Saturday, February 17, 2018
Beck’s merry face fell at the mention of the tiefling’s name: Long Tooth Nancy. Granted, Nancy might not have been the one who sent the hit, he certainly didn’t seem to recognize us, but he was capable of contracting Red Caps all the same.
“Just ask for a room,” Maziel growled near Beck’s ear. The drow’s eyes never stopped searching the quiet space, evidently coming to the same conclusion we all drew: this was a front. For what? Probably a thieves guild, which was somehow safer than the dark fey world outside.
“A room,” Nancy repeated, rising and walking to the stairs. “I can do that. Looks like you’ve all had yourselves a grand time in the city.”
I looked down at my blood-spattered hide armor, trying to hold a squirming baby triceratops in one arm and keep close to my sword with the other. After another moment, Nancy smiled and gestured for us to follow up the flight.
Down the hall, Nancy stopped at one of the doors and opened it to reveal a surprisingly well kept room. The tiefling leaned against the doorframe. “Again, some of these rooms offer better protection than others. For the right price.”
“It’s fine,” Maziel said, dropping a jingling pouch into the tiefling’s open palm and taking the extended key. “Thank you. Good night.” Maziel unceremoniously closed the door in the face of the still smiling Long Tooth Nancy.
“Is your boar going to be alright outside, Fizz?” Klo said, curling into a high backed chair.
The dark gnome shrugged. “Probably.”
“Taelim, you’re first watch,” Maziel said, starting to investigate the room.
“Really?” I groaned. “Paranoid much?” One look from the drow silenced me, and I dropped Brax onto the lone bed where he plopped onto the pillows.
The rest of the party promptly washed the day’s deeds off before finding sleep, scattered around the room.
I leaned against the door, stroking Oddie’s feathered breast as the pygmy hawk perched on my shoulder. Like a shadow, Maziel sat beside me.
“I think our best course of action would be to scry on former king Bres,” she said, barely above a whisper.
I nodded once. “I can do that, but I’d need an orb or mirror.”
Maziel crossed her arms over her chest. “We’ll see about that tomorrow.” The conversation fell into a lull and I used that to broach another topic.
“Where did your Beau go?”
She eyed me carefully. Her voice softened when she spoke. “Looking for the rest of his crew. He’ll be back.”
I grinned coyly. “He seems to make you … happy.”
A fleeting smile crossed Maziel’s lips. “Yes … he’s intriguing to me.”
I sighed. Well that’s a step in the right direction. We could work on words later. “Get some rest, Maziel, I’ll wake you in a few.” I watched the drow seat herself in a corner, close her eyes and trance. She was still smiling faintly.
The boar was wearing a red cap when we stepped outside, so it was safe to assume they were watching us. We carefully made our way to the temple of Hiatea, this time taking care to disguise our forms. Klo had a spell prepared that transformed us into tieflings and dwarves, but it was simple enough for me to change my own body with a bit of druidic magic.
When we arrived to the den of beasts the doors were sealed shut. I walked over and banged on them loudly. No answer.
“Lithia, open up!” I called.
After a moment I heard footsteps scuttle close, and a door creaked open. An older human face peaked back at me distrustfully. “What do you want, tiefling?”
Oh, yeah. I returned back to my half-elf form. “Taelim. Where’s Lithia?”
Recognition dawned on the human’s face. Her eyes darted around. “The keepers aren’t around,” she said quietly, “after yesterday’s ordeal … well the king’s guard came looking. I’m taking care of the beasts until they return.”
I frowned. “I was sort of hoping they might know where to find spell components.”
The human pointed a finger behind me. “The Place of Reflection, there’s mostly temples in that district. Be careful with you small folk over there.”
I cocked my head, reminded of something. “You’re the first human I’ve seen here.”
She smiled mildly. “We’re slaves here, taken as children. Former for me, but I’m bound here regardless.”
I felt my face flush; I didn’t take kindly to the thought. “We are you from?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t know the place, Taelim.”
She sighed, defeated. “Have you heard of Illium?”
I felt my stomach drop, and Brax pushed against my legs as I seemed to sway in place. “What’s your name?” I demanded.
The woman hesitated. Then, “Polly.”
“Polly … do you want to go home?”
The human woman laughed. It felt like someone had played that trick on her before. My expression never changed, and her laughter died away. “You’re serious?”
I picked up Brax and handed the baby trike to her. “Polly, watch Brax for me. I’ll be back for him and you. I promise to take you back home, but we have business in Mag Turea.”
After shaking off her initial shock, Polly took the baby dinosaur in her arms. Her features vied between disbelief and hope. “I’ll not despair if you don’t come.”
“Alrighty, but try to look excited when you see Illium again … well, it’s been through a rough time--nevermind. I’ll be back!”
I turned and jogged back to the group, leading the way with a grin.
We opted for the temple of Annam, the All-Father. A large fomorian monk was bickering with a fomorian woman in robes. The fomorian woman turned on her heels, a wrapped package in her hands, and swished past us. The monk then looked down at us, hands on his hips as he waited expectantly.
He introduced himself as Lugh, the caretaker of this temple.
“Hi …” I started uneasily, having been pushed forward from the group. “Um, well, I’ll cut right to the chase. We’re new here, obviously, and we’re searching for spell components for scrying … we’re lost ….”
Lugh chuckled, evidently not buying that. “Odd. You are not the first to ask this of me today. As for what you seek, Credene just walked out with it. She heads the temple of Diancastra--”
Shit. “Thanks for your time!” I whipped around and practically pushed the group out the exit, Lugh just chortled after us. We tried not to run toward Diancastra’s temple, we already drew weird glances from locals.
We stopped, panting at the doors of the temple. Admittedly, I wasn’t fond of the goddess who had repeatedly played tricks on me since I arrived in the Feydark. I was willing to give it another chance, until the doors were thrown open unceremoniously.
The fomorian priestess was standing there, finger pointed down at us. Half a dozen guards were at her side. “There they are, just as the scry showed. Arrest them!”
We didn’t bother to resist.
Friday, January 26, 2018
Even at the edge of Mag Turea, the three of us stood out among the lumbering fomorians, duergar and other creatures of the Feydark. Outside the walls, we hurried across the open fields where the temple of Hiatea was nestled. Like everything else in the city, it was enormous. It reminded me of our jaunt through the Shadowfell, stumbling inside the rib cages of Primordials. Whatever beast once bore these bones, it was certainly apt for a giant’s temple.
A roar greeted us the moment we passed through the towering archway. The inside resembled a massive enclosure more than a temple. Perhaps there was more beyond the doorways in the back, but my attention was drawn to the titanic reptilian beasts that wandered the area. They ranged in size and shape, everything from the elongated necks of a brontosaurus to the skittering legs of an aquilops-like beast.
A firbolg in hides and furs approached us with a warm smile, patting the triceratops that stomped along beside him. My eyes went wide when I noticed the baby trike in her arms.
Klotonk patted my hand as if to say, Don’t get distracted.
We had one goal in Mag Turea: talk to the fomorian king, Bres, and request entry to the fey gate his people guarded. If there was time, we could help with the apparent unrest in the city, but only if time allowed. Apparently, Klo had met an old formorian woman named Granny Poultice on the Gilded Lotus. She bore the aura of most every fey court. For whatever reason, she wanted to see Bres stay in charge, offering an unnamed favor, but clearly one of significance.
I swallowed the urge to reach out and pet the beasts, trying to compose myself before the apparent druid.
“Hail, adventurers,” the firbolg smiled warmly enough, though her Common was a bit broken. “What brings you to the place of Hiatea?”
The baby trike squeaked in her arms.
“What is this amazing place?” I blurted despite myself, eyes fixed on the golden orbs of the small creature in the firbolg’s cradle.
Klotonk and Beck both sighed.
The firbolg laughed. “You’re a druid, yeah?”
I nodded vigorously, and to my unending delight, she extended the baby triceratops to me. In that moment, I fell in love with the beast, offering it every word of affection I didn’t even bestow upon people.
“My name’s Lithia,” she started, “and here, under Hiatea’s blessings, we care for the beasts of the city.”
“I’ll admit,” I replied, accepting rough kisses from the baby trike. “I don’t know much about the goddess.”
This seemed to surprise the druid, who brought over another caretaker named Kervan, as both endeavored to win me over with the giant goddess of hunting, nature and agriculture. Hiatea was apparently a damn good fighter who slew a hydra, and the flaming spear bit caught my attention.
At some point, Klotonk stepped forward mildly and spoke up. “We’re actually here looking for King Bres, would you know how to reach him?”
A mixed look of fear and surprise overcame the fomorians.
“You shouldn’t show such favor for King Bres. Not anymore,” Lithia said in a low voice.
“Former King Bres,” Kervan corrected quietly.
Lithia nodded. “He was overthrown by King Nuadu Finn Fail. The city guard has been...silencing any remaining supporters.”
I glanced at Klo, and he met my eyes with a grimace. That didn’t bode well for us. Further contemplation halted, because I had failed to see what unfolded around us. Over the course of our conversation, the beasts within had grown restless. A guttural roar reverberated around the chamber.
I watched in horror as a massive tyrannosaurus smashed through his quartered-off pen, and in a single snap of its jaw, crush the life of the caretaker ahead. Then the stampede started. The other beasts barreled in from the back of the enclosure, thrashing and attacking caretakers and smaller creatures alike. They thundered straight toward us.
“No!” Lithia screamed, lunging forward only to be seized by Kervan.
“They’re going to crush us!” Beck cried out.
Like a frozen moment in time, every beast in the roam was suddenly thrown into the air. They stopped, well over a hundred feet high, spinning and thrashing in place. My eyes quickly assessed the situation, and I spotted another tyrannosaurus bash through one of the pens in the back, apparently missed, trailed by a large triceratops.
I spun toward Klo, “Did you reverse gravity?”
“Yeah,” the gnome admitted tentatively, “but I didn’t think about what happens when the spell ends and they fall...”
My jaw dropped. I instinctively eyed the babies in the corner, floating in play, seemingly unaffected by the sudden lust for rage. Mindlessly I put the baby I was holding in Kervan’s arms, pushing him back.
“Don’t hurt them!” Lithia called toward Beck who moved forward, despite the t-rex stomping toward us, maw open wide..
I grabbed Beck’s wrist. “Don’t step in the center of the field, you’ll go up with them!”
The tyrannosaurus smashed through the side pens, stopping to smash and destroy whatever object was in its way. The trike took the lead and barreling forward.
I’m crazy, this is crazy. Still, I stepped in front of it and attempted to talk to the charging beast down, prepared to shift into one need be. To my shock, and relief, it skidded to a halt, snorting and pawing the ground.
“What’s wrong?” I tried in the creature’s tongue.
It hurts! It all hurts! The beast bellowed back.
I eyed the colored foam at the creature’s mouth. They’re sick...poison?
“I got this one!” Beck called, drawing my attention and confronting the tyrannosaurus. It didn’t go well, but the tiefling somehow avoided being eaten alive, casting a spell and seizing the monster in invisible binds.
I placed a hand on the trike in front of me and cast a restoration spell. At once the beast’s body sagged in relief, and it collapsed to the ground, calmed.
“There’s not much time!” Klo said, eyes staring upward.
“Heal the others!” I said to Beck, then turning to Lithia. “You, get on my back, and gather the younglings as we go!”
The firbolg gave me a fleeting look of confusion, until I turned into a quetzalcoatl and lowered my head. She leaped on, and we took off, trying to gather the babies and safely return them to the ground.
“There you are!” A deep voice boomed. Yaup turned the corner into the temple. Then, “Oh shit!” The cleric of Kord was swept up in the gravity field with the other beasts.
The deep gnome, Fizz, held back behind him, considering his options safely out of the spell’s reach.
“I helped him!” Beck shouted out happily, stroking a now calm t-rex.
“Yaup!” Klotonk called, “cast restoration on them!”
By the time I reached the ground with Lithia and a slew of younglings, Yaup had healed the majority of the floating beasts. Their rage wasn’t what scared me. The reverse gravity spell ended, and the creatures tumbled out of the sky.
At the last possible second, their fall faltered, and about a foot off the ground, they began to rise up again. The second rise was ended immediately, and they fell, not more than a foot to safety. We wasted no time in healing the reamaining ailing creatures.
When it was all done, I turned to Klotonk. “Two spells. That’s why you’re the smart one.”
He grinned. “I almost didn’t think of it.”
“Thank you!” Lithia came running over, embracing us. “I can’t show my gratitude enough. Nothing we could do would repay you for saving them.”
The baby triceratops I had been playing with earlier ambled over. I scooped him in my arms, nuzzling him, enjoying the stress release.
“Do you want him?” Lithia said, hand on my shoulders.
My eyes widened. “Really?”
She chuckled. “I see that look. It’s the least we could do, and I know you’d take care of him.”
“NO!” Maziel’s voice called. The drow entered the temple enclosure, trailed by the mysterious kenku, Beau.
My brows furrowed. I didn't know what angered me more: the fact I had actually been worried about her safety while we risked our hides, or that she once again tried to stop my fun.
“You don’t have a say,” I replied defiantly. A tense silence filled the moment.
Maziel cocked her head, her voice a warning. “Taelim…”
“C’mon, Brax,” I said, holding the baby I dubbed closer, Lithia following me tentatively. “Welcome to the Main Attraction. We haven’t had a dino since our circus days!”
Maziel cursed my name behind me.
Our party wearily took to the streets, avoiding the path of larger creatures that dominated Mag Turea. With clear instructions to avoid the fomorian palace, and any of the new king’s guards, our options were limited. Every step earned wary glances from the locals.
“It was drow darts filled with poison,” I explained to the group, barely above a whisper. “Even Beau confirmed it.” The darts were what started the stampede, enraging the creatures. With possible drow involvement, who knew what implications that created. Maziel already got dirty looks from the city folk.
“What was the name of the tavern the firbolgs suggested?” Maziel grumbled.
“The Auntie’s Poultice,” Fizz offered, pointing a finger around a street bend.
Alleyways are never promising shortcuts, especially backstreets in a city that doesn’t like those from the Material Plane anyway. Halfway through the dark street a group of mercs in red caps barred our way, another filling the space behind us. They drew their weapons, as thugs were apt to do.
Calmly, I opened a dumpster and put Brax and Little Oddie inside.
“Red Caps…” Maziel announced, as if their choice of headgear weren’t indication enough. Assassins of the Fey, though who they took orders from were still a mystery, especially since Lysandra was missing. Maziel drew her bow and nocked an arrow.
“You were told to say ‘no,’” one of the assassins said calmly, eyes fixed on Maziel.
The rest of us didn’t bother appearing surprised, we just braced for the worst.
Maziel’s arrow flew, and the steel-toed mercs charged.
My first instinct was to change into whatever beast would fill the space and run down the swarming hats, but Klotonk cast a wall of force that cut off half of the Red Caps, forcing me to full stop.
“Sorry!” He called, squeezing behind Yaup as the other mercenaries charged from behind.
A heavy boot hit my shin, dropping me. I narrowly avoided the blade that drove into the ground beside my stomach, drawing a deep scratch. It was nothing compared to the wound when Fizz shot this long-barreled gun and took my opponent's head clear off. In return I summoned a thorn whip and pulled his own mercenary in between our ranks as we quickly disposed of the hired sword.
The finale came when Klotonk launched a fireball that incinerated one half of the alley, leaving piles of ashes where the Red Caps once stood. The assassins behind the wall of force took one last look, then fled.
“Leave that one alive,” Maziel said, casually strolling toward the gasping figure under Yaup’s boot. “I have questions.”
Admittedly, I didn’t have the stomach for the brief bit of torture Maziel and Fizz managed, drawing the answers out of the Red Cap before eventually ending his life. I spent those few moments letting Brax run around the bodies of the fallen while we looted anything of value.
“They take orders from contracts by Eight Leaf and Long Tooth Nancy,” Maziel said, filling the rest of us in. “Though who assigned this particular hit on us,” she shrugged, evidently annoyed.
We managed to stumble our way out of the alley undetected, covered in grim and blood. At last we were at the door of the Auntie’s Poultice, not to be confused with Granny Poultice. Maybe they thought it was an ode to her. Who knows, who cares.
When we opened the door, the chatter of the relatively sparse room died at once. Tieflings. Everywhere. What looked to be the owner, a red tiefling man in dark leathers was leaning on the bar counter.
“Welcome…” he said slowly, eyes taking us in.
We all turned to Beck.
Our tiefling bard laughed uncomfortably before stepping forward. “Hey there, friend… we’re, um, looking for rooms.”
The red tiefling chuckled. “I bet you are, seems like you’ve all had a rough time. Come in, take a load off!” He slipped off his stool and put an arm around Beck. “Folks call me Long Tooth Nancy, but you can call me Nancy.”
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Where the Feywild was untamed and beautiful, the Feydark was strange and haunting, at least from where we stood. At the edge of a wide glossy river, glowing fungi on the cavernous walls reflected off of the water’s smooth surface.
An impressive steel barge was docked nearby. Three dwarves, the largest I had ever seen, in girth and height, chatted with an angry looking gnome straddling a mechanical boar. As we approached, the gnome slipped off his mount and stomped toward the party. His tiny, glittering eyes took us in before they settled on Klotonk.
The conversation began in gnomish, a language I understood but rarely spoke.
“Nice to see another brother,” the grimacing gnome grumbled. He stared at Maziel, but still continued talking to Klotonk. “You walk with a drow. He looks like a dangerous one.”
I laughed abruptly. I couldn’t help it, I forgot Maziel’s gender was harder to discern than most, though I think she liked it that way. The dark gnome’s attention turned toward me. I shrugged and replied in gnomish, to his surprise. “One, Maziel’s a woman, and she’s on our side. Two, you should probably switch to Common before you make the others uneasy.”
The gnome grumbled and studied the group. Maziel, Beck and the half-orc, Yaup, waited impatiently for the conversation to wrap up. Begrudgingly, he addressed the group. “The name’s Fizz,” he mumbled. “I’ll be your guide to Mag Turea, but from there,” he shrugged. “Depends on you.” He waved the dwarves forward.
The smallest of the lot, who was still my height and rippling with muscle, spoke up. “I’m Smol Yarg.” Then he pointed at the only female dwarf, who was larger than him. “This is my sister, Praga Yarg.” Finally, he gestured to the hulking dwarf behind him. “That’s me little brother, Lurge. Say hi, Lurge.”
“Hiiiii,” Lurge’s low voice boomed, as he smiled and giggled to himself shyly.
We collectively clambered aboard the massive barge. I watched as Maziel took in her surroundings, including the huge cannon built into the bow of the ship. After a few moments cruising along the water, she quietly went to the edge of the ship and retched.
While Praga quietly entertained the others, brewing a black, pungent tea, and Smol manned the helm behind us, I leaned against the cabin wall by myself. Guilt haunted me about Illium’s current situation, but the council could hardly begrudge me after I informed Killian I was running a task for Titania. The Queen of the Fairies had gifted us with temporary power cores for the city’s titans. Besides, Killian knew I had every intention of leaving once I returned with the real power cores.
I glanced up, shaken out of my thoughts. Praga was suddenly beside me, extending a mug of steaming tea. “Your friend might do well with a cup,” she nodded at Maziel, still bent over the edge. She hesitated, but I knew she wouldn’t approach the drow.
I took the cup thankfully and brought it to Maziel. “Drink, you’ll feel better.”
Maziel eyed me, snatched the cup, then downed the tea. Not long after, she was back to her brooding, stalking self.
Later that night, I volunteered for first watch while the others disappeared below deck. Maziel quietly joined my side, looking far better than her first hour aboard.
“You’ve been quiet,” she said softly.
I tapped the railing and didn’t reply right away. “Sorry, I just have a lot on my mind.”
“I know I’m grumpy at times, but you can talk to me, Taelim.”
I peeked at Maziel and smiled humorlessly. “There’s not much to say. I gave Illium my everything, but screwed up. I keep doing it. I don’t belong there, to the one place I’ve called home.” I sighed, taking a moment to collect myself. “What hurts was pushing people away--you, the party…Lys, all because I thought that’s what Illium wanted from me.”
To my surprise, Maziel threw an arm around my shoulders. “You still have us, as messed up as we are. We’re here for you.”
This time I returned a genuine smile. “Yeah, I’d be lost without--” my voice cut off. I began to notice the cold fog that crept across the river and clawed at the boat. A pale light illuminated the dark, and I looked upward, gaping. A full moon hung high in the cavern sky.
“Wake up the party, Maziel,” I said, not taking my eyes off the moon.
The drow took off, and I slowly shuffled toward the bow. Figures moved through the mist, spectral forms wailing as they shifted in and out of sight. I drew my scimitar, Radiant, who complained there weren’t worthy dragons nearby, but I ignored it. A cluster of ghosts appeared before me, and I froze. They were the recent dead of Illium. Bodies I had pulled from the rubble a few nights earlier.
Behind me, someone called my name. Suddenly, Maziel was at my side, the rest of the group bracing for combat.
“Fight, Taelim!” Maziel was shouting while I hesitated in place.
The drow was locked in battle with three wraiths of her own. Maziel’s features betrayed an array of emotions while she held her short swords before her: shock, fear, fury. The wraiths looked like female drow, vaguely similar to Maziel. The eldest of the three glided forward.
“My daughter…” it tried in a strained voice.
“Nope!” Maziel cut it off immediately. “You’re all dead, you shouldn’t be here.”
“Torog,” Maziel’s mother moaned.
“I’ll be dealing with him shortly,” Maziel snarled, and her head whipped to me.
Watching this exchange in shock, I had forgotten my own unease.
“Taelim! ATTACK!” Maziel roared.
At once I reached a hand up and cast moonbeam. A gleaming light pierced the fog, scorching the array of spectral forms. They cried out, and combat ensued.
We survived, after all we had a cleric of Kord on our side. When the ghosts were gone, they took the fog and moon with them, leaving us alone in the dark again.
Maziel and I stood unaccompanied on the bow as the others eventually returned to bed once more. We would sleep well tonight.
“Want to talk about it?” I asked the drow tentatively.
“Fair enough…” I opened my mouth to attempt a different approach, but she cut me off, starting to walk away.
“Good night, Taelim.”
Night, I thought when she was out of sight. Quietly, I resumed my watch, expecting no further trouble.
The gigantic cruise ship beside us overshadowed our barge. It was bustling with activity on every deck of the apparent pleasure ride. I practically bounced as I stared at the dwarves, seeking permission to dock and board the nearby vessel.
“Aye, well, who couldn’t do with a night of fun. Why not?” Praga said. “You all go have your fun, I’ll restock my wares and watch the ship with the boys.”
I all but bolted, but Maziel had one hand cinching my collar. “Not so fast.” The drow cleared her throat, addressing the rest of us while keeping me still. “We have a task and timeline.”
“But,” she amended. “I’ll not bedruge you this break, we’ve been on the river for a while. Be back in three hours.”
With that, the rest of us rushed the ramp to the cruise ship. It was called the Gilded Lotus.
At once we were greeted by a gorgeous woman in a long silken tunic. She smiled warmly, eyes taking in our party. “Hello, my dears. How may I serve you?”
“Hi,” Klotonk blurted out. “What’s there to do on this ship?”
She smiled coyly. “Many, many things, my dear. What do you seek?”
“Um, well, is there a gift shop?”
I stifled a laugh, and even Beck and Yaup exchanged amused glances. Her profession had evidently gone over Klo’s head. Our brilliant wizard in the common world.
“There is…” she looked to the rest of us hopefully. “Anyone else?”
I waved the offer away, “I’ll find the bar, thanks.”
Yaup and the tiefling, Beck, were already heading below deck.
The woman sighed lightly, assuming a smile. “Then onto the gift shop, Mr. …”
“Klotonk!” The gnome offered up happily, being led away by her swaying hips, grasping nothing.
I found the bar. It overlooked an expansive casino on the main deck. I pursed my lips and perused the floor, stopping at random tables, but having no luck at any. After losing well over one hundred gold, I stormed up to a bar stool, dropped onto the seat and kept the drinks coming.
As I reached my limit, fast approaching a stupor, I watched something rare unfold. Something I never thought I would witness in my lifetime. Maziel came into the casino, my three hours long passed. Her eyes darted about until they found me, and she pushed forward. Stare intent on me, she didn’t see the hooded figure that crossed her path. They collided, and at first I expected Maziel to shove the creature back. Instead, she stopped, faltered, and the two exchanged a brief conversation I was too far to hear.
Even in my current state, I couldn’t mistake the emotions that swept over her features. There was affection there. Maziel looked to me, then back to the hooded figure, which turned my way, allowing me a better look. It was a kenku, as dark and mysterious as the drow herself. She hesitated, and I knew I couldn’t let this moment go to waste. I got up from my seat and walked past.
“I’m heading back to the boat,” I said, managing not to slur my words. “You two should grab a drink.” I grinned like an idiot.
Maziel frowned, and shook her head defensively. “Taelim,” her voice warned, but I cut her off.
“I’ll tell Praga we need another hour,” I said, smile widening. Then left before she could muster a reply.
In that moment, I think Maziel had fallen for someone.
Maziel returned to the ship later that night with a new crew member at her heels, the kenku named Beau. He mimicked her every word with something like affection. Maziel tried and failed to brush off her own. The rest of us, with the equivalent of silent shock, just watched and let it happen.
I, for one, was far too drunk to argue otherwise.
We were less than a day away from the city of Mag Turea when we passed a wide bend in the river and the pirate ships waited ahead, blockading our route. The Yarg siblings exchanged uneasy glances, which didn’t instill confidence in the rest of us.
“I have an idea!” I offered, sprinting to the front of the barge.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the currents. The water around us rose, rising to a tidal wave at least three hundred feet tall. On my command, it surged toward the pirate ships.
I didn’t get a chance to admire my work. While I had never been one for gods, some seemed attracted to me, and never for the right reasons. I felt the presence before I could stop my casting. I knew, like the sinking feeling in my gut, something had gone horribly wrong.
A second tidal wave split off from the first, and defying all physics, it stopped and rushed toward our ship.
“Everyone hold on!” Praga roared.
It was the last thing I heard before the tsunami crashed over the deck. I lost my footing immediately. Before I knew it I was in the river, struggling to break the surface. When at last I managed to swim to the top, I was somewhere downstream, the ships nowhere in sight. Desperate to get out of these dangerous waters, I swam toward the closest shore, panting and cursing under my breath.
A chirp caught my attention, and a sopping Oddie tumbled out of my armor.
“Oh, buddy!” I scooped the pygmy hawk into my hands.
“Taelim!” Klotonk’s ragged voice rang out.
My head shot up, and I caught sight of the drenched gnome, trailed by the tiefling bard, Beck. I threw my arms around Klo.
“What happened?” Beck said, smiling despite our current situation.
“Something messed with my spell,” I snarled, features darkening.
Klotonk studied me, then his inquisitive eyes took in our surroundings. Tall, smooth stones adorned the rocky beach like monuments. Bizarre carvings were engraved on each, and alms were laid at the feet of every one.
“Should we leave an offering?” Beck asked.
“Why the hells not?” I said sarcastically, extending my palm and growing a flower. I dropped it in front of the stone, though not as respectively as I could have. Klotonk placed a small trinket he built, and Beck sang a song of us surviving my tsunami. Once he was done, he grinned at us, forcing me to shake my head.
“You good?” I replied.
“It couldn’t hurt, Taelim,” Klo said defensively.
“Whatever,” I snapped, still miffed about the song and its source of inspiration. “We need to find everyone else. Or Mag Turea.”
“Do you hear that?” Beck said suddenly, tilting his head.
We stopped, and in the distance we detected the faint sound of chimes. The bard and the wizard looked at me.
In turn, I peeked at Oddie on my shoulder. “Alright, little buddy. Time to fly ahead.” I placed a finger on his tiny chest, prepared, as I had done countless times before, to perceive through his senses. This time, something went horribly wrong.
I was certainly seeing through the eyes of a hawk, but I had also somehow become the hawk. Disoriented, I tumbled off my half-elf’s shoulder. Oddie, presumably now in my body, let out a squawk while I chirped on the ground, horrified.
“Oh, no…” Klotonk gasped.
“I’ve got an idea!” Beck said, scrambling over and poking my tiny feathered frame. At once my chirps became a stream of now intelligible profanities.
Oddie, in my body, began to wander away.
“Stop him!” My high-pitched voice begged.
Klotonk grabbed my body’s hand, and sat it down. “Oddie, stay!” Luckily, the pygmy hawk obeyed.
“See!” I cried. “Something--someone is messing with my spells!”
“Taelim, calm down.” Klotonk tried, but I could detect the concern in his voice. It only amplified my panic.
“Maybe we can dispel the magic?” Beck offered.
“Would it backfire though?” Klotonk questioned.
Beck eyed me as I hopped around on the ground heatedly. “I doubt it. Whoever is doing this is having fun with Taelim.” He beamed, and I felt my feathers ruffle.
The gnome shrugged in response. “Here goes...” Klotonk said, pointing a finger in my direction and grimacing.
With a sudden sense of vertigo, I was back in my half elf form. Little Oddie cocked his head, chirped, then flew into my arms.
“I hate this place,” I grumbled under my breath.
“We still need to check out that noise,” Beck said. “You still have Tongues cast on you, why not turn into an animal and check it out?”
“I could only imagine how that can go wrong this time…” I said dryly.
“You have us here, Taelim.” Klo said brightly.
I sighed, and let Oddie fly up. “Fine. Put that promise on my grave.” I closed my eyes, and chose the form of a tiger. To my surprise, I was on all fours, inundated with the keen senses that the beast provided.
“Keep a distance,” I said, mildly relieved. “I’ll roam ahead.”
I sauntered away, prowling on silent paws up the slope. Past jagged boulders and scraggly bare trees, I found the source of the chimes. I froze, one paw in the air. A cave wound down into the earth, and hanging on strings beside it was a windchime of swords, the blades clanging softly in the wind. Tentatively I approached the opening, and was at once greeted with a familiar scent. This was a dragon’s den.
I bounded back to my companions, decisively sitting on my haunches while they glanced past me up the hillside.
“So, there’s a dragon’s lair ahead…” I admitted, glad Radiant was sealed away in some pocket dimension with the rest of my gear. The last thing I needed was my scimitar picking a fight with a dragon.
“That’s amazing! Can we go see it?” Beck said, taking a half step forward.
Klotonk and I eyed the bard levely. Clearly he hadn’t met an ill-tempered dragon before.
Klotonk pinched his chin in contemplation. “I can cast invisibility. We can run if things go wrong.”
Things always go wrong. I thought. Instead, I nodded once, and turned to lead the way.
When you fall down a flight of steps, your musical instrument clattering to the ground as loudly as your cries, even invisibility won’t save you. At the bottom of the stairs, as we helped Beck back to his feet, the dragon’s voice boomed from behind the two massive doors to his den. The stone slabs swung open, smoke drifting toward us.
“I can smell you...” the voice rumbled from within.
“Drop the invisibility,” I whispered to Klotonk, trying to control my voice. The gnome complied, and the three of us wavered at the entrance to its lair.
The treasure piled like hills in this cavernous space, stretching far out of sight, was more wealth than I could have possibly imagined. It was enough to rebuild Illium hundreds of times over, and then some. Still, the glimmer of gold wasn’t what kept me rooted to my spot, gaping.
This dragon was gigantic, the largest I had ever encountered, and it was made entirely of mithril. It yawned widely, the smallest of its fang easily my height. “You look frightened,” it said slowly, as if exhausted.
“We’re friendly, if that means anything,” Klotonk offered.
A deep laugh rumbled from the back of its throat. “As am I. For the most part.”
“What’s your name?” Klotonk asked, slightly intrigued.
“Colrynthrefeldox, the Peacemaker.”
I gasped audibly. “You’re the dragon who made the alliance with Illium! For all the metallic dragons. That was...hundreds of years ago….”
Colrynthrefeldox’s reptilian eyes fixed on me. “How would you know that?”
“She’s their princess!” Beck blurted out.
I scratched the back of my head nervously. “Well, sort of.”
Colrynthrefeldox’s massive head stretched towards me, nostrils flaring. He inhaled deeply. “Interesting. What brings you all to the Feydark?”
Klotonk told it all. Everything from our adventures in my father’s tower, to Primus, all the way to our current day endeavor with Torog. When he was finished, the ancient mithril dragon unfurled his enormous wings, and somewhere in the distance a mountain of gold crashed to the ground.
“You’ve quite the tasks laid before you,” it said, somehow still apart from our worldly concerns. One titanic claw dug through a treasure pile, drawing forth a scroll the size of the gnome. With another tap of his talon, it was adjusted to more manageable size. “For you against Primus.”
At once, Klotonk unrolled the scroll, sucking in his breath in surprise. I leaned over his shoulder, my breath also catching. The spell written into the parchment was for a Wish.
“Now then,” Colrynthrefeldox grumbled. “I’m exhausted. If you don’t mind, I’ll transport you to Mag Turea,” he said, claws raking a familiar circle into the ground. One eye watched me, and something like a laugh echoed. “It will take you to the temple of Hiatea. The druid has caught the attention of Diancastra, Hiatea should see that it stops.”
Diancastra, the trickster goddess of giants. That. Bitch. I felt my temper rise.
The teleportation circle began to glow, and the dragon’s eyes seemed to usher us forward. “Oh, one last thing,” Colrynthrefeldox said slowly. A tiny tuning fork dropped to my feet, and I picked it up eagerly. It was a component to the plane shift spell. “Should you need to return to the Feydark in the future.”
“Thank you,” I said, bowing my head, truly grateful. Never before had I admired a dragon. Until now.
He chuckled, the sound booming. “You’re welcome. Now go.”
With that, we were teleported away to the city of Mag Turea.