Maziel was ready to bolt, but it was clear by the amount of looming fomorian guards we wouldn’t get far, even if I managed to shift us to another plane of existence. I put a hand on Maziel’s arm, and the drow shot me an: “if we die, I’ll come back and kill you again” look.
“You’ve been accused of attempted assassination on our king, Nuadu Finn Fail,” Credene, the fomorian priestess of Diancastra proclaimed. “You will be tried and sentenced this very day.”
I threw up my hands and the rest of the party followed suit. The guards encircled us and forced us into a single file line toward the palace, drawing peculiar looks and whispers from onlookers.
The world behind the massive palace walls was distinctly different from the dark city outside. Despite our supposed crime of attempted murder, the staff within spared no effort in showing off the lifestyle here. Guards stomped down the hallways loudly, and slaves flitted around in excess, forcing my eyes to the ground before I did something drastic. It was no Illium, but it was impressive in its own conceited way, draining resources outside for the whims of those within.
The throne room bustled with activity, mostly attendants, but there was a male drow flanked by guards who caught my attention. Maziel tensed with curiosity of her own. Then there, on a raised throne, sat quite possibly the ugliest fomorian I had ever seen, and they were already a misshapen cursed race of giants.
King Nuadu Finn Fail leaned forward and squinted the larger of his two eyes. “Outsiders, you and the caster--” he pointed at the male drow, “--have conspired to take my life.”
At that moment, a guard dropped a broken hooded body in front of us. Its mouth was stretched in a long, silent howl. That was a bodak. The king looked from the body, then to us, expecting an answer.
“And when did this happen?” I asked dryly, folding my arms over my chest. Here was a princess for you.
“Just last night,” an attendant piped up.
“Well, we were in a tavern,” I shrugged. “You can go ask Long Tooth Fancy, or whatever his name was.”
The room seemed to hush.
Finn Fail grimaced, further distorting his already discomforting features. “An alibi does not dissociate your possible connections with followers of Orcus. They have conspired against my throne alongside Bres!”
I glanced at my party and grinned, then turned back to the king. I was probably the only one here who might get away with backtalk. “Except we killed Orcus, and Queen Titania sent us here, so there.”
Another hush. This time Maziel and Klotonk both hurried to fill in our recent endeavors, if only to save me from being thrown in jail since I didn’t explain much after.
Nuadu Finn Fail barked something in giant, and in moments an attendant was off through an archway. He was back before I was done stuffing Oddie in my hood. The attendant hurriedly whispered into the king’s ear. Then I saw the realization in Nuadu Finn Fail’s eyes.
“You...” he said, barely loud enough to carry across the room. “You killed Orcus.” A factual statement. Now something was churning in his head. Suddenly he whipped on his attendants. “Free the drow and unbind these heroes, you incompetent fools. They’re clearly innocent,” he waved to all of us. His voice softened. “Such a notable group here in Mag Turea ….” His eyes seemed to sparkle with intent. “But you need to get through the fey gates I control access to you, yes? I propose a deal: You locate Bres, bring him to me, and I’ll open the gates out of the city so you can be on your way.”
So, we’re trapped here until we find the true king and drag him here to be killed by you. I didn’t bother to utter the truth. I glanced at Maziel who returned my gaze. We didn’t have a choice.
“We can do that,” I said bluntly. Whether he could tell I had an ulterior motive remained to be seen.
Regardless, Finn Fail grinned darkly. “Then, please, you are guests of mine. You shall stay here until this is done, protected by my finest.” He waved a hand and we were immediately flanked by two fomorian guards.
Yeap, prisoners. Then another thought came to me and I turned to the priestess, Credene, who had accused us in the first place. “If we’re going to find Bres, we’ll need that orb you used on us for scrying.” I beamed, she scowled. It appeared as if she was going to argue, but the king’s stare forced her forward, dropping the crystal ball into my hands, muttering something in giant.
Little victories, I thought as we quietly exited the room to our chambers, Yaup dragging the body of the bodak behind us. Apparently the cleric had plans for it.
“That’s him! That’s the one who slew Jarmel!” The claim boomed from the largest fomorian I ever laid eyes on. He was glaring at Yaup, who only nodded absently. Who knew slaying a giant in single combat made you famous among other giants.
The mountain of a warrior stomped over. “If it isn’t Dope,” he grumbled, but Yaup didn’t bat an eyelash.
“Close enough,” the half-orc shrugged. “You are?”
“Balor the Mountain.” It sounded more like a threat.
“That’s nice, Mountain, but we have business to attend to.” Yaup simply proceeded past. The Mountain only gaped after him.
Our room was over-the-top. It included a massive living room with adjoining bedrooms and every amenity we could think of it. Nevermind that there were no windows and guards stood just outside our door.
Yaup dropped next to the body of the bodak and cracked his knuckles. He pressed his lips together thoughtfully, then questioned aloud: “So I think asking Diancastra is our best bet at finding answers.”
Maziel was pacing the room, inspecting every corner. “Do what you must,” she said, her attention busy elsewhere.
Yaup grunted a replied, but he was already preparing the ritual. We waited in silence. Then the half-orc shuddered and smiled, speaking to a presence we couldn’t see or hear. “Why yes, I do work out … thank you, you’re too kind. Right, to business then, we have a few questions.
“This bodak, was it actually a servant of Orcus? No. Okay. Next question, was this attempt used to frame the drow? Yes? Oh, that’s interesting. Well then, whoever did this, are they still in the city? No. Hmm, all right. Well, thank you. Yes, Kord demands I work out regularly. Oh, stop it,” he chuckled, then turned back to us positively smug.
“Are you done being fawned over by a troublemaker goddess?” I asked, failing to hide my annoyance.
“Taelim’s just peeved she was the target of said trouble more than once,” Beck offered, strumming his lute while lying on a gigantic recliner.
I flicked him off and turned back to Yaup. “Sounds like someone is framing the drow, no surprise, but our big concern is finding Bres. Otherwise, we don’t leave. We need him for Finn Fail to open the gates out of the Feydark, or for Bres to do so.” I sat on the floor, crossed my legs and pulled out the crystal ball. “Let’s find out where he is.”
I concentrated on the description of the former king, trying to picture his presence in the world. I focused on the crystal ball and cursed. It was black. He was either dead, or veiled by magic.
“Now what?” I asked the group.
Maziel leaned over me. “Remember those Red Caps that got away? Find them.”
I obeyed and tried again. This time I saw it all clearly.
There’s a Red Cap mercenary sitting in a gem-encrusted cave, a few others are milling about, but this one is sitting alone, holding a Cosmo doll. I vaguely recall back when we all saved Illium from the dragons, we became heroes overnight. Those dolls appeared soon after, but I never did find out who made them.
The one with the doll looks over his shoulder, telling the others to get lost. They obey, and once alone, he pulls the string on the Cosmo doll. It yells: “Icebite!” A trigger word for one of the kender’s iconic blue daggers.
The Red Cap follows with: “Hello, Fiddlesticks.” The Red Cap hurries to the point. “They’re in the castle now, and far stronger than we thought.”
An unfamiliar voice, low and near unintelligible comes from the doll. “Understood. Continue to follow them discreetly. If they lead you to Bres, eliminate him.”
“Finn Fail is helping, it’s making it hard to watch them.”
“I’ll send you a contact to get you into the palace. Finn Fail is our puppet, he just doesn’t know it.”
“It’ll be done.”
The orb clouded over as I regained my presence of mind. I blinked slowly up at the rest of my friends. “We’re going to need some help.”
That’s when a slip of paper slid under our door. On it was the mark of a spider.
The two fomorian guards trailed us out of the castle. “For our safety,” as they had put it. I got the feeling one was genuinely as stupid as he looked, but the other … behind his mask of idiocy were two alert eyes that watched our every move.
We were heading to the Place of Reflection, the Temple District. I wanted to speak with that All-Father priest, Lugh, but Maziel needed to check in on that formerly accused drow. The slip of paper suggested it all. We stopped at the shining obsidian temple devoted to the drow goddess, Lolth.
“Hey, guys, wait,” Klotonk said, stopping all of us in our tracks. The gnome was staring at the reflective black doors to the temple. He cocked his head, glancing back to the group then the doors. “I can only see me, Taelim, and Beck.”
“What?” Maziel huffed, taking a few steps back to consider the observation. “What!” This time with evident shock. Her mind was already trying to process an explanation.
“We’ll figure it out later,” I half whined. “Let’s wrap this thing up.”
Maziel growled under her breath, but threw open the doors to the temple.
The priestess was there waiting, legs crossed on the altar. She wore dark robes that revealed everything but the bits. Smiling and gorgeous, she beckoned Maziel forward. Behind her, the male drow waited with his head lowered.
“Welcome, Maziel,” she said in a sultry voice. “I’m High Priestess Anludryn.” She didn’t even glance at the male. “That’s the Rook you saved, and for which I owe you.” She rang a bell and half a dozen bare-chested drow men sauntered into the room. They set up seats, resting platters of food and wine on bistro tables, never once making eye contact with the rest of us.
“Maybe I should adopt a religion,” I chuckled to Beck as my glass was filled to the brim.
Maziel shot me a disapproving look, but continued chatting with Anludryn.
“It bothers me that you hide your gender, Maziel,” Anludryn was saying. “You are an elite among us, rule them…” she gestured to the males around us.
“That’s not my priority,” Maziel replied gruffly. “You mentioned something about Lolth dropping out of communications. Why?”
Anludryn shrugged. “Likely your interference above. We’ve learned of your endeavors. I know who you seek. I could open the gates for you … if you allow me the chance to speak to Lolth as well.”
Maziel snorted. “No.”
Anludryn’s eyes narrowed, her good humor gone. She saw there was no reasoning with Maziel. With a single word, the platters of food were being whisked away, and I drained my glass quickly before it was taken out of my hands.
“Then you can’t be helped. Pity.” With a swish of her robes, Anludryn left, slamming shut the doors behind the altar.
Only the Rook remained.
While Maziel was busy uttering a string of curses, Klotonk pointed at me and Beck. “Why are we the only ones visible in your door?”
The Rook narrowed his eyes at the gnome, then turned to Maziel, who nodded. He approached, inspecting each of us in turn. In a few moments, he spoke. “You’ve been marked by a fey lord….”
We all exchanged glances, then it hit us: one of the gifts at Titania’s court.
“Who?” the Rook asked.
Again, we looked at each other, and in that moment, we couldn’t remember the name. We even looked to Maziel who made a point of denying several gifts, but she shook her head.
“That’s how we were found…” Klo said glumly. “They’re tracking us.”
“How do they remove their mark?” Maziel demanded.
The Rook only shrugged.
“Useless,” Maziel cursed, then grabbed me by the collar. “Come on, we’re leaving.”
I had a hunch we could trust Lugh. This was different from my normal, act first think later notions. I could tell the group actually trusted me on this.
“I need to talk to him alone,” I whispered to Maziel in elven, inclining my head at the fomorian guards that barely gave us breathing room.
Maziel pursed her lips then turned to the guards. “Oh, by the way, we have Red Caps tailing us. I’m going to stand guard outside while Taelim considers converting to the All-Father.”
Really? I thought, but the fomorian guards did eye one another before the true idiot lumbered after Maziel, her kenku bae, and Yaup. I looked up at the guard who remained behind. Not fooled, eh. Fine.
I stepped into the grand space of the All-Father’s temple. I could see Lugh watching us from ahead.
“Where are you going?” the guard demanded.
“To ask about the All-Father,” I smiled sweetly. The rest of the party promptly clumped up and stayed behind. The guard was torn.
“You can’t go,” he said gruffly.
“Why not?” I countered softly. “I’m going to be right over there. Still in your watchful gaze.”
His eyes narrowed, and he looked down at the unmoving others. Then he snarled. “I’m telling the king about this.” He threatened, deciding to stay with the majority.
“Go for it, big guy,” I replied, practically skipping over to Lugh alone.
The well-muscled priest chuckled when I approached. “The All-Father doesn’t interest you,” Lugh said in a low voice. He had his back to the others, staring at a painting of mighty giants before him. It was likely all connected to his god, but I didn’t care.
“You’re right,” I replied, staring, uninterested, at the same painting. “We’re looking for Bres.”
A pause hung between us for a moment.
“Now why would I help you find a traitor?” Lugh whispered, even if something in his voice hinted otherwise. “I’m bound to serve my king, it’s my responsibility. He supposedly served demons and must be forgotten.”
I sighed. “You’re talking to someone who’s had responsibility thrust upon them since birth,” we locked eyes for a moment, mine pleading. “That doesn’t mean I neglect to do the right thing despite everyone’s expectations.”
To my surprise, Lugh smiled faintly. “We all try to do the right thing, don’t we?”
At that moment the doors to the temple were thrown open unceremoniously. Balor the Mountain was standing in its frame. “Lugh, the king demands you at once!” Balor’s eyes took in each one of carefully, then fell disapprovingly at the guard I left behind.
Lugh patted me lightly on the shoulder and was gone.
I shuffled quitely back to the rest of the group so we could leave.
“Your thoughts on the All-Father, little elf girl?” the fomorian questioned sarcastically.
“Not for me.” I sneered back.
Once outside we watched Lugh and Balor argue briefly. In front of them was a tiny boggle that struck me as vaguely familiar.
“Taelim?” Maziel prodded, following my stare.
“That creature … I’ve met him before.” Then it came back to me. I was smashed on the Gilded Lotus, and he approached me, trying to make small talk when I could barely see straight. He was of some importance, but I was too far gone to care. I turned to the group. “We need to get back to the palace.”