13th Voyage

37 - The Lantern and the Spindle

The tale of audacious theft and deathly hope.

As the cook cowers by the stone oven, the alarm bell ringing through the tower, Attsu leaves the kitchen behind and quickly returns to the stairs. From below, the venturers hear the tramp of heavy stone footfalls — certainly the two stone statues guarding Nehedza’s door have come to life. Abd turns to his comrades and says, “Find the lantern!” He then moves down the stairs towards the statues. Wind-of-Embers adds, “We will do our best. Move quickly,” and turns to follow Abd.

Kismet, Aya, and Abd make good use of their companions’ valor. They race up to the next floor, a collection of salons and a fine music room furnished in shades of yellow. There a pair of short clay servants move to attack the invaders, joined by more clay servants closing from above and below. Attsu shifts into his feline war form and smashes three of them, and Aya and Kismet finish the stragglers.

They advance another level, to a floor hung with various jade and emerald hues. Most of the floor is dominated by a library. The venturers handily dispatch another pair of aggressive clay servants, and scan the various titles in iron bookcases, held fast by iron skeletal hands. Aya tells the others that the library holds only mundane works, and they abandon the search there.

Kismet leads the way to the next level, only to be met by a beautiful young man who could pass for a particularly perfect Kheran pharaoh. The young man, wearing only a loosely wrapped cloth around his nethers, inhales sharply at the sight of the intruders. Kismet boggles a moment, then attempts to shush him. He screams and falls backwards, trying to crabwalk away from the menacing form of Attsu. Attsu pounces on the kept man, and ties him up gently but firmly. Aya looks for a spellbook in the various blue-hued chambers — parlors and an amply furnished love nest — but has no luck. “It was worth a try,” she says lightly as they proceed upwards.

The indigo floor above them is mostly baths, dressing chambers, and an exhaustive wardrobe; above that, hung in rich purples, is Nehedza’s personal quarters. Kismet is quick to notice an impressive-seeming tome on a reading stand by a hookah, and quickly darts for it. “Wait!” shouts Aya. The desert elf pauses and looks back at the genasi sorceress. “You should perhaps make certain it isn’t warded,” Aya explains. Kismet nods, and more carefully examines the book’s stand. She realizes that the nearby hookah is not a hookah at all — almost certainly a spirit vessel that serves as another ugly surprise for unauthorized readers. She makes a note to secure the book for Harira on the way back down, and with a few clay servants still pursuing them, the venturers move up to the final interior floor.

The last floor is a large single room, decorated simply with pale hues of white and bone against the black stone walls. The entire room is a workshop, with stairs up to the roof against a far wall, several tables and workbenches, a decorative statue of a woman, and the armored skeleton of a drakh. The last, standing free of any furniture, raises its sword to salute Attsu, and drops into a battle stance.

Attsu doesn’t bother to return the salute. He attacks, and is surprised when the skeleton moves quickly enough to block his claws. But Kismet takes the opportunity to strike upwards into its ribcage, shattering much of its torso. Aya conjures a blast from her orb of storms and knocks the pursuing clay servants back downstairs.

The workshop turns cold as the Underworld as the spectral form of a woman emerges from the statue. A deathly presence surrounds the venturers, sapping their vitality. Kismet quickly finishes the drakh skeleton and Aya dashes the servants to bits as Attsu claws vainly at the spectre.

The ghosty woman reaches through Attsu, and he feels her glacial fingers questing about for his soul. Kismet rallies strikes through it with her compass scimitar, doing grievous damage. As the other venturers focus on the spectre, it waves its fingertips through Kismet, clawing away at her life force. She staggers back but keeps her feet, and she slices it again as Attus tears into its form with blazing firebrass talons. Aya draws a deep breath and gathers the sum of her power, and throws a powerful ball of wind into the spectre’s torso. It explodes with raw elemental force, blasting the phantom into wisps that quickly dissipate.

They quickly find the Dysian lantern hanging on a hook by the stairs to the roof. Kismet quickly exchanges it for the replica crafted by Jasenta, tucks it into her band, and races back down a flight. She hurriedly but expertly disarms the wards on Nehedza’s spellbook and pulls it from the stand. “Do you think this will be enough to justify a robbery?” she asks. “Is it believable that this is valuable enough that it’s the only thing thieves would stay long enough to take?”

Aya nods firmly. “Absolutely.”

They move back downstairs a few flights, and meet Abd and Wind-of-Embers, battered but whole, on the music room’s level. Almost on whim, Kismet looks out the window, and in the far distance, she sees a ghostly form floating above the rooftops of Izir — on a trajectory with the tower. She glances down, and as Fate would have it, a cart of many ripe figs and dates and melons lies directly below the window. She tells the others of the shortcut, and they agree to move quickly out of the window. Kismet activates her spider-slippers and runs down the side of the wall; Aya conjures a minor wind to slow her fall; and Attsu takes his scouting cat form and bounds easily down the columnar basalt. Sadly, the bloodied Abd and Wind-of-Embers have no option but to leap for it, and they both land safely amid the fragrant fruits in a glorious mess.

Kismet carefully smuggles the group across the street when nobody is looking, bundling them into an alley. She conjures a water elemental using the Dolphin Jewel and bids it to wash the pulp and juice from her comrades. As Abd and Wind-of-Embers submit to the crude ablution, Attsu focuses on the Hunter Jewel to discern Nehedza’s location. The jewel gives him the peculiar indication that she is in two places at once: both in the direction of the crematorium, and in her tower. With a start, the venturers realize that they have a singular opportunity. While Nehedza projects her spirit to investigate her tower, they can steal the lachystrix from her body!

They waste no time at all. Attsu takes the mock spindle from Kismet, places it in one of the compartments within his body, and darts into a storm drain to find the sea cave again. While the other venturers race to the harbor, Attsu moves to find the vents that led into the crematorium’s basement once more.

He finds his way to the crematorium’s lower level as quickly as possible. The larger workshop is much as they’d left it, though he notices that the lift is currently down, despite nobody being actively visible. He quietly enters the inner laboratory where the simulacra were sculpted. There, on the stone slab where the clay Abd had rested, lies a handsome older woman in dark clothing, hands neatly folded and utterly unconscious. Attsu quickly removes the spindle-like tool from her belt, places the replica in its stead, and turns to leave. He pauses for a moment, remembering the stories of magi unable to return to their bodies. He knocks Nehedza’s unoccupied body to the floor, and bolts to the vents.

In the meantime, the other venturers arrive in the harbor, breathing heavily after their run. The crew of the Petulant Parrot sits idly on deck, betting on a three-way dice game. Kismet bellows at them to get underway, and they hurriedly gather their coins and obey. As Aya moves belowdecks to remove her “Raisho” disguise, Kismet notes that the fickle hand of Fate has moved against her again, as the unctuous harbor warden Jairut al-Fedwar al-Izir and several of his men are departing the coffee vendor where they’d had their lunch. The harbor warden notes the crew moving hurriedly, and he beckons his men to follow him.

Kismet hisses at the sailors to slow down and look less agitated, then strolls innocently down the gangplank. Fate favors her once again, as she glances over to a nearby stall where she sees a familiar teenage girl purchasing imported cloth. She mock-idly wanders to the cloth vendor, and asks Needles if she might purchase a distraction.

The young girl says calmly that she’ll do what she can, but it depends on what she gets out of it. Kismet responds by reaching into her magical bag and withdrawing one of the gold bars stolen from the crematorium. The young thief’s eyes briefly widen, and then she tucks it neatly away and clicks her tongue. A nearby bundle of rags unfolds from the wall, and a tattered halfling races past her and away. “Thief!” shrieks Needles. “Thief! In front of the very harbor warden? How dare you! Audacious criminal!”

Jairut al-Fedwar al-Izir gapes at the vanishing halfling, back at the still-cursing girl, and spares one final glance at the ship before he beckons for his men to pursue the halfling. Kismet slips back up the gangplank with a final wink for Needles, and bids the crew cast off before the harbor warden changes his mind.

Attsu, small and cat-form, emerges from a storm drain. He spies the Petulant Parrot moving through the water, and dashes to intercept, He bounds from pier to ship, from ship to ship, and clambers up a mast. He runs at full speed down the spar, and leaps for the departing ship — but his claw hooks ever so slightly on a line, and he plunges into the ocean a yard from the Parrot deck. The metal cat, and the lachystrix and Hunter Jewel within him, sink toward the bottom of the Izir harbor. But Kismet dives after him, and with the Dolphin Jewel granting her speed and breath, she takes hold of her companion and brings him back up to the ship. With all the venturers safely aboard, lacystrix and orpharos with them, the ship carefully threads past the Izir beacons and out to sea.

They return to Adwa without sighting any Izir sails. There a large group of Mashaar’s Orphans greet their return — grimly at first, then with delight when Kismet presents the Dysian necromantic tools. Captain Tairasha takes her and kisses her fully, to the amusement of his fellow captain.

Blessed Lirin at onces sends for Rizazh al-Tajat to come and offer counsel. Once he arrives, he and Lirin are required to send some of the Orphans out of Mashaar’s room so they have peace and quiet to work. Unfortunately, even with all three tools at hand, the process of using them to bind a soul into a body is still somewhat theoretical. Rizazh says he has read extensively about Dysian necromancy, but he could not guarantee that he can perfectly recreate the ceremony.

“Why not test it on Abd?” asks Aya. The assembled Orphans stare back at her, and Abd speaks up. “I agree. If it fails, the thing of least value is lost.”

Blessed Lirin, Rizazh, and Aya collaborate then to recreate the soul-binding ceremony. Lirin and Rizazh quickly concur on several steps. Aya, who has not spent any time at all researching the business, at one point stretches out an experimental hand. Lirin slaps her on the wrist. “Don’t do that.”

They set the orpharos behind Abd’s torso, and unstopper the urn with his name on it. As the wisp within drifts into Abd’s body, Rizazh begins chanting as he makes sewing motions with the lachystrix. He and Lirin look anxiously at the Abd as the ceremony closes.

“I feel… different,” is all that Abd can say. But he nods, and falls into contemplation.

Much heartened, Blessed Lirin and Rizazh (but not Aya) turn their attention to Mashaar. Again they place the orpharos, open a soul urn, and pass the lachystrix in sewing motions. More of the Orphans quietly cram into the room as the ceremony concludes. Mashaar’s eyes finally flutter open, and she weakly sits up. She regards the room, and smiles. “Oh, my beloved children of my heart,” she says.

“Welcome back,” says Attsu, before the room explodes into laughter and cheers.

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