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Apr 9, 2008

Cold Blood: Session 22

“Sooo, is anyone hurt?” Joris asked, healing his own spider-bites with a pained expression.

“I don’t think so,” Sheen said.

“Not really, just tangled up a bit,” Talan replied.

“I’m fine,” Haden said. “Sticky, but fine.”

Mal did not venture an opinion.

“Did that spider drag Firil down here? What happened to her?” Sheen asked, beginning to explore the lair a bit more thoroughly. Talan hacked the webs away and approached the pile of bodies. He unwrapped the cocoon on top to reveal an unconscious elven woman. She stirred as the web was pulled away, leaving nasty red welts on her skin.

“Are you okay?” Talan asked carefully, in elven. She didn’t respond.

“It may be the poison,” Joris said. “Let me try something.” He held up his hands and a faint silver glow formed around them. When he touched the woman, the glow sank into her skin and her breathing eased. She slowly opened her eyes.

“I don’t like this,” Sheen said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We can’t just leave her,” Talan said.

“I wasn’t suggesting it,” Sheen replied. “Let’s *all* get out of here.” The two of them picked up the elven woman and began carrying her towards the exit tunnel.

“We should set fire to the remaining webs,” Mal suggested. “There may be egg sacs or young spiders remaining.”

Haden hesitated. “It may set fire to the entire tree. I don’t think the elves would appreciate that much.”

“Perhaps not, then,” Mal said, bending down and liberating a sack of coins from the webbing, then climbed out of the pit.

“Where am I? Ahh!” the elven woman squealed as she was hoisted bodily up the passage.

“Don’t worry, we’re here to help you,” Talan said.

“I’m just supposed to take your word for that?” she huffed.

“Um . . . yes,” Talan stammered.

“You can go back down in the pit if you like,” Sheen added uncharitably.

“Wait! No, I’m sorry, that came out all wrong,” she said. They sat down on the branch outside, breathing the fresh air appreciatively.

“Are you Firil Starwing, then?” Sheen asked.

“Yes, that’s me. Do I know you?”

“I am Sheen, and these are Talan, Joris, Haden and Mal. We’ve become involved in the intrigues of some unsavory people and we came here when we found that their plots involved you in some way.”

Firil stared at Joris, then glanced at the nearby shrine. “That’s my brother’s shrine . . . and you’re wearing his armor and carrying his mace?”

“You left them behind when you left the Circle,” Joris explained. “Numeledes gave them to me. Do you want them back?”

“No, Sarolar would be glad to know that someone decent is using them. So, what unsavory types are we talking about, here? I feel like I should know something, but there’s a big black spot in my mind instead.”

“Do you remember what prompted you to go out?” Haden asked.

“Almost . . .” Firil said, frustrated.

Haden and Sheen exchanged a glance. “Gyderic was here,” Sheen said. “Making people forget is his favorite trick.”

“Let’s go back to the temple,” Firil said. “I’d feel safer there. And put me down,” she said to Talan, “I can walk.”

“Okay,” the ranger said, “but be careful.” Firil took a cautious step forward, then staggered dizzily and nearly fell off the branch.

“Um, never mind,” she said. “Maybe you could help me?” The five of them helped carry Firil down the stairs and across the Moot platform to the temple of Corellon, where the attendant priest immediately began fussing over her. She waved him away irritably.

“So,” Haden began again, “Did you see or meet with anyone unusual today?”

“I . . . maybe?” Firil said. “Wait . . . I did. Yes, I did. He was asking me about something . . . something he needed to know. Once he had it, he . . .that’s right. He told me it was a good idea to visit my brother’s shrine, and I agreed with him. When I looked back over my shoulder, he was gone.”

“Do you remember what he asked you?” Haden queried gently.

“It was important . . . a secret,” Firil whispered. “It was why I left Sigil! I was afraid that if anyone found out, they’d come after me! But what was it? I think he made me forget!”

“Can’t you do something?” Sheen asked, looking at Haden.

“Me?” Haden asked doubtfully.

“Well, I certainly can’t,” Sheen said. “I have psionic power, but I only really know how to use it for physical tasks.”

“Well, I could try probing her mind . . . if she wants to do that a second time,” Haden offered. Talan looked slightly alarmed.

“Would it hurt?” Firil asked.

“It shouldn’t,” Haden said.

“Then, please, help me if you can. It’s horrible to feel part of your life cut away.”

“I know,” Sheen and Haden said simultaneously. Haden sat down on a wooden bench beside Firil and put his hands carefully on either side of her head. He closed his eyes, concentrating.

“Try to think back to when you left Sigil, maybe that will help,” Haden said softly. “What were you doing? Did you leave in a hurry? Did you pack carefully? Did you say goodbye to your friends?”

“I was worried about what I’d learned,” Firil said quietly. “I didn’t stop to pack, didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I knew I could stay with Sarolar, here on Grandfather Oak. They took me on at the chapel, and it was mine after he died . . .”

“What were you doing before that? Why were you in Sigil at all?”

Firil frowned. “R-research. I was interested in the origin of the planes.”

“How were you researching that?” Haden asked, startled.

“There were a lot of conflicting stories, a lot of different ideas.”

“I wouldn’t know there was even one,” Haden offered. “Were you asking people, or digging through books . . .”

“Oh, books, definitely,” Firil said. “People don’t know what they’re talking about half the time. There was one . . . it had so many answers.”

“Where do you think books come from?” Haden said, amused. Firil closed her eyes, drifting into some sort of reverie, and Haden prodded her a bit. “Dear, I need you to concentrate.”

“Sorry,” Firil said distantly. “That was what he asked me about. I can’t remember why it was important, only that it was. The Eye of the Dawn.”

“What did you say?!” Mal burst out.

“The Eye of the Dawn. It’s a gem—a diamond.”

“What do you know of it?” Mal demanded.

“Less than I did before, I think,” Firil said, staring up at Mal. Haden winced and let go of her, looking mildly disgusted. “That man asked where it was . . . I remember . . . they hid it on the Isle . . . the Isle of Black Trees.” Haden started to laugh helplessly. “What’s so funny?” Firil asked, perplexed.

“Oh, nothing,” Haden gasped. He continued under his breath: “Hey, Bendon, when you went and raided the famous faerie treasure, you didn’t happen to find a big honkin’ diamond, did you? You did? And what did you do with it, exactly? Oh, you hocked it for licker and hoors. How delightful.”

“Do you know of this place?” Mal demanded.

“We know *of* it,” Joris explained.

“Did you find it, then?” Mal asked.

“We found out about a book that explained how to get there, and I told Bendon about the book. None of us actually went there.”

“We knew some people who were looking for a key to a portal,” Joris added.

“But Bendon showed up some time later with my ‘cut’, so I’m assuming *he* actually went there,” Haden finished.

“Then we should go back to Sigil before Gyderic finds him,” Sheen said tiredly.

“Do you think he might?” Joris asked nervously. Sheen stared at him incredulously.

“Is this a trick question? Do you forget that Gyderic so recently had Haden up on the slab and was messing around in his head?! If Haden knows, then so does Gyderic.”

“Don’t remind me,” Haden muttered, wincing.

“I think we all wanted to forget that,” Talan said.

“So we can find this Bendon in Sigil?” Mal asked.

“Yes,” Sheen said. “Let’s go, I don’t want him getting away from us again!”

“Which part of Sigil do you need to get to?” Firil asked.

“Bendon is a Bleaker wizard,” Haden said, “So he’s usually at the Gatehouse. We need to go to the Hive.”

“Then don’t take the portal in the chapel of Labelas Enoreth,” Firil said. “It’ll take you all day to get down there, and twice as long to cut across half the Cage. You’re much better off using the one here.”

“We didn’t know there was one here. We’ll have to tell Lissandra about it.”

“Not too many do, that aren’t elves, anyway,” Firil stated. “It will lead you to the Green Mill in the Lower Ward, which is not far from the Gatehouse. Follow me.” She stood, a bit shakily, and led them deeper into the temple, to a small dining room and gesturing to a lovely arch that led into the kitchen. “The key is a song sung in elvish.”

Everyone exchanged glances. Finally, Haden cleared his throat. “Since mah baby lef me, I foun’ a new place to dwell, down at the end of lonely street at . . . Heartbreak Hotel . . .”

“What the hell?” Talan asked, staring.

“What?” Haden replied, stopping. “Elvis!”

“That’s *not* what she said,” Talan informed him.

Mal rolled his eyes and sang briefly. The portal opened, and they stepped through, beneath an arch in a wide avenue bordered by majestic trees. A tall yellow-green water mill stood at the end of the boulevard, incongruous among the worn gray buildings that surrounded it on all sides. Haden looked around, perplexed, then managed to orient himself on a distant landmark.

“Ah, I know where this is,” he said. “I haven’t been here before, exactly.” He led them into the street, which turned out to be Ragmonger’s Lane, that led into Ragpicker’s Square, right in front of the Mortuary, where the guards scowled at them in a desultory fashion. They ducked through the Alley of Lingering Sighs, still moving at a good clip, and emerged on Bedlam Run, which, in its turn, led them to the Gatehouse.

A long queue of the desperate nearly blocked the gate, but Haden walked past them as though he didn’t even notice their existence, the rest of the party trailing in his wake. The Bleaker tending the line glanced up at him, smiled very slightly, and waved him through. Inside, a handful of Cabal followers were tending the barmies in the processing area, including a familiar face: Derioch Ysarl.

“Ah, Derioch, how lovely to see you,” Haden said. “Is Bendon around? It’s a teeny little bit of an emergency.”

“He’s out exercising our Criminally and Irretrievably Insane guests,” she said shortly. “Wait here, I’ll get ‘im.”

Haden glanced at Talan while they waited impatiently. “How does a wizard ‘exercise’ the criminally insane?” he asked in an undertone.

“I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that,” Talan replied seriously. Mal was scanning the crowd. He abruptly grabbed one of the people in the yard.

“WHERE IS IT?!” the elf demanded.

“Oi! Turn ‘im loose, there!” one of the guards shouted, charging across the courtyard.

“Mal!” Sheen gasped, grabbing the elf’s arm. Mal blinked and a look of surprise came over his face. He released the man he’d accosted.

“I, I’m sorry . . .” Mal whispered. “I don’t know what came over me. I’m all right,” he said to Sheen. “I’m all right now.”

Derioch returned with Bendon Mawl in tow. The tiefling wizard’s pale face split in a wide grin when he spotted them. “Haden! What’s the chant, you hellspawn rascal?”

Haden favored him with a pained look. “Could we talk somewhere a little more . . . private?”

“Uh, sure,” Bendon said, his brow furrowing in perplexity.

“You can use my office,” Derioch offered. “This way.” She ushered them into the building and down a short hall to a tiny stone room stuffed with paperwork, really more of a closet than an office.

“Thanks, Derioch,” Bendon said. She snorted and left. “Listen, I know it’s early, but if you wanna go grab a drink, we can—“

“Bendon,” Haden said seriously, “when you were visiting the Isle of Black Trees, did you happen to come across a rather large diamond?”

Bendon shot Haden a furtive, suspicious look. “Don’t know nothin’ about no diamond,” he said sulkily. Haden grabbed the wizard’s shoulders and shook him. “Aah!”

“Bendon, there’s no time for this. If you know something about this diamond your life could be in danger, and we can’t protect you unless you tell us!” Haden snapped.

“All right! All right! I’ve got it!” Bendon glanced around the room nervously one more time. “I’ve got it right here.” He reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out a truly monstrous diamond: at least fifty carats, and absolutely perfect, flawless. It glowed even in the faint light of the cell, a brilliant orange that shaded delicately into pink, like the most glorious of sunrises. Mal’s eyes widened and he reached for it, but Bendon pulled it back with a scowl.

“She desires it,” Mal said darkly.

“How much?” Haden asked.

“Has to be worth six digits, at least, Haden!” Bendon scoffed. “Dippin’ inta yer trust fund?”

“And we could just take it off you, but I’m trying to be straight with you, here,” Haden said. “You can keep it if you want, but some nasty people are going to show up looking for it soon.”

Bendon shrank back a bit more.

“Come on, Bendon. The minute anyone else finds out about that thing, there will be murder in the streets. Big gems are bad news,” Haden urged.

“I don’t know,” Talan said, shaking his head. “Maybe we should just walk away. Why should we stick our necks out for someone who doesn’t want our help?”

Bendon gaped at them, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly. Then he closed his eyes and drooped, nodding. “I spent alla rest,” he whispered regretfully.

“Let us give you what we can, and if the gem turns out to be harmless and we wind up selling it to someone, you’ll get . . . 60%. That sound fair?” Haden coaxed. “Otherwise, you get some gold, and we absorb the risk.”

Bendon sniffled, his eyes filling with tears. “Yer a good kid, Haden. Yah always been good ta me.”

“Everyone turn out your pockets,” Haden said to the rest of the group. They dug through their pouches and packs, piling a fair amount of gold on the desk, the only clear space in the room. “Talan, would you go get Derioch?” Haden asked quietly. Talan looked unhappy, but left the room. Haden grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and scribbled for a while, finishing just as Talan returned. Derioch eyed them all, clearly waiting for an explanation.

“We’re giving this money to Bendon,” Haden said, “but I wanted you to keep it for him, since I know he has a tendency to spend it on things that aren’t very good for him.” Bendon looked disappointed for a moment, then sighed.

“Ah, yer right, I do at that.”

“I also wrote down the terms of our agreement here if you want to look them over, then I’ll sign. That way if there’s a problem later, you can show that to someone.”

Derioch read the paper quickly, then signed it and passed it to Bendon, who followed suit. Haden nudged Mal and leaned over the desk to sign, drawing Derioch’s attention while Mal claimed the diamond from Bendon. With the transfer complete, Haden relaxed a bit.

“Sorry about all that, Derioch, we’ve been finding out some alarming things. We’ll get out of your hair now,” he said apologetically.

“No problem,” Derioch said. “Alarming things seem to stick to you cutters like stirges. Still grateful for all yer help, even though we lost two of them barmies you brung us.”

“Wait, which barmies?” Talan asked.

“Alvion and that other fellow, Ulfwood. The two who thought everyone was a demon come to take ‘em for their sins? Both died in the middle of the night.”

“What happened?” Sheen asked.

“They broke loose and strangled each other, as near as we could tell. The bubber you brought us, though, Clarent, he got better.”

“So he was released?” Sheen asked.

“That’s right. Hope he won’t go back to his old ways, but who knows. Anyway, we should be gettin’ back to work. Both of us,” Derioch added, tapping Bendon’s shoulder. Bendon nodded and shuffled forward, then suddenly threw his arms around Haden in a crushing hug.

“Thank ye. Yer a good friend,” he said, then hurried out of the room. Haden stared, shocked.

“It’s a bit strange, those two strangling each other,” Talan said as they left.

“I wonder whether Shillman is still alive,” Sheen said grimly. “Or Margram.”

“Or Trent,” Joris added. Mal pulled the eye out from under his cape, causing the brilliant sunrise colors to bloom again.

“Any idea what that thing is for?” Haden asked him.

“It is why I am here, but I know nothing else,” Mal whispered.

“So your path is the same as ours, after all,” Joris said.

“Mayhaps,” Mal replied. “They seem to cross and follow the same river for a ways.” He slid the stone out of sight again, before they came to the street where anyone might see it.

“Well, now that we have it, whatever else is going on with that stone will come to us. We won’t have to go looking for it,” Haden said. They walked in silence for a while.

“Does anyone else think that we may have bitten off more than we can chew, here?” Sheen asked.

“Yeah,” Talan said. “And then some. At least no one can accuse us of foisting off our responsibilities on others.”

“It bit us first,” Haden said. “The danger will persist until we somehow flush it into the open. There’s no guarantees that we’ll be able to handle it when we do . . .”

“That’s certainly true,” Joris said.

“But we definitely won’t be able to handle it if we let them take the initiative. We’ve been winning so far because we haven’t hesitated.”

“I believe everything will be fine,” Mal said serenely.

“I hope you’re right,” Joris said. Mal grinned.

“Except for Joris, of course. He gets eaten by a bugbear in a few months. I hate being a seer sometimes . . . sorry friend.”

“Sounds like me, all right,” Joris said.

“Maybe we can talk them out of it,” Talan said. Joris chuckled.

“Do you know of any place where we could lay low for a while?” Mal asked. “I need time to contemplate this course of events, and what it may mean.”

Haden frowned. “Chirper’s is becoming an increasingly bad idea. Too public, too many people know we have rooms there. My family owns a lot of property in the city.” He faltered, then said, “Suinjes did say Father was . . . better. I should probably go see him. I don’t know.”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” Sheen said quietly.

“All right,” Haden surrendered. “But let’s get cleaned up first. We’re . . . sticky.”

“We can stop at my room,” Sheen said. “It’s on the way.”

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