About Last Night . . .
Chapter Eight, Part Four
After touring the temple and tithing eighty gold pieces, SeLiem finds a female Priestess of the same rank who is willing to answer his questions about ASU while they eat in the church dining hall. Their conversation is interrupted when a higher ranked Loyalist (the official church title for a Priest of Kubri) requests SeLiem dictate a report on his travels to the church Scribe. This will take hours. As it is his duty to do as he is ordered, he works diligently, but all the while he pines for the day when he can be the one ordering lower ranked Loyalists to complete mundane tasks.
Arturus wakes late in the afternoon and wanders the streets, absorbing all the sights, smells, and sounds of a city so eclectic and welcoming that he feels safe for the first time in a long time. Artists paint in quiet spots as musicians play in the more bustling areas. The city is crowded, but the energy is upbeat. Merchants are everywhere, but they don’t seem to be the fat, lazy slobs he saw in Darkuth and Dumas. These are cheerful, hard-working people, just earning an honest pay. While admiring a craftsman creating clay sculptures, he spots Rastorn haggling over some items. The Wizard doesn’t spot him. Up the street is a Bardic College to the right and a monument to the left. He pauses, deciding where to go next or whether he should greet Rastorn. He decides to take a closer look at the monument. It is a grouping of statues that depicts nine people grouped together in a heroic pose. The Elvish inscription, which is repeated in Common and Dwarven, neither of which he can read, says: In Honor of the Heroes of The Undead War (2900-2901). A six foot long sword originates from between the feet of two people at the center of the group, stabbing out at a slight upward angle. The sculpting is rough, but he studies it long enough to discern the likely sex, race, and occupation of almost all of the Heroes depicted. The most obvious are the male Dwarf Warrior and male and female Elves. He walks around behind the monument, to get a better look at the Elf woman’s body, which showed far greater detail than her face. A passer-by catches him staring at the statue’s shapely bottom, so he casually strolls back to the front of the monument and looks in the opposite direction. He has lost sight of Rastorn, but spots Red and Percy each eating a roasted turkey leg and heading toward the inn. They are walking with a male Dwarf, who is hauling a cart filled with metal. Red keeps leaning in and elbowing the male Dwarf as they talk. Arturus decides to follow them back to the inn, at a distance.
As Arturus walks, he thinks back to the previous night.
He had joined the outdoor party with no trepidation. Like most gatherings in ASU the group was diverse. There were people from the desert and people from the mountains, seaman, and forest-dwelling folks all congregating. Most were already drunk. In the dark, they must have taken Arturus for a Half-Elf, for they didn’t react as strongly as most people did. They welcomed him to their get-together and handed him a drink.
He was extremely drunk in half an hour and having a difficult time focusing on the whole crowd, so he looked around at those near him. Next to him was a man of unknown occupation who kept wanting to talk about some election or something. On his other side, was a fairly nice looking Half-Elf female merchant who laughed and hooted at everything anyone said. Across from him, a thin, pale, heavily pock-marked young man in robes kept making toasts and filling everyone’s mug. Apparently, this was his birthday party.
“Hey,” Arturus stammered out, “Hash anyone ebber kill Orcs and zen turn abound ans she a bootiful niked woman come back from ze dead? Ihs was a really exshiting thing.”
Arturus had found an eager audience in the female merchant as she listened to his slurred story. She laughed at inappropriate times and nodded excessively. Eventually, she leaned in and whispered to him, “Tha’s a good stowry, Art-russ, but right now,” she looked him in the eyes as she weaved back and forth slightly, “I wanna eitha regurgitate or copulate, whoops, let me use little words . . . um . . . oh, fuuuckit, do you wanna fuck me before I pass out?”
“I have a room,” Arturus shouted, as he shot to his feet and snatched her by the hand.
Shaking his head, Arturus realizes he has stopped walking. He has been following Red, Percy, and the male Dwarf, rather thoughtlessly. He realizes he had simply stopped because they had stopped.
The male Dwarf separates from the group and heads in a different direction. Red blows him a kiss, then laughs too loudly. She smiles and skips along as she and Percy keep talking, but eventually their conversation ends and they walk silently together, each lost in their own thoughts.
Red is happy she made a new friend and delighted to have spent time with Percy, whom she greatly respects, but her thoughts now switch to Lil. She looks forward to spending more time with her tonight. Most of all, she wants to tell Lil about her upcoming date with Gruff, the Dwarf she just met. She doubts she’d have flirted with him as she did had she not met Lil and become close to her so quickly. Her mind drifts to the prior night when their connection was forged.
“What’s the matter, honey?” Red quietly asked Lil, as rooms were being rented.
“I . . . I don’t want to be alone,” Lil whispered in reply, as tears welled in her eyes.
“Oh, well, sure as mae beard is red, one of the lads will be happy to stay with ye,” Red whispered back, smiling.
Lil shook her head, confused. “What? ‘One of’ . . . no, I would like to stay with several of them, like on the trail,” she says.
“Several? Lassy, ye sure have a big appetite for loving,” Red responded, somewhat shocked.
“Loving? No, I just want them around for protection. I wouldn’t . . . well, actually . . . well, not now anyway,” Lil answered. “It has been over a year since I’ve been alone. We always stayed together for protection – me and my adventuring band. And now – when I’m so lonely and scared – this is not the time for me to want to be alone.”
“Oh,” Red said, as she glanced at Melias standing just out of earshot, “T’is mae guess, he never thought about that when he offered to pay for a separate room for ye.” She patted the woman on the back and said, “All’s fine. If ye want, I’ll stay with ye.”
Lil wiped her eyes and answered, “Sure . . . but, can I trust you? I mean, like the other men-”
Red interrupted, “Don’t ye let the length of mae beard fool ye. Aye am a female, too.”
Lil looked shocked and embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I . . . I haven’t seen many Dwarves. I-”
“Fine, fine. Let’s just go, eh?,” Red interjected, before rushing over to tell Melias the plan.
After purchasing the first gowns they saw that would fit, they dropped off their gear in their new room and headed for the baths. When Lil just wrapped herself in a towel to head there, Red did the same. The two made their way down the hall, naked if not for their towels.
Lil’s velvety voice was matched by her wholly feminine strut. She walked swinging her left arm out slightly, which pulled her towel open with each step, while she barely held the towel closed below her neck with her right hand. The towel was just long enough to cover her rear end when standing still and, when she took longer strides, proved not quite long enough to cover front or back. The top of the towel could not fit fully around her large breasts, so her ample cleavage was on display. Her skin was light tan in color, due to her half Elven heritage, and blemish free. Although she was small in stature, her legs appeared long, though slightly thick, creating a stark contrast to her extremely thin waist.
Red’s towel was too big for a Dwarf and covered her from her very broad shoulders to her hairy, muscled calves. Her manly arm held the towel tight to her firm bosoms, while she attempted to swing her right arm like Lil did. Red is thick through the torso, so the towel didn’t pull all the way around her, and her entire front side was visible through the slit. Her fuzzy cleavage, thick red haired bulbous stomach, and unmentionables were exposed.
As they walked together, several men passed them. Each one stopped, turned, and ogled.
Red looked at Lil and whispered, “Even if ye don’t want any company, it looks like aye may be having some. When a smaller man stopped, Red looked over her shoulder and blew the man a kiss. The man shifted his eyes from Lil’s behind to Red’s bearded face, made a fearful face, and continued quickly on his way. Seeing his reaction, Lil attempted to hold in a smile.
“How about we just make tonight ladies night, Red?” she asked, with as much sincerity as she could muster.
Red looked up at Lil with one brow raised and said, “Alright lass, but all bets are off come the ‘morrow.”
The inn was built over a natural hot spring which guests would luxuriate in to gain the benefits afforded from the proposed curative powers of the high mineral content of the water. Although bathing in this water cleanses the body and is widely known to remove even strong odors, the spring is offered as a spa treatment, not a bath. That is why the men of the group were directed to the men’s bathhouse and not the spring. Red and Lil did not ask for directions, but followed signs directing them to The Hot Spring at the end of a long, descending, private hallway.
“Ye know, Dwarves and water don’t usually mix any better than Dwarves and flying,” Red said, as she hesitated in the doorway. The bathhouse is one large, enclosed room with a natural spring bubbling up into the in-ground pool which filled almost the entire area. The room was empty.
“Oh, don’t be a stick in the mud,” Lil exclaimed, as she disrobed and dove into the water. She disappeared under the surface of the pool, soon reappearing near the middle and continued, “By Altma’s hand, I never expected the water to be this hot!” as she fought for breath.
“Sounds great,” Red said deadpan.
“No, no, really . . . it’s . . . it’s very relaxing. Like sitting under the sun nude on a hot summer day,” Lil responded honestly. She moved around a bit, then made an awkward face and continued, “And there’s these . . . bubbles . . . coming up from the bottom and . . . oh . . . oh, they . . . tickle. Oh, Red, you have got to swim over here! It’s . . . ahhhh, wonderful.”
Red’s bushy eyebrows raised and she dropped her towel. “Now, that’s sounding interesting.” She paused, “Damn! Swimming is beyond mae skills!”
Lil’s voice had deepened considerably as she purred, “Sides . . . less deep . . .there,” and pointed to her left, eyes closed.
Red walked over to where Lil had pointed and slowly worked her way into the steaming bath. Soon, she, too, was moaning in unadulterated comfort.
Their bathing and shopping took over an hour and they had to run through the halls to make it on time for dinner. Neither took time to dry off properly, so their towels stuck to their wet bodies like glue. Again, men stopped, turned, and gawked. Red looked at Lil as they ran tippy-toe and bouncy-bounce through the halls and announced, “To Hell with men; I’ll be taking another bath tomorrow!”
Lil giggled loudly and, for a moment, she almost forgot about the death and destruction she had dealt with over the last month.
Since they had not taken a bath like the others, Percy and Rastorn were waiting at the table when Red and Lil arrived. Their new white dresses were made of poor quality fabric, so Lil and Red’s still damp bodies made the gowns nearly see-through. Percy excitedly welcomed them, not because of this (neither of them seemed to notice), but because he finally had someone to talk to who wasn’t Rastorn.
As they ordered food for the table, Red sniffed the air. It was clear these two men had not yet bathed. She asked what was taking the others so long, and Rastorn answered, “I heard there is a line at the baths.”
Red and Lil glanced at one another and smiled. When Lil looked away to listen to whatever Percy was saying, Red looked back at her and sighed. All her life, Red’s closest friends had always been male. Until recently, they had all been Dwarf males and those are the most manly males of all. Yet, here was someone who was as far from that as she could imagine and their friendship was all the more special for that reason.
In their room after dinner and having seen Lil’s reaction to Fino, Red looked at Lil and kept laughing.
Lil, quite innocently asked, “What? What’s so funny?”
“Oh, missy, ye be a brazen one!” Red answered, still laughing.
“Did you see him?” Lil asks, “By Altma, Fino was the best looking man I’ve seen in a loooong time. Remember, I’ve been traveling and adventuring with men I considered brothers . . . well, alright I did have sexual relations with a couple of them once or twice, but – for the most part – they were like family.”
”What’s your business, is your business, Lil. Altma is the Human god of’ Nature, right? Well, ye certainly follow nature’s course!” Red says, downing the rest of the wine she brought with her.
When Red didn’t get a reply, she looked away from the bottom of the bottle and back at Lil. Lil was softly sobbing.
“What is it, dear?”
“I’ve lost all my friends, Red,” Lil choked out through tears, “I saw them die. I was the last standing. It was so horrible!” She broke into loud uncontrolled crying.
“There, there, Lil,” Red whispered as she cradled the young Druidess’ head and shoulders in her arms. “Everyone in mae party was lost, too. Mae entire party from High Mountain was slain by Undead not a tenday ago. If mae master’s ax hadn’t’ fell beside me, I’d be with them now. Aye share your pain, lass. But, ye have to go on. Ye can bring them back, it sounds. I’ve got no chance to do that now. Toughen up, child. Tomorrow ye will need to face with a stone face and a heart to match.”
Soon, the two women drifted into sleep. Once Red started snoring loudly, Lil moved to her own bed and fell in and out of slumber’s embrace. When she heard the tap on her door an hour later, Lil jumped out of bed and answered it quickly. At her door was a man who could help her forget all her troubles and make her feel something besides pain. She would use him to help her through this horrible night. She was alive again and she would celebrate that the way nature (and Altma) intended.
Red was woken by a loud noise within her room. She looked over with the one eye that she could force open a crack and saw what had interrupted her sleep. So, that’s how Humans do it, she thought, as she wrapped a blanket around herself and wandered into the hallway.
As Percy holds the door to the inn open for her, Red imagines Lil, wrapped in a blanket, leaving their room so Red can be alone with Gruff the armorer.
At the Sage’s Guild, Nofi asks Orjulun, “So, you had a dream of me, before you ever saw me, huh, and I looked like I do know, well that’s interesting, perhaps you are a profit, too, how else could you know something that you don’t know, I mean, the thing about reading a book I never heard of was off, but I have read a book on-” He cuts himself short mid-meander and the skin on his face turns whiter than normal. “Did you say it looked like another Undead War was on the horizon?” Without waiting for a reply, he begins speaking really fast, “Another Undead War could destroy the entire world just like it almost did the last time by the nine gods no offense to the Elven god sir but oh entire cultures were lost and entire communities and so many died and the dead walked and attacked the living and I will call him big T was as deadly an enemy as the New World has ever seen and I don’t know if the Elves and Dwarves would join with us again since they haven’t been friendly Humans except Dumas and the Elves and well it makes sense The Cube as it was called in the older texts was recently unearthed by the same oh my
the same group you were asking about this is big this is really big is it an unavoidable future or oh my this is big I’ve got to go I need to do more research sorry sorry if you find out more let me know but for now stay away because I don’t need anyone trying to kill me oh my maybe
they are after you because you know oh my I have to go good day sirs!” and he slams the door behind him and a lock clicks into place.
“Well, that was certainly helpful,” Orjulun says, with his arms stretched out to his sides and palms up. “Now I have more questions than I had before.”
Melias’ hands are on top of his head, as he stares at the door. He shrugs, then drops his arms to his sides.
Orjulun says, “I have a scroll of spells I’ll never use, and we have those darts that no one knows how to use. What say we try to find a Wizard’s tower or guild or whatever they have here and see if we can barter them for things the party can use?”
Melias has a few plans of his own, but knowing how long what Orjulun suggests may take, he decides to follow him, for now, although his mind is elsewhere, recalling last night when he met privately with Fino the Bard.
Melias followed Fino to an area outside the inn where he felt they could speak privately. Along the way, Melias asked, “Fino . . . that’s an odd name. What does it mean, if you don’t mind me asking? Is there any chance you might be related to Onif of Cultury, Ifon of Goodmanville, or maybe even ASU’s own Nifo, the memory man? Actually, that’s sort of who I was heading out to look for this evening. I don’t suppose you could help me find him?” He observed the Bard’s reaction as he spoke. For all Melias knew, it was just coincidence that all these names were so similar – but he doubted it. What were the odds that the mind-hoppers would socialize with only people with names consisting of those four letters?”
They entered a nearby saloon and sat at a table in a vacant corner. It is dark outside, but he negotiated through the night, as well as Melias.
“It is safe to talk here and we won’t be interrupted. Just keep your voice down,” Fino says. “Now, ‘Nifo the memory man’? Oh, you mean Nofi. He’s just a nobody Sage. He’s not even one of the upper crest of the Sage’s Guild; more of a back room researcher. I’ve only heard of him because he was visited by some important people lately. Believe me, he’s not the type of person with whom I associate.” Fino scrutinized Melias for several seconds, then continued, “My name isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. Yes, I noticed before that I share the same four letters with two of the more powerful men in The Realms, but I think it is more of a joke from the gods. I share the same four letters with Nofi, too, and he’s just an oddball bookworm. Besides, Fino is just my abbreviated name, anyhow.” His voice lowered a bit more and he continued, “Listen, I would like to hear your story – by the nine gods, Elves, Half-Elves, and a Dwarf in the same group – but, I originally wanted to make sure you weren’t another group that I know had landed in town on a flaming chariot before. You aren’t; so now my most important mission is to make sure you, Melias, don’t get into any trouble while you’re here. I am covering your back, just as you covered my back against your irate friend in there. I know you haven’t been here before, unless it was over one hundred years ago, but the Guild isn’t able to work in the open as we were before recent events and now outside independents like you are frowned upon even more. The Guild will not protect you unless you join and will likely turn you in, so either be good, be on your way, or join up. This is not a threat, just friendly information, one practitioner to another.”
“Look, to be honest,” Melias began, ”I am no Thief. I share the skills, but not the practice. My family insisted upon training me in these skills to use as I practiced my true interest, politics. Unfortunately, they insisted that I be underhanded, mean, double crossing . . . just plain evil. I couldn’t have that, so I left. They’re still coming after me. My witch sister already tried to retrieve me . . . or make me pay. It matters not which to them.” He shrugged and sighed. “This is probably not what you wanted to hear; but for what it’s worth your secret’s safe with me. I won’t tell anyone about your organization.” He noticed the serving wench avoided their table, but said nothing about it. “Now about this flaming chariot, I don’t suppose these are the mind-hoppers I’ve been hearing so much about? The same that are hunted by all manner of people? Because my friends and I share an interest in these people.” He chuckled and shook his head. “I’m not even sure why, really. I guess after having been in a place that was so interested in bringing the mind-hoppers to justice, I’d like to meet them, shake their hands, maybe buy them a drink.” He shrugs and says, “I don’t suppose anyone could be believed with a line like that, and frankly with Rastorn in the group we’re probably better off not meeting up with them.” Not waiting for a reply, he walks to the bar and purchases a bottle of wine and carries it back to the table, along with two glasses. “Now, about how this rag-tag group came about? Allow me to relay our story from the start, right there in Dumas, where Arturus, Orjulun, Rastorn and I met up and elected unanimously to leave that hell-hole of a city.”
Fino listened to the entire story, without interruption, only getting up once, to urinate outside. By the time the bottle was gone, Melias had finished his tale and Fino was prepared to respond.
“Listen, my friend, I can see you are in need of a quest. You want to do something to better your world, but you aren’t certain exactly what to do. I also believe – no, I know – every word you said is true, except that you really don’t think my name is a coincidence. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps fate has decreed I be linked with two or three others in our world for some great or minor reason. Regardless, please believe that my name has no sinister hidden meaning.” He paused and chose his words carefully. “I have seen too many prophecies come true and too many coincidences lead to important events to not recognize that the gods of The Realms work in mysterious ways to lead us down certain roads. Roads we have to take. The mere make-up of your group is a sign from the gods. I can feel it.” He corked the empty wine bottle, closed his eyes for a moment, then looked deep into Melias’ eyes and said, “I may be able to assist you in finding the group you referred to as ‘mind-hoppers’. Give me a few days, or more, to check on some things and get back with you. Change inns if you desire, I’ll find you, that is something the Guild is still good at. Do you accept my offer?”
Grinning, Melias said, “I’d be a fool not to take an offer such as yours in a place where I’m a complete stranger. My team and I would be grateful for whatever you might discern, but be careful who you ask. These ‘mind-hoppers’ have a group known as ‘The Eight’ after them. It could pose trouble for others who are seeking the same.” He leans back, uncorks the bottle, and tips it hoping for a few more drops, but it is dry. He tsks, “Well, it looks like my work here is done. Please, if you retell my story, make my sister hideously deformed. Perhaps dressed in black with a black pointy hat, a boil on her nose, dry green skin, riding . . . a broomstick! The image fits her well. Imagine the sort of creature that would come out during a full moon to eat the souls of children.”
“Good,” Fino said heartily, “then it is a deal.” He stood and started to walk out of the building, but paused and whispered to Melias, “As a politician, you may be interested in what is happening in ASU. The election is starting soon, but I think the winner may already have been decided . . . to the detriment of all who care about the city. Keep your ears out and I think you’ll see what I mean.” He nods, then speaks at normal volume, “Well, you’ll want to get back to your party and let them know you are safe.”
They walked out into the street and Fino was quick to hustle back to the darkness to avoid being spotted and distracted. He pulled Melias with him and walked the Elf back toward The Hot Springs Inn, as he called the place they stayed. After giving Melias directions to the Sage’s Guildhouse and telling him where he will need to go to speak with the Master of the ASU Thieves Guild, Fino remained in the alley, while Melias went around to the front door.
Melias’ memories of the prior night are broken when Orjulun taps him on the shoulder and points to a fountain they are walking past. It is a large fountain filled with children playing. Their mothers all sit in the shade watching and occasionally talking to each other. The same wanted poster the party found in Darkuth is nailed to several posts near the fountain. Melias nods.
Further down the winding street, a man standing on a wooden box shouts about the current leader of the Allied Sellers Association (and therefore the Union) and how he has been corrupted by Thieves and how he lacks morals. He tells of large orgies at Lincont’s palace and the influx of opium from Miragia and Elven pipe weed from The Nation of Elves on the streets of ASU. A large, cheering crowd surrounds him and are incredibly supportive of everything he says. All the larger men in the crowd are in the back row and sides, so it is difficult to see over the crowd.
A block beyond that, a female Bard with green hair strikes aggressively at the strings of her lyre and shout-sings a song rife with disdain for someone named “Howges.”
Two blocks from there, they reach an area teeming with Magic-Users. ASU is not as carefully sectioned off as Darkuth was (though not as random as Dumas), so they doubt this would be the only place to go, but it seems to be popular among spell-casters. Several booths were set up to identify, buy, sell, and trade things magical. It is a congested and confusing mess to both Melias and Orjulun, but those who have been there before clearly know what to do and say and where to go.
A young apprentice-age Diviner approaches Orjulun and asks if he requires assistance. “My name is David the Diviner; I hire myself out here to assist newcomers,” he says with a smile and a quick bow. “For five gold pieces I can do the running for you. I can find what spells you are interested in and their costs, find magical items you desire, and work to get fair trade or cost for you.” He looks under Melias’ hood and pauses for a moment (perhaps deciding if this was indeed an Elf before him), then continues, “If you have items to trade or sell, give me a detailed list and I can see who is interested and work with my associate Thurgo, a skilled negotiator, to trade them for items you would like to have or get a good price for them. I know five gold may seem expensive, but we have two full summers experience doing this and have made many hundred very successful trades for our clients. If you are interested in spells,
just give me a list of them, as well. I can read Elven and Common. We ask for two gold pieces now and three tomorrow once we complete our task. I am working my way through the School of Divination in Cultury and would appreciate any tips as well.” He stops talking and stares at Orjulun. When no comment is made, he adds, “My fee is non-negotiable and if you want to check with any of the merchants here, they can all vouch for my honesty.”
Orjulun smiles at David and hands over the five gold-piece fee.
“Very well,” Orjulun says. “I will hire you as my broker.”
He tells the young lad about the magical darts and the Necromancer’s scroll, listing off the spells recorded on it and what they might be willing to take in trade. David asks to see the items and Orjulun allows him to look them over.
“The darts will need to be verified as to their magical properties prior to final purchase, but that will be rolled into the price, depending on the deal,” David tells him.
“We’ll meet you back here tomorrow, then, to finalize any deals you make,” Orjulun says.
David agrees, bows, and scampers off.
After making their way back to the inn, Orjulun stops Melias before the two of them enter.
“I’d like to speak with you and Percy tonight, after dinner,” he says, in a serious tone. “I need some time to gather my thoughts first.”
This chapter concludes next week (for real this time)!
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