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Chapter 13: Escapees and Escapades

I take the frozen silence as time to make my way to the secret exit on the other side of the meeting room, and use it as my entrance. By the time I get there, the Matriarch is barking orders at three subordinates. Something about slowing down the guards. Faladel ambushes me before I can get a better read on things though.

“Briareth, what are you doing out of bed?! Nevermind, we need to hurry. We can’t be caught here.”

“You most certainly cannot!” The Matriarch tosses over her shoulder. “Use the back exit and circle around to get back into the city. Sir Chronicler–” Mattias bows, “Doctor Alen, you go with them. We don’t want any suspicion falling on you. I’ve instructed the family members to keep everything underwraps, but if one of them has betrayed me, I can’t guarantee your safety.” The two nod, and Faladel begins to tow me out of the room. “Prince Faladel!” The Matriarch calls after us, and we both turn. “Keep my son safe.” She says, and there is a desperate plea in her voice. “He might not care for his family, but we– I –still still care for him.” 

“I will do my utmost.” Faladel replies, seriously. I blink. He doesn’t often make promises like that, probably because he takes them too seriously. He and the Matriarch must have connected when he was trying to convince her to let us stay. I am literally jerked out of my thoughts however as he pulls me out the door and into the side tunnels. “I’m honestly not sure why I’m surprised that you couldn’t stay put in your room.” He begins, “But it’s better that you snuck out. It means I don’t have to explain things. Get back there, grab your things, and meet me by the back exit in five minutes. I’ll go wake Fin, and grab my own pack.”

“Alright, your majesty!” I tease cheerily, as I start off down the hallway back towards my room. I can hear his long suffering sigh as he heads the opposite direction to his own. It doesn’t take long for me to pack, I didn’t really unpack much while I was here, and I’m soon at the required spot. Silv’s already there, foot tapping impatiently, along with Doctor Alen and Mattias. Faladel joins us, and then, Elen and FIn. Fin’s not in great shape, his eyes look slightly bleary, his face is unnaturally red, and he’s lost most of his voice. I don’t envy him when Elen give him one of her herbal concoctions to drink. We abandon the boat, it would be too easily visible in the skies above the treeline, and instead make our way out through the forest, taking a large loop to stay away from the road to and from the manor. We’re not going fast, we have to cover our tracks after all. That fact saves us. Mattias, and I are at the front, Faladel covering our tracks in the back, when I hear it. A snap. A branch, breaking. I freeze, dropping into a crouch, and holding up my hand for everyone to follow suit. I hear Mattias drop beside me, and can only hope the others follow his lead. It could be nothing, a deer perhaps, or just time maybe. But I don’t want to risk it.

The smell of the moist ground and fresh leaves permeates the air. I can hear Fin’s loud, laboured breathing, the steady rhythm of my own heartbeat. The forest itself though is quiet. No steady hum of bugs, no bird calls. Something has frightened them to silence. I steady myself, remembering my training, waiting for my opponent to make a mistake. It comes quickly. Another crack resounds, sounding louder to me than one of the revolvers Fin uses. A voice echos “Quiet you fool!” In a soft hiss. “He said they’ll flee through the forest, we can’t risk letting them escape!” 

A whispered apology. I lean forward, parting the branches of the bushes ahead of me ever so slightly. Already short Zytherlings are doubled over, their clothes blending in with the woods around them as they make their way along an old game trail towards the manor. We don’t move until they are far out of sight. Slowly, I bring us across the game trail, and continue our path towards the western outskirts of The Light. 

I don’t breathe easy until we can see the city walls, where my confidence quickly subsides. “Where to now?” I ask, turning to look at the group. I hadn’t thought this out, but how are we going to get in the city? 

“To the Citadel of Travelers of course.” Mattias says, blinking at me lazily. “Where did you think we were off to? The council hall to turn you all in?” 

“Please,” I gesture for him to pass me. “Lead the way!” His lips thin as he pulls them into a wide grin, and steps forward to take the head of the line. His quick confident strides lead us slightly deeper into the forest, around the north side of the city. Within the hour we can see a shining tower far ahead rising above the trees. Thirty more minutes, and we can see quite a few other spires in the distance. Another fifteen, and we are right on its doorstep, Mattias leading us inside, and nobody questioning his actions. There aren’t even any guards around, but our bedraggled group gets more than a few curious looks from a small class of Kashan, Tadhiel, and Zytherlings sitting outside around campfires, even though the sun is still high in the sky. Their instructor firmly directs their attention back to their stewpots however, and one of the kids nearly gets scalded when his overflows! 

“The Citadel is almost always empty.” Mattias explains as we head inside. “So pick any room you like on the upper two levels. This can only be temporary however, so don’t get too comfortable, and keep your bags packed. We Chroniclers aren’t known for holding our tongues after all.” 

The inside of the citadel of travelers is much more ornate than the simple stone outside would suggest. Firelight from the large hearth casts a warm yellow glow over the giant entry room. A thick rug welcomes our feet, and when Mattias discards his shoes by the door, I follow suit, wiggling my toes on the soft fabric. Tapestries dyed and embroidered in jewled tones hang from the tall ceiling, showcasing what must be heroes and heroines of classic tales. A Tadhiel holding up a lamp, while members of all the races follow him down a path. Twin armies of Kashan fighting each other, one led by a lady Kashan with brilliant white wings. A Zytherling architect, setting sail for the horizon on a flying boat. Along both edges of the wall, staircases spiral upwards towards the next floor. Beneath them, lies the entrance to another room filled with the noises and smells of people cooking. Between the great hearth fire and the door rows and rows of tables have been placed, ready for tonight’s meal. Fur skins line the benches, creating a soft place to sit for any who enter. Mattias doesn’t even hesitate in the entryway, immediately heading up the left staircase. Everyone follows. 

“The second floor,” he announces, as we pass a platform that leads off into a path that follows the circle of the Citadel’s wall, “holds our magnificent library. It is by far the largest of any of the Citadels, and by all accounts the largest ever. New tomes are always being added to it. We borrow tomes from other Citadels to copy, we travel far and wide to hear more stories, and of course, we have one or two people stationed here in The Light to collect stories brought in by sailors, warriors, and explorers returning to port. Even the first volume of your story,” He turns and gestures at us, so he’s walking up the stairs backwards, “has been added to our store of knowledge. And I hope to add many more volumes.” With a quick wink, he turns back around just in time to not run into a wall. I narrow my eyes, that move reminded me of someone, but I can’t quite put my finger on who. 

It bugs me all the way through his elaborate description of the classrooms on the third floor, and I still find myself wondering about it as I start setting up my room with newly laundered sheets that someone handed to me. 

Suddenly it hits me like a ton of bricks. Not the answer I was looking for, but a very pertinent reminder nonetheless. “Faladel!” I shout bursting into his room. He freezes, mid floofing the blanket. 

“Briareth? What’s going on?” 

“Where’s your pack?!” I exclaim, looking around the room frantically. 

“My pack?” Faladel is completely befuddled, which gives me hope. At first I don’t see it, but then I notice a dark green strap peeking out from under the wooden bed frame. I dive for it, ripping it open. 

“Briareth?” Faladel asks, again, as I groan in desperation. Anostia didn’t get it back in time. We left the Scales at the Manor! Of all the things we could have left behind, this is the worst! 

Well, excluding one of our friends. That would have been worse. But still–!

Adamar– one week ago

It takes us over a month of traveling to reach a small, unobtrusive hut in the mountains. Although Briareth’s beetle kept insisting we continue further into the peaks, we had decided to halt there for the night. As soon as the sun sets, the temperature drops until it is bitterly cold. Winter will be here soon, and I only hope we can find Briareth and Faladel before it sets in. According to news in the capital, they left in high summer, some say off to visit outlying towns, others claim some nonsense about a mining expedition, however, a note from the queen– delivered by a mongoose of all the strange things –told a completely different story about a world beyond our own and a crazy librarian living alone in these mountains. All the accounts agreed that Faladel and Briareth should have at least sent word by now. The Queen’s note specifically requested that we send word back as soon as we find them. Reading through the lines, it’s clear she’s terrified that we’ll find them dead instead of alive. Although Faladel’s beetle hasn’t lit up yet, I have a gut feeling that if we don’t get to them soon, we won’t find them at all. 

I lift my hand to knock at the old wooden door, but before I can Valkallyn shouts “Wait!” 

My hand freezes inches from the door, and I turn to look at her, slightly annoyed. “What?”

“There’s a sign here, the wind must have blown it over.” She bends down and holds her torch close to the ground, her long hair whipping around her face in the sharp breeze. ““No Charlatans,” She reads aloud, “but adventurers welcome” 

“I think we count in the adventurer’s category.” I reassure her, and turn back to the door only to find it already open and a strange looking, ancient elf with long silver hair hanging loose around his pale face staring out at me. 

“Did you bring dice?” He asks, cocking his head hopefully. 

“No?” Folas chimes when he realizes I’m too shocked by the sudden appearance to say anything. Is this the Librarian we seek?

“Ahh well, can’t be helped.” The strange elf shakes his head mournfully, and ushers us into his shack, “Come in, come in, I’ve redone the interior, so you can bring the deer in as well. I was hoping for visitors, and since your friends haven’t returned yet, I did keep a few spare sets around. But this is the last time you’ll get away with having no dice at my table, I assure you.” He hesitates as Valkallyn shoes inside the three deer we rode here, and then enters the small, cramped driftwood hut herself and shuts the door behind her. “But I was expecting four of you?” He frowns at us, and then shakes himself all over, like a dog shaking off water. “Or perhaps not, perhaps Morthose made it so even I will go senile with age. Either way, that means I have an extra set of dice. Perhaps you’d like to use it, Myrddin?” He offers to a familiar looking horse stabled inside. The horse snorts and shakes his head, steam rising from his nostrils. 

Although it is a lot less cold here than outside, the fireplace in the one room is empty, and the only table has been pushed all the way against the wall to make room for six decently sized paddocks. Hay and water troughs are piled in a corner, and although there doesn’t seem to be an exit, there also doesn’t seem to be enough room for the elf to live here. Two stalls are already filled, and four places remain, for our deer perhaps? I take the initiative, helping them get settled in as Valkallyn and Folas exchange looks. “Do you mean Morthose Haulding?” Valkallyn asks, and I glance up from my tasks, suddenly making the connection between our HeadMaster and the name dropped so casually by this ancient elf. 

“You know him?” The Librarian spins on his heel to stare at us, silver hair whipping around his face. “Oh, of course you do!” He laughs, his intensity gone in a second. “Silly me, I forgot you are his students! Of course I meant Morthose Haulding, no other Morthose is nearly as good!” He frowns thoughtfully, tapping his chin with a long slender finger. “Or perhaps I meant nearly as evil. I’m sorry, my friends, winter always makes me a bit stir crazy. And Myrddin here, although an intellectual, makes a terrible conversation partner, and keeps mistaking my D6s as a sugar cubes!” The Librarian stamps his foot in indignation as both the horse and Folas snort their giggles. Valkallyn elbows Folas to stop but nobody is there to stop Myrddin who is on the receiving end of the Librarian’s stare. “This is why you stay out here in the paddock, and aren’t allowed into the tunnels.” He scolds the horse.

“The tunnels?” Valkallyn asks, looking around. 

“Would you like the tour?” The Librarian stares at us, lavender eyes quite piercing. 

“Please.” I answer for all of us, smiling cordially at the strange character. The Librarian smiles back at me, his purple eyes unnervingly discerning. 

Eventually, he nods. “Tour and supper tonight, tomorrow I’ll take you to the portal, you follow your friends I suppose? Those clever bugs leading you onwards?” 

“Yes.” I admit, startled that he knows so much. 

“Did you make them yourself? Like the one in your pocket?” 

“Yes again.” I’m intrigued. How did he know about It? How did he know It was in my pocket? 

“Did Morthose train you? He was quite fond of Spyders a few centuries ago. Even wrote a book on them! Although I believe your model is better than his; personal adjustments?” The librarian pulls back a tapestry of a chariot race across a meadow to reveal a small tunnel leading deep into the rock. 

“I was trained by my family actually.” I break into his rambling. “How do you know all this? And what do spiders have to do with anything?” 

“Spy-ders, my boy.” I can feel the Librarian’s cheshire grin as he leads us deeper into the cave system that apparently is his home. “It’s a pun! A play on words! Now, watch your step! There are pressure plates down here that will cause spears to shoot down from the ceiling. It’s a new addition, and I must say, I’m quite proud of it. Since you don’t have dice yet, you wouldn’t be able to avoid them. So just step where I step.”

“You avoided the question.” I complain, struggling to follow as his light feet dance soundlessly around unseen traps in the rough, uneven stone floor. 

“Well of course I did! A magician can’t give away all his secrets!” The Librarian explains lightly, leaning backwards suddenly to avoid a spear shooting down from above. A die falls out of his sleeve and bounces and skids across the floor ahead of him, and he dives to retrieve it. “Nat 20! I knew it!” He crows triumphantly. 

We don’t get much information from the Librarian. Although he enjoys talking to us, he refuses to tell us anything of import. Not if he knows what awaits us on the other side of this ‘portal to another world’, not if he knows why Briareth is in trouble, if he and Faladel are still in trouble after the month we’ve been traveling, or even if they’re still alive! He just sips his tea in an overly satisfied way and refuses to say anything, actually laughing in Folas’s face when he tries to use a spell to get the information out of him. It is entirely irritating, and the most aggravating part of it is that I could totally see a different version of myself acting this way if I had half the power he claims to control. 

The next morning he leads us to a badly excavated tunnel, and promising to take care of our deer, shoos us inside. When we emerge into the bright light of the midafternoon sun, we are surrounded faster than our eyes have time to adjust. Five strange creatures taller than all of us and with huge black wings stare us down. 

“We come in peace?” I offer, keeping my hands down and voice steady to make it clear we’re not a threat. These men outnumber us four-to-one, and I’d hate to start a fight with them, even though I’m decently confident we could take them on, it would definitely leave a bad impression. 

“Who are you?” One of the winged beings asks, her voice cold and distinctly unfriendly. It buzzes in my ears, and my head hurts briefly before adjusting. 

“I’m Adamar, and these are Folas and Valkallyn.” I gesture behind me at the two in turn, who stay silent, although I can almost feel Valkallyn tensed muscles. “We’ve come looking for some friends of ours, you wouldn’t happen to know of them? They look pretty similar to us. No wings.” I pause, hesitant to give their names. What if these creatures caused Briareth to press his beetle? What if they’re the source of danger? I shiver, unnerved by the thought. With their pale skin, all black hair, and featherless wings dark as the night, they are more than simply intimidating. Some of them had glanced at each other when I gave our names, recognition in their eyes. We’re expected at least. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to name them. But before I can speak, the female who had spoken first turns away beckoning for us to follow. 

“You were expected.” She confirms my silent suspicions. “Although you’re here a lot earlier than when we were told you’d arrive. Come with me, we’ll send you off to the mainland, and repack up the camp to follow you in the second boat. You can meet your friends there.” 

It takes the whole week of traveling to explain things to us, differences between worlds, politics, dragons, how Briareth got himself kidnapped, and then subsequently rescued and accused of murder. More worrying to me though is what they can’t explain. Who is behind all this, what they want, and why– even with my magic enhancing glasses on– my veins of magic are so shrunken. I can feel it, like an itch in the back of my head as soon as we leave the island. My parents’ training paying off for once. It’s completely different from the time I got my arm trapped in one of the magic denying bracelets my they sell. Those cut off the flow cleanly at an existential point, denying passage to all flickers of power and causing all spells to fail. Whatever is affecting me works differently, partially clogging all parts of the channel, but not blocking anywhere completely. The few simple spells I cast to try and speed us on our way are less powerful than they should be. And as we approach their capital, The Light that Guides the Lost Seas, I can feel the blockages increase. With my glasses off, I can barely summon my magic at all, and Valkallyn and Folas are just as powerless. 

We don’t land at the city sky-docks, instead Quannah– the female who had greeted us first –brings us down on the west side of the city and into a thick coniferous forest. She hides the small boat that had contained all six of us in a small nearby cave, before leading us deeper into the woods. The walk to the manor doesn’t take long, but the chaos there is complete. The grounds are trampled into fresh mud. One of the windows out front is broken, but the door is intact. Bile sours my uneasy stomach. Something has happened here. Worried, Quannah and another of our Kashan guides head into the house first, only summoning us in when it’s clear the intruders have left. 

 The Matriarch of family Hypnious, the lady who was supposed to be our host, greets us in the large stateroom. Kashan flit around the room, more than a few glancing at us curiously as they clean up the mess from what was either a small rampage or a very thorough search. “You’re lucky you arrived today,” She greets us without formality. Her dark hair is wavy, and she wears some sort of dark, austere makeup around her deep-set eyes, which firmly command the room. “I must admit you arrived a lot sooner than we were led to believe. Your friends left just yesterday, right before the search party arrived. Quannah briefed you on the details regarding their situation?”

“Yes,” Valkallyn responds, noticing my gaze drifting elsewhere as I study the chaos in the room. “A search party came looking for them?” Her question invites answers, and the Matriarch obliges. 

“We knew it would happen eventually. Again, we didn’t expect it nearly so soon, so we were, as you can see, quite underprepared for their incursion.” Her voice drops as she adds. “I wouldn’t usually be so open with this information, but I feel like I owe it to you. I suspect foul play in my house, someone must have given them information for them to come down on us so suddenly and with such force. Now that you’ve been spotted here, it’s likely news will spread of your arrival in The Light as well.”

They continue exchanging basic pleasantries but I’m too distracted to take note. I could just swear I saw eyes peeking out from behind a torn tapestry. Curious, I carefully make my way through the disarrayed room. Nobody tries to stop me, even when I pull aside the tapestry to reveal a carefully concealed slit in the wall. Behind it I can see flickering lights. A hidden passageway, but no time to explore that now. I turn to go back to Folas and Valkallyn, who are still talking with the matriarch in the center of the room, but feel something tug on my tailcoat. Glancing back I see a small Kashan girl with short curly hair and a pleated frock staring up at me, one hand on my coat the other behind her back. 

“You’re one of Briareth’s friends, right?” She asks me, guilt and water welling in her eyes. I push away my first thought. She’s definitely not the one who betrayed them, she’s just a kid. 

“Yep.” I reply, brain working overtime to try and figure out why she’s upset. “Is something the matter? Did they get hurt by the people searching for them?” 

“No, no!” She exclaims, shaking her head wildly and tears spilling down her face. “But I di-didn’t get there in time! And then the strange man stole the scales!” She hiccups and then starts sobbing. “Briareth told me to take good care of it and r-return it, but then he had to leave, an-and he left it behind!”

“Strange man? Scales?” I crouch down so I can look her in the eyes. Putting my hands on her shoulders, I say, “Alright, just breathe for a moment, and then tell me what happened. Who was this person? What did he look like?” Instead of calming down, the kid wails and throws herself into my arms. I freeze, unsure of what to do exactly, before patting her on the back and awkwardly going “there, there. It’ll be okay. We can fix this. Now shhhh…”

After her sobs have reverted back to hiccups she begins explaining it to an audience of Folas, Valkallyn, the Matriarch and I more coherently. She looks guiltily at the Matriarch every so often, as if not sure she won’t get in trouble for all of this. “I found a pretty set of scales in the blond guy’s luggage.” She begins, “Briareth told me it was important, had co-pup-ted a dragon or something. He didn’t want me to turn evil, so he told me to bring it back. So I left him to go put it back in the blond guy’s bag. But I got distracted, and by the time I remembered my mission, everyone was running around and screaming, and the bag was gone. Briareth and blond guy were gone. So I put it in my bag instead. So that when they came looking for it, I would have it, and could give it to them. Then the o-fish-als arrived with their robots, and there was this strange dude, who looked kinda like Briareth, but darker hair and with a beard, and-and” Her eyes water up again. “He stole it! I saw him running away with it, and he was too fast to catch!” 

I glance at the Matriarch, but her stern face doesn’t reveal anything, and Folas and Valkallyn look as clueless as I feel. A set of scales? A guy with a beard?

“How tall was this guy?” I ask the kid. “Was he around my height? Perhaps a foot or so smaller?” I stand up so she can get a good comparison, and she shakes her head vigorously. 

“Larger!” She claims. “But no wings! So not a Kashan or Tadhiel!” I frown. Why am I even relying on her testimony? Stress warps memories, perhaps she didn’t see correctly. It could still be a dwarf. But the likelihood of that is getting smaller by the second. Elves simply don’t grow beards, although Briareth has made a few fake ones, it seems like a lot of work to simply steal a set of scales. “Is there a way Kashan or Tadhiel can–” I begin but the Matriarch is already shaking her head. 

“Losing one wing is rare enough, two is nearly impossible unless you were trying to mutilate yourself.”

“Thought so.” I mutter, and smile. This is quickly getting interesting. 

“Where did you say our friends were?” I ask the Matriarch, who’s still frowning at the puzzling riddle before us. 

“The Citadel of Travelers. Quannah will guide you there.” She offers, before taking the distraught young child’s hand and leading her from the room. 

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