The elves walked tirelessly throughout the day, Jacynth in the lead. The pace she set was exhausting, particularly for Ligeia and Kyrian, who trudged along in silence, paying little attention to the rugged natural beauty surrounding them. Sam positioned himself in front of La’ss’a and began to subtly slow his pace until they were a good thirty feet from their companions. Then he paused and looked down on the lizard.
“What?” La’ss’a asked.
“What are we trying to accomplish with this, exactly?”
“I have no idea,” she grumped. “Find Sulveig and screw up his plans, I guess. We’re really just keeping ourselves occupied during Demaris’ little side-trip.”
“I don’t think anyone really appreciates what we’re walking into, here,” Sam replied gloomily.
“Yeah,” La’ss’a replied.
The coast appeared and everyone stopped to rest, looking down on the curved black smudge that was Murann. Ligeia smiled at the sight of the sea even as Jacynth scowled at the city.
“I mislike the sight of our destination,” the elven woman announced to no one in particular.
“Do not be disturbed by it. As with all things, it shall wash away in time and succumb to the soothing embrace of Ishtishia,” Ligeia replied. “Indeed,” she continued, eyeing the others for a reaction, “nothing we can do will hold back the sea forever. That is why it is best to make the most of each moment before it is washed away.”
Hadrilyn shook his head. “I care little for the words of your goddess. In time all will pass into naught whether we will it or no. What matter whether we vanish into fire or ice or a watery grave?”
Kyrian glanced over at Odran. The young fey’s disappointment was plain. “Do all cities look like that?”
“Most that I have seen, yes.”
“Hmph. You should see my home village some day. Granted, you may need to practice holding your breath. My people are amphibious so we skimp on the bridges and so forth.”
Kyrian continued to frown at the distant smudge. “Isn’t this a major trading port?”
“Yes,” Odran said. “It was the major port until the monsters took it over. Even now, the trade here remains brisk.
“Then there should be a lot of foreigners. Perhaps we can disguise ourselves? In any case, we may not attract as much attention as I feared.”
“We won’t know until we get there,” La’ss’a said pointedly. “Just don’t be all gushy goodie. Let’s get moving.”
Turtori chuckled. “At least we left the paladin behind.”
The sun was beginning to set by the time they reached the gatepost. A single hobgoblin with two ogres blocked the road into the city, but the towers above them bristled with hobs armed with crossbows. It looked like a solid defense. Ligeia, without thinking, rearranged her clothing to display a little more bosom and leg.
When they reached easy conversational distance the hobgoblin said, casually, “All right, halt already. I seen you. What’s your business in Murann?”
“We have stuff to sell,” La’ss’a replied briskly.
“Merchants? You don’t look much like merchants. Where’s your wagons?”
“Our valuables are more portable,” Kyrian explained.
Ligeia smiled and waved at the ogres. One bared enormous rotting teeth at her. It appeared to be salivating.
“These elfy people your guards or something?”
“Lackies,” La’ss’a corrected.
Kyrian rolled his eyes. “Something like that.”
“I don’t think we want any elfies in the city.” Jacynth sniffed angrily but said nothing. “I ain’t got no orders about lettin’ no elfs or humans or . . . things”—the Hob continued glancing at La’ss’a—“into the city.”
Sam stepped around Kyrian, muttering, “Let me handle this.” Kyrian shot him a blank look. “So, if there’s nothing in your orders, then we’re free to enter the city, right?”
“Well, I don’t know about that . . .”
“Of course, I’m sure your orders include the elf tax, don’t they? It’s all the rage out East.”
“Tax? What tax?” The hob blinked as his brain caught up. “I mean, yeah, the elf tax! Ten gold a head!”
Sam grinned. “Tell you what, I’ll just pay and you can check the exact figures later, mmkay?”
Sam dug into his belt pouch and pulled out a few coins. The hob accepted them eagerly and began to stuff them into a pocket when the ogre standing behind him growled and slugged him in the shoulder. Reluctantly, he shared the booty with the two ogres, who grinned and settled back. Sam began to walk around the hobgoblin when the monster abruptly grinned and shoved him back a step.
“Course, it’s an extra charge since you’re comin’ in after curfew.” Ligeia slipped up beside the hobgoblin and purred.
“Are you sure about that?” she asked. The hob examined her assets for a minute, then grinned.
“Well, maybe I can forget about the curfew . . . this time.” He flung out an arm and delivered a resounding slap to Ligiea’s buttock. She squeaked and barely managed to resist grabbing the hilt of her rapier. “Now get outta here before I change my mind. And don’t let me catch you makin’ no trouble. As for you, you stop by here later when I’m off duty, huh?”
“Oh, I’m sure you will see me again. Very sure,” she said, her voice dripping irony.
The interior of the wall was crowded with people and overhung by buildings that cast deep shadows all around. The shadows grew deeper by the minute as the sun continued its descent into the sea.
“Well done, Sam, remind me to buy you a drink,” Kyrian said quietly.
The blond human shrugged. “You just have to give them something they want more than harassing you.” He shot Ligeia a cautionary look. “Something you’re willing to give up.” She ignored him.
“Now that we are past the gates, our first step is probably to procure some accommodations,” Jacynth said. “Perhaps we should split up and meet back here in an hour?”
“Split up? You have a secret meeting or something?” La’ss’a demanded.
“No, I simply thought that your group might have more luck on your own, considering that we are a bit unusual and conspicuous.”
“All right, an hour then.”
Hadrilyn nodded to the female lizard. “If worse comes to worst, we can all camp in the Merchant’s Street, I doubt they have closed it down.” The elves turned off and made their own ways through the crowded street. The others clustered together against the pressure of the crowds and began their search, all except for Ligeia, who lagged behind, looking for humans in the crowd. There weren’t many, but after a short time she spotted a dark-skinned gentleman dressed in elegant silks dripping jewels. He walked alone, apparently unconcerned with the rough nature of the city.
Ligeia edged through the crowd and arranged herself to bump into him, but he stepped nimbly aside without so much as changing his balance and turned to grin at her. In his dark face, his eyes and teeth were very white.
“Might I be of assistance to you, madam?”
Ligeia put on her best helpless damsel impression and went for it. “I am so sorry, but I must ask . . . might you be a Calishite?”
His grin widened slightly. “But of course.”
Ligeia smiled. “It is a relief to me to meet a fellow-countryman among all these northern barbarians,” she explained.
“A pleasure it is for me to meet you as well, lovely lady. I see from your appearance that you have suffered some recent misfortune . . . ?” his voice rose, turning the statement into a question.
“Oh, yes, I have been very unfortunate of late.”
“Fascinating,” he replied, taking her hand. “It is a story I would like very much to hear.”
“I fear I have little time, for my companions and I are seeking a place to rest from our long weary travels . . .”
“What luck, for I am indeed the owner of a caravanserai here n the city. Perhaps you will collect your friends and join me in my humble residence?”
“Oooh, that would be lovely,” Ligeia cooed. The man tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and drew her along the street. They found Kyrian almost immediately: he was staring deeply into each shadow as he walked slowly back their direction.
“She was just here a minute ago,” he muttered. Ligeia waved to him and he threw his hands up in relief. “I think La’ss’a has found a place not far from here,” he yelled.
“Greetings to you, friend,” the dark man said.
“Ah, well met?” Kyrian said dubiously.
Ligeia grinned. “This kind gentleman has a place where we can stay the night,” she explained.
“Indeed, I hope it will be to your liking.”
“Great, let’s get the others.”
La’ss’a and Sam were not too keen on the idea, but they were too tired to argue so they followed along as the Calishite led them to a set of wide stone steps that led up to a curtained doorway. Beyond the curtain, they stepped onto a polished marble floor, covered here and there with thick carpets. Delicate wooden tables bearing silver bowls of fruit were scattered around the room. Women wearing little more than some artistically placed scarves played delicate musical instruments or lounged on silken cushions. All in all, it was the perfect picture of decadent Calishite splendor.
“Ooooh,” Ligeia whispered.
“Wow,” said Kyrian. Sam copped a bored expression, snagged some fruit from a bowl and began chewing.
“Before I forget, may I ask your name, kind sir?” Ligeia said.
“But of course. I am Hali al-Jazid ibn Zhud. Come, come, I have a suite that will be perfect for you.” He clapped his hands imperiously and a platoon of slaves descended. Within minutes, everyone had been politely but firmly escorted to other rooms, stripped, and ensconced in hot soapy water.
La’ss’a chased the slaves out and paddled around happily in her enormous bath for some time. Her psicrystal attempted to join her and promptly sank to the bottom, where it protested loudly and indignantly until she fished it out and put it on a towel.
“Just because you look like a snake, that doesn’t mean you float,” she told it severely. “Now sit there and behave yourself. I haven’t had a good swim in a while. I’m quite itchy.” She dove back under the water and settled on the bottom, her eyes half-lidded in pleasure. Long minutes passed while she looked at the world through a rippling circle several feet above her head. Then Sam appeared, looking down into the bath.
“La’ss’a?” he said, his voice distorted by the water. With a grin, she realized he couldn’t see her. Her scales had gradually shifted color until she matched the tile. “For crying out loud . . .” he said and turned away to look somewhere else. La’ss’a kicked herself hard off the basin and burst out of the water, latching onto the human from behind. Sam didn’t even twitch; he just glared at the grinning lizard for a long moment.
“Are you quite finished?” he demanded.
“You’re no fun,” she complained. “I gotcha good, though.”
“Uh-huh. You’ve tried this on me before, remember?”
“Oh yeah. It didn’t work very well then either, as I recall. Well, you can’t blame a lizard for trying.”
“At least you didn’t bite me this time,” Sam grumbled. “I came in here to tell you that I’m going to go pick up the elves, our hour is almost up.”
“Nah, I’ll go. I don’t have a bunch of clothes and armor bits and so forth to put on.”
“But you’re sopping wet. And so am I now, again, thank you so very much.”
“Bah, you’ll dry. And so will I, watch . . .”
“I’ve seen this trick too!” Sam said, scooting out the door just before La’ss’a shook herself like a dog, scattering droplets of water across the room. “Go get the elves, I’m getting some food!” he yelled from the other room.
“Yes, SIR!” La’ss’a bellowed. She threw a belt over her shoulder, tucked her psicrystal into a pouch, and trotted off.
Kyrian sat in the common room, wondering how exactly he should go about eating some of the peculiar food. Sam sat down next to the fey and helped himself. Smiling, Kyrian copied him, then choked.
“Wfgl!” he sputtered.
“Good, isn’t it,” Sam mumbled around a mouthful of food. Kyrian slopped water from a silver carafe into a glass and gulped it down.
“You must have a cast-iron tongue,” he gasped after a moment, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
Sam shrugged. “It’s spicy enough, but hardly worth so much drama.” Ligeia put in an appearance wearing a dark silky robe that matched her hair. Kyrian stared and she preened a bit in his gaze.
“I suggest you relax and enjoy the hospitality here. I am going to consult with the owner and find out if he knows anything useful,” she said.
“Mm,” Sam responded vaguely.
Ligeia stopped at the door and turned back, eyeing Kyrian. “Watch out for those Calishite girls. You will find it hard to say no, and once you say yes, your soul is lost,” she said mysteriously and vanished.
“Don’t let her worry you,” Sam said. “You only miss your soul for the first few minutes. Then you forget allll about it.”
Kyrian blinked at him, mystified, and set about trying to find a dish he could actually eat. He’d just settled on what appeared to be potatoes in cucumber sauce when La’ss’a reappeared with the elves. All four stared open-mouthed at the accommodations.
“This . . . doesn’t look much like a hut, La’ss’a,” Odran said after a moment.
“Ah, but see, you are pleasantly surprised. If I told you that I found a mansion, you could only be disappointed. Still, I don’t understand why they put clothing all over the floor.”
“I thought it was grass,” Kyrian said, poking the carpet. Sam chuckled a bit.
“So,” La’ss’a continued, “where do we start looking for Sulveig?”
Jacynth shrugged. “I confess myself somewhat at a loss, but I’m certain something will turn up . . . in the morning.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Kyrian said cheerfully.
“It’s not a plan,” Sam corrected him. “What we have is a complete lack of plan. I might even go so far as to call it an anti-plan.” He yawned. “But right now I’m actually too tired to care. G’night,” he said, and wandered off to his room.
“Is he always like this?” Jacynth asked.
“Sam? Like what? Nonchalant? Sarcastic?” La’ss’a asked. “Tall?” She leaned towards the elven woman and lowered her voice conspiratorially. “It’s all on account of his trouble, you see.”
“What?” Jacynth and Kyrian said simultaneously, both looking worried.
“Yeah, see, I heard Barak explaining that Sam has”—La’ss’a’s voice lowered further—“personality. But you didn’t hear it from me,” she announced, resuming her normal posture. Turtori snorted into a cup of chai.
“That sounds bad,” Kyrian breathed, his face the picture of concern. La’ss’a fell over laughing.
“Have you been drinking?” Jacynth demanded of the lizard.
“No, no, I’m fine, just a bit giddy I guess. I’m going to get some sleep.”
In the morning, La’ss’a woke to find the common room empty and went back to the lobby. Jacynth, Odran, Hadrilyn, Turtori, Ligeia, and Sam were all leaning against the bar in various postures of boredom.
“Where’s . . .” she began, but Sam gestured over towards a half-hidden alcove in the corner. Several people were sitting around a round wooden table, eating methodically and silently. They looked human, although at least one had his head shaved and was covered with intricate tattoos. Their clothing was oddly uniform, in reds and oranges with large leaping-flame symbols. Kyrian was standing near them, observing.
“Well met, fellow travelers!” he said. As one, the humans stopped moving and fixed flat, hostile stares on him. Then one after another they stood and walked out, leaving behind a single tall woman whose long orange hair matched her tabard exactly. “I’m sorry,” Kyrian said. “Have I given offense?”
“Our business is our own,” she said, “And I would thank thee to leave us to it.”
“As you wish, lady,” he said and began to turn away. She frowned.
“I spoke hastily, perhaps, stranger. I would fain turn a petitioner from the True Faith.” Beside La’ss’a, Ligeia made faint gagging noises.
“Here we go,” she whispered.
“I am but a pilgrim in search of truth,” Kyrian said. “I’ve heard many lies along the way.”
“Then hear this Truth: all light and glory in this world spring from the Flame. Honor his name and thy life will be filled with all that is blessed. Turn from His face and sorrow will dog thy steps for all time! Thus is Truth. I must rejoin my companions, however. But I will meet thee here later and speak more to thee.”
Kyrian’s smile became somewhat fixed. “I look forward to it,” he said. The woman swept by him and left the room. He slowly swiveled around and looked at his companions at the bar. “What in the Nine Hells was that about?”
“They are devotees of Kossuth,” Ligeia explained.
“And that means what?” La’ss’a asked.
“That they are under the delusion that fire is everything. They worship it, pale flickering thing that it is, so easily snuffed out . . .”
“I knew a guy once who believed that fire was everything,” Sam muttered. “Of course, he liked to burn down warehouses and watch the rats scurry all over the place. I wonder what happened to him. I think he’s dead, actually.”
“Well, Dougal always sad those who play with fire should expect to get burned,” Kyrian offered.
“You can’t trust them, they’re from Thay after all,” Ligeia said. “Dangerous.”
“Yes, but perhaps we can use them to our advantage,” Kyrian persisted. “Friends to our enemies, perhaps?”
Odran shook his head. “If they are from Thay, they undoubtedly have their own sinister purpose here.”
“We would do well to find out what other factions are present in the city before we become much entangled,” Hadrilyn said.
“Well, this group said they would return here, so in the mean time we should be out and about.”
“Agreed,” Kyrian said. “Not everyone will be loyal to the ogre mages.”
La’ss’a trotted towards the door. “No time like the present.” The others followed.
“We’re staying together, right?” Kyrian said to Jacynth. “I don’t want to run into any more hotheads alone!”
“You have to learn sometime, kid,” Turtori said, smirking.
“It’s probably best,” La’ss’a said absently, peering down the street.
“We will follow you and stay out of sight in case we are needed,” Jacynth decided. The elves put up the hoods on their identical gray-green cloaks and blended into the crowd. A large owl soared out of the sky and landed on a rooftop above the party, watching them.
“Well, okay,” Kyrian said, looking at the bird.
“I suggest we start with the taverns at the docks,” Ligeia suggested. “No one gossips more than sailors.”
“Fine, let’s get this goose chase going,” Sam said, turning to stride down the street. The city was full of activity. A swarm of feral children flowed around them as they walked. They passed a black palanquin borne by enormous fleshy slaves. The curtains twitched aside and inhuman ebony eyes blinked in the light, watching. A squad of hobgoblin cavalry mounted on dire wolves thrust its way through the crowd, forcing them to bolt for the side of the street or be crushed.
They passed an outdoor kitchen where carcasses of nearly every description were cooked by sweating slaves. Gnolls, hobgoblins, orcs and ogres mingled freely. In one corner was a single dwarf with grayish skin.
The docks were a din: ships were loaded and unloaded by shouting sailors, while at the very edge of the water a vociferous open-air market carried on. In the middle of all this chaos, a single pristine building stood. It had expensive glass windows and a delicate pointed roof. Above the door was a painted wooden sign bearing a single scroll.
Kyrian fought his way to the side of the building, relieved to be out of the crush of bodies. He peered through a window and saw a tidy shop full of books, potions and scrolls. “Hey! Hey guys! This place may be worth a visit!” he said. La’ss’a ducked between a couple legs like tree-trunks, grabbed the door, and popped inside, followed by Ligeia.
Sam was about to follow when a hand plucked lightly at his sleeve. “Yes?” he said, turning to look around.
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask . . . oh my gods!” a woman’s voice cried. “Sam?! Is that you?!”
“Shhh, it is, but you have to keep it quiet,” he said, winking. It was a short, husky woman in leather armor. A two-bladed sword was strapped across her back. It was an unwieldy weapon, more showy than practical. “Hello, Elice,” he said after a moment.
“I thought you were dead. How did you escape?”
“Oh, you know, a little thing here, a little luck there. What about you? I thought you were gone for sure!”
She stuck out her tongue. “It’s a long story, and not very pleasant either. It’s good to see you again.”
Sam smiled. “Good to see you too. Here, let’s step into this shop for a bit and catch up. You always did like shopping,” he said.
“Eh, sure, why not. I’m sure Tom won’t mind, since he’s my new boss and all.”
Sam froze, struggling to keep his expression mild and friendly. “Really? You have a boss?”
“Yeah, he’s . . .” Elice stopped abruptly and shot Sam a distrustful glance.
“What, you don’t trust me?” he said, returning her gaze knowingly.
“No, nothing. Never mind.”
“Come on, you can’t just leave it at that. What’s going on?”
“Well . . . for a long time I thought you might be the one who turned us into the guards. There. I said it.” Her voice took on a challenging edge to it.
“I could say the same of you. Of course, maybe the real culprit is still out there, and we both think they’re dead.”
Elice sighed. “Tom is a Shadow Thief, or at least he works for the organization, which is pretty much the same thing. He bribed the guards to let me out of prison and put me into the pits to fight. I did pretty well for myself and paid him back, and now I work for him. It’s not a bad job,” she said.
“Hmm. Think he’d be willing to trade us some assistance for a favor?”
“Tom is always willing to trade,” she said somewhat dubiously.
“Tell you what, maybe you know. Some friends and I are looking for an ogre mage making a move in the area. Ring any bells?”
“Friends?” Elice asked. Then she shook herself and went on, “Do you mean Sythillis? Or some other ogre mage? There are a couple dozen in the city, at least. Let’s go inside and talk with Tom, he knows a lot more than I do. I’m just the muscle around here.”
“I just want to be sure Tom isn’t their partner or anything.”
“No, he’s not stupid enough to get involved like that.”
Inside the shop, La’ss’a peered around, looking for the proprietor. After a moment a man in neat, elegant clothes bustled forward.
“Welcome good, uhm, creatures,” he said, taken slightly aback by the sight of the lizard. He rallied magnificently however. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”
“Hail and well met, shopkeep,” Kyrian announced. “A fine establishment you have here. We’re new to Murann—have you been here long?”
“Oh, a year or three, it’s easy to lose track. I am Tom, purveyor of all that is magical,” he said, brushing his hair aside. He looked a bit elvish around the ears and eyes. His voice was deep and melodious, every word carefully shaped before being delivered to the world. The effect was oddly mesmerizing. “Adventurers, eh?”
“Well, I don’t know about ‘adventurers’, but we have seen a few things on our way overland,” said Kyrian.
“Do you buy as well as sell?” La’ss’a interrupted.
“Wonderful, I love to hear a good story. And yes, little one, I purchase nearly any kind of valuables for sale. Or, if you prefer, I can hook you up directly with a buyer.” La’ss’a chinned herself onto the counter and began rummaging through her pack, stacking an odd assortment of items around her. Tom slid around behind the counter and picked up a crystal snake, holding it up to his eye. It hissed at him and he started; La’ss’a snatched it out of his fingers.
“Oops, sorry, that’s not for sale.”
“Is everything you carry arcane?” Kyrian asked. “Or do you handle more unusual items?”
“Unusual how?” Tom asked idly, fingering the rings of a chain shirt.
“Well, perhaps you are familiar with powers that come from the mind instead of spells?”
“Psionics, you mean? Sorry, I don’t traffic with Underdark creatures, and you would be wise not to do so, either.”
“Like the duergar?” Kyrian asked.
“Indeed. And dark elves, illithid, svirfneblin . . .”
“We saw one on our way here.”
“Did you now?”
“Indeed,” Kyrian replied.
“Do you consider psionics bad?” La’ss’a asked pointedly.
Tom’s ‘friendly shopkeeper’ facade began to fade, replaced by the look of a very shrewd man that knew far more than he would ever say. “Bad? Is any power bad?” It simply depends upon who uses it and what they use it for. So now I’m going to have to ask: who are you and who sent you?”
“We have been honest,” La’ss’a insisted. “We just wandered here. And look, I have a very nice staff that I would not mind parting with. It is not magical but it should fetch a good price all the same.”
“No one sent us,” Kyrian said. “We came freely.”
“Hah. You sent yourselves, maybe?”
“Um, okay?” La’ss’a said.
“Let me see the staff,” Tom responded after a minute.
Sam slid in through the door, Elice following him. Ligeia caught sight of Elice instantly and frowned.
“Shh,” Sam told Ligeia. “They’re here.”
“Who?” Ligeia asked.
“Well, not here here, but in town here, anyway.”
“From the sound of it, this gentleman doesn’t like psionics much. He may be against the one we seek.”
“Trust me, that could change. But he may still be of use to us.”
“So who’s your new friend?” Ligeia asked venomously.
“She’s not a new friend.”
“My name is Elice Sandy.”
“Mm. I am Ligeia.” Elice nodded shortly. “What brings you here?”
Sam glared. “Do you ever just mind your own business?” He said harshly.
“I work for him,” Elice said, gesturing at Tom. Sam shook his head and watched the transaction going on at the counter.
“All right,” Tom announced. “I’ll give you 2675 in gold or equivalent trade for the lot.”
“Is that a lot?” Kyrian asked.”
“No, it’s not,” Sam said, striding up to the counter. Tom chuckled.
“It depends on who you are. Elice?”
“Why don’t you go clean up in back?”
She looked at Tom, confused. “Uh, if you say so, boss.” She skirted the counter and vanished into the back room.
“Let me just say that I think the Underfolk may be allied with the people we’re hunting here,” Kyrian said abruptly. Sam turned and stared at the fey, who leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear.
“Well, he doesn’t like the Underfolk much, does he?”
Tom rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You are a curious bunch. Tell you what, let’s go in the back and have a drink together, shall we? You tell me your story and I’ll throw in some information to sweeten the exchange.”
“Fine, fine, lead on,” La’ss’a said, jumping down from the counter.
“Good, because frankly I think if I let you wander around the city you are going to get me killed,” Tom said, heading into the back room.
“Why would us wandering around get you killed?”
“I can think of a few reasons.”
Instead of the typical back room of a store, full of unshelved merchandise and peculiar things covered in dust, it looked more like an office shared by several untidy people. Elice was clearing the worst of the detritus away, but the tables, chairs, and various footlockers were still covered in miscellaneous papers and weapons. The room smelled strongly of old food and leather oil. Tom brushed off a chair and leaned back comfortably, propping his feet on the table. Sam stood, staring down at him, his arms crossed, broadcasting his distrust.
“I take it from your none-too-subtle questions and hints about psionics that you are here looking for a certain unpleasant person?”
“We are looking for some people, yes,” La’ss’a confirmed.
“Name starts with an S maybe?”
“Sure, why not.”
“So what do you want with Sulveig, anyway?”
“We want to find out if he had anything to do with certain recent events.”
“What recent events.”
“A psychic storm,” La’ss’a explained briefly.
“Crystals that turn magic into psionics, too,” Kyrian said.
“Well, this is the coast, we have storms here sometimes, but I hadn’t heard of one foretelling the future.”
“Cute,” Sam said.
“There are a lot of hobgoblins around here,” Ligeia remarked absently. “Almost enough for an army.”
“Yes, well, Sythillis does have military ambitions, always has.”
“Mm,” Ligeia said. “We are told Sulveig has ambitions, too.”
“There are those that would prefer he stay out of Athkatla,” Kyrian announced.
Tom laughed. “We’d all prefer to keep him out of Athkatla. Goodness, can you imagine what he’d do with the university at his disposal? I’ll be frank, although you have little reason to trust me. Sulveig is a monster. He came to this city by ship a few months ago and went straight up to the government building.
“He had about twenty assorted creatures with him, and they brushed Sythillis’ guards aside without blinking. He struck some kind of deal with the ogre mage for mutual assistance: Sythillis would put some of his military at Sulveig’s disposal, and Sulveig would, somehow, bring down Athkatla’s defenses and enable the ogre mage to conquer it.”
“We may be able to stop him,” Kyrian said, “but first we have to find out what he’s planning.”
“And where his base is,” Ligeia piped in.
“Well, while he was here Sulveig and his crew stayed at the government building, but he’s rarely been in the city two nights in a row. He’s been wandering all over the countryside doing who-knows-what.”
“Who’s in the government building now?” Kyrian asked.
“Sythillis is, and his guards. He doesn’t like campaigning much, he leaves that to his sister. Now, this last bit is speculation, but I think Sulveig is here looking for some . . . object. Now, I think I’ve told you enough. If you want to do business, we can do business, otherwise I’drather you not involve me any further in your little adventure.”
“Can you point us to anyone else who can help us?” Kyrian asked.
“Why would I do that? Or, more succinctly: what’s in it for me?”
“What do you want?”
“No, the question is rather: what do you have?”
“We’ve already shown you what we have,” La’ss’a shot back.
Tom clucked his tongue. “Information is infinitely more valuable than cash, my friend.”
“Uh, do you mind if we talk about it for a moment?”
“Not at all. Discuss all you like. Come Elice, let us adjourn to the other room.” She got up and they both left.
Sam frowned. “Well, we could offer to take out Sythillis for him.”
"What, assassinate him?!" Kyrian asked.
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