I was restricted to camel duty given my recent outburst, meaning Feeps babysat me in the pen just outside the Humorless Guard. The consensus was to wait for Vulcan. While this place was presented as an inn, it most certainly started as a mausoleum. All the rooms were crypts below ground, which I could return to after the others finished talking up the locals. At least there was a window looking inside the bustling space for the mounts to peer in. Who knew camels were like family here.
Since everyone thought Treetonk was a Shi'ar Sorcerer, given his illustrious form and “bodyguards,” he was getting all manner of attention. I sat on the windowsill, dejectedly sipping from my tankard and ignoring Feeps’ hushed beratement about earlier. My sulking provided ample time to spot the halfling making his way over from the darkened alcove where an onyx-skinned man with a mane of fire sat.
An Azer? I wondered, hearing Feeps finally grow silent to follow my stare.
The halfling hurried over to Treetonk, bowed, and placed a bottle of fine wine and a bowl of exotic fruit on the table. I strained to hear what the halfling said and only caught: “The Minx sends his regards, Shi'ar.” Five minutes later my friends were sitting with the so-called Minx, chatting quietly.
I sighed loudly, and that’s when the man waving his lute and smiling broadly sauntered over.
“What ails your heart, fair la–”
“I’m going to stop you right there.” I interrupted drly.
The man frowned, lute dropping to his side.
“Taelim, no need to be rude.” Feeps, still a camel, said aloud, producing a gasp from the man.
“It speaks?!” The man drew closer.
“Sure does. It’s a magic camel,” I said, feigning my enthusiasm.
The man grinned and bowed deeply. “Ian the Elite, at your service.”
Feeps was far more obliging than I. “What news of the world, Ian? You look well-traveled.”
Ian brightened, and by now I had given up on the conversation happening with the Minx since Ian’s droll voice demanded all the attention.
“What do you wish to know? I am indeed knowledgeable...for a price I can tell you all sorts of–”
I flung a platinum coin at his chest. “Talk.” Feeps coughed in my direction, and I rolled my eyes. “Please.”
Ian strummed his lute, “Of men or monsters, of dragons or mages?”
“I don’t care,” I replied, waving my hand airily. “Pick something interesting.”
That produced a quizzical look from Ian, but he obliged, plucking strings lightly. “I’ve heard tales of a group called Ornamental Chaos, they’ve defeated an Arch Magi by the name of Obsilon, stealing his Red Dragon Mask. Rumor has it, the Cloud Giant hides in Magaat, licking his wounds.”
Feeps’ head swung in my direction and he spoke in Sylvan. “Obsilon...was he in Master Viceak’s book?”
I nodded once, already considering the repercussions. “The Mage of Elements…”
Well, at least Naora is following through on her promise to destroy the masks. Screw you, Tiamat.
“Taelim?” A striking woman was standing before me, patiently waiting for me to return to the present.
Uncertain, I blinked at her for a few second before remembering it was actually Treetonk.
He leaned closer and lowered his voice, “The Minx...I think he can help us. He calls himself a finder of things. I bet he’ll know where Lysandra is.”
I stared past Treetonk, making direct eye-contact with the Minx; he was watching me with a smile. I shrugged and drained my drink. “Why the hells not,” I responded, slipping off the windowsill and into the inn, leaving Feeps peering after me.
I pulled up a chair, folded my arms and waited for the Minx to speak.
“You and your friends are not what you seem,” the Minx grinned.
“So you see through our illusions, but that’s not why I’m here. Is it? You find things I’m told. What's your cost?”
The Minx laughed heartily, then leaned forward on the table. I could feel the warmth of his body. His voice grew serious. “I can find anything,” he emphasized the last word. “The question is, what do you have in exchange?”
At this point, the truth was there was almost nothing I wouldn’t give to find the last shred of what made me happy. Illium was no longer mine, the Arch Magi had gone missing, and I was completely and utterly without direction. I licked my lips, but I already knew what I had to offer while within the sultan’s domain.
“You seem like the type that values information over material items,” I began, the glint in his eye confirming that suspicion. “You know those silver collars the sultan’s enslaved all his elementals with?”
The Minx drew even closer, hungering for what I had to say. “The unbreakable ones, crafted by an Arch Magi...yes, what of them?”
“Want the word that shatters them?”
“Taelim!” Maziel and Treetonk seemed to say at once, but it was too late. The offer was made.
The Minx’s eyes widened. “Y-you know...how?’
“That Arch Magi was my father.” Not biological, but who cares. “Her name is Lysandra, she’s held in a prison somewhere in Magaat. Provide me with the information to help find her, and if it’s reliable, the shattering word is yours.”
The Minx practically threw his hand at me. I took it, and we shook. “Tomorrow night,” he said, hurriedly getting to his feet. “I’ll meet you back here.”
I rose as well, reaching for the still full bottle of wine. “Fine by me. I’ve got no better leads.”
The Minx swiftly walked out the Humorless Guard, taking his small entourage with him.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Taelim,” Maziel said at my side.
“Not anymore.” I moved toward the stairs, suddenly sleep seemed like an acceptable notion. “Feeps,” I practically shouted across the room. “Come inside, I’ll pay to have pets in the room.”
The camel obeyed, trotting through the door after me. The others followed me down into the spacious crypt that was our room. No one chided me as I drained the wine by myself then drifted off to the sound of Feeps humming a song from my past.
It felt like morning came the moment I closed my eyes, but I dragged myself out of bed to wash and dress like everyone else. We didn’t have many other options that weren’t asking for trouble, so breakfast upstairs became the only objective. We took on new forms that wouldn’t draw attention, except for Feeps, who became a centaur. Apparently, a camel felt demeaning.
As we ate in silence, a limited amount of patrons sharing the space with us, the door to the inn was thrown open. We glanced up to see Vulcan, bowing to cheers as the others welcomed him in. The earth genasi slumped into an empty booth, smiling wearily.
“Vulcan!” Treetonk waved excitedly, producing a quizzical look from the genasi.
“We’re disguised,” Maizel whispered to our gnome.
Still, the the genasi strolled over, taking a seat. “Greeting, strangers. Have we met?”
“It’s us,” I said. “The impatient travelers from last night.” I gestured at the group. “Seeming spell.”
“Ah! You fooled me!” He chuckled. “How have you fared? Find your friend?”
“Mr. Vulcan,” Feeps began mildly. “Would you happen to be acquainted with a Minx?”
Vulcan sat up straight, grinning. “That’s the one I was going to introduce you to!”
“Oh, joy,” I replied. “Welp, we met him. He’s...helping.”
“If anyone can find your friend, it’s that one. Have some faith.” Vulcan gratefully started on the food we slid his way. With a mouth full of eggs he asked, “Still need some guides? I’ve got a good group of boys looking for work.”
“Considering Taelim’s record, perhaps we should,” the goliath, Odison mumbled, producing a glare from me.
Vulcan shoveled more food into his mouth, swallowed, downed a glass of milk then jumped to his feet. “Will you be here?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but Maizel cut me off. “Yes. We aren’t going anywhere.”
“Great! Give me one hour,” Vulcan said, and like that, he was out the door.
I looked to the others. “Think they have mimosas here?
True to his word, Vulcan returned an hour later, trailed by two interesting looking fellows. One was tall and thin and bore more knives than articles of clothing, that was Egba the Digger. The other was shorter, bandoliers crisscrossing his body with ample amounts of explosives, Pila the Sapper.
“Taelim,” Treetonk began under his breath. “Please don’t light fires near that man.”
I eyed Pila’s backpack, swallowing as he left a thin trail of gunpowder. “Noted.”
Vulcan slapped both the men on the back. “Here’s my lot! I can vouch for both of them. You supply the coin, they supply the services.”
“Coin we have,” I replied warily. “Can they get us around without being seen? Or take us to, I don’t know...those underground jails…?”
“Yes,” the newcomers said in tandem. “Which one?”
Maizel glanced at me, eyebrows raised.
“Right, you’re hired.”
For the remainder of the day we lounged, drank, and ate with our new guides. Vulcan had bid us farewell, heading for the Suk to hawk his wares. As time transpired, the Humorless Guard slowly filled with patrons. Late in the evening the Minx entered, trailed by a bodyguard and a strange figure in wrappings with a veil across their face. The Minx gestured for us to follow, and we were led into a secluded room downstairs.
Once inside the space, the new figure removed their veil, revealing a familiar white mask. From behind it, the Glaistig’s voice rang out. “Hello...”
I sighed, “Gods damit.”
Maziel stepped closer. “Are you here to barter information?”
The Glaistig chuckled. “You could say that.” She turned toward me. “I know you don’t trust me–”
“You killed my father.” I snapped.
She paused, then, “He took my mother…”
I threw up my hands, then stopped, looking away. My hands fell limply to my side. I didn’t have time for grudges. “You know why we’re here. Help me find her.”
The Glaistig nodded, “Lysandra is important to me as well. It’s why I’m here to help. As far I know, she’s being held at Dusk Mount. Aleph or Doresain’s presence was said to be present there...”
The room fell silent at the mention of the Orcus worshiper. I could feel my temper rising; his interference had nearly destroyed Illium, and now Lysandra…
“Taelim,” the Glaistig’s voice interrupted my plotting. “Do not engage him. Disrupt his work, free his prisoners, but do not fight him.”
I stared at her, unwavering. “I’ll make no promises.”
She sighed. “I hope you succeed. I’d consider it a favor if you do.” She turned to exit the room. “Good luck.” Then she was gone, leaving our party and the Minx alone.
I made for the door, but stopped by the Azer before going. “I hope she wasn’t lying, especially if you want that word.”
Then I left, the others right behind me.