“I’m all for making sure the city doesn’t burn down,” Relic said.
Gwen nodded, “And I would like to make sure those people in Cheapside are okay.”
“Then we will go to Cheapside.” Withervine shrugged. He liked the cheap parts of town; that’s where the decay was easiest to spot.
Down the tower stairs they went, one after the other. Bluce made a quick glance about the town square but didn’t see Sunder or Finneus. He closed his eyes. He was good at fighting in the darkness, but fighting the darkness itself…
It was not hard to find the fire once they arrived; they just went opposite the direction of all those who were running for their lives, worldly possessions in their arms. And once the fire was found its cause was just as simple to spot: fire elementals ran from building to building, cackling and crackling.
Bluce and Amatharn ran forward and began the melee. The monk had his doubts about the mysterious cloaked figure, but he was beginning to suspect that he knew the source of her power. When she leapt on top of a building with a single bound his suspicions were confirmed. He had better keep an eye on this one. Fighting the darkness, indeed.
Right now the more pressing engagement was fighting the all-too-light beings before them, dodging tongues of flame and trying to keep them from burning more of the city. Down the street some other figures dressed in bright yellow were carrying out a similar engagement with another band of elementals, but on this side only a single building burned before Withervine’s assumed elephant form made putting the fire out much easier.
When the battle was won the yellow-clad figures approached. Emton Quagar of the Cheapside Canaries thanked everyone for their help. “We’ve been chasin’ these buggers down this road for an hour but they keep popping up more. ’Twas only when you cut them off that we could finally pin them down.”
“When did they appear?” Amatharn asked.
“When the world moved. At first we thought it was just a stove or a kiln that had caught some rubble ablaze, but then we saw these things running amidst the flames.”
“A lot of things seem to have happened when the world moved.” Withervine muttered.
“Aye,” Emton agreed. “We’ve also heard tale of a landslide in the east that’s knocked down the city wall.”
“Emton!” a voice called, “Emton Quagar I should have known it twas you who’d best those blighters.” Kirk was running out of the Penny Ante toward the gaggle. “And have you been helpin’ Emton out? Free drinks! Free drinks for savin’ my bar!” Inside everyone knew the Canaries, and drinks and songs were in ready supply for Emton and all his friends.
A pair of shady looking characters in the corner did not join in the revelry. They were speaking in hushed tones and looking at something on their table. When Relic approached them they fled. Amatharn lost one on the streets, but Withervine followed one to a run-down old house in a slum. Not wanting to go in alone, he marked the place and returned to the group. Gwen and Relic looked at their table and found a schematic for something, but could not identify it.
Meanwhile, a paige had arrived with a message for Gwen. “From Jil, to the fiery lady in the Penny Ante.”
“Who?” Relic asked.
“A friend,” Gwen said, and read the note. “We should head to Elder Sexton’s house.”
“But what of these two from the corner?” Withervine said.
“I have a contact pointing me toward something.” Gwen said, “Those two are just men who might not like being eavesdropped on.”
“I have no quarrel with them, but what of the landslide?” Relic asked, “If people are in danger…”
Amatharn smiled, “We should tell Emton to go help them. Emton!” And when she had his attention she got him to agree. They set off toward the Elf Quarter.
Passing through the town square, Withervine stopped to look at the forest that had sprouted up there. “Yes, very green. Hiding trees. Feywild species, not natural. Shouldn’t be here at all. Odd. Very odd.” He snapped off a twig and pocketed it.
Past tall hedgerows, deep into the nicest parts of town, the group came to Sexton Manor, now a collapsed ruin with a fiery pit where the door should be. Poking out of the pit were two small horned heads, little imp eyes peering at the intruders. “Did you do it? Did you call us here?”
Amatharn put on her best mistress-of-the-night pose. “I did. And you shall obey me.” But Withervine didn’t smell magic in the air, and didn’t see any bands of magic wafting about. “Odd. No one summoned them. There’s no summoning magic here.” The imps growled. When Gwen tried to convince them to stand down, they attacked, with four invisible imps appearing behind the group and whipping their poisonous tails about. Amatharn, pinned in the middle of too many devils, turned herself into a cloud of bats and swept past them; any of the party who had doubted were now sure of her nature. Meanwhile, empty suits of armor marched out of the pit to protect the imps, but as soon as a few of the devils were slain, the rest went invisible and ran.
That’s when Relic saw the dark figure hiding in the trees. An old woman in a dark cloak, and a moment later he was beside her, sword drawn. She put her hands up and fell prone, “Wait! I’ve nothin’ t’do wi’ this darkness! T’is ’im wot did it, that man who lived there! ’sa dark place, this ’ouse!”
“The man who lives here,” Gwen said, “is dead. He could not have summoned these.”
Withervine coughed, “As I said: no one summoned these. There is no summon here; they came some other way.”
“An’ they lie there in death.” Ysra said, pointing, “Aren’t devils s’posed ta disappear when they die?” Everyone looked. The sight of dead devils was an odd thing.
“Perhaps they have nowhere to disappear to,” Gwen said.
“Maybe this place is now their home?” Withervine asked.
Ysra nodded, “‘Is a dark place, this place. Darker still now wi’ dead devils on the stoop. I’ve watched it and it’s full of malice. I’m not goin’ near it.”
“Then get yourself someplace safer,” Relic said, “And let us search.” Gwen ventured in and began looking around, quickly finding the false wall and the stairway down hidden behind it.
As soon as they were inside the staircase Bluce unsheathed his sword and pressed Amatharn against the wall, “Are you a servant of the Raven Queen?”
Withervine put a hand on the monk’s shoulder, “I can assure you that she is not.”
“She,” Amatharn said, eying the blood-stained sword, “does not much care for my kind.” The sword found its sheath again.
Gwen stepped forward, “I need you to tell me exactly who and what you are.”
“It’s relatively simple, really, and you know it already.” Amatharn said, " I’ve been dead 48 years, without being dead. I’m a vampire." Gwen nodded. She liked to have the facts laid plain before her. She continued on.
In the darkness there was a second study, filled with abyssal books, pentagrams, and a large iron chest. “Orthogonal lines,” Bluce pointed at the chest. “Like the tower.” He thought a moment, “And like Sexton’s robes.”
Amatharn’s face lit up, “And his family crest.”
Withervine nodded, “His robes match the uniforms of the dead guards in the tower. There is a connection there. But what is it?”
Amatharn was busy trying to burn the black book that lay open on the desk, pictures of pentagrams and demons illustrating every page. But it would not burn, so she pocketed it.
A loud crack drew everyone’s attention back to the chest, whose broken-off top was now in Relic’s hands as he looked inside at a book. “A History of Anton.” Relic said, “Might be useful.” A bookmark opened to a page detailing the history of the city gate, which long predated the city itself. The wall was built around it. Then a missing page, and then the story of two brothers founding the Lusty Lion. “What could be on the missing page? And what does the gate have to do with anything?”
“Perhaps,” Withervine said, “we should go and find out.”
- Who’s Jil?
- Who were those shady people in the Penny Ante?
- How did the Feywild forest come to be in the Town Square?
- How did the imps come to be in Sexton Manor?
- What is the connection between The Defiler and the Iron Tower?
- What should Amatharn do with the summoning book?
- What does Anton’s city gate have to do with anything?