Sahlman slept the sleep of the dead, and awoke in midst of some vague nightmare hours before dawn. Unable to return to his slumber, he forced himself out of bed, and headed for the bath houses. A good scrubbing of himself and his clothing was just what the he needed. Some time later, a clean Sahlman left the baths with a new spring in his step, carrying the wet bundle of last night's clothing under one arm.
Ziedon awoke at dawn and repeated his daily rituals. He checked his message stone with an apprehensive gaze, and then studied his spell book. The familiar spells seemed to have changed overnight. They looked simpler and more understandable that morning, as if the words had spent the night arranging themselves in Ziedon's head. Ziedon was pleased to discover that he was remembering more of the complex symbols and words that made up his spells than before.
Remembering the night before, and those many instances when his life had been in danger recently, Ziedon recited a special spell for protection. The mage felt momentarily weighed down, as if by heavy armor, and then the sensation left him. He would be much safer in that state.
After cleaning and trimming his beard, Ziedon pulled out the message stone and gazed at it again. With trembling hands he placed it on the chest of drawers by his bed. He started to walk to the door, but felt as if he was being pulled back. With a scowl, he retrieved the orb.
Ziedon headed down to the common room to fill his empty belly and to replenish the reserves of energy that were wiped clean from the activities of the night before. As usual, he was the first of the party to arrive in the common room of Grabbles'. He ate his breakfast, wondering what he would say to the others. They would be sure to question him about his actions the night before. Would he have killed the thief? Ziedon was not sure of the answer himself and did not find his uncertainty pleasant. Every few minutes, he pulled out the stone and looked down at it. He wondered whether finding a master of necromancy was a blessing or a curse.
'No sense in worrying about it now, I guess. The blood has been spilt. You can't put it back into the body.' Despite his self- assurances, he still questioned how he would show his face to the rest of the party.
Kreemon came downstairs with Bork at his heels. Taking a quick glance around the dining area, he continued outside to let the dog relieve himself. When he returned, he saw Ziedon eating, and sat what he thought would be a safe distance away. He pulled on his goatee and rubbed his nose. He ordered a plain breakfast of porridge and bread for himself, but had meat put in porridge for his dog.
A few minutes later, the thief came down the stairs. Kreemon looked up and hoped she had forgiven him for capturing her. He waved her over to his table, shouting, “Over here, Fingers!” Kreemon avoided using the full nickname he'd given her the night before; too many other ears were about, and they could easily get the wrong idea, or, as the case might have been, the right idea, about a “Quick Fingers” being in the room.
Korisca came to him obediently, in fear that he would do something to her if she did not comply.
Kreemon leaned over his bowl and whispered to the thief. “You did well last night. If it hadn't of been for me, those noisy folk would have lost you in the night.” He grinned at her. “Here, take this.” Kreemon's hand slid across the table, and lifted to reveal a silver coin. ”'Tisn't much, but you might be able to get some dark colored clothing with it. Be less able to spot you at night. No hard feelings?”
Korisca looked down at the small round coin, and moved her hand over it. Before taking it, she looked at Kreemon's face to be sure her actions were the expected ones. “Thank ye, sir,” she said after sliding the coin off the table.
“Call me Kreemon or Kree, but not 'sir.' I don't rate that title.”
Korisca nodded and looked at him. “What are they going to do with me?”
“I have no idea, but from what I observe, you are free to come or go as long as you do as the cleric asked. I for one would like you to stay.” His eyes pleaded for understanding. “Being the new one in a group takes much time to become trusted and a will member, and … my looks don't help. Perhaps, if it is all right with them you can come with me for a while. I'm sure you have talents might be needed some time.” Kreemon paused, unsure whether to continue. “What other talents do you have, if I may ask?” He grinned. “Other than snatching things from strangers, that is.”
Korisca smiled faintly. “I'm sorry sir, er, Kreemon, but other than my thieving skills, I have very little usefulness. I once tried to be a barmaid, but that failed terribly. I fear, with just my thieving skills, the group will not want me. They may think I'll try it again. If you wish me to, I will stick around, but I'm not sure what the others' attitudes towards me is.”
“Humm…” Kreemon stroked his ear and rubbed his nose. “You are right; that may prove to be a problem.” He thought of the mage. “A big problem. Perhaps you should ask the cleric who was so nice to you earlier. See what she has to say about it. It is up to you though. With your newfound wealth you could get better clothing and find a job in town instead of the uncertainty if you come with me.”
Kreemon bent over and ruffled Bork's ears. “If you go, I will still have my friend with me.” His voice was a bit wistful. He had had few friends in his life and all those had gone away, many through death.
“We shall see what they'll do with a crook like me.”
“Don't call yourself a crook. Call yourself someone whose circumstances were beyond your control. I'd suggest … acquisition specialist.” Kreemon grinned.
“I'll try and remember that.”
“Oh, I forgot introductions! This here is Bork. Bork, this is Korisca.”
When the conversation was over and Korisca stood, the security of company was suddenly gone, and Kreemon's thoughts returned to the night before. He glanced back at the mage, who was looking down at his table as if he had evil intent even against that simple object. Kreemon tugged nervously at his beard. 'Will he bring forth the magic again? When will he explode next? Gotta keep an eye on that guy so I can duck and run if necessary.' Kreemon shot quick, nervous glances at Ziedon every few seconds, barely knowing what he was doing.
Ziedon suddenly turned his head upward, and glared sharply at Kreemon. “Can I help you, friend? Apparently you find me interesting or you would let me eat in peace.” Images of the night before were not clear in Ziedon's mind, but he knew he recognized this man and dog from somewhere.
Kreemon jumped out of his chair in surprise, and spoke as he courteously approached the necromancer. “Ah, no. Ah, just wondering if the night demons had left you yet. Sorry to disturb you. Eat. Eat in peace.”
Ziedon's eyes narrowed and his brow furled. He stared at the man until he recalled where he had seen him before. In a low hissing voice, Ziedon said, “You were there last night.”
Kreemon's face took on a look of uneasiness, and he focused his eyes on Ziedon's shoulder, avoiding direct eye contact. He had heard too many stories of wizards controlling men's minds with a glance to avoid that precaution. “Yes,” he said, and smiled. “It was interesting to watch town folk hunting.” He paused. “I decided to help out since it seemed you were having problems catching the girl.” Kreemon shrugged his shoulders. “I was bored and needed the practice.”
Ziedon frowned. He looked at the man as if for the first time. “I would forget last night if I was you. I would forget that anything happened.”
Kreemon ground his teeth inaudibly at Ziedon's arrogance, but replied in an even tone. “If that is your wish … it is forgotten.”
Kreemon returned to his chair and tried not to glance back at Ziedon. His breakfast was less enjoyable than it had been, and Kreemon could not keep his mind off the necromancer. This time, Ziedon did nothing to him, but what would happen if he were to ebb the mage's anger some other time? How could he forget the first time he saw magic? The generations-old stories of his youth had been verified in an instant, and now he was afraid. 'Wizards are not to be trusted,' the stories warned. 'Magic is evil.'
Ardith was surprised that Korisca did not join her for breakfast, but let it go. Perhaps she needed the time alone. After Ardith finished her meal, Korisca arrived at her table.
“Korisca,” Ardith began, “I have an idea, but before I can say what it is, I need to know more about you. After all, you did steal my money pouch and a document my group was meant to deliver. Why did you steal the document? Was there a buyer at hand?”
“I just went for the money and must have grabbed the scroll by accident. I had nothing to do with the scroll, but once I had stolen it, I wasn't about to stop and give it to you.” She paused a moment. “May I ask what's going to happen to me?”
Ardith looked deeply into the eyes of the young woman, then leaned back and signaled a waitress. She bought two mugs of a drink she could not identify, but had liked the morning before.
Ardith lightened her tone of voice. “If we were to report your theft and turn you in to the townsmen, what do you suppose would happen?”
Korisca eagerly accepted the drink from Ardith, and blinked when she heard the priestess' words. “I don't know for certain. I haven't lived here for long and I don't know what they would do to me.” She thought for a moment and shrugged her shoulders. “Imprison me?”
Ardith nodded, and thought for a moment. “I am only just come to this town also, but I'd think that would likely be what they would do. But I know of places where you might get much worse treatment. In some places they would sell you into slavery. In some places they would put your wrists and neck into wooden stocks set in the market square and leave you naked to suffer whatever any passerby would do to you. There are even places where they would cut fingers from your hands.”
The priestess shook her head.
“I would not have any of those things done to you. I know that hunger breeds desperation and desperate acts.
“I don't know how my companions would react to the suggestion I am about to make, so don't take it as a promise. I suggest that you join our group. I am sure that a person with fingers as nimble as yours, feet as swift, and cunning devious as you showed in your flight last night would be of use to us. That is, of course,” Ardith smiled, “if you swear not to steal from _us_!”
Korisca smiled softly and nodded in agreement. “I shall try not to, I really have been trying hard as of late… trying to break my habits, but it's hard… especially when ya can't find a way of making money.”
“If you join us,” Ardith responds, “you will share in our profits – and as long as I have any say in how our group is organized, none of us will go hungry.”
“What about the others? What will they think of this?”
“As I said earlier,” Ardith replied, “I do not know. I gather that means you would like to join our little band. Let us gather them together soon, and let me do the talking. I may ask you to explain your actions as you explained them to me.”
The priestess smiled. “In the meantime, until you can get to the bath-house and get properly cleaned, find some water and at least get the dirt off your face. You will be better received if you look less like a doormat!”
Sahlman reentered the common room at Grabble's to see Ziedon already breaking his fast. He considered that the necromancer should probably eat as much as possible, as sickly and fleshless as he was. Sahl decided to approach the mage and put the events of last night to rest for good – or perhaps for ill, but in either case, to wait would only be putting off the inevitable.
“Ziedon,” said Sahlman, catching the attention of the other, then leaning on the table in front of the mage and facing him squarely, “It is not for Sahlman to be bothering you. You must have the knowing of this, though. If you will do again the things that happened in the night, Sahlman will have no choice.” Sahl was not menacing the object of his attention, but there could be no doubt that he was serious about what he was saying. “For you to do those things another time, Ziedon, is for you to die.”
Ziedon looked at Sahlman, the words that he was about to say in apology forgotten as anger again flowed alongside his blood as an equal. “Sahlman, you meddle with things beyond your comprehension. Never touch me when I am embracing the Art, or I am not responsible for what happens to you. I did not plan on killing the girl, I just wanted the information. You placed yourself in harm's way and paid the price.” Ziedon paused and looked directly at Sahlman's eyes. “Do not threaten me. You do not want to become my enemy.”
Sahlman straightened and looked disdainfully down at the specter sitting cocooned in his robes. “You have done your evil and Sahlman still stands before you. Sahlman will remain standing when Ziedon has long since turned to the dust carried by zephyrs through the night air. It is not myself that becomes your enemy, but it is you, Ziedon, who becomes mine.”
Ziedon shook his head at the ignorance of the man in front of him and decided that perhaps it would be best for the warrior to believe that he would be a threatening enemy. Ziedon lowered his head and continued eating his breakfast. After a few moments, he stopped and shook his head. 'Why is it so hard to maintain control?' he thought. 'I have never been prone to emotional outbursts in the past and now in the space of twelve hours I have almost lost complete control twice. Is it Sahlman? Why does he raise my hackles so? What am I becoming?'
Ziedon closed his eyes and felt the world crash down around him. His mind was uncertain, and his heart raced with a mixture of anger and disappointment. He tried to rein his anger in.
As he stared into his bowl, Ziedon began the slow breathing that accompanied the meditation he learned as an apprentice. He could almost hear his old teacher. “To master Magic, you must first master yourself.”
As he thought of his training, Ziedon's heartbeat slowed and his eyes opened to see Sahlman still towering over him. More relaxed, Ziedon mentally reviewed the last few minutes and tried to salvage the situation. He raised an eyebrow, and looked Sahlman in the eye. “For clarification, what specific event of last night do you speak of: what happened to you, or what happened to the thief?”
Sahlman was pleased that Ziedon finally managed to force the venom out of his demeanor. He thought that perhaps the man could be dealt with after all. Time would tell, certainly.
Sahlman, who was large in his country but was dwarfed by the wetlanders, exhaled his anxiety into the stale, chill, early morning air in Grabble's common room. He pulled out the chair across from Ziedon and sat. Sahl remembered, this time, to sit on the left of the chair; there would be much less interference from the scimitar that way. Once seated, Sahlman placed his hands on the table, gloves off and fingers splayed, and looked Ziedon in the eye. There was something disturbing in the intensity of Sahl's gaze, or perhaps it was just the way his eyes, pale in the semi-darkness of the tavern, seemed to glow with their own cold inner fire. “Ay'wah, may I find the words,” began the foreigner. In the pause that followed, Ziedon thought it sounded more as if Sahl were praying than anything else. “When you did mahjyk upon me, I was very,” the easterner paused, trying to choose his vocabulary with care, “full of fear. But let me to tell what was the more bad. It was the face of Ziedon, or perhaps not, for I never saw the face of Ziedon that way before. As you stood over that thief-girl, it was as if some other thing was there, wearing Ziedon's form, but twisting it into some shape of evil. This same thing I saw just as the mahjyk struck me. This it is which has filled my thoughts. And others besides Sahlman have seen it, thought not so well. This is the most bad thing I speak of.”
Sahlman sat back a bit, the intensity of his face lessening slightly, then continued. “There are others, though, if you will hear them.”
Ziedon nodded in assent, his hands resting on the table while he leaned slightly forward, concentrating on the desert-dweller's words.
“To threaten a life for some icheb, er, pauper, this is not a good thing. Easy enough to decide where it was. I did. To act toward those who have been as friends to you in the way that you have…” Sahlman could not help but think back to the occasion when Ziedon was pursued in the marketplace, and the night when Ardith told Sahl that Ziedon was a friend to him. “This is also not a good thing. And, this is last one but important, the feeling of your mahjyk itself is … wrong. This is best Sahlman can do to tell you.”
Ziedon leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. His shoulders hunched in on themselves to give a picture of a weary man. “To be frank, I do not know what came over me. I had originally intended to scare the thief to learn what we needed to know and nothing more. Perhaps it was my anger; maybe it affected my actions, I am not sure. Then you jostled me and my control over my Art was broken. I did not intend to loose the vitality-sapping cold hands on you.” Ziedon's eyes turned glassy as he relived the previous night. “Then I felt more anger: anger at the thief and anger at you. It was with hot blood that I spoke to you as I did.”
Ziedon's eyebrows crunched down together and his increasingly skull- like visage twisted in a look of distaste. “There is a lure in my Art. It is a lure down a dark path. I have always stayed clear of this path but lately it has been hard. I have grown in the Art; I am more powerful. Sadly, the lure grows as my strength grows. It calls to me. Last night my anger gave it a hold. It was only afterwards when I had calmed that I realized what I had done.”
Sahlman nodded while Ziedon spoke. He had always heard things like these about the mahjyk, and with Ziedon's words, the old desert legends became solid facts in Sahl's mind.
Ziedon looked down at his bony hands and spoke softly. “Perhaps I should head out on my own. I do not want to endanger you three. You all are the closest things to friends that I have.”
The foreigner's considering gaze lingered on the mage. Sahlman was well aware of how uncharacteristic Ziedon's frank words were. How much it must have cost the cadaverous man to speak them.
“If Sahlman is a friend to you, Ziedon, and Ardith and Kay, then you can gain strength from that friendship. It is my sorry now for threatening you. Sahlman is an idiot sometimes.” The dark tan face of the desert man split in a grin that he hoped to share with his companion. The white of his teeth was as startling a contrast to his dark skin as the penetrating blueness of his eyes had been at other times.
Ziedon looked up and basked in the glow of the bedouin's smile for a second. Ziedon's face contorted as the edges of his mouth turned upward into a rough smile that seemed to strain the rare-used muscles. “That goes double for me,” Ziedon said as he laboriously kept the smile for as long as he could before exhaustion caused his features to return to their normal expressionless slate.
Ziedon signaled the barmaid and asked Sahlman, “Would you share breakfast with me?”
All: Nice turn, everyone. The foretold debate about Korisca will be held after you get back from Ulan, because I don't see any way to fit it in earlier than that. If it fits, I can always move things around. In any case, the next turn will (hopefully) consist primarily of the visit to the townhouse. Your responses can contain parts of the Korisca debate (I assume Ardith will start it, and it will occur when all of you are together), and information about the meeting with Ulan (preparations, cautions, characters' thoughts, or whatever else you want to write). Since a lot of this turn will depend on the events around you, I'll try to make my responses prompt. As usual, you can write your turn response about anything you want; don't consider my suggestions to be limitations.
There have been two common misspellings by me and some players. Just thought I'd tell you all to note the following spellings: Korisca (not Korsica) and Ziedon (not Zeidon).
This is the longest turn yet, by the way. :)
Ardith: Your fall holiday is tomorrow, on 9/1, the middle of fall.
Your Bill, Sir: * Sahlman: .61gp (lodging, bath) * Ziedon: .66gp (lodging, food for Ziedon and Sahl) * Kay: .53gp (lodging, food) * Ardith: .55gp (lodging, food) * Korisca: .63gp (lodging, food) * Kreemon: .73gp (lodging, food, fancy dogfood)
Hitpoints: Sahlman: 10/14