared first towards the beginning of the century. “B” showed up in 606 with “D” coming along in 613.

“Tinuviel.” Foradjinn tried the door beyond the desk and found it locked. “We need to get through.” The sound of hits against flesh and fresh howls split the air behind it.

Tinuviel tore the pages where each initial started and various other sections she deemed important. “We could leave now,” she said. “It might be more dangerous beyond this point.”

“I cannot leave without helping them.” Tugging on the door handle, the bard ground his teeth in frustration.

“Fair enough.” Crossing the room, the hawk tucked the papers away into the bard’s bag of holding. “Steady.” Leaning against the door, she listened for a moment until the howls and whimpering died down. She could have sworn she heard a distant door close and so set about picking the lock. Once it clicked open, she rested a hand on the knob and pointed toward the oil lamp atop the cabinets.

Foradjinn understood and flicked a finger at it, the light fading out with Prestidigitation.

Pushing the door open, Tinuviel crept in to be greeted by a faint scent of the sea. A long rectangular room stretched before them, cages lining the walls. In most of them, tabaxi hunched, huddled, and keened. The ones closest to the door shrank back against the bars, then realized the strangeness of the hawk’s movements. “Please,” one hissed. “Help us!”

“Shh!” The hawk hissed back. “We can get you help but we need to be careful.”

The tabaxi nodded and whispered it along the line. The whimpering died down to be replaced with hopeful murmuring. Tinuviel darted toward the end of the room to listen at yet another door. Foradjinn followed at a slower pace, unlimbering his spare longsword, daggers, and throwing knives to disperse among the prisoners.

“How long have you been here?” Tinuviel asked.

“Three, four days,” one said. This tabaxi appeared to be the one still holding it all together the best, though his eagerness belied how close he was to becoming like the others. “The guard just took one of us through that door. Everyone who goes that way never comes back.”

Padding back to the door, Tinuviel set to work unlocking it. Foradjinn slid the scroll case with its inhabitant into an empty cell and moved to back her up. The hawk drew the flametongue dagger and used mage hand to push the door open.

Sea scent increasing, the hallway beyond featured a small door on the wall to the left and a long tunnel to the right. At the end, Tinuviel just made out the tiniest pinprick of light. By this time, the hawk was finding each lock was keyed the same and the left door gave way before her thieves tools in a shorter time than before.

Behind this new door there was another small desk and a larger, reinforced door next to it. On the desk, various alembics and braziers and other alchemical supplies covered the surface. One large beaker and a few small vials contained a light purplish liquid.

Foradjinn jiggled the handle on the door and noted the lock was bigger than the others. As he removed his hand, a dry, gutteral voice pierced his mind. “I don’t recognize you. Who is there?”

The bard leaped back, staring at the door. Behind him, Tinuviel whipped around in surprise, hearing the voice as well. “Are you a slave like the others?” stammered the bard when he found his voice. The resultant chuckle reminded Foradjinn of a tribal leader who laughed as a trader came to him begging for mercy. A persistent ache rose at the base of his neck to couple with the unease at the whole situation.

“Are you responsible for all of this?” Tinuviel asked.

The voice did not reply. Before she could ask more, distant singing interrupted her investigation. The off-key calling was punctuated by the scraping and bumping of rolling wood. Tinuviel slipped past Foradjinn and relocked the door to the cell room. Then, she put her finger to her lips and motioned the bard to be silent as they hid in the alchemy room.

The singing drew closer, along with the scraping and bumping. It died away just outside. A pause, and then, “All right. Come on out!”

Tinuviel slid her flametongue dagger from her sheath, but Foradjinn rested his hand upon her shoulder, motioning for her to wait. He then dispelled Polymorph.

From within the cell room, a pop cracked and a panicked voice yelled, “Simmons! Oi! Help me out!”

Sure enough, Tinuviel slammed open the door to catch Simmons in the act of opening the cell room door and battle was joined. The hawk soon dealt Simmons a serious gash in his stomach and the guard fell, clutching his gut.

Foradjinn strode forward, letting his dancing sword rise and level toward the other guard, Felton. “Drop it,” he growled.

Thoroughly intimidated, Felton obeyed, dragging his wounded coworker into the smaller room.

“Now, do tell us,” Tinuviel tossed the cowed guard some rope to tie up Simmons. “What the hell is going on? Where are you taking the tabaxi?” She scuffed a wet slick next to the cart Simmons had been pushing. Blood.

“All we do is open up the door and push ’em inside for the purple thing.” Felton finished and backed away.

Tinuviel checked the knots, none-too-gently for she had a pretty good guess already. Simmons groaned. “And then?” she growled.

“Then we take the bodies down the tunnel and toss ’em in the bay.” While Tinuviel tied Felton up, the guard explained. The tabaxi were taken from Bernardo’s and one a day was fed to the creature behind the door. “It eats the brains,” Felton said. “Then it sleeps. And the goo it leaves? We just pick it up when its done along with the body.” He tilted his head toward the desk. “Bottle it. Sell it at the social club up those stairs you passed. People see some pretty fantastic stuff when they taste it.”

“Who do you work for?”

“I don’t know.” Felton flinched when Tinuviel raised her burning dagger, the light reflecting in her cold eyes. “I don’t know! Sort of Bernardo, sort of the Brotherhood. They all get a cut!”

“Who pays you?”

“My uncle, Ignacio.”

Tinuviel fought to maintain her composure. Ignacio Dartan was the leader of the Thieves Guild. Combined with the Brotherhood and Bernardo’s of the Banking District, the whole situation had turned more complicated than she ever imagined. “Does anyone else work down here or is it just you two?”

“Just us.”

Taking a deep breath, the hawk crossed her arms. She continued to stare down at them and they shifted under her gaze. “Which one of you pushed the tabaxi in?”

Felton swallowed. “Both of us,” he mumbled.

“I think I shall kill Simmons,” the same flat tone in the hawk’s voice wavered with fury. “And then, maybe, I will shove you through that door, hmm? Or you can try swimming while tied up?” She motioned toward the long tunnel smelling of the sea.

Simmons whimpered and Felton shook his head with a frantic motion. “I’ll take the harbor. Or that knife.”

“Tinuviel,” Foradjinn murmured. “We have evidence now. These Tabaxi and the papers you have will probably be enough to convince Gwendolyn.” He reached over and swept a few vials into the bag of holding. “These, too.” He reached up and caught his sword and leaned on it. “I can Send to Beron and have him bring people. They will see what we see.” Clearing his throat, he shrugged. “But your ways in this place are strange to me and I will follow your lead.”

At the mention of Beron, Tinuviel felt her grip relax on her dagger. The rage did not diminish but a cooler sense of control shunted it aside for the moment. “Send to him, then. Tell him as much as you can.” She strode back into the cell area and proceeded to unlock the cages.

Foradjinn received a reply a few stunned seconds later, affirming help was on its way and asking for more information. “I can send once more, Tinuviel,” he explained after relaying the message. “But then I will not be able to polymorph anyone else.”

“Beron is sending help. The help is not here yet. We must hold out as long as we can without them and we will need your abilities to that end.” Tinuviel turned to the freed tabaxi. “Can you stay as well? We can bring justice for you and the dead both. But we need your help.”

Conversing among themselves, the tabaxi turned and nodded.

An hour passed and all grew restless. A knock at the door leading back to Bernardo’s and the social club startled them all out of their reverie. Tinuviel and Foradjinn waved the Tabaxi into the tunnel. “I don’t recognize the voice,” the hawk warned. She flattened herself to the side of the door and motioned Foradjinn to open it.

The bard swung the door open and cast Polymorph again. He caught a glimpse of a human woman clad in a fine blue vest and uniform before she collapsed into mouse form. Foradjinn scooped her up in his last scroll case and capped it. To the sound of frantic skittering within, he raised it to his lips and growled. “Shush. There are cats about.” He then inched the tube into cell and locked it.

“Who was she?” Tinuviel asked Felton.

“Part of the social club. She was collecting the vials for tonight’s party.”

“Anyone else coming down?” The hawk twirled the dagger pointedly.

“Uh, no. They might notice she’s missing soon, though.”

“One hour,” Tinuviel exchanged nods with Foradjinn. “One more hour,” she announced to the tabaxi. “And then we go, help or not.”

Forty-five minutes later, another knock sounded on the door. By this time, Tinuviel had been mulling over the intricacy of the conspiracy around them. With most of the shady organizations of Port Cecil in on it, she wondered if her fellow hawks could be trusted. Catching hold of the two strongest tabaxi, she sent them off down the harbor tunnel to swim around to the docks and inform her contact, Narvi, of the whole situation, just in case.

Then she called through the door. “Who’s there?”

“Tinuviel? It’s us! Therdina, Boronir, and Alanros.”

The third name Tinuviel did not know and it did little to calm her nervousness. “Who sent you?”

“Beron. Sorry we’re late. We had to sneak through Bernardo’s.”

Foradjinn, by this point, had approached the door and reached out to open it. Tinuviel caught his hand and whispered her fears in dwarfish. The bard nodded and cast invisibility upon her, murmuring a small battle chant to provide a little inspiration. She once again flanked the door and Foradjinn at last opened the door.

As they had said, Therdina, Boronir, and a tall elf in hawk uniform like the others stood outside. “Welcome! At last, at last.” The bard guided them in, chattering away, professing his gratefulness for their assistance.

“Where are the tabaxi?” Boronir demanded, a grumpy expression on his face.

“Who is that woman?” Therdina asked, pointing at the unconscious former mouse in one cell.

“Where is Tinuviel?” Alanross added.

“Right this way!” Waving them on, Foradjinn led them into the tunnel. Tinuviel followed behind and put her foot in the door as Alanross attempted to close it behind them. Thankfully, he was distracted by Foradjinn getting to the part of the story where the Dartans collected the vials of brain goo and the Brotherhood sold them as drugs.

“You have to be kidding,” snapped Boronir. “Goo? A creature eating tabaxi brains?” He frowned. “You’ve been down here too long.”

“It’s true,” said Tinuviel at last. In the ensuing surprise and demands for explanation, the invisible hawk managed to add credence to the whole scenario. The three newcomers eventually came around to their view.

Borondir rubbed his eyes. He stared at the remaining tabaxi and said, “Well, you’ve got two choices, friends. You can either head back up through Bernardo’s and take your chances traveling back to the pearl via the Banking District, or head down the tunnel and swim for it.”

Unhappy with either choice, the tabaxi nonetheless opted for the swim. They scurried away into the darkness and Borondir turned to his fellow hawks and the bard. “Well, Bernardo’s gonna be jailed. That much is certain.” With a half-smirk, he sucked at his teeth. “This is also gonna be quite the blow to the Banking District, but,” he shrugged. “Not our problem.” Pointing at the thick door, his eyes narrowed. “That thing’s gotta go.”

Tinuviel nodded. “With so many powerful people dependent on this, we’re in danger. If we leave this, they could bury it all along with us.”

“So we take out the thing they need most.” Therdina jutted out her chin, a serious gleam in her eye. “The source.”

“I’m tired, I’m done with sneaking around,” agreed Boronir. “I’m pissed this is happening in my area of the city and I’m not having it.” Clapping Foradjinn on the shoulder, he took a breath. “You two have done so much to get this far. Can you help us?”

“I am almost out of tricks,” Foradjinn shrugged. “But yes.”

The other hawks nodded in unison.

“Good.” Unsheathing his shortsword, Boronir set himself. “What’s our play?”

View
The Road to El Bernardo's
In Which the Bard and the Rogue have Lunch. Again.

With the rest of the party away to the northeast seeking treasure, the night continued in Port Cecil. Fighting a yawn, Tinuviel changed her mind and headed back to the Gleaming Star, deciding to delay her trip to visit her mother for the morrow.

In the morning, Foradjinn awoke. Weariness dug at the edges but the bard felt mostly adequate. He paused to listen at Tinuviel’s door and heard no movement within. Guessing her to be still asleep, he descended to have breakfast. In the taproom, he found other sleepy guests with alternating levels of grumpiness and stupor. Between bites of porridge and bacon, the bard tinkered with his flute and attempted to translate the ululating chants of his tribe into the trills of the instrument.

Tinuviel awoke to the sound of cheering and applause from the taproom. Reluctant in step, the hawk nevertheless investigated to find the revivified breakfast patrons slapping Foradjinn on the back and Marrim with an impressed expression. “What was all that noise?” she mumbled, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Huh?” Embarrassed, the bard gave her a sheepish grin. “Oh, I was, uh, just playing a little music. How are you-” he fell silent as she held up one finger and sat at the bar next to him. Marrim recognized the gesture and brought a steaming cup of coffee.

After a long sip, Tinuviel breathed deep. “Now. What were you going to say?”

“Oh, ah.” Foradjinn shifted on his stool and tapped his fingers on the bartop. “I…have something to confess. I, uh, went to see Anaya last night.” He raised his hands as Tinuviel raised an eyebrow. “I went as an owl! No one saw me. I just realized I was an idiot and didn’t know where she came from or anything about her family, whether she wanted to go back to them.” Dropping his hands, he bowed his head. “I know now, at least.”

Silent for a moment, Tinuviel watched the activity of the other patrons. Then, raising her coffee to her lips, she coughed. “Ah, well, since we’re being honest-” she took a long gulp. “-I also went out last night.” And she informed the bard of her activities. “In essence,” she finished," There is a lot more going on than we think. The social club is suspicious and Tabaxi are disappearing from Bernardo’s. I might just wander over to the Banking District and-" she shifted in her seat to ease the weight of the flametongue dagger off of her leg,
“-snoop.”

“Can I come?”

“What?”

“Can I come?” Foradjinn repeated. “Back in the desert, my tribe used a few different tactics when it came to raiding caravans. Some, we learned when other tribes were planning to raid and told the caravans for a reward. Other times, we demanded a reward from the other tribes not to tell the caravans. So…perhaps we find something at the club or Bernardo’s we can use against Aeroth?”

Casting a jaundiced eye upon the eager bard, Tinuviel took another long gulp of her coffee. It was far too early in the morning for scheming. “We’ll workshop it,” she said. “Right now, I need to go to the mage’s guild, too.” A gleam entered her eye as she stood up.

“All right, then.”

Proceeding through the early morning traffic, the hawk also filled the bard in on the fate of Xander, the missing farmer of Drift Valley. She doubted her clout would extend to the prison known as the Shell, since it was run by the Sentinel division. Sentinels and Hawks were possessed of interdepartmental rivalry, to put it lightly.

The morning fog thinned over the bay and they found the mage guild still standing, the front door closed. Pushing it open, Tinuviel called out and soon Landr appeared, dressed in his finer robes and wearing a supremely grumpy expression. “Yes?” growled the green dragonborn. “Can I help you?”

“Ah, I was wondering if you could make something for me…” Tinuviel’s voice trailed off, unsettled by the harsh manner. “Sorry, is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s just Trifel and his stupid minions.” Brushing down the front of his robes, the guild leader’s face took on a more weary look. “Make something for you?”

“I’ve heard tell of a hawk who saved a wizard’s life long ago,” Tinuviel explained. “In return, the wizard made him a creature, kind of like a familiar but of flesh and blood…a homunklus?”

Weariness fading to thoughtfulness, Landr crossed his arms. The lemon-yellow eyes narrowed and widened, flickering back and forth as he thought. “I do not know what stories you have heard of such a thing, but yes,” he said at last. “they do exist.” Eyes narrowing to glowering slits, the dragonborn leaned toward her. “It is high magic, dangerous and gruesome. It requires flesh and blood from the one it will bond with. Since you are not a wizard,” he gestured to her hawk uniform, “It will be even more complicated.”

“How much?”

“Well, I’m not the one who sets the prices,” rolling his eyes, Landr shot a glare toward the door. “But I would estimate it would cost upwards of ten thousand gold.”

Tinuviel blinked. “Ah.”

“Talk to Reina. She can get you a more accurate figure. Because that’s what she does. And is good at. Apparently.”

Noting the ice in his voice, Tinuviel cleared her throat. “What’s wrong with Trifel? Is he giving you grief?” She caught sight of Foradjinn’s confused look. “Trifel leads the Sentinels,” she explained. “Is there any way we can help?”

“Oh, I believe we will handle it.” Landr smiled a tight little smile. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have matters to attend to. Reina is upstairs and can help you out.”

On the second floor, they found Reina polishing what appeared to be billy club. A small gleam of magic pulsed over it from time to time. Standing straight, the enchanter stretched and noticed them. “Oh, good morning! How can I help you?” Reina also frowned at Tinuviel’s explanation. “A homunculus, huh? Well, like that grump said – it’s not easy.”

Reina went on to admit no one at the guild could assist Tinuviel in the actual casting, though they could manufacture the scroll for eleven thousand gold. “None of us are powerful enough beyond that,” she spread her hands and Tinuviel could see the admission took a little effort from the proud enchanter.

“You know of no one outside the guild who could help me?”

“I didn’t say that,” Reina shook her head. “Not above board, at least.” Leaning on the table with the billy club, she glanced out of the window facing west across the city and the gates to the fields beyond. “There was one I knew of: an elf. Dropped off the face of the earth awhile back. Lives in a village near Haré last I heard.”

“Lylillen?” Foradjinn interjected.

“That’s the one.”

“Is his name Omalen?

Eyes widening, Reina leaned back. “You know him?”

“Of course!” Foradjinn beamed and told them of the wizard and their visit to the village. “He is very powerful and I may be able to convince him to help you,” he finished. The memory of Yaban and the guards of old Haré rose in his mind and his smile faltered. “At least, I believe so.”

“Good!” From a nearby worktable, Reina plucked up a slate and chalk and scribbled calculations down. “Now, do you want to pay now? It will take at least two weeks. I still have all this to finish,” her eyes turned resentful as she waved toward the billy club, and Foradjinn and Tinuviel could see a larger stack next to it.

Tinuviel produced her remaining star sapphire, the three foot long black dragon horn, silver chalice with moonstones, and three hundred gold.

“What have you been up to?” Reina goggled over the black dragon horn. “I’ll give you two thousand for that, then. All this is a start. About four thousand gold total I’d say.”

Foradjinn swung his pack down from his back with a grunt and pulled a massive black dragon scale from it. “Would you have a use for this?”

“Seriously, what do you guys do for a living?” Rubbing her hands over the glossy black surface, the enchanter shook her head. “I couldn’t use this. The armorers over the merchant district might, though.”

“Then how about a vial of black dragon acid?”

With rising excitement, Reina examined the proffered token, sniffed with care, and priced it at five hundred gold. Tinuviel nodded her thanks and Foradjinn waved it off. After a muffled argument downstairs with Landr, Reina returned and announced she would begin the scroll enchantment as soon as possible. Further prodding from Tinuviel revealed the contract with Trifel: the head of the sentinels commissioned enchanted cudgels for the Shell, some which could stun, others to paralyze or induce unconsciousness. “The only trouble now is Trifel wants to renege on the contract,” Reina threw up her hands. “And Landr’s understandably upset and being pissy with everyone.”

“Want me to talk to Gwendolyn? Maybe she could help-”

An emphatic shake of her head and Reina said, “No. Let Landr take care of it. We’ll be fine.” After selling Foradjinn two small health potions, she returned to her work and the bard and the hawk left.

Outside, Tinuviel chuckled. “Well, I’m broke and in need of a few thousand more gold before I get that scroll. How about you?”

Laughing, the bard produced nine gold coins. “This and a few silver.” He handed her a health potion. “Here.”

She tried to give it back. “I already have one!”

“I’m squishy. You might need to shove it down my unconscious throat.”

“Fair enough.” She tucked it away and snapped her fingers. “You know, we never did get paid by the crown for killing a black dragon in Telfore.”

Foradjinn brightened.

A short while later, they stood outside Beron’s office with a paper of writ from Gwendolyn. Tinuviel’s Inquisitor beckoned them in and approved the matter, leaving and returning with two enormous sacks of gold. Seeing the potential encumbrance, Foradjinn scampered off to purchase another Bag of Holding.

While he was gone, Beron turned to Tinuviel. “And why haven’t you visited your mother yet?”

A wry look crossed the hawk’s face, tempered with a little shame. “I’m sorry.”

“You attacked a dragon, Tinuviel. That’s something she’s going to hear about and be even more annoyed you didn’t come to check in with her right afterward.” Pinching the bridge of his nose, Beron sighed. “She worries about you. I mean, she and I both realize what you’re capable of but,” he stretched out his hand and took hers. “it’s never easy when it’s a daughter of ours in danger.”

Squeezing his hand, Tinuviel’s expression softened. “I will go today. I meant to go two days ago, but we were followed.” And she filled her father in on the events from their encounter with the Magic Brewing Company to the discovery of the leak.

“You discovered the leak?”

“Don’t worry,” Tinuviel shrugged, leaning her hand upon the flametongue dagger at her belt. “Bradley’s quieted now.”

“How quiet?”

“Very quiet.” Tinuviel’s eyes flicked down to the dagger.

“Oh. That quiet.” A faint tone of disapproval did nothing to mask the weariness in Beron’s manner. “Well, now his boss at the Magic Brewing Company will be searching for him and know something’s wrong. At least the Sentinels probably won’t think much of it – guards go missing in the Pearl all the time. But,” his voice turned cold. “Keep your eyes open.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, I understand most of your group is off on a trip, but please let them know we are most interested in them helping us out. The fight in Ashur Dan is intensifying. Enemy forces continue to build in Throkari. We’ve received no word from Cloudcroft.” Beron listed on his fingers. “If they could help us out in these areas, it would be a great boon after what you all did in Telfore.” He spread his hands. “As you’ve been told, no matter what they choose, your ongoing duty is to accompany them wherever they go.”

“Yes, sir.” Tinuviel’s wry look returned. “Can’t imagine that’ll make the paladin any happier. Have you ever heard any information on Kaven?”

Frowning, the Inquisitor leaned back in his chair. “Can’t say the name rings a bell. Do you know of a family name?” He frowned deeper as his daughter shook her head. “And he’s from Nesland near Artesia? We can look into it.”

“Thank you. And have you heard anything about the Tabaxi disappearances from Bernardo’s in the Banking District?”

Beron shook his head. “I would inquire of Boronor and Therdina. The Banking District is their beat, after all.”

A loud rapping at the door drew Beron to his feet and Tinuviel to attention but it was only a familiar tribal bard, returning in triumph with another bag of holding. Foradjinn dumped the enormous bags into the smaller one, sans Tinuviel’s share which he had given Reina towards the Homunculus scroll.

Taking their leave, the pair headed towards the merchant district. “I, uh, have some place I have to go and then we can check out Bernardo’s?”

Foradjinn agreed and on the eastern side of the merchant district, closer towards the Pearl, Tinuviel halted before a small cottage down the street from the border of the slums. The front door swung open at her knock to reveal a dark-skinned female elf. Black-hair fell in braids down a straight back and shockingly pale and yet gentle eyes regarded the bard and hawk for a moment before widening. “Tinuviel,” the drow greeted her, stepping forward for a fierce embrace.

Tinuviel returned the embrace which lasted long enough to inform her of the trouble she was in but with the measure of politeness before strangers. “Mother,” she smiled. “I’m sorry I’m late.” Turning, she motioned to her companion. “This is Foradjinn. Foradjinn, this is my mother: Luthien.”

“Any friend of my daughter’s is a friend of mind.” Luthien’s smile turned gentle as the bard bowed over their clasped hands. “You are not from around here, are you?”

“I come from what you would call Anasazi, the desert to the east of the Saccarin mountains,” Foradjinn nodded. “I am the Voice of the Kabir.”

“I have heard of the Kabir.” Luthien ushered him to a chair, Tinuviel darting forward to take up a pitcher and fill glasses with water for them all. “So, Tinuviel,” her voice turned hard again as she sat and pointed her daughter into another chair. “I have been hearing tales of you again. Dragons…wyverns…a rogue monk turned sorcerer…not the least of which it has been a few days since you’ve returned and not come to see me?”

“And I came back alive, Mother,” fidgeting slightly, Tinuviel shot an apologetic look at Foradjinn.

“When are you going to settle down, Tinuviel? When are you going to find a nice husband and give me grandchildren?” Luthien shook her head slowly. “I worry about you-”

“Ah, Lady Luthien, allow me to apologize.” Foradjinn attempted to conjure up what he hoped was a charming smile, channeling a certain now-deceased captain. “If I might explain, it is the fault of my party as well as myself. We were ambushed on the road to Port Cecil, you see, and we simply would have died were it not for Tinuviel’s sudden and expert assitance…” With all the flair and drama he had written in Omalen’s blank journal thus far, the bard recounted their adventures, including Tinuviel’s erstwhile aide in reaching out to Anaya.

Luthien proved an avid listener, her annoyance diminishing somewhat, and she asked several questions for clarification, many of these on Foradjinn’s relationship with Anaya. “Do you love her, Foradjinn?”

This time, it was the bard who fidgeted. “Well, I think I am…falling in love with her, but I don’t want her to think I’m only helping her because of that. I want to help her because she helped me when I needed it most and had no one else. At the very least, I want her to have a choice to be free with no obligation.”

Exchanging glances with her daughter, Luthien smiled. “Foradjinn, you need to sit down and tell her all this. She deserves to know and she might change course with this information.”

The bard fell silent, thinking. Luthien turned to her daughter. “What will you do now?”

“We’re going to Bernardo’s.” Tinuviel explained their mission.

“I met someone from there,” Luthien tapped her jaw. “A nice lady who did not treat me as others do considering my, well,” she motioned toward her face. “Her name was Findelay and she was most kind. I believe she works at Bernardo’s as the Sommelier.”

“Good to know.” Tinuviel arose and finished her water. “We should be going.”

Luthien embraced her daughter farewell and then kissed Foradjinn on the forehead. “Do what you must,” she said. “Do it well and do it safely. Come back to me.”

Taking their leave, the bard and the hawk headed toward the Banking District. The latter refreshed the former’s disguise as the Voice of the Kabir and took on the guise of his attendant. After a small delay in which the hawk had to forge papers to allow them entrance to the district, they soon approached Bernardo’s. Skipping the line, Tinuviel exchanged a few words and gold with the Maitre’d. Eyes aglow with the bribe, the man led them through the crowded restaurant to a choice table.

A tabaxi approached with menus and filled their water glasses. “Welcome, honored guests,” he greeted them, eyes lowered.

“A kingly gift,” Foradjinn rumbled, motioning to the water he had brought. In return, he slid ten gold toward the server.

The tabaxi fumbled with the coins and the head waiter dragged him away, decrying his incompetence. The head water returned and took their order, Foradjinn remembering his previous trip and managing to act like he knew what he was doing, sniffing corks and relating legends of the restaurant in a thicker accent than normal. Meanwhile, he and Tinuviel kept an ear out.

In the midst of the business and high society talk of jewels and finery, Tinuviel heard a woman exclaim to her husband, “I can’t believe they got into the club!” From what the hawk could tell, the husband wore a strange gold chain bracelet not normally worn by men of the city.

Foradjinn’s ear twitched to hear from the kitchen, “Yes, another one would be most helpful.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could just see through the long opening between the dining room and the kitchen a short, wildly gesticulating man speaking. “He would definitely appreciate it.”

Over the excellent steak and delicious filet of barracuda, the hawk and bard conversed in low voices, filling each other in on what they had heard. As part of the ensuing plan, Foradjinn excused himself to the restrooms.

Thirty seconds after he had left, the head waiter bustled up and asked Tinuviel if the meal would be on the Foreign Office account. The hawk nodded and praised the food to no end. The obsequious gentleman preened and noticed her empty glass. “But a moment, Madame, and I shall retrieve further libations!” Scurrying off, he failed to notice her slipping the way Foradjinn had gone.

As she approached the door, the tribal bard leaned out and clasped her hand, turning both of them invisible. Dodging and weaving back into the dining room, they scoped out the kitchen. Within, a considerable number of cooks of many races besides tabaxi alternately chopped, stirred, shouted, fussed over food, and ran to and fro. Wherever fires needed to be stoked, or pots filled, or any menial tasks needed completing, grey over-alled Taba darted to and fro. Foradjinn recognized the short, madly-gesticulating man in the thick of it accompanied by a taller, silent man. The two figures wove their way through the chaos and into the office on the other side of the room.

Tinuviel knew to wade into the activity would not be wise if they wished to remain stealthy and instead tugged Foradjinn back out into the main room. She padded toward another hall and down steps to a landing and down further stairs to a cool, damp cellar. Racks and rows of wine filled a medium-sized room. Tinuviel pulled Foradjinn to the side just as a waiter ascended the stairs with a bottle. Farther in, they found another, a lady with long hair studying the racks of bottles. Once again, the intruders flattened themselves against the side of the racks as the lady also exited with bottle in hand. Near the far side of the cellar, they found a blank wall of stone. The hawk guided the bard to assist her in searching for a secret mechanism and soon the fourth bottle to the right of the wall resisted Tinuviel’s touch. The blank stone wall swung open down a dark passage.

The soft grating noise did not muffle the sound of approaching footsteps and the hawk tugged Foradjinn after her, the bard managing to snag three dusty bottles from the nearest bottom shelf before the wall swung shut again.

View
The Monk and the Mimics
In Which Sleep Deprivation is No Laughing Matter

Slipping out of the Gleaming Star, Tinuviel padded down to the Anchor District. Though it was ten at night, the evening continued in full swing. Various taverns issued warm and welcoming light and more than a few inebriated patrons who stumbled to the alleys and homeward. Passing ships as they creaked in their moorage, the hawk headed toward the fourth pier.

A block of apartments loomed out of the fading light. Surrounded by a storm fence, they were built around a tall winding stair. A series of lantern poles lit the way up. Next to the storm fence, sprawled on a stack of crates, a drunken human sang to himself and took frequent quaffs from a jug.

Tinuviel hesitated by the drunk. Producing a coin, she tossed it to the man. “Where does Theodore live?”

“Second floor,” slurred the drunk, catching the money. “Third from the south.”

Ascending, the hawk soon found the door and knocked.

After a brief pause, Theodore answered, his memory triggered by Tinuviel mentioning the “interesting magic” he had witnessed that day. Over a drink, the shifty ship inspector dodged her questions. “I haven’t even given my report yet,” he insisted when Tinuviel demanded he tell her who he had told of the draconic magic Kaven possessed.

With Theodore growing offended, Tinuviel decided a different tactic was in order. She slammed her hands down on the table, causing the man’s drink to jump and spill. “I’m in the business of saving necks, Theo,” she growled. “If you want to save yours, you’ll tell me the truth.”

The inspector cowed and crumpled before the threat. Whimpering, he admitted he had told one of his guards, Bradley. “He works for the Magic Brewing Company on the side,” he explained between blubbering and drinking straight from the bottle. “He tells me to keep my eyes open and lets them know about things like this.”

Standing, Tinuviel emptied her glass into his, patted his cheek, and said, “Grow a spine, love.” Then, she headed toward the warehouse district where Bradley lived in one of the barracks.

Pulling up her hood, the hawk approached the building where three guards loitered by the entrance. “Whaddya want, Sweetheart?” one greeted as she approached.

“Evening, gents.” She replied. “Is Bradley around?”

“Who’s asking?”

“Name’s Vex.”

Narrowing his eyes, the guard drummed his fingers on his elbow. “He either patrols the harbor or the pearl,” he said at last. “Check there.”

“Thanks.”

Through the maze of alleys and streets, Tinuviel investigated and made discreet inquiries. Narrowing her search to the Pearl, she continued along into the night. As she turned one corner, her focus overrode her hearing and she did not perceive the approach of a hulking, furred figure behind-

“Ahhh, Tinuviel! There you are.”

Whirling, Tinuviel let out a chuckle. “Narvi! How do you do that so well?”

Gold and black-spotted, the tall Tabaxi informant lounged against the nearby wall. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” He grinned. “I couldn’t find you at the barracks and even your mother said she hadn’t seen you in awhile. Where have you been?”

“Oh, you know. Busy.” Winking, Tinuviel shrugged. “What’s the word, Narvi?”

“Well, you know you wanted to be kept in the know of the goings on around.” Tapping his claws together, the tabaxi’s golden eyes squinted. “Bernardo’s in the banking district has been hiring tabaxi, right? And that’s great!” he hastened to add. “We’re grateful for the work, yes?” His rumbly voice turned serious. “But they’re not coming home.”

TInuviel frowned. “All of them?”

“Many, many of them,” Narvi corrected her. “Husbands, older girls, but mostly men. Sometimes, they’d have to stay a night away but that was uncommon. Now…”

The hawk stared down the street in the direction of the high keep and the banking district. “Curious.” She reached out and patted his elbow. “I’ll give it a check. How about the rest I had you checking on? What about Xander?”

“The farmer?” Shaking his head, Narvi crossed his arms. “Bad business. He’s in the Shell.” Apparently, the man had argued at the casinos and killed a man in anger. “If you ask me, though, he’s been framed; does not seem the type.”

With a deep breath, the hawk grunted. “My friends won’t be happy, but thanks for the information, Narvi. You do good work.”

Another grin and the tabaxi bowed.

“Oh, do you know where I can find Bradley?”

“The fat, annoying one?” A claw pointed out a direction. “He’s a couple streets over.” Then, the tabaxi faded into the shadows.

Sure enough, at the other end of a dimly lit lane, Tinuviel spotted a pair of guards on their patrol. “Bradley?” she called out.

Both paused, looked back, conferred, and one approached. “Yeah?” The guard had tucked a hand into his belt near his mace. “I’m Bradley.”

“Heard from a mutual friend you were keeping your eye out for..interesting things.”

Bradley said nothing, staring at her. “Who told you?” he asked at last.

Tinuviel leaned slightly around him, casting a glance at the other guard waiting farther down the street. “I have a lead. Theodore told me you’re the guy to get in touch with.” Clearing her throat, she lifted her eyebrows in a significant gesture. “But let’s not discuss in the open.”

Leathers creaking as the guard eyed his partner, he tapped his sword hilt. “Wait here.” He strode back down the street, exchanged a few words, and returned, his partner continuing their patrol alone. “Theodore’s annoying,” Bradley growled as he escorted Tinuviel deeper into the streets. “Is he really talking or did Kargul send you?”

“I was just told to find you.” Rubbing her hands together, Tinuviel paused by an alley and turned to face him. Behind Bradley, she could see the other guard slowly disappearing into the distance. “You know, right, that ship came in recently with the interesting magic on it?”

“Yeah? I know. So?”

“Small potatoes. Compared to what else was on there, that was nothing.”

Bradley’s eyes gleamed in the darkness.

“Now, I know you get a stipend from Kargul.” Tinuviel rubbed her hands together. “So, I could work for you and you could pay me a stipend.”

“How’d you find all this out?”

“A girl’s got to have her secrets.” By now, the other guard had vanished down the street.

“What’s your name? What do you do?”

“I’m Vex. I mostly keep my ear to the ground.” Giving it a few more seconds to ensure Bradley’s partner was gone, Tinuviel dropped her voice. “And I hate traitors. They deserve to be dead.”

The flametongue dagger carved a bright trail through the darkness. Bradley fought with the desperation of a cornered animal but despite disarming the hawk once, she soon struck him down. The last thing Bradley saw was a snarling succubus hissing in his ear, “Thus die all traitors.”

Snapping out of the disguise self, the hawk winced from her wounds and set off to find Narvi.

The tabaxi materialized out of the shadows near one of his usual stakeouts. “Tinuviel! Back so soon?”

Tossing him a star sapphire, Tinuviel said, “I made a bit of a mess. Think you and your boys could clean up for me?”

With a smirk, Narvi waggled a mock-admonishing claw. “What did you do?”

“The fat, annoying one won’t be nnoying ever again.”

“Good.” The tabaxi let out a sharp whistle. Three of his kin stepped from the shadows. “We have you covered, hawk.”

The smirk spreading into a full-fledged grin, Tinuviel stood on her toes and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thanks Narvi. You’re the best.”

Chuckling, Narvi and the others vanished. Tinuviel marveled to herself at their skill, then turned toward her mother’s house.

Four hours ago, back at the Gleaming Star, Foradjinn gave up attempting to sleep and penned a letter to Anaya. He then polymorphed into an owl and flew out into the night.

At Aeroth’s home, he alighted on the windowsill and tapped upon the glass. Anaya awoke and opened the window to accept the letter, reading: “Anaya, I’ve been oblivious all this time. You were teaching me so much and helping me stay alive in a strange world, and I never thought to ask you: Where do you come from? Who are your family? Do you wish to return to them? Your friend, Foradjinn. P.S. You can tell all this to the owl.”

With a smile, Anaya sat down and told her disguised friend all. She was born to a respectable merchant family who lived in a village not far from Artesia. Recognizing talent within her, her parents sent her off to the bard college down south. As she returned to the village to visit some time later, she was captured by a slaver party who then turned west into the desert to gather among the peoples there. “I would like to see my parents again,” she admitted.

The owl hooted in what it hoped was a comforting way and prepared to take wing.

She put out a hand to rest gently on the top of its brow. “I know I have said it before, but please tell Foradjinn I don’t take what he’s done lightly.”

Hooting again, the owl moved its talons in a rough approximation of a dance step
Anaya once taught to the tribal bard and flew away into the night.

Meanwhile, to the northeast, Syl popped back into the material plane, and glared at Kaven. “What are you doing?!” he demanded, placing a protective hand over his satchel of books.

“You have Nyloth’s book!” accused Kaven, knuckles white on his hammer’s handle. “You’re gonna turn into him.”

“Highly improbable!” the wizard huffed. “I haven’t even copied- I haven’t even read it yet.” Jabbing a finger at Igneel who rocked back and forth in shock, Syl frowned. “I just saved Igneel twice by not turning into him.”

The monk took neither side, merely huddling by the fire with a thousand yard stare.

“It’s just a book!” Syl insisted.

“Look what he learned from it.” Kaven gestured toward Nyloth’s corpse and toward the giant piles of bones that once were minotaur skeletons.

“Well,” Syl stroked his chin, studying the bones. “They were remarkably effective, you have to admit.”

“They are against everything good, everything natural.”

“Magic is natural. I would never let it control me. I can control it!”

Scowl deepening, Kaven shifted from foot to foot. Syl inched back farther. “I don’t think you should have it.”

Syl sighed, running his hands through his hair. “What if I tore out pages. I’m learning good things from this!” He pointed at Igneel again. “I learned greater invisibility from it and it helped him.” Dropping his hand, he shrugged. “I’m just curious, Kaven. Is curiosity evil?”

The paladin leaned on his hammer. “You don’t seem yourself, Syl. I’m worried.”

“Look,” producing the book and still staying a substantial distance away, the wizard smiled. “We’ll compromise, all right? I will tear out every single spell in this book that will turn me evil. Sound good?”

Kaven brightened. “All right.” He turned to tend to Igneel.

Behind him, Syl spun the book in his hands, tore out exactly zero pages, and tucked it away into the bag of holding where it would be invisible to Kaven’s Divine Sense.

“He was dead,” Igneel murmured to Kaven, staring into the flames. He shivered. “Should have stayed dead.” Though Kaven tried to bolster his spirits, the monk could not sleep and instead moved to the top of the rocky outcropping to watch throughout the night. Syl performed his usual meditations and learned a new spell along with working on Igneel’s fox mask enchantment.

The sun rose, the shadow of the rocky outcropping reaching across their camp. By this time, the fire had died to embers. Kaven shivered as he awoke and yawned. “Weren’t you able to sleep?” he called up to the silent monk on the cliff above. “You should have woken me.”

“The dead don’t stay dead anymore.” Leaping down the ledges, Igneel stumbled slightly as he landed at the bottom. Kaven noted, with a tinge of worry, the dark circles under the elf’s eyes. They strode over to where Nyloth’s corpse lay rotting; the stages of decomposition had advance beyond the norm, curiously enough.

“What if everything I killed comes back?” Igneel asked.

“What if I brought them back first? They wouldn’t attack you then!” Syl seemed to realize what he said and coughed. “Uh, let’s burn the body!”

“Can you bring them back like that?” Kaven motioned, eyes narrowing.

“Of course I can’t!” Syl crossed his arms. Then added under his breath, “Yet.”

The body and bones soon smoldered in the flames, sending up noxious fumes, the most foul, wretched smell any of them had experienced. The fragrance might have done much to interfere with Kaven’s directional skills and it took them all 12 hours to at last reach the set of hills around their destination. Pointing out a hill which looked like an arrowhead, Kaven said, “That’s the place.”

Circling the hill, they discovered a divot in the side. The divot ran down and culminated in a reverse sort of boulder overhanging an opening to a cave.

Syl waved his hands and six muddy-looking creatures appeared around him. “Ready?” he turned to paladin and monk.

“Hold it.” Kaven placed a hand on Igneel’s back. “Are you sure you’re okay to do this?”

Nodding vigorously, the monk rubbed his eyes. “Yup.”

“What’s his name?” The paladin jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Syl.

“Sylarse Llervu, Duke Anticipant of the temple district of Asher Dan.”

The wizard hastily dispelled the minor illusion he had cast to help Igneel remember as Kaven turned to glare at him. “Seems he’s fine!” said Syl. “Shall we go in?”

“Hang on.” Kaven struggled out of his dragon scalemail and clad himself in the dwarven plate. “I’ll be slower but more protected in this.”

“Excellent!” Urging the muddy creatures forward (the wizard identified them as Mud Mephits), Syl followed them into the cave. Kaven and Igneel accompanied.

The cave opened into a small series of tunnels. Scarcely had they gone beyond the light through the mouth of the cavern when a slithering and hissing announced the appearance of a fat, gynormous snakelike creature. Its head protruded tentacles around a massive beak and it struck out at the lead mephit, who dodged. Two other snake-tentacle creatures joined the fray but the party was victorious, Syl not losing a single mephit.

As the last creature fell under the mephit dogpile, Igneel advanced with his torch, intending to burn the corpse. Syl and Kaven convinced him to wait until later, remembering the stench of the previous bonfire.

Farther along in the cave, the tunnel narrowed. Each managed to slip through a crack in the wall but for Cleo whom Kaven was forced to leave behind. This opening brought them all into a hallway, not roughed out like the tunnels previous, but created. Mirrors were embedded high in the four corners with a stone door at one end.

After his mephits tried and failed to open the door along with Kaven, Syl had a brainstorm and set two of his conjured elementals to hold up light that it might catch the mirrors. Sure enough, two of the mephits held up torches and the door scraped open as the light from each was reflected on all the mirrors.

Another room greeted them as they entered. This one held two chests to the right, flanking a second door, and a third door stood to their left. This confused Syl as he remembered Grace Lynn warning him of three chests and the one on the left being a “dangerous decoy.”

Nevertheless, Kaven managed to open the lid of the one on the left with the tip of his javelin to reveal three gold pieces. Relieved, he did the same with the other and found two silver within that one.

“Hm,” said Syl. “Must not have been the chests she meant.” He snapped his fingers and a mephit dove into the chest to retrieve the gold.

The lid banged shut. No amount of prying by Syl or Kaven could open it again and the scrabblings of the panicked mephit within grew more and more frantic. “It’s all right,” the wizard shrugged. “In an hour, he’ll go back to the plane of mud and that will be that.” He rapped on the lid. “Take a nap in there.”

Rubbing his hands together briskly, Syl turned and checked the door between the chests for traps. Finding none, he swung it open to reveal another small room, empty but for a bookcase. “Aha!” He entered the room to examine it and almost jumped out of his skin as the door slammed shut behind him. The bookcase split down the center, the teeth growing from the splinters and a long tongue snapping out to wrap around the wizard.

Behind him, Kaven had leaped forward and jammed his hammer in the doorway just in time to prevent it closing all the way. He and Igneel managed to drag Syl out of the bookcase’s grasp and it clattered after them, reluctant to relinquish its prize. Its shelfish ambitions were soon curtailed and it disintegrated into a pile of broken wood.

They opened the other door and stepped down a new corridor to another room. This was longer than the rest and three chests sat at the other side of the room, set beneath a carved relief of stone.

“At last,” Syl breathed.

Igneel stepped around him and approached. “The one on the left, right?” he yawned. With the wizard’s nod, the monk crouched and popped open the leftmost chest. Light gleamed off the gold within. “Yup. Looks like she was right.” Rising, the monk stepped away from the chest as Syl gave his bag of holding to a pair of mud mephits and ordered them to transfer the loot inside. “Now,” the monk paused by the middle chest. “I wonder why these were so dangerous.” Reaching down, he opened the middle chest with a slow, careful movement. “Huh. Empty.”

Indeed, the dim light revealed nothing within the wooden box.

As a mud mephit plucked the first gold coin from the left chest, a resounding crash shook the room. A large stone figure leaped from the stone relief behind the chests and took up a fighting stance. A second crash echoed, announcing the door to the room slamming behind the paladin, wizard, and monk.

And Igneel slammed the center chest shut, anxious to defend himself.

Only to find that, despite his efforts, his hands remained fastened to the lid.

View
My Familiar is Smarter than Your Honor Student
In Which the Flower is Found and an Enemy Rises Again

The quiet hum of conversation in the coffee shop continued as Tinuviel digested the information. She tapped her fingers upon the worn tabletop, then arose. “One more thing,” she said. “Where can I find the house of Theodore Salvatore Alberto?”

Boronir and Therdina exchanged looks. “Anchor District past Pier Four. He has one of those apartments paid for by the crown.”

“Thanks.”

Back at the mage’s guild, Syl appeared, finished with his enchanting. “Othandr!” he greeted the alchemist. “What can you tell me about these?” From his bag, the elf wizard extracted one of the hallucinogenic mushrooms and handed it over. “How much is it worth?”

“Don’t eat it,” Foradjinn warned.

“What do you take me for?” the alchemist snapped with a grumpy look. “Who would do that?” He studied the mushroom, stroking his chin and missing the significant look Foradjinn sent Syl. “Come along inside.”

In his workshop, Othandr stared at the mushroom for a few minutes and then carefully shaved off the merest slice. Placing the piece in a tiny cauldron, he lit a flame beneath. After a few minutes, the piece popped and crackled with the heat. Smoke billowed up, alternating between purple and green.

“Fascinating…” Othandr swept a bucket of water from the nearby water barrel and filled up the cauldron. Bringing the contents to a boil, he rummaged in a nearby cupboard and extracted a bottle with a skull and crossbones on the label. He rolled up his sleeves and very gingerly eased out the cork to allow a single drop to fall into the mixture. The boiling ceased at the instant of contact. Othandr did not blink, his gaze intense. The boil began again, the same alternating green and purple smoke rising forth.

Then the alchemist’s face changed as the smoke increased, filling the room. “Ah, let us retire outside. Come along.” He turned and started shoving the party members out of the guild. “Reina!” he called. “Watch the-ah, well, er, Sorry!”

They all scrambled outside, retreating a safe distance away. Smoke obscured the windows. From within the guild, Reina’s shouts of annoyance could be heard. Othandr cleared his throat. “Anyway, how many of those do you have?” he asked Syl, attempting to recover some aplomb.

“What are they?”

“Follis mushrooms. Potent with the right agents, versatile. Native to the area south of Taiji.” Othandr laughed as Foradjinn related Syl’s experience nibbling on one and jotted down copious notes. He and the elf wizard settled on a sale of six of the mushrooms for six gold apiece, as well as a murkis root Syl had laying around. Foradjinn mentioned Sir Targen might have more of the fungi and the alchemist’s eyes took on a greedy little gleam. “Good to know.” The greed gave way to sheepishness. “I, ah, left my coinpurse inside. It’s been ten minutes, so I’ll just go in and retrieve your payment, Sylarese.”

About this time, Tinuviel approached. She had taken the way past Aeroth’s office to scope it out. It proved to be a nondescript, stone building. Since it was early in the morning, there was no one within and the door was locked. “What news, friends?” she asked. She raised inquisitive eyebrows at the sounds of Reina shouting at Othandr within the guild. The rest of the party filled her in as Syl entered the building for his coin, wrinkling his nose at the dead-must fragrance permeating every corner.

Kaven turned to Igneel. “I was going to go and have these put back on Cleo,” said he, jangling the Horseshoes of Speed. “Want to come? Then we can race again.”

“Sure.”

Both wandered towards the markets and shops just beginning to open in the nearby districts. Igneel nudged Kaven and pointed out an interesting shop with tarot decks and crystal balls in the front window. “That looks fun,” he said.

The paladin shrugged. “Not really my thing.” He crossed the street towards a smithy, leaving the monk to stare through the window.

On the other side of the street, Kaven paused by a blindfolded man sitting next to the road. The man raised his head, hidden gaze seeming to stare right at the paladin. At his side sat a dog. “Greetings, friend!!” said the man and the dog let out a woofing bark that Kaven could have sworn sounded like “Sausage!”

“Are you…blind?”

“Yes.”

“How did you know I was here?”

Chuckling, the man nodded. “Your mail’s loud.” The cheeks raised slightly as his eyes squinted under the mask. “By your footsteps, I’d say…halfling? Dwarf?”

“Halfling.” Kaven mounted Cleo and rode toward the blacksmith, a trifle unsettled by the encounter.

The cheery dwarf within snapped his book shut when Kaven entered. Drawing hoary hands down his dusty apron, he grinned. “What can I do ye for, friend?”

“Nice beard!” Kaven said.

“Thank ye! It’s the product of eighty-seven years.” Patting the braid, the dwarf caught one of the Horseshoes of Speed Kaven tossed at him. “A wee bit of shoein’, eh? You’ll be wantin’ to speak to my wife; she’s the smith.” He led the paladin out back and let out a piercing whistle. The note cut through the clamor of the forge and the short figure wailing on the metal turned to them. A ruddy face and a wide grin and a shorter beard and soon Cleo was under the careful ministrations of the lady blacksmith, who couldn’t help but ooh and ahh over the celestial pony.

Meanwhile, Kaven’s curiosity was piqued and he exited the shop to sneak up on the beggar. Leaning out of the alley behind the man, he caught him speaking to the dog who again made the whoofing sound of “Sausage.” “It’s all right, boy. We’ll get you some food. Don’t worry.”

“You really can’t see me?”

The beggar started, face swiveling towards Kaven again. “What are you doing, son, sneaking up on a blind man like that?!”

“Sorry. I’m Kaven, by the way.” Then the paladin realized what he had said. “Dang it! I mean, I’m K.D.”

“Sure thing, Kaven Dang It K.D.” The blind man smirked. “I’m Otur. This here is Lukes.” He patted the dog who woofed “sausage,” again. “What brings you to Cecil, K.D.?”

“Just, ah, traveling through, I guess. Everyone comes through Port Cecil, right?” Kaven looked around. The morning turned towards 9ish and more people were out and about. The paladin thought he recognized a face he’d seen the night before outside of Tommy’s and the memory of the cat and mouse game of the previous evening drew a shiver down his spine. “How did you lose your sight?”

Otur’s face twitched with a painful memory. “Some guys treated me wrong in the past.”

Thus fell an awkward silence, punctuated by the odd “Sausage!”

“Let’s get breakfast!”

Otur brightened. “That sounds great!” Under his direction, the beggar and paladin and dog headed to a nearby inn. Over the meal, Otur told of his arrival to the city via a ship from Dog’s Harbor and his experiences since then. After that, they returned to the street by the blacksmith and Ortur stuck out his hand. “Thanks, K.D.”

Taking his hand, the paladin halfling shook it, beaming. “You’re welcome.” Into his arm from the tips of his fingers and spreading across his whole form, warmth flooded through Kaven from the touch.

With a gentle smile, the beggar sat back down, the dog wagging his tail.

Across the way, Igneel had entered the strange shop. “Hello?” The interior of the store sapped away the light through the window and subdued the sound of his voice. Around the edges of the window, the light seemed to shimmer before fading away.

Through a beaded curtain in the back, a bent figure entered. As she stepped into the faint light, Igneel could see she was a haggard woman with wavy black and grey hair. “Hello, Dear, what brings you to my wares today?” She turned a deep squinty look upon him and seem to study him beyond his physical appearance. “Are you here to cause trouble or are you just bored?”

“What…are you selling?”

“Here, there are items and services to pierce the veils over the mind, the heart, and the future.” Spreading her gnarled hands, she gestured around them to the odd items on the shadowed shelves amidst the fragrance of incense. “I am a practitioner of Divination.” She set her fingertips together. “Haven’t you wondered about your future, boy?”

Shifting his weight from foot to foot, the monk shrugged. “Not until now. Uh, how far can you see? How do you do it?”

“It depends. There are many ways do see past these veils. Some use spells, others pray to deities,” her eyes gleamed at him. “And some use ki. You use ki, correct?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Have you been paying attention? What is your name?”

“Igneel.”

“Just Igneel?” She cocked her head.

“I have a last name, but…it’s been so long since I used it.” Igneel dropped his gaze. “I don’t know if it is mine any longer.”

Beckoning the monk over to a pair of chairs, the woman sat down across from him. Her eyes once again appeared to gaze into his soul. “They pushed you out of the monastery, didn’t they? Too violent, perhaps?”

“Noooo,” Igneel hastened to say. “See, I reached a high level skill and I was sent out to find inner peace.”

A wheezing cackle answered him. “Come back to me in a hundred years,” she mocked. “And then we can discuss inner peace.” Reaching out her hand, she touched each of his palms and then his forehead. A rushing sensation whirled behind his eyes and the old woman nodded to herself. “I will tell you a little for now and you may tell me if you want to hear more for payment.”

Sitting back, she said, “My dear boy, you ran quite a bit today.”

With a proud grin, Igneel nodded. “Rooftops. It’s fun.”

“Later today, if you’re not careful, you will fall flat.” Joints creaking, she arose and said. “Come back tomorrow and we’ll discuss more.” Just before she disappeared back through the beaded curtain, she looked back at him. “Watch your step, Igneel.”

Unsettled, the monk slowly exited the shop. He roused himself to look for any mask shops but the experience gnawed at him and he gave up the fruitless search in frustration, returning just in time to see Kaven return with Ortur.

“I bet you a gold piece you can’t sneak up on that guy,” the paladin muttered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Ortur.

“Deal,” Igneel said, spirits rising. He stepped lightly toward Ortur but when he came within five feet of the blind begger, his heart sank as Ortur’s head raised to face him. “Aw, you heard me?”

“You’re good, friend, but not that good,” the other chuckled, patting his dog’s head. “The swish of your robes gave you away.”

“Sausage!” agreed Lukes.

Igneel’s eyes widened. “Did your dog just say ’sausage?”

“Oh, don’t mind him. He’s just begging.”

Kaven returned, leading Cleo and caught the tail end of the conversation. “He’s still hungry?” he asked, surprised.

“What dog isn’t?”

“Fair point,” agreed Kaven, accepting a coin from Igneel. He pressed it into Ortur’s hand. “Thanks! You won me a bet, Ortur.”

“Much obliged.”

Igneel ran off to a nearby store and returned with a sausage for Lukes. As the happy hound indulged, Ortur’s face once again split in an enormous grin. “Thank you, friend. I’d be obliged if you’d come over and shake an old man’s hand.”

“Uh, sure.” The monk obeyed. “Is there anything else you need?”

“No, no, you two have done so much for me. We’ll be fine.” The grip of the beggar’s hand sent warmth trickling through Igneel’s arm up toward his shoulder. “And for the remainder of the day, you’ll be fine, too.”

At the mage’s guild, Foradjinn was scratching down ideas on bits of parchment. Tinuviel once again was urging patience. “Aeroth is not a bad man,” she insisted.

“I told you,” growled Foradjinn, his quill puncturing yet another piece of parchment; he threw it away, irritated. “He hit her.”

“You don’t know if that was Aeroth.” And by the bard’s description, the hawk felt certain the one who struck Anaya was Giles. “The fact is, she’s safe where she is for now.”

“She wants to leave,” came Foradjinn’s simple reply. “I said I would help her do so if she ever made the decision.” Running ink-stained fingers through his hair in frustration, he snapped his fingers. “I could get to her window and transform her into an owl and have her fly away.”

“Aeroth will find her and you. He has the resources.” Tinuviel reminded him.

“Very well,” Syl spoke up, his nose deep in the Tome of Understanding. “The course of action is simple. We find someone prettier than Anaya to replace her.”

“Impossible.” Foradjinn continued scribbling, heedless of Tinuviel’s quirked brow.

After much discussion, Tinuviel’s logic and the memory of actions in haste proving detrimental eventually helped Foradjinn to see reason. The hawk suggested playing up the Voice of the Kabir title and posing as a foreign dignity to discuss the matter with Aeroth.

Syl took a moment to cast Mordekainen’s Private Sanctum around himself and the hawk and the bard. Producing her disguise kit, Tinuviel began to transform the tribal half-elf into the fierce figure of a desert warlord.

Kaven entered the mage’s guild to ask Reina for bracers to make him stronger. “This warhammer gets heavy after awhile,” he confessed. “Think you could help me out?”

The enchanter’s brow crinkled. “Delicate magic, modifying physical characteristics like that. Doable, to be sure,” she hastened to say, seeing the concern on the paladin’s face. “Six thousand gold.”

The concern turned to shock.

Meanwhile, Igneel was studying the outside of the mage’s guild, the cantilevers and impossible architectural supports. The restless monk soon scampered up the side, swinging from point to point, under and over.

Then one misstep sent him plummeting ten feet to the dock. He landed hard on his knees, the old woman’s word coming back to him in a flash: “Watch your step, Igneel.”

Straightening, Igneel glared in the direction of the store. He dusted himself off with a deliberate motion, turned on his heel, and clambered up the side of the guild again. His ascent successful, he paused on the roof, staring around. He could see for miles, across the glittering eastern sea, the grove of masts in the harbor, and the bustling activity of the city around.

And he also spotted two figures leave Syl’s conjured sanctum and head toward on the road toward Aeroth’s office. Rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, he followed.

In ambassadorial attire, Tinuviel entered Aeroth’s office and approached the reception desk. Behind it, a halfling secretary chewed vigorously and blinked up at her. “Can I help you, hon?” her eyes widened as Foradjinn entered behind the hawk.

Painted tribal designs covered his face. The various and sundry fangs and claws he had collected from the party battles hung from his ears and neck. A pair of emeralds gleamed in the eyes of the sand lion pelt upon his brow.

“We need to see Aeroth,” said Tinuviel.

“Do you have an appointment, hon?”

“No, but,” the hawk motioned toward Foradjinn. “this gentleman is in need of a meeting. He’s, ah, from out of town.”

“I guessed. Purpose of meeting?”

“We are here to..acquire goods.”

The receptionist hopped down from her chair and disappeared down the back hall. She returned a little while later to the desk. “It’ll be a few minutes, hon.” She smacked a gummy substance between her teeth, staring at the imposing tribal bard. “So what’s his story?” she stage-whispered to Tinuviel.

“He’s from the desert,” the hawk whispered back. “Not really familiar with the way things are done here in more civilized environs. As a representative of the crown, I was asked to escort him around-”

“The crown?! Oh, honey, why didn’t you say so?” The halfling’s eyes bugged out. “We can expedite these matters!”

“Well, I don’t like to play that card,” Tinuviel affected a humble, pained expression.

A small bell dingled on the desk and the halfling hopped down again. “This way, please.”

Foradjinn and Tinuviel followed her down the hall into a lovely ornamented office. Behind the desk in the center, a richly-dressed gentleman arose. From the sight of his warm, solid face and strong jaw with neat goatee, Foradjinn had to admit it must have indeed been Giles whom he had witnessed the night before.

“Greetings,” said the man. “I am Aeroth.”

“I am a representative of the crown assigned to this matter.” Tinuviel shook his hand and motioned to Foradjinn. “This…is the Voice of the Kabir.”

Foradjinn took Aeroth’s hand and squeezed for a bit longer than was comfortable, eyes burning into the other man’s.

“He is of the desert,” continued Tinuviel. “And he is here to seek the return of that which was taken from his tribe.”

“Which tribe?” Aeroth studied Foradjinn, stroking his goatee. “I have business with several of them.”

“I haven’t been able to get that information from him.” Taking a deep breath, Tinuviel tapped her fingers together. “However, the Kabir has sent him on the mission and he has discovered that your organization is in possession of what they among his tribe call ‘The Desert Flower.’”

Spreading his hands to indicate the various artifacts around them, Aeroth smiled. “There are a great many things which come through my offices and warehouses.” His face grew serious and concerned. “But if I have mistakenly possessed that which belongs to others, of course we can discuss its return. What is this ‘Desert Flower?’”

“Her name,” said Tinuviel, “Is Anaya.”

Her sharp eyes caught the brief flash of pain in Aeroth’s eyes before he turned to compose himself. When he spoke, his voice was calm. “How is it you have waited so long to ask about her? I purchased her from traders two years ago.”

“Your land is strange,” Foradjinn rumbled. “I have spent years in a frantic, fruitless search and at last I have found her.”

“Well…to be sure, I would never want to displease the crown, nor make enemies of potential trade partners.” He pushed a lock of hair back behind his left ear and let out a slow breath. “But…she is an important part of my family – mistress of my home with all the privileges that fall within that view.” Turning back to them, Aeroth set a firm gaze upon them, one of blazing intensity to rival Foradjinn’s own. “I do not foresee a life without her. What exactly is she to you?”

“Aeroth, I will speak plain,” setting a hand on Tinuviel’s shoulder, Foradjinn ushered her to one side. He set himself before the man and crossed his arms and began to speak:

_The Kabir ruled over the desert kingdom, his voice lending strength to soldiers and charisma to statesmen and ambassadors. It was this voice of the Eloquent Kabir which lent aid and flourishment to his lands.

Poets and musicians from far and wide traveled to his kingdom to learn at his feet, though some came to challenge him. For it was proclaimed if any could match or better The Kabir in words or philosophy or prose, then that man would take up the Kabir’s mantle and rule the kingdom in his stead.

Yet, those who lost would have the weyesha thrown about them and sent to wander the wastes as madmen do. (The weyesha is a cloak all the sick of mind must wear.)

One day, a prince from one distant land arrived, bearing a scroll upon which he had painted a lake.

All the courtiers gasped. The green was greener, the blues bluer, the sky breaths almost drifting upon the still image.

The Kabir raised his hand and sang. At his words, the painting shimmered and the water of the lake rippled. A soft mountain breeze wafted from the scroll, and birds sang from within to accompany the kabir.

The courtiers applauded as the Kabir finished. With a wave of his hand, he laughed at the prince. “Clad him in weyesha!”

And it was so.

The next day, the prince’s bard arrived. He strode into the court and played his heart through a glittering harp. Noblemen and hardened knights alike wept to hear it. The Kabir himself led the applause and commenced to take up his Erhu.

At the song which issued forth, the very souls of all present trembled. The harp tumbled from the bard’s fingers, shattering into dust to reveal a blade within. Striken by the revelation of his intent and by the conviction of the melody, the bard shrieked out, “Mercy!”

But the Kabir held back not a note and none could truthfully argue the bard was sane when the song reached its climax. The Kabir at last set aside his Erhu and waved his hand at the bard. “Clad him in weyesha!”

And it was so.

The third day found the princess of the distant kingdom at the gates of the Kabir’s palace. Arrayed in simple robes and a thin circlet of silver upon her brow, she strode into the court and halted before an expectant crowd.

The Kabir smiled, gazing down at her from his throne. Her sharp green eyes gazed right back into his own.

Standing, the Kabir descended the steps of the dais, raised his hand, and said, “Clad me in weyesha!”_

Foradjinn dropped his hands. “Anaya,” he said after a moment of silence following his tale, “is the descendant of that princess.”

Pacing to the window, Aeroth stared out, leaning against the frame. “Why has she never said as much?” he mumbled aloud. “All this time…” Dropping his hand from the ledge, he turned to Foradjinn. “I paid 22,000 gold for her. I would expect that much in remuneration at least.”

Wincing, Tinuviel nodded. “We will have to send word to the Kabir and it will take time.”

“Yes, yes…there is much I must research on my own as well.” Aeroth left the window and came around his desk to shake their hands again. This time, even Foradjinn could see the unsettled expression on the edge of his manner. “Where are you staying in town?”

“The Gleaming Star – you may ask for Tinuviel there.” Nodding again, Tinuviel correctly interpreted Aeroth’s change in expression. “The Kabir did not give his envoy much in the way of travel expenses, sir, so the star serves his needs adequately even if it is lacking in luxury.”

Bidding the leader of the Brotherhood of the Veil farewell, the two exited. Foradjinn managed to wait until they were farther up the street before turning off into an alley to collect himself. He leaned against a nearby wall, legs shaking, gasping for air. The surprising appearance of Igneel out of nowhere did little to calm him. He managed to send word to Anaya and gave her a phrase to aid with the deception: “Wild sand blossoms know not the oasis of home but streams beneath the dunes find their roots regardless.”

During all of this, Kaven wandered the city and visited the Yondalla temple for a chat. The priest gave him a bottle of holy water. After that, he visited the halfling district and satisfied a little of his curiosity of the inhabitants there as well as returning to the Gleaming Star for lunch where he found Foradjinn, Tinuviel, Syl, and Igneel.

Foradjinn explained the situation. “I must stay here just in case I hear anything,” he finished. “You don’t have to wait with me.”

“I will,” said Tinuviel. “I have one or two matters of business to attend to here.”

Reaching into the bag of holding, Syl extracted the map Grace Lynn had given him in Haré. “What say we head to get this treasure? Could be enough there to buy Anaya back. Although,” he clucked his tongue, tilting his head toward Foradjinn, “You still have a debt to those hags to take care of.”

“Yes,” said the tribal bard and a grin crossed his face. “I demanded their payment not affect one particular person at least. Right now, that person will be affected if I go about honoring the debt at this time. So. They can wait.”

Syl tapped the map. “Well, then.” He turned to Igneel and Kaven. “What say you two? Shall we retrieve the gems?”

They nodded and the elf wizard let out a small whoop. “Fantastic! More spell components, here I come!” He rolled up the map and waved them out into the yard. “We shall require a bit of transport, I should think.” His fabricate spell soon produced a white chariot of most ostentatious quality, complete with wooden figureheads of Igneel’s features, holding books. Then, with Igneel’s white cloak flowing, with Syl urging on his phantom steed and shooting fireworks out of the back of the chariot, with Kaven galloping alongside atop Cleo and clad in gleaming emerald-colored armor, the treasure hunters left in grand style. Those who dodged out of the way of the contraption raised peeved fists in the direction of the rapidly vanishing “My Familiar is Smarter than Your Honor Student” bumper sticker.

Foradjinn and Tinuviel watched them go and then the tribal bard said, “So, ah, I’ve heard there are…casinos? Run by the Dartan family?” He shuffled his feet. “I suggest…we go to one and establish a presence, yes?”

“Interesting.”

Thus followed an amusing interlude where, through a series of alleys, under a nautical supplies warehouse, by the admittance of a hulking bouncer, the duo spent some time in one of the casinos. Foradjinn, despite never having gambled, managed to come out thirty gold up.

Then it was back to the Gleaming Star where they bid each other good night and headed off to bed. Tinuviel stretched out atop hers and stared at the ceiling, counting away the hour until she was sure Foradjinn would be asleep. She arose and stole out of her room and headed through town toward the Anchor District and Pier Four.

Out on the road to the northeast, the three treasure hunters made camp as evening fell, setting up around a rocky outcropping before a high hill.

Igneel took first watch and gazed up at the sky. Far away from the multitude of lights in Port Cecil, the stars once again shone bright and he was lost in contemplation.

Until a cold, horrid sensation shivered across his form. His companions also cried out and started away, similarly affected. Hulking figures strode up out of the darkness, wielding giant axes – skeletal minotaurs.

And behind them, posed on a skeleton horse, sat a dread figure of horrifying familiarity. “I’ve been looking for you,” growled Nyloth, ebon eyes glittering with fury at Igneel. “Also, I’ll be taking my spell book back.” He turned his glare upon Syl.

Feeling the weight of the evil tome within his bag, Syl darted forward and cast Greater Invisibility upon Igneel. The monk charged and set about bringing the beat down upon his once-vanquished foe.

The battle proved difficult and frustrating for both sides. Nyloth soon grew to hate Syl almost as much as he hated Igneel, some of his best spells countered by the elf wizard. The irritation went both ways, Syl’s beloved wand of fireballs fizzling out at a critical moment due to Nyloth’s counterspell. Still, the elf wizard managed to destroy the apprentice’s skeletal steed in conflagration of fire and bone.

While the minotaur skeletons continued to hold Kaven at bay, Nyloth managed to knock Igneel unconscious and thrust his rapier into the monk’s form. In the nick of time, Syl managed to extend his arcane ward enough to provide cover.

An almighty explosion rent the air and Kaven charged through Cleo through the mass of disintegrated bonemeal that was the final minotaur skeleton. The celestial pony let out a braying whinny and Nyloth fell, screaming in frustration beneath her hooves.

Igneel, sustained by the cure wounds cast by Syl, scooted away from the deceased once more Nyloth and shivered to himself.

“Fascinating,” murmured Syl, examining the corpse. He had heard of this sort of sorcery, supplemented by his knowledge gleaned from Nyloth’s spellbook. The apprentice had been changed into a Revenant, a type of zombie with tremendous motivation towards a specific objective. In this case, vengeance upon his killer: Igneel.

With that information, Kaven suggested burning the corpse and sprinkling the ashes with holy water. “Rabastan won’t settle for this,” he said, strolling over to Syl.

“True. That might work- whoa, whoa, whoa!” Syl smacked the halfling’s hand as the paladin attempted to grab Nyloth’s spellbook from his bag. The wizard barked out a few words and vanished from the material plane.

View
Covetous Eyes and Desperate Hope
In Which the Pentanomads Eye Kaven and a Certain Favor Comes Due

As she wrote in her journal, Anaya continued to weep. Behind her, the door swung open and an imposing man entered. His full, neatly trimmed beard and rich clothes spoke of importance. Foradjinn could see Anaya tense, a spark of fear entering her eyes as she turned to listen to him speak while closing her journal. Though the bard could not hear their conversation, he could guess its heatedness. The man attempted to caress Anaya’s face, then petulantly backhanded her when she flinched away.

Foradjinn felt a cold fury twitch at him and only the memory of prior hasty actions kept him in check. He waited thirty seconds after the man left and winged to the ledge outside the window to tap upon it.

Starting, Anaya turned and gawked at the owl on her window ledge. Foradjinn hooted and looked down at the letter and scroll in his talons. She understood and approached, opening the window to accept the offering. Within the letter, the tribal bard had written instructions on how to use the scroll of sending if she wanted to leave and a plan to pay the mages at the guild to allow her to teleport away at some future date.

“Tell Foradjinn ‘thank you,’” Anaya whispered, still crying but in a different way Foradjinn could not read. He merely hooted again and winged away.

At Tommy’s in the warehouse district, Kaven and Mouse looked at each other as they sat at a table outside. Kaven acted as though he did not hear the question. The voice from the alley hailed them again. “I say there! Where did you get the draconic magic?”

The figure stepped into view. A well-built man, in a blue half-robe over loose pants, and a cowl not unlike Igneel’s monk outfit approached them.

“I don’t know,” Kaven replied, eying him. “Who’re you?”

“I’m Pettumal Droverson. And you?”

“I’m K.D.”

“K.D.? A pleasure to meet you,” Pettumal nodded to him and sat down at the table at his invitation. Mouse also introduced himself. Pettumal continued, “So you don’t know where you got the draconic magic?”

Kaven shook his head. “I’ve killed a few dragons. This armor’s made from one,” he tapped his glorious emerald scalemail. “So that’s maybe what you found.”

Raising his eyebrows, the man appeared impressed. “Well, my boss would be very interested in purchasing such an item, or meeting with you to discuss it.”

Frowning, the halfling paladin shifted. “I’m not a big fan of ‘bosses.’”

A smirk tugged at the side of Pettumal’s mouth. “Same here. Kirguil’s a bit of a hard-nose. But anyway, we’re the Magic Brewing Company, over on Port Timothy way.” He pointed. “Just a few streets over. If you change your mind, come see us.” Standing up, he nodded with a polite motion and headed out.

As he went, Kaven did not catch sight of any weapons on his person, though the rings on his right hand appeared interesting. “Seen him before, Mouse?” he muttered.

“Nope!” piped the goliath mage in his high voice. “The Magic Brewing Company is great, though. Good ale.” He scratched his head as he thought. “They’ve been taking over a few taverns around here and the Dartans aren’t too happy about it.” The Dartans, he went on to explain, were the local thieves guild and ran underground casinos, etc. “The fact the brewing company is still around and the Dartans haven’t done anything about it is funny, though.”

About that time, Igneel and Tinuviel arrived. Though reluctant to talk about what transpired with the hawk whom he still did not trust, Kaven did fill her in on enough for her to back up what Mouse explained. The food arrived and Kaven ordered some of the Magic Brewing Company ale, cast detect magic on it, and did not discover anything.

After dinner, Kaven noticed and pointed out a loitering person far down the block in the way Pettumal left. They all kept an eye out, deciding to proceed back to the Gleaming Star. Mouse bid them farewell. On the way, the paladin opened up a bit more about his conversation. “Maybe…” he said finally and with great reluctance to Tinuviel “Maybe you should take half of the eldunar.”

The hawk blinked. “Are you sure?”

“…no. Okay, maybe. Not now.” Kaven’s eyes darted back and forth, scanning passersby and glaring into alleyways.

Tinuviel understood. “You know, you could try being a bit more subtle.” She knuckled his shoulder pauldron. “That armor makes you a target.” Catching Igneel’s glance back behind them, she also cast a quick look and gave him an affirming nod. “Also, we’re being followed.”

Acting on the fly, Kaven sidestepped into an alley with the rest of them. He handed Tinuviel the pestle and Igneel vaulted up the sides of the buildings to circle around to track their tail. Kaven and Tinuviel then exited the alley to continue on to the Gleaming Star. Tinuviel headed toward the stables, cast her glamour over herself in disguise, and appeared at an exterior table to keep an eye out.

Igneel perched on a building across the street, having managed to avoid tipping off the tail who took up position in an alley across the inn, just observing.

Kaven entered the warm taproom to find a bar filled with teary-eyed patrons. In the middle, Foradjinn played sad love songs on his flute. When he noticed Kaven, he hurriedly finished his set, bowed, and made a beeline for him. “Hello, old friend! I must speak with you.”

“Let’s get drinks,” Kaven nodded at the bartender. “What do you want?”

“A strong one.”

Drinks in hand, they exited out the front and sat at an exterior table on the other side of the door from the disguised Tinuviel. Downing the whiskey in one gulp, Foradjinn asked Kaven, “At what point did you decide to kill someone to stop them from hurting another?”

About to take a sip from his ale, Kaven slowly set it down and leaned back. “What?”

“When you killed those men before you had a bounty on your head, when did you know to kill them to stop them hurting someone?”

A few questions and difficult answers later, Kaven soon had an understanding about Foradjinn’s experience with Anaya. He said he did not think there was a definite clear cut answer for every situation and Foradjinn’s face fell. Pretending to take a huge drink, the paladin played up a pseudo-drunken manner, conscious of their being observed. “So d’you love her?”

Foradjinn flushed in the late evening light and twisted the empty whiskey glass around on the table top. “I don’t know. I owe her a debt and I want to make sure she has a chance to leave if she wants to. I want to make sure she is taken care of, but I can’t really offer that, not with all these dragons around.” He sighed. “I’m trying to do what I can and not act in haste and try to not make Gwendolyn mad-”

“Yeah, you love her,” laughed Kaven.

Eyes narrowing and fighting a grin, the bard leaned forward. “Well, what about you and Kiethri? She looked like she was admiring your handiwork against all those undead in the temple.” And the word’s slipped out before he could stop them. “Of course, Alston seemed to like her as well-”

Kaven didn’t say anything and Foradjinn shut up. When the bard spoke again, it was past a lump in his throat. “I miss him.” Taking a deep breath, he half-chuckled. “Eh, who are we kidding? With all the love in the air, doubtless Syl is proposing to Reina as we speak.”

Fumbling forward in his false drunkeness, the paladin laid a hand on the bard’s shoulder and whispered, “We were followed back here. There is a guy in the alleyway across the street and we’re going to ambush him-”

Catching on, Foradjinn leaned back and laughed. “Oh, I see – Reina and Mouse, huh? Never would have guessed it.” He drew Rakdahneet from behind his back and twirled it idly, giving the paladin a wink.

Igneel, impatiently awaiting a signal, noticed the tail draw back at the sight of the bard’s blade and begin to move away. Not breaking cover, the monk continued to follow the tail back toward Tommy’s. Foradjinn cast sending to him for a status update once they discovered both of them gone and Igneel replied. The tail returned to the street corner where Kaven first noticed him, reported to a second figure dressed the same, and stayed there. Unable to hear the conversation, the monk returned to the Gleaming Star.

“I would recommend finding a different tavern,” Tinuviel suggested. The party agreed, though Kaven still rented a room and headed upstairs, Foradjinn helping him in his “inebriated state.” Then, the bard cast disguise self and invisibility on Kaven, and then they all followed Tinuviel to a different, more simple inn called The Impossible Donkey.

Affecting a lazy, well-to-do accent, Foradjinn rented their rooms from an oblivious half-orc and they all retired for the night, Kaven, Igneel, and Foradjinn bunking together to keep an eye out.

Half way through the first watch, the bard heard in the back of his mind, “Foradjinn. I’m ready to leave. Cute owl! Hope I did this right.”

All hope of getting to sleep that evening at least somewhat easily vanished. Foradjinn swallowed against a suddenly dry throat and cast sending to her. “I must get the teleport from the mage’s guild ready. Tomorrow night?”

“Whenever is fine. We’ll have to be careful. The brothers see everything.”

If Igneel noticed the bard’s drastic change in manner when awoken to take the next watch, he did not comment.

Despite his whirling thoughts, Foradjinn fell into a troubled sleep.

And dreamed.

A vision of his home, the scorching sands, the blazing sun, came to him. He saw his tribe, every member turning their back to him. Foradjinn ran from them, running up a vast dune, Anaya’s voice calling him from the other side. Cresting the massive hill, he saw a beautiful blond-haired woman on the other side, clad in a green dress.

He approached and she smiled, her voice changing into a horribly familiar, sweet tone. “Deary! Do you remember me?”

A cold sensation wormed in Foradjinn’s stomach and he shivered as he remembered the deal he had struck for the Sword of Old Haré. “Do you remember the condition I demanded?” he replied.

The disguised hag’s smile grew wider. “My sisters and I are ready to move again.” Her eyes glinted yellow. “The mountain’s grown a bit dull and, well, you did kill our guardian.” With a dismissive wave of her hand, she cleared her throat. “There is a certain valley to the south west of the mountain, a grey and ashen place. We would like to move there but it is…occupied.” She crossed her arms. “Be a dear and clear it out for us.”

“What manner of creature lives there?”

The hag did not reply and the dream ended.

“Dammit,” Foradjinn muttered.

In his watch of the night, Igneel observed the bard’s body tense for twenty seconds in his sleep and then turn restless for the remainder of the night.

The next day, they gathered in the bar for breakfast. Igneel asked Tinuviel if there was a place he could commission a weapon. The hawk said she had heard of two nearby: the Sharper Blade and Gnome Depot.

Then Kaven and the rest noticed Foradjinn’s exhausted manner and gaunt complexion and demanded an explanation. The bard revealed Anaya’s message.

“We need more information,” Tinuviel hastened to say. “The Brothers are powerful and you need to be careful.” Her instincts and hazy knowledge of Aeroth also gave voice to her skepticism. “It may be they will pursue Anaya even beyond where she teleports.”

In the end, Foradjinn was persuaded to plan a little more. The rest agreed to help him, even after he said they did not have to do so. “If they must come after me, better they come after me alone,” the bard warned. “You, Kaven, must be Yondalla’s champion. You, Igneel, must find inner peace. You, Tinuviel, must stay on Gwendolyn’s good side. And Syl must learn more spells and be duke someday.”

“You’re my friend.” Igneel nodded. “I’ll help you out.”

“I appreciate it.” Foradjinn arose. “I think, at the very least, I should talk to Reina and get the teleportation ready, just in case.”

It was still early in the morning when the bard reached the mage’s guild. He found Othandr the alchemist in the side room and struck up a nervous conversation while he got up the nerve to find Reina. The grumpy wizard soon softened as the bard talked about how alchemy and potions had helped him in his adventures, share his dragon dissection notes, and experiences of discovering ingredients.

Reina soon appeared with an eyeroll upon meeting Foradjinn again but soon also warmed when he produced a thousand gold to reserve a teleportation spell for Anaya. Foradjinn visited Syl and managed to halt his excited babbling over fresh discoveries in enchanting long enough to extract a few necessities from the bag of holding.

Meanwhile, Igneel took Kaven along and visited Gnome Depot. A wizened gnome listened to the monk’s proposal, curious at the description of the weapon Igneel had in mind. “Let me get this straight: a length of chain with curved blades at each end?”

Igneel grinned. “Yes, I think it was called a Kusari.”

“Sounds like something from Taiji,” the gnome replied, tugging his triangular beard. His eyes bugged out when Igneel produced the black dragon talons. “You want these on the end of the chain?” He called out, “Terrance?”

Popping out from the aisles, another gnome appeared with a set of goggles perched on his head. He and the first gnome oohed and aahed over the design and the materials. “We can do this for you, yes,” Terrance said at last.

Paying 25 gold up front, Igneel said he would return the next day for the finished product.

On the edge of the merchant district, Tinuviel entered a local coffee shot known to be a Hawk hangout. Indeed, one at a table of two recognized her. “Tinuviel! Back in town?” A woman named Therdina waved her over, her tablemate a silent man who nodded hello.

Accepting the invitation, the half-elf joined them. “I was assigned to an adventuring party. You know the halfling with green armor?”

Both nodded immediately.

“We cleared the drop. Nasty frog beasts in there killing off the prisoners.”

“Crazy,” Therdina nodded.

Tinuviel shrugged. “Went to Telfore after that. Fought a black dragon.”

“Now you’re just talking crazy.”

“It’s been a crazy week, but hey, we did it.”

Therdina exchanged incredulous looks with her fellow hawk.

Having impressed her audience, the half-elf hawk broached a more sensitive subject. “I’m looking for information on the Brotherhood.”

Joviality faded. Therdina shifted in her chair, appearing unsettled. The man leaned forward, at last speaking in a low voice, “What are you doing? Asking for information on the Brotherhood? Here? In the open?”

The man nevertheless heard her out and introduced himself as Borinor. In whispers, he told her what he knew of the Brotherhood. “They’re tough nuts to crack with a good citizen persona. They fund orphanages and the like. Aeroth is halfway decent, more civil. His brother Giles is the loose hinge, though. Don’t cross him. He’s like to have you bumped off as give you a polite dismissal.”

Tinuviel pondered. “What’s the household of Aeroth like?”

“Pretty standard. Giles and Aeroth and their mother, Alix. The father died awhile back. Standard servants – maids, butler…one servant Aeroth is particularly fond of.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she’s been around a couple years.” Borinor described Anaya. “Aeroth dotes on her.” Rubbing his chin, the hawk shook his head. “If his father was still around, he’d have something to say about it. A man like him in the Brotherhood and taking a servant woman around like she’s his wife? It’s strange.”

Tinuviel let them in on Foradjinn’s secret. “So there’s no way he could buy Anaya back?”

Borinor chuckled. “Not a chance. Your friend’s out of luck.”

“So what dirt do we need on the Brotherhood that we’ve been trying to get and haven’t so far?”

Quirking a brow, the hawk chewed his tongue. “There’s a social club they own in the Banking District. No one but the Brotherhood can get in. If you linger too long in the entryway, you’re booted.” Shaking his head, Borinor exchanged glances with Therdina. “But people go in there and they don’t come out until a fair bit of time later. They don’t come out the same way either. All glazed in the eyes, like. And blank faces.” He studied Tinuviel a bit closer. “You’re not actually thinking of snooping around there, are you?”

She did not reply.

Letting out a sigh, Borinor rubbed his eyes. “Look, if you do, that’s the information that’ll help us: find out what the heck’s going on in the social club, and also we think there’s a link between that place and the Bernardo’s restaurant so search for that, too.”

View
The Journey Back
In Which the Ship Limps Home and the Party Meets the Duke of Port Cecil

In the battered vessel mid-sea, the party rested a moment. Syl bustled belowdecks to find the sole remaining sailor. Casting cure wounds upon him, the wizard discovered his name was Jeremiah. “Are there any other survivors?” the grateful man asked.

“Uhh…maybe you should rest.” Syl backed out of the cabin.

On deck again, the wizard set about casting ray of frost to quench the flames licking at the mainmast. He duly calculated the safest thing to do was aid the towering pole in a safe descent overboard. With a splintering crack, Syl allowed the mast to crack in half and it soon was lost in the gentle wake of the aimless ship.

Tinuviel rummaged through Risto’s belongings. Syl approached and proceeded to insult the body, working the dead jaws much to the hawk’s disconcertion. “Who’s the better magic user now?” the elf wizard mocked and affected a rough voice in reply. “You are, Syl, you are.”

He yelped and fell backwards as Risto’s voice seemed to add, “But I still burned your boat.”

Foradjinn smirked as he dragged himself up onto his feet ten feet away. He cleared his throat and affected his own voice again. “What did he have on him?” he asked Tinuviel.

The hawk waved a small map and jingled a coin purse. Aside from those and a short sword, she tossed a mantle to Syl. Syl identified it as a mantle of animal friendship, giving the wearer greater abilities in controlling mounts.

Taking the map to Jeremiah the sailor, Tinuviel listened as he identified the coastline as near Telfore. One x upon it indicated the library. Another was some distance to the southwest. Tinuviel then scoured the captain’s cabin for anything interesting. She plunked the captain’s hat upon her head, glamored her armor to a piratical costume, and strutted for the mirror. And her keen eyes traced the gigantic map upon the bulkhead, scanning the entire eastern coast of Duverne, from the cold north to the utter south. Concealing the hat, she called for Foradjinn to come and memorize the map. The bard complied after recovering some trophies from the wyverns and chimera.

Jeremiah, recovered thanks to the cure wounds and a healing potion, took the helm. “Okay, since everyone of the crew is dead except for me, that makes me captain.” Taking a deep breath, he looked at them all. “Has anyone ever sailed before?” Wincing at the negative replies, he set his jaw. “Right. We have two sails and masts left. We’re not that far from Port Cecil. If you do what I say when I say it, we’ll get there not quite as fast, but decently so.”

They set to. Syl continued to read his book on his off hours instead of sleeping. Tinuviel, after discovering the late Captain Scarrif’s black book, dumped the scoundrel’s corpse overboard. She also mused upon the source of the well-made map in his cabin, made “by the hand Brancent Evyth P.C.” Foradjinn showed off his polymorph spell to Syl as they dove overboard to double check the rudder. Igneel did what he did best and swung from mast to mast, hauling yardarms and splicing the mainbraces and so forth.

Sunset at the close of the second day and after exhausting hours, the makeshift crew was relieved to find themselves close to Port Cecil. Jeremiah pointed out the “Turtle” to port, an island in the bay of Port Cecil. Tinuviel identified it as the “Shell,” the maximum security prison of the capital. She frowned, noting there was a massive amount of activity compared to usual.

The Millennium Albatross limped under Jeremiah’s direction, following Tinuviel’s invitation toward the closest military dock. Beyond the docks, the buildings of the sea district loomed, one boasting an anchor sign of the captain’s guild. A few other ships were also in port and the guard activity proved as high as the Shell appeared to be. Six sentinels approached when Jeremiah pulled the ship in. A fussy looking official preceded them and tapped an impatient foot until the gangplank reached him. He charged up with the sentinels in tow and announced himself, “I am Theodore Salvatore Alberto and will be conducting a search of this vessel and of your persons.”

“Foradjinn, send to Gwendolyn and tell her we’re here. Maybe she’ll get us through this quicker,” Tinuviel muttered. She produced her hawk medal and waved it at the official. “Good day, Theodore. I am a servant of the crown and they are with me.”

Though slightly mollified by the sight of her insignia, the man nevertheless demanded they submit to a search. “Do you have any magical items with you?”

Foradjinn raised his eyebrows, Rakdaneet floating lazily through the air around him. The official harumphed. “Any necromatic magic in particular?” He glared from person to person.

“What is the point of the inquiry?” Tinuviel asked.

“Within the last thirty-six hours, there has been an attempt upon the king’s life. The perpetrators are connected to necromatic magics and therefore there is a ban, search and seizure upon any and all occurrences of such in the capital until further notice.”

“So that ban could be lifted afterwards, right?” Syl felt Nyloth’s spellbook hang heavy in his book satchel.

Turning a scowl upon the elf wizard, Theodore produced a wand and waved toward the deck twenty feet away. “Line up, all of you.”

Fidgeting, Kaven crossed his arms. “You won’t need to check me; I’m not going ashore.”

“You are under my jurisdiction now,” replied Theodore. “You will submit to a search.”

Foradjinn sent to Gwendolyn with a status update and received an earful of anger. He had forgotten the woman did not want magic entering her mind. Thankfully, the rest managed to convince Kaven to submit to a search. Theodore scanned the rest with no comment until he reached the halfling. “Hmmm,” his grumpiness turned to surprise. “Atypical dragon magic. Interesting.” He scribbled something in a small book.

Kaven pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it.

The official recognized the mockery and harrumphed again. “You all pass muster.”

“Theodore, this gentleman,” Tinuviel indicated Jeremiah. “Has given much in service of the crown and will need much recompense. He is captain of this ship by rights of last crewman.”

“Not my department.” With a whirl of his cloak, the official snapped his fingers and led the sentinels down the gangplank and away.

“Many thanks, lady.” Jeremiah smiled a wry smile. “I don’t know what I’ll do now. I might retire, although,” the wryness turned roguish with a hint of pain. “I do like the sound of ‘captain.’”

“How much will it take to fix?”

“The mainmast repair alone will take a thousand gold.”

From his funds, Foradjinn extracted five hundred gold and handed them to him. “If you decide to continue with the ship, will you take me beyond…there?” He motioned to the eastern horizon where the sea met the sky.

Bowing deep, Jeremiah nodded.

Up through the sea district, the party followed Tinuviel to the high keep. Despite the high presence of guards, the hawk’s rank proved to open all doors once again. Before long, they entered Gwendolyn’s office once more. The leader of the hawks, rubbing purple-ringed eyes speaking of sleepless nights, greeted them all and rounded upon Tinuviel. “Did you tell him to send to me when I expressly told him not to?”

The sheepish grin on her trusted hawk’s face confirmed her suspicions.

After a suitable telling-off, Gwendolyn sat behind the desk. “There is much to discuss, but first,” she invited them to speak. “Your report.”

Suitable embellishment coupled with fabricated nonchalance soon outlined the party’s exploits in Telfore. “In summary,” Foradjinn finished for them all. “Dragon is dead, Telfore badly damaged, about a third of the population as casualties, but they are using the treasure horde to rebuild as they can. Risto, the dragonborn we warned you about, is dead as well.”

Unable to hide a small portion of awe, the Inquisitor sat back. “As much as you all have disobeyed orders,” she said at last. “Saying ‘thanks’ as the least I can do is in order. You all,” she nodded. “Will receive renumeration. Including the surviving sailor…Jeremiah, was it?” She looked to Tinuviel who affirmed. “In due time, however. Things are dire around here, though.” She arose and paced the office as she explained.

Three days ago, the Lord of Artesia arrived to visit his relation, the King of Duverne. The Sovereign, a humble host, insisted the Lord have his own personal quarters for the duration of his time.

“Not a day and a half ago, the Lord of Artesia was slain by two foul creatures. Their descriptions match those you encountered at The Drop. It seems the murders within the prison were mere practice, hence the ban on necromatic magic.” Gwendolyn scowled. “We think their true target was the King himself. The Duke, the King’s right hand, is searching for more information.” Spreading her hands, she motioned toward them. “Will you meet with him to tell him what you know?” Squinting, she lowered her hands. “Where is Kaven?”

Yondalla’s champion, eschewing a meeting with the authority figure, had wandered off to the stable to check on the horses. He was less than enthusiastic about meeting with the Duke. “I have a bounty on my head in Artesia,” he said when they brought him up to speed and down from Foradjinn’s mount who he had been riding around out of boredom. “The lord might recognize me.”

“No, no, no.” Tinuviel shook her head. “The Lord of Artesia is the one that’s dead. The duke doesn’t know you.”

“Oh.” The suddenly-agreeable halfling followed them to Beron who was acting quite keyed up compared to their last meeting.

Tinuviel’s superior dropped a few hints about their appearance as they entered deeper into the castle. With great difficulty, he managed to convince Igneel to not wear any of his new masks or old fox one to meet the duke. Long hallways of granite columns soon greeted them. Cast iron chandeliers gave flickering light to the corridors and illustrated the rich decorations. At one point they passed by a grand staircase, catching a glimpse of a weeping, regally-robed woman comforted by handmaids. Then, the massive arches of the columns descended with the ceiling and they took another corridor to the right until they arrived at a giant dark oak wood door with brass knocker. One knock upon it by Beron and the sound echoed throughout the stone halls.

Bid to enter, they did. Entering revealed a massive library. In the center of towering shelves interspersed with tall windows, a large desk sat. Behind it, a finely-dressed man arose and welcomed them. His hair was black with grey peppered in. His jaw was strong and his right cheek had a small scar. When he spoke, his voice radiated kindness and a quiet authority.

After introductions, the duke asked them to tell him of the Banderhobs. Though not able to tell him much beyond what they were sure others had, the party complied to the best of their ability. With more gusto did they reveal the slaying of the Telfore dragon. Unable to hide his impressed reaction, the duke examined the trophies of the horn and the scales. In the end, he thanked them for their time and dismissed them to talk to Beron alone.

Beron escorted them out first and asked them to not leave town but to take a few days off. He then retreated back to the duke. As Syl later found out, having left an invisible sprite in the study, the duke ordered Beron, “Get the Dragonenders on our side however we can. If they can take down two dragons, they can help us do so much more.”

The party proceeded to the mage’s guild. Outside, Kaven struck up a conversation with Mouse the goliath and the two sparred a little. Friendship struck, they headed off to Tommy’s for a bite.

Inside the mage’s guild, Foradjinn and Syl retrieved their ordered items. The latter eagerly requested more, though he confessed to low funds.

Reina, who was on duty that night, studied him with a calculating expression. “Well, maybe if you can do us a favor and enchant some stuff for us, we could work out a deal.”

The word “favor” set Foradjinn’s paranoia off and he asked the female wizard if she was a hag. The ensuing argument and the tribal bard’s lack of social understanding led to Reina using mage hand to slap him. Tinuviel put in an order for a backpack like their bag of holding and went to visit her mother.

Foradjinn transformed into an owl, took up the disguised spell scroll and a letter, and flew to the Banking District. He alighted in a tree outside the House of Aeroth and peered through the window at a pretty blond-haired elf who was crying as she wrote at her desk.

And as Mouse and Kaven approached Tommy’s, a voice hailed them from a nearby dark alley, “So where did you get the draconic magic?”

View
Battle on the High Seas
In Which Risto Returns to Exact Revenge

With the seas alive, the Millenium Albatross cut through the waves under the competent care of its larger than life captain, Scarif. The captain swaggered the quarterdeck, alternating between shouting orders and guiding the ship. His crew of eight scattered about their various tasks. They worked, ate, and rested in shifts.

Syl began the day by ritual casting Water Breathing on all the crew. One, the first mate whose name was Kamino, refused his efforts and claimed to get along just fine without it, thank you. Shrugging his shoulders, the elf wizard retired to his quarters and cracked open the Tome of Understanding to spend the next ten hours deciphering the text within.

Igneel amused himself by swinging to and fro on ropes and sail lines. He vaulted along cross spar and mainmast alike to the bemusement of Scarif and his crew.

Down below, Foradjinn, after some time spent getting used to the motion of the sea, gingerly crossed the fo’castle deck to approach Tinuviel. “I have been thinking about yesterday,” he said. “About my strengths being others’ weaknesses and my weaknesses being others strengths. And how I am to help this tribe,” he motioned to Kaven leaning on the rail across from them, to Igneel as the monk reached the crowsnest again, “to the best of those strengths.”

Tinuviel let him speak.

“There is someone I must kill.” Foradjinn scratched his jaw and realized how awkward that sounded. “He killed a dear friend of mine and so I will kill him. His name is Rabastan.” Unbuckling the flametounge dagger from around his waist, the bard sighed. “I planned to kill that necromancer with this blade. But,” he winced, “I am not the hardiest fighter.” He handed the dagger to Tinuviel. “Now, if you ever leave this group, I’ll want this back. And I eventually want to give it to his father.” An intense gleam entered his eye. “And if I find it in my back one of these days…” he left the threat unfinished.

“I will use it well.” The half-elf rogue nodded and buckled it around her own waist. “And I have your back, Foradjinn.”

“You remind me of my friend. Sneaky, but less prone to rush into things than he.” Foradjinn half-smirked.

Tinuviel chuckled. From her pack, she pulled out paper and a quill. “You know, I have something for you, too.” She drew out a series of symbols. “Do you know what a ‘cipher’ is?” For the next few hours, she taught the bard a secret language only the two of them could understand.

As evening fell, the sails full with the rising wind, Igneel lounged up in the crow’s nest. A light rain accompanied the coming twilight but over the hiss of water upon wave, he caught another sound: flapping wings.

From the east, two wyverns and a third, more massive creature flew through the air in pursuit of the Millennium Albatross. The third beat massive leathery wings and boasted three heads, one of a ram, one of a dragon, and one of a lion.

While Scarif tolled the alarm, Tinuviel wisely decided to yell for Sylarese who was still below and oblivious, nose deep in wisdom. The wizard appeared and his irritation soon disappeared as the wyverns pounced upon the hapless crewmembers. Scarif himself fell before the large beast, now recognized as a chimera, the stuff of legend.

Syl skipped through the battle, casting Greater Invisibility upon Tinuviel as he passed. Setting aside his differences for the moment, Kaven cast bless on himself, Foradjinn, and Tinuviel before misty stepping atop one wyvern to divine smite it. Igneel took it upon himself to engage the chimera as it roared in triumph over the body of the slain Captain Scarif. Syl hid himself away in order to maintain invisibility and Tinuviel soon made good use of the advantage, shredding away at their foes.

Foradjinn, recalling his efforts to remain out of harm’s way, made the other wyvern’s life miserable with his vicious longbow from the fo’csle. In the thick of the fight, he spotted another wyvern approaching, this one with a familiar rider. “Risto!” he bellowed. “You traitor!”

The copper-colored dragonborn, peeved to find Kaven riding one wyvern and Igneel patting the chimera which Syl had suggested take a nap, cast hold person upon the monk and paladin. He then proceeded to cast a series of fireballs to set the ship ablaze.

Peeved to hear someone else using fireball instead of him, Syl burst out of the cabin he’d retreated to and returned fire. Tinuviel appeared and soon rained punishing strikes upon Risto’s wyvern. The dragonborn dodged away, casting Kaven and Syl into the sea in a frustrated telekinetic rage.

Provoked to attack the bard who had been bothering him with arrows, one wyvern swooped down in a vicious flurry of talons and tail. Foradjinn fell unconscious but the now-visible Tinuviel sprang to his aid. The bard gulped the proffered healing potion, enough to get him on his feet again. He cast invisibility upon the rogue, cried, “Remember: Dragon Enders!” and staggered behind the mizzenmast for some cover.

He caught a glimpse of Syl floating up out of the sea, having had his pixies cast fly upon him and Kaven. Igneel and Tinuviel took down the remaining wyvern and the chimera, then continued to pummel away at Risto’s mount. The dragonborn looked about to run.

“Risto! Going somewhere?” Stumbling out again, Foradjinn notched an arrow to his longbow once more and let fly. The shaft pierced through the wyvern’s eye and Risto fell from its back to the deck of the ship.

Back shattered, Risto raised himself up on his elbows. Opening his mouth, he spat a stream of acid at the approaching Igneel. The monk dodged it with ease and halted next to the helpless opponent. Igneel gazed down, a look of pity upon his face.

An expression passed between them and in that moment they understood one another perfectly. Risto’s eyes closed and his shoulders lost their manic tenseness as Igneel’s fist drove down into the center of his ki.

And the party stared down at their vanquished foe as the ship continued to burn around them.

View
Rousting about For Risto
In Which Neglected Treasure is Examined and the Dragon Enders are Born

In the early evening, Syl traipsed around from house to house, casting his mending spell with enthusiastic abandon. Mordis scrambled after him, the wizard happily explaining magic in his usual convoluted manner and teaching the young boy the basics. Foradjinn and Tinuviel chatted about their heritage. The latter’s mother turned out to be a drow who lived a reclusive life in Port Cecil, attempting to stay out of the limelight.

Slipping away, Kaven visited Ilin, the dwarf fruit seller. She was glad to see him and he asked of her a favor. “Please, hold on to this for me.” And he handed her the mortar and pestle. He dodged the questions of its purpose but she assured him of her discretion.

Tinuviel also slipped away to train in the swamp, practicing her mother’s teachings until she at last learned the spell blur. She returned to the house where the rest slept and discovered Syl up early as usual, busily learning invisibility. They congratulated each other on their successes.

Heading out into the day, the party passed through the busy crowds. One third of the population numbered the casualties, wounded and dead. Those who had passed on were laid to rest in what ground there was, roots and vines placed over their graves to outline them and slowly fade into the swamp. Some distance beyond the town, hooded figures could be seen – the druids kept their distance, always watching. Once the gnomes assisted the best they could, they, too, retreated to beneath the city.

Over breakfast, Tinuviel turned to the group and asked, “So what is the goal? What will you all do now once we ensure the lair is safe? What is this group’s purpose, anyway?”

The rest looked at one another. Syl spoke up, “Not much unites us but,” he pulled himself up to his full height with a proud gleam in his eye, “It is the duty of superior beings to assist lesser mortals.” The gleam turned fanatical. “If I can learn all the magic I want along the way, so much the better.”

Foradjinn rolled his eyes and also offered a little of his backstory, about his mentor David and how he taught the half-elf bard how to become the Voice of the Kabir against the tribe’s wishes.

The group then decided to find Alder and ask him to take them to the dragon lair again. They found the hermit having breakfast in the ruins of the foodcourt near Ilin. The dwarf fruit seller overheard them ask about the lair and was amazed to hear of its location in the school where Xavvoril taught. “I’d heard stories of her and how wonderful it was to learn there,” Ilin said. “She was a druid with the rest of them, but friendlier, more willing to share her knowledge. They didn’t care for that as much.”

Meanwhile, Alder was less than enthusiastic about guiding the group back to the lair. Wishing to spare the hermit the danger and not desiring to row, Syl suggested hiring a boat to take the more-traveled way to the library.

Mayor Jakku, whom they visited while he was clearing his shattered front porch, suggested they hire Captain Umbara. Before heading out, Syl asked if the dead wizard Yavin had any next of kin. The mayor knew of none. The elf wizard professed interest in the magic user’s belongings if the city did not need them. “Let me think on it,” was all the mayor replied.

Hugging the coast and taking the larger tributaries, Umbara ferried them to the library. He could not get as close due to the shallows.

“No worries!” said Syl. “I cast waterbreathing on all of us this morning?”

“Really?” Tinuviel appeared quizzical.

“Of course! I do it every day.” With that, the wizard hopped into the water. Tinuviel shrugged and followed. Kaven proved a little more reluctant, having fallen into the shallows the day before and retched on the swampwater as a result. Behind him, Igneel and Foradjinn exchanged mischievous glances and shoved the hesitant halfling over the side.

Sputtering, Kaven made for the closest land while the other four swam and surfaced near the main hall where the lair was. Though they searched and kept on guard, none of the five encountered Risto. Those inside the main hall shoveled the remaining gold and platinum into the bag of holding.

Reaching down, Syl’s fingers encountered a familiar shape in the water near the pile of gold. He groaned, realizing it was a book and figuring the water would have ruined it by now. But when he pulled it up out of the water, the beads of moisture sloughed off the leather cover, revealing the pages as completely dry.

Tinuviel, with a grunt, hoisted up a gleaming copper-colored set of plate armor. “This looks useful.”

Spotting a gleam in the water, Igneel pried at it and Foradjinn felt the ground under his feet move. He fell over with a splash as the monk revealed a beautiful sword.

With his magic, Syl identified them as the Tome of Understanding, Dwarven Plate, and a Dancing Sword. Also in the coin pile, Igneel pounced on a set of golden masks, one of a human face, the other of a bird. Tinuviel discovered a small idol of Sune, the goddess of love and beauty.

Still on patrol, Kaven cast detect good and evil. A sense of evil caused him to jump and clutch his hammer close. He headed in the direction, wading through the water, into the main hall where the group shoveled the final coins into the bag of holding. Syl straightened and dried himself off, grumbling at the aches in his back. “Come along,” he said. “Time to go back.” He passed Kaven, heading toward the break in the wall.

The tinge of evil the paladin sensed followed the elf wizard, emanating from his book bag.

The party exited. Nearby, Kaven pointed out some grey slabs and small stone arrangements half-submerged he had noticed. Syl examined the strange writing, identified it as druidic, and declared it to be Xavvoril’s grave.

Following a brief stop to ransack the ruins of the Conquered Dawn, the ship the dragon had picked up and dropped nearby, for one solitary healing potion, they all returned to Umbara’s boat and he set out for Telfore once again.

The sun tilted toward the horizon as they came in view of what remained of Telfore’s harbor. At the sight of a large unfamiliar ship there, Umbara mumbled, “Oh, great, he’s back.”

“Scariff?” guessed Foradjinn.

“Yup.”

Back at Jakku’s, the party revealed the gold and the staggered mayor directed them to conceal it in the abandoned house they had slept in the evening previous. “The wine cellar will do nicely.”

Foradjinn cast sending to Lander. “We hit a small snag and can’t teleport back. Can you send someone to fetch us?”

“None of us have been to Telfore. It’s risky and comes with a high cost.”

“Well,” the bard said to the rest. “We might find our ride back to Port Cecil on that.” He waved a hand at the masts of Scariff’s ship towering over the town.

The group agreed and they found the boisterous captain in the food court, telling tall tales. Foradjinn wandered up and attempted to match his charismatic manner. "Good evening! Are you Captain Scariff? "

“You indeed have the pleasure of speaking to him! And you are?”

With a smirk, the bard crossed his arms. “I am Foradjinn, leader of the Dragon Enders.” He gave an expressive wave to the rest behind him. “You have us to thank for that stinking carcass in the middle of town and subsequent clear seas.”

“Do I indeed?” Scariff chuckled, though looking faintly impressed.

“And we find ourselves in need of transport back to Port Cecil to continue our good service. Might you be for hire?”

After some haggling, Scariff knocked fifty gold off the price and held to his price of twelve hundred gold for passage. Tinuviel’s references to the good graces of the crown and Foradjinn’s assurance of mutual reputational benefit did little to talk him down to any lower sum. Syl solved the impasse by dipping into the funds they had retrieved for Jakku and, satisfied, Scariff told them to return in the morning.

Back in the wine cellar, the group indulged in a few bottles. Igneel practiced his coin weaponry with the vast multitude of ammunition while they conversed. “Good initiative,” Syl said to Foradjinn. “Stepping up as leader and naming us.”

The bard shrugged. “I remembered in the stories – there are groups of heroes who have many different names. ‘Dragon Enders’ does not have to be our only name, nor I its leader. We each have our strength and each can lead this group when those strengths are needed. That is when our names will multiply.” Bringing out the flame tongue dagger, he turned it over and over in his hands. “There is much I cannot do and will have to trust each of you to help me. But there is much I can do that each of you cannot do and will have to trust me to help you.”

Foradjinn’s eyes flickered to Kaven and Tinuviel. “And yes, we may not agree with how each of us does things. The importance lies in checking each other. When Kaven is worried about Gwendolyn’s motivation, when Syl’s obsession with magic becomes harmful to himself, when…if my helping Anaya- if my debt to the hag hurts people,” he nodded to Kaven, “We need to hold each other accountable.”

He poured himself more wine. “So, do we fight the dragons? Not for Gwendolyn, or a king, not necessarily, though it’s fine if we do. But for the people or for whatever good reason we have?”

Syl tilted his glass in salute. “To the Dragon Enders!”

Each of the others followed suit, echoing the toast.

The next morning, they headed out, bidding farewell to Jakku. Kaven dropped in to grab breakfast at the food court.

Ilin happily dished the paladin up some oatmeal and fruit. She oohed and aahed over a silver necklace Kaven had kept back from the dragon’s horde. “You want your mortar and pestle back?” she asked.

He nodded and told her of the gold in the abandoned house. “If you find it’s not getting distributed right, you know where it is,” he added.

“Jakku may not be the best mayor,” Ilin shrugged, “But he’s not bad. I’ll make sure.”

“Fair enough.” Kaven finished his oatmeal. “You’re a great leader, Ilin. You really jumped in and helped people after the dragon helped. They are lucky you’re here.”

“Thanks, dearie. Take care of yourself.”

Boarding the ship, the group was greeted by the bombastic Captain Scariff. “Are you ready to sail the sea, to chance our fate against the face of the ocean itself?” he demanded with a flourish.

“Can I sit up there?” Igneel pointed at the crow’s nest.

“If you can climb up there- oh, this will be interesting.” Scariff grinned as the monk ascended in short order and with great ease.

And as the wind filled the sails, they headed out into the forty-ninth day.

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Foradjinn Goes Ape
In Which Pursuit Leads to Bittersweet Victory

To the unsettling sound of jengu calling and the ruckus of trees being uprooted, the party paused within the tiny hut. But only for a moment.

Grabbing the front of Tinuviel’s shirt, Kaven threw her from the hut. “Who do you work for?” he roared. “Why were you helping Risto?”

Before she could answer, Foradjinn poked his head out of the hut. “Look, you idiots – I have to get back to Anaya,” he snapped. “Whatever argument you have, argue in here, in safety.”

Each exchanged glares as they returned to the hut. “I work for Gwendolyn,” Tinuviel growled. “Just as I said.”

“All I know is you came running out with Risto. Did you know he attacked the dragonborn monastery with that black dragon before?” The halfling’s fingers tightened on the handle of his warhammer.

“What about you? I didn’t see you helping us! You went off with Igneel somewhere,” the half-elf fired back.

“Wait, Kaven,” Foradjinn raised his hand. “She snuck up on Risto and then tried to cast a spell upon him. I shot him with an arrow but he dodged her magic. He was going to strike back but gave us a choice to help him.” Shrugging, he crossed his arms. “I still didn’t trust him and I covered him while Tinuviel and Syl helped. I didn’t want to fight him and the dragon both again.” His eyes flickered towards the edge of the hut dome as another distant crash announced yet another tree falling in the dragon’s rage.

Not entirely convinced, Kaven cast Zone of Truth upon Tinuviel. She repeated the answers: she worked for Gwendolyn. “Gwendolyn works for the king,” Tinuviel added. “and I don’t know Risto.” She sighed. “Gwendolyn truly wants to help the people. I know you care about them. We need to trust each other.”

Alder cleared his throat. “I dunno about all of this, but I’m starving. What do we do next?”

“Good point,” said Syl. His eyes rolled back into his head and his vision projected out through Sai. The owl familiar ascended and peered around, searching for the dragon. Just it time, it seemed, for the flying black lizard to also rise out of the foliage and wing east.

“That’s toward Telfore,” said Foradjinn. He cast sending to Jakku to warn him and heard the mayor’s panicked reply of disbelief.

The party debated on how to pursue. While Syl weighed the merits of polymorph with his pixies and sprites, one of the massive trees on the island stirred. Stretching its rotted limbs, it arose from the ground and lumbered toward the hut. With a few whacks to shake the hut to its core, the mute rotting wood behemoth gave a little more urgency to establishing departure plans. Syl cast minor illusion to distract it.

And thus it was that Kaven and Foradjinn were transformed into giant eagles. Their new sizes dispelled Leomund’s Tiny Hut and the corrupted tree’s fist connected with Eagle Foradjinn to give him a gentle lift onward minus a few feathers.

Above the treetops, the eagles carried the rest high into the heavens. The swamps dropped beneath them and they could see the winding waterways through the shrubs and trees. The gloaming wither stretched away to the north and they winged east. After some flying, they spotted a black speck in the distance. It appeared lizardlike as they drew closer, and it descended toward the familiar set of buildings of the town center.

“Drop us on him!” Tinuviel poked Foradjinn’s feathery chest and Igneel nodded in agreement. Foradjinn obeyed, diving toward the black dragon. By now the beast had destroyed the mayor’s house. The food court was aflame and the Dragon perched atop the burning building, tearing into the wounded. Foradjinn let out a screech, Syl cast invisibility upon Tinuviel, and she and Igneel leaped to the attack. The giant eagle bard clamped talons on the dragon’s neck, driving his beak toward its eyes.

Kaven, meanwhile dropped Alder off away from the fight. The hermit barreled towards the decimated house of the mayor, seeking to help. Syl hid himself away in a house on the other side of the plaza and focused on maintaining the invisibility. He heard a whimpering noise drew his attention to a table on the other side of the room. “Stay hidden,” he whispered to the boy hiding there. “Stay quiet. What’s your name?”

“Mordis.”

Outside, Kaven flew back to the half-destroyed docks and picked up a net to entangle the dragon. The dragon let out an earth-shaking roar which caused Tinuviel and Kaven to shrink back in fear, unable to move closer or attack as effectively.

Foradjinn attempted to stay out of the dragon’s way once his eagle form fell due to the dragon’s attack. Unfortunately, he soon fell unconscious. Syl, watching from the window, sent Sai through whom he cast Cure Wounds upon the wounded bard. Then, motioning one of his pixies to cast Polymorph upon Foradjinn, he closed the window once again.

Eyes snapping open, Foradjinn let out an undulating bellow. Fur burst from his skin, greying across his chest, blackening over his back, and he flipped onto his now massive feet. Now a huge ape faced the dragon who appeared a little quizzical then a little annoyed then a lot more annoyed as the ape’s fist soon had him hopping and flapping around in a most undignified manner.

The fight continued and dragon’s acid breath soon took its toll on the polymorphed bard. As the bard collapsed once more between the claws of the angry foe, Kaven overcame his fear long enough to drop the net upon the dragon. The halfling then tore at the tangled foe with his eagle beak until an irritated series of snaps from the dragon’s jaws popped him out of the form.

It was enough of a diversion for Syl to lean out of the window, send Sai to heal the bard once more, and order his last sprite to cast polymorph once again.

Difficult as it was to tell over the burning odor of buildings aflame, the slight whiff of acidic brimestone could very well have been a sigh of frustration from the black dragon. The giant ape charged once again, trading blows. Then as the blood leaked between the scales, the giant ape stooped to scoop up a certain charging halfling. Foradjinn hurled Kaven at the reeling dragon, the light of Yondalla gathering around the paladin’s hammer. In an explosion of holy energy and a high screech, the dragon fell dead.

Then Yondalla’s hero wiped off his hammer and wandered off to find Schwarma.

Still in ape form, Foradjinn set about collecting trophies. From the window, Syl called, “Toss me one of the dragon teeth.” He caught it and handed it to Mordis. “Congratulations! You survived a dragon attack.” Rubbing his hands together, the wizard cleared his throat. “Right. We should probably find your parents.”

“My mom works in the mayor’s house.”

Recalling the flattened building he had seen when they flew in, Syl gulped.

As their hearts slowed from adrenaline rush, the party realized how devastated Telfore truly was. The wounded and shell-shocked filled the streets. The flames still raged and those who were able formed a bucket chain.

Syl escorted Mordis to the mayor’s house and discovered Alder there, comforting Jakku. The mayor sobbed amidst the ruins, the hermit with his hand upon his shoulder. “Your mother, Mocalla, is dead, son,” the latter said to Mordis. The boy joined the mayor in his tears and Syl left them to grieve.

Meanwhile, Kaven helped the cheery dwarf merchant perform triage and assist the wounded. Tinuviel suggested checking on the gnomes in their tunnels. As they headed that direction, Syl mused over the possibility of returning to the lair upon the morrow. “I’m sure that eldunar is in there,” he insisted.

Kaven exchanged glances with Igneel. “No. I have it.”

Eyes lighting up, the wizard clapped his hands. “You do?! Where did you find it?”

“It wasn’t among the treasure. It was in another building.”

“Can I see it?”

Pausing before the entrance to the tunnels, the paladin fixed him with a stern, searching gaze. “Why?”

“It’s magic! I want to study it.”

“Later.” Following Tinuviel into the tunnels, Kaven ignored Syl’s protests. Beneath the ground, they found many gnomes clustered together. They had yet to surface due to hearing the battle and promised to do so to assist.

Once in the city above, Syl again pressed Kaven to allow him access to the eldunar. “You can hold on to it; I just want to identify and see what it does!”

Kaven knew the elf was hiding something but at last produced the mortar and pestle. Syl, through his magic, found it indeed increased the wisdom of one who attuned to it and would substantially increase the effects of the potion created with it as well.

“This…this magic is a deep magic I have seen nowhere else.” Syl’s brows knitted. He did not protest as Kaven tucked it away once more. The party checked Yavin’s house to find the circle intact but most of the ceiling collapsed. Yavin himself lay dead in the middle of the rubble.

As the day drew to a close and the survivors huddled close against the night, Foradjinn turned to the rest. “It would be good to return to the lair tomorrow.” He motioned around at the shattered buildings. “They will need the gold to rebuild.” Tracing his thumb over the flame-tongue dagger in his belt, his eyes narrowed. “But we had better make sure Risto is not there.”

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How to Row Swamps and Loot Lairs
In Which Mr. Black Dragon is Out but Risto is In

Dawn broke over the swamp. The heat of the day boiled the humidity into heaviness around the party as they awoke to the smell of frying meat. “When y’all wakin’ up?” Alder stood over them, a pan with clouds of smoke in his hand. “Morning’s half gone!”

Contrary to the hardy man’s statement, it was about seven in the morning. He had been up since five. Over a breakfast of flibbet, he revealed he knew where the line of dragon befoulment began. “Now, before we set out, a few ground rules. There are all manner of creatures out there. If I tell you to somethin’, you do it, no questions asked. If I tell you to drop down and lie still, you do it, right?”

Agreeing, they all finished breakfast and set out. Alder rowed the skiff deep into the tussocks and floating mud islands. Mist hung over the landscape, muting most of the sound but for the odd bug chittering, the water lapping, and sometimes a strange birdcall.

“Jengu,” Alder identified it when Foradjinn asked. “Butt ugly. Tasty meat, though.”

The winding swampways now took them past massive trees. Large roots trailed own into the water, holding the floating sod together. Alder pointed out useful plants to Foradjinn, then pointed up at one tree to the right. “See what’s wrong there?” he said to the rest.

The tree roots trailed into the waterway like the others. But the water around it was not brown – more muddy than cloudy, with strange bubbles nearby. The treebark appeared to be sloughing and melting off. “That’s the line of befoulment,” the lines in Alder’s face deepened in sober guardedness.

Syl sent Sai up to scout in that direction. As his eyes rolled up in his head and he projected through his familiar, Alder grew even more unsettled. Tunuviel explained and promised she would push the wizard in if it became too unsettling. “I’m gonna hold you to that,” the hermit chuckled.

To the north, the familiar could easily see the withered area. The canopy took on a dreary color, more trees missing their bark. Sai also spotted a small inlet and bay a few miles away.

Tunuviel meanwhile spotted a mottled lizard-like form standing high in a tree, watching them. She turned back to warn Alder but when she turned to point it out, it had gone. The party continued on, though they casually positioned themselves at the four points of the raft, weapons to hand. Kaven amused Alder by imitating a Jengu and belching.

At last they reached the library ruins. Various stone remains dotted a series of islands, a few bridges stretching between them. The boat passed one missing a wall. Inside was a cauldron and series of cupboards. By general agreement, they directed Alder to guide the skiff toward the cathedral-like main building on the center island.

This main building was missing its roof and a few portions of its surrounding walls. The tussock it stood upon had sunk over time and as they disembarked, they sank into water up to their ankles. As much as they could, each made their stealthy way toward a break in the wall. To the west, a Jengu’s call cut off in mid squawk. Each knew they must not linger.

Syl popped through the break in the wall and found the water inside to be deeper than outside. At one end of the hall, he spotted a massive pile of gold. Tinuviel, muttering a curse at his heedlessness, motioned for the others to wait and caught hold of the wizard. She also noticed the gold but spotted a hooded and cloaked figure rummaging through it and the other baubles piled there.

Thankfully, it didn’t notice them, so engaged was it in ransacking the place. Syl, squinting, realized it was Risto, the copper dragonborn traitor who had led the assault on the dragonborn monastery.

Tinuviel motioned for Syl to be silent and cast disguise self to appear like the mottled kobold she had seen in the tree. She snuck up on Risto and cleared her throat. “Sir!” she said in Draconic. “I have a report from the perimeter.”

“Wha?!” Caught off guard, the dragonborn whirled. He cleared his throat and attempted to look officious. “Yes! Fine. Yes. What is it?”

“We’ve spotted the adventurers coming.”

“If they come closer, let me know and we’ll deal with them.”

“What should we do to fight them?”

“I’m not unduly worried – we can retreat and the dragon will eat them in one bite.”
Tunuviel bowed and backed away. Behind her, Foradjinn snuck out to get a line of sight on Risto, arrow notched. As the dragonborn turned to scrabble among the treasure, Tunuviel attempted to cast chromatic orb upon him and Foradjinn, taking the hint, let fly.

Once again, the dragonborn turned. The arrow thwacked into his shoulder, and he dodged the spell. “What?!”

Syl, no longer silent, yelled, “It’s Risto!”

Raising his claws in desperation toward them, Risto shook his head. “You?! Look, the dragon is returning! Help me find it before the dragon comes back!”

“What are you looking for?” Syl yelled, dashing forward, knowing full well.

“Something with a cloudy grey gem set into it,” Risto circled, keeping one eye on Foradjinn and Tunuviel. The latter lowered her hands and also leaped to assist. Foradjinn, still not trusting the dragonborn, lowered his bow a hair and inched forward. He covered the half-elf and elf as they shoveled valuables into the Bag of Holding.

Behind him, Kaven closed his eyes and muttered the incantation for his locate object spell. In the darkness, he saw a glimmer and turned toward it. Opening his eyes, the paladin spotted the building they had passed with the cauldron in it. He whistled softly up to Igneel who perched upon the half wall overlooking the interior of the sunken hall. Together, they snuck away and had Alder row them over. Though unsettled by their revelation that they had discovered the dragon’s lair, he promised to stay in and ready to depart with haste.

In the detritus of a desk and a series of shelves over a worktable, Kaven rooted through and discovered a mortar and pestle. In the mortar, one half of a cloudy gem had been set at the bottom of the bowl. The other half was set into the grinding end of the pestle.

All of a sudden, a distant roar echoed through the swamp. Risto jerked in surprise, his hood falling to reveal his face scales pockmarked and worn.

“Time to go,” Tunuviel yelled. Syl agreed, slinging the Bag of Holding to his belt.
They struggled toward the break they had entered from.

Stowing his bow, Foradjinn pretending to crow in triumph and grab something from the flooded treasure pile. “Found it! Come on,” he called to Risto. The dragonborn followed, demanding the object. They exited the building, the distant dragon roaring again, and piled upon the raft.

“Give it to me!” Risto held out his hand to Foradjinn.

“Help us retreat and I will give you what I have.”

“Give me what you have now.”

A strange sensation slipped over the bard’s mind and his hand moved on its own. He opened his fingers to reveal a small pile of gold coins.

“You fools!” Risto raged. “You’re all going to die!” He vanished with an arcane pop.

Shaking his head at the strange sensation, Foradjinn cast enhance ability upon Alder and they all helped him row quickly back up the channel. Turning the bend just in time, they heard whooshing of wings and a deafening thud as a large creature landed on the island. A pause and then another roar echoed through the swamp, louder and more furious than before.

“Get us to land! If we’re going to fight this thing, it can’t be on a boat.” They furiously paddled back the way they came and Alder guided them down another channel, through a thicket of ferns and under a canopy of trees. Before them lay another island with three trees upon it.

As soon as the boat touched the land, Syl leaped out and cast Leomund’s Tiny Hut over them all. “Well, then!” he turned to the rest. “Shall we divide up the loot?”

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