The Warning

Episode 20

The Truth Of Treasure Hunting

“We should’ve have questioned the shopkeeper,” Ishrana jammed another chunk of honeyed bread into her mouth. Deldund looked across the table at her aura silhouette, allowing it to clarify so he could read her expression. It was alert, but irritated.

“If this doesn’t work, me may yet half to,” he replied quietly. He sipped the odd drink he’d apparently ordered. Ishrana chewed violently, but didn’t respond. He let the ridge-rider stew and turned his gaze back across the street to the front wall of Zholta’s. Deldund girded himself against the nauseating wash of motion as the cloud of auras in the street whisked before him. With practiced focus, they resolved into clearer shapes of men, women, animals, and bugs. He squinted the knotted flesh of his eye sockets at the handful of dark-stained shapes in view. There were far more with the indeterminate grey wash of the morally conflicted, and he noticed, thankfully, a couple of pure auras, gracing the scene with warm light.

He sat patiently, despite his instinct to break in the back door with his grandfather’s axe. The plan was set, and he’d abide it until it failed. He didn’t like it, but there was no choice but to trust the tricksters inside.

“I don’t like this,” Ishrana echoed his thoughts, “I don’t trust her,” referring to Tahira.

“I don’t trust either of them, but we’ve got little choice,” he stated, not shifting his gaze, “neither of us look like good news to a gang of criminals.”

“That’s normally a good thing,” she said.

“Aye, ‘tis,” He chose not to elaborate. Sweating soaked him under his mail, but at least the edge of the desert was dry. He was used to heat, comforted by it. The darkness beyond his soulsight almost let him pretend he was deep in a mountain, but the persistent wind, dense crowds, and the vulnerable feeling of open sky proved he was far from it.

“How do you stand this heat?” Isharna tugged at her breast plate to move a miniscule amount of air against her skin. Despite her helm resting on the table between them, she was sweating profusely. The paladin took another slug from her waterskin. Deldund didn’t respond, focused on the restaurant.

Inside, Tahira watched the servers moving about the mid-day crowd. She was nearly finished with her chevon couscous, and she waived down the serving girl.

“More wine?” the girl asked in baiha, a bedunna accent. Long way from home.

“I’m ready to speak with the men upstairs,” Tahira said quietly, hoping this was the proper innuendo. The girl paused, glanced nervously at the window into the kitchen.

“Of course, why didn’t you say anything?” she asked.

“The dish was acceptable, don’t worry,” the girl disappeared back into the kitchen. Tahira made eye contact with Variel, seated across the dining room with his own meal practically untouched before him. He apparently had a similar distaste for meat as most endarons. Why doesn’t he just order couscous?

A dark-looking man appeared in the narrow kitchen doorway and looked at Tahira, nodding backwards. She rose on cue and made her way calmly toward the kitchen, into which the man disappeared. Tahira followed, passing the busy kitchen staff. As they were passing the bristling drying rack, Tahira noticed two other men waiting for them in the pantry. Too late.

The first thug shoved her roughly into the other two, who quickly forced her covered head into a barrel of brine-preserved meat. She struggled futilely in the strong arms of the pair of men. Then she relaxed, and communed with the scarab. She spoke her words of power and the jewel-beetle skittered around her side an up onto the face of one of men. The hex washed through Tahira into the thug, and she began to laugh into the brine.

Unsure what was happening, the man whipped his face about to get the bug off. He worked, as the beetle leapt onto the other man’s arm and similar hex washed over him. The limp Tahira continued laughing, knowing what was about to happen. The scarab questioned her instructions as she called upon its power. She reassured her companion, and it flew a few feet away, sparks flying between its short antennae as the first man grabbed hold her legs and held them aloft.

The dark brine flashed bright-white and Tahira felt the lightning bolt burn into her as the electricity flowed between four struggling people. One of the men holding her leapt backwards in shock as the bolt flashed through them and blasted a small hole in the distant wall. He clapped his hands of his ears as the thunderclap echoed in the restaurant. Kitchen staff panicked and leapt through the serving window or jammed through the doorway into the dining room.

Patrons all around Variel screamed in fright, and looked around in confusion for split second before knocking over furniture in desperate flailing for the door. Variel was pushed up against the wall.

Across the street, the thunderclap and screams alerted Swaythe and Stonefist.

“Do you think that might be the signal?” Stonefist asked rhetorically, unclasping his axe and sprinting across the crowded street bellowing a warning to clear the way. Ishrana followed, overtaking the slower-moving clansman as they rushed for the alleyway.

Variel calmly wound between the panicking crowd and rounded the corner of the kitchen, a few staffers were still recovering from the shock, and one of the cooks had just retrieved a poker from the fireplace, obviously intent on defending his territory.

He retrieved a small piece of fleece from a pouch and muttered words to free the bonds of the material. He carefully stretched the square of fleece into an impossibly thin sheet and spun it forward, directing it with his fingers and syllables to form a demonic shape rising from the butcher’s table. At the same time, he whisked a hand and cluster of sounds at the ceiling, which immediately began to drip thick, red rain.

The remaining kitchen staff realized true terror and leapt through the serving window, except the brand-armed cook now approaching the struggling trio around the corner. One of the thugs holding Tahira seemed to loose his focus.

Tahira let her body go limp again, hoping to loosen her attackers’ grip. The ploy failed, but she continued laughing anyway, feeling the burn of her lungs.

Deldund followed Ishrana around the rear corner of the building, passing the smoldering hold in the wall. Swathe yanked open the door and he didn’t break stride, seeing the rough silhouettes of a four men and Tahira. One of the men had a dark stain of an aura.

“Long live the mountain!” He cried in rumbling Rol, directing his charge at the darkest soul in the room. He slammed his axe down, but his target spun backwards just in time to avoid the deathblow.

Deldund could barely distinguish the shape of the man’s arms and the dagger now at the end of one of them, but he swung his sharp axe again. He noticed another man-shape leap from inside the kitchen into the back of the fat man with a rod now standing in the wide doorway.

Somewhere nearby, he heard Variel blathering in his sing-song language, and he felt more than heard Ishrana step through the rear door. She started to shout a command, but it turned into an angry shout of surprise as something metallic slid along her armor.

Deldund roared as the thug before him slashed his knife uselessly against his master-crafted battlearmor. Stonefist shouted as he brought the axe swinging up, this time ripping through the man’s robe-like tunic and drawing a line of blood. The door slammed behind him, and he heard Ishrana’s muffled shouts from outside, there was more than one thug behind him now, he was certain. The newcomer from the kitchen continued attacking the cook, who was shouting in terror as he jabbed at it with the poker.

Stonefist didn’t have time to wonder why as a great serpent, dazzlingly bright in the purity of its aura, descended from the rafters and coiled around the dark-stained man. Another thug ran up behind Deldund and tried to stab his flank, but the cheap shot met his expensive armor again. The warrior-cleric bellowed and swung his axe around, catching his new opponent in the shoulder. He spun around; trying to flee up what must be stairs on the end of the wall. He was moving clumsily, as if under a great burden. Deldund then noticed a cloudy aura making its way, equally slow, toward Variel.

Deldund glanced to make sure Tahira was alive, she was, and was chanting in some unfamiliar tongue. That was good enough, and he charged at Variel’s assailant, surprised when he encountered a crackling forest of spices and herbs in his way. He pushed through the contents of the trying rack.

“Like the mountain stand your ground!” he commanded, and the man did, freezing in place like a child at a game of Golem Got Yer Beard as the power of Moradin coalesced around him, the hammer symbol hanging from Deldund’s neck glowed.

At the same time, the clansman’s body felt lighter, his axe less weighty. He smelled the tang of trickster magic, but he accepted the insult as the aide it was from Variel. The fair-waif hadn’t stopped talking since Deldund had come through the door. The threat before him neutralized for a few seconds, he turned his axe on the big man approaching from his left. The newcomer was still charging after him. Stonefist had to admire the hard-headed courage of what looked like a fairly short, scrawny man.

The aura of his target jabbed its weapon at him, but did nothing. Deldund yelled in his face and swung the now-lightened axe with all his might, he felt the satisfying impact as his blade chopped straight through the man’s weapon arm and sank into the side of his chest. The aura fell limply to the floor and the newcomer started kicking it.

“What the hell is that!” Ishrana shouted from the kitchen, apparently having sprinted around the front to get back to the fight. Confused, Deldund spoke, “Lord of the Mountain, show me truth.” The colors and shades of the world flooded back into his vision with unreal clarity, and he bellowed in shock himself as the newcomer’s aura condensed into a moving, kicking, fully butchered and skinned goat, “undead!”

The man deldund had frozen with his command suddenly shook out of it and struggled to the nearest set of stairs to the upper level. Deldund heard cries of surrender from behind him, probably the stained man in the coils of Variel’s heavenly serpent.

Deldund had bigger issues, he charged after the confusing zombie-goat, which did not have the normal, pit-dark aura of undeath. He didn’t want to debate the issue, so he let his axe do the talking. It chopped the abomination cleanly in two sections, each flopping about briefly before falling still.

Ishrana’s quarry leapt over her blades with feline grace before grabbing onto the floor of the second level and disappearing over it. She charged up the stairs after it, and Deldund followed. They ignored the empty formal dining room to their left, slashing aside the curtains concealing a bathing tub and an open window, but no fleeing attacker.

“Where did he go? Out the window?” Ishrana demanded.

“I don’t-,” Deldund started to answer, then noticed the man’s aura slinking away behind a curtain, heading for the narrow hallway across the dining room, “There!”

Ishrana charged around the curtains just as the man broke into a struggling hobble out the balcony doorway. She gave chase and overtook him, slashing with sword and sickle. The target was to slow to dodge all of her slashes, and her hooked sickle caught his pant leg, tossing him tumbling to the floor. He was wearing the local norm of long tunic and loose, pants, but he hooded mask made it difficult to determine his face. The glittering scimitar was also more important at the moment.

The man flipped-up, imitating a acrobat’s performance, and rolled away from her. She stepped out onto the balcony, the sound of panic rising from the patio below them and the dusty wind blasting her face, blowing the cloak out behind her.

“Stop! Where’s Peck!” she demanded, slashing out and tripping the man again, this time catching more than cloth with her blade, drawing a scream from the man, the first noise he’d made.

The acrobatic fighter impossibly rolled onto his feet again and leapt straight-up, grabbing the edge of the heavy canvas roof and disappearing over it.

“Damnit!” she bellowed, chasing after him. In full armor, it would be difficult to follow, but she gingerly stepped-up onto the low wall at the edge of the balcony.

A piercing shriek emanated from somewhere inside the building, and Deldund shouted, his axe breaking something wooden. There were screaming women probably in the parlor room next to the patio. Ishrana ignored all of it, seeing her man sprinting down the canvas edge of the rooftop.

“Stop!” she shouted, trying to pull herself up onto the roof. Her armor was too heavy.

Downstairs, Tahira lay on floor, two hexed thugs guarding the flat door way to the second level. They’d kicked at her again, sending her tumbling down the stairs. Fires of fate, burn the soul, she felt a sudden heat rise as her face flushed, Tahira glared at the thug in front, Burn the soul! Burn the soul! she commanded, and like a pitch-covered tent the man was suddenly enveloped in flame. She turned her glare on the second man.

As the first came tumbling down the stairs, narrowly missing Tahira, the second thug slammed the door and ran, screaming from the room.

Ishrana was about to sheath her weapons to make it easier to mount the roof, but the terrified thug charged out of the doorway she’d come through. The man shouted, mad fear in his eyes as he shouldered into her legs.

They didn’t give an inch, and he bounced back as one of the knee-guards slammed into his face. He tried again, but this time one of the boots caught him on the back of the head in a sweeping kick.

“Get off!” Ishrana shouted, feeling her heel connect with the thug’s skull and watching him tumble limply over the wall, roll down the awning, and disappear over the edge with a sickening thwack; more shrieks followed from the panicking patrons fleeing the restaurant. She looked up, her target was now getting back inside the building through the far window.

“You’re really starting to piss me off!” she shouted, jumping off the wall and running into the parlor. Women were shrieking, and Deldund was dragging another bandit toward the stairs. Evidence of the brief struggle to subdue the parlor guard decorated the doorway and wall.

“He’s getting away!” she shouted, but Deldund was already going down the stairs. She swept aside the curtains, revealing an expansive bed and a trio of shaking, barely-dressed women shrieking in the center. She looked to the window, seeing her target behind an overweight oslinder man climbing out of the window onto the dining room roof below.

“Stop!” she yelled again, the acrobat drew his blades again. She charged, but he dodged her attacks, rolling out of the window down over the front edge of the roof. Breathing heavily in the heat, Ishrana growled and clambered out the window after them. She stepped to the edge and scanned the crowd for the oslinder or the thug. They were nowhere to be found. She cast about, trying to find them, then she heard a clatter from the alleyway. Ishrana turned in time to see the oslinder reaching the rear corner of the building and turning into the alley behind the restaurant.

“Damnit!” she shouted, charging back through the ravaged bedroom and parlor, past the terrified maidens, into the formal dining room, leaping straight over the bathing tub and out the open window overlooking the alley.

She braced and grunted as she hit the waddle and daub wall of the building across the alley and landed heavily on rubbish next to the fleeing oslinder and thug. She got a good look at the oslinder’s shocked face at the fully-armored knight falling from the sky.

“It’s Peck!” she shouted, hoping the others would hear from inside the building. Deldund charged through the door and after Peck and his captor, just as the pair disappeared around the corner headed back toward the street. Ishrana pulled her self to her feet and followed, Variel emerging from the back door right behind her.

“Peck! We spoke with your wife! We’re here to help!” Ishrana shouted. Something bluish flashed by her from behind and stuck like an arrow into the masked thug’s back. He turned, weapons still drawn, and a look of angry surprise on his half-covered face. A dart of solid ice protruded clearly from his bloody chest. He clattered to the ground like a scarecrow, and Peck skidded slowly to a halt at the corner of the building.

“Peck you’re safe, we got ‘em!” Stonefist shouted, axe still covered in blood and wood splinters, which also decorated his prodigious beard and armor.

“What are you talking about, rescue ?” Peck asked, wary.

“We heard you’d been kidnapped, so we came get you out,” Ishrana said, winded, “You’re safe now, we got ‘em all.”

“Not all, one absconded,” Variel corrected, now approaching the others.

“I wasn’t kidnapped , where did you hear that? I was an honored guest. They were paying for women and booze!” Peck shouted. They all looked back at him dumfounded.

“Your expedition was attacked, your crew killed…” Ishrana said.

“Well, that’s true, but I wasn’t a prisoner; they wanted information. I made a deal and was just reaping the benefits. Until you people smashed in. Who the hells are you?” Peck demanded.

“Why don’t we get out of the street,” Deldund growled.

“Good idea,” Tahira agreed, appearing at the back of the group. Her scarab buzzed around her, “Now, don’t be alarmed at what’s about to happen.”

Just as she finished, a bobble-headed man with an obviously broken neck hobbled around the front of the building, and a the masked acrobat’s body rose to ungainly feet, dart still sticking out of its chest and eyes frozen in dead surprise.

“Undead!” Deldund screamed, charging at the darted walking corpse.

“I said don’t be alarmed! They’re mine!” Tahira shouted. Deldund stopped, axe raised, turning to face the desert woman.

“What? Necromancer?!” he demanded.

“Necromancy?” Variel’s normally placid expression darkened as his eyes began to glow. He has his gaze across the walking bodies and Tahira, “a raising spell? How? I heard no incantations?”

“Why aren’t they death-stained?” Deldund realized that the auras were similar to that he’d mistaken the zombie-goat for earlier. Cloudy, compact men that didn’t match the bodies they inhabited, “What is this trickery?”’

“I’ll just be leaving you to that,” Peck stated, easing around the corner. Ishrana lowered her sword, it was more important to get Peck secured. She jogged-up behind him, staying his flight.

“They’re servant spirits, more than willing to aide our mission,” Tahira explained, the one without a broken neck nodded in agreement, “The departed souls are not involved, my servants inhabit their empty vessels.”

“Gah! I don’t know what you are, but it’s unholy and wrong!” the clansman shouted.

“You see for yourself they’re not evil,” Tahira said, “We have more important issues at hand!” She pointed her staff toward Peck, screams from the street punctuating her statement.

“I’ll say, you just killed a Wisemen lieutenant and hijacked his body. Did you at least take care of Maood?” Peck interjected.

“Who?” Variel asked.

“Red tunic, black belt, short greasey hair and a nasty scar on his cheek,” Peck described.

“He would be the absconder,” Variel frowned.

“Great job! He’ll report to the rest, if you guys want to live the night, you’d better get moving out of town,” Peck turned to walk down the crowded street. He was bizarrely calm given the circumstances, which irritated Ishrana.

“Just wait,” she followed, sheathing her weapons, “We rescued you because we need your help.”

“Among other things,” Tahira said to herself. The corpses followed her closely, appearing to be just another pair of drunks stumbling after her as the servant spirits learned to control their new vessels.

“Help with what?” Peck asked.

“Finding Ghalladier’s Journal,” Deldund replied.

“Ghalladier’s Journal, well that is intriguing. Zulthezthurane the Blue has that, you’ll never get it away from him,” Peck replied off-handedly.

“We’ll deal with that, we just need you to get us there,” Ishrana said.

“What do you mean deal with that? You have an army around here? He’d kill them all before lunch, and you don’t look like you’ve got enough riches to trade him. Even then he’d probably just eat you and take your offering,” Peck laughed.

“All we need you to do is lead us there, you were already planning an expedition,” Variel tried. They had turned down a side street.

“Why is the journal so important?” Peck asked.

“We need to find the location of something that could end the world as we know it,” Deldund stated.

“Ha ha! That’s a bold claim, just what are you involved in?”

“Not here,” Deldund glanced around suspiciously.

“Yes here, better the Sandmaze than among the many prying ears and eyes of my suites,” Peck insisted.

“Fine,” Deldund exchanged quick glances around the party before stepping in front of Peck like a stout iron wall.

“We’re looking for the kenoran box that Ghalladier wrote about, to stop someone from bringing Tazgin’Ra back into the mortal realm,” Deldund stated. Without missing a beat, the portly oslinder replied matter-of-factly.

“That would mean the other box has already been found, and there are absolutely no records to go on for that to occur,” Peck dismissed.

“It’s already been found,” Deldund countered. This peeked Peck’s interest for the first time.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Safe and secure with friends in Port of Isles,” Ishrana stated, her tone clear she wasn’t about to reveal anymore.

“Alright, that’s a good reason,” Peck conceded.

“Will you help us?” Variel asked.

“That depends, how big an expedition do you have?” Peck asked. They looked to one another.

“Us and a few others,” Ishrana answered.

“Ha! You don’t even have an expedition set-up?” Peck laughed heartily as he pushed into the door way of a some unidentifiable bar, “I might help you, but not until you get your act together. Come find me when you figure it out, I’ll be right here.”

“What should I tell your wife?” Ishrana stated, “She’s worried sick.”

“Not likely,” Peck answered, “More concerned about her status. Which butler is she sleeping with now?”

Ishrana was taken aback by this crude, bold accusation, “and your daughter?” she asked.

“By Pelor, you talked to Michella, too? A champion of what is that…Gelnor? Now I’m going to have to buy her a horse!” Peck complained. Ishrana looked like a horse had just kicked her in the gut as he tried to formulate a response through the confusion and instinctive anger.

“Very well, we’ll return as soon as our arrangements have been made,” Variel punctuated the conversation and guided his compatriots out of the doors.

“We’ll have a very busy evening, I think, best we get to it before these Wisemen realize who we are and attempt an assassination,” he stated as Peck disappeared into the bar.

“I need to speak to Hargaine,” Ishrana told the young Westwatchman. He stood from his desk in the blue quarter watch station. The ridge-rider had never been eyed with such suspicion by any constable, it was a strange feeling. He left the room to inform someone further inside the post, and Ishrana heard a door open and close before the young man returned. He gestured for her to follow.

“The judge will be here soon, follow me.” She did, back to the same small room with a simple table and two chairs. She waited for little more than ten minutes before Judge Hargain’s solemn shadow blocked the doorway. He sat across the table from her, the lone candle flickering light on his craggy face.

“You are ready?” he asked.

“We found Peck, we’re arranging our expedition right now. We could use your help, Hargaine. From what everyone’s told us, we’ll need all the help we can get to retrieve the journal we’re looking for.”

“I and my jurists will join you, then. Five disciples of Cuthbert, if for no other reason than to keep an eye on your friend,” Hargaine spoke with dull, emotionless tones, yet his eyes seamed to peer into her very soul. In fact, she thought, they probably were. Was this what it was like staring her down? Ishrana certainly hoped so. “I can see what he West Watch will provide in manner of assistance, though I haven’t share the nature of the expedition with them as of yet.”

“Anything you can do, but I don’t want anymore people knowing about what we’re doing. If words gets out that this is happening…”

“Then unsavory ears are sure to hear about it. Yes, discretion is the key to hunting the pit dwellers,” Hargaine finished for her.

“Thank you, Judge, We’ll meet again the morning after tomorrow,” Ishrana finished, “Gelnor’s praise.” She rose from the chair and held an armored gauntlet forth.

“Justice find you,” Hargaine clasped her hand and strode out of the room on long legs. Ishrana left the station and returned on a meandering path to the Dawncrest, checking for spies following her route. With this Al’Mueld character on their tail, she was concerned any of the team left alone for significant lengths of time could be an easy target for an assassin.

Unfortunately, this “team” was nigh impossible to keep in one place. She glanced up at the huge sunset, the fading daylight unbroken by any clouds save gusts of wind-driven sand. The light cascaded off the bone-white towers of Sandwatch, the city carved of a single stone.

Even the sunsets were foreign here. On the rolling plains of Kardam, there were almost always clouds drifting lazily toward the sea, reflecting the sunsets in purples and blues and blazing oranges. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to remember the smell of prairie grass and wildflowers that was home. Only the earthy smell of sand and traces of the sewage from the maze beyond the walls met her nose. She sighed and continued back to the inn. Hopefully Deldund hadn’t killed Tahira yet. At this point, if anyone was going to be doing that, Ishrana wanted it to be her.

Sandwatch proper was more familiar to Tahira. The Sandmaze was a foreign and disgusting to her as it was to any of the others in her new company. Nearly a decade had passed since she’d been away from her charge this long, or this far, and the ancient stone vaulting around her here reminded her of the ruins she called home. The wind whistling around the spires and the sand sizzling along the myriad surfaces was music to her ears. She let her own cowl of breeze run free with its big desert cousins. Perhaps it would tire them so they’d be less unruly when she needed to remain unnoticed.

Her faithful servant spirits were standing guard at the inn, watching the stables and room with unblinking eyes. She’d know if anyone approached her allies with ill intent. Right now, she had to focus on finding the Shrine of the Weyrune. For simple faith, they were adept at overcomplicating the path to prayer. Perhaps they were compensating. Or perhaps they were trying to heighten the sense of accomplishment in finding it. Either way, at the moment it was just irritating.

Close, her scarab told her. She rounded another corner in the narrow walkways and finally saw the tell-tale markings over the door of the shrine. She entered it without breaking stride, and approached the dais on which a solid block of marble stood. The shrine acolyte emerged from beside the stone.

“Greetings, wayfarer,” he said from beneath his robe’s hood.

“Greetings, keeper,” Tahira replied, bending in a partial bow, allowing the scarab amulet to swing forward.

“What does a Tomb Sentinel seek from the Weyrune? and So far from any charge?” the acolyte asked.

“I need a guide,” she said, “A skilled one.”
“hmmm, perhaps the Rune can show you the path, come, you must prepare yourself,” he gestured for her to follow him into the side chambers, “You have fasted for a day and a night?”

I never eat she touched the sustaining ring on her finger with her thumb, “Yes.”

“Very good, indeed. You know the rituals, the Weyrune will be pleased,” the Runekeeper brought her to one of the prayer chambers and assisted with her anointing and arraying the incense properly while she chanted. After nearly two hours, the preparation was complete, and she approached the dais with its block of marble. In the marble, a single, huge rune had been inscribed. It was part of no known language, and had no known meaning out of this context.

The Keepers of the Weyrune followed the teachings of no actual deity. No ascendant soul claimed dominion over their fates. They were often confused as a sect of Boccobites, but this was an incorrect interpretation. The Weyrune may have been created by Boccob, the Archmage Ascendant, but it was not a part of his narrow pantheon. In fact, no one really knew the origins or nature of the Weyrune. Theologians debated whether it was a creation of Boccob’s in his attempts at ascendance, an accidental creation, or simply the worldly remains of that great wizard condensed to written form when he became a god.

Whatever the origins, it was established that the Weyrune had some kind of power and self-direction, if not self-awareness, and the Keepers of the Rune made it their life’s work to commune with the all-knowing Weyrune and interpret its lessons for the world. Tahira approached the rune and knelt upon the dais.

“Wayfarer, ask what you will of the Weyrune,” the acolyte instructed.

“Weyrune, I require a guide to dangerous place, to find that which was taken,” she asked. As she watched, the lines of the rune slowly rearranged themselves on the face of the marble, swimming across the smooth surface like fish seen from above a pond. Slowly they drifted into place to form completely different rune.

“Ahhh, the Running Thief,” the acolyte read from the marble. He turned to Tahira, “The Weyrune tells you to find a thief who can guide you through the danger to that which was taken. I know of the man the rune speaks of. Eschel Dunerunner.”

“A thief?” Tahira asks, her rudimentary understanding of the Weyrune’s symbols agrees with the keeper’s interpretation, but it seems like a terrible idea.

“I will send for Eschel, if you have patience to wait,” the Keeper offers.

“Can you bring me to him? Time is of the essence in this matter.”

“The Weyrune blesses your journey by its answer, my acolyte will help enact its will,” the keeper gestures to the shadows and boy not much older than sixteen appeared, “Naish will take you to Eshel Dunerunner.”

“Thank the Weyrune,” she bowed before the marble, “and thank you, Runekeeper.”

“One need not thank one for his duty, but you are welcome Tomb Sentinel.” With that the rune on the marble slowly shifted back to its alpha point and the boy led her through door.

The crimson quarter was home to many of the craftsmen. Deldund could hear the pounding of tinkers, coopers, and smithies all around him. He heard the whispers of awls and the bite of augurs, the cricket-sound of wood saws. This was place of labor as an art, a place familiar to his heart. He wandered the sound of building and shaping for a long time as he searched for what he was looking for. Then, in the distant background of noises, he heard it. A smithing team, rapping their tools in the precise patterns of an ancient labor song; he walked in its direction. As he approached, the tune became clearer, until it was all he heard. Then the deep tones of Rol welled-up. He followed the song, which he knew was not Mountain Gate’s work song, but nonetheless felt like a homecoming.

The work song of clan told much about them. This one was of the west, in the Anvilfall range. He listened further, they were descended from Yamdolir Rockrage. They were of the three clans under the Wyrmling Peak.

_…Seek your western brothers, for they know how to fight your foe…

The words of Moradin leapt to his mind. His foe at the moment was Zulthezthurane the Blue Wyrm, if any of his western brothers knew how to fight a wyrm, it was those under the Wyrmling Peak. He smiled, Moradin was truly guiding him. If his eyes had not been scoured by devils’ brands, he would have tears in them at this further proof that he was not merely wandering the world another clanless disgrace.

The work song was loud now, ringing his ears with its beat and the rising and falling gravel-tones. Then he saw them, rather their aura shadows. Their auras were lighter shades of gray, but in each burned an ember from Moradin’s forge, they were Sons of the Mountain. They were family.

“Hail Stonekin!” he bellowed in greeting. They looked-up from the trance-like state of their work song.

“Hail Stonekin!” the shouted in unison, not breaking their tempo. Normally, he would join the strikers, but in his state, he could not reliably find his mark. Instead, he took position as a bellows. It was unnecessary in this instance, but symbolic in its gesture. The Smith accepted it.

“Onyxbeard of Firesnout,” the smith introduced himself, his beard was dark brown, not black as one would expect. Woven into it, however, were several long ribbons of carefully shaped onyx, incredible craftsmanship with such a brittle medium.

“Stonefist of Mountain’s Gate,” Deldund replied. They actually paused a beat in their tempo before restarting.

“You are the Clanless Cleric, then, we have heard your tragedy,” Onyxbeard stated, “What brings you to so far west of the arches?”

“I have traveled much farther than that, stonekin,” Deldund said heavily, allowing the weariness in his soul into his voice, “Moradin himself guides my path. I am to travel further west, into the flats, to Zulthezthurane’s Temple.” The clansmen pounded in silence for a few moments at the significance of his statement.

“The wyrm is not so young, stonekin. The task must be great for Moradin to send you there.”

“The task is greater than any since our grandfathers’ grandfathers’. The Enemy threatens,” Stonefist said.

The Enemy?” Onyxbeard actually turned to face him, if only between beats.

“The Enemy. Moradin spoke to me in the chamber at Basalt Mouth. He ordered me to seek my brothers to the west, for they know how to fight my foe. Can you help my, Stonekin Onyxbeard of Firesnout?”

The smith immediately directed his first striker to take his place, and hung his apron on its hook. Onyxbeard stepped to his basin, splashed his face with water, and pulled on his mail. Within a few minutes, he stood armed and armored with a pack over one shoulder.

“It’s two days march,” Onyxbeard said, the first words he’d spoken in response to Stonefist’s question.

“Have you seen this one?” Variel asked, holding up a half-rolled parchment. The pair of them had removed the mattress from Variel’s bed to have a larger workspace, as the small table afforded little more space than enough to place wash basin. An inkwell sat next to Variel’s spellbook, half-full of specially prepared pigment.
“I haven’t,” Tahira replied. It was pleasant to speak illossillion with a native-speaker; she hadn’t used the tongue in years. In fact, it was surprisingly pleasant to have a conversation out loud in any language. Her jade scarab was carefully tasting a scroll before her, running its crystalline antennae along the enchanted lines. Tahira far from understood how the little jewel-bug learned from them, but somehow it was “reading” the spells stored within the rolls of vellum and parchment.
Variel handed over the scroll he’d just finished copying into his book. Most of the retrieved kingmarks from the carpet shop basement had gone to purchasing these, what remained were now in Ishrana’s hands to purchase their supplies for the journey. She was out in saffron marketplace as they sat copying spells, Eschel was with her. Even Tahira didn’t think much of their guide when she met him. His short stature, almost as squat as Stonefist’s, combined with his portly stomach and thinning hair made Eschel Dunerunner present as altogether unfit for this task.
Yet he directed their preparations with canny experience, calculating what foodstuffs would last well and provide the most nourishment for their weight, and forcing them spend a significant portion of their coin on anti-venom. They protested, citing that several of the expedition’s number were blessed with healing gifts from their patron divines. What concerned her most was that he was openly acknowledged as a thief by the Weyrune. Tahira had not mentioned this part of his resume to the rest of the company, not wishing to further the significant tensions between them.
Eschel also had a harsh view on the durability of their expedition. His provision calculations had been predicated on half their number making the return trip. It was the first wake-up call to the outlanders to how lethal the Flats of Sadiz were. In the morning, they were supposed to collect the disparate elements for a briefing. Variel and Tahira both intended to be finished with this spellcrafting by then, and there was still much do to do.
Cocolongo entered the room stopped at the sight before him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his low kent still thickly accented with chullachulla.
“Preparing for our journey, as you should be,” Variel stated, not looking up from his work.
“I am ready always for travelling,” he replied proudly, pointing to his small satchel. Variel knew it held the southlanders every belonging save those he was wearing right now.
“And She-without-a-name?” Tahira asked, looking into his eyes.
“She has less to bring than me,” he smiled widely, “I just worry about her when fighting start.”
“She appeared to have some experience when we were ambushed by Mr. Brickler,” Variel stated.
“She will be protected as well as the rest of you by my loyal spirits,” Tahira comforted. Her offer didn’t appear to have the soothing effect she was looking for.
“It isn’t just that,” he sighed, sitting down on the barely-stuffed chair near the unused table. His head hung over the basin of water, staring at his reflection, “She is not a,” he paused searching for the word, “traveler, like me. He slapped his muscles and scars. Not tough like cappies.”
“What makes you say that?” Tahira asked, her attention free to wander as her beetle studied the scrolls. Coco was obviously uncomfortable trying to talk about it in this unfamiliar language.
“She likes soft things, she has no…hard spots,” he pointed at the thick callouses on his laborer’s hands. “She is not made for hard life.”

“Have faith, Cocolongo, she is likely tougher than she appears,” Tahira said. “It’s often the spirit more than the body that counts in the hard times.”
“Well, she is very spirited. Maybe you are right,” he seemed to be satisfied on the subject. “Is there anything I can help with?” he asked, staring at the array of parchment.
“There is little for an illiterate to do here,” Variel said, realizing at the end of his statement that it sounded a bit cruel, “Though I’m sure you would be more than helpful assisting Ms. Swaythe. You were their guide in the Southland Jungles, yes? Perhaps your unique skill will help ensure nothing is look-over during the packing.”
Cocolongo took another deep breath, letting his eyes linger coolly on Variel before he left the room again.

Not beyond insult, I see Tahira thought.

Loyal? the scarab asked, pausing its intricate dance.

To have come this far from his home, certainly she returned.

Cocolongo descended the wooden stairs to the lobby, smiling wide at Mr. Eddis as he swept.

“Back for dinner?” the innkeeper asked. Cocolongo was as polite a guest as he had in a long time.

“I hope so, your wife cook very good,” Cocolongo laughed patting Eddis on the shoulder.

“Oh, don’t tell her that, she’ll want more wages!” they both laughed as Cocolongo stepped outside into the late-afternoon sun. He’d forgotten his cloak again, but he didn’t need it. The sun did not bother him so much, just the wind. It was unbearably dry in this place, his lips chapped over within hours outside.
He walked around to the back of the building to say hello to Laurel. He was starting to grow fond of the animal. At first the monster had terrified him. All of the children’s stories about the northerner’s war beasts eating people alive, with skin so thick arrows could not pierce it. Now he thought Laurel was like a big cappy, all silly noises and sniffing nose. He though the ears were cute instead of demon-horns. He fed him a carrot from his pouch and patted his huge neck.
“Are you ready for the desert big cappy?” he asked rhetorically. Laurel nodded his head in what seemed like an imitation of the human gesture, “Yeah, you ready for anything, just like Coco. We a good team, huh big cappy?” he continued to rub the horse with both hands as he whinnied appreciatively.

“Okay, got to go help get your food, be good, big cappy,” Cocolongo sidled back onto the street and pointed himself toward the marketplace Ishrana had gone to. This was such a strange city, even as far as cities went. At least all the others resembled how houses in South Landing were built. This place looked like it was carved from a big mountain, all at once. It was kind of scary to think one being could just make it. He hoped they would be on his side if they ever showed up.

He passed aviary market on his way, which was real treat for him. Home was full of loud, vibrantly colored birds, but there weren’t many pretty ones around here. These were an exception, all intricate patterns and sharp beaks and claws. They looked like flying warriors from his ancestors’ tribe. He saw a man with one these birds sitting on his gloved fist, shifting its gaze around the passing crowds. Wouldn’t that be something, to have a living weapon for a pet?

As he looked at the various birds in their pens, he heard Ishrana’s clear voice raised over the din of the market. He walked that way and found her arguing with the little man whose name he couldn’t pronounce, Es-kel or Ithel. Cocolongo approached as they finished the argument, never hearing what it was about.

“I come to help,” he said. Ishrana looked at him with almost palpable relief.

“Thank you, Coco, at least someone is trying to be helpful,” she said.

“You hired me, wench,” Eschel shot back, “When your two-weeks into the desert and your cloak falls apart, you’ll regret it!”

“And will I regret not buying four crates of liquor, too?”

“Oh, you’ll regret that on day number two,” Eschel replied, jabbing a chubby finger in her direction. Cocolongo sighed, then stepped forward with a smile he’d cultivated since he was three years old selling fruit to treasure hunters.
“Why you fight? We’re on a big journey, so much to do besides fight,” he said diplomatically, “We got to be ready in the morning, yes? No sense wasting time. What else do we need to buy?”


Experience Points: 3000 XP to each Character.
Pity Point: 5 XP to Content Not Found: tahira_ for getting pickled.
Awesome Point: 5 XP to _Content Not Found: Ishrana-swaythe
for supermaning out the window to catch the bad guy.
Treasure: 15 Kingmarks, 25 Dukemarks, 128 pence, Speed Scabard, Masterwork Scimitar, 2 daggers.



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