Illustration by Syreene
Ok…we are going to Bral… at least long enough to do some more research. As much as I’d love to just take off and deal with the people out for us directly… it’s kind of hard when you’ve only got a name.
Once we land, Vedis Valentine decides to leave without us and mutter something about needing a drink as she heads off to The Laughing Beholder. I have to admit I’m starting to worry about her. She just hasn’t been the same ever since that party Tain threw on Refuge. I just hope that whatever she’s doing, she doesn’t get herself hurt.
Anyway… we’ve got things to do… but it wouldn’t hurt for the rest of us to go see Large Luigi at The Laughing Beholder either. That beholder has his eyestalks in everything… so maybe he’s heard of this Helm Ho and the Queen of Thistles? It couldn’t hurt (I hope) to ask… and at the very least we can get a drink and check-in with the latest rumors.
As we walk into the place I give a nod to Luigi and ask if we can talk in the back when he’s done serving the latest customers.
“How’s my favorite floating ball of tentacles?” I ask with a nervous laugh as I do my best not to pace a hole in his rug. “Me, I’m having a heck of a time… especially when suits of armor appear out of nowhere in our ship and tell us ‘The Queen of Thistles is watching us.’” My hands slap to my sides as I sigh and turn to him with a pleading look. “Have you ever had days like that? If you have, I’d love to hear all about it.”
“Hmmn… I don’t know about your suit of armor,” Luigi answers as an eyestalk rubs under his lip in thought, “but the Queen of Thistles… supposedly she’s the Major Domo to the Khan of Nightmares, and the one who picks combatants for the for the Coliseum Morpheon games on the Plane of Dreams. She takes only the best to compete, since it’s a bit of a big event there that happens only once every century.”
“So…” I drawl as I put my hands on my hips and my lip curls into a grin, “she thinks we’re that good, does she?”
Luigi chortles and rolls his eye. “Don’t get too big for your britches there kitten. You’ve all got a lot of potential, to be true… but time will still tell.”
A thought strikes me. “When is this game, anyway?”
“In about 50 years,” Luigi laughs as he waves his eyestalk and heads back to his barfront, “so you’ve got plenty of time to practice.”
Hmmn… 50 years is quite a while, so maybe we should focus on some of the other leads first. After a brief discussion about my latest dream with Lenata of Celestian over an ale, we both agree that she should see if her temple might have any information regarding “Aionius.” Considering I also dreamt of those plane-hopping sails, chances are he’s not going to be found anywhere around the spheres.
Ef Utan Izenik waves off going to the temple, as apparently he’s got some shopping to do with Ayrun Sorpic. While they are at it, he’ll stop by Halfling Town to see if Rory has heard anything about some of the other groups who have been out to get us lately. Between that weird Orc, the 10th Pit and the Shou (to name a few), I’m hoping he’s at least heard something for us to go on. All else fails, maybe he’ll pick me up some more Thunderstones.
Meanwhile, I decide to head to the Library of Spheres to see if I can dig up any information as to the origins of that Orc, any more info about the Queen of Thistles, and Aionius. I’m sure Lenata will have better luck regarding the last, but I figure the worst it could hurt to check is that I might get the sniffles from the dusty tomes.
A number of sneezes later, I walk out into the fresher air of the lobby to notice Ef Utan sitting on a bench, bent in concentration over a large book on his lap. Not one to pass up an opportunity, I quietly make my way over and peer over his shoulder to see the violent flourishes of Draconic sprawled over hand-bound parchment pages. A quick scan of the page shows me it looks a lot more interesting than it actually is, however. Just who finds formulas interesting, anyway?
“Got to love Draconic,” I joke as Ef Utan starts and slams the book shut. “You have to hack up part of a lung to say half of it, and try not to spit on people while you say the rest.” I shrug my shoulders as I climb over the bench and sit down beside him. “If you’re really that interested in boring formulas, though, I can teach you to read it sometime. It’s not like we don’t have time with some of the trips we go on.”
“I’d appreciate that, thank you,” Ef Utan replies as he nonchalantly locks the book and palms the key.
“So hey… where’s Ayrun? Did you guys find out anything?” I ask. Obviously he doesn’t want to talk about the book if he doesn’t have to… so we’ll just let that little secret simmer for a bit.
“It seems Ayrun has got some business to take care of here on Bral, so he is going on a bit of extended leave. As to information, the main thing I picked up is that the 10th Pit is conducting some dealings with the Ilithids over in God’s Marbles. What about you?”
I shudder as I remember our time exploring that Illithid ship. It was bad enough getting close to a dead one… I do not want to have to deal with them while they’re moving. “I was hoping those two groups would stay at odds with each other… I don’t even want to think about what they’re doing if they’re working together. Though I imagine it has something to do with one group supplying lunch for the other. Blech.” I make a face as I cross my legs in my lap and rest my elbows on my knees. “I couldn’t find anything special about that Orc, but I can tell you that they definitely came up with some odd stuff during those Unhuman Wars. I found a little bit about that Aionius guy, however. Something about a castle at the edge of time? Not exactly a concrete lead, I know…”
“Hmmn. Well hopefully Lenata will have some better luck and give us something to go on. Shall we get some fresh air while we wait?” he asks as he gestures towards the main doors.
“Sure… why not? They don’t take too kindly when I smoke in here anyway.” I say with a shrug as I hop up and follow him outside.
I take a moment to work out the kinks in my shoulders from hunching over books as Ef Utan stops short and raises an eyebrow. “It seems someone else has been looking for us too.”
“Who do I need to add to the list now?” I joke dryly as I notice what looks like a Shou male smiling and heading towards us. He’s not in the usual red and yellow silks, though… he’s dressed more like the typical Bral natives around here… all dark colors and non-descript. My hand drifts toward the dagger in my sash, however… as it’s kind of hard to forget all of the previous encounters we had with Ozamata’s people.
“Hail, noble sir… I am so pleased to have finally caught up with you!” he greets Ef Utan with a smile, bows, and holds the scabbard of his sword out in front of him as he takes a knee.
I take a step back just in case.“My name is Takero Tsuyoshi,” he continues witha bowed head, “and I pledge my sword to your service.”
Ed Utan and I glance at each other in confusion. “I’m sorry… you what?” he asks the kneeling man.
“You have done my family a great service with the death of Yazir Muwara, and for that, I owe you my sword.”
“Oh… it’s an honor thing…” I mutter as I nudge Ef Utan. “Your call,” I mouth to him as Takero continues to kneel.
“Ok… how about we talk about this over lunch?” Ef Utan suggests and Takero looks up with a smile.
“I know just the place!”
I do my best to spin some exciting tales of our adventures to date over some really good bowls of noodles at The Burnt Tail on the edge of Shou Town. At one point, I even take out the chart. Heck.. if he’s going to be travelling with us, he should know the score, right? If he really wants to follow Ef Utan around that bad after discovering half of the galaxy is probably trying to kill us, then so be it.
I’m really getting into embellishing our brief visit to the Winding Stairs on the way back to the library when we see Lenata waiting on the steps. She joins us with a wave and a questioning look at Takero as we all head back to the ship.
“You’ll never guess what happened!” I say with a grin as I wrap my arm around her shoulder. “He’s no space hamster, but Ef Utan has himself a new friend!”
“So I see,” Lenata replies as she looks at the Shou doubtfully. “I found out some information, by the way. It seems that the person we seek is a powerful wizard called a Sapphire Mage who lives with his assistant Montgomery in a castle at the Edge of Time. How we’re supposed to find the man, however… is another story.”
As we return to the ship we find that we’ve got another visitor… but this guy looks a bit more official. He introduces himself as a “Courier” before slipping into a trance-like state. Before I can ask Lenata what the heck is going on, he speaks again in the voice of Lady Tarillia Moune as he (she…whatever) informs us that our contract with House Moune has been purchased, and that details will be forthcoming.
“What? Why would she do that?” Lenata asks in surprise as we all look shocked. “Please return with this message: This news is unexpected. Please tell us who has bought our contract, why, and what our options are if we find difficulties with the new arrangement.”
“I don’t know about this,” I mutter as I cross my arms and frown. “If that Morgan Kullek bought it, I say we get out of the shipping business… or find a way to earn some money quick.”
“In the meantime, it looks like we’re staying until we get the details,” Ef Utan sighs as he grips his book and heads up the plank to his quarters.
As I walk to my room I can’t help but notice the smell of alcohol coming from Vedis’ room. I take a peek in and rear back in disgust at the smell of stale alcohol and stuffy air.
“I’m worried about her,” Lenata says from behind me as she gnaws her bottom lip with her teeth. “I’m afraid it’s getting to the point where we need to do something.”
“Well, if we can get her out of there, perhaps I can take a look through to see what, if anything, she’s been hiding from us. Being a Maenad and all, I’m afraid it’s probably going to take some help.”
After a few minutes Lenata returns with Ef Utan and Kelson. Thankfully Vedis drunken stupor was strong enough to keep her passed out as the three of them carefully placed her in the hold for safekeeping. Don’t ask me whose though… after she wakes up, we may all be on the run for our lives.
I take a deep breath and venture my way through the piles of veils and empty tanglefoot bags to eventually tote out nine bottles of Elven Absinthe. “No wonder she’s having issues… that’s quite an expensive addiction she’s got going,” I mutter as Ef Utan and Lenata come up the stairs. “Where the heck did she get 9,000 gold, anyway? These bottles are worth at least that much on the market…”
Ef Utan frowns at the thought as he looks at the bottles in disdain. “Good a time as any to see if they are still worth that much,” he mutters darkly. “Get this stuff off the ship.”
“You got it, chief,” I say as I stuff the bottles in my handy-dandy pack. If I recall, Hastain is here on Bral… I’ll bet he’d have a field day with this stuff."
“Ah Vedis… what did you get yourself into?” Lenata sighs as she turns from the room to follow the rest of us outside. She almost runs into the rest of us, however, as we notice that we’ve got yet another new visitor waiting for us.
“Greetings, Spelljoined crew,” the man greets us with a bow. “I am please to inform you that the great Tain the Reigar was so entraced by the tales of your ‘Hold of Holding’ that he has purchased your ship and contract. Your hold will serve quite well as Tain’s new spare wardrobe… and in trade he offers the Hammership Nomad, which should serve you well. Delivery will be conducted in the next few days.” He hands a parchment over to Lenata with a flourish and then leaves.
“Heh… well isn’t that something,” I chuckle as I shake my head in amazement. “I guess I better go disable those traps I left on the ship, then…”
“A hammership, eh… " Ef Utan mutters to himself. You can almost see the wheels spinning behind his eyes. “We’re going to need some new crew!”
“Wait a minute,” Lenata says as she finishes going over the scroll a second time. “The Nomad… isn’t that ship… haunted?”