They waited for what felt like forever.
It had probably only been an hour or so.
Eventually they gave up waiting and resumed their investigations of the nexus. So far Iki had found one chest. filled to the brim with gold and silver, a small bag of the powerful metal called emigran, and a previously hidden room that Dath had ushered them out of with great haste. It was full of books. Books Iki probably couldn’t read anyway, so they had agreed to leave and wait for the echo in the bunk room. That had been about an hour ago.
“Dath, I am going to carry on exploring.” They announced before heading into the central chamber. Earlier the others had been spread out all over the nexus, now Iki was the only one here. The place felt larger than before, but Utig did take up a lot of space.
They ran a hand along the wall that headed back to the entrance, the door was still sealed. Their way back home was gone. For now. Dath was unsure if it was possible to find a way back. He had said it would need more research. He was able to send a message to the elder, who had relayed a blessing to Iki and had confirmed that the undead on their floor had ceased to be a problem.
Iki meandered back to the centre of the nexus, where the font stood. The octagonal top began to blur as they focused on it. The smooth indentations pulsed with an amber glow as the kobold ran their hand along the edge of the stone work. Of the eight indentations four were empty, the others all had those pebbles sitting in them. Apparently they allowed some level of communication with the echo and to use the nexus teleportation. The remaining stones were nestled in the recesses like eggs in the nest. Their smooth dark stone called to Iki. She tried to pick one up, their hand passing through it and the font danced painfully in and out of focus. The kobold felt that they were just out of reach, akin to the fish in the dark streams, just below their claws reach, taunting with their closeness.
Staring at the font, Iki tried again to pick up a pebble, but this time they shifted their focus. Instead of willing the stone to become more solid they focused on themselves, the claws of their hand, the very essence of what they were. As they stood, lost in a meditative state, Iki didn’t hear the echo enter the central chamber. They paid no attention as the echo placed a hand on their shoulder. Oblivious to the low tone Dath was humming as they aided the kobold in their endeavour.
With no idea how long they had been standing their, Iki jumped when they finally noticed the contact of the echo’s hand on their shoulder.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You were so focused, so intent. It was admirable, and quite a unique approach to the problem.” It sounded like praise, Dath smiled warmly as he patted her shoulder and moved to the other side of the font.
“Iki believes the key to moving forward, and maybe backwards in this dungeon is here. Within this font.” They pointed at the font, and then noticed the pebble, the one they had been trying to pick up, it had moved slightly in its recess.
“I agree, I was just reading something that eluded in the same direction. And it looks like you almost had it.” Dath followed her stare to the now dislodged pebble.
“Want to try again?” He said, curiosity making him appear almost childish. Iki laughed, the dry snicker sounded almost like a rattle in the back of their throat.
“Yes, please. Let me first be getting a drink, and then, we will snatch me a pebble.”
Levi stood over the unconscious Aiegwin. He’d read more reports about the clerk over the last year than any other official in the adventurers guild. And yet they had waited, they knew she was a puppet. They knew her machinations were aimed higher than stealing ether. They just hadn’t realised how big a problem it was.
He turned to Haz, gesturing towards the doors.
“Clear the way, and get word to the guild-house. I’ll need an escort and a cart.” the Guild-guard saluted and turned, rushing away towards the large doors. Levi could feel it, the dissipating magic that had enthused the area. Upon removal of the stone from her stomach, all of Aiegwin’s traps and spells had been dispelled. That was how she was using ether to boost herself, that mysterious stone. A clerk, who wasn’t supposed to have any innate skills. One who could somehow farm ether, had held her own against the Guild-master. Now though, now she was an empty shell. He could smell the ether poisoning on her. She’d never cast again. Not punishment enough if what she had said was true.
Eli knelt next to the clerk, his hands held above her abdomen.
“If I dont heal her now she’s going to pass over. And I don’t think i have enough resources for a resurrection. Do we need to interrogate her?” He asked, looking up at Levi who just nodded, deep in thought. A green light flowed from the guards hands, healing magic flowed into Aiegwin and her pained expression eased. The Guild-Master unfastened a small circlet from his belt. He’d bought it along just incase, he doubted they need to use it now, but he knelt and fastened it around the clerks neck.
“She so much as looks like she’s trying to cast a spell, hit her. Hard. In the mouth.” He said, before following the route Haz had taken out of the old temple. At the large doors he stopped and breathed in deep. Looking up at the crumbling statues either side of the door. A temple of the twins, was that a joke, one last jibe from the city that took his brother. If someone was trying to release a chaos god, or even more insanely, make a new one. Then the whole world was in danger. The chaos gods power was tied up with the dungeons, spanning the globe. He’d heard the robed figure mention the Matrius, the magical aura that blanketed the world. The weave was part of it, connecting the dungeons and the flow of Ether. His original fear was that someone planned on replicating the disaster from K’valaor. The guilds font had been tampered with, and the nearest dungeons consumed themselves, the resulting explosions had devastated the city and the countryside around for miles. The place was still uninhabitable.
Levi leaned against one of the statues, looking up at the time worn face of the twin opposite.
“What would you have done Garod? You’d have jumped in and fired off some half arse’d spell to capture that weird little shit. Then you’d have expected me to do all the punching.” He chuckled to himself, lost for a moment in the daydream. His brother had been a mage, obsessed with following in the footsteps of the greats, like Maridath and Ebberwhit. He’d been exploring a nearby dungeon on his own, it was only tier three, he should have been able to manage it. Then again, he should have had back up. Back then Levi was already aiming for guild master, preoccupied with his career to pander to his younger brother’s fancies.
“You’d have gotten your self killed all over again.” With a shrug, Levi pushed himself off the statue and unfastened a copper orb from his belt. Holding the device to his lips.
“Critical situation in Flindora, all Guild-Masters to convene.” He re-fastened the orb and walked back in to the temple, watched by the feature-less visages of the twins.
Antios couldn’t help the grin plastered to his face. They’d agreed terms with the local stone masons, got a great deal from the blacksmith on fixtures and fittings, and he had his grandfather’s sword back, better than new. The blade felt light against his hip. He’d only given a small amount of emigran to add to the new steel, but he could already tell the blacksmith had done a masterful job in reforging the blade. Havia was also grinning, like a cat at the cream. She’d made fun of the way he swung the blade when collecting it from Kinito. The blacksmith had beamed with pride as they watched the fighter gleefully decapitate imaginary foes in the yard before her forge. He’d chopped a few logs in half to test the strength of the blade and it hadn’t dulled at all. She’d even thrown in a new scabbard to match the slightly different size of the blade.
“You know, theres a name for men who show off their blades in public.” The thief teased as Antios slid his blade out of the sheath slightly.
“Shut up Hav, let me enjoy the moment.” The fighter replied, throwing the blade back into its scabbard with a chink as they ambled towards the Mare & Hound Inn.
They were greeted warmly by Olwin as they approached the bar. the Inn was quiet for midday but here and their a few tables had patrons and in one corner sat a small congregation of obscured customers. They had cast a privacy bubble around themselves and havia was eyeing them suspiciously.
“Merchants?” She asked Olwin, thumbing in the direction of the thin veil of smoke that surrounded the table. A privacy bubble was a simple enough spell, it cast a harmless bubble of smoke which obscured the view of most whilst stopping any sound from entering or leaving the area it was cast upon.
Olwin shook his head as he poured two ales.
“They had business with the mayor, and have asked a few questions about you and your group. I’m guessing they were interested in your house, and were a few weeks too late to snap it up.” He smiled warmly as he placed the ales before the two adventures, his cheerful tone seemed to contradict his demeanour.
“Be careful though, they have me on edge. At least one of them used to be an adventurer, but he speaks like a politician. Half elf, cast that spell himself with a click of his fingers.” He pointed at a table on the opposite side of the Inn, shrugging as he grabbed a rag to rub down the bar.
“Grab a seat over there, I’ll have Launa bring you out some food. We got some boar on the spit this morning.” They raised their tankards in salute to the innkeeper and made for the table. Antios could feel eyes upon him. The bubble was suspicious enough, but the description of the half elf could only really be one person. He glanced at Havia, who had made the same assumption. She was fidgeting with her daggers, looking more nervous than he had ever seen her.
“It’s ok, if it’s him. We will deal with it.” He said, putting a hand on her shoulder as they sat. “And if it isn’t, well we will politely refrain from causing Olwin any trouble, and step outside to beat the crap out of them.” The fighter drank deeply from his tankard before sitting himself down.
Havia laughed, relaxing slightly as she positioned herself with her back to the strangers.
“It’s him, I’d know the casting of that spell anywhere. Who else would be arrogant enough to charm his own fingers to make a privacy bubble. Besides, I can see through it now that my perception skill is higher. Not clearly, but theres four of them in there, two humans, two half elves. Its a bit hard to distinguish who is who. I think my father has his back to me. Typical.” She took a deep drink from her ale and made to stand.
“I can’t let this drag out.” She rounded her shoulders as if getting ready to fight. Then she unsheathed her daggers. Placing all four on the table.
“Just in case I lose my shit.” She said, before turning and approaching the spell shrouded table.