It was the itching, the constant need to fidget under the thick blankets. The struggle to protect his skin form the rough wool that engulfed him. Yeah, it was the itching that finally woke him up.
He pushed the thick grey blanket down from off his chest, sitting up in the strange, small, bed. The room was cluttered, a small window on the opposite wall let a shimming bright yellow glow in though the ivy that clung to the outside. There was nothing to be scared of, no imminent attack, no monsters lurking, no need to set a watch. It reminded him of his grandparents’ house.
Antios realised he had no idea where he was, or how he had got there.
Placing. Hand to his chest, he found only a healed scar from the puncture wounds the serpent had given him. The movement in his shoulder was back, and pain free. He looked under the covers, yup, totally naked. Someone had stripped him of everything, his armour, tunic, trousers, and breeches. His clothes weren’t at the foot of the bed, he glanced around the rest of the room, but a wave of nausea overwhelmed him briefly, the light from the window was suddenly too much and he looked away quickly. If he wanted to find out where he was, he’d have to leave the room as he left the womb. Naked.
“Fuck that.” He exclaimed, grabbing the offending itchy blanket, wrapping it around his waist as he climbed, unsteadily, out of the bed. Realising for the first time that although his injuries were healed, it was not completely, he still needed time to recover.
Again, his hand moved to where the hole in his chest had been, now just soft, fresh, scar tissue.
He had an idea of the kind of person who would have a house like this, but still no idea where he was. So, he opened the door a sliver, peaking out through the gap, before opening it wider. It creaked loudly, destroying any pretence at stealth.
“Hello.” He called out into a crooked corridor with uneven floorboards and off-white plaster walls. It wasn’t very long, maybe three rooms on this floor before the wonky floorboards met an often-repaired set of stairs. The mismatched timbers in their construction told a tale of rot and repair. On closer inspection the ivy that had been growing outside the room, was, in fact, growing inside as well. A few tendrils of the dark green climber had entwined their way around the banister.
Antios called again and heard laughter emanating from down the stairs.
He felt unsteady on his feet but navigated the stairs slowly and eventually found himself in a large, shelf filled, room. Every wall was covered in either crudely made shelves or precariously stacked crates. And every inch of the space was taken. Jars of preserved fruits, pickled roots, or dried herbs. Books, scrolls and small containers lined all the gaps between.
“Hedge witch” Antios muttered as he scanned the room. His stomach growled loudly. And as if in response he heard the laughter again, coming from a room somewhere behind the stairs. As he turned a waft of air bought a smell that nearly dropped him to the floor. His stomach growled again. Someone was cooking bacon.
Leaning against the stairs for a moment, waiting for another bout of dizziness to pass, and the rumble in his gut to dissipate before heading towards the source of the smell.
“Hello, anyone.” He said, sticking his head through the doorway slowly. He was totally unprepared for the sight before him.
A large table stood in the centre of the room. Almost as large as the room he had just left and just as cluttered. A large window on the far wall was the only concession. Letting in gloriously warm sunlight, not that you’d notice with the heat being kicked out by the fire in the corner.
His friends were sat around the table, eating an incredibly unhealthy breakfast of bacon, sausages, eggs, beans and mushrooms. At the fire place a young man was frying more bacon, pan in one hand as he drank from a tankard in the other.
Havia was laughing so hard ale had come out of her nose.
“Oh my god, you didn’t. And the constable just let you off with a warning? Really?” She was banging the table with her free hand as Utig threw a rag at her face.
“And the goat, you saved the goat, right?” Utig almost yelled, the young man nodded and smiled warmly.
“The goat now lives in the field out back, she’s had several kids, and provided the milk for the omelette I’m about to cook for your friend there.
He pointed at Antios with the pan, everyone turned, Antios blushed. The young man was looking him up and down with an approving smile on his face.
“You look a lot better than two days ago, how do you like your omelette?” He asked before turning back to the stove. Havia, wiping her nose, was up out of her seat and round to Antios’ side in a flash.
“Next time you want to nearly die on us can you do it a little closer to the healer. Utig had to carry you for an hour before we stumbled across Edria’s place.” She gestured around at the kitchen smiling widely.
“Also, you know your clothes were next to your bed, right? Under the window?” She looked at him wrapped in his blanket and grinned.
“Or are you just trying to show off?”
“Well, I will take an omelette any way it comes. No, I did not see my clothes, and hello. Morning? Afternoon? How long have I been out?” he felt confused, and a little dizzy, Havia guided him to a stool near the table in the middle of the kitchen. Its surface was cluttered with plates, jugs, tankards and even a mortar and pestle. In amongst the crockery were small piles of fruits and vegetables. Antios’s head was still spinning but he helped himself to some grapes as Havia scrutinised her friend.
“You look better, but you’re still not fighting fit. Edria recons you will need a few more days of rest and treatment. She went out to get more supplies.” Havia pointed over to the young man, who was sliding some bacon out of the pan onto a plate in front of Utig. “Jakol here is her apprentice, he’s been doing most of your treatments.” Jakol was grinning as he reached for some eggs from the table and proceeded to crack them into a bowl.
“If you want to be up and about, I must insist you put on some clothes. No armour though, the weight will exhaust you at the minute, and antagonise your shoulder.” He tried to sound authoritative, but his slightly flushed cheeks and contagious smile undermined his effort.
Antios smiled back and made to stand up, slowly.
“I’ll be right back down, er, any chance of some of that bacon with the omelette?” He asked, his stomach growling.
Jakol laughed and waved him away before picking up a jug of milk to add to the bowl.
“Sure, just be careful back up the stairs. I don’t want to heal any more broken bones this week if I can help it.” with his patient dismissed Jakol carried on with his cooking. The sound of his friends chatting swiftly filled the space as Antios turned and walked back up the stairs. Before he reached half way Havia was at his elbow, placing a supporting hand around his waist as she helped him back to his room.
“Hey, so, I thought I better catch you up, while you dress.” She entered the room, turning away as he folded the blanket up on the bed and spotted his clothes, cleaned and folded on a chair on the opposite side. They had adventured together for years, seen each other in worse states, a little nudity didn’t faze them. Early on in their friendship they had discussed if either one of them was “their type” and concluded that, despite finding a kinship, they were not, nor will they ever be, romantically involved. After that agreement had been made their friendship had gone from strength to strength. Havia made one hell of a drinking buddy.
“So, you’ve been asleep for over two days. When we teleported in we were in the garden of an abandoned house, about an hour away from here. Do you want to take a guess where we landed?” She asked, leaning against the door of the room as he laced up his breeches.
“Hmm, educated guess, Chelis. Meridath’s hometown.” He said, sitting on the bed to pull on his boots.
“Get that man a prize, full marks.” Havia laughed. “Yeah, so, no guild hall for a week in any direction. No dungeons within a few days ride, and nothing over single floors.” She seemed suddenly nervous, moving around the room to look out the window, through the ivy that protruded around the edges.
“So, I don’t want you to be mad, but we spent some of our haul. I think you’re going to approve though.” She turned to him and smiled nervously.
“Like I said, we appeared in the garden of an abandoned house, quite a large place but in a bit of disrepair. About an hour or so from town. We were lucky, Edria is a world-renowned healer, mostly retired, which is why she moved to a small town like this. She told me the house has been empty for as long as she can remember, and she’s Dythid, so that’s a long time.” She fidgeted nervously, Antios knew this dance, she’d done something not necessarily bad, but hated making big decisions without him.
“Anyway, Quink thinks there’s an active teleport circle in the garden of that house, so I went into the town, spoke to the mayor, and well. We bought it, land and all.” She smiled as Antios wiped his forehead. The effort of putting on his shirt had tired him out. And he was just letting her words sink in?
“Wait, you bought a house, for all of us? With a teleport circle in the garden?” he raised an eyebrow and breathed in, Havia was holding her breath as he digested the news.
“Well, it will be easier to jump back and forth from that nightmare dungeon if we own the location of the teleport?” He thought out loud, slowly, as Havia nodded.
“Exactly, I knew you’d see the benefits.” She grinned walking over and helping him straighten his shirt as he stood up.
“It needs some work, but your family were stone mason’s, right? So, you must know something about the trade? And Utig is apparently skilled with wood. He’s already made a list of what needs fixing. Quink is ready to go back and study the circle some more, see how strong it is.” Her excitement was contagious, and beneath it something else was bubbling, it took Antios a moment to organise his thoughts, and then it struck him.
“We have a home, somewhere to stay between delves, without paying lodgings. And if that circle is usable, we could get to cities and other dungeons easily. Havia, you’re a genius.” She put a hand up.
“Don’t go praising me too much, it needs a lot of work. You do know stone masonry, right? From your folks?”
“Yes, my parents are stone masons, and you know damn well they were upset when I didn’t follow in their shoes. They gave my grandfather hell for filling my head with his adventures.” He spared a glance around the room, eventually spotting his pack and the broken sword that leaned against it.
“They taught me enough, I’m no master craftsman, but I can fix most of anything in a house.” He didn’t want to show how excited he was to have a place to work on. It caught him by surprise, the idea of having somewhere he could make his own. Not just a cot to lean his pack against.
“Is it usable now? Watertight?” He asked, smiling as Havia opened the door.
“It’s ok, we’re camping there and Utig has an order in for lumber. Come on, you need to eat, and I need another breakfast ale.”
She walked out the room, casting a slight backwards glance to make sure he was steady on his feet. He was lucky his friends cared so much for him, and he took a moment to enjoy that feeling.
Aiegwin Wattling, chief clerk of the Flindora adventurer’s guild, was confused, concerned, and a little scared. She reviewed the document again, the news about the dungeon collapse to the west was upsetting. Even though it was a recent discovery, the dungeon had seemed ill-formed, only one level and full of traps. None of the adventurers who had gone in had reported anything of interest. Which meant it was one less thing to worry about. But the party that was in it at the time of its collapse, that was concerning. On paper they were a bunch of nobodies, the usual low-level adventurers who would never amount to anything. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was being paid a handsome stipend to observe them. With them gone, the stipend would end. And what if her benefactor would find her somehow responsible for their demise?
She took a moment to calm herself, staring into the large silver edged mirror in the corner of the room. She admired the cut of her dress, a rich vibrant green satin that clung in all the right places. She could kiss goodbye to affording these luxuries if the ambassador stopped paying her under the table.
She put the report down, ensuring it was neatly aligned with the other items on her desk. An idea was forming in her head. What if she just kept reporting? A weekly update on the thief’s stats, position, well-being, fabricated of course. How was the ambassador of the elven kingdom even going to find out? He was estranged from his daughter, as far as Aiegwin knew she was his only way of knowing her whereabouts. To which end, she needed to confirm the details.
She opened a cleverly disguised draw in her desk and picked up a small cloth wrapped bundle, about the size of a dinner plate, and made her way out of her opulent office. Walking swiftly down the broad curving stairs, making sure to give Hundri the usual stink eye as she did. That man will always be a desk clerk, and she had made it one of her goals to ensure that.
Hundri was talking to a group of adventures as she descended, of course they took her in with the appropriate awe she deserved, she was stunning, but Hundri just nodded. The barest amount of respect he could show to his superior. She ignored him, despite being angered further by his blatant lack of respect for her position. She made her way swiftly through the entrance hall and into the font chamber. Refusing to let the machinations of those beneath her nettle her mood anymore. The font was quiet again, what was happening these days, dungeons just weren’t dragging in the adventurers it used to. It’s like the younger generation had no urge to explore them, to unearth the rewards that the guild took a nice percentage of. Maybe they should invest in some advertising? Enlist some bards to pen fresh tales of wealth and fame for those brave enough to delve deep into the dungeons. She would suggest it at the next guild meeting.
She ensured the room was completely empty before stepping up to the font, removing a flat hexagonal crystal from the cloth wrappings. The crystal shimmered as she held it delicately between the tips of her fingers, before carefully dropping it on to the fonts surface. As it made a soft clink sound it shone an intense blue for the briefest of moments, and then the crystal filled with black, as if ink were being poured into it, darkening the fonts surface. She looked around again, ensuring no one else was watching, before placing her hand on the crystal.
“Havia Phenistra” she muttered, waiting a moment for the statistics of the guild member to pop up in front of her.
She waited a moment longer, wrinkling her brow in frustration before trying another name.
“Antios Mason” Again, nothing.
“Utig Huckson” Nothing.
“Quink Sinteriace” Nothing.
Even if they were dead the guild should have a record of their final stats. But it was as if their records had been removed, erased, or maybe moved?
She delicately pried the crystal from the font, wrapping it again to make sure no one else saw what she carried, before heading back out to the entrance way.
“Hundri, have one of the archivists sent up to my room, I have a question that needs answering.” She snapped as she walked past the desk and up the stairs. The clerk just nodded as she sauntered up the stairs.