TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Session 8

Distracted, I followed the party down a winding passage of ivory stone. My thoughts kept returning back to Killian, Illium and what I had to do next. I feared and longed for it. I just wanted to get the truth out there, it was the only way to release me from my responsibilities. The question was: would I actually be free, or would some part of me still feel obligated to the kingdom?
“So, what's the deal between you and this Killian guy? Zan asked casually.
“Nothing,” I replied, far too quick. “He works for Illium.”
Zan lifted an eyebrow, and just when I thought I ended the topic, another voice spoke up.
“Oh come now, Taelim,” Feeps began cheerfully. “You had quite the crush on him.”
I stopped and looked at the warforged aghast while Zan burst into laughter.
Feeps didn’t realize his betrayal, he simply patted me on the head as he continued past.
Maziel held up a fist, signaling for our silence. We fell in line as the drow quietly ushered us into the grand room ahead.
There we all stopped in our tracks, measuring shock and awe collectively. A titanic black serpent filled the space, large enough to make the Primordial bones we encountered earlier feel childishly small.
It coiled around a shimmering white orb that was nothing short of enticing. Otherworldly eyes watched us, its tongue tasting the air.
“Step forward,” the Primordial spoke in a language older than this realm, yet somehow coherent to our ears. “Let each of you state your wish and be done with it.”
Naturally we hesitated. Slowly, Maziel stepped forward. The drow lowered their hood, a mane of wild white hair falling around their shoulders. Before they got closer, they turned back to us. “You may or may not have already guessed this, but I am in fact a female drow.”
Cosmo was the only one who audibly gasped. I think the rest of us had a feeling, but didn't much care otherwise.
“I deliberately hid this to make a point. Society in drow culture is backwards to say the least, perceiving strength and power solely if you are female and strong enough to best others around you. Kill or be killed.” Maziel squeezed her eyes shut, as if forcing away some painful memory. “Thank you all for helping me here, and may this wish allow me to change what I couldn't have otherwise.” She turned and walked toward the Primordial proudly and there whispered her wish. When she was done, she simply stepped off to the  side, smiling broadly.
“Me next!” Cosmo bolted forward. We watched as he eagerly babbled something. A bark sounded in that direction, and Cosmo flung open his backpack and produced a fluffy dog that licked his face adoringly.
Excitedly, the kender ran over to us, the dog at his heels. “Guys meet Barnaby!”
“You asked for a dog?!” Zan exclaimed incredulously.
“I'm not just any dog,” Barnaby yipped. “I'm his conscience!” With that, the dog hopped back into Cosmo's pack, sticking its head out while a pink tongue lolled to one side of its mouth.
The two rushed off toward Maziel as the rest of us stared after, unbelieving.
Klotonk made his way over, equally as contemplative as Maziel. When the gnome returned brooding,  no one questioned the sanctity of his choice.
Feeps went next, a clear wish on his mind. He returned to me whistling a strange, enticing tune. He winked, satisfied that his new beat could break charms.
Zan followed right after, and we all but heard him curse the undead, having had enough of them for a lifetime. He came back pleased, now undead would no longer be able to detect him.
Mattias and I looked at each other. “Please, princess, after you.” He extended a hand.
I hesitated. “To be honest, I don’t really know what I want. I think you do though, so go ahead.”
Mattias grinned, a smile so full of eagerness that it bordered innocence. It was as if he had waited for this moment his entire life. He nodded, thankfully, and all but ran over to the Primordial.
“You don’t have a wish?” Feeps said to me quietly.
I shrugged. “Not really. I’m not about to bring back the dead if that’s what you’re thinking. Dad already said no.”
“Is there nothing you want?”
I paused to consider it. I really had come along at the request of my friends. “Maybe five years ago. Now I’m in control of my own life, so I’m sort of going along with the flow.”
Feeps  wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “How you have grown, Taelim.”
I snorted. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
Ahead, something peculiar happened. Where plain Mattias once stood, a different man took his place. He wore elaborate black armor, and raven wings extended from his back proudly. When he turned around, we recognized that face beneath the hood. It was Mattias.
The black knight walked forward triumphantly. “I have been accepted as a Knight of the Raven Queen, and will serve her here in the Shadowfell.”
Our jaws collectively dropped.
Mattias spoke. “When you are ready, I shall return you all to the material plane with powers bestowed by my queen.”
We nodded, still speechless. The Raven Knight extended a hand toward the Primordial. “Only Taelim remains.”
I felt my feet take me forward, but my eyes lingered on Mattias, who was brimming with pride. Before I knew it, the Primordial was looking down on me and I shifted uncomfortably at its gaze.
“Your wish?” It spoke to the back of my mind.
“That’s a great question…” I mumbled to myself. Still, it heard.
“Odd that a mortal has nothing it desires.”
My fingers drummed my belt uneasily, and I wondered if I was actually trying the patience of something that could swat me down like an insect. Then my touch found the cylindrical case tucked in my belt, and I glanced down at my father’s sealed scroll.
I held it out before me. “I want to open this.” I offered to the ancient titan.
“You may open anything locked to you. Now goodbye mortal.”
It was an odd sensation, hearing the titan’s words and then suddenly knowing you were capable of something you couldn’t do before. I studied the scroll in my hands, then opened it with ease. I was about to read the parchment when Mattias called my name. I shoved the scroll back in my belt and jogged over.
“Are you ready?” Mattias asked, and I couldn’t help but feel we were now separated from him.
“Can we bring Killian with us?” I replied.
Mattias nodded. “You may, I can place you anywhere you wish to be.”
I paused at the thought, then tried my luck. “Would it be possible for you to place them somewhere Illium?”
Mattias cocked his head at the suggestion. “If you want. Yes.”
I sighed, relieved. Separating us would buy me time. I needed that to think and reflect. I knew I had to go back home, but not just yet. Not until I felt ready to face it.
We made our way back to the treasure horde, and there Killian waited.
The Azure Prince turned around as we entered, arms wide open. “You’ve returned!”
Feeps and I walked toward the Illium crew.
“Did you doubt me?” I responded.
“Hardly,” he folded his arms across his chest. “Any luck?”
Feeps cleared his throat, beckoning the group to draw in close. In a peculiar fashion familiar to all around him, his harpsichord body began to produce notes. He sang a simple song to the melody, entrancing the crew who listened. When he was done, they blinked up at him blankly for a few moments. Then realization sank into each of their faces.
Killian whipped around and barked orders. “Empty your pockets, each and every one of you!” He sheepishly glanced away as he did the same, coins and gems clattering to the floor, freeing them from this place’s bond.
The Azure Prince laughed aloud, slapping Feeps on the back thankfully. “Never was a song more welcome, Master Feeps. You have my thanks, both of you.” He bowed his head low. “Now then, how do we get out of here? I’ve got a ship off the port town south of Stilt Town, it will take us back to Illium.”
Feeps and I exchanged glances. “About that,” I began in a subdued voice, walking away from the crew to talk in private. “We have a way to return you all there immediately. But--”
“But you don’t mean to follow,” he finished, frowning.
“Killian,” I tried,  genuinely contemplating what I could possible say. The truth begged to told, at least part of it. I owed him that much. “My father’s dead.”
The Azure Prince’s shoulders fell. “What? How?!”
“It’s still something I’m trying to work out,” I replied suddenly reminded of the memories I wanted to forget. “We found his body in a tower of his, and he had no desire to come back. We buried him.”
“Princess,” Killian started, seeming torn between concern and duty. “I know I have no right to force you, but you have to return to Illium. Now more than ever.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?”
He shifted uncomfortably. “The king hasn’t actually been seen for weeks. When word of that got around, reports of Wroth making their way up the coast quickly reached us. We fear an attack, and someone needs to control the guardian constructs. Your fiancé moved himself into the castle in the meantime...”
I swallowed hard. I wasn’t ready to tell Killian that Jayce Valium had more right to the throne than I did. At best I might be able to persuade my aunt to take the reigns, even if she was well past her  prime. “I just need time, I need to-to…”
“To find Viceak’s killer.” Feeps offered in my stead. “We have a lead. We cannot give up now.”
I resisted the urge to hug the warforged outright.
“Two weeks,” Killian countered quietly. “If you send us back to Illium, it will take me two weeks to sail a ship back to this coast. Will that be enough time?”
“Yes. Otherwise we’ll still come back with you. I promise.”
Killian’s cerulean eyes regarded me silently. A smile spread across his face. “As you wish. Let it be known, I was the first to find you.”
I chuckled softly as we regrouped our parties. Mattias moved to a clear space, and gestured with his hands until a distorted tear between time and space materialized.
The crew walked toward it, one by one disappearing from sight.
Killian faced us before he left. “Two weeks,” he reminded me. “With all due respect, I don’t think I can bear taking orders from your fiancé.”
“He’ll be first on my list to deal with,” I assured, unable to mask the disdain in my voice. “Oh, and one other thing...will you tell my mother?”
The Azure Prince inclined his head. “Of course. No other?”
“No. Not until I get there.”
“She misses you a great deal,” he commented, nearing the portal. “We all did.”
The notion warmed me, and Killian vanished through the portal. The tear sealed up seamlessly behind him.
“You can cry if you want, Taelim,” Zan feigned seriousness, but barely containing his humor.
I growled under my breath, but controlled the urge to wild shape into something I could pounce on him with. We waited for Mattias to start his next portal, which appear almost instantly.
Klotonk walked up to the Raven Knight and extended his hand. “Thanks for your help! I hope you enjoy your new line of work.”
Mattias beamed. “Thank you for saving my life and allowing me to join your party. I pray you’ll excuse me to serve my queen.”
“Why wouldn’t we? When we meet again I’ll have a ton of questions for you.”
“I look forward to it.” Mattias motioned toward the portal. “Be well my friends.”
One by one we took our leave of the Shadowfell, and were teleported back to the abandoned village just outside the graveyard. It took us a moment to realize that night had actually fallen this time.
As we made camp in a secluded church, I took first watch and called Feeps to my side. I produced the open scroll and together we read the contents.

My darling Irielya,
Should this letter reach you, then I’ve likely met my fate by overstepping my bounds. It is a matter I’m sure you wouldn’t concern yourself with. I’ve recently learned the truth of our  daughter, which has led me to plan the worst for Illium. Even you do know only an heir can best protect the kingdom. My sister, Tylda, is of course next in line, however, she has already renounced all claims to the throne in order to run the university. Even so, she is far beyond an age capable of being another heir. Prince Jayce Valium is a distant heir, and likely successor, but I fear his arrogance and self-righteousness might lead the kingdom down a dangerous path. I only wish I saw it sooner, as Taelim had.
There is a third option. My deceased cousin had an illegitimate son, and in secret I have encouraged him to Illium’s side, rearing him to a more dignified path. You know him as the Azure Prince Killian. With his renown, I hardly doubt Illium would deny him the chance. Either way, the council should decide. In truth, I hope Taelim might return and lend her support to either of the choices. How she would have succeeded there. Should she still refuse to return, I requested she inherit my responsibilities with the Magi. From all reports, she has turned into a capable druid. Like Elroar. This leads me to my last point.
In my heartbreak I acted out of line, and for that I beg your forgiveness. Elroar’s recent disappearance has been thanks to my doing. I had a contact in Magaat place him under arrest on false pretenses. I’ve yet to call for his release or transfer. I am truly sorry.
Alas, my time draws near. I wish you nothing but a happy and long life, for I know you will return home to your family and the Green Court. When you and Elroar are undoubtedly reunited, I hope you share the love you didn’t have for me. Goodbye, my wife.

Yours forever,

I held the letter in my shaking hands, trying to grasp what I just read. Time to think wasn’t allowed. A roar broke the silence nearby, along with the chorus of approaching feet. I leapt up and roused the rest of the party. We weren’t running from this one.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Session 7

We bolted down the wide stairs at full speed, the horde of ghouls howling behind us. Our surroundings were a blur of empty buildings and forgotten streets, held aloft on the barren bones of a long dead Primordial. Hoofbeats clattered close by, and I barely caught a glimpse of the undead horse and its Shadowborn rider galloping in the alleyways beside us.
Zan sprinted ahead toward the stone bridge where a looming door promised protection from the undead. The monk threw his shoulder into the door, but it didn’t budge. We caught up to him as the horde closed in, the swarm scaling down the buildings and across the bridge.
“MOVE!” Klotonk shouted, waving his arms and spewing an incantation. One of the double doors suddenly swung open.
We all but pushed our way in, just as the undead horse barreled down the bridge at full speed. With a heave, we slammed the door shut in time, barricading it tightly behind us.
I slid to ground, panting and wiping sweat from my brow. “I regret this decision.”
“You won’t be saying that when we get our heart’s desire.” Maziel offered a hand and hoisted me to my feet.
“If we survive,” I countered.
“This place is amazing!” Klotonk exalted. He hadn’t stopped since he learned Primordials once roamed this place, the very same elemental titans of coveted lore from a time long past. We were standing on history. We could learn so much. If we could only just--it was an effort to make headway at all. We were either stopping to study something new, or running for our lives.
Only now did we observe our surroundings and realize the error we made. It was a dead end. The majority of space was littered with the rubble from a cave in.
Cosmo immediately set to work searching for options. In seconds he was atop the pile of boulders, and disappeared from sight. We waited, and waited. Then his familiar red mane popped into sight.
“Found an...option.” The kender smiled unconvincingly.
Without much of a choice, we scrambled up the pile as Cosmo worked his way through fallen debris. He pointed out a small opening that led to a dark, downward slope.
“Me first!” Cosmo dived headlong into the hole, laughing as his voice drifted farther and farther away.
Maziel went next, muttering a string of curses as the drow slid down. I followed, nearly losing my footing as the slippery slide forced me into a tumble out into a cavernous space. Ahead, a long forsaken pantheon covered in webs waited. Maziel squatted beside me, finger to their lips.
Not that it mattered. As Feeps followed, the warforged exclaimed a cry. He rolled down the passage, his mechanical body echoing all around as it came banging to a stop.
In seconds, spiders scuttled into sight with ravenous determination, and we immediately split up to find defensive positions. Cosmo scampered up a pillar, drawing a crossbow, and Maziel followed suit opposite the kender. Klotonk peered over a boulder, already casting a spell. A massive fiery ball materialized above the pantheon, then came crashing down in the midst of the nest, scattering the spiders. The rest of us spread out to face a surviving creature of our own.
“Taelim!” Maziel’s voice called somewhere above me, almost distracting me from the pincers snapping at my arm.
“WHAT?” I yelled back, swinging out with my scimitar and drawing the spider’s blood.
“Fire. The thing you like. Might be useful.” Maziel responded between breathes. They shot an arrow into my target. “Cast some spells.”
I opened my mouth to counter the hint. Then I realized it was true. It probably went back to before the village and my unnatural affection for the element. Especially in battle. And since accidents generally happen around me. I dodged my way back and summoned a burning sphere and sent it rolling through the webs. I couldn't resist a grin as I went hopping around leaving a blazing trail behind me.
That was, until I fell in the pit of webs. Admittedly, I wondered what would kill me: catching fire or the first spider that reached me. Then Feeps clambered up beside the pit, and before I could warn him to step back, he toppled in after me. We both looked at each other, tangled together in silky constraints while battle raged above.
“I very much dislike the fire,” Feeps admitted as if we were sitting at a pub table.
“That’s because you’re half wood,” I replied softly. I sighed. “I’ve read up on water spells, just in case.”
“No more Geas obligations?”
“Hopefully not.” I tried to wriggle myself free, and managed to trap myself further.
“Taelim. This was not the heroic ending I imagined,” Feeps chimed, in no way condescending.
I laughed. “It’s not over yet.”
At that moment, Zan appeared at the edge, followed closely by Mattias. The wood elf shook his head. “You’re lucky we cleaned up.”
“See,” I turned to my warforged friend. “Not over.”
Maziel appeared next. “This suits you, Taelim.”
I scowled, unable to lift my middle finger which was stuck to the webwork. Still, they helped free us both, and I took in the smoking remnants of the skirmish with appreciation.
After catching our breath we proceeded toward a dark tunnel, eager to delve deeper into the underground space. If only to get out sooner. There another expanse of blank space and slender walkways greeted us. Carefully we edged around the cliffside, gradually working toward the underground peak ahead. We kept a slow, steady pace, reminded constantly of the infinite fall just below our feet.
At the very top we all came to an abrupt halt. A massive raven watched us with obsidian eyes. It bore the crest of the Raven Queen on a medallion around its chest, forcing Mattias to his knees in praise.
“You’ve done well to journey this far, adventurers.” The raven spoke in our minds. “I’m here to take you across the canyon.” It tilted its sleek head toward the oversized basket, evidently intended to carry us to whatever awaited.
Mattias didn’t need to be told twice. The priest hurried over and hopped in, turning back to us with encouraging eyes. There was no point in going back now. We didn’t even have a plan to escape the Shadowfell. We could only move forward.
We all followed into the basket, and the raven leapt into the sky, beating its great wings and clutching the basket with its black talons. Silently we soared across the void until a stark white building seemed to materialize into view.
The raven glided toward the jutting cliff just before the structure, gently setting the basket down and perching beside it. We stepped out, warily observing the massive door of the building. Like the ramshackle town we narrowly escaped, this place also hung on the bones of a long dead Primordial.
“The Temple of Ivory,” the raven said simply. “We part here.” It leapt into the air, grabbed the basket and wheeled back from where we came.
Despite the maze of crumbling buildings, a horde of undead, and starving spiders, this temple promised a danger where death awaited alongside it. Gingerly we edged closer,  carefully noting every detail we could perceive. Etched on the ivory door was the image of a skull and scythe.
I was about to question the markings when Mattias uttered the name loathingly. “Nerull.”
Klotonk attempted to move forward when Mazile grabbed the gnome by his collar. The drow pointed to the scorch marks at the entrance, and the nearly imperceptible piles of ash that hadn't been blown away. Above, a floating skull with ruby eyes watched closely from an alcove. Klo’s eyes widened as we held our ground, hesitant to get vaporized.
Still, the gnome wasn’t deterred for long. “I think I have a solution,” he piped. “Trust me.” With that, he vanished from sight. Invisible footsteps pattered close toward the temple’s entrance, then worked carefully beside the yellowed skull.
We could only wait, holding our breaths for the moment Klotonk was either disintegrated or successful. Another long moment dragged on, and then suddenly, the skull clattered to the floor, shattering and spilling its ruby eyes.
Cosmo made an initial lunge, then stopped himself. With effort he straightened stiffly, took a deep breath, and shoved his hands into his pockets. Determined to move forward, he went toward the door and safely threw it open.
When Klotonk returned, I wrapped an arm around his shoulders, smiling. “Clever guy.”
He beamed up at me, then followed the kender inside with the rest of us.
We stepped inside a grand foyer where a statue of Nerull stood alone in an alcove. There were two tunnels leading downward on either side of the figure, and two doors to our immediate left and right.
After much debate, in which Maziel took all of five seconds to decide for the group, the drow quietly worked toward the door on the left. They inspected the length before deciding it was safe enough, and carefully pulled it open. Within the dark room, chains rattled in a windless sway. Maziel pursed their lips, shook their head and closed the door. The next door was regarded in a similar fashion.
That left the twin descending stairs. Like a shadow, Maziel led the party downward. In an unsuccessful attempt to follow quietly, we ended up at the bottom of the stairs, staring down the group who awaited our arrival at the back of the hall.
A robed figure flanked by two burly men in hides addressed us first. “Ah, another group of hopefuls.” He wore a skull necklace, identical to Nerull’s symbol, around his neck. He repeatedly caressed it as if for comfort.  “Turn back, this temple is our right--the right of those faithful to Nerull.”
Mattias stepped forward, finger pointed at the three. “Our right to challenge was given by the Raven Queen. You have no say!”
“Oh boy,” Zan said under his breath.
“That we do,” the robed figure chuckled. Beside him, the two men rolled their shoulders. They grinned, revealing sharpened teeth. “This is your last warning.”
I stretched my fingers, already planning the spell. I could see my party tense up in an equal fashion. We waited for the cue.
“No chance,” Mattias answered, stepping forward brazenly.
It all unfolded in an instant. The Nerull priest raised a hand forward shouting a spell, but Klotonk was just as quick, and the magic forming midair was dissolved as soon as it had come.
The counterspell gave me enough of an opening to charge ahead and call down a booming force that blasted our enemies back and slammed them into the wall. The priest smashed his head with a sickening crack, but his companions leapt up and surged toward me.
A succession of arrows filled one’s chest like a pincushion. The other instantly changed into a werewolf and sprang, his maw clamping down on my arm as he brought me to the ground. Burning pain filled my senses as the werewolf’s teeth sank deeper.
As fast as he had come, the beast was knocked aside with a furious blow from Zan’s fist. Maziel sprinted forward, drawing a strange dagger from their belt. Without hesitation, the drow plunged the knife into the beast’s heart, ensuring the magic of their steel ended its life permanently. She hurried toward the other slumped men in the back of the hall, quickly delivering the same fate whether they were werewolves or not.
Gritting my teeth, I rolled up my sleeve and pulled back the damaged leather bracers. I studied the wound carefully, then when I was sure I wasn’t infected, healed the bite with druidic magic.
“Are you...?” Feeps approached, indicating toward the dead werewolf and taking my arm in his hands to mend my shirt.
“No.” I replied, shaking my arm out once he finished.
“Are you certain?” Maziel came over, cleaning his dagger on the were's fur before sheathing it.
“That wasn’t my first werewolf encounter. I’m sure.” I turned to Mattias. “What’s the deal with you and Nerull?” It was a fair question on my end, I didn’t really do the whole religion thing outside of nature’s divine realm and such. Plus, I wanted to change the topic.
“A falling out between Nerull and the Raven Queen. Long ago--”
I raised a hand. “Good enough. Let’s just hurry up and get out of here.”
Feeps shrugged apologetically to Mattias, as if that could explain my brashness. The priest didn’t seem to mind, and we carefully moved to the back of the hall.
“I’ll scout out ahead,” Cosmo went forward, lightly prancing about.
The hallway eventually widened, and stone slabs in purplish writing begged to be read. The gnome took up the task with delight while we waited. Most of us. Silently the kender crept on while Klotonk furrowed his brow at the writing, swaying slightly.
“Odd,” Klo mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “It’s dizzying really….” He shook his head and peered closely, concentrating even harder. By the time his eyes widened in realization, it was too late. “Cosmo, come back!”
The roof of the space ahead slammed downward, taking the kender down. We called out in horror, fearing the absolute worst. Then we heard Cosmo groaning as he agonized beneath the weight of a ceiling.
“Hold on!” Maziel called, beckoning us.
The group collectively reached toward the ever shrinking gap between the floor and the ceiling, trying futilely to lift it up. The harder we heaved, the more we understood our efforts were pointless.
“What--is--this?” I shouted toward Klotonk.
The red-faced gnome huffed out answer as he staggered back and pulled out a spell book, flipping through it frantically. “Some kind of construct. It belongs to Vecna.”
A small trail of blood began trickling out from the space, and the kender’s moans lessened. I dropped to my stomach and called out, searching for him in the space of the crack. A frail cry responded, but it was enough for me to find a target and call forth a barely fruitful healing word to sustain him. Or prolong his painful death.
“I have an idea.” Feeps declared, pulling away from the wall and rummaging through his bag to the protests from the others holding it up. The warforged pulled out my father’s scepter, and his intention dawned on me. The device controlled Illium’s constructs. Just maybe it could handle this one.
Feeps closed his eyes, lips moving silently. He extended the scepter outward and touched the ceiling. At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then in a painstakingly slow motion, the ceiling rose a few inches, and then a foot before pausing there, jerking slightly.
In moments, Zan wrapped a rope around his waist and crawled under the space. “Got him!” He called a few seconds later, and we pulled the rope back, producing the elf and kender alike. Just as the magic in the scepter realized it was deceived.
The ceiling block came crashing down through the floor.
Maziel immediately shoved a potion down Cosmo’s throat. “Taelim, can you heal bones?” The drow asked.
“I’ll do my best…” I replied, shuffling close.
“Foolish kender,” Maziel remarked quietly after all was said and done. Almost as if the drow cared.
In the end, our kender survived. When that much was clear, we huddled together beside the near death experience, taking in the past few moments and catching our breath. It still wasn’t enough to get us up and going for some time.

When at last we rose to leave, we carefully made our way across the destroyed floor, hopping from one solid platform to the next. There in the back was a hidden stairwell that wound its way deeper into the temple. Near the end of our descent, a golden hue greeted us in the passageway. I couldn’t imagine what for, until we all exited and stared, gaping, at the mound upon mound of treasure that filled the room.
I turned to observe Cosmo, who was slightly twitching with the urge to shove as much gold and gems as he could carry into his Bag of Holding. The kender audibly swallowed, closed his eyes and pressed his lips into a determined line.
“This is more gold than a dragon’s horde,” Zan commented, circling about as he took in the room.
“Please,” Comso croaked. “Let’s just move on.”
We all but agreed when the sound of clinking coins sliding down a mound forced us all into alert stances, drawing weapons. Carefully, we formed a marching order and moved toward the sound, which escalated to a hushed argument among a group of men.
I stopped short, heart in my mouth when I recognized their faces.
The group turned around at our approach, drawing weapons instinctively. Though each was armed, none were armored, but all promised the threat of being capable fighters. Amid the group of around ten swashbucklers, a figure pushed through the crowd to stand at the head. He walked with an air of command, and crossed his suntanned skin, typical of the coastal Illium natives. The man’s cerulean eyes scanned the group, then stopped when they met mine.
It had been about fives years since I had left home. Five years of fun, freedom and few regrets. In that time I had become my own woman and not the result of what my family tried to imbue in me. Granted, there were things I had come to miss, and one was standing right in front of me. His name was Killian, and we called him the Azure Prince.
“Princess…?” Killian started, eyes wide. Then, as if coming to his senses, he and the rest of his retainers dropped to one knee.
I opened my mouth to try to form a coherent sentence, even a word, but found nothing. How could he be here? Of all the places, and after my father’s death.
“Hey look, Taelim’s blushing!” Zan pointed and laughed, despite my furious glare.
It was probably true. Killian was roughly ten years my senior, but he was everything I envied growing up. A bastard like myself, he begun his life as a pirate turned sea captain. His military and naval prowess earned him the nickname the Azure Prince, since he utterly dominated Illium's coast, keeping it safe from harm. After being recruited by my father, he quickly worked his way up the ranks, eventually claiming Admiral of Illium.
Everytime he graced the court with his presence, he regaled the crowd with some tale of conquest, or some amazing mention of a far off place. He had encompassed many things I adored, and above all, he was free.
Then panic seized me. Killian didn’t know. About me, or about my father. As far as he was concerned, he just found the long missing princess. I bit my lip and swallowed any thought of admitting the truth to him, at least for now.
I walked over, grabbing his arm and lifting him to his feet. “There’s no need for that here,” I said, my voice seemed smaller than I intended.
Killian’s mouth spread into a wide smile, and against my wishes, I couldn’t help but return the gesture.
“You’re alive,” he said, studying me with no shred of shame. “No one but me and your family believed it. And you’ve grown up.”
“I am alive,” I concurred, feeling the heat rising in my cheeks again, but I couldn't do a thing to stop it.  “Why are you here?”
Killian cocked his head at a genuine loss. “I remember being sent by the king...he sent me here, to this part of the world. Looking for you.” He glanced around as if he didn’t recognize anything. “Where are we?”
“Great….” I mumbled, trying to fathom what might have happened. The kender spoke up first.
“You took gold!” Cosmo accused loudly, pointing a stern finger vigorously atop the pile beside us. “I can see your pockets, your bags!” He fell to his knees in evident desire, wringing his hands.
I was about to follow up on the topic, when all of the Illium fighters drew swords, their features darkening as they turned toward Cosmo.
“This is our gold, friend. It will be the last thing you touch if you try to take it from us,” Killian assured cruelly, a different man from the one I knew.
I stepped back instinctively, at a loss for his behavior.
Feeps walked up beside me and whispered in my ear. “They are charmed. It is called Dragon’s Greed.” The warforged then removed his mantle and addressed the crew with a wave. “Greetings, Killian. It has indeed been some time.”
Killian’s posture relaxed, and he returned to his normal state of mind. “Master Feeps? It really is you!” The two clasped hands like old friends.
“Killian,” I tried timidly. “This gold. If I commanded you to empty your pockets, would you? Could you?”
The Azure Prince’s face contorted painfully. He seemed to confuse and recognize me, then regard the order as genuine. Yet, it conflicted with something far stronger than duty. He shook his head, looking back at his crew. “I can’t...we can’t. Forgive me.”
“Taelim,” Maziel approached. “We have to move on,” the drow pointed up ahead. “Can they follow us?”
Again Killian shook his head. “We...can’t leave. The gold. I-I….”
“Don’t worry,” I responded. “We’ll figure something out.” I turned to my party, but I already knew their answer. We had to move on and hope a solution lay ahead. “Will you wait here, Killian. Until we return?”
The Azure Prince smiled wanly. “Will you? I'd hate to be the first to find you, only to lose you again.”
I grinned despite myself. “I promise. I’ll come back for you.”
“Then I’ll be in your debt if you free us from this wretched curse.”
I lingered, longing to help but knowing full well there was nothing I could do. It was Feeps who stepped up beside me, hand on my back, gently urging me forward.
“Worry not, Taelim,” the warforged whispered as we made our way to the end of the treasure room. “We shall free him. It will be my wish. I did not have one until now.”
I faced my guardian with a curious expression, but found only honesty in his stare. I wrapped my arms around him, and with Feeps beside me, we carried on, searching for whatever might grant our heart’s desire.