13th Voyage

36 - The Living Jewel's Offer

The tale of a reunited soul and a bejeweled bargain.

Upon the arrival of the “Petulant Parrot”, Wind-of-Embers found her attention drawn to odd posters hung around the harbor. They advertised meetings of a religious sect called the Prismatic Flame, and were marked with the writing of many languages. But most notably, she saw her own name picked out in drakhan runes. Excusing herself from her comrades, she went off in search of the house advertised on the posters.

She discovered not a proper mosque, but rather a small shrine built into a warehouse. There she met Axos, the enthusiastic half-elven priest of the Prismatic Flame. Axos and his drakhan acolyte described their faith as honoring all gods of flame, from the Mad Devourer to the dwarven gods Skeorn and Skalda, and of course Hakasarre.

Wind-of-Embers asked just why her name was on the posters. Axos explained that he was encouraged to advertise for her. He revealed that he has received a vision from a patron of hers — an ifrita, Baklasha by name, who has taken an interest in Wind-of-Embers’ future for unexplained reasons. Axos offered whatever help he could, and when Wind-of-Embers told him Nehedza’s name, he did not quail. He presented her with a few small glass marbles that seemed to hold fire inside — weapons that would soften stone and metal, rendering Nehedza’s constructs vulnerable.

Axos invited Wind-of-Embers to stay, and assist with a ritual blessing that night. The elven priest agreed. She then sent word of her decision to the Burning Belly, accounting for her evening.

As Abd tucks away the small vessel with his name, the other venturers examine the shelves of urns. Kismet selects an urn at random, and gives it a vigorous shake; when she hears a faint sigh emit from the stoppered vessel, she carefully puts it back. Attsu pauses and realizes he recognizes a name — Tairuda, an elemental sorceress who was also present at the Queen of Birds’ court an age ago. He quietly takes the urn and places it into one of the carrying cavities in his torso.

After a brief discussion, Kismet shrugs and sweeps the soul urns from one of the shelves. They shatter on the stone floor, and spectral coils of mist unfurl from the shards, whispering, before dissipating on a phantom wind. Kismet shudders, and before she can decide whether or not she’s brought bad luck on herself, Abd dashes the other shelf of urns to the ground.

The venturers slip out of the crematorium and return to the Burning Belly. Wind-of-Embers greets them from one of the low tables. Khosa offers the proprietor a pouch of coin, and the house master sends the straggling customers out into the warm Izir night. The venturers tell Wind-of-Embers what they found in the crematorium, what they still lack, and the group discusses potential next moves. They reach a general accord to speak to Jasenta the Living Jewel — if she is truly Nehedza’s rival, then perhaps she might gladly assist.

Abd grows more serious as he removes the soul urn from his tunic. He tells his companions that he is at a crossroads, that he intends to resolve when Mashaar is safe. “Before I lost my soul,” he says, “I was not a good man. I do not think I am a good man now. You have seen who I was when Nehedza gave this soul false flesh: I was cruel and unrelenting. I have attempted to do good, for the sake of others, but I have done so without a soul to redeem. And though I abide by the law of Jalisa the Ever-Vigilant, the mind of a goddess is beyond all of us.

“Prophets have said that a man’s actions can be judged only by his family and his enemies, not by himself.” He pauses. “You are the closest thing to a family that I possess, and you have seen me as I am and as I was. You must be the ones to judge. Am I a better man without my soul, and is this—” he displays the urn— “best consigned to oblivion? Or if I were to reclaim this darkness, would I be strong enough that I would not fall again to wickedness?”

He sets the urn on the table. “I believe I already know the answer to this question. You have all shown me that I prefer myself as I am now. But as I say — I cannot know myself. I ask you to speak truly with me, and I will accept your wisdom.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” says Kismet, and she seems genuinely puzzled. “Take the soul back. We trust you.”

Abd seems unconvinced, but as the others speak, they provide a united front. Wind-of-Embers tells him that she has faith in him. Aya says it would be a great loss if his soul were simply lost, not redeemed. Attsu praises the strength and character of his brother-in-arms. Finally, Abd nods.

“Thank you,” he says, and he returns the soul urn to his tunic. And then, quite exhausted, the venturers find their way to their beds.

The following morning, the group travels to the wealthiest district of Izir, where the towers of the wizards stand. Aya reclaims her persona of Raisho, haughty sorceress, and the others fall into place as her entourage. They arrive at the polished stone tower of Jasenta the Living Jewel at the hour of a late breakfast. A dwarf in fine servant’s clothing answers the bell, and deferentially allows the band inside at Khosa’s entreaty.

The interior of Jasenta’s tower is adorned in rich blues and greens. The dwarf escorts the party into a stylish parlor with a bubbling fountain, where shortly they are joined by the Living Jewel herself. Jasenta is a middle-aged woman leaning slightly to the heavy side, her fine begemmed gold jewelry and rich red robes and turban offsetting skin of an almost translucent sapphire blue. Though she might seem to be a genasi, Aya quietly sees the tells of a cosmetic magic at play.

The venturers open negotations by establishing their vaguely defined opposition to the Shrouded Moon, and leaving out their opposition to the Ascending Flame as a whole. When they disclose that they hope to steal the Dysian implements from her, Jasenta seems amused, and offers some small help. She says that she can likely make replicas, and swiftly, that could be substituted. They would have no power, of course, but they might fool Nehedza.

Then Jasenta makes a larger offer. She tells the venturers that she could offer much more help — aid fleeing the island, more resources — if they were to give her one of the Zodiac Jewels in return. The lapidary wizard is fascinated by the legendary gems, and would give much to possess one.

The venturers are reluctant to make that offer. They confer privately to discuss it, and agree that though some of the jewels could be spared, they do not feel comfortable leaving any more in Izir. Jasenta veils her disappointment with courtesy, and tells them that the offer will remain open should they change their minds. Then she bids them make themselves comfortable, and withdraws to fashion the replicas.

A little over an hour later, the Living Jewel returns. The servant accompanying her offers a tray, bearing the convincingly tarnished orpharos lantern and lachystrix spindle, their lines showing the peculiarities of Dysian craftsmanship. The venturers accept the gift and thank her profusely. Jasenta wishes them luck, and hopes that later they may return to accept her offer.

The group then settles into a small garden park to sip excellent coffee from a nearby stall and wait. An hour before noon, Attsu feels the tug of the Hunter Jewel on his senses. Nehedza is on the move. They give her enough time to get most of the way to her crematorium, and then move on her tower. There are few enough passerby in the wealthy district that they are able to slip into a servants’ entrance with little trouble.

The halls of the lowest floor are worked in dark stone, with hangings and furnishings in a variety of rich reds. Attsu and Kismet slip into the entry foyer, where they note a pair of seven-foot statues flanking the door — statues very like the stone man who accompanied Ubarid to the house of Igwu. They also see what seems to be a levitating disc elevator to one side, but decide it would be most prudent to use the stairs.

They move up to the second story, where the furnishings change to a series of opulent hues of orange. Attsu scouts ahead in his small cat form, finding first a fine banquet room and second a kitchen. But he is careless, and the cook trips over his metal shape. The cook reacts with immediate suspicion. Attsu feigns the innocence of an ordinary cat, but something in his demeanor outright frightens the cook. She dashes for a cord, and although Attsu pursues, he cannot stop her before she pulls the cord and a great alarm gong sounds through the tower.

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