Talan awoke suddenly, startled out of sleep by a loud crash and pained yell from downstairs. He eased himself out of Hexla’s embrace and edged his way toward the living room, where Yolette was scrubbing industriously at some bloodstains on the floor. She waved vaguely in Talan’s direction. Mystified, the ranger eased past her into the kitchen and through the back door into the garden, where Haden, Kal, Mal, and Sheen were gathered in a rough semi-circle around a man dangling by his wrists from one of the overhanging eaves.
“What’s going on here?” Talan asked. “I leave you guys for one evening . . .”
“We could hang him upside-down if you’d prefer,” Haden replied.
“What happened? Who is he?”
“He’s a priest,” Sheen said. “He was working with Margone and Betzalel.” Talan blinked as he realized that she was covered with wounds still oozing blood. Kal and Haden looked similarly disarrayed, if not quite as bloodied.
“Surely he didn’t inflict all of this by himself?”
“There was a hamatula, too,” Sheen explained. “And Betzalel was there briefly.”
“He just told us that Betzalel and Margone are trying to kill a god and the world of Thazia to create a Lord of Pain for Alocer’s Disigil,” Kal summarized. Talan hunched his shoulders, feeling a bit sheepish and guilty.
“That’s what happens when you let yourself get distracted,” he muttered.
“Your night was better spent here, my friend. Trust me,” Kal said, wrinkling his nose at Orthros in distaste. “No rest for the meddlers.”
“I think we’re done with this fellow,” Haden said. “Let’s cut him loose and go find Tulio.”
“Wait,” Orthros sputtered. “You’re going to let me go?”
“Sure, it’s not like you WANT to help the bad guys any more,” Kal said.
Haden rolled his eyes. “That, and we’re squeamish about killing people who aren’t actively attacking us. So off you go, don’t do it again.” He yanked on the rope and the knots holding Orthros’ wrists came undone, dropping the priest in an undignified heap on the ground.
“I’m not so squeamish,” Mal remarked as the priest sprinted across the yard and tumbled over a low wall into someone else’s garden. Sheen tried to conceal a yawn.
“I need to get some rest before we do anything else,” she said.
“I’ll send a message for Tulio to meet us here, then,” Haden replied, sliding his arms around her so she could rest her head against his chest. She yawned again, more assertively.
Tulio arrived just as they were finishing breakfast, looking harassed. “It looks like we need to visit Thazia after all,” Haden greeted him without preamble.
“Oh,” Tulio said, a bit nonplussed. “I guess you’ve already heard, then. Did Thea tell you?”
“Heard what?” Haden queried.
“About the drow who came to see me. I came right over to tell you about it.”
“Another one?” Kal asked.
“Yeah, real polite fellow. Very quiet. But, as you can imagine, given my . . . history with those guys . . .” Tulio’s hands went to his chest briefly.
“Is he still alive?” Sheen asked, curious.
“Yeah. He just asked me some questions about the other one, the one who hired me to steal that diadem.” Tulio shrugged. “I’m not sure how important it is, but I thought you’d want to know.”
“It’s odd,” Haden said, “But I suppose there are probably some loose ends there. Anyway, Thazia. Do you remember how you got here from there?”
“A bit,” Tulio said.
“If you can take us to where you think the portal is, I’ll bet Lissandra can handle the rest.”
“I have a question, though,” Kal interjected. “Are we ready for Betzalel? He muddled all of our minds rather easily last night. I’m not confident that another encounter with the creature will go any better.”
“Do we really have a choice?” Sheen asked.
“If it is only his mind twisting skills you fear, there are wards to counter such,” Mal offered.
“Maybe,” Kal hedged. “Any insight from the book?”
Mal sighed and shook his head. “It’s very vague. It references the Queen of Chaos who ruled the Abyss. However it is rife with imagery and references that could be dated and misunderstood.”
“What Queen of Chaos?” Haden asked. “I’ve never heard of anyone ‘ruling’ the Abyss.”
“It speaks of the time of creation and of the Ring of Law. I believe the ‘Old Ones’ are the Aboleth, but the term could be applied to various ancient beings.”
“Creation of what?” Haden demanded.
“Of everything,” Kal replied.
“Indeed,” Mal said. “It speaks of the Queen of Chaos—mm, let’s call her Kay for short—killing the Prince of Demons, or having him killed and replacing him. After that, Kay went and got herself in a bit too deep and was imprisoned, so she doesn’t really rule much any more.”
“Um, how is this relevant to our problem?” Sheen asked.
“He did say it was vague,” Kal said, chuckling.
Mal shrugged. “It also speaks of the ‘7 Warders’ who created the Rod of Law, which, if I’m not mistaken, was subsequently shattered into the Rod of Seven Parts. Then it makes reference to the Eye of Dawn and the Tear of Night, but only that they are the remains of the Two Serpents. The fact that it is written upside-down and backwards doesn’t really help much, either.”
“What serpents?” Sheen asked.
“The Two Serpents born from the Ring of Law that was then sundered leaving the Eye and the Tear.”
“Alocer, Betzalel and my mother are messing around with some deep, scary forces here,” Haden remarked, awed.
“They’re trying to create a new Ultimate Mystery by duplicating the Lady of Pain. I should hope it wouldn’t be easy,” Kal muttered.
“Most of it is metaphor and very subject to interpretation. Based on whichever racial mythos you use, it could have any number of meanings. Maybe I can contact a few of these ‘Old Ones’ directly.”
Sheen blinked. “Let’s, um, let’s not go disturbing any ancient beings of terrifying power right now, all right? Any more, at least.”
“True,” Mal said, closing the book with a snap. “I have heard that many a wizard has gone mad communing with such beings.” There was a brief pause while everyone stared at Mal to see if he was joking, but he simply returned their gazes blandly.
“Yes, first things first,” Haden said finally. “And the first thing is to go to Thazia, find my mother, and pry the Tear out of her evil little hands.”
“Are you up to fighting your own mother?” Sheen asked carefully.
“We needn’t kill her,” Kal offered.
Haden shrugged. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that, but . . . I’ll be all right. If it has to be done, it has to be done.”
“I was just thinking, she might be very happy as a llama,” Kal explained. Haden snorted with laughter.
“All right, Tulio, show us where you think the portal is,” Sheen said, standing up.
“Sure,” Tulio said. “It’s just off the Great Bazaar. I don’t know what the key is, though. I’ve been there since and it hasn’t opened.”
“Lissandra can Analyze Portal, so let’s stop at Vander’s and see if she’ll help us.”
Mal threw his cloak around his shoulders. “Maybe one of us should learn that spell. We seem to find ourselves needing that kind of information quite often.”
Lissandra was sitting at her usual table, talking to Jazra. When she saw them coming, she reached automatically for her log book. “Well met, friends.” She gave Kal a speculative glance. “This one I don’t know.”
“This is Kalenthor,” Haden said. “He’s sometimes a wizard.”
“True enough,” Kal said.
“He’s from Faerun, you’ll like him.”
“Really?” Lissandra asked.
“Silverymoon, to be specific,” Kal affirmed.
“You attract Northerners. I’m from Tantras, myself.”
“We’ve found a portal to Thazia,” Sheen said, “but we need help analyzing it so we can use it. We . . .” She turned around to look at Tulio, only to discover that Jazra had dragged him into a corner.
“He WHAT?!” the tiefling demanded, making everyone in the room jump. “Where IS he?” Tulio mumbled something in reply and Jazra released his arm and sprinted out of the room. “Sorry, I think Xillian may be planning to assassinate someone. Gotta go!”
“Um . . . okay?” Sheen responded several seconds later. “Is she planning to help him or stop him?”
“Stop him, I think,” Tulio said weakly.
“He must not be planning to kill Ringhammer, then,” Lissandra growled. “I suppose we should get on with the portal hunting, then.”
Tulio led the now augmented group to the entrance of Chinzpeter’s Used Clothing. “That’s where I first appeared in Sigil,” he said. Lissandra set her book down and began spellcasting.
“That’s an unusual one,” she said when she had finished. “The key is a happy memory of your mother.” Haden slapped his palm against his forehead dramatically, then winced.
“Ow. Don’t do that if you have horns. Anyway, there’s no way in hell I’m going through that portal.”
“Me neither,” Sheen muttered. “I don’t even remember my mother.”
“Do we need one memory per person?” Mal asked.
“No,” Lissandra said, “Just one for all of you. It’s like any other key.”
“We have the boy,” Kal said. “His memory can open it for all of us.”
“Maybe,” Tulio said, backing away quickly, “but I am NOT going through it!”
“Oh, bah,” Kal said. “I had an untroubled childhood. I’ll open it.” He concentrated briefly and the portal flared to sputtering life. “Right,” he said. “Now let’s go rescue Joris.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw him at the Circle this morning when I went to see Firil, before the rest of you were up. He seems a bit downtrodden. Perhaps the succubus has backslid.”
“Let’s not let our imaginations run away with us,” Sheen grumbled. “You could have said something sooner, you know.”
Haden stared into the portal. “I know Joris is our friend, but this is kind of important,” he said.”
“Well, he could help us live long enough to reach our goal,” Kal insisted.
“I have to say that I agree with Kal,” Talan added.
“All right!” Haden snapped. “I’ll meet you on the other side, then.”
“What?” Sheen demanded.
“Mother’s far enough ahead of us, it can’t wait. I’m better at finding information than anyone else. I’ll go.” With that, he stepped through the portal and vanished. It wavered a bit, as if uncertain, then closed abruptly.
“Dammit!” Sheen burst out.
Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.
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