TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Session 42


I blinked awake, trying to grasp my surroundings. I was sitting in the city center of Illium, staring up at the castle from the heart of the teleportation circle and wondering how in the nine hells I had gotten here. Wearily, I noticed the whole party was around me, including the others who had gone to Szith Morcane.
The half-orc, Yaup was squatting in front of me, grinning widely. “Feeling better? Feeble Mind is a strong spell….”
“What are you talking about…?” I began, only to stop short. It all flooded back to me: Magaat, the fortress prison. Lysandra. I leapt to my feet. “Where is s—”
Two arms suddenly wrapped around me, holding me close. “You saved me,” Lysandra whispered. “Thank you.”
This time, without a spell to blame, I was speechless. All I could do was embrace her back, wishing I never had to let go. She was here, she was safe, it was over. I could see Maziel, alongside the other version of herself, both giving a thumbs up. I’d have to thank her later for finishing what I clearly couldn’t.
With reluctance, I cleared my throat and pulled back, glancing away and grateful I didn’t redden easily. I didn’t even know where to begin. Sorry is probably a good start, I thought miserably, knowing that wasn’t about to happen right now.
Then a different thought surfaced, and I felt the desire for violence rise. “Where’s Minerva?” I growled.
In one hand Klotonk waived Fiendkey, Baba Yaga’s staff, and in the other, the golden collar that was around the succubus’ neck. “I sent her back to her plane...it was the only way to free her, but she told us a lot of interesting information.” He turned the collar around in his hands curiously, but Maziel stepped forward.
“Why don’t we take the rest of this conversation back to your place, Klotonk?”
“Wait!” I blurted, turning to Feeps. “The power gemdid we get it back?!”
Feeps shook his head, “Treetonk is studying its properties alongside the pyramid. He assured me that he will return with it once that is finished.”
“Privacy, people,” Maziel reminded us. “Civilians are starting to talk.”
“What else is new?” I grumbled, motioning for us to move. Luckily, Klotonk’s place, or the barren stone shed over his hidden lab, was nearby. As we walked, I had to resist the urge to look at Lysandra, to take her aside and ask her how she was doing, to promise her this would never happen again, not while I lived. However, matters Minverva mentioned to the others took precedent, or so it seemed, so I obliged.

We all crammed inside the tiny space, Pila and Egba slumped against the wall, exhausted. I made it a point to stop by and thank them before descending to the basement with the others.
“Hey, after we all get some rest, I’ll take you back to Magaat in the morning. I owe the Minx anyway.”
“Aye, yeah, no worries.” Egba grinned. “It was fun and crazy.” The two smiled at me, then their smiles broadened at the figure behind me. I turned to see Lysandra waiting at the ladder.
I owed them, and they knew it.
As Klotonk fiddled with the gold collar, Maziel retold everything Minerva had confessed back at the prison, when I was nothing more than a babbling dragon. Turns out that Aleph, or Doresain, had been gathering a host of powerful figures, including several of the Arch Magi, and binding them to gold collars to do his bidding. Working alongside the lich, Harthoon, they’ve been receiving orders from some other higher power since Orcus died.
I leaned back in my seat, turning to Maziel number two, who had apparently come back from the Demonsweb Pits. “So, how was Lolth?” By now, shock and awe had lessened into dull sensations. We just had too much to deal with.
Maziel shrugged. “Torog freed Selvetarm to try to kill Lolth, but we killed him instead, well Kolae did, but Lolth still died in the end. She gave us her power to give to Ellistraee, so at least she’s on our side now I suppose. Oh, and Torog is being manipulated by Graz’zt.”
I nodded slowly, then turned to Klotonk. “Hey buddy, do you have any liquor?” I had the desire to drown everything I just learned.
Klotonk didn’t respond, he was utterly entranced by the gold collar, muttering to himself.
I cocked my head and watched him for a moment. I knew he got enveloped by his studies, but somehow, there was something off. “Klo?” I tried again, slipping off my seat and approaching. I shook his shoulder gently. “Ah, shit...” I placed my hands on his face, channeling restoration magic.
The gnome wizard jerked awake. “Whoa! That was intense.”
I poked his forehead lightly, my voice stern. “Rule one: you don’t get to study this collar without supervision. Clear?”
Klotonk frowned. “Fair. That was pretty strong domination magic,” he eyed the collar for just a moment longer. “I think I need to take this to the temple of Ioun in Hestavar.”
I sighed, then patted his shoulder. “I think we all have things we need to pursue, but where to start…”
“Taelim,” one of the Maziels started, I couldn’t tell which one I had spent the last few days with. “I think I should meet with Ellistraee, inform her of recent events on your end. If Torog is being played, then dealing with him might be exactly what Graz’zt wants.”
“And you want me to take you to the Feywild.”
Both versions of the drow nodded in unison.
“Yeah sure, I’ll go see my mom. I should really look into that instruction book Viceak had. If someone’s making stronger versions of the collar with it, I need to get it back. She might know people my dad hung out with.”
“First, I suggest we all rest up for the night,” Feeps spoke up cheerily. “It has been quite a long day, and it appears matters are only growing more complicated. Tomorrow morning we can—” his voice cut off. Shouts were heard from above, then Egba and Pila were calling down to us.
We rushed up the stairs. The door was open and the small living room was bustling with Shi’ar.
What the…?
I moved toward the door and stepped into the street. Down at the teleportation circle I could see more and more...refugees blinking into existence and looking terrified. A hand fell on my shoulder, and Egba pulled me back inside, talking hurriedly.
“Magaat...the elementals warned the Shi’ar to leave. A huge shell was placed over the city. They can’t go back.”
I exchanged glances with the others. We had seen a shell before, the one at Solstice, altering time itself, and from what I learned, there was one up at the Asimba Mountains, trapping Primus within.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Added to the ever-growing list. When I opened them, Egba and Pila were looking at me hopefully. “Have the Shi’ar head back to the city square, I can see guards coming. They’ll handle the refugees, I’m sure.” I’m sorry, but I have absolutely no power to help otherwise. That’s what happens when you abdicate. I only had a room in the castle because of who I was, that and my aunt and Feeps were still part of the council.
Egba nodded and spoke to the others in their native tongue. Then he and Pila both followed the Shi’ar, feeling obligated to do so. Eventually, I was alone in the room with my friends.
“Meet here tomorrow morning?” I asked wearily.
They consented, and Feeps moved to follow me back to the castle, waiting patiently as I hesitated. While some remained, permanent residents of Klotonk’s home, others like Yaup and the goliath twins left. As they went, I had my eyes on one, and she watched me in turn.
I pulled Lysandra aside, trying to find the courage to speak. This used to be so easy, why is this hard now? Then the answer hit me: Because I failed her. I had pushed her away, and this is all my fault to begin with. 
“Taelim?” Her voice brought me back to my senses.
“Will you come back to the castle?” I asked in a low voice, almost pleading. I hurried to explain. “I just want to keep an eye on you is all, and I can get you a room—”
Lysandra began to walk toward the door, me trailing her like the besotted dog I was. “I think after everything…” she started slowly, thinking to herself. “Maybe I could stay with you?”
“Yes,” I blurted almost instantly. 
She smiled tiredly. “Lead the way.”

Despite everything, I still didn’t know where to begin—how to start over. Still, Lysandra went along with it. When she came to bed, she fell asleep almost at once while I watched her, unable to rest until she had found peace. She was broken, I thought, having been tortured and imprisoned for information. I knew she was a keeper of secrets, that her job with the Unseelie came at a cost, and yet, it should have never happened in the first place. If I hadn't pushed her away. I promised I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, that I would protect her, no matter the cost. Only then did I find sleep.
Long before dawn, I was woken up by nightmares, imagines I couldn’t remember but they haunted me regardless. Drenched in my own sweat, I looked down to find Lysandra still fast asleep. Quietly, I got up, washed and dressed, and waited for morning to follow. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Session 41

Egba and Pila led us through the city like two men who had lived their entire lives behind the scenes. In and out of alleys and crowds, we slipped inside a junkyard. Weaving around piles of rubbish and abandoned items, they revealed the black crater into the sewers far below. With care, we climbed down the ropes and descended. The blessed relief of cool air washed over us.
The duo guided us through narrow passageways, until the stench of waste faded. More tunnels funneled us deeper underground, through a cistern and past the city center’s underbelly. We eventually stopped at an archway leading into a cavern. Then we noticed the pile of bones, mules perhaps.
“I told you we shouldn't have tied them up,” Egba hissed at Pila.
Pila shrugged, searching around for a culprit. Whatever it was had long gone, and on a full stomach.
“Don’t worry, I have an idea!” Klo piped up.
“Please don’t do what I think you’re—” I started, too late.
The crystal gnome was already at work casting. In moments the bodies resembled their former selves, animated for the time being. The undead mules watched their former masters pitifully.
“Aye, that was neat!” Pila patted Treetonk on the shoulder, warily placing bags on the mules’ boney backs.
We carried on, the trek proving long, quiet and full of tension for what awaited. After a couple of hours we stopped, staring at the dark chasm that separated us from the towering prison fortress ahead.
“So, eh, what’s your plan?” Egba turned to us, as we all exchanged glances.
Maziel placed a hand on my back. “Rational plan.”
I grumbled a curse, but let the group decide.
The good news was that a bridge spanned over the seemingly endless drop. The bad news was that it was also the main entrance. That’s what we chose, carefully skirting along the wall and inching toward the bridge.
“Whoa…” Treetonk stopped, holding up our treacherous train on this narrow ledge. He gaped at the fortress. “That whole place...it’s practically lit up with necrotic energy…”
“We were warned dark forces were gathering. I recommend we proceed with caution,” Feeps replied genially. He reached out and booped me on the nose. “There you go, Taelim, I have placed a nondetection spell on you...just in case.”
“Thanks, buddy…” I said, not offended by his preemptive guess on my behavior. I was a pattern.
Feeps, Treetonk and I clambered onto the bridge. Pila and Egba had sent the mules back, probably toward their second death, and the others were waiting their turn to climb.
Out of breath, Treetonk pointed toward the prison gate and the two titans beside it. “Are they...moving?”
I followed his gaze, then froze, yelling at the guides. “Stay down there!”
The titans were indeed moving, they sprinted in our direction, their colossal steps shaking the ground. Instinctively, I changed into a triceratops, meeting the two head on while the others bombarded them from behind. Even through this body, I felt their fists down to my core. Fireballs exploded against their stoney frames, but they pressed on, swinging pillars that nearly crushed the others. Odison managed to distract one, smashing an ankle to rubble and forcing it to lean dangerously over the ledge for support. The other titan continued to grapple with me, beating against my frame until I reverted back into half-elf, aching all over.
A sickly green ray took the titan in the head and it disintegrated. Treetonk whooped
triumphantly, until we noted the shadowy frame that remained—its possessor. The shadow fled, passing through the stone gates without trouble.
Clenching my side, I staggered toward Odison and Maziel who fought the remaining titan. I slammed my staff down, and with a crack of thunder the titan tumbled over the side and into the cavern.
Maziel looked at me as if to say, That loud spell?
“Like they didn’t know we’re here.” I snapped back.
With something like awe, Pila and Egba clambered onto the bridge.
I pointed at the gate but spoke to the group. “One minute for someone to think of a reasonable plan before I break it down.”
“Taelim,” Treetonk cautioned. “This whole place is rigged with traps and wards…”
“Thirty seconds,” I responded, unbothered.
“I can blow it up!” Pila exclaimed excitedly, and I turned to him with a grin.
I like him.
The goliath motioned the okay. “They know we’re here,” Odison’s deep voice conceded.
Laughing madly, Pila began pulling out sticks of explosives and wrapping them into a bundle. At the foot of gates he placed them down carefully, as if it were an infant. He lit the fuse, then sprinted back toward us. Then past us.
Ummm?
The resulting boom made even the thunderwave seem pitiful. Fire bloomed, and a cloud of dust and debris followed. When it settled, a gaping hole welcomed us inside.
We stepped into a humongous chamber, stopping short at the sight before us. A pulsing teleportation circle dominated the center of this space, while a pyramid hung upside down from the ceiling, runes wrapped around it. It was ringed by alcoves filled with titans similar to the ones that greeted us outside. Two were missing. I tried not to think about the possibility of the others coming to life.
Our wizard gasped, mindlessly walking forward, but Maziel reached out and held him by the scruff. “Not until I check for the very real danger this place is bound to hide.” The drow moved, inching along the wall.
Treetonk sniffed miserably as he waited; I patted him on the head. I could relate.
Maziel returned silently, “All cl—”
Treetonk was already at the circle, look up and mumbling to himself with a wild smile. The rest of us followed.
“Taelim,” Maziel whispered at my side. “Do you think you could try a location spell for Lysandra?”
“Already ahead of you,” I replied, surprised at my patience as Treetonk and Feeps were discussing the purpose of the construction above.
Maziel regarded me, waiting.
“Forward and down. That’s all I’ve got,” I finished.
“I know you want to get to her…”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not about to burrow a tunnel. We’ll do this your way.”
I thought I could see Maziel sigh with relief, but Treetonk interrupted us both.
“It’s a supercharger!” He practically screamed, words tumbling out of his mouth. “Do you know what that means? This teleportation circle can go anywhere, even through planes of existence! Feeps and I memorized the pattern, I wish I could stay and study this longer.” He gave me a single look, then shook his head. “I know…we should go.”
We can always come back, I offered. Unless I bury this place under rock. Depends.
The sound of gears turning grabbed our attention. Odison had lifted the portcullis ahead, holding it open for us to pass beneath. “Should we do this?”
We obliged, and the moment we walked in, a fog began to fill the space. Treetonk dispelled the magic at once, and we moved forward. We stopped when the path diverted left and right. Maziel looked to me, and I shrugged. I was concentrating on the location spell, but the answer was the same. “Still forward and down, so pick one.”
Egba picked the prison door to the right, and we moved inside a pitch black hall. Odison lit a torch and held it above us, revealing a series of runes engraved on the floor. They looked almost like serpents winding in and out of columns. Deftly, Maziel stepped across the space, inspecting the door ahead while we waited. She reached for the handle and pulled it open. Needles sprang from the wall beside her, and Odison was already shoving a shield in front of us, deflecting most of the projectiles. The drow smiled sheepishly, as if to say Oops.
We carried on a little more carefully after that, as if we weren’t already going at a snail’s pace for the sake of deadly traps. We passed a series of cells in the next room, all empty, then stumbled across another room with serpentine runes. Egba deftly picked the lock and disarmed the trap, he held the door open playfully, and the others shuffled by. I held back while Odison took the lead with the torch. When the goliath stepped outside, the room suddenly fell into darkness.
A surge of energy washed over us, and I grabbed Egba by the waist and pushed us outside. I wasn’t quick enough, Egba was already screaming. We spilled into the pool of torchlight, the others surrounding us protectively. The darkness kept at bay, fearful of the light.
“What’s wrong with him?!” Pila asked, panicked.
I pushed Pila away, taking Egba’s face in my hands. His eyes were obsidian pools, purple veins pulsing by his sockets. He was croaking about being blind.
“Hold still,” I tried calmly, uttering a restoration spell. The magic seeped into the man, and the purple veins receded. Slowly, his brown irises returned, darting around wildly. I let out a breath, helping him to his feet as he praised my name.
I pointed at Odison. “You and the light stay with us at all times.”
The goliath nodded feverishly, abashed. He wasn’t anything like his twin, Kolae.
We walked by more rooms of empty cells, and with each one I could feel the tension in my body building, fearful of when I would find the cell I was looking for. We continued until the hall of prison rooms ceased, giving way to a large circular room with an empty well. The pit looked as if it went a long way down.
“How odd…” Feeps began, moving forward, our curious wizard trailing his four-legged frame.
I was about to assert my own words of caution, but I was too late. The moment they reached the well, the two of them vanished.
“Feeps!” I cried out, already lunging forward. I could feel Maziel scraping at my arm, trying to hold me back, but I was already darting forward.
The well vanished at once, replaced by another teleportation circle. The moment I stumbled into the illusion I was immediately shifted into another space, a different room of this fortress prison. There was a different pyramid, and on the top was something I recognized. It was a power gem, the heart of an Illium golem. I might have gone for it, I owed it to my kingdom to retrieve it and protect it with my life, but chaos was already unfolding. Ahead, Feeps and Treetonk were talking to a figure. It was Minerva, the succubus that went missing the night of the undead attack in Illium. She had a golden collar around her neck.
“Please, Minerva,” Feeps was begging. “Do not do this.”
By now Maziel, Odison and our guides teleported into the room. Minerva looked at all of us apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” she said, still as sultry as ever. “I don’t really have a say in the matter.”
That’s when the Deathlocks appeared, the fallen warlocks of darker patrons, flanked by bodaks stepping around the pyramid, striking fear into all of us. Combat commenced.
A poisonous energy crawled across the floor, seeping into our bodies. Pila and Egba dropped at once. The bodaks screeched, and it was everything in our power to stay up right and face them.
Treetonk was flinging spells across the room, exchanging chants with the robed casters across the room.
Feeps, true to his beliefs, continued to beg Minerva to call the others off, but she shook her head, compelled by something stronger. Odison was holding off most of the bodaks, but one escaped his reach and went for the drow filling the warlocks with arrows. Maziel didn’t notice until it was on her; she dropped.
Panicked, I decided that I didn’t care whether or not Minerva lived or died. Turned or not, she wasn’t my priority today. Sorry, Feeps. Hurriedly, I racked my brain for something that might hold the monsters off, Odison couldn’t be the only one attracting attention.
I shape changed into a brass dragon and roared. With molten-hot fire, I wreathed Odison’s adversaries in flames, giving him time to pick up Maziel and restore her to consciousness. That was all it took. Every spell, every claw and blade was suddenly bouncing off my scaled hide. It might have worked, we might have won, but suddenly Minerva was standing in front of me. I snarled, ready to strike, but she raised her hand and smiled sadly.
Just like that, my world went blank.
I understood nothing but the dangerous shapes in front of me, the ones that hurt. I pounced on them, clawing, biting, stomping. They fell, one by one. I recognized some of the people, familiar and friendly, and the need to protect them filled me. They fought against the figures that tried to hit me, until none remained but the female with wings. The one with the shiny gold thing on her neck. I snarled, but the metal horse-man, the one I liked most, was yelling at me, saying things. I didn’t understand him. The metal horse-man waved at the winged woman, and she swayed, closing her eyes and slumping to the ground. Sleeping? I tried to approach, to sniff, but the familiar ones were standing in front of me holding out hands frantically.
With one massive claw, I gathered them close to me, refusing to let them leave. Protect them. They yelled more things, then stumbled out of my reach. Some of them stayed near, patting me, watching me. Scared? The dark woman was shaking the winged woman awake, screaming things I didn’t get. I rested my head down and watched.
Then the dark woman was running off. I tried to follow, but the others cried out, trying to hold me. Stay? I dropped back down, watching the metal horse-man go back and forth, staring at me. Scared.
For a time, I lay there, protecting my friends. Treasure. Stay. Protect. They waited with me, the metal horse-man staying by the winged woman I didn’t trust. I wanted her gold thing.
Then the dark woman came back, she brought another woman with her. A hurt one. I felt a different feeling. Familiar. Affection. She looked at me, and I leapt up immediately, circling her and dragging her in close. Protect.
They all stared me now, then at the shiny circle in the middle. They huddled close, making noise. That’s when the metal horse-man approached. Music. Soft and sweet. I felt...tired. The woman I liked patted me, smiling. I closed my eyes. Sleep.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Session 40


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.
Fire genasi? 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?”
“Not yet…”
“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 genasi before going. “I hope she wasn’t lying, especially if you want that word.”
Then I left, the others right behind me.