Chapter 27: Tale of the Krakens
They watched Castier Drylum lead Thia away. The man nodded to his guards, and they let him through the watched doorway toward the bow of the ship. They watched her go anxiously, but the elf held her head high as she walked off.
“Right, well,” Flint grumbled, passing Roon, “someone ought to keep an eye on the elf.”
“Erm,” Roon said awkwardly, “I don’t think you want to keep an eye on…” he trailed off as Flint bowled out of earshot. “Right.”
Thia followed the man, who was shorter than herself by several inches. He led her to a blank section of wood panelled wall, gave her a knowing smile, then pushed. The wall moved forward, showing seams to a hidden door. “Tell me, what is a beautiful woman such as yourself doing on my boat?” He asked smoothly, ushering her inside. His two guards remained at the door, purposefully looking away.
She admired a lavishly decorated office with a stained dark wood desk and matching bookshelves. Castier began lighting a few of the lanterns in the study.
“Oh, you know,” Thia said, feigning interest in the books on the shelf, “I travel around quite a bit, mostly adventuring. I find myself in all sorts of places.” She glanced back at the human, whose eyes were full of lust. She’d seen the look in many men, and even some women, often enough to not be surprised. Opal, still in her beetle form, skittered out of Thia’s hair and down her bare shoulder, out of view.
“Incredible,” Castier breathed.
“I know,” Thia flipped her hair. “Do you have more to show me?” She asked, eyeing the room.
“Certainly,” the man said graciously, giving an unspoken order to his guards to remain posted at the door, and led her to the next. This door opened into a bedchamber with a velvet red, four poster bed draped in furs and soft quilts. In the corner of the room were two armchairs, behind which sat a large fish tank. “Please, sit. Relax.” He closed the door, then removed the octopus from his shoulder and dropped it gently into the aquarium’s water. Its long tentacles pushed it through the clear water and wrapped around a large rock, its beady eyes watching them.
Thia slowly sat, and Castier began rubbing her shoulders. “It must be stressful, all that adventuring you do.”
“Oh, it is,” Thia agreed, hoping Opal had stayed back in the study.
“You need to relax. Let your hair down,” Castier whispered, his thumbs kneading into her shoulders. “I must say, I’m surprised someone as lovely as you has that sort of job.”
Thia tensed for a moment, then changed the subject. “Actually, I’ve come across some interesting news in my travels.”
“Oh?” Castier said vaguely, continuing to massage her.
“Yes. About the giant ordening falling apart. You haven’t heard anything about that, have you?”
He was silent for a few moments and his hands stopped. “Hm, no. I can’t say I have.”
“That’s too bad. It’s only that I’ve heard of a lot of strain in the giant’s royal family. It’s rather worrisome. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who might have heard about it?” she asked casually.
Castier drew his hands from her skin and traced one along the edge of the chair, walking around to face her. He bent his face nearer to hers until Thia could count every bristly hair on his unkempt beard, and said, “I might be able to get you in contact with someone.”
“Really?” Thia whispered.
“Only, I expect payment for that sort of information.”
“I have gold,” Thia said, and saw a twitch at the corner of his lips.
Castier drew in closer. “What about payment in something worth more than gold?” Then, he pressed his lips to hers.
Thia stiffened for a moment but allowed the kiss to continue. I hope you’re not in here, Opal, she thought, then returned the kiss with convincing passion.
Roon found Flint hiding outside Castier’s study. “Enjoying yourself?” He hissed to the dwarf.
“I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any funny business,” he whispered back. They were both invisible.
“Uh, I’m pretty sure there is some, as you say, funny business.”
“Not what I meant!”
“She has a sending stone,” Roon said after a pause. “If she’s in any danger, she’ll contact Kilian and let him know. She’s just trying a more… friendly approach.”
“And what if this guy doesn’t know anything about Hekaton?” Flint asked.
Roon didn’t have an answer for that. If Drylum didn’t know anything, perhaps the witch with the black feathered hat did. If not her, they would have to try something else. “He’s our only lead,” Roon finally said.
“So, about those giants,” Thia said, placing a hand on Castier’s bare chest. She propped up her chin and looked down at him.
“Where did you say you were from, again?” Castier asked, sliding out of the bed and sitting on the edge.
Thia sat up, pulling the furs over herself and smoothing back her hair. “Nowhere, really. I’ve travelled all over.”
“Hm,” he stood and pulled on his trousers.
Thia went and retrieved her dress, pulling it over her head. She began buckling on her shoes, watching the man. “You said you had contacts…”
“Hm? Yes, well, certainly,” Castier said distractedly, “excuse me, for a moment.” He got his shirt over his head and quickly wrapped his coat back around him.
As he turned away, Thia whispered into the sending stone. “He’s not telling me anything. Time for anther strategy. We’re in his bedchambers, behind a hidden panel in the wall.”
“Right,” Kilian’s response came as a whisper in her ear. “Be right there.”
“Going so soon?” Thia asked him, closing the distance between them and drawing him into another embrace.
A small black beetle crawled under the panelled door, undetected by the guards inside the study, and heard whispers exchanged in the dark. She looked around and, seeing no one else in the small hallway, transformed back into her two-legged self.
There was a yelp and Flint shushed Roon. “Opal?” Roon appeared out of the shadows.
“Thia and that man… um, well,” her blush was visible through her copper skin, “she couldn’t get the information she needs from him. Well… I think we should go in there and try something else.”
“Should we call Kilian and Evelyn?” Roon asked.
Flint appeared. “How many guards are in there?”
“Just two,” Opal said.
“We can take them,” the dwarf said. “Come on!”
“Wait! I have an idea,” Roon said. “Opal, can I have the bag back?”
She quickly handed him the bag of holding, and he withdrew a small flask containing liquor and dropped in a few sprinkles of the powdered unicorn horn. “This should do the trick,” he said. “Be right back.”
Roon stumbled into the room with a stupid grin on his face, then turned around in pretend surprise at the two guards in the study, who immediately drew their weapons until they saw the small, three-foot gnome before them. “Well,” Roon said drunkenly, “hello gentlemen! Not fa-fer-very fair—hic—that you don’t get to sh-join in—hic—the festivities!” He held up the flask to them. “C’mon, friends! Won’t you partake?” He gave them his best grin. The two looked at each other, then shrugged and reached for the flask, each taking a healthy sip.
“Cheers!” Roon shouted as their expressions turned from enjoyment, to confusion, to blinking furiously.
“My vision’s gone all weird,” one said, looking around. “Everything’s fuzzy.”
“Me too,” the other slurred, then collapsed.
“What-d-did-you…?” The other slumped to the floor.
“Ha!” Roon peeked out of the door. “Flint, Opal, c’mon!”
Flint had ropes in his hands. He tossed one to Opal and the other to Roon and wrested the two swords from the guards’ loose grips.
“What’s going on!” Kilian’s voice whispered urgently as he stepped through the door after them and looked at the two muttering guards on the ground. Opal and Roon hurriedly tied their arms behind their backs.
“Oh, Roon drugged them,” Opal said happily. “Where’s Evelyn?”
“I didn’t think there’d be time to grab her,” Kilian said. “Where’s Thia?”
“Behind that door,” Flint pointed across the study.
“Brace yourselves,” Roon said with a grimace, trotting to the door.
Flint strode past him, throwing it open. “Taking advantage of my elf!” The dwarf shouted, drawing out his axe and glaring at Castier, who was currently pressed against the near wall with Thia’s body. Thia looked at Flint and rolled her eyes, stepping away from the human.
“Oh, thank Cloakshadow, you’re wearing clothes!” Roon exclaimed.
Castier sputtered. “What on—who are you?” He demanded, straightening his coat.
“About time!” Thia said to them.
“She consented,” Castier said in confusion, looking from Thia to the rest of them in the doorway.
“Tell us about the giants!” Flint growled, brandishing his axe threateningly.
Castier raised his hands and inched away from the wall.
“Alright, alright,” he whined, “no need for anyone to get hurt!”
“Where’s Evelyn?” Thia asked with a frown.
Roon sighed and muttered a spell, sending a message directly to the girl’s mind. “Evelyn, we’re in this octopus lord’s bedchamber. First door on the left. Two semi-conscious guards. You can’t miss it.”
“Okay!” Evelyn responded. “Can’t wait.”
“Speak!” Thia barked back at Castier. “Tell us what happened to King Hekaton. One of your golden goose tokens was found with Queen Neri’s body. We know you had something to do with it.”
“Not me, per se,” Castier said, looking defeated. “It was the Krakens,” he sighed.
“Like, the giant sea monster?” Roon asked.
“No, like the secret society. They kidnapped the king of the giants.”
“Why?” Kilian asked. “And where did they take him?”
“And what did you have to do with it?” Flint added.
“They offered me power in exchange for my influence,” Castier said. “They didn’t tell me much. All I know is that they took King Hekaton to the Trackless Sea by the northern islands. They killed the Queen under the guise of the Lord’s Alliance, they—” he stopped talking, then. His eyes bulged and blood dripped out of his nostrils. The man gasped, looking at the ceiling. The veins in his neck darkened and his body shuttered.
Then, he collapsed.
Roon rushed over to the man and pressed a hand to his forehead, feeling for the telltale essence of soul. “He’s dead,” the gnome said in surprise, looking at his companions.
Just then, Evelyn jumped into the room, both swords drawn. She looked down at the fallen body in disappointment. “I missed it?” She asked.
“He just—dropped dead,” Opal said quietly.
Flint turned on a heel and went to the end of the bed where a large chest sat. He nudged it with a toe, and it didn’t budge. “Bet there’s a lot of gold in there…” the dwarf muttered.
The large octopus clung to the edge of the tank, staring at them. Roon saw murder in its eyes. “Let’s go,” he said uncomfortably, “before that thing attacks us.”
“Good idea,” Thia breathed, watching Flint and Evelyn use a crowbar to break open the chest. Inside, as the dwarf had guessed, was a pile of gold, gemstones and a fine sword. Flint grabbed the bag of holding from Roon and began shovelling the gold into it.
“Hey!” A voice shouted outside the door. “What’s going on in here? MEN!”
“Uh oh,” Kilian said.
“Now what?” Roon asked.
“The conch!” Opal gasped, pulling it out of her pack. “Everyone, HOLD ON!”
Flint and Evelyn got to their feet and they all gathered in the room. Roon turned and saw three guards rushing toward them, but the low note of the conch sounded, and the bubble grew around them. It popped, and next thing they knew, they were standing back in the foyer of the underwater storm giant’s palace.