Hours passed. candles burned low, and were replaced; flagons were emptied, and refilled. By and by, the strangers exchanged their tales across the table which beheld a great map. As the recounted their journey, the older gnome marked their trails and travails with tokens, and took a fearsome many notes of the account given.
“And so, tis as wae feared.” Paulan’s expression was grave, a solemnity settling over his candle-lit features. “The King and capital, fallen. And not from without. Our voyagers and traders had heard tales, movements in the dark from every corner of the lands, but they didne seem tae have any cohesion. Petty chaos; cultists here, orc raiders there. Not until we’d gotten word about that, err, monster—”
“No mere monster, yeh must understand,” Ozukar intoned. “I know the clan doesn’t care too much fer the study o’ magicks, or relevant somesuch, but if the research we’ve gathered to this point stands tae reason… this type o’ occurrence has happened only a few rare times in millennia past. The old folk woulda called em somethin’ different.” He turned his head, glancing sidelong at Magni. The beared priest lowered his head, a hand moving to brush the ever-smouldering mark on his arm.
“My ancestors would have called it a God,” he said quietly, with bitterness in his breath. His gaze shifted, passing from one corner of the map to the other. His eyes traced a silent route, the long, cold road he’d taken over wilderness and civilization: far from this eastern coastal villa, to the vast northern steppes of his ancient home. “This world is changing, changing as the seasons do. Changing, as it has always done when a new deity is birthed upon it. But this being, this… abomination. It will not bring winter to the world,” his words were soft as a prayer, and his eyes beheld the depth of grief that only comes when a man’s faith is broken. “It will bring oblivion.”
Paulan seemed incredulous. “What can you mean? This thing, aye its bad news, but so are dragons, and other such plights. An army could kill it, and armies are in no short supply these days…”
The bard interjected, thumbing the grip of her lute. “I’m not so sure. I didn’t see the beast, but I saw its effects, felt its influence. That Desden we met, he was a halfling consumed by the creature; its like his noble soul had been poisoned. He was not the hero i’d heard songs about.” She fidgeted slightly in her seat. Remembering the swamp, and her brief demise on its outskirts, was uncomfortable for her. “A-and, we all saw. That whole fort, swallowed into the earth. the grass and everything that vile pendant touched, it sickened and died. And Jerrick,” she said, putting a slender hand on his shoulder," he only touched it, and he—
“Thats Enough. I’m FINE.” He recoiled a bit from her touch, but then gently placed a mailed fist over her hand. “Anyway, we’re here now. Get the damn book already,” he growled, staring daggers at Oz.
“I told yeh already,” Oz gritted back, rising to his feet in a huff. “the DAMN book izzn’ here; accordin’ tae Magni’s vision, yoo-know-hoo has it already. We’re a day late and a silverpence short.” Turning, he shrugged at his uncle. “The whole bloody time, we’d meant to see yoo about a book, yeh see…”
Paulan had a fierce look about his face. "No doubt. I imagine, the same ponderous volume that imperial representative confiscated a day or so ago. “his emerald eyes glared vibrantly at Odistlo. Hmph, same book this chap tried to acquire twice before that.” The elder gnome had been leaning over the map before, but now he stalked over toward the dark-skinned elf, arms folded with as much gruffness as he could muster. “Come to think o’ it, the arsehole looked a great deal like this one. Kin o’ yourn, I presume?”
Odistlo simply smiled, a grin that seemed much like a cat toying with a feather. “Yes, my brother, unfortunately. We’re on our way to kill him, if you don’t mind. See that you don’t get in my way. I’d much rather we maintain such… cordial… relations,” he finished, dryly.
Paulan looked the odd group over, from his nephew, to the dark elf, and back again. “Well,” he started simply, “whatever your business, keep us out of it, if ya can. we’ve been getting by well enough, but only because we’ve managed to maintain our neutrality. I’ll not have you muckin’ it up with any ill-planned heroics.” He moved back to the far side of the table, and resumed his strained study of its current affairs. “At any rate, for the nonce ye’ve got the run o’ the place. just try not tae cause too much trouble, eh Oz? Oh, and on second thought, Stay Out o’ the bloody LIBRARY.” His punctuated words stabbed the air, and his eyes didn’t bother to look up, brooking no contest.
Ozzie’s teeth flared a bit at the restriction, but after a breath, he regained his composure. A thought struck him, and he let the question fly. “Then, I am no longer exiled? Aside from the library, o course—”
“DON’T BE DAFT, boyo!” his uncle roared back. “A’course, yeh’r still exiled, BOOKBURNER.” He shook his head, as if to clear the booze from his ears. “But thar’s no sense in worryin’ about that, now. After all, none o’ the elders are around to enforce it.” His shoulders drooped, and waves of pent up frustration seemed to roll off of his brow. “As a means to ensure our cooperation, the entire triumvirate was… eh.. shall we say, indefinitely invited, to stay at the manse their Empress is usin’ as a makeshift palace. Desden’s Strand.” He folded his arms behind him, awaiting Oz’s reaction.
“…invited?” The mage asked quietly.
“Oh, aye. They aren’t treated like prisoners; probably kept like royalty, really.” His eyebrows twitched slightly, betraying deeper significance. “But they haven’t been allowed to leave, and we’ve had virtually no contact with ‘em atoll. On top o’ that, they’ve blockaded the docks, so our ships haven’t been able to sail, either. We’re allies of convenience, fer now, but really they’ve got us by the roots o’ our beards, lad.” He turned askew, facing the closet from whence all the new arrivals had come.
“Them imperials, they humble themselves momentarily when they need a peek into our library, or to purloin some of our luxury cargo in courtesy fees; and every once in awhile, hooded chaps would come through that mirror, requestin’ specific materials from hard to reach places.” He rubbed his chin, contemplation deeply etched in the lines on his cheeks. “That empress o’ theirs, she dinnae seem so bad, actually. Every inch the worthy ruler you might expect. But her dynasy, well, every dealing they have with us has been like a sharp dagger, disguised under an embroidered napkin. They want us to know that we can’t refuse.”
An uncomfortable silence settled on the room. It persisted a few long moments, until Odistlo broke the quiet. “Well, all this gloom has made me quite bored, I’m afraid. And the hour has likely grown quite late, not that there are windows in this sky-forsaken hole.” He smiled, toothy and insincere. “I hate to be another dark-skinned demander of unnecessities, but I desire a soft place to sleep and many, many pillows upon which to rest.” He eyed the grizzled gnome, who rolled his eyes in response, and rang a bell a moment later.
Immediately, a strange pair of evesdroppers burst downward through the trapdoor above. Paulan glowered at them, unsurprised yet still clearly annoyed. “Really. Your posts are much further away from the door, I believe. just how much of that did you hear?”
“Too Much—” The short haired young guardswoman grumbled…
“Not Enough!” The bandanna’d sailor excitedly chimed. I told yoo, I knew it was him. Soon as I heard the first clatter, didn’ oiy tell yer it was him??"
“Yea, yea, sure; nao get outta my way,” she huffed, shoving him aside. They both rushed in, nearly bowling the minty-eyed mage from whence he stood.
Ozukar recovered surprisingly quickly, delight filling his voice to child-like levels of giddiness. “Stars Above! Todrick! Toddy old fellow, izzat yoo? And Edinith…” he ducked a well-timed punch from the half-plate wearing warrior, and wrapped his arm around her instead. “Awl, liddle Edi, yeh done got yerself so big an’ tough, haha!”
The trio roughhoused a moment before inadvertently bumbling into the hapless bard, who giggled and shoved all three of the little warmongers to the floor. “Watch where yer goin, twinkle fingers!” Talin laughed. “And who are these mystery assailants, anyways? C’mon Oz, Clearly some introductions are in order!” She stood over them, lute over her shoulder, and hands expectantly placed on her hips.
“These two ruffians, Ozzie wheezed, “were me best two mates growin’ up. The smiley one is Todrick Frayedknot, and the grumbly-wumbler over here, ooof!” he gasped, catching a sudden eldow to the ribs.
“Edinith Cobblestomp. Both of clan Delaque,” she intoned.
“Both at yer service!” Todrick beamed.
Enough of your foolishness, all of yeh," Paulan sighed. You two, show this lot to their chambers eh? And ‘ave some fresh candles brought down here, once ye’ve got that one," his pointed finger clearly indicating the exiled wizard, “safely locked away.”