It was finally the day of the earthquake. Kreemon, Korisca and Ziedon woke to a chill draft and flurries of snow outside, but they knew it would get hot later in the day. Their new boarding house wasn't nearly so well situated as the last one, being far from the walls and the House, but even in this quiet neighborhood, it was clear that things were more quiet today than usual.
When the maid came in to empty the chamber pot, refill the ewer of water and bring them breakfast, she commented, “You'd best stay inside today.”
Ziedon asks, “Why? You hear something about today?”
“I hear lots about today, so least one of them's got to be true. The Andrithans attacking again – no offense to any of you, you pay on time and keep clean enough, but anyone can tell you're not from here, and who knows what can happen? Then there's the sorcerer coming back and making the ground shake. You know the jeweler, Menlenish? Him and his wife killed dead last night, and someone wrote who did it in blood. Could have been the sorcerer. Could have been someone pretending to be him. But you think about one thing real hard before you go wandering around today – not a single gemstone was missing.”
“The sorcerer is going to make the earth shake? I thought the House killed him.”
“You can be sure they did, but sorcerers are nasty things, popping back up who knows how.”
“Why would someone kill a jeweler and not take anything?”
“That's right. Why? Now I can't stand here blabbing all day – this pot won't empty itself. You just watch out is all.” With that, she waddled out the door, carrying the heavy clay pot.
“I'd be careful today, just in case.” Kreemon said to her back. “I heard the sorcerer was going to make the ground shake around midnight tonight,” he called after her.
When the woman was gone and the door was closed, Ziedon said, “I am supposed to meet up with Forgolon today, but due to his absence, I would appreciate it if you guys would scope out the meeting place first to make sure it isn't a trap.”
“Sure, not a problem. Let me borrow that ribbon and I'll let you know if he arrives and if it is safe to come.”
Ziedon handed over the blue ribbon and then returned to his room.
Kreemon asked Korisca, “Want to come?”
“Sure. Let me just grab some of this cheese… Hey, I wonder how they even get food in here, with all the gates locked down.”
“That is a good point. There has to be an open gate or some sort of access point.”
Kreemon went into town, spreading some of his own rumors while listening for the current ones.
The gruesome murder of the gem-seller and his wife was the talk of the town. Everyone knew that the crime was blamed on the sorcerer, but exactly what he had written on the wall was unknown. Kreemon was happy to fill in that detail. It seemed that Kreemon's other rumors had caught hold. Few took the idea of the ground shaking at midnight seriously, but everyone had heard about it.
Kreemon also inquired at some of the merchants to determine where their fresh foodstuffs, such as cheese and milk, were coming from. He was laughed at a little for calling any of it, let alone the cheese, “fresh,” but he learned that certain farmers known to the guard were allowed to approach the gates and do business just outside.
Grabble's was doing good business this morning. When Kreemon finally wound his way to the innkeeper, Grabble still didn't know where to find Forgolon. Half way back to the boarding house, though, Korisca noticed someone motioning them into an alley.
“Keep a sharp eye out,” Kreemon said, and then cautiously moved closer to the alley to see who it was. It was a man in the uniform of the town guard. When they were close enough, he looked both ways down the street to be sure no one was within earshot, and said, “You're looking for the minstrel?”
Trying to keep watch on both the street and the alley at once, Kreemon replied, “He was supposed to meet us and has been missing. Do you know where he is?”
“There are times when he likes to keep out of the public eye. Tell me who's looking for him, and I'll say when you can meet him.”
“Ask him if he wants another lesson or not. He'll know what it means.”
The guard thought for a second, then nodded and said, “Second chime past noon. He'll find you.”
“Tell him to bring some more stones, larger if he can find them, for his instructor. Anything else?”
The guard was already stepping back into the shadows.
“Then good day,” Kreemon said. He and Korisca moved through the town at random, and meandered back to the boarding house. He was pretty sure they hadn't been followed.
Ziedon had treated his wounds and studied his spells. He and Tah'iera were both protected with magic yet again. When Kreemon got back to the room, he found Ziedon resting in bed. It seemed like Ziedon spent most of his time resting lately. What the man thought about through the many long hours, Kreemon had no idea.
“Looks like Forgolon will be coming by at the second chime past noon today,” Kreemon told Ziedon. “He is somehow going to find us. I am not sure how, but that is the word we received.”
Kreemon handed the ribbon back, and Ziedon gave Kreemon some of the gold he found the night before. “While we are waiting, would you two mind going and purchasing me two onyx stones, worth about 25 gold apiece?”
Kreemon made sure their supplies were all packaged up and ready to go at a moments notice, and then went out with Korisca go get the gems. They were soon back, and the three passed the time quietly, resting and waiting.
When the time came, Ziedon and Korisca were half asleep, but Kreemon was pacing around the room. Still, he didn't notice Forgolon until he turned and found himself face to face with the minstrel. “Good afternoon,” he said. “Menathal tells me you're looking for me.”
Kreemon called out, “Ziedon, he's here,” and then continued in a normal tone. “We've been looking for you, for days. Thought you might want another lesson. Did you bring the stones?”
“I hope whatever magic Ziedon is working on is worth it. These don't come cheap.” Forgolon pulled a tiny leather pouch out of nowhere and dropped it in Kreemon's hand. Kreemon felt several small stones inside. Kreemon handed the pouch over to Ziedon, who poured them into his hand to inspect them. Most would be quite suitable for Ziedon's purposes.
Ziedon sat up in the bed. “You don't knock?”
“Where have you been?” Kreemon asked.
“Here and there. I hear you've been around, breaking legs, inciting riots. I don't hold any of it against you, but you should be careful. It's only a matter of time before yours becomes a familiar face.”
“They were supporters of Balban, trying to get the crowd to riot. I was just trying to do my part to preserve the peace. Are you prepared for the earthquake?”
“Earthquake? I don't always keep up on my astrology, but I think I would have heard about a prediction like that.”
Kreemon raised an eyebrow. “You haven't heard about the earthquake? Everyone is talking about it.”
“Oh, your earthquake. I have to admit, that part of your strategy has me confused. What happens tomorrow morning, when everyone realizes it was all just talk?”
Kreemon asked softly, “Based on what you've heard, what happens tomorrow morning when the earthquake actually happens tonight?”
Forgolon gave a half-grin. “If it's a small one, a lot of wondering about how it was predicted, until the next day's news takes over. If it's big, there could be mass panic. If it doesn't happen at all, the Sorcerer and anyone spreading rumors about him lose a lot of credibility.”
Ziedon asked, “And how do you think the Sorcerer will be received if there is a quake, small or large? The rumors state the Sorcerer will make the earthquake in response to the attacks on him from the House, yes?”
“Fear is the response you're most likely to see, but people will stand up to defend the House. Are you saying you really can cause an earthquake?”
Ziedon smiled cryptically and said, “We will find out shortly, won't we? So what latest rumors have you heard?”
“Besides the ones you've started yourselves, you mean? And besides the one that you're dead?” He nodded to the supposedly dead man with a smirk. “Well, for one, there's word going around that Ulan has an illegitimate daughter who has a good claim to his holdings and title. Some old papers and a few reliable witnesses have turned up to back the claim, including one Eiselon Makierrei.”
“It is good to be thought of as dead, yes?”
“It has its advantages.”
“We've seen a few townsman so far, but still need to talk with the mine-owner. I imagine there will be a meeting of the townspeople very soon, so perhaps she can be confirmed then.”
“You need three townsmen to call a meeting. Makierrei will do it, and Velirra Dufowl seems to be in your camp, but that still leaves a third. There would have been a meeting already, about the weather or the sorcerer, but I think they townsmen are avoiding the attention of the House.”
Ziedon asked with a half-smile, “Any other rumors, ones that we've not started?”
“Velirra's mentioned you by name. I think you may have swayed her too far. She wants you put in Galgewe's place.”
“I guess we should see if the mine-owner is around today then, and pay a visit to Velirra to put her back on the proper path.”
“Up to you, but Velirra might be a lost cause. If she starts pushing yet another replacement for Galgewe, she won't be taken seriously.
Ziedon paused. “Wait,” he thought. “I spoke with her prior to my incarceration with Silnquost. The priests removed my influence with the others. If she is saying my name, then it is a trap, for me to seek her out. Very clever of the priests, but I won't be caught making the same mistake twice.”
Aloud, he said, “Though, after the earthquake, I imagine the townsmen will call a meeting and it would be best if everyone has been contacted by then. Would Korisca need to be at the meeting? Would you be able to get a message to us, if one is called to let us know when and where Korisca should be?”
“The meeting will just bring up the subject and formally display the evidence. Korisca won't be needed until the next meeting, when the matter is decided. Though Kreemon, her supposed guardian, should be there to present the letters from Ulan.”
Ziedon nodded. “So, you will need to get us word when the initial meeting is called, so Kreemon can be present.”
“Aside from the tavern and the mine itself, where could we find the mine-owner? Doesn't he live in the city?”
“Yes. All of the townsmen do. Cewethir is usually home at night, but he might not like you just stopping by, and he won't want to talk business if you catch him at the Yellow Sheep. I'd go for his footman, Leneld. He's always at the house when his master's away.”
“And where is his house located?”
“It's two houses down from that big, ornate lamppost on the way to the Yellow Sheep. He has his guild symbol etched into the front wall, so it's hard to miss.
Ziedon said to Kreemon, “Perhaps you two should go check out the tavern and spend some time there. You can get a message to me if the townsman arrives, and I will be along presently.”
“Korisca should stay here. We don't want to sully her budding image and reputation for hanging out at a tavern.” Kreemon walked up to Ziedon and said, “Have you some… coin… to assist in running messages and paying for drinks?”
“That makes sense. Here.” Ziedon reached into a pouch. Turning away from Forgolon, he handed Kreemon some coin, and slipped him the blue ribbon in the process.
Kreemon took the coin and ribbon and headed out, checking to see if anyone was watching the boarding house or following him, and headed to the Yellow Sheep tavern on the east side of town. The tavern was empty. Even the barkeep was out of sight for the first few minutes, until he noticed Kreemon with a bit of surprise. Most of the miners had been kept at the mines the past few weeks, and the barkeep hadn't been able to drum up business elsewhere. Each night, a few of them would show up, and Cewethir was sometimes among them.
Kreemon left the bar and went to Cewethir's house. Letters in hand, he knocked on the door. It wasn't long before the footman, Leneld, answered. He was dressed in formal style, with the badge of the coal miner's guild on his shoulder. A heavy overcoat dominated the outfit, far too warm for the heat of the day. Leneld looked Kreemon up and down, examining his long hair with its colored beads, and the cloak Kreemon had taken to wearing since he'd met the True Zahiran. The distaste was obvious on the Footman's face, but he still spoke with trained politeness. “Master Cewethir is not at home. How may I help you? If you have come seeking alms, the master performs that duty only on the fourth of the month.”
Kreemon pulled out two letters from beneath his robe. “I have some letters for Townsman Cewethir concerning the inheritance of Townslady Korisca, daughter of Ulan. One is a letter from Townsman Ulan to Townsman Cewethir concerning his daughter's lineage. The other is from Townsman Makierrei to Townsman Cewethir in support and verification of Townslady Korisca's lineage and requesting Townsman Cewethir's support in her name at the next council meeting. Will your master be home soon?”
The footman looked at the letters and the hand that held them with disdain. “Master Cewethir's hours are not made available to the public. I will see that he receives the letters when he arrives.” He held out his hand.
Kreemon handed the letters over and said, “Thank you. Townslady Korisca appreciates your courtesy.” He then took a round about way back to the boarding house, ensuring he wasn't followed.
Ziedon asked, “Have you found my necklace yet?”
“Sorry. I think that's gone forever. The trail's too cold, even for me. So, shall we move on to the lesson?”
“Did you check with Tilluri or Menathal? Someone must have done something with it. It wasn't with the body.”
“I've gone through all my sources. I'll keep my eyes open, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.”
“Have you ever heard of the Fourth Hall or Brundash?”
Forgolon looked annoyed at all the questions for just the briefest moment. Then his usual self-assured look took over. “Brundash was supposed to be the mythical city of magic, a center of power during the War of the Magics. It's said to be surrounded by mystery, and details are hard to come by, probably because it never actually existed. As for the Fourth Hall, that could be anything. Lots of guilds number their halls.”
“Would you know of any old maps, maybe in the House Library, that might depict where these places used to be located?”
“I can't say I've gone through all the mysteries of the House. If what you're looking for is anywhere in Maelbourg, it will be there, but is it worth risking your life?
Ziedon asks, “It wouldn't be as much of a risk as one might think. So, would you know generally where histories and maps would be located in the library that you told me about before? Is that the sole library, or are there other rooms?”
“There are rumors of a pretty extensive underground structure, but if it exists, they keep it secret. In that library, the books aren't arranged in any convenient order. They're scattered around wherever the priests put them.
“I have to try one more time here… I admire your confidence, and even your feeling of being indestructible, but the priests are powerful and dangerous. They've almost killed you more than once, and that was before they knew what you could do. So be careful if you're going to do this, and bring Kreemon with you if you can. My best advice is to drop it altogether.”
“I imagine they will have other things to worry about in the next few days, unless you think you can learn more about Brundash for me. I would like to take a trip to the ruins of the city, to see if I can find any old books of learning.”
“I'll tell you if I find anything, but I guess the House is your best bet. Just be careful. And remember - if anyone associates you with Korisca, the whole plan is down the tubes.”
Ziedon proceeded to give another basic lesson, the kind used to evaluate a potential apprentice's progress. He avoided any specific formulas, just teaching the most rudimentary elements of spell casting. After all, it had taken Ziedon years of apprenticeship before he could cast his first spells.
There was something strange about Forgolon though. The exercises came a little too easily to him. He made such rapid improvement that, had Ziedon not been his teacher, he would have sworn the man had been doing this all his life. Ziedon felt that the minstrel was on the verge of spell casting after only two lessons.
Ziedon abruptly stopped. “That is enough for now.”
Forgolon stood up as suddenly as the lesson had ended. “This is interesting stuff, Ziedon. I look forward to our next lesson.”
“I'll probably wait a few days then, and see what you can find out; no sense in pushing my luck. Will you be disappearing for several more days now? We had been looking for you, for a few days now.”
Forgolon smiled. “Many things require my attention, but getting Leera established is the most important. I'll make sure my contacts know that.”
When Forgolon left, Ziedon went back to resting but got up two hours from midnight. He gathered some large sacks, and said to Kreemon and Korisca, who had long since returned, “I am going to run a few errands. I will be back before the earthquake.”
“Do you think that is wise?” Kreemon said, “Things might get a little crazy around here when the earthquake hits.”
“I'll be back before it hits.”
Kreemon gave the ribbon back to Ziedon. “Make sure to let me know if you run into trouble, and be careful.”
“I will, I promise.”
Kreemon shook his head. “Okay.”
Once Ziedon left, Kreemon said to Korisca, “Let's prepare things, just in case.” It only took a short time to make sure everything was packed up and ready to go. Kreemon then opened the window and lay down, expecting to be woken in a few short hours by the sounds of the earthquake. Fog billowed in through the open window, not as thick as the fog in Huerten, but still enough to quickly make everything damp.
Ziedon headed to the House, having Tah'iera scout for him to ensure he wasn't followed or seen. Not that there was too much risk of that. Heavy fog had descended over Maelbourg, making anything farther than twenty feet away invisible. If not for the lights of several taverns Ziedon knew, he would have gotten hopelessly lost. As it was, he made several wrong turns, and it was much later than he'd hoped when he finally arrived at the House. At least he'd been able to scout out several secluded locations where he could hide if necessary.
When he was close enough to the House, he cast a spell, vanishing from sight, and then a second spell, turning his invisible form into a gaseous substance, which quickly blended into the fog. If anyone noticed him while he was outside, it would be as a slight breeze that caused the dust and moisture to spin.
Both doors – the main door and the priests' entrance – were closed. The Evening Song had ended, and worshipers had gone home. However, the doors weren't so well sealed that Ziedon couldn't find a way in. He slipped under the priests' door, into a narrow hall that led to offices, the back of the sanctuary and the rest of the House.
Ziedon made a bee-line to the library, going as fast as he could, which wasn't fast at all in his current form, but good enough that he made it there before either spell faded. However, once there, he met with a very physical barrier. The massive library door had been sealed shut, so tight that there was no way even a cloud of gas could get in.
There was one guard at the door, who, given his stature, was not expected to defend the library physically. His only purpose was to pull the rope that would ring the alarm bell.
Ziedon floated far away from the guard, resumed his solid form, and cast another spell. Then, invisibly and blinking in and out of existence, he crept up on the door. When he was only a few feet away, his shoe squeaked against the floor and the guard's eyes shot in his direction. The guard's left hand grabbed at the rope, but he hesitated a moment before pulling it, listening intently.
Ziedon paused silently in place, holding his breath, giving the guard a chance to assure himself that no one was there. They stood like that for a long time, before the man finally relaxed. When the guard let go of the rope, Ziedon stepped through the closed door, glad that he still had a few seconds left on that spell.
With a little time left on his invisibility spell, Ziedon looked around the library. The guard outside was not the only defense. Three guards stood at positions around the room, where they could see the door and as many of the bookshelves as possible. There were also four priests in the room, one of whom was on watch. The other three sat around a table, reading and making notes.
The library had been completely cleaned up since Ziedon's last visit. The bookshelves were righted, the dust and bits of bone cleared away, and the charred books were nowhere to be seen, or had been repaired with miraculous skill.
Ziedon took only a moment to plan out his attack. One priest looked up when Ziedon positioned himself for his magic, but everyone noticed when he cast a spell on Tah'iera. The guards immediately started for their best guess at Ziedon's location, while the priests closed their books, and one priest grabbed everything he could from the table and hurried away. The priest on watch closed his eyes and stood very still.
Tah'iera flew towards one of the priests still at the table, becoming visible as soon as he got five feet away from Ziedon. He slashed at the priest's arm, causing little damage, but that was enough to set off the spell.
The priest stopped suddenly, half-way out of his chair. The chair fell over, leaving the priest standing in an awkward position, but there was nothing he could do; the magic had paralyzed him. Then the most foul stench of rotting flesh came out in waves from the still body. The other priest gagged at the scent.
Then Ziedon became visible, as the words of another spell spilled from his lips. He spoke a final word, and the two nearby guards slowed their approach. They looked dejected, like all hope had left them. A tear trickled down the cheek of a particularly tall and brawny guard.
“Don't let the magic touch you,” the unaffected priest yelled at the guards. “Kill the sorcerer and it will go away!”
The priest's advice gave the guards new determination, though they weren't able to get past the feeling of despair. They advanced, swords drawn, and swung, determined to kill Ziedon as quickly as possible. Both blades struck true, one sinking to the bone of Ziedon's shoulder, exacerbating the many wounds he'd received in that area recently. The blows didn't have the full force behind them, but Ziedon was still staggered by the force of them. It was all he could do to remain standing.
“To me,” Ziedon gasped, and chanted the words to the spell that would save his life. As Tah'iera landed on his shoulder, they vanished from the library, and collapsed on the ground, surrounded by thick fog. “Get the others,” he said to Tah'iera, his hands holding his wounds. That small exertion was enough to push him over the edge. He lost consciousness, rapidly losing blood to the damp ground.
Looks like Ziedon's dead, with no possible chance of recovery. Ah well. It was a fun game while it lasted. And on the sesquicentiturn, too!