13th Voyage

33 - The Immortal Sage

The tale of an ancient's counsel and a fence's bargain.

The Immortal Sage greets the venturers politely without rising. Abd relates the very skeleton of their current situation, clearly expecting his master to already know more of the particulars. The ancient nods, pauses for a moment, and then says that perhaps the crisis at hand would be more easily understood if Abd were to tell his own story. Abd hesitates, and complies.

“I was not always a servant of Jalisa,” he begins. “Formerly, I was a magician myself… and an inquisitor. I did many things, hurt many people, in my pursuit of justice. The time came when I had a prisoner under my care, and I attempted to conjure a spirit to injure him — to pull away part of his spirit until he confessed. I made a mistake in the ritual. And it took my soul instead.”

Abd continues, explaining that he became determined not to let magic do such injury to others. He set himself to opposing wizards and sorcerers of all sorts. Since that day, he has since relented on some practices of magic that do good rather than ill, but he is still dedicated to combating the Ascending Flame and their dreams of magocracy.

The Immortal Sage speaks again as Abd’s tale draws to an end. He observes that this is why the Prophetess seems to be of two minds about Abd. “She sees two fates for you, and is not certain which is the troublesome one — the evil soul, or a man without a soul.” He smiles, and elaborates that he sees something different. In his view, he sees a man who has lost hope of eternity, who cannot expect to be rewarded for his virtue in Heaven, and who still risks pain and death to try to do good. It speaks well for Abd, and to be philosophical, it speaks well for humanity in turn.

Abd responds calmly, “I am not that good.”

“Well, and that is true,” says the ancient. “But you still try.”

The Immortal Sage gestures, conjuring a large book. The book opens, and its pages turn rapidly until it stands open on cramped text surrounding an illustration of three objects. The venturers recognize the soul-cutting knife, but the spindle-like tool and the singular lantern are unknown to them.

“These are implements forged long ago across the Jadesea by the empire of Dys. They are the tools of psychopomps and necromancers. The knife you hold is an athanax, which severs the soul from the body. The spindle is a lachystrix, which can sew a soul back into a body, or perhaps into a new vessel. The lantern is an orpharos, which calls wayward souls to it. Together, they could be used for great works of healing. But they can also be used for ill purposes, and I believe Nehedza proves this. I suspect she holds all three.”

The Immortal Sage rises to his feet, and his body begins to shine and expand. His form swells and shifts into a massive bull the color of the moon in a blue sky, with a human head crowned by an elegant diadem and with elaborately braided hair and beard. Great moonlight-pinioned wings spread from his back. Companions of Abd al-Rashid, he intones, and the voice seems to thrum in the venturers’ chests. As thanks for your aid, I grant you each the answer to a question..

An awkward pause lingers as the lammasu’s gaze passes over each of the women. Wind-of-Embers is the first to speak. “I have no questions,” she says, “but I would appreciate any advice you may have to offer me.”

The lammasu smiles. Wind-of-Embers. Two of your comrades are going to be in danger. You will see them again, but it will be in a time of peril.

“Thank you,” she says, bowing, and internally quite certain which of her two comrades the Immortal Sage means.

Kismet fidgets under the celestial gaze. “Wind-of-Embers seems wise,” she says. “I’ll take advice if you have any.”

Kismet. You have friends where your comrade has enemies. The tangles of your connections will come together in the City of Locks. The lammasu nods its head, and Kismet bows in return.

Aya says nothing as the celestial’s eyes fall on her; she merely shrugs. Aya, booms the voice. You are very like your mother. She has come to realize this, and has noticed that you are beautiful, intelligent, and now of marriageable age. Your life will become more interesting, given the potential suitors among the company she keeps.

The lammasu’s form dims and dwindles, and then the old man lowers himself back down onto the stone platform. “Stay the evening if you like,” he says. The venturers thank him for his hospitality. He wishes them good luck in turn, and the venturers leave the Immortal Sage to his meditations.

They stay the evening in the Sage’s tower, guided by the drakaina to elegant baths and comfortable sleeping quarters. As customary, they evaluate their next plans over breakfast. They settle on sailing to Izir covertly, by trading the Deathless Slave for a less recognizable ship. Thus decided, they return to the City of Sails.

By the time they reach the Adwa docks, the Deathless Slave is in port, its prize crew running back and forth to the Twist of Fate. They proceed to the Golden Venture compound and propose their plan to their fellows. The other venturers approve: if anything, Tairasha seems relieved to be rid of the incriminating Izirian corpse-galley as soon as possible. Tairasha, Mara-Set, and Navaad each volunteer a few members of their respective crews to sail the covert ship to the City of Flame. The only question is how best to handle such a remarkably large transaction as a ship for a ship. Kismet volunteers to arrange things, as her local contacts include a very good fence, an elven woman by the name of Harida.

Kismet visits Harida shortly after. The fence is found smoking a cigarillo in a streetside cafe, her pair of hired bruisers close at hand. She greets Kismet cheerily and engages in some small talk before Kismet asks if they can have a more private word. Harida agrees, and once they have adjourned to a more discreet location, Kismet makes the proposal. The magnitude of the offer takes Harida only lightly by surprise, and the fence agrees to send some appraisers to look over Kismet’s proffered vessel to make certain it’s worth what Kismet would want for it.

Harida’s appraisers, a pair of halflings, arrive at the docks within an hour and go discreetly about their task. The two recoil when reaching the part of the deck where the rotting undead crab was slain; “We just couldn’t get the smell completely out,” says one of the crew. The rowing decks seem similarly noisome. Finally the halflings conclude their survey and return to Harida.

Kismet follows shortly thereafter. This time Harida’s welcome is somewhat more reserved than her previous greeting. “Was there something you were going to tell me?” she asks.

Kismet smiles apologetically. “About the smell?”

“No.” Harida does not seem amused. “That it’s Izirian.”

“Oh. Well, yes.”

Harida sighs the particular sigh commonly used to signify that things are likely to become more expensive. “Are you planning to fight wizards?”

“Well, yes.”

“Very well, then. I have two offers for you. First, I can give you a straight trade for a little fishing vessel that can go beyond sight of land without sinking. Or… you get me a spellbook as part of the bargain, and I fit you up with a nice little two-masted xebec.”

Kismet considers. “All right. Fine. I’ll get you a spellbook.” She smiles. “Are you sure you don’t want to play for it?”

“Yes,” says Harida. “I’m sure.” She pours a splash of water in her palm and offers it to Kismet; the two elves shake hands on the bargain. “All right, then,” says Harida. “Let’s go see the ship.”

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Barastrondo

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