13th Voyage

16 - The City of Blades

The tale of the first steps in the tracks of a Behemoth.

Abd waits at the foot of the cliff for the others. Not long after they began their ascent, a ghul plummets from above, smashing through one of the ramshackle structures of the port town. Abd checks on the undead monster, but its form has been torn apart and impaled, and it lies very still. He nods to himself and waits patiently. Eventually, Aya and Kismet descend with the kidnapped Savandra, with Attsu carefully picking out a path downwards after them.

Widow’s Harbor erupts in celebration soon afterward. Razira and her daughters excitedly reunite with Savandra, while the crew of the Twist of Fate and the venturers of the forthcoming Fire-Eater honor their comrades by amplifying the festivities.

The venturers opt to spend a week in the port town and wait for the Fire-Eater refit to be complete. Razira’s daughter Yashti sets her workers to focus on the ship to speed the conversion. She also helps show the family’s gratitude by delivering extra supplies to the Twist of Fate and throwing in more for the Fire-Eater. Ramjat, now plumed in hues of orange and purple, spends much of his time puffed out indignantly on Aya’s shoulder, fixing passerby — and Attsu and Kismet in particular — with a surly eye.

The first day, they turn their attention to the youth they found in the ghul’s zaratan vessel. Abd examines the glass coffin in detail. The coffin is sealed with wax that gives off a smell of certain soporific concoctions. Deciding that the occupant must be sealed under an enchantment of slumber, he takes a knife, cuts away the wax, and opens the coffin. The youth’s eyes open, and he sits up.

The odd youth has no memory of the ghuls. He gives his name as Gemel, and tells the venturers that he was dispatched by his “father” — the Immortal Sage himself — to gather information and lore. He ventured first to Hamaji, where he overindulged in local pleasures, and fell into a dead sleep. He surmises that he was mistaken for dead, as he does not quite have to breathe, and that the ghuls must have captured him while he slept at the morgue.

Aya notes that the youth has no navel, and with a few meaningful glances in that direction draws Abd’s attention. Abd’s careful eye had also discerned that the youth seemed to take a breath only to speak — it appears that Gemel is a homunculus.

Gemel also nonchalantly shares what he knows of the four Ascending Flame sorcerers who are searching for the Zodiac Jewels. In return, he asks that the venturers return him to Hamaji if they are able, so that he might reclaim the armor and weapons his father gave him.

Once the venturers are satisfied with the homunculus’ report, they discuss which jewel to pursue next, and which to designate the target of the Fire-Eater and its crew. They settle on the Behemoth jewel, reputedly in the deep desert in the hands of giants, given the potential ties to Captain Tairasha’s curse. Perhaps having had their fill of ghuls, they ask Zan and Katifa to pursue the Crow stone, which seems to lie in a parched oasis under the control of the ghul Pergu. Zan displays no particular enthusiasm for the task, but accepts the duty. Jisan adds that he knows the Beasts of Stone that likely have sway there, which may give them an advantage. That settled, Abd hands the jade death-mask taken from Tabruz to Zan, as its enchantment to disguise oneself as one of the undead might prove useful for their quest.

Not long after that conversation, Kismet drops by the cabin of Captain Tairasha. She relates their plans to visit the desert giants, and inquires if his curse and theirs might be tied together. Tairasha admits that in his youth, he once ventured into the deep deserts where the giants’ tracks lie. When there, he rashly plundered one of the offering-shrines that he discovered, and was afflicted with a form of the giants’ curse. He had no choice but to seek out the sea, where the curse could be held in check if not broken. Kismet promises that if they find a way to lift his curse, they will do so. She says that she’s lucky that way, and Tairasha says that’s why he worries about her — she is too aware of her luck.

No sooner does Kismet leave than Abd stops to speak with the captain. Tairasha offers him wine, and he accepts, before he tells Tairasha that he should not let his personal relationship with Kismet affect his judgment. The captain seems a little confused as to the “personal relationship” Abd describes, but assures the paladin that he does not intend to act irrationally towards the detriment of either the crew nor Kismet. Abd nods, and excuses himself — walking past Kismet, who had been eavesdropping on the whole conversation.

Kismet follows Abd, and begins to take him to task for speaking to Tairasha about her like that. Abd responds curtly, and soon the two are exchanging harsh words, Abd claiming that he doesn’t care about the others while Kismet lambastes him as cold-hearted. The two part in an uneasy, angry truce.

The week winds on and the venturers keep busy. An incautious ship falls victim to the sharpened rocks of the Cape of the Fatted Ghul, and the Twist of Fate crew witnesses for themselves how the Widow’s Harbor natives play at both rescuers and salvagers. They take the opportunity to find some of the rescued sailors a new home, recruiting extra hands for the Fire-Eater. Kismet enjoys excellent fortune in a card game that week, and winds up the owner of a select piece of goods taken from an elven crypt — a fine suit of light armor, still as sturdy as the day it was entombed and perfectly crafted to suit her speed and agility.

Aya notices at one point that Ramjat has gone missing. She scans the harbor for him, and sees him fluttering up and down by a stall in the market, making agitated motions at her. As she walks over to him, he drops down and sets his claws on the handle of a small valise, and tries to take off, but is not strong enough to lift it. When she takes it for him, she discovers a pair of potions inside. The huffy Ramjat settles back on her shoulder, his payload of emergency healing delivered, and the merchant at the nearby booth smiles in some bemusement.

At the end of the week, Yashti summons the venturers. The transformation of the Scorn is complete — it still has the lines of the fire-ship, but even they have had some extraneous woodwork added to modify the silhouette. The figurehead of the rechristened Fire-Eater shows a fierce marida, holding half of a broken torch in either hand. Zan crackles with intense excitement at the sight, and immediately begins gathering the crew.

Finally both the Twist of Fate and Fire-Eater sail to Hamaji, the City of Blades. The city greets them as gladly as it would any band of adventurers or mercenaries. Gemel thanks the crew and heads off in search of his bequest. Kismet wanders in the market until she’s seduced by book stalls, and purchases fine copies of the astrological and philosophical treatise Fifteen Oracles and the famed love manual, the Suran al-Qalir.

Abd seeks out the Mosque of Bright Steel, a grand temple dedicated to the triple war gods Jalisa, Koread, and Mahazach. Dust rises from the sparring grounds outside, but Abd enters the main hall and visits the wing dedicated to the Defender. He kneels before the statue of the armored maiden and meditates on his path.

The walls of the temple slowly fall away into darkness. Abd senses nothing, then feels warmth. A pair of swords hang before him, but the bright shining sword of Honor is much farther, and the bloodslicked, notched blade of Necessity much closer. Past the swords, he sees the back of a humanoid figure. The figure turns, and Abd sees his own face, twisted in anger, and a hand falls on his shoulder—

Abd snaps back into the waking world. A woman with a scarred face and twin scimitars on her waist, wearing the vestments of Jalisa, looks down on him and removes her hand from his shoulder. “Your pardon, brother,” she says, “but you seemed troubled.”

Abd speaks with the priestess, who names herself as Tassani al-Jalisa. He tells her something of his struggle, and admits that he seems to need conflict to understand himself. She asks him if a practice bout would help, and he accepts.

The two exchange several passes in the training yard. Abd comports himself very well, impressing the Jalisan priestess. Now that he seems to be “fresh from the forge,” he offers his ongoing support to the temple, however she might need it. She accepts his offer, and tells him to return when he needs to hone himself again.

On her way back to the inn, Kismet notes a pair of rugged-looking sorts who appear to be following her. She quietly sets herself at a streetside cafe and keeps an eye on them, pretending to read the Suran al-Qalir until she becomes too embarrassed and has to exchange it for her other book. The two eventually give up and leave.

Kismet rejoins the Abd over a fine meal. She mentions her would-be “admirers,” in time for Aya to arrive and overhear. Aya presents her companions with a sheaf of posters, collected from all over Hamaji — posters bearing rough images of Abd, Kismet, Aya, and Attsu. The posters offer a comfortable reward for their capture: the hiring party, the government of Izir, City of Flame.

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