Forgotten Lore (Updated M-W-F)

Lazybones

Adventurer
Glad you're still enjoying the story, SolitonMan.

* * *

Chapter 141

Kurok jolted awake. The sun had disappeared beyond the horizon but it was still light enough to tell him that he hadn’t been asleep for more than a few hours. The air was bitingly cold, and there was a sharp wind that tore mercilessly into his shelter. That was a niche in the cliffs barely large enough for him to fit inside.

A faint scrape of something on the slope outside his shelter told him what had pulled him from his rest. Slowly he lifted himself up, drawing his cloak around him. Even that movement awoke fresh pains in his back. The extraction of the hunter’s arrow had not been a pleasant experience. He’d used his last potion of healing, but it had not been enough to fully restore him. Nor had the brief rest he’d managed, but he could feel his magic swirling within him, and that would have to be enough.

He crept forward to the edge of the crevice and peered out. He was not entirely surprised at who he saw, standing about ten paces away. Usk Bloodrider also looked rather the worse for wear. His worg, standing in his shadow, growled a warning as Kurok appeared. The rest of the worgs and the surviving goblins—a scant fraction of the force that had arrived here just days ago—were waiting a short distance further up the slope.

Usk watched him silently, waiting. It used to be that Kurok was the one who made others uncomfortable, but that seemed like it had been an eternity ago. “My death will not be purchased cheaply,” he said.

The goblin leader’s face twisted into an expression of disgust. “If we ever see you again in these mountains, your life is forfeit,” he said. Without waiting for a response, he turned and headed over to rejoin his people. The worg shot him one final growl then trailed behind its master.

Kurok watched until the depleted column made its way up the slope and disappeared over its crest. Then he pulled his cloak around him and returned to his shelter. He would need a full night’s rest; he had another long and difficult journey ahead of him.

* * *

“Wildrush!”

A collective sigh went through the worn and tired group at Glori’s announcement, followed by a few dull cheers as others spotted the familiar outlines of the hilltop town through the thinning trees ahead.

After a week in the wilds of the Silverpeak Valley, they all looked and felt a little ragged. The men all sported beards, even Kosk, who hadn’t bothered shaving. The days had been long; first they’d followed the tracks left by the fleeing worgs to the valley’s edge, then they’d spent a few days scouting and mapping the eastern approaches where the valley floor was accessible to the mountains. Rodan had suggested that Wildrush would probably have to start patrolling that region, lest another raiding party—or a goblinoid army—approached from that direction.

The men and dwarves he’d brought with him included a mix of miners and trappers who knew the valley, if not as well as the tiefling ranger. They showed deference to the adventurers, doing most of the work in setting up their camps each night and standing watch. The five of them had been a bit distant. Part of it was their need for rest and recovery after their ordeal, but even after their physical wounds had healed they were all preoccupied by what had happened to them inside the ancient shrine under the stone mound at the valley’s edge. There were a few conversations about their experience, mostly pairing off during their long marches through the forest, but the fact that none of them had an answer for what had been done to them when they’d first stood in front of that wall of ancient runes always led them back to where they started.

Now that their destination was in sight, the mood lightened. Rodan’s men began to talk about the first thing they would do on arrival, the leading contenders being a drink, a bath, or a visit to “Jolene’s Place,” a local establishment that had an easily-guessed purpose. The companions didn’t join in the banter; their thoughts were on different objectives, including a visit to the Governor that would likely lead to more questions than answers.

“Kosk,” Glori said, nodding toward a figure that had broken off from the main group. After a moment the dwarf walked over to him.

“I figure we’ll part ways here,” Kiefer said.

“There’s no reason you can’t go back to town with the rest,” Kosk said. “I’ll speak for you, if that’s an issue.”

“Nah, it’s not that. It’s time I was moving on. You were right before. Going with Rodan doesn’t wipe the slate clean on what I did before.”

“It means something that you wanted to help,” Kosk said.

“Yeah. Well, if there’s something I learned from you, it’s that a man pays his debts.”

I taught you that?” Kosk asked.

Kiefer snorted. “Yeah, well, I guess I picked it up somewhere.” He gave the monk a furtive look. “You have changed. I guess… maybe it means that any of us can change.”

“Take care of yourself, Kiefer,” Kosk said.

“Aye. Tell the others I’m sorry, eh? For what happened before.” Kosk hadn’t told his companions anything about the other dwarf’s role in the ambush at the mine, and neither had brought up their past relationship, though it was obvious that they’d met each other before.

“As far as I’m concerned, that matter’s closed,” Kosk said after a moment.

Kiefer nodded, then broke away from the group, heading off in the direction of the road that led down into the valley.

“What was that all about?” Glori asked when the dwarf returned to the group.

“Just saying goodbye to a bit of my past,” Kosk said.

Xeeta went over to Rodan, who’d trailed a bit behind the others, as if his steps had suddenly grown heavy. “It’s been a long journey,” the sorceress said.

“Yeah,” Rodan said. Both of them knew that she wasn’t talking about their recent exploration of the valley.
They trudged another twenty steps before she spoke again. “We did what we had to in order to survive.”

“I know that. We… we were what they made us. But I’m glad to see that you were able to become more than that.”

“You as well.”

“I know it probably means little now, after everything… but I am sorry.”

“Like I said. We were all just trying to survive.”

“And now?”

“It seems like you have found a home for yourself,” Xeeta said.

“Yes. It wasn’t what I expected… and it took a long time.”

“I’m sorry if I put that in jeopardy.”

“It’s probably better this way. I told myself that I was just trying to protect everyone, but the fact remains that I was lying, living a lie. Pretending to be something that I was not.”

“You… we… are more than the sum of our heritage.”

“If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here,” Rodan said. “Have you found what you were looking for?”

Xeeta looked thoughtful for a moment. “I don’t know. For a long time, I thought it was a place. A place far away from where I started. A place that was safe.”

“That’s what led me here,” Rodan acknowledged. “Not that any place is truly safe, not with what we bring with us.”

“There’s no escaping it,” Xeeta said. “But of late I’m starting to think that home isn’t really a place at all.”

Rodan glanced over at the other adventurers. They weren’t talking, and all seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. “I think I know what you mean,” he said. “It’s fortunate to be able to find that.”

“Yes,” she said. She kicked a rock, and it skittered up the slope ahead of them. “So, what happens now?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I suppose I find out if I can rebuild the trust I had earned here. Before they knew what I was.”

“Who you are hasn’t changed,” she said. “Once they realize that, then they may be able to trust you again. And given what we now know, it’s not like they can afford to turn away an ally.”

“And what about us?” Rodan asked.

Xeeta was quiet for a few moments longer. “Answering that question may take a little more time,” she said.

He nodded. They remained silent as they walked up the rest of the way to the waiting walls of Wildrush.
 

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Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 142

The interior of the temple in Wildrush seemed almost to glisten in the pale light that filtered in through the tall but narrow windows. A constant soft patter on the high roof indicated that it was still raining outside.

A faint gust from the foyer caused the flame on the stand-lamp next to the lectern to flicker, and Quellan looked up from the book he’d been writing in with an annoyed expression on his face. The half-orc had brought in a tall chair to turn the lectern into an improvised writing desk. He tilted his head to see if someone was coming in, but whoever it was must have gone to one of the other two shrines that shared space in the ancient building with the temple of Hosrenu. He hadn’t given those as much attention as he had the sanctum of his own faith, but reckoned that they were cleaner than they’d been in his lifetime.

He turned back to the book, at the page he’d almost filled with entries. The inventory wasn’t quite complete, but it made him feel good to see the neat rows of text. He dipped his pen again, making a mental note that he would have to make another batch of ink soon.

Before he could resume his work, however, a creak of the cellar door sounded behind him. Shenan shuffled in, carrying a stack of books that he laid down on the altar beside the lectern. At Quellan’s look he let out an exasperated sigh and moved the books to one of the nearby shelves.

“Most of these are suitable only for the trash-heap,” the older priest said. He held up one of the books so that the half-orc could see the shattered binding.

“I have some experience rehabilitating old texts,” Quellan said.

“If you apply half as much effort as you do to rehabilitating old clerics, then I shouldn’t doubt you’ll manage it,” Shenan said. His tone was caustic but there was little heat in his words; the two had reached something of an understanding since Quellan had returned.

Another cold gust filled the room, flickering the lamp again and rustling the old priest’s robe. “I wish you’d let me keep the inner door shut,” Shenan complained. “It’s hard enough to keep the heat in here without letting the breeze in.”

“The whole point of a temple is that it is welcoming to the public,” Quellan said. “The people of Wildrush need their sacred spaces, especially in times like these.”

“Not that anyone bothers visiting ours,” Shenan said, but he had to eat his words as they heard footsteps clearly coming their way.

“Ah, Lady Leliades,” Shenan said, as Glori came into the room.

“Just Glori, please, Shenan,” she said. “Wow. The temple’s looking really…”

“Orderly? Indeed, I fear that your friend has had quite the transformative effect.”

“Yes, he does that.”

“We were just speaking of rehabilitation,” Shenan went on. “I understand that you’ve been engaged in some of that yourself.”

“What? Oh, you mean with Rodan, don’t you? I just thought it was important that the people of Wildrush know what he did to keep them safe.”

“Yes, ‘The Ballad of Rodan’s Run’ is all I hear whenever I venture out into town, it seems. Quite a catchy tune. Though the escape of the villain somewhat undermines the final effect.”

“I’ve always found that people are more receptive to truth, even shaded truth, than a reassuring fiction,” Glori said.

“Yes, well,” Shenan said, looking between her and Quellan before turning toward his quarters. “As it happens, I was hoping to make a brief run over to the inn before it gets too late. Is there anything you need me to get, brother?”

“I’m fine,” Quellan said.

“Thanks, Shenan,” Glori said, as the old cleric left. He got his heavy winter coat and walked down the hall to the temple foyer and the exit.

“He seems to have softened a bit,” Glori said.

“It’s a work in progress,” Quellan said.

Glori turned and gave the interior of the temple a sweeping look. “You’ve accomplished a lot here,” she said.

“Just restoring a bit of order, like Shenan said.”

“I haven’t seen you much over the last few days.”

“Been busy. How’s the training with Bredan going?”

“Still sore,” she said with a laugh. “If I’d known how hard the path to becoming a warrior-bard was, I’d never have started down it.”

“You’ve never been the sort to let a challenge stop you,” he said.

She walked past him, running a hand along one of the shelves that filled the room before turning back to face him. “I was wondering if we could talk some. About what happened in that place. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“Me too.”

“My magic, it’s gotten stronger. I’m almost as powerful as Majerion was, back when we parted ways. You said you could channel more of Hosrenu’s power as well.”

“Yes,” Quellan said. “I can manage spells of the third valence, now. It’s not exactly rare—there is far more powerful divine magic—but I’ve known clerics for whom it took years to reach that level.”

“Have there been any other… effects?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Odd feelings, dreams.”

“I’ve never been able to remember my dreams,” Quellan said. “Why, have you been having nightmares?”

He began to rise, a concerned look on his face, but Glori gestured him back. “No, nothing like that,” she quickly said. “Not really. Just… I don’t know. Impressions. Flashes. I keep seeing a book. Words on a page, moving. I can’t make any sense of them. I tried talking to Bredan about it, he seems to know more about this than any of us, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“There’s a great deal about the lore of the Mai’i that we know little about,” Quellan said. “Even when the Empire was at its peak, they were secretive about their power. As for books… I’ve read many of them, obviously, but none that spoke of anything like this.”

“I sometimes wish I could talk to that sage in Northpine again, or Lady Starfinder, back in Crosspath,” Glori said. “I often wonder if everything that’s happened to us, if it’s all connected somehow.”

“We do keep finding ourselves fighting for our lives in ancient dungeons pretty frequently,” Quellan said. “Perhaps when this war’s over, we can investigate further.”

“Right, the war,” Glori said. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget about that, even with our little clash with our friends from the mountains. Rodan seems convinced that we’ll be safe once the winter storms arrive in a few months, but I guess that means we’ll be stuck here for a while.”

“I suppose,” Quellan said.

There was an awkward pause, and after a moment Glori finally shrugged. “Well, I guess I’d better get going,” she said. “I promised Gavis over at the Barrel that I’d play two rounds tonight, the “Ballad” and “Battle with the Chimera.” Ever since I mastered the major image spell, my performances have been much in demand.” She strummed a few evocative notes on her lyre and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Quellan said.

Glori stopped in mid-turn and looked at him. “Um… I was going to come find you later,” the cleric said. He fidgeted a moment, then finally closed the book in front of him to have something to do with his hands. “I… I borrowed this from Xeeta.” He pulled open his robe to show that he was wearing the tiefling’s amulet, the one she’d taken from Rodan when his true nature had been revealed. Now that his secret was out, he’d let her keep it.

“Quellan…”

“I attuned myself to it earlier,” he said quickly, before she could say more, and then his brow furrowed with concentration and his form shimmered.

Only his face changed, but when the illusion was in place the difference was remarkable. Gone was the greenish-gray tinge of his skin, the squashed nose, the oversized jaw with its protruding teeth. The features were still recognizably Quellan’s, but he looked like an average human, though there were a few subtle hints that suggested he had worked in some elvish traits to match Glori’s mixed ancestry.

“I thought we could maybe go out together without people looking at me like I’m some kind of monster,” he said.

“Don’t say that,” Glori said. “You’re not a monster.”

“I know how people react to me,” he said.

“Then they are idiots,” she said.

“I’m not a saint,” he said with a sigh. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of.”

“We all have,” she shot back. “Remember those goblins that I put to sleep under the manor house, near Northpine? The ones that Kosk killed?”

“That was his choice, you didn’t…”

“But it was me. At the time, I was glad. Glad that he did it. Those creatures were evil, and they deserved to die. I still hear the snap of their necks in my dreams.”

“Glori…”

“Don’t,” she said. “Don’t ever hide what you are, not for me. Take it off, undo it, whatever.”

He reached up and removed the amulet. The false face dissolved and his true features returned. “I’m sorry,” he said.

She stepped toward him and placed a hand on his arm. “I’m not a total fool, Quellan,” she said. “I… I’m not sure I can give you want you want.”

“I’m happy to have you as my friend,” Quellan said. “If I did anything wrong… if I ever…”

“You’ve always been a perfect gentleman,” she said. “I don’t fault you for feeling more. Can you… can you just give me some time?”

“Of course. I would never pressure you, Glori. And I would never want you to feel like you couldn’t… that we couldn’t be friends.”

“I know. Just as long as you promise to always be honest with me.” She took his hand, the one that held the amulet, and closed his fingers around it. “Just give this back to Xeeta. You don’t need it.”
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 143


Bredan’s room in the Brown Barrel lacked a fireplace or brazier, and he shivered as he got up out of the bed and padded over to the chamber pot. The building was better-constructed than many in Wildrush, yet drafts seemed ubiquitous. After finishing he went over to the washbasin and picked up the cake of soap he’d brought in town. It hadn’t been that expensive; it seemed that most of the residents of the mining town didn’t bother with such niceties. But Bredan’s uncle had battered certain habits into him past his stubbornness, including the value and importance of cleanliness.

“What time is it?” moaned a voice from the bed.

Bredan tried to look through the tiny window, but the glass was of such poor quality that he couldn’t see much outside. Ice crystals had formed on the pane, suggesting that no matter how cold it was inside, it was much colder out there. “Early,” he said.

Rodan pulled back the coverlet just enough to reveal his mussed hair—and the curling ridges of his horns. “Come back to bed,” he groaned.

“I thought rangers were up with the dawn,” Bredan teased.

“When we’re out in the field, yeah. When we’re in town, we sleep in. Especially with how late we stayed out last night. Gods above, are you bathing?”

“Cleanliness is important, especially in places like this,” Bredan said. “Filth breeds disease.”

“Diseases don’t get up this early either,” Rodan said. He started to pull the coverlet back up, but paused. “You know, I used to think that all those scars were a sign of how experienced a fighter you are. But I’m starting to suspect that maybe you just aren’t very good.”

Bredan grinned and started toward the bed but was interrupted by a rapid series of knocks on the door. He went over and opened it to see Xeeta standing in the hallway. The tiefling had the illusion of her human face in place. Even though her true nature had been revealed to Wildrush just as Rodan’s had, she habitually wore the ranger’s amulet of disguise. It might have had something to do with the fact that she was not as well known in town, or just an abundance of caution borne of habit.

“Gah, does nobody in this town sleep to a reasonable hour?” Rodan cursed.

“It’s midmorning,” Xeeta said. “Another late night, boys?”

Rodan growled something unintelligible. Xeeta leaned forward and looked into the room, her eyes shifting between Bredan’s bare torso and the rumpled bed. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she said.

“Nothing at all,” Rodan said as he swung up out of the bed and reached for his trousers. His tail swirled around his ankles as he pulled on the pants.

“What’s up?” Bredan asked.

“There’s been a messenger from the south,” Xeeta said. “He only just arrived, and he’s at the Governor’s place right now.”

“What’s the news?” Bredan asked.

“The soldier that brought the word didn’t deign to share it with me, if he even knew. I suspect he didn’t. For some reason, the Governor’s keeping things close to his vest.”

“That could be a sign that the news is bad,” Rodan said as he pulled on his shirt. He left his bow where it sat propped against the wall at the foot of the bed, but he buckled on the belt that supported his rapier.

“This messenger, he came over the mountains alone?” Bredan asked.

“Apparently, he came with a supply caravan, but he rode on ahead,” Xeeta said. “The rest broke camp as he left and should be here in a few hours.”

“So everyone will know that there’s news, in a few hours,” Bredan said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in town knows that there’s been a rider by now,” Rodan said. “Word travels fast in a place like Wildrush.”

“We’d better get going, then,” Bredan said. “The Governor, he wanted to see us?”

“Apparently, he asked for you personally,” Xeeta said.

“What, me? Just me?” Bredan asked. “Why?”

“Well, if you get moving, then you can ask him,” Xeeta said.

They ran into Glori and Quellan as they were leaving the inn. Glori had been spending a lot of time with the cleric at the local temple of late, and apparently another of the Governor’s men had found them there. They didn’t have any additional information, however.

“It does sound rather ominous,” Glori said as they made their way through town.

“Did anyone find Kosk?” Xeeta asked.

“He’s been spending a lot of time on his own lately,” Quellan said. “If the Governor’s people can’t locate him, we can track him down after and fill him in.”

Bredan hung back a bit while the others talked, mostly musing on what the mysterious messenger’s news might be. They hadn’t heard anything from the south since they’d arrived in the Silverpeak Valley, and thus had no idea how the war against Kavel Murgoth was going. Bredan had often wondered how their recent encounters fit into the bigger picture. It was too much of a coincidence that they would have encountered a hobgoblin spellcaster and a pack of goblin worg-riders looking for the same magical shrine, for it to have nothing to do with the invasion of the north. Was Kavel Murgoth somehow connected to the same power that had changed Bredan and affected his companions? What was the role of this “Blooded” caster that they’d fought? Xeeta hadn’t been able to tell them anything more about his origins, except that the power he’d commanded had felt identical to the innate gifts of her outsider heritage. The hobgoblin hadn’t had horns or the other obvious signs of that bloodline that the tieflings possessed, so what did that mean?

The town was bustling, forcing them to negotiate a busy traffic as they made their way to the west side of town near the main gate. Bredan overheard parts of a dozen conversations that confirmed what Rodan had said earlier. Everyone seemed to be making the same conjectures about the messenger from Adelar. Bredan heard several theories ranging from an imminent invasion of the valley to Prince Dalgran slaying Kavel Murgoth in single combat. More than one person in the crowd turned to watch the adventurers as they made their way with purpose toward the Governor’s house, but no one tried to hinder them with questions or interruptions. Thanks in part to Glori’s illusion-enhanced renditions of their adventures, the companions had taken on a sort of legendary status in Wildrush.

It didn’t take them long to reach the two-story building that served as the home and office of Governor Brownwell. There was a small crowd of a few dozen people out front, waiting and watching for any news, but they parted as the companions approached. The guards on the front porch opened the door for them, letting them in without challenge.

“I will admit, there’s a certain convenience in being famous,” Xeeta said to Glori as the door closed behind them. A clerk working at a desk in the front room adjoining the foyer rose as they came in. “The Governor’s in his office upstairs, he’s expecting you,” the young man said.

“We know the way,” Rodan said as he started up the stairs.

The Governor’s office was in a large room in the front corner of the building. The companions had been there several times in the last month, starting with when they’d accepted the mission of hunting the chimera that had attacked Wildrush. Since then they’d been more or less accepted as adjuncts to the official authority in town.

They could hear voices from behind the door as they approached. There were no guards here, and Rodan only briefly paused to give a quick rap on the door before he opened it and went in.

“Ah, good, you’re all here,” Brownwell said as they filed in after the ranger.

There were already several people present. In addition to Governor Brownwell himself, there was Captain Lydon, the leader of the small garrison of soldiers, standing over by the fire. Darven Caleron, the mine leader, was sitting in front of Brownwell’s desk, next to a halfling leather crafter named Gavel Leafhollow. The latter was the replacement on the town council for the missing Coop, who had disappeared without a trace when his association with the goblinoids that threatened the valley had been revealed.

There was one other figure in the back of the room, sitting in a chair half-hidden behind the fireplace. The stranger—who by process of elimination had to be the messenger—was a middle-aged human in dust-stained travel clothes who was reading a book spread open on his lap. He alone didn’t look up as they came in.

“I understand there’s some news, Governor,” Glori said as Quellan closed the door behind them.

“Yes,” Brownwell said. He glanced over at the messenger, who still seemed to be engrossed in his book. Clearing his throat, the Governor said, “The war is over. Murgoth has been defeated.”

A stir went through the gathered adventurers. “That’s… that’s wonderful news!” Glori said. “How, when… I have so many questions!”

After another sideways glance, Brownwell said, “From what I understand, the actual battle took place nearly a month ago, it’s just taken time for the news to reach us all the way up here.”

Bredan had been watching the messenger, but he started at that, and glanced over to meet Xeeta’s gaze. Obviously, she was having the same thought he was, A month ago is when we went into that shrine. But that just had to be a coincidence; how could the two things possibly be related?

“The Prince’s army crushed the main goblinoid force a few days east of Kenner’s Crossing,” Brownwell was saying. “The survivors fled back into the mountains. There were a few more raiding parties scattered around the area, but most of those should have been driven off or destroyed by now.”

“That is good news, Governor,” Quellan said. “If you don’t mind me asking, why keep it quiet? The people of Wildrush will be glad to hear this information.”

“I asked him to wait,” the messenger said, finally looking up from his book. He inserted a strip of cloth to mark his place and then closed it.

“And who are you?” Bredan asked. The way he said it had several of his companions looking at him curiously.

The stranger did not wilt behind the young warrior’s scrutiny. When he didn’t respond immediately, Brownwell cleared his throat again and said, “This is Gregoros Konstantin, he is a wizard of the Apernium in Severon.”

Quellan reacted with a jolt; he had a look on his face that suggested he’d just had a revelation. Glori, standing next to him, noticed and whispered, “What is it?”

“Later,” he muttered back.

With his focus on Konstantin, Bredan did not notice the exchange. “I heard that you were looking for me,” he said.

“Indeed,” Konstantin said. “I have come a long way to find you, Bredan Karras.”

Bredan blinked. “Do I know you?”

“No,” the wizard said. “But I have been searching for you for quite some time. I will need you to come with me. You and your friends.”

“Where?” Quellan asked.

“To Severon, and the headquarters of my order.”

Another stir passed through all of them, even the Governor and his people. “The capital of the kingdom?” Glori asked. “But that’s… it will take weeks to get there, if not months, with winter fast coming…”

“I can have us there tonight,” Konstantin said.

“Teleportation magic?” Quellan asked. At the other’s nod the cleric said, “That is powerful magic indeed.”

“You said that you’ve been following us for some time,” Glori said. “If you’re so powerful, how come you didn’t just scry us and find us right away? For that matter, it’s not like we’ve come here in secret. We openly signed on with the King’s army, we’re here at his remit.”

“Yes, I know,” Konstantin said. “As for the rest, I give you my word that all will be made clear once we are in Severon.”

“No offense, sir, but we are going to need a bit more assurance than that, before we agree to go with you,” Glori said. “How did you find us? And why is Bredan so important?”

“I have been tracking you since Crosspath,” the wizard said. “It is a very common misconception that wizards can instantly locate something or someone using scrying magic, but the reality is in many instances far more complex. I arrived in your town of origin not long after you had left. I followed you to Adelar, learning of some of your more… notable achievements along the way. It took me longer than expected to locate your trail from there; due to the confusion wrought by the war and a few unfortunate clerical errors I did not immediately learn of your mission to the north and wasted some valuable time following the Prince’s army. But finally, I was able to learn what had happened and made my way here.”

“You didn’t answer my final question,” Glori said.

Bredan stepped forward. “Why?” he asked. The way he said it, the word was more than just a simple question, but it encapsulated all that had happened to him since he’d left Crosspath.

Konstantin rose from his chair and met Bredan’s gaze squarely. Finally, he said, “Your father was one of us, during a time long past. He helped us through a time of great turmoil and threat. All signs indicate that we are approaching another such time, Bredan Karras. And our hope is that like your father, you will lend your aid to help us through what is to come.”

* * *

End of Book 6
 


Lazybones

Adventurer
Book 7: RICH BACKSTORIES

Chapter 144

Bredan sat alone in the darkness and tried not to succumb to despair.

The only light was the vague glow that came through the slot in the door, but it was unnecessary, as his cell was nearly devoid of features. There was not even a bench to keep him off the cold stone of the floor. He shifted, careful of the bucket in the corner, grimacing at the sound the chains that held him shackled made with the motion.

For the hundredth time he berated himself for getting into this strait. Konstantin had warned him not to press the matter, but he’d ignored that advice. He, an utter stranger to Severon, had thought he’d known better…

A sound from beyond the door caught his attention. He heard footsteps drawing closer. There was a clatter at the door, a sound of the lock being worked. Bredan tensed, though the chains made an escape attempt impractical. He’d already tried every link with his strength, had tried stressing the bolts that anchored the ring to the wall, but the unknown builders who had prepared this place had known their business. Maybe with a chisel and hammer he could have worked himself free, but with only his bare hands it seemed unlikely.

The door finally swung open, and Bredan blinked against the sudden intensity of light. His jailor was a familiar figure, though he wore a bulky robe that concealed his features and a cowl that he kept up even in the dim confines of this hidden place. He was holding a small wooden tray of food and a flimsy cup. He regarded Bredan for a moment before he knelt to place his burdens on the floor, taking up the empty ones from his prior visit. The bucket was replaced less frequently. Bredan had been here long enough to know that, but otherwise had no idea how much time was passing beyond these walls. The light from outside never wavered, and his hosts had been less than garrulous.

As the robed man started to get up Bredan asked, “Where’s Glori?”

The man just looked at him, his face a dark shadow within his cowl. “Just tell me, is she alive?” Bredan persisted.

The man said nothing, just turned back to the door. Bredan shot up, ignoring the tingling pains from his legs, which had fallen asleep under him. “Just tell me, damn it!” He lunged forward. The chains drew him up short and he fell back to the floor. He accidentally kicked his rations, the cup clattering off the walls before spinning to a stop in front of the door. Even as he stared at it the heavy slab slammed shut, punctuated by the rattle of the lock being worked. Not that it mattered, not with the chains holding him against the wall.

“I’m sorry,” Bredan said. He just lay there on the floor for a time. Finally, he stirred. He fumbled around for his meal. The stuff they fed him was hardly appetizing even before it was spread upon the dirty floor, but he forced himself to eat every bit he could find. He had to keep his strength up just in case his captors slipped up and made a mistake. Though thus far it seemed like he was the only one making mistakes.

Once he’d finished eating he drew back to the corner opposite the bucket and settled himself facing the door. With nothing else to do, his mind drifted back as it frequently had since his arrival here, revisiting the events that had led him to his current circumstances.

* * *

Leaving Wildrush probed to be harder than Bredan had thought it would be. It hadn’t been their idea to travel there in the first place, and their visit had been punctuated by almost constant peril and threat, but somehow the Silverpeak Valley had started to grow on him.

Part of it was the farewells that had to be made. His relationship with Rodan hadn’t had time to grow, but it was still hard to leave him behind. The tiefling ranger had understood why Bredan had to go. He’d experienced his own journey of self-discovery, and the importance of knowing where he had come from. Bredan in turn could understand why Rodan had to stay behind and face his own uphill fight to regain the trust of the people of his chosen home.

His friends had all agreed to come with him. He was gratified, if a bit surprised, that Xeeta in particular elected to travel with them. But on reflection, maybe it wasn’t that out of character. Xeeta and Rodan had reconciled somewhat, but a spark of tension remained whenever the two were together. Maybe it was the lingering legacy of what had happened in Li Syval, or maybe it was just the discomfort of having a reminder of your past right in front of you every day. Either way, it seemed that for Xeeta at least the Silverpeak Valley was no longer big enough for the two of them. She’d gone aside with Konstantin shortly after their initial meeting, so perhaps she’d gotten some assurances from the wizard that she would be, if not welcomed, at least tolerated in Severon.

After they’d made their farewells they departure itself was something of an anticlimax. Konstantin delayed only until his fellow travelers were ready; the day after the wizard’s arrival they gathered in an empty room in the Governor’s house to begin their journey. Bredan found himself a little tentative regarding the magical means of travel. It sounded almost fantastical, the idea of being whisked halfway across the continent in the blink of an eye. Quellan had offered a dissertation on the theory behind teleportation that had not done much to ease the young warrior’s fears. The cleric had told him that successful use of the magic relied upon familiarity with the destination, which explained why the wizard had had to travel all the way up to Wildrush using mundane means.

The wizard had made whatever preparations were necessary before their arrival, so there was no time for Bredan or any of the others to have second thoughts. He’d barely joined his friends in the cleared space in the center of the room before Konstantin waved his hands and uttered a sequence of syllables that made no sense to Bredan but which caused the room around them to waver. For a moment there was a feeling of being somewhere outside of reality, and then they were someplace else. The plain lines and unadorned walls of the Governor’s house were replaced by a room of similar size, but with ornate décor and lush styling, from the golden trim on the crown molding to the detail work on the sconces that supported glowing lamps. Bredan remembered staring at those, noting that did not appear to use anything so mundane as fire to produce their light. An elaborate circle of markings had surrounded them on the floor, the eldritch runes dimming from a soft glow that had announced their arrival. The teleportation circle was separated from the rest of the room by a velvet rope that served as a warning to anyone inattentive enough to miss the markings on the floor.

The week that followed had all distilled down into a confused jumble in Bredan’s mind, and even in his recollections all he could really pull out was a series of impressions. The capital city of the Kingdom of Arresh had been stunning in its impact. Bredan could remember thinking that Adelar had been a big city, but in contrast to this place the northern burg was positively provincial. Severon sprawled out over a vast landscape along the banks of a broad, slowly-moving river, its edges creeping up onto the hills that formed a backdrop to the city. The streets were filled with people of every sort, a neverending stream of humanity. And others; while most of the city’s residents were human Bredan had spotted dwarves, elves, halflings, and gnomes, as well as some more exotic folk whose ancestry he could only guess at.

True to Konstantin’s word, the adventurers were received as honored guests. The wizards had put them up at a really nice inn just a few blocks from the Apernium, itself a city within the city, dominated by the impossible spire of the Silver Tower, the headquarters of the kingdom’s organization of magicians. They’d spent most of the first few days after their arrival in what seemed like an endless parade of meetings. They’d told the story of their adventures in the north not only to wizards, but also to officials of the Crown and the Holy Assembly, an ecclesiastical council that apparently represented all of the major faiths in the city, and even an engineer who asked them endless questions about the quality of the roads in the north. In turn they were briefed on the details of the campaign against Kavel Murgoth, the details of which were just reaching the ears of the common folk of the capital. There was an air of celebration in the city, and even though they kept the details of their encounters in the Silverpeak Valley quiet at Konstantin’s request, they still found plenty of people willing to buy them drinks merely on learning that they’d just arrived from the north.

What they hadn’t gotten, and what had finally led Bredan to this cell, was answers to the questions that had brought him to Severon in the first place.
 


Lazybones

Adventurer
Gotta shake things up every now and again, lest our heroes become too complacent. :)

* * *

Chapter 145

Quellan had tried to talk Bredan out of it.

“I understand your feelings,” the cleric had said, “but I think the wizards may have the right of it in this instance. Until we understand fully what is happening to you… what happened to all of us in that shrine in the Silverpeak… we shouldn’t do anything rash.”

“I just want some answers,” Bredan had replied. “The wizards either can’t or won’t tell me anything more about my father, just that he used to work for them until his organization or whatever was disbanded. And more vague statements about hidden threats and dangers to the realm.”

Even that information had come reluctantly, and only to direct questions. The wizards—members of a prominent faction at the Apernium—had explained that Colvas Karras had been part of a specialized group of soldiers known as the Silver Gauntlet. They’d served as bodyguards and troubleshooters, apparently running missions for the wizards in and around the capital, and occasionally escorting them on more distant journeys. Apparently, there had been traitors in the organization, a group within the group that had turned against the wizards. Konstantin had told him that Bredan’s father had been instrumental in defeating those traitors and their plots before they could cause real damage.

After those events, which had taken place almost four decades ago, the Gauntlet had been disbanded. According to Konstantin, Colvas Karras had left the service of the wizards shortly thereafter and disappeared from their records. The wizard said that wasn’t unusual; many of the loyal members of the Gauntlet had still been young men and women, and reluctant to retire on the pension that the Apernium had offered them. Some of them had gone on to serve as mercenaries or security consultants for noble houses in the capital, but most had left Severon and disappeared, much like Bredan’s father.

“I’m continuing my research,” Quellan had continued. “It hasn’t been easy. Forty years is not that long in terms of organizational history, but there isn’t much in the church’s archives about either the factions within the Apernium or the Silver Gauntlet.”

“Xeeta says that these wizards are secretive by their very nature, since so much of their power is based upon the written word. They don’t want to share their lore since it would diminish their own status. And I can’t imagine that they would want to publicize information about a group of traitors within their own ranks, especially if they came close to succeeding in their plots.”

“The wizards have always been a prominent ally of the Crown. I understand and share your concerns, Bredan, but they’ve only been helpful thus far.”

“I don’t feel helped,” Bredan had said. “I’ve been poked and prodded and subjected to a dozen tests both magical and mundane, but no one has been able to tell me with any clarity what’s been happening to me.”

“We need to be patient. I’m taking Xeeta with me to meet with one of the hierarchs of my church tomorrow, to brief him on what we found in the Silverpeak Valley and our encounter with the Blooded warlock. I’m worried that the casters within Murgoth’s army are somehow connected with the organization that Xeeta described in Li Syval. We already know that the power that’s been affecting you is something that these Blooded are interested in. We need to know more, to start putting the pieces together.”

“Good, that’s good. Go ahead and meet with him, they should know that that guy’s still out there somewhere, he was dangerous. But I’m not going to wait any longer. Like you said, forty years is not that long, there may still be people living here who knew my father. I’m just going to ask around, see what I can find out.”

“I’d feel better if you waited for me, at least. Severon’s not the frontier, but it has its own hazards.”

“Glori’s going with me, she’ll make sure I stay out of trouble. But like I said, I’m only going to ask a few questions. I’m not looking for trouble.”

But trouble had found them, Bredan mused back in his cell. And he’d blundered right into it like a fool, dragging Glori down with him.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 146

Thinking back on that fateful day, Bredan acknowledged that he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without Glori’s help.

She always knew the right person to talk to, the right questions to ask to get someone to open up and volunteer information. Bredan had brought a purse full of silver coins in order to buy drinks at the various taverns they would visit, but with the bard in his company he’d hardly had to touch it.

They had started at a tavern in the Shield District, a neighborhood that was reputed to be a hangout for mercenaries. Their visit to The King’s Blades had been brief, and with Glori directing their inquiry they made their way to one tavern after another, from sprawling inns where a hundred people crowded into a common room to dives that were little more than a wooden plank bar where guests stood as they drank. Bredan couldn’t remember the names of more than half of the places they had visited, but the quality had definitely declined as the day had given way first to evening and then to full night. They’d left the Shield District behind and moved into a part of the city known locally as the Gilded District, a name that convinced Bredan that the Severoners did in fact have a collective sense of humor. The cracked paint and sagging buildings were quite the contrast from the rarified environs of the High District where they’d been spending most of their time.

Glori had urged restraint. “I think we’ve done enough for one day,” she’d told them after they’d staggered clear of yet another room thick with smoke and the stench of stale sweat and spilled liquor.

Bredan had limited himself to only one drink at each place they visited, but even so his head was swimming. “One more place,” he’d insisted. “That guy you talked to seemed like he knew something, and it’s not that far.”

“We should be careful because he knew something,” she’d said, but ultimately she’d agreed to accompany him to a dim tavern lodged in the cellar of a sprawling complex of buildings that leaned together as if for support. There had been a battered brass sign on the front that identified it as The Marker’s Post.

The rest of the night was a gray haze, but Bredan could recall every detail of what had happened next in sharp clarity. The steps that led down to the main entrance had been choked with litter and slippery. Glori had started to make a joke about him cracking his head, but his response had been lost over the din that had spilled out when he’d opened the door. The tavern had been deceptively large for its location, with two bars and a number of side-chambers that looked as though they had been parts of different cellars that had been joined together over time. Thick posts supported a ceiling that still managed to sag alarmingly in places. The place had been crowded with thirty or forty patrons, overwhelmingly hard-faced men in dirty coats. More than a few had cast evaluative looks at Glori when the pair had entered, looks that had Bredan’s fingers itching for the hilt of his sword. He’d left it behind, as a greatsword wasn’t a welcome adjunct in most of the capital’s bars, but he was reassured by his ability to conjure it to his hand at will. He was starting to gain more control over that power, and in a few tests it didn’t seem like distance was an issue; he was confident that he could recover the sword even if it was halfway across the city.

Maybe something of that made it into Bredan’s face, or maybe the place wasn’t as bad as it looked, but nobody bothered them as they fought their way to the closer bar. Again, Bredan let Glori take the lead. He didn’t hear most of their exchange over the general din, but after a few moments—and a brief flicker of silver changing hands—the big bartender pointed and they made their way to the back of the place. They passed through a breach in a brick wall that still had rough edges into still another side chamber. This place looked like it had once been another cellar, with a narrow flight of steps that led up to a door near the ceiling. There was still another bar there, this one little more than a shelf installed in a corner, manned by a surly-looking man with a leather patch over one eye. Six tables were crowded into the room, half of them populated by men sitting on seats that looked to be made of piles of extra bricks. A pair of lamps with dirty flues provided a wan light. The mood here was more sullen than extravagant, and while none of the drinkers so much as glanced their way Bredan got the impression that their appearance did not go unmarked.

They started with the bartender, who wouldn’t tell them anything until they bought something. Coins changed hands, and after getting a pair of shot glasses filled with murky liquid they were directed to a table in the far corner where a single man sat with his back against the wall. He was draped in a dark cloak that couldn’t hide the hard lines of his body, even though he looked to be well past his middle years otherwise.

“Mind if we join you?” Glori asked.

The old man’s eyes flicked up at them. “Suit yourself,” he said.

The two of them sat down on a bench made of a board set down upon stacks of loose bricks. It shifted precariously as they settled their weight upon it. “You are Gulder Nox?”

The man’s expression tightened, and for a moment it looked like he wasn’t going to answer, but finally he sagged and said, “That’s my name.”

“We’re looking for information about someone who served with the Silver Gauntlet,” Glori said.

“That was a long time ago,” Nox said.

“Not all that long ago,” Glori said. “It seems like they were a pretty big deal, back in the day. Should be folks around that remember them.”

“I’ve been told that some of them went on to work for private employers, after the organization was dissolved,” Bredan said.

Nox looked at him. “Oh, is that what you were told? Look, you’re not from Severon, that much is obvious, so I’ll give you a piece of advice. Leave the past in the past. Better for everyone that way.”

“Look, we’re not looking for trouble,” Bredan said. “I’m just looking for information about my father. Colvas Karras, he was a member of the Gauntlet.”

“Never heard of him,” Nox said. “I can’t help you.”

“Look, we can make it worth your while,” Bredan said, reaching for his purse.

“I said, I can’t help you.” With a speed that belied his years he shot up from his seat, jostling the table enough to splash some of their drinks on the battered wood. Before they could stop him, he disappeared through the breach in the wall and was gone. For a moment it looked like Bredan would follow, but he finally slumped back down onto the bench.

“Well, that was a bust,” he said.

“It’s just out first day looking,” Glori told him. “And I’d say we learned something.”

“Learned what?” Bredan asked. He took a sip of his drink, then made a face. “Gods, that’s poison,” he muttered.

“There’s more to this than what we were told,” Glori said. “For an organization as prominent as the one the wizards described, there should be more people who know at least something about it. I could have put it down to apathy about the past, but this guy, Nox, he was legitimately afraid of talking to us.”

“Should I have gone after him?” Bredan asked. He turned to look back at the doorway, but there was no sign of the old man. He glanced over at the bar, but the man who’d served them had stepped out. Frowning, he looked around but saw no sign of him. The men at the other two tables were talking in quiet voices, not looking their way.

“We’re in unfamiliar terrain here,” Glori said. “If we’d had a bit more time I could have tried a suggestion, but if you’d tried to catch him it would have only made a scene. When we try again we’ll be a bit more circumspect—is something wrong?”

Bredan turned back to her. “Just… I don’t think so. I don’t know. Something’s off.”

“You’ve had a pretty good number of drinks tonight.”

“This isn’t… my mouth feels numb.”

She put a hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. “I think we should get out of here,” she said.

They got up, but as he started to turn around Bredan stumbled and nearly fell. He jolted the table much as Nox had, and Glori’s glass shattered as it struck the floor.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“The drink,” Bredan said, staring at his overturned glass.

“Hsst!” she warned, drawing his attention back into the room. The men at the tables had all gotten up, and now stood between them and the exit. None of them had produced any weapons, but they didn’t need any to communicate malign intent.

Glori reached under her cloak. “You really don’t want to mess with us,” she said.

Bredan felt like a haze had been dropped over his senses, but with a supreme effort of will he was able to remain upright. The four men hadn’t moved, but as he glanced over at Glori he caught a hint of motion out of the corner of his eye; the upstairs door had opened and there was someone on the stairs above them.

“Look out,” he said, or tried to; the words came out thick and slurred. Glori sensed that something was wrong but reacted too late as the figure dropped down and brought something crashing down onto her head from behind.

Glori collapsed to the floor. Bredan let out a yell and summoned his sword. The weight of it, so familiar, pulled him off-balance. He still managed to swing it, but Glori’s attacker was able to dodge back and the blade struck the wall with a loud clang.

Bredan’s vision was fading. He slumped against the wall but pushed off it, struggling to lift the sword. “Stay back!” he said, but this time it only came out as a vague mumble.

Another figure appeared in front of him, just a vague outline in his vision. He swung the sword again, putting all of his fading strength behind the blow. He felt the jarring impact, but that was the last thing he felt as he tumbled forward onto the hard floor.

He was out before he struck the stone.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 147

Bredan started as he came awake. For a moment he did not know where he was; he must have dozed off while absorbed in his recollections. The familiar stinks and the clinking of his chains quickly reminded him of his reality.

He was about to try to fall back asleep when he heard something, a soft footfall from outside his cell door. Alert now, he straightened while carefully trying to keep his chains from making noise. He did not know how long he had slept, but from his thirst he guessed that it had not been long enough for another meal period to come. In his current circumstances, any novelty in his routine had to be respected with his full interest.

The lock worked and the door swung open. The light from outside revealed someone that Bredan did not recognize, an older man of maybe fifty or sixty years. His beard was solid gray and trimmed close over a heavy jaw lined with old scars. He was dressed in a dark cloak over plain clothes that would have fit in just about anywhere in the city. He seemed rather nondescript overall, if one didn’t catch the look in his eyes or the way he moved.

The old man carried a stool which he set down in front of him, just out of reach of Bredan’s chains. He left the door open behind him, allowing a bit of light to enter the cell. Even in that weak illumination Bredan could see that the man’s hands were rough and calloused, confirming the impression that he’d picked up earlier. Despite his apparent age, this man was a warrior. There was something else about him, something vaguely familiar that he couldn’t quite place as the man sat down and looked at him.

“Hello, Bredan,” he said.

“Where’s Glori?” Bredan asked. “What have you done with her?”

“My name is Pentar,” the man said. “I apologize for the rough treatment you’ve been subjected to. I was away from the capital when you arrived, and the members of my organization felt it was better to wait for my return before speaking to you.”

“Who are you, and what do you want with me?” Bredan asked.

Pentar leaned forward and folded his hand together. “As I said, I’m Pentar. As to what I want, that is a more… complicated question. But I want you to know, that we are not your enemy.”

Bredan rattled his chains. “If this is how you treat your friends, then I’d hate to be your foe,” he said.

“I understand how you feel. The nature of our meeting like this… it is regrettable. But there are reasons for our actions. We have learned to be mistrustful of things that look too good to be true. Even after we found out who you are, what you are.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bredan said.

“Have you ever heard voices in your head? Maybe a dream that seemed too real to be a dream, but too strange to be real? Or received messages that no one else could see. Maybe in a book, or a scroll, or even scrawled onto a wall, perhaps.”

Bredan just stared at him.

“I see that you know what I am talking about.” Pentar smiled, the scars near his mouth the only thing keeping him from having a grandfatherly look to him. “You’ve probably thought that you were going mad. You’re not mad, Bredan. It’s the world that’s gone mad.”

Bredan circled his head to give their surroundings an exaggerated attention. “Again, you’re not really making a good argument here with all this.” He held up his shackled wrists.

“The bindings are necessary, for now. My associates told me that you were quite… difficult… to secure.”

“If I could get free, you’d see how difficult I can be,” Bredan said.

His bravado failed to shake Pentar’s calm. “What if I told you that we knew your father?” the old man said.

“I’m not sure I’d trust anything you’d say right now,” Bredan said.

“Prudent. But true nevertheless. Your family name, it isn’t Karras. Your father wasn’t the only one to change his name, after what happened. Those that survived the purge… finding a new identity became an exigency for those of us who did not elect to continue after the sundering of the Order.”

“You mean the Silver Gauntlet?” Bredan asked.

Pentar shook his head. “I can only imagine what propaganda those wizards have fed you. I’ll tell you the truth, Bredan, but it will take time for you to see it as such.” He got up, grimacing slightly as he bent to pick up the stool. “I apologize for breaking your connection to the Book,” he said. “Like the chains, it is necessary until you are ready to listen to what we have to tell you. There are wardings embedded in these walls that interfere with your power. Don’t worry, we haven’t permanently damaged your bond. We would never do that, even to an adversary.” He turned to the door. “We’ll talk again soon.”

Bredan had stared at Pentar as he’d spoken, but as the old man started to leave he thrust forward until his shackles drew him up short. “Wait! Tell me… please. What happened to Glori? Is she all right?”

Pentar looked at him with an expression that might have been pity, though it was impossible to be sure in the poor light. “I’m sorry, Bredan. We never meant to hurt you.”

“If you’ve killed her, I swear…”

“We didn’t kill her, Bredan. You did.”

Bredan felt an icy chill penetrate him to his core. “No. You’re lying.”

“Again, I’m sorry.” Pentar retreated, closing the door behind him.

“No! You’re lying!” Bredan screamed. He thrust to his feet, yanking on his chains with all his might as the lock was worked shut. “You’re lying!” He lunged toward the door, but the chains failed to give way and he fell to the ground. He hit the bare stone hard enough to knock the air from his lungs.

The old man lingered on the far side of the door for a moment, listening to the wretched sobs that came from within the cell. Then he turned and silently headed back the way he had come.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 148

The Temple of Hosrenu in Severon could hold its own against the Apernium, the Royal Palace, the Aureate Circle, and the other examples of monumental architecture that dominated the skyline of Severon. The temple grounds were dominated by the domed expanse of the Great Library, flanked on one side by the ivy-clad mass of the University and on the other by the more practical lines of the Factorium. Those great edifices were surrounded by a cluster of lesser petitioners, structures small only in comparison to their noble neighbors. Men and women of all races, united in the simple robes of their calling, walked between the buildings, carrying with them an air of dignified quiet that offset the hustle and bustle of the city beyond the wall just a stone’s throw away.

Quellan and Xeeta sat on a padded bench inside one of the smaller buildings, a three-storied gray block known as the Rectory. It had once served as living quarters for the temple’s priests, but as the complex had grown its residents had spread out into the city, where the Temple now rented a dozen buildings. The Rectory was now mostly offices, though a few of the senior officials within the church hierarchy maintained residences there for convenience.

“This is a waste of time,” Xeeta said. “I should have gone with Bredan and Glori.”

“This is important,” Quellan said. “The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly.”

She snorted, and he looked over at her. Xeeta wore her usual appearance, an illusion that retained the outlines of her face while replacing the distinctive features of her infernal heritage. Her red skin had been replaced with a healthy flesh-tone with hints of pink on the neck and cheeks. The slightly curved, pale horns that rose from her temples were gone, replaced by ginger curls that spilled down over the shoulders of her coat. The amulet she wore on a cord around her neck looked like just a pretty bauble, but Quellan knew that it carried the magic that allowed her to mask her true appearance from the world.

Quellan himself could well understand the impulse that had led her to adopt the disguise. His own flesh was a mottled greenish gray, pulled taut over a muscled body that would have given the hardest warrior pause. But it was his face that most often caused alarm. His eyes were tinted yellow, shining under a heavy protruding brow. But that feature was overwhelmed by the sharper jut of his jawline, from which a pair of tusks poked up as if to shout to the world, orc here! In truth he was only half orc, but for most people he encountered such distinctions were academic.

“If I’d known we were going to be sitting her for hours, I would have brought something to eat,” Xeeta continued. “Is there a lunch hall here or something? Or is that how it works, the minute we step out they show up, so they can say that it’s our fault we couldn’t meet?”

“I think you’re overthinking it,” Quellan said. “The likely answer is that people are busy. We just concluded a major war, after all.”

“It’s not like the church of Hosrenu was a major player,” Xeeta said. “Present company excluded, of course. I’m sure the hierarchs of the God of Knowledge will be writing papers and debating the ins and outs of the defeat of Kavel Murgoth for the next century or so.”

Quellan allowed a soft chuckle at the dig. “If anything, you may be conservative. I just heard that a new monograph is being published that reevaluates some of the major theories about the Dead King.”

“Wow, impressive. It only took them five hundred years.”

Quellan gave her a long look, until she turned her head away. “So," she said. “Tell me more about this high elder we’re supposed to meet.”

“I’ve never actually met Loremaster Caslek, but he has a significant reputation within the church.”

“What, did he write the definitive text on the historical significance of King Aislan’s menagerie?”

“I hope that you can manage to be just a bit less caustic during the actual meeting.”

“I make no promises,” Xeeta said. “Hey, look.”

Quellan glanced over just as a young woman in the robes of an acolyte came into the antechamber. As she bowed to them the half-orc priest noted the way her eyes shifted, never quite meeting his. “The Loremaster will see you now.”

Quellan fought the urge to sigh as he stood. “Thank you.”
 
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