Dath soon figured out he couldn’t leave the dragon-stone circle. The echo was sat forlornly at the circles edge, staring at the pillars, when Antios returned from checking the rest of the house.
“It doesn’t look like anything else has changed, just this area in the garden.” The fighter said while sitting on the grass just outside of the circle, he was ashamed to admit he was out of breath. He hadn’t realised how much the walk from the healers to the house had taken out of him.
“Utig and Quink are sorting out food and drink. So Dath, you used to the outside world yet?” He leaned back, enjoying the slight breeze making its way up out of the valley, the echo was still staring at the pillars, a curios expression on his face, when he shook his head and replied.
“It’s glorious, and familiar, I think this used to be Meridath’s home, so it feels like my home. But I have no actual memory of it.” He gestured towards the pillars and the font before them.
“That’s not actually a font either, I doubt it will access your ether, or allow you to increase your statistics. I can feel its connection through the dragon stone, its different to the one in the nexus.” He squinted and rubbed his temples. “Those pillars are curious, something about the way they are arranged. All very strange.”
Antios smacked his hand against the grass, scrunching the blades gently between his fingers as he thought on what Dath’s was saying.
“We can use our ether in the nexus though, just not at that font in our garden. Cool, good to know.” He pulled a few blades of grass up and let them glide out of his hand in the cooling breeze. “Any idea what it’s actually for then?” He watched the echo, deep in thought, for a moment before spotting Quink and Utig approaching form the house.
“You think on it, I’m famished.” The others sat on the grass beside him to eat the bread, cheeses, and roasted chicken that Quink had bought from the inn the day before.
“We have a roof over our heads, the kitchen is serviceable, everything else can be fixed as and when we have time, but from what Havia was saying our finances are already getting low.” Quink said between mouthfuls, Antios raised his eyebrows but wasn’t surprised. They had blown through a fortune in a week, buying a house and the materials to repair it will do that. He’d have to have a talk with Havia when she got back from Chelis, get an accurate idea of exactly how much they have left.
“I guess that means we need to go back into the dungeon soon, clear a level, or two.” He reached forward and patted the dragon stone circle. “I’m still on orders to rest for the next two days though.” Antios took a deep swig from a water skin, enjoying the moment of relative calm to organise his thoughts. The sounds of birds flitting through the nearby trees was a welcome distraction, but it did make him think of Jakol’s singing, which had been his constant distraction while bed ridden. Dath coughed, breaking his reverie.
“The next two levels appear to have collapsed in on each other in certain areas.” The echo had his eyes closed tight in concentration, his hand pressed flat against the dragon stone beneath him.
“Looks like the creatures from the fourth floor, and something on the fifth, have been fighting each other. You might be able to turn that to your advantage?” He opened his eyes and smiled as a sparrow flew down and settled on the stone circles edge, picking curiously at some crumbs Utig had spread there.
“A magic user of some kind has been residing on the fifth floor, my scrying is hazy at best there. They might be aware of my observations and have set up some kind of interference?” Despite the worrying news that one of the dungeon’s denizens was possibly aware of Dath, the echo seemed confident, almost happy. Antios realised he was already attached to this strange incorporeal guide of theirs. Despite his awkwardness and silent nature.
This time it was Utig’s turn to ask a question. The barbarian looked so different out of his leathers and armour, sat cross legged on the grass with the petite spell caster leaning up against him, like he was the trunk of a tree.
“So, what kind of loot are we looking to find? And how soon do we need to go in?” He asked, reaching forward to tap on the stone circles edge, eliciting a chirp of dissatisfaction from the sparrow.
“Well, you should be fine for another few days. Giving Antios time to heal. I should advise that anything over three or four weeks between trips into the dungeon will give it time to, er, evolve.” The echo replied, raising an eyebrow as he looked pointedly at Antios. “As for loot, the residents of the fourth floor have relocated a number of chests to one corner of the dungeon, and sadly I am unable to determine the location of any chests in the dungeon below.” Dath took a deep breath as he stood, staring around at the garden with wonder before returning to look at Antios.
“I will go back to the nexus and see if my connection is better there, if you need me just call, I should be able to hear you through the stone!” With that he was gone, leaving the three of them alone to enjoy the remainder of their meal.
Havia spared a quick look at the contents of her pouch, releasing a depressed sigh before picking out a gold coin and dropping it reverently onto the small pile in the middle of the table. It was depressing how much they had gained and lost in such a short space of time. Hopefully this hand will win back some funds for extra supplies. She knew she should be heading back to the house to join the others soon, but there was something she really wanted to find out first, and winning some coin was also a factor.
“You were saying, you send a copy of all land purchases to the register in Vuodan! Why is that?” She asked, swirling the contents of her tankard before swinging the last of her ale and raising her tankard towards the bar. The inn keeper, Olwin, nodded in her direction and started making his way towards their table. She was sat with the town clerk, Lewin, a spindly fellow, who, it appears, enjoyed a game of cards now and then, despite being quite bad at playing.
“It’s so the records get updated everywhere else. You own land now, makes you of interest to the tax collector I’m afraid. Not that you have anything to worry about, not like you’re running a business or anything.” He placed two cards face down on the table and drew two from the deck. Flipping one over and putting it next to the small pile of coins. “It’s the inevitable twins, isn’t it? Death and taxes, you’re always on their books.” He laughed, but his eyes were telling Havia that he hadn’t pulled a good enough card from the deck to fill his hand. She looked at her own hand, it was ok, her best cards were two stars, a sword and a crown. If she could get another sword or crown, she would be more confident in winning.
She put the sword face down on the table and pulled a single card from the deck. Another star, which will do nicely. But it wouldn’t beat two pair if Lewin was better at bluffing than he let on.
“Seems overly officious for such a cosy Town, but I guess it’s the way of the world now. I’m just glad to be out of the city, get this fresh air and great tasting ale. Oh, it’s your turn to call.” She reminded him as Olwin took both of their tankards back to the bar to refill them. Something about this town was bugging her, not something bad, but something that niggled at the suspicious parts of her brain. It was being raised by politicians, she never expected anyone to be what they appeared. Take Olwin, he owned the only Inn in Chelis, probably an ex-adventurer. He was muscled, well-toned, he clearly exercised daily. There was a vicious, iron-wrapped club above the bar. No sign of dust on that heavy hitter. The town was a peaceful, welcoming place. In the time she had spent here she had seen no trouble whatsoever. So why so prepared? His wife Launa was similar, she moved between the common room and the kitchen with amazing speed, at one point an old man had knocked a tankard off the bar and Havia swore blind Launa was nowhere near close enough to catch it. But that Tankard hadn’t hit the floor.
They had kids, teenagers, who helped around the Inn, normal kids, happy, good hearted. They would make excellent adventures themselves one day.
And it didn’t stop there, the butcher, the local woodsman, Andria the baker even the mayor of this town, a fellow by the name of Galwin, they all could be ex-adventures, high level ones at that. Havia feared for any bandits or goblins that tried to attack this place.
“Ahem, Havia, I call.” Lewin repeated himself, disturbing Havia’s chain of thought. The clerk laid out a pair of crowns, he clearly had nothing else in his hand, laying the other cards face up before him, all singles.
Havia grinned, laying her three stars down and revelling the rest of her hand. “Sorry Lewin, but how about I cover the ales.” She moved a gold out of the small pile and left it on the table, scooping the rest of the coins up and depositing them in her pouch just as Olwin returned with their ales.
“Say Olwin, can I ask you a personal question?” She reached forward to take the tankard he had deposited just as he picked up the gold coin.
“Sure, but do I have to remind you I’m a married man.” He laughed, it was a deep burly laugh, he reminded her of Antios a bit, but much older. That was the other thing, there wasn’t anyone in this town she didn’t like.
“Sadly, my friend, you’re not my type.” She placed her hand on his arm in mock consolation and made a note not to get in a fight with the inn keeper.
“What’s the deal with all the retired adventurers in Chelis, the moment I got here I wanted to stay, its why we bought the old house, but is everyone here a retired crawler?” She felt like she might have overstepped the mark, the silence lasted for a few heart beats. Olwin just looked deep in thought, Lewin hid behind the lip of his tankard. Eventually the innkeeper replied.
“Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked that. But I don’t have an answer for you. Yes, not everyone, but a lot of the folk here are retired adventurers. We’ve discussed it many times, this place just feels, I don’t know, right. You know?” And she did know, there was a feeling of comfort, peace, safety here in the town. it even stretched up to the house, or did it stretch from the house? Havia suddenly felt the need to go talk to Antios. She smiled up at Olwin.
“Well, we’re far from retired, and I’m guessing far from your level. Why has no one else settled in the old house?” She had to try to find out something concrete, something to work from.
“Well, some folks have, from time to time, but they never seem to last more than a year or two. Hopefully you can break the record.” He smiled warmly, encouragingly, Havia really couldn’t wait for him to meet Antios.
“Thanks, and sorry for being nosy.” She sipped her ale, looking over to Lewin, who was now eagerly shuffling the cards.
“Another game? My lucks got to change at some point.” He asked.
It took three days in total for Antios to feel back to normal. He had spent the days exercising and practicing in the garden when he wasn’t ordering stonework for the house or talking to the others. Dath became a regular visitor, they discovered that a chime sounded in the house whenever the dragon-stone circle was used, so someone would go out and say hello to the echo and see what information he had for them. He noticed that whenever the echo was in the circle, he would stare longingly at the grass and trees, but furtively up at the sky. As if the wide-open blue was going to crash down on him.
They stood around the edge of the circle, waiting for Havia to finish sorting her backpack. Antios watched as Dath looked skywards again, every day he would stare a little longer before returning to the Nexus on some errand.
“You ok there Dath?” He asked, stretching his arms out as if they were going straight into a fight.
“What, oh, yes, yes, I’m fine. It’s just, it takes a little getting used to. So bright and beautiful out here, but up there?” he pointed towards the clouds.
“Anything could be hiding up there, large birds, wyverns, dragons. Even creatures from the expanse, you know, amongst the stars. The universe is such a vast place.” Dath was momentarily lost in thought, glancing furtively up again.
“You think too much my friend, look, here’s Havia, you can port us all back to the nexus and rest that busy mind of yours.” He pointed across the garden to the approaching thief, who was still fastening the straps of her pack.
“Ok guys let’s make this a quick one, I told Olwin I’d help him chose which ciders to stock. The samples arrive in a few days.” She was rosy faced, being the last to wake up and have breakfast, the thief had to rush her preparations for the delve.
“You, of all people, should know not to give us a deadline, now you’ve jinxed us.” Quink laughed as she walked onto the stone circle ahead of Utig.
“Well, I see no reason not to enjoy it, Dath says the fourth floor is full of Kobolds, I can’t remember the last time I fought Kobolds.” Utig followed her as she crossed the markings of the teleportation circle. Havia joined them from the opposite side. Antios loosened the new sword he had bought in town, a temporary blade while his grandfather’s sword was being reforged. Joining them in the circle, patting Utig on the shoulder as they all turned to looked to him.
“Come on then, let’s get us some more loot. And this time let’s not blow it all in a month.”