“Where are you going, elf-girl?” the fomorian guard demanded once we were back in the palace and I tried to break off from the group.
If he calls me that one more time …. “The ladies room,” I snapped back. “Are you really going to follow me in there?”
The guard hesitated, then shook his head. I slammed the door behind me and sat with my back against it, pulling out the crystal orb. I set to scrying at once. The boggle had been heading toward the throne room with Lugh and Balor at his heels, but what he had to say was off limits to anyone but Nuadu Finn Fail’s court. I allowed my vision to cloud over with what was taking place.
The boggle steps before the king and bows swiftly.
Finn Fail eyes him before inclining his head. “Muckwart.”
The boggle named Muckwart grins broadly. “The queen has sent me.”
“Oh? To explain why she hasn’t returned perhaps?”
Muckwart wags his head. “Until the matter of succession is resolved, the queen will not return.”
The king’s face darkens. “Tell us why you’re here, and the queen’s message.”
“It’s come to our attention that non giant forces, members of this very room, are allied with dark matters. A traitor’s in your midst.”
“You’re not telling us anything we don’t know,” Finn Fail growled. “We’re trying to figure it out.”
Balor stomps forward, and the boggle looks like a puppy besides his massive frame. “The queen has no right to interfere while she sits upon her pleasure cruise and does nothing to help us.”
Muckwart chuckles, evidently unafraid. “The queen can do as she pleases, she was Bres’ mother after all.”
At that moment, heavy fists pounded on the door, breaking my concentration and dispersing my vision.
“Hurry up in there!” A voice booms.
I muttered a string of curses before throwing open the door furiously. “Where’s Maziel?” I demanded to guards outside.
Their eyes narrowed. “Waiting outside the king’s court alongside a kenku.”
Beau’s back? I headed that way, trying not to break into a run. When I turned the corner toward the throne room I nearly fell over the boggle strolling by.
“Taelim!” Muckward piped up excitedly.
I cracked a careful smile, trying to recall any ounce of our conversation on the Gilded Lotus. “Hey ... Muckwart, right?”
He smiled and threw himself at me, hugging my leg, which was all he could reach.
I guess I did something right that night. I dropped down and returned the embrace, and I could see Maziel strolling over, curious at the commotion.
“Muckwart,” I said, barely above a whisper. “Why don’t you come back to our room? I’ve got … questions.”
His grin widened. “Oh! Lead on.”
The rest of us regrouped in the confines of our room. Our prison. At least here the guards didn’t enter, but they posted up outside the door, diligently taking note of who entered and exited.
I quietly told the group about scrying on the meeting, then turned to Muckwart who was bobbing his head playfully, sipping on the drink I regretted making far too strong.
“So you’re telling me Granny Poultice is Bres’ mother?” Klotonk uttered, still trying to grasp the situation.
Now it all made sense why she wanted us to save Bres. If we even could at this point.
“Muckwart,” I began as the boggle nestled into my arms. “What do you think of Lugh?”
Muckwart’s eyes met mine briefly before his attention floated off. “That you should trust him.”
“I think I do … but we can’t talk to him. We’re always being watched.”
The boggle giggled. “I can take care of that. Write him a letter if you want.”
I glanced at the rest of the group. Klotonk was already shoving parchment and a quill in my hands.
I set to work: Please, trust us. We’re searching for Bres for the right reasons. Let us help, we just don’t know where to begin. We know you do.
When I was done I turned to Maziel, but she just shrugged, her seal of approval.
Muckwart rolled up the paper and tucked it neatly in his shirt pocket. “Don’t worry,” he said happily. “I’ll get it done.” A dark shimmer in the shape of a small door appeared behind him. He took one step back and disappeared, the outline vanishing with him.
“Now what?” Beck asked, already pulling out his lute and strumming a few chords.
“We wait and see,” I replied, strolling up to the bar and getting creative.
The dimension door re-appeared late into the evening, forcing life back into the room after we all settled into some form of hapless lounging. Muckwart leapt lightly through, handing me a small piece of paper. I unfurled the parchment and frowned. It was ciphered. I glanced up at the boggle for help, but he just shook his head.
Instinctively, I moved toward Klotonk, beckoning for Maziel to near before handing over the paper. “Have fun, kids.”
I returned to the bar with Muckwart while the brains of the party set to work. As expected, they made short work of the code.
“I think I’ve got it!” Klo piped up excitedly. He slowly recited the words: “Do not trust anyone. The evening star watches all. Ten bells under the skull.” The piece of parchment burst into flames and disintegrated, producing a yelp from the gnome.
“Is he referring to that bizarre cliff outside the city?” Yaup offered from his seat beside a brazier.
“But what are the bells?” I asked, looking at the others.
“Time.” Maziel offered definitively.
That notion instilled a bit of panic in us; it was already close to nine.
“We have to move then,” Klo said hurriedly.
“What about the guards?” Beck questioned tentatively.
“We lose them, once and for all.” I said defiantly. “I’m over this babysitting shit.”
The group consented, and agreed to slip out under Klotonk’s invisibility spell. Before we started, I turned back to the boggle who had been nothing but helpful.
“You should probably get back to the Gilded Lotus,” I smiled. “Thanks for all your help.”
Muckwart threw his arms around my leg. “You’re sweet. I like you.”
I chuckled. “Thanks. Until we meet again.”
The boggle nodded eagerly, then was gone in an instant.
“Why didn’t we ask him to open the door in plain view? You know, a distraction.” Yaup questioned.
“Gods dammit, Taelim.” Maziel threw up her hands.
“How is this my fault?” I exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter, we’re running out of time!” Klotonk silenced our bickering at once. “We open the door and run, we’ll be invisible. Ready?”
Slowly, and under the cloak of invisibility, we pushed open the door to our room. The guards standing outside immediately snapped to attention, then their faces fell into uncertainty as no one in sight followed. We crept down the hall carefully. One of the fomorian guards stepped inside. They sounded the alarm at once, and we broke into a run.
Bounding out of the city, we headed toward the cliff face where, as the note had said, the remains of a gargantuan skull watched over Mag Turea. Carefully, we stepped inside the skull’s mouth, creeping deeper into the mountain burial ground. We stopped at an altar, examining the assortment of offerings that littered the area. On a ledge above was an intricate doorway, there an engraved eye seemed to take us all in.
“It’s sealed …” Maziel said, tracing her fingers along the doorframe. I trailed her quietly as Yaup and Klotonk debated below whether offerings might make the difference. Either way, we had to hurry, it was nearly at ten bells.
I put a hand on the door, considering whether or not to use my Knock boon. Maziel was watching me, her eyes warning. I smiled wryly at her and conjured the spell anyway.
The entire place shook, rocking us where we stood. After a sickening crack, the surrounding mantle around the doorway crumbled to pieces. With nothing to hold the door in place, it fell forward with a resounding boom, revealing a long hallway beyond.
I laughed uncomfortably, the group’s eyes on me. “I mean, it’s open now.”
“Don’t worry, I left a very nice spell scroll just in case,” Klo said as he walked by, patting me on the arm. It was good to know there was balance when I screwed up.
We passed by towering statues of giants as we continued briskly down the hall. It wasn’t until we neared another doorway that we stopped short. Two glowering yellow eyes settled in a dark mist waited in front of it.
“You are not welcome here,” it began in giant. Klo was kind enough to translate. “Only the dead serve here ...”
“What is that?” I asked Yaup off to the side.
The half-orc’s hand hovered near his weapon, and he didn’t turn to meet my gaze. “A haugbui …” was all he replied.
“We were called here,” Maziel returned flatly. “Let us pass.”
“Leave,” the haugbui warned.
“But we made an offering!” Klo tried hopefully.
“Then Taelim broke down the door,” Yaup countered.
Outside, ten bells echoed in the city.
The drow glanced over her shoulder as if checking we were ready. I could only guess at what. “Like I said, we were summoned, and we’re going to pass.”
That wasn’t what it wanted to hear, but we had already braced ourselves. It attacked, along with two of the titanic statues on our sides. Maziel and I preoccupied the statues, while the others tried to stay alive as spells were flung back and forth in the hallway. Klo in particular had a grudge against his dismissed offering, and he lit up the passageway with more than one fireball.
With the statues shattered, and the haugbui dispelled, we proceeded into the next chamber. There, face down, Lugh’s body lay in a pool of his own blood. There were three symbols painted in crimson beside him: the symbol of Annam, a falling star, and the druidic rune for “tree.”
Now what? None of us said aloud.