Chapter 28: A World to be Cleansed
They stood on the slopes of an unknown mountain atop a portal with blue runes shimmering in the swirling snow. Around them were three other stone portals, none of them glowing like the one they’d come through. Oszaren and Whisper went to inspect them. “They’re operational,” he said, “but inactive.”
Whisper nodded and read names off each of them. “This one says ‘snowy place’, this one ‘land of the red sun’, and the last has the name scratched out. The one we took is called the ‘swamp’.”
“I think we’ve travelled east,” Keelan said, pointing at the location of the sun. It was midmorning, and they had just left the swamp in early morning.
Shale hopped off the portal with Trigger and inspected the area for tracks. Despite the snow, she was able to pick out a path. “They went down the mountain,” she declared, pointing through the wretched wind.
“Does each portal need its own password?” Fillip asked Oszaren and Whisper, who both nodded. “Well, we should at least test the one we took and make sure it’s the same password going back as it was to get here.” The druid leapt back onto the portal, splayed his hands and said “Drazier!”
Nothing happened. He tried it again, pronouncing the draconic word with just the right guttural hissing. Still, nothing.
“Well, shit,” the druid said, hopping back off the portal.
“Looks like we’re trapped until we can find the other password,” Keelan said.
Shale pulled her winter cloak from her pack and wrapped it around herself, huddling her face in protectively for warmth. “We go downhill, then,” she declared, and started down the slope through the pinewood forest.
Shale. A voice in her head. She paused.
You have a new enemy. They said softly, as if the voice was a part of the wind. You cannot look for vengeance alone.
Dragons, she said.
Close your eyes. Concentrate. You will sense them when they’re near. The voice drifted with the wind and Shale took a deep breath, stopping in her path and breathing slowly, concentrating on leathery wings and scaled armour. Sharp teeth and thick claws.
“Something wrong?” Keelan asked, making her jump. The rest of them had caught up with her and Trigger.
“Yes, I—I sense dragons, or, well—dragon creatures—ahead.”
The paladin gave her a knowing look and relayed it to the rest over the howling wind. They continued down the path for a few more minutes before they saw through the blizzarding snow a two-story lodge in the distance, huddled amongst the trees.
“We should send only a couple ahead,” Oszaren suggested, then looking toward Keelan said, “those who can sneak up without being noticed.”
Shale spoke. “Whisper and I.” She gave a long look to the tabaxi, and the two of them moved ahead, dodging between trees for cover, though anyone glancing from a window would have a hard time seeing them through the moving snow.
The building was tall and well built. The bottom section was built of stone, but the second story was made of lumber and peaked at a sharply sloped roof to keep the snow off. There were three chimney stacks, but a small line of smoke drifted from only one. “Someone’s home,” Shale whispered. On the top floor there was one window with a dull glow inside.
“I’ll climb,” Whisper pointed to the roof.
“I’ll check the grounds.” Shale moved around the building and saw three low stables on the other side of the yard. She went forward cautiously and investigated the buildings.
The first two were empty but filled with beds of straw. The third was barred shut and she could hear low growling inside and a deep mumbling voice. She quickly set up her crossbow trap in the snow and buried it somewhat so it faced the door, then hurried back to the lodge and called softly to Whisper, who was sitting atop the sloped roof. She couldn’t see what he was doing past that. She motioned to him and he climbed down. “Find anything?” She asked.
“There’s a giant nest on the roof, and a hole in part of it where snow has drifted in. I was able to look through a fireplace and saw an empty room. Seems no one is moving around.”
“Let’s go back and tell the others.”
“I just received a message from Elia,” Oszaren told them when they returned. Finally, Remalia’s servant had contacted them. “She apologized for the late communications, but they’ve run into some trouble in Waterdeep. She told me the treasure had been dropped in the Mere, and they also found a suspicious drow carrying a crate of dirt with the treasure. She asked that we return to Waterdeep with information soon.”
“Well, considering where the portal took us, that’s not likely to happen soon,” Keelan said, looking across the mountainside with its snow-covered trees.
“How would you like to approach the lodge?” Shale asked Oszaren, relaying what they’d found in their quick reconnaissance.
“Why not just walk in if there’s no one home?” Fillip suggested.
“There’s a light on in one room,” Shale reminded them, “and smoke.”
“What’s one person going to do? I like that plan,” Keelan shrugged.
“All right,” Oszaren easily relented. “Weapons drawn.”
They made their way back down the path to the lodge, where the snow howled a bit less, and Fillip stomped first to the front door, casually knocking. He waited a few seconds, then threw open the door and shouted inside. “Hello! Anybody there?” His voice echoed and there was the pattering of tiny feet.
The door had opened onto a small landing with wood paneled walls that were decorated with fine carvings.
“I heard something,” Fillip whispered back to them, then spun on the spot and transformed into a direwolf, summoning two great white polar bears to step in first. The animals were so large they barely fit through, and Keelan pushed past fur to open the next door. The animals filed through, followed by the rest of them. Shale had her bow drawn and an arrow notched. As Fillip’s first polar bear entered the next room, there was a noise and the bear roared in surprise. Scraping stone and squeaking metal issued on the other side of the wall. They jumped into action and Shale heard Reverence shout from behind her, “I’m going around!”
As she pushed past everyone else and took her position next to the bears, she saw there was a large flight of identical stairs made of polished wood, and flanking them were two stone statues, which were moving and lifting stone swords to block their path. To each side of the doorway were two suits of armour, creaking and drawing swords of steel. Trigger bounded through her legs and leapt at a statue, and she released an arrow, which bounced off the stone and took a small chunk from its arm. She cursed and drew her blades and moved into the foyer to make room for her companions. As she did so, the direwolf bowled into the other statue, and Fillip’s bears lumbered forward loudly. Shale looked up as she saw an orange blur. Somehow, Reverence had reached the second landing and was now running across the open hallway, his tail swishing for balance as he slid across polished wood and sent a shattering noise of thunder between the two statues. The stone vibrated and bits of rock and dust tumbled off the figures from the impact. Shale managed to keep her feet and started hitting the stone with her blades. They glanced off without making much impact, but she carried on hacking at its sword arm, trying to break it. The statue moved slower than her, which was to her advantage. She could see green flash past her eyes as Oszaren shot at the suits of armour and a crackling black energy ran past and hit the wall, and she heard Whisper hiss angrily. Trigger was trying to pull at the statue’s feet as it tried to move and better block the stairs. Suddenly, Reverence threw himself off the balcony to try and land on top of the statue Shale was fighting. The tiefling landed hard on the stairs and righted himself with difficulty. She saw him wince just as she was able to take a large chunk of stone from the crook of the statue’s elbow.
There was another explosion of thunder as Keelan’s crackling longsword slammed into the ground and shook the suits of armour. They clattered but held tightly to their swords and as one raised its arm to attack, Oszaren summoned his blade. It glowed with green fire as he slammed it into the armoured breastplate and the entire thing collapsed to the floor in pieces. Finally, Shale severed the stony arm from the body, dodging another strike from the thing just before it fell loose. She threw her body at the statue and knocked it off the stairs, and it exploded into shards of stone and dust.
Whisper shot the second suit of armour with a bolt of fire and the thing half melted before falling to pieces on the floor. Shale was just picking over fallen stone to confront the final animated statue when Keelan came around the stairs past the bears and slashed its head off, pushing the whole thing over with a shove from his shield.
The dust settled, and they heard someone clapping slowly. They all looked up and, from an open door on the top floor stood a tall half-elf woman with long, silvery hair and angular, attractive features. The tips of her pointed ears just peeked through her straight hair. Her lips curved slightly in amusement and her eyes sparkled. Everything about the woman seemed oddly familiar. “Very nice,” she said. “Do you always tear apart the houses you visit?” She arched an eyebrow. She wore scaled armour for a breastplate and was cloaked in white wolf’s fur, the interior of which was lined with purple silk.
Fillip immediately transformed into his half-elf form, dismissing the two polar bears. He crossed his arms cockily and said, “that’s a fine outfit.”
“Fillip!” She said suddenly, dropping her hands and beaming. “Well, if I’d known it was you… You got my message, then? I wasn’t expecting you quite this soon!” She rushed toward the stairs.
Fillip looked bemused, then genuinely pleased by the surprise of the moment.
“I worried when I didn’t hear from you,” the woman said, rushing down to greet him.
“I prefer to be spontaneous!” Fillip joked.
The rest of the companions shared looks of confusion, and Shale said aloud, “Um, Fillip, is this a—uh, relative of yours?” Now that the woman was nearer, she could see the family resemblance.
The two embraced and she looked over the rest of them when he released her. “Who are your friends?” She was nearly breathless with excitement.
“They’re just my friends!” Fillip declared, sweeping a hand over the room, “they’re people I’ve been travelling with for months.”
Shale caught Keelan’s gaze, and the man seemed completely enraptured by the beautiful half-elf. He was nearly bouncing on his toes, not wanting to be rude, but desperately wanting to be introduced. Fillip seemed to catch on, and quickly gave her each of their names.
Shale smiled at her in greeting. Oszaren self consciously whispered a spell and his clothes and face were suddenly scrubbed clean of debris. He smiled at her nervously and dipped his head.
“How are you?” she asked Fillip. “Please, we must talk and catch up!”
“Of course,” he said, “where are we?”
She smiled, thinking it a joke, then seeing the looks on all their faces said, “You mean it, you don’t know where you are?”
He shrugged. “I’m desperately lost.”
“I’d suspect there’s a good story behind that,” she said good-humouredly. “Please, come in. Have some tea.”
“Sorry,” Shale interrupted hesitantly, “but who are you?”
“Ah, I suppose we skipped that part,” she said. “My name is Talis, and I own this house. Sorry you caught us unprepared.” She glanced at the destroyed suits of armour and the statues. “We were not expecting you—”
“Us?” Shale said quickly.
“Us, yes. I don’t live here on my own. I have staff who also live here.”
Shale asked, “Who are you to Fillip?”
“Has he not told you?” She nearly laughed, putting her arm around Fillip’s shoulders. “Well, you’re looking at my little brother.”
Keelan perked up at this.
“Please, come upstairs,” she offered. “As I said, I can have the servants bring you some tea.” They all looked around awkwardly at the crumbled statues and broken pieces of armour. “Leave the mess. The kobolds will take care of it.”
“Kobolds?” Fillip asked curiously, and sure enough, the pattering of feet was back and the small, dragon-esk creatures hustled in and began sweeping away the stone.
Shale felt her stomach squirm. There was only one reason she knew of for a person to be working with kobolds. She subtly put a hand over the necklace displaying the Order of the Gauntlet symbol and tucked it into her tunic. Talis started back up the stairs and as they followed, Shale saw Oszaren grab Fillip’s arm and whisper, “Does your family normally keep kobolds as servants?”
“Not traditionally,” Fillip said back quietly. “Trust me, I have as many questions as you do.”
“Do you have a—butler?” Reverence asked loudly.
Talis turned her head as she climbed the stairs. “We do. Old Wesseck, we call him, on account of his age. I doubt he heard you at the door, even when you started a brawl in the entryway.”
“Ah, of course,” Reverence said, “only I was—hoping to have a tour—of the estate.”
“Certainly,” Talis said, “in due time.”
They all filed to the top of the landing and Shale noticed Fillip looked uncomfortably behind him.
“I would like to know,” Talis began, “how you all came to be here, considering you seem to have no idea where you are?” There was discerning in those eyes.
Fillip cleared his throat, ignoring his companions and stepping closer to his sister. “I really would prefer if we discussed this in private. This is an unusual situation to find oneself in.” He turned to Oszaren. “There are questions I would like to ask my sister that I don’t think are relevant to the rest of you.”
Oszaren dipped his head and Talis looked intrigued. “I’m sure we can talk later, Fillip. For now, why don’t we get your whole party settled?”
“I really would appreciate a moment of privacy. I’m sure you’re as surprised as I to meet,” Fillip insisted.
“Well, I was expecting you eventually. I left a message. Didn’t you get it?”
Fillip shrugged. “I never received a message from you, Talis.”
She tilted her head curiously and gazed over the rest of them again. “If you didn’t find my message, how did you know to come here?”
“It warrants a private discussion,” he said firmly.
“Very well,” she relented, raising an arm and leading Fillip to a door at the end of the second story hall. “The staff will ensure you find your rooms and something to eat and drink,” Talis told the rest, and the brother and sister shut themselves into a room.
There was an awkward pause, and Whisper said, “Milk?”
Shale shrugged. “I guess now’s the time to practice my draconic,” and started down the stairs to find the kobolds, who had mostly scattered.
As they stepped into the room, Fillip saw there were three other people inside. Two were well-armoured men who looked to be mercenaries, and the third was a tall, light-haired men dressed in full cult regalia.
“Who are your friends?” He asked his sister, hiding his surprise.
“Ah, these two are my guards, Malvic and Sorvek,” she gestured to the two mercenaries, who grunted their acknowledgment and stood ready, “and this,” she gestured to the man in black robes, “is Kusvia. He’s from the village. You would’ve come through it from the south.”
“Ah, yes,” Fillip said.
“Please, excuse us,” Talis told the men. “We have guests downstairs,” she said with the hint of an edge to her voice.
The men filed out without a word, but Kusvia took the longest to leave after eyeing Fillip skeptically. He pushed through the door and Talis shut it quietly behind.
“Tea?” she asked.
“Have anything stronger?” Fillip took a seat in an armchair next to a fireplace of glowing coals.
“That’s the Fillip I know,” she smiled and reached for a crystal decanter and poured two healthy doses of whiskey, passing one glass to her brother and taking a seat across from him. “So, tell me of your travels.”
“First, tell me why you left. The last I heard of you, our parents sent me a message and informed me that you’d gone missing. A trade deal gone awry, supposedly. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for you. The only clue I’ve had is that you were seen with fellows in purple robes. I investigated as best I could, hoping you were alive.”
“You didn’t get the note I left you?” she asked again, “I felt bad for leaving in a rush, and for leaving mum and dad…”
“I never received a note,” he insisted. “What did it say?”
“I left you my location near the village of Parnast and had directions to get to the lodge. How did you possibly find this place without it?”
“Well,” he said with a wry smile, “it seems that fate had a plan for us to meet one way or another.”
“Precisely,” Talis smirked but said, “though I’m still surprised you found me.”
“Stumbled upon you, more like. I lumped myself in with this group of,” he gestured vaguely, “vagabonds, who happened to be following the purple robed gentlemen as well. When we came across this place, we did so without truly knowing where we were.”
“Hm,” she said thoughtfully. “Fate indeed. So,” she straightened and took a sip of whiskey, “I suppose you have some questions for me as well.”
“Certainly,” the druid tried the whiskey. It was smoky with a spicy kick that warmed him as he drank. “Tell me all that I’ve missed.” He sat back comfortably as his sister recounted her story.
“As you know, a flourishing entrepreneur like myself must do as mother always taught us and make the best of every situation. Well, I happened to stumble across something going through our family tree. Do you remember an old great aunt on our mother’s side? She was very strange at family meetups, and no one seemed to get along with her…” Fillip shrugged. “Seeing a potential there, I decided to track down this great aunt and found she was incredibly wealthy. The heir of the Erondale Family.” Fillip choked a bit on his whiskey, and she smirked proudly and continued. “I thought, hey, a lonely rich woman—you know? Long story short, I’m her sole inheritor.”
“That’s phenomenal,” Fillip said in surprise, “I’m very happy for you.”
“For us, Fillip,” she said in that sisterly tone she’d grown fond of using when they were growing up together. “Little brother, this wealth is incredible. I wish to share it with you.”
Fillip leaned back. “I appreciate the sentiment, Talis, but I admit it’s a lot to take on at the moment… I’m still a bit overcome to have found you here, alive.”
“It’s—it’s good to see you,” she said gently.
Fillip cleared his throat. “So why, then, if you inherited this house, are there so many other inhabitants?”
“Well, I didn’t just inherit the house. I inherited the business as well.”
“Ah, so she was also an entrepreneur?”
“She was, in fact,” Talis’ eyes gleamed with excitement. “She’s part of this amazing organization. They have a deal set up with this building, and with the village nearby. Parnast benefits from the wealth, and so do I. Well,” she said then, misreading Fillip’s expression, “you must know about it, since you’ve been following the purple robes.”
“You assume more knowledge on my part than I have,” he admitted. “I just happened upon this. All that I’m aware of is the colour of their robes.”
“Well, the—wearers of purple,” she touched a hand to her fur cloak, to the inside lining of purple silk, “bare this colour to distinguish their name. They call themselves the Brotherhood of the Dragon. They worship a powerful deity. I hadn’t really heard of it until meeting them, but—”
“Brotherhood of the Dragon?” Fillip raised an eyebrow, emphasizing the word.
She waved a hand. “Yes, yes, it’s a traditional name, nothing more. Women join the ranks as much as men. Anyways,” she stood to refill her glass, and Fillip drained the last of his and handed it to her, “I joined them, and earned their respect.”
“Of course you did,” Fillip said, taking back the glass and swirling the drink before taking another sip, “you are a very respectable person. I myself have never had much time for deism… What does this organization do? What’s their ultimate goal?”
“For one,” she sighed, “they’re filthy rich, and it shows. Besides that, they like to think long-term, and they’ve shown me the shortcomings of the world. We, as people of the land, have grown lazy.” She said the words in a judgemental tone.
“That is not my experience, trudging through the wastelands to find you,” Fillip laughed. “My impression is that everybody struggles, except perhaps the lucky few.” Seeing she didn’t share in his laughter, he said, “perhaps you’ve been shielded from that?”
“Well,” she frowned, “that’s not the way I see it.”
“You don’t consider it lazy to sit in a mansion and have discussions with well-dressed folk, while—”
“No,” she interrupted, “I’m part of something important. Think about it, Fillip,” she raised a hand, eyes bright again, “we could reshape the world—start it over and do it right this time.”
“I have…” he struggled for the right words, “reservations that anything is being done wrong with this world.” He looked at her strangely, trying to discern her reasoning.
“I once thought as you did,” she admitted, “but they brought me to their—side, so to speak.”
“And is this entire town, Parnast, in accordance with you? They’ve all been convinced?”
“Oh, yes,” she set her drink on the table and leaned nearer, “this lodge and this town have been part of this organization for hundreds of years. It’s bigger than us, Fillip. So much bigger.”
“How is it that we’ve never heard of this organization or this settlement in the larger cities?”
“Well, they’re not widely known, this is true, but that is only because people don’t always see them as the visionaries they are.” Fillip searched for the right words, and she spoke again. “Listen, I don’t expect to convert you to anything, especially not in a day. Certainly, it’s not the end of the world if you think something I do is crazy,” she laughed breathlessly, “but you should know there are many things in motion.”
“So, it is the end of the world,” he said.
“I have to warn you, it will come,” she said, growing serious and clenching her hands somewhat nervously on her lap. “Only, I—”
“I’m sure the world is destined to end at some point, surely long after our time is done,” he said lightly.
“Fillip,” she said again seriously, “brother. I don’t know exactly when it will happen, but it will. In fact, it’s already started. I have chosen the side that will keep me alive through it all.”
“I think I must insist you clarify this for me,” he said. “What do you mean by the end of the world? It seems hypothetical to me. The end of the world is a long way off for elves, who live such long lives…”
“So we think,” Talis looked down, fixing her eyes on the burning coals in the fireplace. “As I said, it is already in motion. It cannot be undone. This world will be destroyed,” she met his eyes again, “very shortly, even for a half-elf.”
Fillip couldn’t keep the bite out of his tone, “So your organization seeks to destroy the world, and you’re okay with that? It sounds a tad contentious, no?”
“We only hope to cleanse the world of the people who have become content and lazy—”
“Like yourself,” he said again.
She gave him a stern look, then softened her gaze after a moment. “You don’t get it.”
He, however, would not relent. “Nothing placates you more than sitting in a mansion while the rest of the world goes on struggling, and you await some grand prize to be delivered at your doorstep.”
“I do not sit idly,” she said firmly. “May I remind you that I have worked for this position? I am active in this whole endeavour.”
Growing suddenly weary, he leaned back and set aside the half-finished drink. “Who else in this organization can I speak to about this world-ending business?”
She sighed. “There is Rezmir, though I don’t much care for her.” When he tilted his head questioningly, she said, “I was set up to be somewhat bigger than I am in this organization. Rezmir and her—friends, pushed someone ahead of me in line. A dwarf named Varim. Sevrin, our other leader, wanted to instate me in something rather important before Rezmir moved in and gave it to the dwarf.”
“And what of Rezmir? Is she nearby? I would like to speak with her if I could…”
She crossed her arms. “I try to stay as far from her as I can. Nor have I seen her for a while.”
“What about this Sevrin fellow? Is he around?”
“No, unfortunately,” she said. “This is Rezmir’s territory.”
“But, Sevrin supersedes Rezmir…?”
“Yes, well, it’s all very complicated,” she brushed it off.
“It sounds it.” Fillip said in frustration.
“Rezmir spends most of her time in the castle, which is all right by me,” Talis said.
“Well, perhaps you can tell me how to get home quickly,” he said resignedly. “Our parents are terrified about what might’ve befallen you. I should return to them and tell them you’re all right and assure them that all they need worry about now is,” he paused, and said flatly, “the end of the world.”
She looked about to protest, then said softly, “Don’t trouble them with this, Fillip. I snuck away because I knew they wouldn’t understand my goals. But, you. I thought you, perhaps, would know why I did it.”
“The search for wealth is something I can relate to,” Fillip said, “but your desire for the end of days—well, it seems we should be seeking just the opposite. Your condescension of the common folk, I think, is born of ignorance and a lack of interaction. I once saw it as you did, until I was amongst them.” He paused. “I would like to discuss this further, but at this moment, I think neither of us will come to a mutual understanding.”
The next words she spoke carefully. “This is why we must look after ourselves, first and foremost. Even if I were to agree with you and say the people I’ve met are worth saving, this is not something that can be undone.”
“That’s terribly defeatist.”
“Fillip,” she said, “we must choose sides at this point. And either we choose this side, or,” she sighed heavily, “or we die.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve seen it.”
That caught him off guard. “Can you show me?”
“It’s the only way you can hope to persuade me, Talis.” He said reasonably.
“The gods once walked this world. We found the power to bring this one deity back to cleanse the world.”
“It sounds as though we could still prevent it, surely.”
She opened her hands helplessly. “That power is not with me, brother. There are thousands of members in this organization.”
“And millions of others in this world.” He pointed out, anger returning to his voice.
“Who have no idea, and who, unfortunately, will be unknowing casualties of this.”
Fillip let out a long breath and stood slowly. “There is much to think on, but let’s hold the discussion here for now. I would like to speak with my companions and have their opinions voiced.”
“The vagabonds?” She asked, using his own words.
He shrugged and she stood as well, looking awkward. “I would like to talk to Rezmir,” Fillip said.
“I could help you get into the castle,” she said agreeably. “I hope you change your mind.” She sounded disappointed.
“And I hope you change yours.” Then Fillip gave her a small smile. “I am glad to find you alive.”
“So am I,” she said, and relieved to end the conversation there, Talis reached for her little brother and pulled him into an embrace, much left unsaid.
The afternoon for the rest of the party was spent mainly in the kitchens. It turned out there were a few human servants as well as kobolds, and Old Wesseck showed them to two adjacent guest rooms lined with smaller beds on the second story of the lodge. Shale and Trigger followed Whisper and Oszaren to the library, where they read and occasionally taught her a few phrases in draconic, reading out whole passages in books to test what she understood. Which, it turned out, was very little. Reverence spent time with the kitchen maid, Marcella, and seemed to be making progress in his awkward attempt to flirt with her. Fillip returned to them after an hour with Talis and relayed their conversation.
“She told me how to get into the castle,” he said. “Mind you, it’s a floating castle just outside of Parnast. She said we can approach with her banner and give the password ‘Tiamat, our Mother and Strength’ and they should let us in.” Fillip feigned interest in becoming a recruit for the benefit of the lurking staff, and they all played along with the act.
They waited until the privacy of evening in their rooms to discuss the matter further, and decided they would find and kill Rezmir first, since she was their only witness to their identities as enemies of the cult. Once that was done, they could look for the password back through the portal into the swamp. From there, Waterdeep to help Remalia.
The following morning was a brighter day. The snow glistened on the trees and the clouds were sparse in the blue sky. Shale took Trigger out for a walk in the morning and subtly dismantled her crossbow trap in front of the stables while the rest sat down to break their fast. When she returned, she passed Keelan, who mumbled something about wanting to look in the locked stables. She shook her head, knowing there could be no persuading the paladin otherwise.
Whisper and Oszaren were especially interested in the various tapestries throughout the house and insisted on a tour of each of them. Shale unhappily agreed to the boring walk around and followed them through the wood paneled rooms as one of Talis’ guards, Sorvek, described each of them in painful, droning detail.
It was the last tapestry in the parlour that caught their attentions. The fabric glowed faintly and seemed to shift without actual movement. It displayed three hounds taking down a stag. The fabric showed a white land drenched in the blood of the fallen animal. As Sorvek walked them to it, he warned, “Don’t touch it.”
“Is it magic?” Whisper asked curiously.
“It’s been known to make those who touch it disappear,” the man said knowingly.
“Tell me more,” the tabaxi insisted.
“That’s all there is to tell,” Sorvek splayed his hands.
“Where do the people go?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but very few return, and those who do come back half frozen from the forest.”
“If you don’t tell me how it works,” Whisper warned honestly, “I will touch it.”
“Be my guest,” he said, chuckling.
Glaring testily for a moment, Whisper looked at Oszaren, who nudged a table holding a beautifully hand-painted porcelain egg. It teetered and rolled to the edge of the table. Sorvek jumped as the thing smashed and once he was turned away, Whisper shot his owl into the tapestry. The owl flapped its wings and soared into it, disappearing from the room and reappearing at the edge of the fabric. The fabric shimmered and the image of the owl soared out of the edge and was gone.
They continued the tour as if nothing was amiss, Oszaren apologizing fiercely about the broken egg, then made their way back to the library to whittle away the remainder of the day. Keelan returned from the stables looking excited and told them he’d met a troll. The story was a bit jumbled, and they weren’t sure if the troll had four arms, or if there’d been two trolls, or if, perhaps, Keelan was being Keelan. Shale thought she could smell ale on his breath, in any case.
Despite her usual dislike for being stationary, Shale sat and worked at her studies of draconic. She felt a prodding in the back of her mind, and she wasn’t sure if it was her, or Gwaeron, but she did know that the language was important. If she was going to help stop the cult and eventually find the Red Wizard who destroyed her home and her family, she would need to know everything she could about dragons. “Drazier,” she whispered thoughtfully, tracing another page with the tip of her finger as Trigger curled up lazily next to the crackling fireplace, “Drazier,” she said again, feeling out the pronunciation of the guttural language. The r’s were particularly difficult and ended in something that resembled a wet cough. Trigger yawned and went to sleep.
Oszaren sat alone on a bed in their shared room, legs crossed with a book on his lap, his back resting against the headboard. Next to him sat a pile of papers where he’d been scrawling notes. He dropped his pen and stared down at the words he’d just translated. With shaking hands, he pulled his tattered sleeve back over his tattoo. He’d finally cracked it, the message inked into his arm.
Three tenants for the queen’s three chosen, it read. Embody the oaths and be esteemed. Denounce the oaths and be disowned.
In his head came the deep voice. Her voice. “Find the traitor and extinguish them,” she said smoothly. “Defiance cannot go unpunished.”
Oszaren held out his hand and in a flash his blade appeared. He raised the greatsword and stared at the pommel. Who’s the traitor? The warlock wondered, and the sword disappeared.