“You all are bound to find this out eventually,” Finneus said as he took off his coat. He flipped it, and the inside became the outside, and suddenly Finneus had a sable black coat on. “And you might as well find out when it could save all of our skin.” The sound of people running down the stairs echoed through the tower; Derick‘s men were getting closer. Finneus reached up and rubbed at his eyes, and suddenly his face distorted and elongated and grew, his beard disappeared as scales sprouted all over him. What had a moment before been Finneus was now the spitting image of Surina. “The name is Jil,” the now-dragonborn said in her now-dragonborn voice, deep and raspy. “I regret not being able to tell you sooner that I’ve been a Changeling this entire time, but it’s an occupational hazard I must live with. It is very important that you follow my lead on this; we need to make Derick doubt his own senses and sensibilities.” She looked down at her disguise. It was not perfect, but it would have to do. Withervine decided to get in on the act and made himself resemble one of the half-dragon abominations. The footfalls were coming down the stairs, now.
When the turned the corner, the two warforged had their swords drawn and shields at the ready. “Surina” stepped forward, a scowl on her face, “Where is Derick? I must speak to him.” The warforged stopped in their tracks, profound confusion registering on their metal faces. They had, after all, just come from finding the body of this dragonborn two flights above.
“What– who– what happened here?” one of them managed.
Dragonborn faces make for good scowls, and Surina’s provided one, “The warforged that you provided turned on me. They’ve done incalculable harm to my tower and ruined my experiments. Thankfully I was able to mobilize my reserves from the town in time.” She gestured to the others behind her.
The two warforged looked at the assembled group. This was above their pay grade, “You should talk to Derick.”
Surina’s head nodded, her eyes narrowed to convey her disgust, “That’s why I asked for him.” She swept past the warforged and began climbing the stairs, then the ladder, and then she strode across to the airship moored on the tower’s edge. It had a long, thick body that sacrificed speed for an ability to transport a small army. Two huge envelopes of Gods-know-what kept it in the air. The gangplank was guarded by yet another warforged, who looked just as confused as the others had been. The same story was delivered, and soon they were boarding the ship. Jil glanced back at Gwen with Surina’s eyes; the genasi would know the most about this ship, but Surina couldn’t give away an unfamiliarity, here. So Jil bought time by examining the ship with feigned disapproval as they slowly moved aft to the larger quarters, where two guards stood sentry. Again the confusion, again the story, and into the quarters they went.
Derick stood at a table port-side, the body of the real Surina laid atop it. Two warforged were standing near it; they had evidently just brought it in. Three elves were starboard, working on various consoles doing gods-know-what. “Wouldn’t you rather talk to the real thing?” Jil asked in Surina’s voice. Derick spun on his heel, and his mechanical eye darted about in an attempt to catalog the scene.
“Explain yourself,” he said warily.
Surina’s face was not scowling, now; Jil knew how to adapt to the hierarchy. But she could still drop as much blame elsewhere as she could; ideally, Derick would come to mistrust his own bevy of warforged. “The Mist was coming along perfectly, but then the warforged you provided decided to take it upon themselves to change their working arrangements. They rose up and destroyed my experiments. Thankfully my reserves–” she gestured behind her– “were able to make it from the city in time.”
“Your reserves?” Derick asked. “You’ve not spoken of this before.”
“I do not pretend to know all of your plans or backups–”
Derick cut her off a bit too quickly, “You have no need to!” There was obviously history there.
Surina’s face attempted innocence, but Jil could only do so much with these raw materials. “I do not mean to imply that I do, but I would expect you to have them, just as I expect you to assume I do, as well.”
“Who are they, then?” Derick asked, stepping forward to let his mechanical eye inspect them closer.
Gwen knew immediately that she had said too much; Derick had likely been back to Experimental Forge 23 and found himself locked out, and her name was on the lock. But for now she had to answer a question. “Anton, originally. But my parents moved when I was quite young, following a bird that is important to my people.”
Derick scowled. He was certain of something but couldn’t prove it, so didn’t want to act on it. He turned his rage to Surina. “What of the mist?”
“The mechanism is quite destroyed, I’m afraid. So you’d best work quickly if you still wish to take advantage of it.”
“I told you I needed a month!”
“And I told you I needed some competent minions.”
Derick set his jaw. This was not the news he wanted to hear. But it was better than the situation he had been in when Surina was laying dead on a table.
“Your tower is not safe anymore, and your experiments here are ruined. You are coming with me.” He motioned to one of the elves starboard and a moment later the ship shuddered as it left the tower moorings.
“Who,” Derick asked, turning half-way around and pointing to the body behind him, “Is this, then?”
“A Changeling, one would suppose.” Surina said. Always wrap the lie around the truth. “Everyone in the tower knew you were coming, and so they brought this person in to lure you in.”
“And you said that the warforged had no contact with the outside world, as we agreed?”
“They talked with your men when you visited. Only.”
A thought occurred to Derick. “You didn’t experiment on them, did you? You assured me that you wouldn’t.”
Jil did her best indignant face, but Dragonborn tend to be indignant by nature and it didn’t register as well as it could have. “I did not; I had enough projects to keep me quite busy.”
Derick nodded. He needed more information. He pointed at the large Abomination that was Withervine. “Make yourself useful and go find the Doctor.” Withervine shuffled outside.
“It is best to give them more specific instructions,” Jil-as-Surina said, “as they are not always the brightest.”
Withervine found a young airshipman and said “Doctor?” while flexing for her, but she just ignored him and wandered off. He went below decks and found the bloody doorknob of the Doctor’s quarters. Inside a wiry man had his arms elbow-deep in a warforged. “Derick needs you.” Withervine said. The Doctor looked annoyed at being interrupted, but knew that this was not a request he could ignore, so he cleaned off his arms and folowed the thing upstairs.
Gwen was pointing at a rounded scar on the back of the real Surina’s leg. “This is a mark often found in the tribes of the southeast, near the Bogs of Ko. Perhaps someone there dislikes your plans.”
Derick was looking intently at the scar and not noticing it disappearing from the leg of the Surina that stood behind him. “There is nothing there anymore but a big void and some of the Astral Sea; they have no reason to wish us ill.”
Jil couldn’t resist. “It has been my experience that when you replace someone’s homeland with a big void and some of the Astral Sea, they tend not to like you very much.”
Derick smirked, “Yes, but they have no reason to suspect us.” Jil had to work to avoid grinning at a ploy that worked so well; Derick had just taken responsibility for the Upheaval.
The door opened and the Doctor entered, the large scaly Withervine lumbering after. Derick gestured to the body on the table as the Doctor looked back and forth between the two Surinas in the room. “We suspect this thing to be a Changeling,” he said, moving the dead Surina’s large snout back and forth. “Use whatever means are necessary–talk to her if you have to–but we need to know.” The Doctor agreed and walked out, the two warforged lifting the body and carring it out after him.
When the door had shut Derick took a step toward a large padded bench in the corner. “Tell me,” he said, “of your other projects, Surina.”
Jil knew that this was the point when things would fall apart. On thr bright side, two of the guards had just left. “Which project would you like to hear about?” She asked, stalling for time and shooting a look to Gwen.
“I don’t keep track of these details, just-” Derick turned around to scold his underling just as Gwen was charging him. He dodged under her first blow, but the followup sliced into his arm, and then Gwen was across the room hitting the elves working the controls. He reached for his belt and grabbed a small tube, and when he squeezed it its form opened and slid apart, and suddenly he had his warhammer with him. “To arms!” he yelled, voice echoing through the cabin.
Withervine flung some brambles across the room at the elves while Amatharn tackled Derick directly. Then one of the elves shimmered, falling into a shadow that did not exist a moment ago, and in that place stood Sunder. She slid over to Derick and drew her sword across his unprotected back. She shot a look at Gwen, the only one she recognized, and shouted “You fools! You must run!”
“Traitor!” Derick said to her, but his focus was on Surina. Was this a treachery from the Dragonborn or of another sort? In any case this person before him was a threat, and he swung his hammer at her. It missed, but her dodge put her on the ground in any case.
The doors burst open and two warforged entered. But being unsure of which combatants were enemies, they jostled around toward Sunder and failed to block the way out.
Withervine was out the door first, after throwing ice onto Derick and rooting him in place. Amatharn was next, and then Surina’s dragonborn gait took Jil into the open air. Sunder stepped between Derick and Gwen just long enough for Gwen to find her way outside, and soon she was jimmying a lock on a skiff attached to the ship’s port side. Amatharn and Withervine slid into the door, scaring off a few deckhands that were attempting to hold the little ship. Sunder emerged from the cabin and ran over to Gwen. “You must find the Jewel!” she said. “It is hidden in a city nearby!” Then she turned to block a blow from a chasing Warforged.
“Are you comin’, Sunder?” came Finneus’ voice as Surina climbed aboard the skiff. Sunder looked around, then tossed a shadowy object to Surina’s claws and turned to face the attackers once more.
Gwen pulled the lever and the skiff dropped a dozen feet before catching the ether and beginning forward on its own power. The larger ship had no chance of giving chase, but its port guns rung out, and the engine of the smaller vessel began to spew out black smoke. Gwen wrestled the controls as Amatharn and Withervine flung magicks across the rapidly increasing void. They shot- and moreover fell- through the clouds and down into the mists that still covered the ground below.
Surina’s claws slashed at the raven-black feather that bound Sunder’s bundle, and it unfurled into a parchment. “Ceris” it said. Jil pondered asking Gwen to steer northwest, but figured the speed and the terrible rattling would make it impossible in any case. So Surina pulled a lute from Finneus’ bag and began to sing in his voice at the engine, the arcane words funneling their power into the failing mechanism. Gwen managed to dodge trees and hills as they sped by the tiny forward-facing window, and eventually she smashed the little ship into a wide field, leaving a sizable gash in the landscape.
They picked themselves up and staggered out of the wreckage. They were alive. But no one was safe.