Korisca was lying asleep on the floor, cuddled up against Bork's warm body. Kreemon was nowhere to be seen. Ziedon hadn't noticed either of them coming in the night before, which was probably a good thing; if Ziedon hadn't heard them, chances were that no one had. Ziedon closed the window and picked up his spell book, pacing around the room as he read, to ease the stiffness out of his legs and back.
After studying his spells Ziedon make some noise, getting louder and louder until the others woke up. “Oh, wake you did I?”
Korisca stretched her arms, then wrapped them around Bork. “You really should try this, Ziedon. It's a much more comfortable way to sleep.”
“So,” Ziedon said, “where is my necklace?”
Korisca sat up on the floor and shrugged her shoulders. “It wasn't on him.”
Ziedon frowned. “Tell me exactly what happened.”
Bork stood up and paced around, growling and barking softly.
“Relax,” Korisca said. “It's just us.” She pulled Bork to her, and stroked his head while she relayed the entire story of the previous night to Ziedon.
“Hmm,” Ziedon said when Korisca was done. “An army you say?” Ziedon rubbed his chin. “That might prove to be advantageous since the Priests are going to be a little riled up this morning. The army will give them something else to focus on.
“We might think about moving to those new quarters that Kreemon secured for us. We can leave a note here for the Bard, listing a place and time that he can contact us. I would rather he not know of our new hiding place. Where is Kreemon anyway?”
“I don't know,” Korisca said. “He has been acting kind of strange lately, with the open windows and all. Maybe he went for a walk.” Bork pulled away from Korisca, and growled at her. “What's gotten into you?” she asked.
“Maybe he is getting us breakfast. I am starving.”
“Yeah. A nice big breakfast would be great. I still feel stiff all over.”
At the mention of breakfast, Bork charged over to Ziedon, almost knocking him over, and barked angrily.
Ziedon looked down at the dog and said, “Look you mangy mutt! I don't know where your master is, but if you come any closer to me, you won't have to worry about seeing him ever again!”
Bork whimpered a little and stood down. He hesitated for a second, then twisted around to chase his tail.
Then he stopped suddenly, and looked right at Ziedon, his head reaching almost to Ziedon's chest. Bork moved slowly backwards a few steps, then re-established eye contact.
“This is weird,” Korisca said.
Bork lifted his front paw, and held it up until Ziedon looked at it. When he had Ziedon's attention, he scratched his paw along the floor in a long, straight line. Then he did it again, and again, and then lifted his paw in an awkward motion Ziedon didn't understand. Bork looked back up at Ziedon, then scratched the floor again three times, in a zig-zag pattern. When the dog was done, he lifted his paw again and shook it a little in Ziedon's direction.
Korisca got on her hands and knees and looked at the scratches Bork had made. Ziedon saw it too. It looked like the letters “K” and “Z.”
Ziedon looked at the letters and then at Bork before saying to Korisca, “I can speak with my bird but no one else can understand us. Maybe Bork has a similar bond with Kreemon and is trying to tell us something about Kreemon. Maybe he is in trouble and needs our help.”
The moment Ziedon said Kreemon's name, Bork barked once.
Ziedon looked at the dog and asked, “Can you understand me?”
Bork barked once.
“Then I want you to stomp your left front paw.”
Ziedon laughed. “Now isn't that amusing?” He sobered quickly. “So, do you know where Kreemon is? Stomp once for yes, twice for no.”
Bork stomped once.
“Can you lead us to him?”
Bork hesitated, then stomped once.
Ziedon sighed a little impatiently, then turned to Korisca. “Do you remember Kreemon being here last night when you went to sleep?”
“Sure. He came in with me, and he went to sleep at the same time I did.”
“Did he leave at some point?”
“I didn't hear anyone leave, and I'm usually a pretty light sleeper, but Kreemon has a pretty light step. He must have opened the window, and I didn't hear him do that.”
“Was Bork here the entire time?”
“I think so. Kree went to sleep next to Bork. I guess I went over there eventually and took his place. It was warm… I don't remember whether Kree was still around then.”
Ziedon put on Forgolon's disguise, and then turned to Bork. “Okay, lead us to Kreemon.”
Bork sat down and patted the the “K” mark on the floor. Then he made some more scratches near it, before moving a few feet back and sitting again. When he was done, there was an arrow pointing from to the “K” to where Bork was sitting. The dog peered up at Ziedon with a hopeful look.
Ziedon looked at the dog, looked at the scratches, and looked back at the dog. He walked around, examining Bork from all angles. It looked like the same dog – not that Ziedon had ever paid much attention, but he figured he'd notice anything majorly different. There was some kind of discoloration on its left forearm, but that could have been there before.
Ziedon asked Korisca, “Did you guys get a attacked by any random dogs last night?”
“Was there a full moon?”
“Come on, Ziedon. It's the first day of the month. Halkak is new. And none of the other moons were full.”
Ziedon sighed. “I didn't think so. This is very confusing.” He went back to the dog, and looked him in the eye. “You are Kreemon in Bork form, aren't you?”
Bork stomped once.
“Well now, this is a pickle. Somehow Kreemon turned himself into a dog, his dog to be exact. Interesting that the form is the exact same. From the fact that he is still in that shape, I am going to guess that he doesn't know how to turn himself back; or rather how to separate his spirit from Bork's form.”
Bork barked, and stomped his paw once.
“We might as well give him some time to get used to his new shape. Maybe you would be willing to go get our breakfast while I study my books? Kreemon needs some alone time. It isn't like we can do anything for him now….”
Bork whimpered a little but sat down on the ground. He curled up and closed his eyes, searching for a way out of this.
“Though,” Ziedon mused, “having an attack dog that understands you could come in handy.” Ziedon shook his head, “In any event, time for breakfast. If you would be so kind.”
Korisca headed for the door, then stopped and turned back. “Kree, we'll get you out of this somehow. Don't worry. Ziedon will figure something out.” She lowered her head and left.
Ziedon took out the blue ribbon, cast a spell, and studied it. All he could find out was that its effect belonged to a vague category of magic, known to do anything from creating sparks, to summoning up magical creatures out of nothing. It was enchanted with a weak magic, but how weak, or what exactly it did, was a mystery.
There was a spell that could tell Ziedon all about this ribbon, but he had never learned it, and all of his experiments so far had failed. Given enough time, though, he was sure he could figure it out.
While the spell was still active, he looked over at Kreemon. After half a minute, he starting pulling out his books and laying them out in front of him. “There is a magical knot at your heart.” Ziedon said absently to Kreemon. “Maybe you should concentrate on that eh? And try to keep quiet. I need to concentrate over here.”
Intrigued by what Ziedon said, Kreemon reflected internally, focusing on his heart and moving outward.
Ziedon opened his books to the right pages, and muttered some incantations. Symbols that had been incomprehensible before suddenly gained meaning, though, strangely, the ordinary parts of the book, the parts Forgolon had claimed were about law or history, still made no sense. Was it that Ziedon knew only a small part of a much greater language, or that there were two separate languages that used the same symbols? He wasn't used to thinking of it as an ordinary language at all.
In the parts he could understand, Ziedon unraveled the nature of the magic. They were simple spells, and a little disappointing; Ziedon had hoped that some great mystery would be revealed. But they were nonetheless magic, and like all magic, the uses they could be put to were limited only by the wizard's imagination.
The first spell, which took up two pages, could make a person more likable, more attractive, more charismatic overall, for a short time. Ziedon's mind instantly set to work on how to use this to his advantage. The second spell, filling only a single page, was less subtle but no less useful to a clever enough person. It would allow Ziedon to issue simple commands to a rope, a cable or even a piece of string, as if it were alive.
The third spell, the damaged one, made no sense to Ziedon. He tried to derive its purpose, but there were just too many critical parts missing.
Ziedon continued to scan the book until he found something he had missed the last time through. This fourth spell was quite potent, giving one the power of suggestion. With it, Ziedon would be able to convince a person to do almost anything. It was neither as subtle nor as long-lasting as the enchantments he had used in the past, but it could be far more effective.
It was another ten minutes before Korisca returned.
“You're not going to believe this,” she said, handing two warm, buttered rolls and some cheese to Ziedon, “but the priests are gone. All of them. I didn't see a single priest anywhere.”
“Have you ever known the priests to do such a thing?”
“They don't usually spend their time patrolling the streets. This is normal. It's just weird that it went back now, all of a sudden.”
Ziedon nodded his head. “I see your point. Interesting.”
“Oh,” she added, approaching Bork hesitantly. “Um… here… Kreemon.” She put some bread and cheese down in front of the dog, and then took out some stewing bones with a goodly amount of raw meat still attached. “Uh… I didn't know if your… if your appetite changed.” They were the best I could find. The butcher said they…” She put the bones down, and turned hastily away.
Kreemon pushed away the bones and instead wolfed down the bread and cheese. It was strangely satisfying to eat like this, rapidly and off the floor. Finding the slightest particle of food felt like a victory, he thought as he licked the crumbs off the dusty floor. When no sign of the food remained, he felt a pang of regret that it was gone, and he glanced over at the bones. But no, even in Bork's body, meat was abhorrent to him.
Ziedon ate slowly as he spoke to Korisca. “Korisca, did Kreemon show you where our new quarters were located?”
Bork shook his head from side to side.
“No, but I think I have a good idea, and I guess…” She glanced over at Bork. “I guess he can show me himself if I'm not quite right…. But they might not let me in without him. He's the one who signed up.”
“I think we need to relocate. We can get a message to the bard if need be, but things might get a little heated here in the next few days. Especially with the weather and earthquake that you say will happen in the near future.”
Kreemon licked his chops, curled up on the floor and closed his eyes. He fell asleep concentrating on the knot in his heart, trying to superimpose his own form over that of the dog.
“I discovered a few things about Kreemon while you were gone that might help him change back. It appears this might take a while. So I was wondering if you wouldn't mind doing a little scouting in the city to find out what the latest news is, and why the priests have gone into seclusion?”
“I guess,” she said, glancing at the dog. “Sure, I'll see what I can find out. You'll stay here with him?”
Ziedon nodded again. “Absolutely. I would greatly appreciate any information you can drum up. I am sure that others are wondering why the priests returned to their normal habits.”
Ziedon stayed in the hide-out, looking over the new spells and the magical cloth, while he waited.
This time Korisca was away for an hour. Ziedon barely noticed the door opening, and, if he hadn't been looking, he wouldn't have noticed it closing either. Korisca stood by the door for almost a minute, waiting and listening. When Ziedon started to ask her what was going on, she put a finger to her lips.
Finally, she let go of the door and walked up close to Ziedon. She spoke to him in a whisper. “I got a message from one of Forgolon's people,” she said. “We're being watched. Someone's been lurking outside the brewery since last night. I didn't see him, but Forgolon's man says he's there.”
Ziedon spoke quietly while gathering his gear for a quick move. “Kreemon, want to take a look around and see if you can find who is out there? I will send the bird with you. If you find someone, try to subdue them and we will come to question him.”
Kreemon stirred from his introspective rest. “Might as well get used to what this body can do,” he thought, and headed for the door.
Ziedon turned and said to Tah'iera, “There is someone lurking about watching us. The dog is going to see if he can sniff him out. I would like you to watch over the dog. If he attacks someone, come and get us and guide us to the dog and the lurker. Okay?”
Outside, Kreemon sniffed around and listened, while Tah'iera flew overhead. He circled the brewery, expanding his search until he caught the scent. Someone had been here recently. He smelled the pungent odor of human sweat, the bitter but strangely pleasant smell of his leather boots. Once on the trail, there was no losing it. The dog followed the man's every step, increasing his speed, as his prey circled farther and farther from the brewery. But there was no escape. Soon, Bork saw the man ducking into an alley.
Kreemon paused and looked around, taking another deep sniff. The scents of several people were mixed in, but none seemed to be moving with the man Kreemon was tracking. That didn't mean it wasn't a trap – just that if there were multiple people, they weren't traveling in a group.
Kreemon knew before he got there that the man was close, waiting. When he peered carefully around the corner, the man saw him. He was of average height, average build, brown hair and brown eyes, and dressed in the drab clothing worn by all of the lower-born people of Maelbourg. A small sack hung over his shoulder, attached by a strap that circled under the opposite arm. The bulge of a dagger was visible at his waist, under his clothes.
The man stood at a distance, ten feet away. When he saw Kreemon, he reached into his pack and pulled out a strip of dried meat. “Nice doggy,” he said quietly, taking a step back and tossing the meat to Kreemon.
Kreemon took a quick survey of the area. This was a run-down part of town, and these buildings were no exception. Each one had a door leading to the alley, but the alley itself had nothing in it but a pile of garbage outside the door on the right and a swarm of flies. A rancid, orange fluid originated from the garbage, and ran slowly down the narrow channel in the middle, picking up dust and dirt as it went. This was only a hundred feet or so from the brewery, through relatively quiet streets. It would be possible to drag the man back without gathering notice, but it would not be easy.
Kreemon moved forward, limping on his front left paw, and picked up the piece of meat in his teeth, avoiding actually biting into it, but hanging his head down to give the appearance of eating. He let off contented whimpering noises as he limped toward the man.
The stranger was visibly relieved to see the large dog content. He let Kreemon approach, reaching out to pet him. Suddenly, Kreemon dropped the meat and launched himself at the man, striking him bodily with his front paws. He got one good hit in and the man cried out in pain. If this took too long, there could be trouble.
Tah'iera swooped down, snatched up the strip of meat, and took off for the brewery.
The man recovered and ran. He was out in the street before Kreemon caught up. The street was empty for now, but someone could come at any moment.
Ziedon spoke quietly to Korisca. “Any other information from the bard's man, or about what is going on?”
“Sorry, that's all he said. But there are a lot of crazy things going on. There are rumors of a ghost or something that appeared in the House, then escaped right out the front door, when a priest tried to keep it in. No word on why the priests disappeared. No one's talking about it. It looks like everyone's gotten pretty quiet, actually. Nothing's happened with any of the townsmen either – most of them are still staying out of sight, even though the priests are gone.
“Oh, there was one other thing. Some guy in a bar was talking about a weird book that could summon the spirits of the dead.” She said the last phrase in a dramatic voice, while waving her hands comically in the air. “He told the guy sitting next to him that a spice merchant from Ostmark had gotten stuck in town when they locked it down, and had all sorts of crazy stuff with him from the Eastern Kingdoms. I guess they say that kind of stuff won't last long in a town before it starts making itself known, and strange things have been happening in the merchant's room. It all sounds pretty far-fetched to me.”
Ziedon asked with an arched eyebrow, “So this fellow in the bar said that the spice merchant from Ostmark had this book? Or is the book and the spice merchant two separate events?”
“I gathered that the spice merchant had the book.”
“Any further mention about the merchant? Like where he is specifically staying?”
“You're taking this seriously?”
Ziedon shrugged his shoulders. “You never know. There is usually some truth to things, maybe not what the rumors tell, but maybe something else.”
“Okay, let me think… Yeah, they mentioned a boarding house and tavern called the Silver Sign. Probably near that big red Sign of Morenth on the north side of town.”
”'Silver Sign', that is red?”
“Whoever made it, they made it out of iron since silver would cost a fortune, and eventually they gave up cleaning the rust off. Now the silver Sign is red.”
“Ah, I see. Hmm, since Kreemon is gone for a bit, do you think you could go scout out this Silver Sign place and find out whatever you can about the spice merchant? If he truly is a spice merchant, and the storm is going to hit like you say it is… His spices might quickly be worth much much more.”
“Oh, the storm. I keep forgetting about that.” A look of surprise came into her eyes. “Oh. It's this afternoon. If you're going to do anything, you'd better hurry.”
“It starts this afternoon? Then please hurry and find out what you can about the merchant. I will have to act quickly if the storm is going to hit soon.”
Just then, Tah'iera returned. “The dog has attacked,” it squawked to Ziedon.
Ziedon got to his feet. “Attacked who? The man he was chasing?”
“Was there anyone else there?”
“Was the dog in trouble?”
“I came here when he attacked. I do not know.”
Ziedon said to Korisca, “There is something I need to attend to, so please go see about the spice merchant. We will need to move quickly.” Ziedon then said to Tah'iera, “Lead me to the dog.”
Kreemon leapt at the man's back, trying to bring him down, but he dodged out of the way and ran down the street. Again, Kreemon caught up quickly, and tried to knock the man to the ground. Anticipating the attack, he swung around and deflected Kreemon with his dagger. The next time, even further down the street, the man again was able to keep Kreemon at bay for a short time with his dagger, but this time, Kreemon was not going to be held off. He backed up and pounced again, and then again, until he had the man on the ground. The man struggled, but couldn't break free.
He was still exceptionally agile, however. Even on top of the man, Kreemon had trouble doing any real damage. He even managed to squirm out a little, but the dog soon had him again, and was able to deal a serious blow.
Kreemon pressed his advantage by pinning the man to the ground. “Mad dog!” the man yelled, prying Kreemon's paw off his chest, but unable to get up and run. “Help!”
Ziedon, in Forgolon's disguise, knew that there would soon be others on the scene. He looked both ways at the end of the alley, and seeing the coast still clear, hurried in Kreemon's direction.
The man continued to squirm until he broke free. Kreemon scratched him as he got up and backed away, dagger ready. The man was in poor shape. “Help,” he called to Ziedon. “Get the Guard!”
Kreemon leapt into the air, and landed on the man with all his weight. Kreemon was getting the hang of these paws. They weren't as strong as fists, but there were four of them, with claws. They could do just as much damage when used properly. The man was in his power again.
Then two men arrived at the scene, from a side road twenty yards up ahead. Fortunately, neither was wearing the uniform of the town guard. When they saw what was going on, both ran in Kreemon's direction.
Ziedon moved to cut them off, shouting, “Watch out! Go for the Guard, quickly! I'll stay here. You don't want to get too close.”
One of the men ran off. The other stayed to watch, as the man, wounded and exhausted, managed to struggle free only to have the dog grab him again, and swipe him across the face with his paw. After that, the man was so far gone that the effort of trying to escape brought him to unconsciousness.
Ziedon moved forward and shooed the dog. “Go away! Get away from him!” He jerked his head to the side, indicating for Kreemon to go hide nearby. Kreemon turned and looked at Ziedon, then made a loud whimpering noise and ran around the corner into the nearest alley, where he lay down and hid.
With the dog gone, Ziedon kneeled down and inspected the wounded man. He turned back to the remaining man and said, “He is going to need healer attention. Run and get a healer, quick!” As the man nodded and left at a run, another man came to see what was causing all the noise. No doubt, there were more on their way.
Ziedon looked down at the prone figure and then waved the man away. “Don't approach! It's the Plague! Run!”
The man started to turn away, but then stopped. “Wait.” He said. “Run from a plague? What did you do to him? I heard fighting.”
Ziedon replied hurriedly, “It's the Kreemon!” with his voice raising a little when he said 'Kreemon.' “Look out before it gets you!”
The man took a step back, now doubting himself. “The Kreemon?”
Holding an arm to partially cover his face, Ziedon said, “Don't say I didn't warn you.”
Hearing his name called, Kreemon tore out of the alley. When he saw the lone man, Kreemon snarled, looking as menacing and dangerous as possible, and bounded straight for him.
Ziedon moved over the body, as if to protect it from the onslaught of the approaching creature. “Run!”
The man only spared a moment's glance at the large dog before running as fast as his legs could carry him. Meanwhile, Ziedon chanted the words to a spell, and the body vanished. “Kreemon,” he called.
Kreemon returned, and ran his paws over the body until he found the neck. Then he bit down on the man's collar, lifted him part way off the ground, and dragged him away.
“Quickly,” Ziedon said. “Take him back to the hideout. You don't have much time.” Ziedon looked around and picked up a pouch that had fallen to the ground in the scuffle, then took off into the alley just as six or seven people came into view. “Lead me back to where we rested,” he said to Tah'iera, “without being detected.”
As Ziedon let himself into the brewery, he noted that there were scruff-marks here and there where the body had dragged through the dusty streets of Maelbourg, even though he'd wiped out what he could. He could only hope that no one would notice them.
This turn was written on 8/21/08.
This turn describes the “Kreemon is a dog” bit from Ziedon's perspective. To see it from Kreemon's, click here.